Namaste! Welcome to Delhi. Today is an arrival day with no planned activities, except a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and fellow travel pals. If you arrive earlier in the day, why not hit the streets and try and get into the Delhi flow. If you're feeling historical there's the 14th-century Humayun's Tomb or 11th-century Qutub Minar. There's also the former residence of royal families and British soldiers – the mighty Red Fort. After this important meeting, why not continue the introductions over an optional group dinner.
2 Delhi - Overnight train
This morning head out on a walking tour around the commercial heart of Delhi, visiting Chandni Chowk (Sheeshganj Gurudwara) and Connaught Place along the way. Explore Old Delhi on a bicycle rickshaw to dig that little bit deeper. You'll then have some free time to do as much sightseeing as you can, before boarding an overnight train bound forJaisalmer. The journey should take around 19 hours and you'll arrive in Jaisalmer early in the morning.
3 Thar Desert
Arrive in Jaisalmer, which looks like some kind of giant sandcastle. Head to the guesthouse, drop off your gear, then take a walk around the town to get a feel of this amazing desert oasis. Chuck your essentials in an overnight bag then hop in a jeep to ride out to a camel camp. That's right, you're about the ride out into the desert in iconic style – scarf wrapped around your face, traverse the sweeping sand dunes of the Thar Desert (approximately 3 hours). Jump down and say thanks to your transport, then help set up camp while the guides get the fire started for a campfire feast. You'll be truly sleeping out in the open here, with mattresses, pillows, sheets and blankets provided. There's no need for a tent – then you'd miss the amazing starry sky. (D)
4 Thar Desert - Jaisalmer
The crack of dawn is your wake up call this morning. But it's worth it. You'll soon see that not much can match a desert sunrise. After a simple breakfast, it's back on your undulating vehicle as you ride (up to 90 minutes) back to your drop off point. There, you'll climb back into the jeep and return to the city. Looking like a scene from ‘The Thousand and One Nights' as it rises from flat desert surrounds, Jaisalmer is a centre for nomadic tribes people who come to trade in the narrow twisting alleys full of markets and ornately carved houses. Enjoy free time upon arrival and maybe visit the Jaisalmer Folklore Museum. Located on the banks of Garsisar Lake in the Mehar Bagh Garden, its wide variety of exhibits offer a great experience for visitors. (B)
Enjoy a free day to explore Jaisalmer further. Discover the city's narrow twisted alleys, which are full of markets and ornately carved houses. Track down some dazzling Rajastani fabrics to spice up your wardrobe, marvel at the spectacular facades of the Patwa ki Haveli and Salim Singh-ki-Haveli, or maybe just get walking in the maze of paths and soak up the atmosphere. After a big day exploring, find a good spot on one of the fort's 99 bastions and watch the sunset into the desert.
Travel by train across the desert to one of Rajasthan's largest cities, Jodhpur (approximately 7 hours). Today's a long travel day, so make sure you've got your music player primed and your book ready. Jodhpur is known for its antique shops and the best lassi in India. And yes, it is where those famous trousers come from.
Get ready to bargain at Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. Built around a clock tower, it's packed with spice and vegetable markets, juice sellers and sari materials. Whatever you're into you'll probably be able to grab it here – there are numerous vendors with carts selling everything from Bollywood soundtracks to armfuls of sparkling bangles. Don't miss the street snacks! From the chaos of the market, head to the colossal Mehrangarh Fort, which sits up on a hill looking over the town. Explore and take in the great views from its ramparts, which dominate the city's skyline. This is probably the best preserved of all Rajasthan's hundreds of forts and gives you a great idea what life would've been like as a royalty. Then trip out to the nearby Bishnoi villages. The Bishnoi are a peaceful nature-loving community and no trip to this region is complete without experiencing the fascinating traditions of the tribes people of rural Rajasthan.
Chat away with the locals on a bus to Udaipur (approximately 8 hours) – that's more than enough time to pick up some tips for your next stop. There's no doubt that Udaipur lives up to its rep as India's most romantic city. Rolling hills, white marble palaces and lakes come together beautifully, and it's a place where artists, dancers and musicians perfect their craft. The shopping is also superb, with miniature paintings being the speciality. When you hop off the bus, take a walk around town to help gather your bearings. Explore Udaipur's twisting alleys filled with silver, shoes, bags, leather goods and those miniature paintings.
