Jehangir Mahal (Orchha Fort) in Orchha, India
Jehangir Mahal (Orchha Fort) in Orchha, India

Archaeological Tours

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Northern India: Maharajahs & Mughals

How to encompass in one journey the complexities of the turbulent history and spectacular cultural heritage of a sub-continent’s whose exotic traditions, architecture and art all have an immensity of appeal that could justify a lifetime’s exploration?

Impossible, of course – but by its structured focus on the ancient cultures and divisions of northern India’s tumultuous past our tour will build for you a clear picture of the infinitely diverse strands that have shaped the exotic fabric of this vast country. Carefully planned visits to many world-famous sites, monuments and leading museums bring a comprehensive understanding of the intricate cultural synthesis that has evolved between the country’s primary religious civilizations – Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim.

Highlights of this India tour include traveling from Delhi through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Agra and Rajasthan’s ‘Land of Kings’ include Sanchi’s fabulous stupa, the monastic excavations at Sarnath and the elaborately carved temples at Ranakpur – all illustrating the vigor of Buddhist and Jain offshoots from early Hinduism. Fascinating facets of later Hindu civilization are on display amid Khajuraho’s elaborate temples, the teeming pilgrimage center at Varanasi and, most beautiful of all, the Rajput’s fortified palaces of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur, in striking counterpoint to Agra’s legendary Mughal masterpiece, the Taj Mahal.

What's included?

  •  Expert scholar & tour manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Local transport & private transfer to/from airport and group hotel
  •  Entries & tips
  •  Flights
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Four lectures from your expert scholar
  •  A name badge, luggage strap and bag tag
  •  A study guide, reading list, and other useful tour documentation compiled by your expert scholar and your Archaeological Tours team

Led by...

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Art & Archaeology at SOAS, University of London, and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. She specializes in ancient Indian history

Today's Price

Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,600

Tour highlights:

  • Discover no fewer than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the majestic Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s Amber Palace
  • Enjoy an early morning boat trip along the sacred ‘ghats’ of the Ganges at Varanasi
  • Explore the great palaces and fortresses of the ancient Rajasthani cities of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur
  • View Khajuraho’s amazing sculptures and some of the world’s finest temple carvings, known for portraying women
  • Stay at the magical Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, originally built as the pleasure palace of Maharajah Jagat Singh II

Tour details

Dates December 6 2019 - December 23 2019
Duration 18 days
Today's Price
Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,600 Balance due by September 13 2019
Activity Level
Tour code A19INN

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

December 6 2019: Itinerary

We arrive in India’s capital city and transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day we are free to relax after our flight, before enjoying a first dinner together as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Le Méridien, New Delhi

Like so many of India’s cities today, Delhi welcomes the visitor with an exotic two-in-one confection of ancient and modern. Here the 21st century is often only a handshake away from time-honored tradition - and the relentless pulse of non-stop commerce shares the stage with the reassuring serenity of ancient temples and mosques. Many of the 1,000-year-old capital’s historic sites form part of the great Mughal dynasty’s rich legacy of imposing monuments - whose three-century-long rule from 1526 led to their all-powerful Indo-Persian culture dominating nearly the entire Indian subcontinent. After a relaxing first morning we enjoy the first of our two Delhi tours introducing us to the city’s major landmarks. Among the locations visited today are the iconic 12th century minaret of UNESCO-listed Qutb Minar and its surrounding complex (which preserves remains from every era of Delhi’s history); and imposing Humayun’s Tomb, dating from 1572 and whose palatial Heritage-listed Mughal architecture is significant as the possible inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Le Méridien, New Delhi

