Heart of India

India

Culture

Lucknow, Varanasi & the wonders of Madhya Pradesh

14 days £2,195 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Discover the intriguing city of Lucknow by foot on a heritage walking tour, and sample its signature biryani dish. Witness sunrise and the aarti ceremony on the Ganges and amble through the labyrinthine streets in Varanasi. Cross into Madhya Pradesh and visit Khajuraho, renowned for its erotic temples. Stop at the sleepy temple town of Orchha then take the train to the 'lake city' of Bhopal, the only city in India ruled by begums (female Muslim rulers). Finally end your journey through the heart of India in the quaint spiritual riverside town of Maheshwar, famous for its ghats and impressive Ahilya Fort.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Impressive monuments at the Kaiserbagh Complex
  • Take a journey through time along the Victorian Walk
  • Boat ride on the holy river Ganges
  • Witness sacred Aarti Ceremony
  • Marvel at Khajuraho's intricately carved erotic temples
  • Explore the sleepy temple town of Orchha
  • Prehistoric cave paintings in Bhimbetka
  • The ancient ruins of Mandu

Places Visited

Lucknow - Delhi - Varanasi - Sarnath - Khajuraho - Orchha - Bhopal - Sanchi - Bhimbetka - Maheshwar - Mandu - Mumbai - Indore

What's Included

Airport transfers
Domestic flights
Accommodation
Ground transport with driver
Local guides
Some meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
Entrance fees to sites and parks (one-time entry)
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival in Delhi - Lucknow

Arrive in Delhi, where you will transfer to your connecting flight on to Lucknow. On arrival in Lucknow, you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. Rest of the day is free to relax or explore your surroundings. Overnight in Lucknow.

Meal plan: n/a

Lucknow, the Golden City of the East, is the capital city of Uttar Pradesh in India. A multicultural city, it flourished as the cultural and artistic capital of North India in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is typically associated with legendary ‘nawabi’ hospitality, the British Raj, leisurely lifestyles and world-renowned cuisine. The rich Awadhi cuisine of Lucknow was made popular by the Nawab of Awadh who, to deal with food shortage, ordered his men to cook in huge handis (vessels) to feed the hungry. This eventually led to a style of cooking called ‘dum’ – the art of sealing ingredients in large handis and cooking over a slow fire.

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Day 2 : Lucknow

Spend a full day sightseeing in Lucknow. Begin the day at the British Residency, stopping en route to see Sadat Ali Tomb and the Chatar Manzil. Later, visit the Asifi Imambara, Rumi Dawraza and the Asfi Mosque. Continue the day at the Kaiserbagh Complex, where you will see the great Kaiserbagh Gates and stop off at the Safed Baradari. Take a heritage walk through the oldest market place of Lucknow, where you will see some of the best examples of local handicrafts and Chikan work. Return to your hotel for overnight stay in Lucknow. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

The British Residency served as a refuge for approximately 3000 British inhabitants throughout the 1857 uprising. Lucknow was the centre of all British activities during the siege and the Residency became the monopolistic centre of the British for almost 90 days. Within the walls are the graves of around 2000 British soldiers who died in the 1857 revolt. On November 17th, the British troops defeated the Indian forces and recaptured the city. Today, the British Residency of Lucknow serves as a government office. 

The tomb of Sadat Ali Khan is one of the most famed sights in Lucknow. The ornate, domed structure was built by Nawah Ghazi-ud-Din - the son of Sadat Ali. The turrets and fine stucco work of the mausoleum provide an example of traditionally Indo-Islamic style architecture. 

The Chantar Manzil, also known as Umbrella Palace, can be found on the banks of the Gomti River. It is famed for the great Chatar, or umbrella, which sits at the top of the building and shines when it is hit by the suns rays. The magnificent structure was built in 1978, by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. The palace building and its gardens were influenced by a fusion of Italian and French architecture.  

The Asifi Imambara monument was built by Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784. The order for its construction was given as a relief measure for a devastating famine - as it provided employment to citizens for almost a decade. Bara translates to mean big, and an imambara is a shrine that has been built by Shia Muslims. Asfi Mosque lies next to the grand Asifi Imambara - both the monument and mosque reflect the beautiful ornamented Mughal design of the era. 

