India’s sprawling capital city is colorful, confounding and completely captivating, an exhilarating mixture of ancient and modern, sacred and secular. Your perfectly paced, expertly-led city tour provides a soft landing, an ideal first foray into this fascinating land.
The capital of modern India, New Delhi is not one city but many. Sprawling, home to 17 million people, inhabited for at least 2,500 years, New Delhi has been built and destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, and all of its conquerors have left traces. Your panoramic tour today will show you some of its most remarkable landmarks.
Travel down the broad boulevards of New Delhi, laid out early in the 20th century after the British moved the capital of the Raj from Kolkata to New Delhi and created a new administrative city just south of the old city. Sir Edwin Lutyens, a noted British architect, was given the task of designing this new city, which is still known as Lutyens Delhi; though the British are long gone, this area continues to house India’s government. The British were by no means the only conquerors to make New Delhi their capital. It was also the capital of the Mughal Empire for centuries, so it hosts spectacular examples of Mughal architecture, Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your panoramic tour includes a look at the enormous fort where the emperors lived and a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, erected in 1570, the first Mughal garden tomb in India (and a model for the Taj Mahal and Birla House). The old phrase says that “Delhi belongs to the large-hearted,” and no one was larger hearted than Mahatma Gandhi, the founder of modern India, whose memorial, Raj Ghat, is also on the itinerary this morning.
You have some free time after your tour to explore this exciting city on your own—you’ll find goods from all over India in bustling Connaught Place, in case you want to indulge in some shopping, and the National Museum displays 5,000 years of India’s arts and artifacts. You may opt for the optional tour to Qutab Minar and the Jagannath Hindu Temple.
After a day spent taking in the sights of scenic New Delhi, relax this evening over a delicious buffet dinner at the Oberoi.
To gaze upon the Taj Mahal is a moment at the top of countless travel bucket lists, as well it should be. Widely considered one of the most beautiful monuments ever created, this “elegy in marble” is guaranteed not to disappoint—especially when viewed at the magical hour of sunset, as you are fortunate enough to see it today.
This morning you will check out of your New Delhi hotel and head south via motorcoach to Agra. Once known as Akbarabad, Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire for 100 years, until Shah Jahan moved the government back to Delhi—but Agra was the site of his best-known building project, the exquisite Taj Mahal, which draws visitors from all over the world.
Begin your exploration of the world Shah Jahan inhabited with a visit to Agra Fort, which stands on the banks of the Yamuna River. Work on Agra Fort began in 1565 and continued over the next century. Ancient as it is, it still has military functions, but you will see its lovely mosques, gardens, palaces, courtyards, the vast hall where Shah Jahan once sat on his legendary pearl-and-diamond-bedecked Peacock Throne to receive foreign legations, and the white marble–sheathed rooms where he spent the last eight years of his life, imprisoned by his son. From these arched windows, the emperor could look out to the Taj Mahal, a view you too will experience at the luxurious Oberoi Amarvilas. Relax over lunch there and then check into your room, where you will be delighted to discover that your room—indeed, every room—has a view of the Taj Mahal, your next destination for the day.
It’s easily the most famous building in India, and one of the most famous in the world, with its white domes and minarets floating serenely above the reflecting pools—and you will encounter it just as the setting sun bathes the white marble in a panoply of colors. It’s a monument to a love story between a great ruler, Shah Jahan, and a learned and powerful woman, his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. After she died giving birth to their 14th child, he gathered some 20,000 craftsmen to build her mausoleum, who endowed it with dazzling translucent marble carvings inlaid with precious and semiprecious stones. Step through the gate and into the symmetrical gardens, and experience one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Awake early in the morning for a return visit to the Taj Mahal, which will take on the rosy pink tints of sunrise as you arrive. The gates open as the sun lifts above the horizon, and you enter the exquisite precincts, which you may explore at your leisure.
You’ll return to your hotel for lunch before you head by motorcoach to the third city in the Golden Triangle, Jaipur. Capital of the state of Rajasthan, strewn with massive palaces, it was founded and carefully planned in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II (who gave the new city his name), so even the old part of the city is laid out on a grid. The Singh family’s influence is still felt in Jaipur, though all hereditary titles in India were discontinued in 1971.
Check into the romantic Oberoi Rajvilas, a luxurious oasis, and spend the afternoon relaxing at the hotel, enjoying the extensive, bird-filled gardens.
City Palace is, just as the name says, right in the heart of the city. When Jai Singh II and his architect designed the new city in the 1720s, they made the Maharaja’s palace its center and laid out the rest of the town around it. His successors added to it, so it’s now a complex of palaces, halls, gardens and reception areas. Museum rooms display astonishingly ornate clothing worn by royalty over the centuries, ravishing carpets, lethal weaponry, illuminated manuscripts—all the paraphernalia and treasures of royal life. Hear the tales of those who lived here over the centuries as you gaze in wonder at gold-inlaid ceilings and ornate gateways. Imagine being one of the royal concubines who gazed out on the busy streets from the high windows of the Hawa Mahal, unable to ever step foot out of the confines of the women’s palace.
