North India: Gods, Temples and Archaeology

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3761
  • January 5 - 19, 2025
  • 15 Days
  • TBA + air
  • Single supplement: TBA

Discover Nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Visit Mumbai, Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur

This cultural tour of North India offers a unique window into the region’s profound heritage. India captivates all the senses, with the air filled with the scents of incense and spices, a symphony of sounds, and a visual feast provided by its diverse peoples, traditional attire, delectable cuisines, and the historic and architectural magnificence.

The array of extraordinary sites and landscapes renders this tour among the most intricate and fulfilling experiences we have available. As the home to a sixth of the global population and the largest democracy, India showcases an extensive cultural diversity and a history that is both intricate and captivating, making any historical tour through North India a journey through the annals of time.

India seamlessly blends ancient traditions with modern dynamics – from the ancient Indus civilization and the era of the British Raj to contemporary Bollywood. The country’s history, spanning over five millennia, has witnessed the genesis and evolution of several religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, and Islam, all of which coexist in this vast land today. These historical and cultural layers will be explored in our North India tour.

Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Trips warmly invites you to accompany Professor Fisher and a small group of just 13 others on an extraordinary expedition across this dynamic country.

Discover numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites: the rock-cut Ellora and Ajanta temple caves; Khajuraho, with its nagara-style symbolism and erotic sculptures; the iconic Taj Mahal; the Jantar Mantar Observatory; and in Delhi, the tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun and the 14th-century Qutab Minar complex.

These sites represent the essential highlights of any North India tour, offering glimpses into the region’s unparalleled historical and cultural wealth.

Are you still deciding on the destination of your next adventure? Explore our full Calendar of International Archaeology Tours.

North India Archaeology Tour Led by:

Dr Malcolm David Eckel

Professor of Religion,
Boston University

Why Take this North India Cultural Tour?

  • Led by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, a Great Courses lecturer
  • Like royalty, climb to Amber Fort by elephant
  • Explore 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites:Ellora Cave, Ajanta Caves, Agra Fort, Khajuraho, Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, The Jantar Mantar, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutab Minar
  • Limited to 14 participants

Itinerary of the North India Cultural Tour

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Day 1Depart for India

Fly to Mumbai.

Day 2Arrive Mumbai; Fly to Aurangabad

Arrive to Mumbai in the morning and connect to a flight to Aurangabad. Overnight for three nights at the Taj Residency, a palace-styled hotel sited within five acres of landscaped gardens in Aurangabad. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner. (D)

Day 3Ellora

Today we explore Ellora. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains 34 caves carved out of the slope of a hill, many ornamented with intricate carved facades and sculpture. Located on a busy caravan route, this spot became the focus of intense religious and artistic activity in the 6th century. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are represented here. The Hindu cave architecture culminated in the 10th century with splendid Kailash Temple, Ellora’s masterpiece.  Carved from the living rock and completely freestanding, it is a giant replica of the Sacred Mountain.  (B/L/D)

Day 4Ajanta

Today we will journey to Ajanta, where the near-vertical sides of a horseshoe-shaped ravine reveal caves full of dazzling artwork.  Less than two centuries ago this remote spot was practically unknown. The shadowy entrances had been abandoned under a thick blanket of rainforest, but in 1819 a small group of British troops found the façade of a cave protruding through the dense foliage.  Ultimately, a total of 28 cavern shrines were found, many with interiors adorned with vibrant multicolored murals that rank among India’s most beautiful treasures. These caves predate Ellora and span a period of 800 years.  (B/L/D)

Day 5Fly to Varanasi; travel to Brijrama Palace

A morning flight takes us to Delhi where we connect to our flight to Varanasi, located on the banks of the river Ganges. We will then drive to Varanasi’s Raj Ghat to board a craft and travel to the Brijrama Palace where we stay for two nights. Perched on the bank of the Ganges overlooking Darbhanga Ghat and embellished in traditional motifs – hand-painted frescoes, Banarasi silk walls, murals of dazzling mirrorwork, stunning antiques – this elegant heritage hotel offers a glimpse into the grandeur of a golden age of two centuries in the past. The great city of Varanasi stretches along a crescent of the river Ganges and is one of the oldest living cities in the world.  Located on an ancient trade route, the city is among the holiest of all tirthas, or crossing places, and stands at the center of the Hindu universe. (B/L/D)