The Rumi Dawraza, sometimes referred to as the Turkish Gate, is a lavish gateway that used to mark the entrance to the old city of Lucknow. The ornate structure provides an example of Awadhi architecture, and has become seen to be the symbol of the city. 

The Kaiserbagh Palace Complex was built between 1848 and 1850. The grand palace was constructed by Wajid Ali Shah - the successor of Muhammad Ali. The building is famed for its remarkable architectural design - its ornate minarets, iconic columns and Hindu umbrellas give the palace a distinct and memorable style. The complex suffered some damage during the British attack of 1858, although it largely stands as it did on its completion in 1850. One of its most famed features is the great gate of Kaiserbagh.

The Safed Baradari today stands as a palace of celebration, although it was initially constructed as a palace of mourning - named Qasr-ul-Aza. It was built by Wajid Ali Shah as a monument for mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his followers at Karbala. 

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Day 3 : Lucknow

Enjoy another day exploring the city of Lucknow. Begin the day at the famous La Mariniere School, before travelling to Dikusha Palace & Gardens. Later learn of the rich heritage of the city as you begin the Victorian Walk, where you will have time to see the impression of cultural change at Hazratganj. Return to your hotel for overnight stay in Lucknow. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

La Martiniere in Lucknow is one of the leading education institutions in India. It is the only school in the world to have been awarded Battle Honors for the role staff and pupils played in the Defence of the Residency at Lucknow during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Today, it is considered one of the most important monuments in the city. 

The ruins of Deilkusha Palace and gardens were built by Nawab Sadat Ali Khan and Nadir ud din Haider. Although the palace now lies in ruins, it provides evidence of what was once an architectural and artistically beautiful structure. The palace was influenced by 18th century English architecture, and played a historically important part of the Siege of Lucknow in 1857. Today, visitors to the ruins can see evidence of this rich history. 

The Victorian Walk at Hazratganj transports you through the cultural heritage of the city of Lucknow. The area displays an amalgamation of Anglo-Indian culture, which is the product of both British and American influence that spans back to the years of Queen Victoria's rule in the early 1800s. The Hazratganj is a place that has witnessed the period of great Indian Mutiny (1857), along with the prosperity and cultural influence of Victorian and Edwardian Britain.The Victorian Walk provides visitors with an insight into the rich history of Lucknow - telling a story of international influence and cultural change. 

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Day 4 : Lucknow - Varanasi

Rise early and travel to the railway station to catch your train on to Varanasi. On arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel and checked-in. The rest of the day will be free for you to spend at your leisure. Overnight in Varanasi. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Varanasi is regarded as the spiritual capital of India, signifying the crossing between the physical and spiritual worlds, and regularly attracts pilgrims to bathe in the sacred waters of the River Ganges. The Ghats leading into the river are colourful, full of character and a have an unrivaled spiritual atmosphere. Every evening at sunset, Varanasi stages the 'Aarti ceremony' where Pilgrims gather on the banks of the Ganges and offer fire to Lord Shiva & the river. 

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Day 5 : Varanasi

Rise early and enjoy a boat cruise on the River Ganges, where you will witness Hindu pilgrims performing sacred rituals at the Ghats (stairways leading to the River Ganges). Later, travel to the Bharat Mata Temple and visit Banaras Hindu University, where you will have the chance to look around the Bharat Kala Bhaven. The rest of the afternoon will be free for you to spend at your leisure. Overnight stay in Varanasi. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Bharat Mata is the national personification of India as a Mother Goddess. Located on the campus of Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith university, the Bharat Mata Temple was built in 1936 and inaugurated by Gandhi. Instead of housing traditional gods and goddesses, it holds a marble relief map of India depicting the mountains, plains and oceans, symbolizing undivided India and denoting the Bharat Mata idol.

Built in 1917, the Banaras Hindu University is one of the oldest educational centres in India, as well as one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with over 20,000 students. It was founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya as a centre for the study of Indian art, culture, music and Sanskrit. The university campus is spread over five square kilometers’ and houses the Bharat Kala Bhavan, an art and archeological museum.

The River Ganges, known locally as Ganga, flows through the northern Indian subcontinent - from its source in the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. It is believed to be the holy river of Hinduism and is therefore given great importance. The Ganges supports hundreds of millions of people as it flows through one of the most fertile and densely populated regions in the world.

