India: Royal and Wild — January 2019 2018-03-30T11:36:23+00:00

India: Royal and Wild

a tour through the cities and wilderness of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Varanasi

with Jock Montgomery and Annie Miniscloux

  • January 30 – February 19 2019,  a 21-day tour

Introduction

A young Gujarati woman

Our trip to India, a land of immense diversity, will offer a deep overview of some of the country’s most celebrated ancient royal cities and world-renowned wilderness. In the cities, we will primarily stay in upscale, heritage hotels that reflect India’s opulent and royal past. When in the wilderness, we will reside in quaint cottages and upscale tented camps on the edge of deserts and dry marshlands. Our pace will be slow and leisurely, allowing each participant time to savor the experience in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

We begin our journey in Delhi, India’s capital city, a bridge between past–Old Delhi, and present–New Delhi. We then visit the state of Gujarat, which borders both sea and desert, encompassing the remnants of ancient Indus valley civilizations and the homes of once powerful dynasties. In Rajasthan, we enter the land of kings where numerous ancient forts and palaces dot landscapes on the edge of the Great Thar Desert. In Varanasi, we experience the spiritual capital of India, a place where tens of thousands of pilgrims come each day to perform rituals on the banks of the Ganges.

Our trip leaders, Jock Montgomery and Annie Miniscloux, invite you to share the uniqueness of the trip. Let us show you the romance of the Indian desert, the breathtaking grandeur of medieval palaces, the awe of desert fortresses rising above shifting sands, the adventure of 4wd drive trips across vast deserts, the remnants of ancient civilizations, and the sights of ethnic tribes whose way of life harks back to ancient times.

Let’s go!

Highlights

  • Stay in unique, palatial heritage hotels in the city and luxury tented camps and cottages in the desert
  • Visit colorful tribal people whose way of life still preserves ancient traditions
  • Explore the wildlife in the Rann of Kutch, home to the rare wild ass and the unusual blue bull (nilgai) and colorful waterfowl such as the cranes and painted storks
  • Visit unique cultural museums, including the Calico, one of the most celebrated textile museums in the world
  • Travel into the Thar desert to experience life among shifting sand dunes and uniquely adapted flora and fauna
  • Visit grand palaces and forts that offer glimpses into the days Rajas and Maharajas
  • Watch pilgrims perform sacred rituals at Varanasi, one of India’s most sacred cities. We have planned our trip to coincide with the full moon, an extra special occasion for pilgrims

A local man with his friendly camel, Gujarat, India

A local man with his friendly camel

Intricate carvings at Adalaj Vav step well

Hindu priests performing the aarti fire puja beside the Ganges River ghats, Varanasi India

Hindu priests performing the aarti fire puja beside the Ganges River ghats

Itinerary

A Banjara woman from the Rann of Kutch

India, the land of many surprises and exciting opportunities, is an excellent place to keep you on your toes. We make every effort to keep our plans, but we will also remain flexible so we can adjust to unexpected problems and take full advantage of new and interesting situations.

We will travel on land in a comfortable bus.

Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days as noted in the itinerary.

Map of our Journey

Day 1: Delhi

Arrive in Delhi. (Your flight is likely to arrive in the evening.) You will be greeted at the airport by Jock Montgomery and a local guide.

They will assist you in checking to into the Vivanta, an upscale hotel in the heart of New Delhi.

Day 2: Dehli

Enjoy a leisurely morning adjusting to the time change and environment. We will the have an orientation meeting with Jock, Annie and our local guide

Lunch will be at Chore Bizarre, a place dedicated to serving authentic Indian cuisine in a kaleidoscopic interior reminiscent of the great outdoor markets of India. We then explore Old Delhi with its narrow dirt roads, diverse people, and colorful bazaars. We enjoy a Heritage Walk in the heart of Chandini Chowk, the square of silver merchants and watch craftspeople who keep alive the ancient traditions. We negotiate increasingly narrow alleyways until we end up at the Jama Masjid, the largest Muslim mosque in India.

In the evening, we have a welcome dinner that includes a taste of the local wine and beer.

Day 3: Dehli

In the morning, we explore New Delhi, a modern metropolitan city designed by the British when they moved their capital from Calcutta in 1911.  We visit India Gate, a war memorial to the 80,000 Indian soldiers who died during WW I; the Qutub Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world;  and Humayun’s Tomb, an homage to the mighty Afghan and Mughal empires.

In the afternoon, we visit the ornate and sacred Bangla Sahib, the most prominent Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) in Delhi. We have lunch at Lazeez Affaire, a Legendary North Indian and Mughlai food restaurant noted for its kebabs and tikkas.

In the evening, we enjoy a leisurely time at our hotel.