Following your tour of the palace complex, you’ll visit another of Jai Singh II’s architectural projects, the Jantar Mantar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site devoted to astronomy. Each of the curious structures, called yantras, in this observatory without telescopes enabled court astronomers to study the heavens, measuring various celestial phenomena—eclipses, the position of stars—or the time of day. Some of these instruments are still used by astrologers to determine which days will be auspicious for weddings or other important events. Return to the elegant Oberoi Rajvilas for a relaxing lunch.
Take the afternoon to explore on your own: Shuttles will be available to carry you to and from the hotel to the major shopping district. Jaipur’s bazaars are famous for their traditional Rajasthani crafts—jewelry, pottery, hand-printed textiles and carpets—so go and enjoy the swirl of colors even if you aren’t interested in buying some souvenirs.
Settle into your beautifully appointed suite aboard the Ganges Voyager II in Kolkata (a city formerly known as Calcutta), the gateway to your journey along the world’s holiest river.
You leave Jaipur early today and fly to Kolkata, India’s second-largest city, the longtime capital of the British Raj, and the city many Indians consider their nation’s intellectual capital. Like Jaipur, it is young compared to the millennia-long history of the subcontinent; it was founded by the East India Company late in the 17th century. You’ll board the Ganges Voyager II, your supremely comfortable traveling hotel for the next seven nights, and settle into your suite. Enjoy dinner and a cultural performance will cap your day.
Continue this morning with a panoramic tour of Kolkata’s city center. Though teeming Kolkata is home to palaces and tenements, new developments and modern office buildings, grand hotels and parks, its historic architecture reflects its status as the longtime administrative heart of the British Raj. The colonial buildings still standing—and still in use—offer a blend of baroque and neoclassical styles that says much about British colonial taste. Perhaps the most surprising is the red-and-white façade of the Calcutta High Court building—a replica of the city hall in Ypres, Belgium. You’ll see it, as well as the stately Palladian dome of Government House (now the residence of the governor of West Bengal), the classical white columns of Town Hall, the red-brick Writers’ Building (so named because the East India Company’s writers worked there), the enormous General Post Office, and other public buildings before visiting St. John’s, the oldest Anglican church in the city, and the Victoria Memorial Museum—which was partly inspired by the Taj Mahal. Built as a tribute to Queen Victoria after her death, the huge white-marble confection houses an illuminating exhibition on the colonial era.
Following your tour, you’ll return to the ship for lunch— and the beginning of your cruise along the sacred Ganges. Find a seat on the Sun Deck and observe life on the river: In the city the banks are lined with ghats—broad, shallow stone steps that lead down to the water, where locals stroll and socialize. As you head away from Kolkata, you can see rowboats laden with everything from timber to cows, sand miners hoisting sand from the river bottom bucket by bucket, and on the banks children wave, women wash clothes and onetime colonial settlements offer a range of European architectural styles—English, of course, but also Dutch, French and Portuguese. Enjoy a welcome dinner tonight.
As incredible as it sounds, India is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions (including Buddhism and Hinduism), and Kalna—India’s “Temple City”—has some of the most magnificent examples of Hindu temples on the entire subcontinent.
Kalna, once an important trade port on the river, is best known today for the magnificent Hindu temples built by the maharajas of Bardhaman in the late 18th and 19th centuries. They are your destination today.
You’ve seen them jostling through the busy streets of New Delhi and Kolkata; today’s your chance to try riding in one yourself. Board a trishaw—a pedal-powered three-wheeled rickshaw—for a view of the streets of Kalna as you head to the Rajbari temple complex. The Pratapeshwar Temple, built in 1849, is embellished with exceptional terra-cotta carvings depicting myths and rituals, as well as scenes of everyday life (see if you can spot the girl in typical Victorian dress with a violin among the hundreds of figures). Lalji, the oldest temple in the complex, dates to 1739; the three-storied structure is topped with 25 distinctive pinnacles. Next to it is Krishna Chandra, built in a similar style. Across the street you’ll find the amazing Naba Kailash, two concentric circles of intricately carved temples dedicated to Shiva. The inner circle is made up of 34 white temples symbolizing pure thought; the outer circle contains 74 temples symbolizing the everyday world.
After marveling at these temples you may opt to walk with your guide through the colorful local market or return to the ship.
Your ship serves as a time machine today, transporting you hundreds of years into the past, as we travel to an artisan village where craftsmen use materials and techniques that have remained unchanged for centuries.
Matiari, a West Bengal village nestled above the banks of the river and surrounded by farms, is also home to a thriving metal-working tradition that you will see in action today.