Our first morning visit is to the great Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, with room for 25,000 worshippers. A red-sandstone-and-marble oasis of calm, with minarets rising high above the city maelstrom beyond, this was the great architectural and religious gift to the city from the 17th century Mughal Shah Jahan (he of Taj Mahal fame). We continue to the vast UNESCO-listed Lal Qila (“Red Fort”) complex. Also built by Sha Jahan, and the Mughal emperors’ main Delhi palace and ceremonial center, the Fort’s name derives from the massive enclosing walls of red sandstone. Its 254-acre site embraces palaces and entertainment halls, indoor canals and geometrical gardens. Our final morning call is at Gandhi Smriti (formerly known as Birla House), the museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. After lunch we enjoy an in-depth visit to the city’s National Museum, displaying a feast of ancient archaeological artifacts and artworks - including the famous prehistoric bronze sculpture known as the Dancing Girl of Harappa - as well as archaeologist-explorer Sir Aurel Stein’s collection from his travels along the Silk Road.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Le Méridien, New Delhi

A morning flight (about 80 minutes) takes us south-east to ancient Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, acknowledged as India’s spiritual capital and long a major pilgrimage destination for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. In the afternoon we visit the remains of the monastic center at nearby Sarnath. Today an important Buddhist site, this was where. after receiving enlightenment, Buddha gave his famous first sermon some 2,500 years ago to preach the message of the middle way to nirvana. We explore the site, including the great Dharmarajika Stupa, and its small archaeological museum, which houses India’s official symbol, the Lion Capital, carved with back-to-back lions and originally part of the Ashoka Pillar erected here by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel Ganges, Varanasi

Our day begins early with the unique experience of a morning boat trip on the Ganges as vast numbers of Hindu pilgrims flock to the “ghats” (steps leading down to the water) to bathe in the river’s sacred waters. Later we take the short flight to Khajuraho in neighboring Madya Pradesh, whose three renowned sites of UNESCO-listed temple sculptures - celebrating the joy of life and love, both spiritual and sensual - represent some of the world’s finest Hindu and Jain temple art. Of the original 80 Chandela Dynasty temples in Khajuraho about 22 impressive examples still survive. During the afternoon we will visit the Dhuladeo temple and Chaturbhuj temple in the Southern Temple Group and the small Archaeological Museum.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Radisson Jass Hotel, Khajuraho

This morning’s Khajuraho exploration is dedicated to the Eastern Temple group, dominated by four Jain temples, constructed by the Chandela rulers in deference to the flourishing practice of Jainism in central India during their rule. The architectural masterpiece of the group is Khajuraho’s largest Jain shrine, the 10th century Parsvanatha temple, with charming sculptures depicting a number of informal everyday scenes. Afterwards we visit the Western Temple Group, whose especially accomplished masterpieces include the grand Kandariya Mahadeva temple, embellished with a profusion of intricate ancient sculptures, and Devi Jagdamba, with its sensually carved statuary. Our afternoon is then spent at leisure - perhaps to revisit our favorite sites or relax by the hotel pool.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Radisson Jass Hotel, Khajuraho

A morning drive of about 100 miles brings us to medieval Orchha, our overnight base. The town was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela king, Rudhra Pratap - who, together with his successors, bequeathed to Orchha a superb legacy of Mughal-influenced Rajput architecture within its fort complex - in the form of three handsome palaces, as well as temples and 14 riverside royal “chhatris” (cenotaphs). During our stay we visit all three palaces: the Jahangir Mahal, the most grandiose structure in Orchha; the Raj Mahal with its lavish interiors; and the Rai Praveen Mahal, built by Raja Indramani for his poetess concubine.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Orchha Palace and Convention Center, Orchha

After breakfast we head for Gwalior, about 80 miles north, pausing en route to visit Bir Singh Dev Palace at Datia - a fascinating if slightly faded example of Indo-Islamic palace architecture. Blending Rajputani and Mughal styles, its seven storeys contain over 400 rooms, some richly decorated. We continue to Gwalior, with the remainder of the day at leisure.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Taj Usha Kiran Palace, Gwalior

Established in the 8th century and named after St. Gwalipa, an Indian hermit saint, ancient Gwalior was controlled in turn by Tomar, Mughal and Maratha rulers. On a city tour we visit the mighty 15th century Tomar fort - invincible-looking yet picturesque - dominating the city from its hilltop, and enclosing palaces, temples and museums within the high walls of its mile-square complex. After lunch we take the train to Agra (about two hours), where we spend the next two nights.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Agra

