Immerse yourself in the magic of northern India on this spectacular 12-day cultural tour. Setting out from Delhi, you'll delve into the famed Golden Triangle as you learn to cook with locals in Jaipur, watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal in Agra, and explore the ancient wonders of Orchha and Khajuraho. After floating down the Ganges in Varanasi and walking in the Buddha's footsteps at Sarnath, continue east to end in the West Bengal capital of Kolkata.

Highlights

  • Taste your way through Delhi on a street food tour
  • Visit the Monkey Temple in Jaipur
  • Watch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal in Agra
  • Sail down the Ganges River in Varanasi
  • Marvel at the treasures of Kolkata's Indian Museum

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Delhi Delhi
Day 2 Delhi Highlights & Evening Food Tour Delhi
Day 3 Transfer to Jaipur, Visit the Monkey Temple Jaipur
Day 4 Jaipur Bike Tour & Cooking Class Jaipur
Day 5 Transfer to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri Agra
Day 6 Train to Jhansi, Transfer to Orchha Agra
Day 7 Explore the Lost City of Orchha, Transfer to Khajuraho Agra
Day 8 Tour the Temples of Khajuraho, Fly to Varanasi  Khajuraho
Day 9 Varanasi Sunrise Boat Trip, Visit Sarnath & University Varanasi
Day 10 Fly to Kolkata Varanasi
Day 11 Kolkata City Tour Kolkata
Day 12 Depart Kolkata Kolkata

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi

Welcome to Delhi

Welcome to India! Once you arrive at the airport in Delhi, you will be met by a private driver who will transfer you to your hotel in this historic capital. After check-in, the rest of the day is at your leisure. Go sightseeing, explore the neighborhood, perhaps visit the Dilli Haat outdoor craft market, or just relax in your hotel.

First settled in the sixth century BCE, Delhi's central location made it the perfect hub for many different kingdoms and empires, from the Mauryans to the Turkic Muslim dynasties to the Mughals and the British. Over the centuries, Delhi has been invaded and raided by countless armies, including Persians, Afghans, and the British, who divided the city and made it their capital. Although it is formed of seven different cities, these days, Delhi is divided into two—Old Delhi and New Delhi. The former features many fine examples of historic architecture, while the latter is heavily made up of colonial-era architecture and government buildings.

Day 2: Delhi Highlights & Evening Food Tour

Visit Humayun's Tomb in Delhi

Join your guide for an immersive city tour this morning, starting in New Delhi with a visit to the beautiful Humayun's Tomb. This marvelous example of Mughal-era architecture was built of red sandstone and white marble in 1565 by Emperor Humayan. Nearby you'll find the elegant minaret of Qutub Minar, a mosque that forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of Delhi. Continue to other highlights like the Gandhi Smriti Museum, Presidential Palace, and India Gate before proceeding to Old Delhi. 

Here you'll explore the city's ancient monuments, narrow streets, and bustling bazaars. Passing the dramatic Red Fort, you'll reach India's largest mosque—Jama Masjid. It was completed in 1658 by Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal in Agra. Continue to Chandni Chowk, the most famous market in Old Delhi and the center of the city of Shahjahanabad in Mughal times.

As evening falls, you'll join an unforgettable culinary tour through Old Delhi. On this four-hour adventure, your guide will lead you on a tasting journey through the city's most popular street food. While sampling local specialties from favorite local vendors, you'll learn about Delhi's history and join the hustle and bustle of the streets as you visit different locations by rickshaw. When you've had your fill of delicious dishes, transfer back to your hotel for the night.

Day 3: Transfer to Jaipur, Visit the Monkey Temple

See the Monkey Temple of Galtaji

After breakfast, you will begin a five-hour private transfer to Jaipur, known as the Pink City. The capital of India's Rajasthan state, Jaipur, is one of the largest cities in India and is known for the rosy color of its buildings. Upon arrival, you'll head to Galtaji, a large Hindu temple complex that lies just to the east of the city. Home to a large colony of monkeys, the vast ruins are a popular tourist attraction and give the site its nickname of the "Monkey Temple.

In the evening, catch a Bollywood flick at the vintage Raj Mandir Cinema. This meringue-shaped movie theater opened in 1976 and has become a popular symbol of Jaipur.

Day 4: Jaipur Bike Tour & Cooking Class

The Amber Fort in Jaipur

Early risers can opt for a sunrise bicycle tour of the city this morning— cycling through the streets of the Pink City as you meet locals and discover the rhythms of their daily life. After visits to landmarks, local businesses, and a bustling market, you'll stop for a well-earned breakfast with a local family.

After breakfast, you'll visit Jaipur's magnificent Amber Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that served as the capital of the state until 1727. As you enter the imposing fort, explore its courtyards, palaces, gardens, and halls. The primary courtyard is known as Kaleb Chowk, where the king's soldiers formerly assembled. Continue to the Shila Devi temple, a former site of sacrifices and rituals, then take a stroll through the colorful king's quarters, known as Ganesh Pol, and see the stunning Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors).

In the afternoon, your tour continues to the City Palace, located in the center of Jaipur. The former residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur, this temple and palace was built by Raja Jai Singh in the 1700s and is home to the world's largest sundial. As evening falls, you'll be warmly welcomed into a local's house for an immersive cooking class. After heading to the market for ingredients, learn about the spices, flavors, and history of Indian food as you help prepare traditional dishes and sit down to a mouthwatering meal. 