Day 6Sarnath, Dasaswamedh Ghat

This morning we venture to Sarnath, where, in the 6th century BC, Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon that put into motion the Wheel of Law, the Dharmachakra.  Siddhartha ultimately became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, and he and his followers continued to return to Sarnath to rest from their rounds of teaching. Over the centuries, this became a place of pilgrimage, and the richness of the monasteries, temples, and shrines bear witness to the holiness of the site. Most impressive is the Dhamekh Stupa, composed of a cylindrical tower ornamented with decorative bas-reliefs. Return to Varanasi in time for the evening prayers held at Dasaswamedh Ghat. At dusk the shores come alive with worshipers joining together in the final prayer ceremonies of the day — a truly mesmerizing and singular experience. Every evening, as dusk descends, the Ganga Aarti is performed along the Dasaswamedh Ghat. Using fire as an offering to the Goddess Ganga, devotees float candles and flowers down the river. Return to hotel after the prayers which is a few minutes away boat ride. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)

Day 7 Sunrise on a private boat; Fly to Khajuraho: Eastern and Western Temples

Early this morning, board a private boat and watch the sunrise over the city. Along the river banks are 18th and 19th century pavilions, palaces, temples, terraces, and ghats, where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daily ritual ablutions. After leaving our boat, walk down the narrow winding alleys and return to the hotel for breakfast. Transfer to the airport for our flight to Khajuraho, the religious and political capital of the Chandela dynasty during the 9th to 13th centuries. The breathtaking Hindu and Jain temples here have UNESCO World Heritage status.  This afternoon we will visit the Eastern and Western Temples, famed for the delicate sensuality and eroticism of their sculpture.  Much of the ornate carving that adorns the walls of the sanctuaries is almost three-dimensional, with shades of pink in the stone imbuing the figures with flesh-like tones. Every square inch of these shrines is covered with incised human and divine forms in every aspect of life.  Overnight at the 4-star Radisson Jass in Khajuraho. (B/L/D)

Day 8 Orchha Fort, Chaturbhuj Temple, Ram Raja Temple

Depart for Orchha, a town whose beauty is due to the eminent 17th century ruler, Bir Singh Deo. A Bundela Rajput chief, he erected a multitude of strongholds across the region during his 22-year rule, including many of Orchha’s finest buildings. Our explorations begin in Orchha Fort containing three magnificent palaces. Jahangir Mahal was built as a citadel for the Mughals. Decorated with stunning turquoise tiles, carved stone elephants and delicate lattice-work, it still reveals its original grandeur. Raj Mahal was once the prime residence of Bundela kings and their queens. The elegant palace was festooned with fragments of mirrors and lively paintings.  The opulent 18th century Sheesh Mahal, now a heritage hotel, was originally intended as an exclusive country retreat. We will explore the 17th and 18th century cenotaphs, or chattris, memorials grouped along the Betwa River built to revere the dead ancestors of the Bundela rajas. And a kilometer away towers Chaturbhuj Temple, dedicated to Vishnu of the four arms. Imposing spires in the shape of pine cones soar above the impressive 16th century, multi-storied sanctuary.  In the evening, we will enter Ram Raja Temple, the only temple in India where Lord Rama is worshiped as a king. This is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage site and we will enter in time for evening prayers where devotees are at worship. Overnight in the Amar Mahal in Orchha, a former palace that still depicts the charm of a bygone era.  (B/L/D)

Day 9Datia, Gwailor Fort, Man Singh Palace

Depart for Datia where we will stop to view the rambling Narsing Dev, or Govind Mandir, sited on an outcrop of rock overlooking the town.  Bir Singh Ju Deo built the palace to welcome the Mughal emperor Jehangir for a one night visit to Orchha and Datia. Even though it was never occupied, this edifice is a testament to the architectural accomplishment of the Rajputs and is considered one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in India.  Continue on to Gwailor, where the impressive Gwalior Fort is perched high on a sandstone plateau shadowing the city. Known to be one of the most invincible fortresses of India, it was called ‘The Pearl in the Necklace of the Forts of India’ by the Mughal Emperor, Babur.  As we climb the winding road to the hilltop, we pass through a line of sacred 15th-century rock-cut Jain statues sixty feet tall. Enter the gate in the high walls and an abundance of sacred sanctuaries, royal citadels, and water reservoirs are revealed. The Man Singh Palace was built by the ruler in the 15th century, and its colorful façade is truly memorable. The exterior displays vibrant enamel friezes of yellow ducks, lively elephants, crocodiles, tigers and other charming scenes from nature. Thus its alternate name is Chit Mandir, or Painted Palace. Man Singh, an aficionado of the arts, would surely have been pleased to know that this is now considered the only intact pre-Mughal palace in India! The Teli-ka-Mandir shrine was built in the Dravidian style and is notable for its generously sculpted exterior. And the 15th-century Gujari Mahal Palace is now an archaeological museum. In the late afternoon, board a fast train to Agra. Dinner is on our own. Overnight for two nights at the 5-star Jaypee Palace in Agra.  (B/L)