Day 4: Ahmedabad

After breakfast, we take an early morning flight to Ahmedabad, one of the intellectual and artistic capitals of India known for its panoply of architectural styles. This congested and hectic city has a wealth of museums, performing-arts centers, famous galleries, and some of the best universities in the country.

In the afternoon, we travel around to city to see some wonderful contrasts of India: 15th-century Muslim architecture juxtaposed with world renowned modern architects like Le Corbusier, Charles Correa, and Louis Kahn. We also visit see the Siddi Sayyed Jali mosque. This symbol of the city is famous for its beautifully carved stone latticework and the plethora of devotees who work and shop in nearby markets. Later, you will have free time to explore the old market at your own pace.

In the evening enjoy a special Gujarati thalis dinner at Agashiye, a beautiful restaurant spread between two interconnected terraces connected to our luxury heritage accommodation The House of MG.

Day 5: Ahmedabad

Early in the morning, we will explore the ancient city’s narrow lanes and small neighborhoods known as pols, housing clusters comprised of many families of a particular group, linked by caste, profession, or religion. Although families have started moving to more modern houses, many maintain small shrines in the pols to keep their connection in the old city.

Later, we will have the option of taking a Heritage Walk sponsored by a cultural NGO to better understand Ahmedabad’s history. We have lunch at Gopi, a restaurant serving classic Gujarati dishes in an open courtyard.

We visit the Calico museum, one of the most celebrated institutions of its kind in the world. We also visit the Darpana Academy of performing arts where we may see students practice their dance classes; and Sabarmati, Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram from which he led his famous Salt March to challenge British rule.

Day 6: Dasada

In the morning, we leave for Dasada, a small town at the edge of the Great Rann of Kutch, a seasonal salt marsh that is part of the Thar desert. On the way out of town, we visit Adalaj Vav, an ancient, intricately carved, five-story-deep stepwell–a structure once used to provide water for drinking, washing, and bathing as well as a venue for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.

We visit the city of Patan, once the capital of medieval Gujarat, now known for its Hindu and Jain architecture as well as its fabric that uses a technique called double ikkat weaving. In this extremely labor intensive process, both the warp and weft yarns are tied and resist-dyed before being woven into a single textile.

We have lunch with a local family and the opportunity to get an intimate view of life on the edge of the desert.  Afterward, we visit the 11th century Modhera Sun Temple, which features a large, ornate stepwell, a magnificent pillared hall, and a secluded inner sanctum.

We will check into the Rann Riders Lodge, a set of eco-friendly cottages imaginatively designed with mirrors, mud-plaster work, and embroideries to recreate the appearance of a village.

Day 7: Dasada

We begin with an early morning game drive in open-roof 4wd safari vehicles to explore the Rann of Kutch, which turns into a spectacular coastal wetland after a rain. We may see the jungle cat, blue bull (nilgai), Asiatic wild ass, golden jackal, desert fox, gray mongoose, marsh crocodile, a variety of lizards, flamingoes, and spectacular butterflies.

We will also watch people harvesting salt from the flats and visit colorful tribes such as the nomadic Rabari, Mirs, and Bharvas; and the more sedentary Banjara.

In the evening, we will enjoy a quiet meal at our lodge.

Day 8: Barmer

In the morning, we drive to Barmer. This is mostly an overland travel day. Along the way, we will see small villages with mud-houses decorated with folk motifs, and colorfully attired people. Barmer is famous for its camel milk, large cattle fairs, carved wooden furniture, and hand-block printing industry. Barmer is also the location of India’s largest crude oil producer.

In the late afternoon, we may have time to explore the city’s medieval bazaars and visit some of the many elaborate Jain temples around town.

We spend the evening staying at Sanchal Fort, one of the city’s finest luxury hotels located amidst the sand dunes of Malabar

Day 9: Jaisalmer

After breakfast, we visit Kiradu temple, a set of 11th-century structures in the style of the Solanki, a dynasty that ruled this area from 900 to 1300 AD.  We then continue to Jaisalmer, a small town with a remarkable fort built atop an 80-meter hill on the edge of the Thar desert.

In the afternoon, we can explore the city on foot as well as the Jain heritage that dominates this area.

We spend the evening at our hotel, the Suryagarh, a grand, palatial luxury hotel with an ornate, sandstone exterior.

Day 10: Jaisalmer

In the morning, we visit the city’s most notable feature, the Jaisalmer Fort, a World Heritage Site. This impressive walled structure, built of yellow sandstone, surrounded by a vast array of defensive bastions, rises from an 80-meter hill at the edge of the desert.

Inside the fort, people still live among the winding streets dotted with elaborate havalis (mansions) and beautifully sculptured Jain Temples. In the heart of the town, we will visit the most elaborate Patwon Ki Haveli, a showpiece of the city’s legendary architectural wealth. We will have lunch at Trio, a restaurant set under a tented roof atop the wall of the Mandir Palace.