There's loads to see and do in your free time here. Enjoy a half hour boat ride on the famous Lake Pichola and see marvels like Lake Palace and Jag Mandir Island (note this is seasonal, depending on the water level in the lake). You could check out the City Palace, one of the largest royal palaces in India, and check out the unbelievable treasures within – from vivid murals to antiques and royal utensils. Feeling peckish? Join the famous Spice Box cooking school and spend a half-day learning the secrets of Indian cuisine. With lessons on preparation and cooking, you'll whipping up a full Indian meal in no time.
It's back on the rails today as you hop on a day train to the city of Ajmer (approximately 7 hours), sharing the journey with locals as the chai wallahs make their way down the carriages. Then it's a transfer to a private vehicle from Ajmer to your hotel in Pushkar (approximately 45 minutes). One of India's holiest places (and in such a spiritual country, that's saying something), Pushkar is a market centre for many of the local village people and a great place to sit back and relax. Head out to explore Pushkar's main bazaar and many side streets – some great bargains snatched up here in the home of some of the cheapest clothes and jewellery in northern India. Walk around the lake, with its bustling ghats and temples, to watch the devout as they worship at the holy waters.
Early risers can make the sunrise hike up the hill to the Savitri Temple for magical views over the town. There could also be a wonderful steaming glass of chai waiting for you if the chai man is there – certainly well worth the trek. You can also stop the colourful Brahma Temple, one over only a handful in the whole of India. It's said that the god has so few places of worship thanks to a curse laid down by Brahma's consort, Saraswati.
Travel by public vehicle to the 'Pink City' of Jaipur (approximately 4 hours). The streets of this earthy red town are busy with camels, motorbikes, rickshaws, and you'll walk past traditionally dressed Rajput while monkeys climb wires overhead. Haggling to your heart's content in Jaipr's bazaars and backstreets filled with textiles, semi-precious gems and blue pottery. Drop by one of India's finest palaces – the Royal City Palace – an amazing complex with various colourful courtyard gates, fascinating museums, and impressively moustachioed guards. Tonight, you'll experience the cinema like never before with an extravagant Bollywood blockbuster at the stylish Raj Mandir Cinema – there's usually romance, drama and music all rolled into one.
For anyone that wants to see the Pink City a bit differently this morning there's the option to drift high over Jaipur in a hot air balloon, a highlight for many visitors. For more information please see the important notes section of your trip notes. Here's just a sprinkling of things to do in your free time today: drop by Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), the impressive five-storey facade with pink, honeycombed windows making it the most photographed building in the country after Taj Mahal. Then maybe head out to the old capital of Amber and an exploration of the hilltop fort complex known as the Amber Fort. The Sheesh Mahal inside the fort is a must-see. As the walls are completely covered in little mirrors, the hall illuminates with the light of a single match. Hit the streets for raj kachori chaat – a big fluffy chaat served with chutney, yoghurt, chilli and potato. Then cool off with a lassi from Lassiwala on MI road, Jaipur's oldest and most famous lassi shop.
Head east by public bus to Agra (approximately 6 hours). Agra might not be the prettiest city in the world, but the minute you check out its top-notch sites that won't matter one bit. After arriving into the city you'll head to the most iconic sight in India. It doesn't matter who you are, the Taj Mahal will explode all your expectations with the morning light shimmering off its white marble surface. Maybe jump on a motorised rickshaw to pick out the rest of the city's monuments – Akbar's Mausoleum is a beautiful sandstone and marble tomb built for the greatest of the Mughal emperors.
15 Agra - Delhi
Maybe return to the Taj Mahal at sunrise, then explore the awesome Red Fort on the banks of the Yamuna River – stroll the palatial gardens of this red sandstone stronghold with cheeky monkeys in tow. Then it's back on rails with a return train to Delhi (approximately 3 hours). Use the rest of the day however you like. Practice your bargaining skills in Chandni Chowk in the maze of shops and kiosks that sell everything imaginable, buy local crafts straight from the hands of the artisan in Janpath market, or gobble down street chaats – snacks like deep fried fritters and flatbread. Then maybe find time for a quiet drink in this teeming metropolis tonight.
End things on a sweet note, with a taste of our favourite treats – sandesh, rosogolla and chanar payesh. There are no activities on the last full day, so take a look around and maybe even stay on a couple of nights to keep up the exploration. Swap Facebook deets with your new travel mates and then it's over and out after breakfast. Don't forget to check out an Urban Adventure or two if you've got some extra time in Delhi.