Bharat Kala Bhavan is an art and archeological museum at Banras Hindu University. It is home to a vast collection of ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, manuscripts and artifacts. The museum is primarily for university students, teachers, alumni and researchers - but it is also a Regional Museum and welcomes visitors of all kinds. 

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Day 6 : Varanasi

Spend the morning visiting the Buddhist centre of Sarnath. Later, take a walking tour along the Ghats of Varanasi, where you will see the famous Assi Ghat. In the evening, enjoy a boat ride along the Ganges and witness a sacred Aarti Ceremony. Return to your hotel for overnight stay in Varanasi. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Sarnath is considered the most beautiful Buddhist pilgrimage, naturally preaching tranquility and peace. Sarnath Temple or Dhamekh Stupa attracts pilgrims from all over the world as it is where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. It was built around 500 AD, although some parts are thought to be even older.

Assi Ghat can be found in southern Varanasi. A ghat is a series of steps that lead down to a body of water - particularly a holy river. In this case, Assi Ghat leads to the River Ganges. It becomes especially busy during festivals, where as many as 22,500 can come to celebrate at the famous ghat. 

Aarti is a Hindu ritual of worship. It is where light, from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor, is offered to Hindu deities as songs are sung in praise. In the traditional Aarti ceremony flowers, water, a lit flame, a peacock fan and tak-tail fan are presented on an Aarti plate. These symbolic offerings represent the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind and space. Aarti can be performed between one and five times daily at almost all Hindu occasions or ceremonies. The priest carries the Aarti plate, or simply carries a lamp, to all those at the ceremony - who each cup their hands over the flame, before raising their palms to their forehead. This represents a blessing, passed from the image of the deity through the flame and onto the individual. 

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Day 7 : Varanasi - Khajuraho

In the morning you will be driven to the airport for your flight on to Khajuraho. On arrival, transfer to your hotel where you will be checked-in. Later, travel to the impressive Khajuraho Temples. Return to your hotel for overnight stay in Khajuraho. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in Madhya Pradesh, Khajuraho is famous for its erotic carvings on its ancient temples. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these famous erotic temples are the largest group of Hindu and Jain temples in India. Khajuraho was once the religious centre of the Hindu Chandela Rajput kings who ruled central India between the 10th and 12th centuries and built 85 temples, although only 20 of them have survived. The legend behind the erotic sculpture carvings in the temples is that the Moon God seduced a beautiful Brahmin girl, Hemvati, resulting in the birth of Chandravarman (the founder of the Chandela dynasty). Later, Chandravarman had a dream where his mother requested him to make a temple, which would reveal all aspects of the treasure of passion and erotic fantasy to the world.

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Day 8 : Khajuraho - Orchha

In the morning, you will depart Khajuraho and travel on to Orchha. On arrival, check-in to your hotel. Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city. Overnight stay in Orchha. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Set along the banks of the Betwa River and surrounded by forests, Orchha's temples, forts and palaces reflect the glory of its former Bundela rulers, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Highlights of Orchha include the magnificent Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Raj Mahal, and its other spired temples. Spend some time wandering this quiet town. 

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Day 9 : Orchha - Bhopal

You will be transferred to the railway station, where you will board your train to Bhopal. On arrival you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. Rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Bhopal

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 10 : Bhopal

Today you will enjoy a guided sightseeing tour of Bhopal. Later, visit the Bhimbetka Caves and Canchi. Overnight in Bhopal.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Sanchi is the location of several Buddhist monuments dating back from between the 3rd and 12th centuries BC. It is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and a world heritage site. The Great Stupa at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India.

Known as the 'City of Lakes', Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh state. Said to have been founded by King Bhoja of the Paramara dynasty some one thousand years ago, it is home to many institutions of national importance including the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Indian Institute of Forest Management. It is also the site of a large number of places of interest, including Jama Masjid, the ancient fort of Raisen and the Mosque of Pearls which was built by Sikander Begum, who was an unconventional Muslim woman for her time.

