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Journeying through the interior of India and mountains of Nepal, take in the temple artistry of Hindu legends, bustling bazaars draped in colourful textiles and unforgettable scenery of the world's mightiest peaks. Encounter India's web of colonial-era railways as you travel from Amritsar's gleaming Golden Temple and the marbled splendour of the Taj Mahal to artistic Lucknow and the spiritual centre of Varanasi, then fly to Nepal where wildlife encounters and sacred stupas round off this 17-day tour.
Depart London on your scheduled, overnight flight to Amritsar, via Delhi.
On arrival in Amritsar, you will be met and transferred to your hotel, with time to rest before your evening excursion to the Wagah Border ceremony on the India-Pakistan border. Experience this riveting flag lowering ceremony, a daily ritual where each country's soldiers compete to march, salute and shout louder, faster and better than the other's.
Explore Sikhism's spiritual centre on this morning's tour of Amritsar. Feast your eyes on the marble sculptures, gleaming golden turrets, and jewel studded interior of the famed Golden Temple, joining the throngs of pilgrims that visit this holy shrine daily. Continue onward to the commemorative gardens of Jallianwala Bagh where a memorial serves as a poignant reminder of the 1919 massacre of civilians by occupying forces. After lunch, travel to the train station where you'll board your first train. Experience India's incredible train network, made up of 71,000 physical miles of track and 7,172 stations, as you travel to the capital city of Delhi.
Witness the contrast between Old Delhi's historic charms and New Delhi's detailed colonial town planning on today's rickshaw tour through the city. Travel past the imposing red sandstone exterior of the magnificent Red Fort and through Delhi's bustling streets to Humayun's Tomb, an elaborate mausoleum set in beautifully landscaped gardens. Journey onwards to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, draped in floral tributes, and the towering minaret and ruins of the ancient Qutab Minar complex.
Board your early morning train and journey from Delhi to Agra. On arrival, make your way to one of India's most iconic landmarks and the jewel of Agra - the Taj Mahal. Taking over 22 years to build and boasting inlays glittering with precious stones, this architectural gem is a highlight of the trip. Marvel at the distinctive minarets, gleaming dome and beautifully manicured gardens of this magnificent ivory-white mausoleum, commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan to hold the remains of his beloved third wife. Continue on to the colossal complex of the Agra Fort and explore this vast red sandstone complex of striking pavilions, palaces and courtyards.
Today's scenic train ride takes you from Agra to Lucknow, India's former artistic and cultural hub. On arrival, check into the hotel and spend the afternoon at leisure, free to relax or explore your new surroundings.
After breakfast, a full-day city tour of Lucknow visits the city's most impressive highlights. Wander through the recently restored Hazratganj Market and visit the 1857 Memorial Museum, where the collection of old photographs, documents and objects on display offers insight into the major historical events that have shaped Lucknow. Continue on to the historic Juma Masjid mosque, the fortified royal villa and gardens of Sikander Bagh and the gilded dome and intricate inlays of Chota Imambara. Pass through the imposing 18th-century gateway of Rumi Darwaza, travelling past the stark red walls of Taluqdar Hall, the towering peak of Husainabad Clock Tower and the crumbling splendour of Kaiserbagh Palace. Enjoy the greenery of Begum Hazrat Mahal Park, the throngs of the buzzing Aminabad bazaar and the regal facade of Chattar Manzil before returning to your hotel after this comprehensive day of sightseeing.
Enjoy rolling landscapes as your train carries you from Lucknow to Varanasi, India's spiritual centre. After check-in at your hotel in Varanasi, an evening tour leads to the banks of the sacred Ganges River, lined with vast stone steps, or 'ghats', used daily by thousands of pilgrims in their cleansing rituals. If time permits, witness the captivating Ganga Aarti ceremony as fire-lit offerings are floated down the river accompanied by chants and prayers.
Watch the sunrise over Varanasi with an early morning boat trip on the Ganges, allowing a different perspective of this colourful waterfront city. Disembark for a walking tour through the narrow alleys to the historic landmarks of the old town. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Delhi, arriving in time for lunch at a local restaurant and an afternoon at leisure to explore this lively city.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, whose ancient Buddhist temples and stupas have earned it more UNESCO recognised sites than any other city in the world. On arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel where you can enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure for exploration or relaxation.