Agra is known worldwide as the home of the renowned UNESCO-listed Taj Mahal and our stay here naturally gives due priority to this iconic monument - while not neglecting other important sites of the city’s Mughal empire legacy. Our unhurried tour of the Taj and its gardens will inevitably loom large in the memory, however, for the almost ethereal beauty of Emperor Shah Jahan’s 17th century “symphony in white marble” represents the apogee of Mughal architectural achievement. Built by the Emperor in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, and requiring the work of 20,000 men over a 20-year period, the Taj survives to this day as a peerless monument to love. Our day also includes a visit to the nearby 16th century Red Fort, a powerful Mughal fortress encompassing what was the original imperial city of the Mughal rulers - and setting of Shah Jahan’s beautiful Jahangir Palace and Khas Mahal Palace, as well as two splendid mosques. We also see Itimad-ud-Daulah, the all-marble garden mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal’s grandfather, affectionately known as the “Baby Taj”, and other buildings of interest for their distinctive Mughal architecture.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Agra

This morning our journey takes us west to Jaipur, a 150-mile drive which we break en route at UNESCO-listed Fatehpur Sikri (“the City of Victory”). The empty halls and courtyards of this great red sandstone palace-cum-city complex are a sad 16th century monument to rare Mughal failure. Emperor Akbar commemorated the birth of a son by building a new capital here, only to have to abandon this Indo-Islamic architectural masterpiece 15 years later owing to an inadequate water supply. From this haunting and evocative setting we continue to the contrasted animation of colorful Jaipur, with the rest of our day at leisure.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Marriott Hotel, Jaipur

The “Pink City”, so-named for its trademark building color, Jaipur is the restless yet beguiling capital of the desert state of Rajasthan (literally, “the Land of the Kings”) - greeting the visitor with an old-meets-new street scene where camels compete with motorbikes and dazzling traditional Rajasthani costumes conceal mobile phones. Despite such 21st century intrusions, the ever-present splendors of Jaipur’s architectural and cultural heritage still proclaim the spirit of a proud Rajput past. Our day begins with the short drive to Amber, once capital of princely Jaipur state, where we visit the ancient UNESCO-listed fort, the former residence of its Rajput rulers, spectacularly sited on a hill above Maota Lake. We then return to Jaipur to explore the ornately decorated red and pink sandstone Old City Palace complex, built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1728. An altogether stunning fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, the palace houses Jaipur’s Textiles and Costumes Museum. We also call at The Jantar Mantar, a heritage-listed 18th century astronomical observation site, and the rose-pink Palace of Winds, dating from 1799 and whose delicate lattice-screened windows allowed the ladies of the royal family could remain unobserved while watching the world go by.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Marriott Hotel, Jaipur

We leave after breakfast to drive west 150 miles to Jodhpur, a vibrant ancient city lying at the edge of the vast Thar Desert. Amid the tangled lanes of its maze-like old quarter, snug behind 16th century walls, lies a jumble of countless blue-painted houses that has earned Jodhpur the title of “Blue City”. We enjoy an evening walking tour of the bustling traditional market of fascinating Old Jodhpur.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj Hari Mahal, Jodhpur

This morning we explore some of the neat thatched hamlets inhabited by the Bishnoi people, a Hindu religious sect of mostly potters and weavers that follows the teachings of a 15th century sage whose creed focused on protecting every living thing. After lunch a Jodhpur city tour takes us to the beautiful white marble cenotaph of Jaswant Thada - and up to the Mehrangarh Fort, whose brooding silhouette has dominated the city for nearly 600 years from its eyrie-like vantage point high on a sandstone hill.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj Hari Mahal, Jodhpur

The highlight of today’s 150-mile drive is the exquisitely carved and memorably serene 15th century temple site of Ranakpur, a major Jain pilgrimage center occupying an extensive area deep in a shady glen. The central Chaumukha (four-faced) temple is the most complex of Jain temples in India. Its 29 marble halls and 80 domes are supported by 1,444 individually-engraved pillars - while a host of subsidiary side-altar shrines includes a temple dedicated to the Sun God which displays erotic carvings. From Ranakpur we continue to the romantic city of Udaipur for a two-night stay.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