In the late afternoon, we drive to the nearby city of Khuri to take a camel ride in the desert to watch the setting sun.

Day 11: Nagaur

In the morning enjoy the sunrise at Jaisalmer Fort and tour the residential portions of the citadel where one third of the population of the old city lives. There are some old haveli mansions here and the design of the houses and the lifestyles of the people occupying them remain as they were centuries ago.

We then drive to the Aagman Tented Camps, which have air-conditioned tents nestled between sand dunes and trees in the Thar desert. These camps were set up by a direct descendent of the nomadic lifestyle to offer guests a taste of the desert experience.

This afternoon we visit the annual Nagaur camel fair. This is one of the biggest cattle fairs held in India. Large numbers of camels, bulls, cows and horses are bought and sold here along with jewelry for the animals and house hold goods.

Day 12: Nagaur

We spend today attending the camel fair where there are camel races, folk dances and more. We can also visit some nearby villages. We may see local farmers at work, people creating beautiful crafts, children on their way to school, and mothers preparing meals on Chullahs, clay kitchen fireplaces fueled with dung.

In the Thar desert, one of the world’s largest we will see shifting sand dunes interspersed with clumps of thorny vegetation, the beauty of such landscapes, and may have the chance to see a few large animals such as the blackbuck, chinkara, red fox, and caracal.

In the evening, we’ll be treated to yet another memorable cultural performance of dance and music under the stars.

Day 13: Jodhpur

In the morning, we head to Jodhpur, which has a history dating back to the 15th century. The cityscape of this second largest city in Rajasthan is dominated by the massive Mehrangarh Fort topping a sheer rocky ridge.

In the late afternoon, we will take a walking tour of the Old Blue City, so name because of the blue wash that covers many of the mud buildings.

We spend the night at the Ajit Bhawan, an impressive heritage hotel in the opulent style and grandeur of royal Rajasthan.

Day 14: Jodhpur

In the morning, we will visit the Mehrangarh Fort, one of the most impressive and formidable looking structures in India. This 5-kilometer long fort with massively thick wall rests on a 125-meter high hill overlooking the city. Inside are magnificent palaces with marvelously carved panels and latticed windows along with a museum housing an exquisite collection of palanquins, howdahs (elephant saddles), royal cradles, miniatures paintings, musical instruments, costumes, and furniture.

Later, we will visit Jaswant Thada, an architectural landmark of Jodhpur that encompasses a cluster of royal, white marble cenotaphs to house the portraits of various Jodhpur rulers. We will have lunch at On the Rocks, a garden restaurant that serves classic Indian cuisine.

Late afternoon, we walk around the medieval markets of Jodhpur.

Day 15: Narlai

In the morning, we drive to the city of Narlai, which is situated at the foot of an Aravalli Hill that is crowned with a massive elephant statue. The Aravalli Hills are 1,000 to 3,000-foot domed rocks that covers much of Rajasthan.

In the afternoon, we will enjoy a safari in the surrounding countryside to see local villages. Guests have the rare privilege of being welcomed into people’s homes. We also visit a small art and craft industry and a few temples.

We stay at the Rawla Narlai, a magnificent heritage hotel that has rooms decorated with frescoes, stained glass, and hanging baubles.

Day 16: Udaipur

In the morning, we drive to Udaipur. This oasis in the desert has spectacular lakes and gardens as backdrops for elaborate temples and palaces. The old city is a traditionally planned fortified walled city, a maze of narrow winding lanes flanked by houses with doorways decorated with Mewar folk art, windows with stained glass or jali screens, massive havelis with large inner courtyards and shops. En route, we visit Ranakpur, a set of Jain temples that date back to the 14th century.

Later in the afternoon, we visit the 19th century walled Maharani Bagh Orchard, once a favorite treat of the royal family, now a serene setting full of bougainvillea and fruit trees.

We stay at the Trident, a luxury hotel on the banks of lake Pichola. In the evening, we take a boat ride to watch the sunset.

Day 17: Udaipur

In the morning, we visit the City Palace, the largest and most elaborate palace in Rajasthan with an assortment of courtyards, pavilions, terraces, corridors, and hanging gardens. This impressive complex, towering over Pichola Lake, is a blend of Medieval, European, and Chinese architecture. Half of it is still occupied by the royal family; other parts have been converted into a museum. In the midst of the City Palace is the 17th century Jagdish Temple where a brass Garuda stands outside, stone elephants flank the entrance steps, a black stone image of Vishnu sits inside. Nearby is Sahelion-ki Bari, an ornamental pleasure garden of fountains, trees, and flowers specially made for the ladies of the palace.

