Chants echo through a Buddhist monastery and colors shimmer across the Taj Mahal as the Himalayas rise and the great Mughal cities refuse to fall. From astonishing monuments to intimate local experiences, this 17-day handcrafted tour will explore the cultural and the spiritual heartlands. Indulge your senses and create your own perceptions as you explore two countries with a heritage that is still incredibly vibrant in the 21st century.
Delhi – An Intoxicating City of Old and New
Delhi has been a seat of power throughout most of its history, witnessing many battles, quarrels, sieges, coronations, and transfers of power. For a country that liberally entices the senses, there is no better introduction than its capital as such soaring colors and spiritually rich scenes play out on the central streets. Some of the impressions you may be anticipating, such as women in colorful saris forming processions towards deities shrouded in incense. Others are surprising, especially the contemporary side of India’s capital. The city was smartened up for the Commonwealth Games and quickly dispels any myths that all of India is going to be busy and crowded. You will be greeted at the airport and get a short orientation tour as you settle into the city as your journey begins.
Agra – World Heritage Wonders and Overlooking the Taj Mahal
In its shivering ochre hue the Red Fort stands proudly above Delhi, a place of power and imposing former glory while nearby, with its evocative aromas, a street market will expose you to the vibrancy of today. Inside a colorful temple, you will begin to make your first connections with India’s spiritual heartbeat before your senses are aroused some more in a maze of old lanes that are barely wide enough for the donkey carts that pass. Your morning in Delhi is followed by the drive to Agra, and your hotel room will look down upon the Taj Mahal for a vantage point as the setting sun dances across the marble facade.
Agra – More Than The Ode to Love: Intimate Agra Tour
The Taj Mahal is best witnessed in the morning as the crowds are yet to materialize, the colors are sublime, and there is a sense of peace that befits the mausoleum. It will not matter how many photos you have seen, there is always a sense of awe when visiting the Taj Mahal. Most find that photos struggle to convey the intricacy of detail and purity of design, and you will marvel at it all. Return to your hotel to relax before more city exploration takes you out later in the afternoon. Agra has more than one World Heritage Site as an entire Mughal city stands amongst the colors and charms of modern-day India, like a historical fort juxtaposed with an action-packed flower market.
Jaipur – Evocative Memoirs to the Mughals
Dust swirls around Fatehpur Sikri as buildings crumble slowly with the wind and only footsteps break the silence. The structure was an emperor’s grand design, but his opulent capital quickly became a ghost town when he was deposed. Now it awaits the curious visitor with much detail etched into the walls and so many whispers to be heard in the palace and the fort. A little further along the road to Jaipur, you can make a stop at Abhaneri, a village of ingenious step-wells. You should arrive in Jaipur around mid-afternoon, and your hotel is in the heart of the old city for a wonderful place to walk without a guide, such beauty to the vernacular along the streets.
Jaipur – Exploring the Great Pink City
Elephants walk past with painted faces, palaces look down from the hills, and the hum of spiritual chatter consumes the streets. Jaipur really is pink, most of the old city crafted from a type of stone mined in the area. Spend your day on a detailed city tour of Jaipur city to explore all the major icons and highlights, including the Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Palace of Mirrors, and the observatory. In Jaipur, the old monuments are surrounded by the old traditions, including elephants and donkey carts and cycle rickshaws, so for immersing the senses, there is no place quite like it.
Jaipur – Relaxed Day in Jaipur With Balloon Ride
After five fairly active days, this day is left free to give you some downtime to stay energized for what is left to come. But your quiet day will come only after one of India’s most iconic experiences with a balloon ride above Jaipur. From above, you can see how the pink spreads, and how the Rajasthan desert extends far into the distance. The morning sun bounces off both buildings and sand to forge a scene of old-world India. It will be an early start to your day, but the balloon ride has a serenity to take forward into a relaxing day ahead where you are free to discover all the sensual elements to this fabulous city.
Sawarda – Traditional Village Homestay
Villages like Sawarda may be local and rural, but that does not mean that they don’t have a long glorious history. It will feel as if you are stepping back in time as you spend your afternoon and night in a heritage home that stoically protects its traditions. Take a walk with the elders, discuss India with teachers, learn about the Panchayat governing council. Take in village customs and join the locals in daily life as your hosts will be flexible about how you want to spend your day. You can help to cook the evening meal or you can pass the hours at a street corner store drinking copious amounts of chai (tea). Dinner is included, and it will be a shared meal with a family.