One of Rajasthan’s most famous names, Udaipur has an idyllic setting beside Lake Pichola, ringed beyond by the wooded Aravalli Hills that stretch away in every direction. Founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, its landmark feature is the waterfront City Palace - a monumental complex of 11 palaces, pavilions and hanging gardens, and famed for its vivid peacock mosaics - while rambling lanes and historic “haveli” townhouses contribute an equally exotic note of their own. We enjoy a morning excursion to see the beautifully-carved 10th century Hindu temples at nearby Nagda - and then Eklingji’s complex of 108 living temples dedicated to Shiva, patron deity of the Udaipur royal house. We return to Udaipur to visit the fabulous City Palace and the 17th century Jagdish Temple, elaborately carved with figures of Vishnu. The remainder of our day is spent at leisure before we meet up in the evening for our farewell group dinner.

All meals included

Hotel: Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur

We enjoy our final morning at leisure, and later we fly to Delhi. After dinner we embark on our late night or early morning flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

December 6 2019: Additional Info

December 6 2019: Accommodation

Le Méridien New Delhi is situated just 1.2 miles from the Presidential Palace, Parliament House and Connaught Place. Within easy reach of several shopping and entertainment districts, this hotel offers an outdoor pool, a spa and 6 food and beverage options. Complimentary WiFi for 30 minutes on the day of arrival.

Featuring wooden floorings and furnishings, air-conditioned rooms come with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a minibar and electric kettle. The en suite bathroom offers a shower and hairdryer.

For convenience, a car rental service, travel desk and 24-hour front desk are provided. Le Méridien's Three Graces by Amatrra offers a range of spa and massage therapies. It also features private therapy suites for couples and a meditation room. Other facilities include a steam room, hot tub and fitness centre.

Offering all-day dining, The One is a restaurant and bar, which serves international dishes. Eau de Monsoon, the contemporary Indian restaurant is well known for its Avant Garde cuisine. Chinese food with Szechuan and Cantonese influences are offered at Le Belvedere, the rooftop restaurant with a panoramic view of the city. Guests can head to Caffe e Chocol Art for dessert. Cocktails and light refreshments can be enjoyed at Nero and Henri's Bar.

Spread over 40 acres of tropical gardens, The Gateway Hotel Ganges is a peaceful getaway in the ancient temple city of Varanasi. Offering an outdoor pool and a spa, it also has 24-hour room service.

The modern air-conditioned rooms are all equipped with a flat-screen TV, minibar and tea/coffee making facilities. All enjoy views of the garden, pool or city. Bathrooms come with shower facilities.

Guests can exercise at the fitness center, relax with a massage or buy souvenirs at the shopping arcade. There is a doctor on-call and a business center.

Both buffet and à la carte dishes are available at GAD coffee shop, which serves Indian, Pan-Asian and international delights. Varuna offers authentic Indian fine dining, while wines and cocktails can be enjoyed at Prinsep Bar. 

Located just 0.6 miles from the Western Group of Khajuraho Tamples – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Radisson Jass Hotel offers a 24-hour front desk and free WiFi throughout the property.

The modern Radisson Jass Hotel offers car rental, currency exchange and laundry/dry-cleaning facilities. A tour desk can assist guests with travel arrangements. A business center is also present for those looking to organize meetings. Work-out enthusiasts can break a sweat in the fitness center.

Each air-conditioned room features a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, minibar and an electric kettle. The en suite bathroom contains complimentary toiletries.

Temple Café has an a la carte menu as well as breakfast, lunch and a dinner buffet which is accompanied by live Sitar performances. Temple Bar is the place to go for wines and cocktails. Room service options are also available. 

Boasting an outdoor swimming pool and a restaurant, Orchha Palace and Convention Center is located in Orchha. The 5-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom and free WiFi. The accommodation features a 24-hour front desk and a concierge service for guests.

At the hotel, rooms come with a desk and a flat-screen TV. Orchha Palace and Convention Centre offers some units with garden views, and the rooms come with a kettle. All rooms will provide guests with a fridge.

The accommodation offers a continental or Full English/Irish breakfast.