Day 10Agra: Itmad-ud-daulah, Taj Majal, Red Fort

Today will be spent seeing Agra’s sites. Itmad-ud-daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj’, is a delicate architectural beauty. This exquisite tomb of a member of the royal court was designed by the favorite queen of the Mughul sovereign Jahangir, son of Akbar the Great. It is the first in India to be constructed entirely of marble, the same stone used for the Taj Mahal and is celebrated for striking architectural details including finely carved jalis, or marble lattice screens. The Taj Mahal, with UNESCO World Heritage status, was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favorite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum who died in 1631 shortly after giving birth to her 14th child. Twenty thousand workmen took twenty-two years to complete this architectural masterpiece, considered to be one of the most exquisite buildings ever created. Move on to Agra Fort, the majestic 16th century stronghold of the Mughul Empire for generations and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Constructed of red sandstone brought from Rajasthan, the imposing fort is encircled by glowing crimson ramparts and entered through massive, decorated gates. During the Indian rebellion of 1857, this historic fort was the location of a battle which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain. After a delicious lunch of South Indian cuisine, the rest of the afternoon is free. (B/L/D)

Day 11Taj Majal at sunrise, Fatehpur Sikri, Govind Devi Temple

Rise early to have one more look as the Taj Mahal emerges out of the dawn mist at sunrise. We then depart for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fatehpur Sikri, founded as the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 by Akbar the Great, deserted by him in 1585, and completely abandoned by 1610. Akbar’s son Prince Salim, later Jahangir, was born here and after his second birthday, the emperor began the construction of the walled city and imperial palace. The city came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, after Akbar’s victorious Gujarat campaign in 1573. This superb red sandstone ghost town, certainly one of the most stunning in India, contains elaborate royal residences, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, halls, and tombs, all in a uniform architectural style, and including Jama Masjid, a splendid mosque still in use today. In the afternoon, continue to Jaipur.  This evening, we observe a prayer service at Govind Devi Temple, devoted to Lord Krishna and enshrining an image of him which has been worshiped by the royal family of Jaipur ever since it was brought from Vinadavan to Jaipur in the 18th century.  Overnight for two nights in the Jai Mahal Palace, a palatial 18th-century estate in Jaipur.  Dinner is on our own.  (B/L)

Day 12Jaipur: Amber Fort, City Palace, Sawai Man Singh Museum, Jantar Mantar Observatory

The rose-colored city of Jaipur is the picturesque capital of Rajasthan and a vibrant showcase of Rajasthani architecture.  Glorious palaces and temples are scattered throughout the town in an assortment of styles that span the centuries. Begin the day with the visit to Amber Fort with a short stop to admire Hawa Mahal, or the 18th century Palace of Winds. The five-story façade contains 593 finely screened windows and balconies that would enable the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in a strict state of purdah. Then on to the Amber Fort, the former seat of the Rajput rulers of Jaipur. We will ascend to the fortress in royal fashion—seated on the back of an elephant.  Fortified by natural hills and high ramparts, Amber’s magnificent palace is distinctly Rajput.  The walls of the royal apartments are covered with intricate mosaics of mirrors and colored glass. Raja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, was no ordinary man. He was a scholar and an astronomer, and in building Jaipur, he gave India its first planned city. High walls enclose the old city, and the seven sections within are laid out in a planned pattern, as dictated by the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient architectural treatise.  We will see the Jantar Mantar, the royal open-air observatory with its gigantic, astronomical instruments, the largest of Jai Singh’s five remarkable observatories.  We will enter the mammoth City Palace, a blend of traditional Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.  In the center of the compound, Chandra Mahal, with balconies and windows studding its seven-story façade, is still the residence of the royal family.  The first and second floors house the Sawai Man Singh Museum containing a select collection of various types of Rajasthani dresses, a fascinating armory of Mughal and Rajput weapons, and spectacular swords, some encrusted with jewels and encased in magnificent scabbards.  (B/L/D) 