We have lunch as 1559 AD, an old-world villa with views of the lake. The rest of the afternoon we will have a leisurely exploration of the street life and bazaars of the city.

In the evening, we enjoy the dinner at Raj Bagh, a Lakeside garden restaurant with canopy-shaded tables and displays of art, statues, and vintage cars.

Day 18: Varanasi

In the morning, we will have a walk along the ghats of Pichola lake.

Later, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Varanasi via Delhi. Varanasi is one of the most colorful, chaotic, and continually inhabited cities in the world. On a typical day, this sacred city has over 60,000 pilgrims bath in the waters of the Ganges.

We will arrive in Varanasi in the early evening and check-in to the Gulerai Khoti, a grand hotel on the banks of the Ganges.

Day 19: Varanasi

To experience the burgeoning life of Varanasi along with the beauty of the sunrise, we take an early morning boat ride on the Ganges, passing along scores of ghats, wide stone stairways that lead down into the sacred waters.  Thousands of devoted Hindus will be performing elaborate and colorful morning rituals that include the offering of sweets, flowers, and holy water; the burning of corpses in wooden pyres, and bathing in the holy river to release a person from the karmic cycle of rebirth.

In the afternoon, we view an Indian classical dance performance in the house of a local family. Later, we wander the city’s vibrant and lively narrow streets and alleys. If time allows, we will take a short drive to Sarnath, near the confluence of the sacred Ganges and Gomati rivers. Sarnath is one of Buddhism’s most significant devotional locations and is notable for the sermon the Buddha gave after attaining Nirvana.

Just before sunset, we will take another boat ride on the Ganges to photograph evening life on the ghats and watch Aarti ceremonies, an elaborate ritual accompanied by chanting and dance and objects representing the five elements: fire, water, earth, air, and ether. We have timed the trip to coincide with the full moon when there will be large numbers of pilgrims and more elaborate ceremonies!

Day 20: Delhi

In the morning, you have one more chance to visit the ghats and photograph the unending flow of pilgrims.

In the afternoon, you transfer to Varanasi airport to board the flight for Delhi.

We check into our hotel, the Taj-Dwarka near the New Delhi airport. We will have a celebratory meal to mark the end of our wonderful adventures in northern India.

Day 21: End of Trip

Breakfast at the hotel is the final meal of the trip. We bid our sad farewells and fly home today. A local guide will accompany you to the airport in provided transportation.

Recommended Reading

General

Rajasthan

Snakes and Ladders (Highly recommended by Jock)

Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists

Leaders

Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983, Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. He now leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips; as well as expeditions across the Himalayas, throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia, Ecuador and the Galapagos islands.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Annie Miniscloux

Annie Miniscloux

Annie is one of Compass Rose’s most enthusiastic and engaged trip leaders. She takes a leading role in developing all the design elements for the company, including web development, videos, photography selection, and clothing design. (See her portfolio.) She goes on many exploratory trips with Jock and helps design itineraries. Annie is also Jock Montgomery’s wife–so he pays extra attention to everything she says.

More about Annie Miniscloux…

Ahmedabad Video Cover

The Old Quarter in Ahmedabad

Video Project

Video and still from the streets of Ahmedabad, much of it shot along the heritage paths in the old quarter

The People and Markets of Gujarat

Video Project

The colorful people and markets of Gujarat state, India.

Jock Montgomery, street photography in Ahmedabad, India

Street Photography in Ahmedabad

Photography Project

Street photography along the heritage pathways in the old quarter of Ahmedabad.

Gujarati people portraits

Photography Project

Portraits of the colorful people in Gujarat, India

Dates

Januaray 30 – February 19, 2019

Prices (in US $)

  • Per person based on group size
    • $9885 with 6-7 participants
    • $8945 with 8-9 participants
    • $8625 with 10+ participants
  • Single room supplement
    • $2200
  • Domestic Flights
    • $356/person economy class

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit: $1,000 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation Fees

  • 61-90 days prior to departure 50% of trip cost
  • 60 days or less prior to departure 100% of trip cost

Required

What is Included

  • All ground transportation and entrance fees
  • All meals, except on the first day (only dinner is included), and on the last day (only breakfast in included)
  • Accommodations as specified

What is not included

  • Airfares and visas
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Personal expenses including immunizations, laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etc.
  • Any costs arising out of unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather, landslides, flight cancellations, road conditions and any other circumstances beyond our control.

Reservations

1) Send Deposit

An invoice will be sent by email with instructions for payment. A non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place on a trip. If paying the full amount, an itemized invoice will be sent. (Same price for cash or credit.)

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Traveler’s health insurance is required for all Compass Rose Expedition trips.

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