Experience Nepal's temple-studded capital on a full day of sightseeing. Join troops of monkeys as you take in the intricate carvings of the Buddhist stupa of Swayanbhunath under the watchful painted eyes that adorn its sides. Travel to the other famed sights of the Kathmandu Valley, including Patan, one of the oldest known Buddhist cities, where you can wander among its 136 monasteries and temples, visiting ancient Krishna Temple, the sunken bath, the soaring temple of Taleju and the detailed decorative carvings of its monuments. Return to Kathmandu for your overnight stay.
Today starts with a visit to Pashupatinath temple, a sacred Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and place of worship for the fascinating painted holy men of Nepal. Depart Kathmandu and drive to Chitwan, arriving in time for an afternoon visit to Tharu village, where you'll learn more about the culture of this indigenous Nepalese group, famous for their resistance to malaria. Return to your hotel for dinner and an entertaining Tharu dance program, usually performed during traditional festivals.
The city of Chitwan (meaning 'Heart of the Jungle') is aptly named, with the wildlife haven of Chitwan National Park lying within its borders. Enjoy a full day of animal encounters, starting with a canoe ride up the Rapti River where you may spot the rare gharial, a fish-eating crocodile which was once on the brink of extinction. Next, visit the local elephant breeding centre to watch mother and baby elephants at play and, if the timing is right, enjoy a feeding as they graze on 'kuchilis', elephant sweets made from molasses, salt and rice, wrapped in grass. Drive to Suaraha and watch elephants bathing in the river, with the chance (at a fee) for a personal shower as you sit on one of the elephants. After lunch, the group will make its way further into the jungle for a guided safari upon the backs of these majestic animals, led by the local mahouts (elephant riders) who will help you to spot one-horned rhinoceros, deer, boars and perhaps even the elusive Bengal tiger.
Depart Chitwan on a scenic journey through rural villages and rolling countryside to Bandipur, stopping en route for lunch. On arrival, check into your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
A full-day tour of the hilltop settlement of Bandipur explores its network of winding lanes, traditional Newari architecture and buzzing bazaar, flanked by pagoda-style temples. From your lofty vantage point, take in the sunset and sunrise over the Manaslu mountain range and enjoy spectacular mountain views.
Following breakfast, travel back into the Himalayan foothills as you make your way to Kathmandu for your overnight stay.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flights to London, via Delhi, or continue on to your chosen extension.
A visa is required for entry into India. British Citizen Passport Holders will need to obtain an e-Tourist Visa (eTV) for travel to India. We work closely with The Travel Visa Company who will be able to arrange your visa on your behalf. Please call them on 01270 250 590 and quote 'Mercury Holidays'. The cost of the visa is approximately £96 per person. The Travel Visa Company can only apply for this 30 days before your proposed travel date and takes around 10 working days to issue. It is only valid for a 30-day single entry stay from the date of arrival. When calling the Travel Visa Company they will advise you of any changes to the fees or the procedure, they will also advise you of all information they will require in order to apply for the visa. British Passport Holders do not need to obtain a visa for Nepal prior to departure, a Nepalese visa can be purchased on arrival in Kathmandu. This will cost around USD $25, so please have this ready in USD cash together with three passport size photos. We recommend that you check the following website before travelling for all the most up to date advice and requirements for entry into Nepal http://www.nepembassy.org.uk/visa.php
If booking more than 10 weeks before departure a deposit of £250pp will need to be paid at the time of booking with the full amount payable at 10 weeks prior to departure. The deposit applies to adults and children. If you are within 10 weeks of travel then the full balance of the holiday will be payable.
It is your responsibility to check any health and vaccination requirements applicable to your booked arrangements. We can only provide general information about this. Health and hygiene facilities and disease risks vary from country to country. You should take health advice about your own needs as early as possible and in good time before your departure. Sources of information include; www.fco.gov.uk, http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/, www.hpa.org.uk, your General Practitioner or a specialist clinic.
Fully escorted with local English-speaking guides throughout
It is customary to tip your guide and driver. This is at your discretion but we recommend you allow approximately £3 in local currency per person per day. Optional excursions are at an additional cost.
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This add-on tour must be taken at the end of the main tour.
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