India by Rail with the Hornbill Festival
Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.
Depart USANovember 20 — November 21
Board your independent overnight flight to India. Arrive in the late evening on Tuesday and transfer to the Taj Palace Hotel for overnight.
Delhi / Embark Palace on WheelsNovember 22
After a leisurely morning and lunch at the hotel, join an orientation tour through the elegant district surrounding the India Gate in New Delhi. This afternoon, board the Palace on Wheels, your luxurious home for the next seven nights. After settling in, savor the first of many memorable meals.
The “Pink City” of Jaipur was founded in 1727 and is a treasure-trove of beautiful historic architecture. Begin at Hawa Mahal, or “Palace of the Winds.” Built in 1799 so the ladies of the royal household could watch street processions, the five-story, pink sandstone façade features hundreds of intricately carved windows and balconies. Then visit the opulent Amber Fort, perched on a nearby hill overlooking Jaipur. One of the most import fortifications in Rajasthan with impenetrable defenses, the fort also features lavishly decorated interiors with delightful frescos, carved marble, ivory-inlaid panels, and mirrored ceilings. Your next stop is Jantar Mantar Observatory, which houses a collection of 17th century astronomical instruments and the world’s largest sundial. Finally, tour the maharajah’s massive City Palace. Inside the complex are decorative state rooms, temples, courtyards, and an extensive armory. In the afternoon there is time to browse the colorful shops—Jaipur is renowned for high-quality jewelry, carpets, and textiles.
Sawai Madhopur / Ranthambore National Park / ChittorgarhNovember 24
Disembark in Sawai Madhopur, the gateway to Ranthambore National Park; this wildlife sanctuary is known for its healthy tiger population. Go on safari to search for this elusive predator, as well as wild boars, sambar, leopards, and a variety of birds. Make a stop at Ranthambore Fort, perched atop a hill overlooking the park, the majestic ruins date back to the 8th century. Continue to Chittorgarh, one of the largest forts in India. View a variety of architectural remains ranging from the 8th to 16th centuries, including the Vijay Stambh, a 120-foot-high tower built in 1440.
Hailed as one of India’s most scenic areas, lovely Udaipur boasts several sparkling lakes set against a backdrop of forested hills. Begin with a tour of the massive City Palace complex, with extravagantly decorated rooms and a fabulous museum that displays a wide range of Indian art and artifacts. Continue to Jag Niwas; built in the middle of Lake Pichola in 1746 as a royal summer palace, this architectural masterpiece is currently a luxury hotel. Your tour ends at the Garden of Maidens, where you may wander among the shady lawns, elegant marble pagodas, and peaceful lotus pools fed by elephant-shaped fountains. In the afternoon there will be an opportunity to shop for carved marble, miniature paintings, and other handicrafts.
Evoking images of camel trains and exotic Silk Road riches, the fort of Jaisalmer rises from the desert like a golden mirage. Carved from honey-colored sandstone, the ancient walls conceal a maze of narrow lanes, magnificent havelis (mansions), and sacred Jain temples. Gain insight on life as a wealthy 19th-century merchant during a haveli tour and marvel at the massive 12th-century fortress walls that surround the city. An afternoon camel ride takes you through the sifting sand dunes of the Thar Desert for magnificent sunset vistas.
Tour the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort, which houses one of the best museums in Rajasthan with an extensive collection of palanquins, gilded armor, bejeweled swords and shields, Marwar paintings, and fantastic turbans for every occasion. Continue to Umaid Bhawan Palace, completed in 1943, this grand edifice is the main residence of the current royal family of Jodhpur and is one of the largest private residences in the world. Take a stroll through the opulent interior, decorated in the art deco style and browse the quirky collection of memorabilia in the museum. Time permitting, take a stroll through the lush, surrounding gardens.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park / AgraNovember 28
This morning visit the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. A haven for migratory birds, species that congregate here include cranes, storks, herons, kingfishers, partridges, owls, doves, ducks, geese, pelicans, and bee-eaters. With luck, we may spot the majestic, and critically endangered, Siberian crane. After a morning communing with nature, continue to Agra and visit the impressive Red Fort. This evening, spend some time appreciating one of the New Seven Wonders of the World—the Taj Mahal—with ample opportunities for sunset photos.
Delhi / DisembarkNovember 29
After breakfast, bid farewell to our lovely Palace on Wheels. Take in the sights of bustling Old Delhi with a rickshaw ride past the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, and delve into the narrow alleys of the market. Here, among brightly bedecked stalls, Indians shop for everything from wedding jewels to spices. After the market, explore the Qutab complex, a World Heritage Site, including Qutab Minar. Dinner and overnight at the Taj Palace Hotel.
Delhi / Dimapur / NagalandNovember 30
Depart early this morning for our flight to Dimapur, the gateway to Nagaland. Transfer to Kohima Camp, your base for three nights. Spend the afternoon relaxing in your luxurious tent or exploring the grounds before dinner and overnight.
NagalandDecember 1 — December 2
Explore India’s remote Nagaland, a narrow strip of mountainous territory in the northeast, with rugged hills, emerald valleys, sparkling streams, and a rich variety of flora and fauna. Here you will find the indigenous Naga culture, which dates back to the early 13th century. Comprising 16 tribes, the Naga were once fearsome warriors and head-hunters. They have managed to retain much of their traditional and cultural heritage, visible in their elaborate costumes and ritualistic headdresses which incorporate boar tusks, bear skins, hornbill feathers, and other symbolic accoutrements. A fun-loving people, the Naga celebrate numerous festivals throughout the year; however the week-long Hornbill Festival, known locally as the “festival of festivals,” is the largest and most extravagant. Showcasing Naga dance, music, costumes, art, ethnic foods, and handicrafts, you will also have the opportunity to visit traditional huts, interact with friendly locals, and perhaps take part in one of the many unique contests of strength and agility.
Dimapur / DelhiDecember 3 — December 4
Enjoy a morning at leisure with lunch at the camp, then transfer to the airport for our flight to Delhi. Check in to the JW Marriott in time for dinner and a chance to relax, with most flight departing in the late evening. Arrive in the USA the next day.