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Day 5: Transfer to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri

Discover the abandoned citadel of Fatehpur Sikri

Your driver will pick you up this morning for the five to six-hour drive to Agra, stopping en route at Fatehpur Sikri. This small city in northern India lies just west of Agra and was founded by a 16th-century Mughal emperor. Explore the beautiful red sandstone buildings clustered at its center, then to the Jama Masjid mosque. Nearby you'll find the marble Tomb of Salim Chishti and a carved central pillar in Diwan-E-Khas Hall. You can also stroll the Jodha Bais Palace, which includes a mix of Hindu and Mughal building styles, and is next to the towering five-story Panch Mahal

Back on the road, you'll continue to Agra, a city in northern India's Uttar Pradesh state known as the home of the iconic Taj Mahal. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the marble mausoleum was built for the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan's wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and it welcomes you to the city as you start your guided tour. Next on the agenda is a visit to the Red Fort, which reveals the power of the Mughal Empire. Formerly a military fortress built by Akbar, the fort was partially transformed into a palace by Shah Jahan. Its massive walls house a succession of palaces, kiosks, and pavilions, including the famous finely carved pearl mosque.

Finally, you'll take some time to stroll through the Mehtab Bagh Gardens facing the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River. The gardens are perfectly aligned with the iconic mausoleum and offer spectacular views, especially at sunset.

Day 6: Train to Jhansi, Transfer to Orchha

Watch the sunrise illuminate the Taj Majal

Wake up at dawn to witness one of the highlights of your trip—a sunrise over the jewel-encrusted marble of the Taj Mahal. After breakfast, a private transfer takes you to the Agra Railway Station, where you'll board a train bound for Jhansi. Upon arrival, a private driver will meet you at the station and transfer you to your hotel in nearby Orchha, a historic town nestled on the banks of the river Betwa

Day 7: Explore the Lost City of Orchha, Transfer to Khajuraho

Views across the Betwa River to Orchha

Start today with an exploration of the lost city of Orchha. Located on an island on the bend of the Betwa River, this gorgeous historic city looks down over its forested surroundings. Once the capital of an independent state, Orchha was founded in the 16th century and abandoned in the 18th century. Now, its evocative palaces, temples, and cenotaphs stand alongside a sleepy, laidback village.

The city complex itself is home to three beautiful palaces, the Raj Mahal, the Rai Parveen Mahal, and the Jahangir Mahal. Built by successive Maharajas, the individual palaces showcase the unique styles of their kings and, together, form an impressive architectural complex.

In the afternoon, you'll transfer to Khajuraho, one of the most popular tourist spots in Madhya Pradesh. Get settled into your hotel and rest up for a big day of sightseeing tomorrow.

Day 8: Tour the Temples of Khajuraho, Fly to Varanasi 

Discover the sandstone carvings of Khajuraho

This morning starts with a guided visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khajuraho, buried in the jungle for almost 700 years and discovered in 1938. Built by the Chandela dynasty, which rose to power in Central India between the 10th and 11th centuries, this remarkable complex is home to around 25 temples that depict different facets of life through intricate cultures and carvings.

Afterward, a private transfer takes you to the airport, where you'll catch a quick flight east to Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities in the world. According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Shiva, one of the three principal deities.

After settling into your hotel, head out in the evening to enjoy a boat ride along the Ganges River as you witness the evening pooja (prayer) and aarti ceremony. Bask in the beauty of the candles and offerings that fill the river and watch as people fill the ghats (broad riverside steps).

Day 9: Varanasi Sunrise Boat Trip, Visit Sarnath & University

Varanasi's riverside ghats

Just before dawn, take a boat trip out on the Ganges to witness the amazing spectacle of events on the ghats. Every day, thousands of Hindu pilgrims and devotees make their way to Varanasi to offer prayers, meditate, and purify themselves by taking a dip in the holy river. Here, you will see life and death together and perhaps even capture a glimpse of a Hindu cremation on the banks of the river as you cruise past.

Back on land, you'll proceed to Sarnath with your guide. This sacred Buddhist town is located about 7 miles (12 km) from Varanasi. It was here that Buddha first taught and turned the Dharmachakra (The Wheel of Dharma) about 2,530 years ago, and it remains one of the four holy Buddhist sites sanctioned by the Buddha for pilgrimage.

In the afternoon, you'll pay a visit to Banaras Hindu University, formerly known as the Central Hindu College. Established in 1916 by Madan Mohan Malaviya, over 30,000 students reside on campus, making it the largest residential university in Asia. Once inside the university, you can tour the New Vishwanath Temple, famous among tourists for its beautiful architecture. This temple is the larger version of the ancient Kashi Vishwanath Temple located near the Dashaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi, which is one of the oldest Lord Shiva temples in India. 

Day 10: Fly to Kolkata 

The Mullik Ghat Flower Market in Kolkata

Bid Varanasi farewell this morning as your driver takes you to the airport to catch a flight west to Kolkata. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of India's West Bengal state. Founded as an East India Company trading post, it was India's capital under the British Raj from 1773–1911. Today it's known for its grand colonial architecture, art galleries, and cultural festivals.

Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel, and then feel free to rest or explore your surroundings. Don't worry about seeing it all today—tomorrow, you'll embark on an in-depth tour of the city with your guide.

Day 11: Kolkata City Tour

Sunrise over Kolkata's Victoria Memorial

Start today's tour at the gorgeous Victoria Memorial. Built between 1906 and 1921, this white marble masterpiece is the most popular building in Kolkata. It is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria, and the museum houses several rare and unique antiques.

Continue to the Marble Palace to see a famed art collection of masterpieces by Rubens, Reynolds, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, then stop at St. Paul's Cathedral to see the first cathedral built in the overseas territory of the British Empire.

Later on, you'll visit the Indian Museum to explore one of the oldest museums in the world—boasting exquisite collections of ornaments, fossils, skeletons, antiques, armors, mummies, and stunning Mughal paintings.

Day 12: Depart Kolkata

Goodbye, Kolkata!

It's time to say goodbye to India! At the designated time, you'll be picked up and transferred to Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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