Situated in Gwalior, Taj Usha Kiran Palace offers accommodation with a balcony and WiFi access. It features 3 dining options and a spa. Activities such as yoga and cooking classes are available.

Fitted with tiled or wooden flooring, air-conditioned rooms, suites and villas are equipped with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with bath and shower facilities. Tea/coffee making facilities and a minibar are included.

Overlooking the courtyard green, Silver Saloon offers local, Asian and European dishes. Housing a large billiards table, The Bada Bar serves Indian and international favorites. Alternatively, The Court is a café featuring an alfresco dining experience.

Spread over 9 acres of landscaped gardens, The Gateway Hotel Fatehabad Agra enjoys beautiful views of the Taj Mahal. Aside from 24-hour room service, the hotel also provides a freshwater outdoor pool, a fitness center and a pampering spa.

Elegant rooms feature marble flooring and air conditioning. A cable TV, minibar and personal safe are standard features in all rooms. Attached bathrooms feature hot-water showers and toiletries.

Traditional Indian therapies and body massage can be enjoyed at the spa. Guests can also sign up for cooking classes or get their portrait done on-site. A business center and florist are also available.

The stylish 24-hour GAD coffee shop serves Indian and international dishes, either in buffet or à la carte style. Live dance and music performances accompany traditional Indian and Chinese meals at Jhankar. Wine and cigars can be enjoyed at Sagui. Guests can enjoy a variety of delights at the Sky Deck that overlooks the beautiful Taj. 

Jaipur Marriott Hotel is located in the commercial area of Ashram Marg, a 10-minute drive from Jaipur Airport. The luxurious 5-star hotel mixes tradition with modernity and offers a spa, free parking and free WiFi.

Air-conditioned guestrooms are fitted with an iPod dock, tea/coffee making facilities and a flat-screen TV with satellite channels. The en suite bathroom comes with bathroom amenities and a bathtub.

Marriott Jaipur has a fully equipped business centre with fax and photocopying facilities. The tour desk can assist guests with making travel arrangements. Laundry and dry cleaning services are offered.

Dining options include Okra, an all-day dining global restaurant while Saffron serves contemporary Indian delights. The hotel also has a pastry shop on site, Jaipur Baking Company where guests can enjoy from a selection of gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads and a variety of coffees.

Spread over 6 acres of landscaped gardens, the luxurious Vivanta by Taj Hari Mahal is built to resemble a 14th century royal palace. Pampering spa treatments, a large outdoor pool and a 24-hour fitness center are available.

Charming air-conditioned rooms feature original wall paintings, large windows and an ergonomic work space. Overlooking the garden or pool, all rooms have a flat-screen TV and free tea/coffee making facilities. Bathrooms have massage showers and a bathtub.

Modern Rajasthani and Continental dishes can be enjoyed at Latitude, which also features live traditional music performances. Authentic Cantonese and Szechuan cuisines are served at The Good Earth. Cocktails are available at Ola Bar. 

Situated in the middle of Lake Pichola and built in 1746, Taj Lake Palace is built with marble and features majestic architecture. It offers a full service spa at Jiva Spa and customized programs including site-specific yoga sessions. It has breathtaking views of the City Palace, Aravalli and Machla Magra hills, and Jag Mandir. Rooms come with butler service.

Leisure facilities include a 24-hour fitness center and a hot/cold spa pool. There is also a shopping arcade, games room and business center. 

Taj Lake Palace boasts rooms with beautifully carved wooden furniture and luxurious silk fabrics. Offering garden or lake views, each room has a flat-screen TV and DVD player.

Offering views of the lily pond and a traditional ambiance, Neel Kamal is a fine-dining dinner-only restaurant that serves authentic flavors of the royal cuisine of Udaipur, the North West Frontier and other Indian delights. Bhairo is a rooftop restaurant that treats you to European cuisines. Jharokha that overlooks the Lake Pichola is an all-day dining restaurant. Amrit Sagar Bar offers a selection of cigars, sheeshas and wines. The property offers private dining in fairy tale settings with handcrafted menus.

December 6 2019: Enquiries

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