Kathmandu – Into the Nepalese Experience
Wake up with the village as shouts come from the school playground as you sit down to breakfast and chai. From the village, it will be a two-hour drive back to Delhi and the international airport, and then a short flight in the direction of Mount Everest. Touch down in the Nepalese capital and head to a retreat perched above the city, away from the noise and dust of central Kathmandu. Tomorrow you will delve into the three historical kingdoms, but this evening is designed to provide some personal space at a lodge famous for its spa and its views towards snowy Himalayan peaks.
Kathmandu – Historic Highlights: After the Earthquake
A recent earthquake has brought devastation to parts of the city, with some of the temples only just having been repaired following an earthquake some 90 years earlier. What remains of the ancient kingdoms stands in a redolent state of ruin, part crumbling, part proud, and part-time capsule into an ancient world. Pilgrims walk around the enormous whitewashed pagoda of Boudhanath while wood-carved palaces introduce you to past artisanal glories. One temple is gilded in gold while another is dominated by lacquer design. As part of the day, you will see how the ancient kingdoms are being rebuilt brick by brick, monuments around their respective Durbar Square being revitalized, and reconstructed.
Pharping – Everest Scenic Flight and Night In a Buddhist Monastery
Everest stands brutish, a white-covered triangular peak above the cascading valley of ice and glacier. Everest is but one of the giants here as various other members of the 24,000-feet club flank it on either side. A scenic flight can only provide a glimpse of this roof of the world, but along with the incredible panoramas you will understand why the locals call it Sagarmatha, “the forehead of the sky.” Back in Kathmandu, you will have some free time before following the spiritual call to a Buddhist Monastery guesthouse in Pharping. Red-robed monks greet you, prayer wheels are to be spun, monastic life is to be discussed, and chants are to be joined as the day dissolves into the evening. This is a serene place to be, and while the experience is authentic to the region, it is very comfortable as well as being a non-touristic immersion in the monks’ world.
Kurintar – Morning Chants and Serenity of the Trisuli River
Rhythmic chants float through the valley at dawn as snow-capped mountains come out of the shadows with the rising sun. Choose to join the monks in prayer should you wish, or take a walk through the surrounding village, a trail quickly taking you into the open Himalayan countryside. Continue to learn about monastic life before an early lunch and winding road journey towards the Trishuli River, where a remote lodge stands on the water. You could relax by the pool as the rapids rush past, or take a hike in the verdant surrounding landscape. By now you will be settled into Nepal’s tranquil atmosphere and the fresh Himalayan air, ancient hiking trails, temples, and pagodas set upon the hills begin to feel like home. Nepal may offer cultural adventure, but ultimately it is a country of repose and restful days.
Chitwan National Park – First Wildlife Encounters On the Rapti River
Following the river, you will delve south, beneath a thick forest canopy, and into a landscape where wildlife thrives. Rhinos are the most famous Chitwan residents, the great armor-plated giants that browse through the forests and come to drink on the riverbank beneath your lodge. Tigers are also present, although you must be lucky to see them. so the wild elephants and monkeys will provide your more everyday encounters. And you will not just see them as you will also listen as the monkeys chirp in the distance, smell, and sense that rhinos are close, and drift off to sleep just as an elephant is blowing his natural trumpet. Today you will explore on a boat safari for a relaxed way to get acquainted with the park with birdlife and wildlife spotted all along the banks.
Chitwan National Park – Full Day of Intimate Safari Experiences
A boat safari is serene while a jeep safari is all about adventure as you bump and bounce through the forest on the trail of famous cats. Local conservationists teach you how the tigers are tracked, protected, and monitored with a program that has turned local communities into wildlife activists. This team will lead the way, giving you the best possible chance of spotting tigers in Chitwan. There is a choice of activities this afternoon, including a rainforest walking safari, which is a great way to come across large troops of monkeys as primates swing around and above you. The evening is relaxed in Chitwan, but it is not quiet as you dine by the river and listen out for wildlife emerging from the distance.
Pokhara – Views Onto the Himalayas
Wake with the sunrise for one final time on this vacation as your early start brings one more safari activity at the time of day when wildlife is most active. Return to the lodge for a second breakfast and some downtime before the leisurely drive north to Pokhara, your base for your final three nights. A local guide will take you on an orientation tour, pointing out the temples and the monuments of this quiet town in the Himalayas. The World Peace Pagoda, rising proud and built by monks from Japan, as well as Phewa Lake, a place of repose from which all of Pokhara points. Find many places to watch the sunset and a map of trails for hiking in the Himalayas, but for now, just rest, relax and enjoy the view.