Artisans have been making ornamental brass objects— vases, lamps, figurines, platters—in Matiari for more than a century, so it’s no wonder that production is so well-organized and the craftsmen so skillful. Scrap metal is melted in the village foundry and pressed into new sheets of brass, which are then turned into various objects. Each craftsman specializes in a different step of the process, so one artisan might cut the metal, while another shapes it into a wide tray, and yet another etches an intricate pattern onto the surface. The sound of hammer on brass will fill the air as you stroll from workshop to workshop to see each step of the fascinating process.
Back onboard, watch as a skilled practitioner of mehndi demonstrates how the intricate henna patterns are created, and discover the meanings of the traditional motifs.
Curiosities abound in India, and that includes the country’s eclectic architectural styles. But a palace with a thousand doors? Such a thing does indeed exist, as you’ll see for yourself today, along with some famous terra-cotta carvings, the ruins of a mosque and yet another cultural curiosity—the game of cricket, India’s beloved (and rather complex) national sport.
Today’s adventures take you to a duo of Bengali towns - Murshidabad and Baranagar - each one boasting surprising and beautiful architectural monuments closely linked to the ruling families of the area.
Your day begins in Murshidabad, long ago the capital of Bengal and an important administrative center during the Raj—a fact that comes clear as the ship rounds a bend in the river and you behold Hazarduari Palace. This massive neoclassical building was erected in the mid-19th century for British officials, who lived and had their offices in its 114 rooms. One might wonder why the architect, Colonel Duncan Macleod of the Bengal Corps, thought the building needed a thousand doors, but that’s how many it has—900 of them are real doors, and the remaining 100 are false. It is now a museum, which you will visit. Climb aboard a horse-drawn buggy for a ride to Katra Mosque, built in 1723 by the first nawab, Murshid Quli Khan, who gave his name to the town. The huge mosque was damaged by an earthquake in 1897, losing two of its four great towers, but it is still a remarkable sight.
Return to the ship for lunch and cruise to the town of Baranagar, where Rani Bhabani built beautiful brick temples in the 18th century. Goats frolic among them now and vines attempt to take them over, but the terra-cotta carvings are considered among the best in Bengal and the temples are well-tended.
After your tour, if time allows, you can learn a bit about one of the Raj’s enduring legacies in India: a passion for that most British of all games, cricket. It remains India’s favorite sport, and the national team, nicknamed the “Men in Blue,” has won the Cricket World Cup more than once. The game is played in schools, in fields, even on village streets; watch it in action and discover the meaning of terms like “long leg,” “fast bowler” and “run-out.”
This evening, following dinner onboard, take in a lively and fun-filled Bollywood-style show, complete with music and dancing.
Few places of worship exist on such a head-spinning scale as what you will witness today in Mayapur, the center of the international Hare Krishna movement and home to the new Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, still under construction.
Today the ship heads back toward Kolkata, cruising past lush fields of rice, sugarcane, tomatoes and eggplant, among many other crops, but your river adventure is not over. You still have some fascinating locations to visit; they lie on the opposite bank of the river from your upstream ports of call. Your stop is in Mayapur, sometimes called the spiritual capital of the world.
Most students of history know a thing or two about the British colonial powers in India, but few are aware that the French had colonies here, too—including one that existed as late as the 1950s. You’ll visit this former French outpost today, as well as a famous Shia pilgrimage center.
You’ll continue to cruise toward Kolkata today, stopping en route in Bandel and Chandannagar, a little piece of France that survived in India for a couple hundred years.
Bandel, founded by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, offers a typically Indian mix of religious monuments: It’s the site of the oldest Christian church in India, the location of Hindu festivals (including one devoted to the goddess Muthumariamman), and home to a famous Shia pilgrimage center, the Hooghly Imambara. You’ll board a country boat—a small boat fitted with benches that ferries passengers to and from your luxurious ship, which cannot always moor on the banks of the river—to reach the shore and the imambara. Completed in 1861 to honor Muhammad Mohsin, a revered Bengali philanthropist, the stately imambara offers shelter for pilgrims, a mosque and a school. Step into the long colonnaded courtyard for a view of the twin towers and the 19th-century clock, and climb the stairs of the clock tower for a fabulous view of the river and surrounding countryside. Visitors are sometimes allowed into the mosque, but all guests must leave before the faithful are called to evening prayers.
“Liberté, Egalité e Fraternité.” These words, the famous slogan of the French Revolution, are inscribed on the gateposts of Chandannagar, a memento of the centuries the town was a French outpost in West Bengal. In fact, Chandannagar did not officially become part of India until 1952, so when you step ashore here you will find a mixture of French Colonial and Indian architecture. A broad, tree-lined riverfront promenade known as the Strand shows off the handsomest remaining French buildings, including the Dupleix Palace, now a museum, and the 19th-century Church of the Sacred Heart that replaced the 17th-century original.
Your incredible Indian adventure ends early this morning, as you disembark and transfer to the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport for your flight home—or extend your journey with an optional extension in Varanasi.