Day 13Jaipur; Fly to New Delhi

After a free morning to rest or explore the shops of Jaipur, meet for lunch in one of Jaipur’s excellent restaurants. Our evening flight takes us to New Delhi. Overnight in the 5-star Imperial Hotel. Built in 1931 in a mix of Victorian and colonial architecture reminiscent of the peaceful days of the Raj, it was New Delhi’s first luxurious grand hotel.  (B/L/D)

Day 14New Delhi: Qutab Minar, Humayun Tomb; Depart India

India’s capital, New Delhi, is a captivating blend of the ancient and modern. This morning we will visit the two important Mughal sites. Begin at the Qutab Minar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 14th century tower built by the first Muslim sultan of Delhi to celebrate his victory over the Hindu kings.  We also visit the lovely complex of buildings commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s wife to house her husband’s tomb.  No visit to Delhi is complete without experiencing the narrow streets of Old Delhi by rickshaw, passing food vendors, sacred cows, and the shops of local merchants along the way. Our final lunch together will be in one of Delhi’s fine restaurants. There will be time to rest at the hotel prior to transferring to the airport in the evening for the flight home. (B/L)

Day 15Arrive Home

Arrive home.

Tour Information

Tour Cost & Inclusions

Price is based on double occupancy and includes:

  • Internal flights during the trip (if applicable)
  • The accompaniment of your scholar throughout the entire trip
  • Local English-speaking guide
  • Hotel accommodations (3 or 4 stars; or best available based in the area)
  • Ground transportation
  • Airport transfers for arrivals and departures
  • Most meals as noted in the itinerary
  • Entry fees to all included sites and museums
  • Gratuities to guides, drivers, and restaurant and hotel staff
  • Coordination for any private presentations or tours

Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.

Single Supplement

Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.

Exclusions

  • International round trip airfare
  • A separate donation check of $150.00 per person to a designated donation project
  • Passport or visa fees
  • Required vaccines or tests
  • Airport or departure taxes
  • Alcoholic drinks, beverages or food not included on set menus
  • Excess baggage charges
  • Personal tips and hotel incidental expenses
  • Laundry or other items of a personal nature

Donation Checks

As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.

Exchange Rate Fluctuations

Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.

Registration

A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.

Cancellation

Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.

Air Ticketing

International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.

Private Tours and Talks

The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.

Walking and Standing

Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.

Travel in This Part of the World

This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.

Itinerary Changes

Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.

Travel Insurance

We strongly recommend that you consider purchasing travel insurance. Should illness or an unforeseen event force you to cancel your travel plans after your final payment or during your trip, it would be doubly unfortunate to incur a significant financial loss. Trip cancellation protection will enable you to be reimbursed for the loss of your payment if you are unable to travel for any of the covered reasons in the “Outline of Coverage” section, or should you have an accident or suffer from any medical conditions during the trip.  
Far Horizons offers customized protection plans through Travel Insured International (a Crum & Forster Company) with the following benefits:
 
• Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption for covered reasons
• Trip Delay
• Baggage Loss and Baggage Delay
• Emergency Medical Expenses and Emergency Medical Evacuation
• 24-Hour Accidental Death & Dismemberment
• 24-Hour Travel Assistance & Concierge Services
• Option to upgrade to ‘Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR)’
 
We recommend reviewing the language in detail so you are aware of specific parameters; Depending on the policy, to waive the Pre-Existing Medical Condition Exclusion or to upgrade to CFAR coverage, the plan must be purchased within 14 to 21 days of the initial trip deposit, full trip cost must be insured, and traveler is medically fit at time of plan purchase. Otherwise, coverage may be purchased at any time prior to departure. 
 
To obtain a personalized quote and/or purchase a plan through Far Horizons/Travel Insured International, simply click HERE. For specific questions regarding the Worldwide Protector Plan, please contact Travel Insured International’s Customer Care Center at 1-800-243-3174 or by email at customercare@travelinsured.com, and refer to Far Horizons’ account number: 54070.

Tour Map