Day 15 - 16
Pokhara – Relaxed Days in the Mountains
These two days are left free, as this is a town in the midst of majestic mountains and a great place for you to fully kick back and do nothing at all. Combining India and Nepal is always going to be an action-packed itinerary as there is simply too much to experience to take it slow. Now in Pokhara, you will have two days to recollect and make sense of all the impressions as you have time to think back on all the details – big and small – that have marked this journey.
The classic activity here is a boat ride on Phewa Lake, especially in the late afternoon when the mountains start to reflect off the water’s surface. This is just an idea, however, as with Pokhara as a base, there are countless Nepalese hikes to enjoy. From two-hour trails to temples to full-day adventures that give a glimpse of high Himalayan hiking, there will be more to do than you can imagine. Sarangkot is the place to watch the sunset, as well as being a jumping-off point for paragliding above the town and lake. You could also visit a Tibetan refugee settlement for lunch, sink your mind into one of the spas, or drift off when reading a book along the lakeshore. Pokhara is memorable for its setting and quietude. While it is popular with tourists, it has maintained its local feel and remains an authentic place for Nepalese culture and heritage.
Pokhara – Departure
After breakfast and an airport transfer, you can take a domestic flight back to Kathmandu and connect with your outbound international flight.
- Watch the Taj Mahal change color with the moving sun
- Listen to the chants and the spinning prayer wheels with an overnight stay in a Buddhist monastery
- Inhale the aromas of yesteryear in Jaipur, the pink Mughal city
- Feel your goosebumps rise on a two-day safari in Chitwan National Park with endangered rhinos among your neighbors
- Taste tradition with a unique village homestay experience in Sawarda
- Sense the history in and around Kathmandu, where three kingdoms have their capital and much has survived the earthquake
- Balloon above Jaipur at sunrise and take a scenic flight alongside Mount Everest
- Settle into the serene atmosphere of Pokhara, a city where you can relax to end your busy and adventurous tour
India and Nepal are two countries that have always celebrated authenticity. From the Himalayas to Rajasthan’s Mughal cities, these are lands that lay open their hearts and souls for visitors. Spend the night in a Buddhist monastery for a beautifully simple experience in the mountains. Explore the grand forts and palaces as intoxicating local markets stretch out beneath you. Go in search of the rhinos and watch the sun dance across the Taj Mahal, all while surrounded by more than your eyes can take in.
There are many astounding highlights here, including Everest, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, and Boudhanath, but these countries are most memorable for their authenticity. Over 17 days you will create your own new perceptions as you sink all of your senses into seeing far beyond the postcard images.
Your first week in India will be followed by another in Nepal, and your handcrafted route will be designed to diversify your experience with a mix of both local and traditional experiences along with the world-famous highlights. While the pace is relatively quick by necessity to cover two such vast and diverse countries, India and Nepal have a serenity that most visitors do not expect to find. Yes, there can be crowds and chaos at times, but when you leave the bustling streets, a soft spiritual heart comes to the forefront, one that massages away any travel fatigue with its unassuming authenticity.
Delhi is your first stop, and the City of Djinns provides a journey through both old and new, with so many fabulous first impressions it is difficult to know where to look. Travel to Agra and the ode to love, the Taj Mahal just one of the remarkable World Heritage Sites in the city. Continue on the trail of Mughal memoirs you can explore Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur, including a balloon ride above the Pink City. Completing your time in India is an overnight stay in a village homestay, luxury defined by the experience as you enjoy an unfiltered look at the joys of local life. From here, it will be a relatively short ride back to Delhi and the flight to Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu.
Three ancient kingdoms center on the Kathmandu Valley and you will explore what is left after multiple earthquakes, including a hands-on look at the restoration process. Take a scenic flight alongside Everest and many more of the world’s highest mountains, before a night in a monastery away from the world. From here onwards, the pace of the trip slows to immerse you in nature. Spend time first along the Trishuli River and then move amongst the rhinos and elephants on a Chitwan safari. You will soon find yourself amid the Himalayas with a two-night stop in Pokhara. Hiking, cycling, temples, and viewpoints abound, so these final two days can be as active or as restful as you would like. And with Phewa Lake stretching out before you, they also create space to process all of the experiences gathered during your 17-day journey. Consider learning more about our travelers’ best India vacation experiences by reading their India travel reviews.
$2,545 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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