45 Kilometres south of Bhopal, the Bhimbetka rock shelters show evidence of the earliest sign of human life on the Indian subcontinent. It is the symbol of the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age and some of the caves are thought to have acted as shelter for Homo erectus over 100,000 years ago. The caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many of the paintings are 30,000 years old. They depict religious symbols, hunting scenes and animals such as elephants, bison and tigers. The caves are surrounded by lush vegetation and were discovered by accident in 1957, by Dr Vishnu Wakankar.

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Day 11 : Bhopal - Maheshwar

Depart Bhopal for Maheshwar. On arrival, check-in to your hotel. The rest of the day will be free for you to explore at your leisure. Overnight in Maheshwar. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Maheshwar is built on the site of the ancient city of Somvanshya Shastrarjun Kshatriya. Meaning 'Great God' in Hindi, Maheshwar is a religious town, with more than 100 temples.

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Day 12 : Maheshwar - Mandu - Maheshwar

Travel to Mandu, where you will enjoy a day of sightseeing. Visit the historic Hoshang Shah's tomb, before returning to Maheshwar for overnight stay. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

The ruins of Mandu, also known as Mandavgad, lie in the Malwa region of the western Madhya Pradesh region. The ancient fortress town gained prominence in the 10th and 11th century, during the Paramas Dynasty. Its position - high on the Vindhya Range, overlooking the Narmada River - provided it with a strong natural defense system that led it to become a historically significant fortress. Evidence of this military past can be seen at Mandu's battlement wall and gateways. Other significant sights include Baz Bahadur's Palace, Jama Masjid and Rewa Kund. Today, the settlement is known for its impressive Pashtun architecture - which can still clearly be seen in the archways, domes and detail in many of its monuments and temples.

One of the most famous buildings in the historical fort settlement of Mandu, is the Hoshang Shah Tomb. Hoshang Shah was the first formally appointed Islamic king of the Malwa region in Central India. He ruled Malwa for 27 years and made Mandu one of the more secure forts in India. The tomb of Hoshang Shah was constructed in the 15th century, and is believed to be India's oldest marble mausoleum. The tomb's lattice work and towers provide a magnificent example of Afgan art and architecture. The monument was so architecturally impressive, that Shah Jahan sent some of his architects to the tomb prior to their work on constructing the famous Taj Mahal. The mausoleum still displays inscriptions of respect from these architects, which were left during their visit in 1659.

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Day 13 : Maheshwar

Enjoy a free day in Maheshwar, where you can choose to explore at your leisure or alternatively, day trips can also be arranged on request. Overnight stay in Maheshwar. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 14 : Maheshwar - Indore - Mumbai - Departure

Spend the morning at your leisure. Later, transfer to Infore Airport where you will board your flight to Mumbai. On arrival, transfer to the international airport for your departure and onward flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation Title

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Lebua Lucknow

Lebua Lucknow is a luxury boutique heritage property. It is located in central Lucknow and designed as a traditional bungalow with a lush green lawn. It reflects the "Art Deco" architecture prevailing in the early 1900's. All rooms are equipped with complimentary WiFi. There are 3 on-site restaurants: Azrak, serving local cuisine with a blend of flavours from Awadhi, Hyderabad and Rajasthan; 1936 with fine dining Italian cuisine; and The Lounge, an elegant cocktail bar with bar snacks.

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Hotel Madin

Hotel Madin is located in central Varanasi, near to many of cities most iconic sights. The hotel has been decorated in a contemporary style. The ensuite bedrooms are fitted with modern fixtures and fittings that includes air-conditioning, satellite television and wifi access. The hotel has a terrace that provides guests with scenic views across the city. 

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Radisson Jass

The Radisson Jass Hotel is a 5-star luxury property offering everything you need for an exceptional stay. The 86 guest rooms and 4 suites at the hotel are surrounded by lush gardens and beautiful scenery and provide unparalleled comfort and style. The hotel also features a multi-cuisine restaurant, a full bar and two conference halls. The airport, railway station, marketplace and world heritage temple complex are all just four kilometres away.

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Amar Mahal

Amar Mahal is built on acres of mounted land near the bank of the River Betwa. It is a perfect gateway to experience the historical and natural splendor of Orchha.

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Jehan Numa Retreat

The Jehan Numa Retreat features stylish and comfortable rooms with private decks that overlook green fields.

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Ahilya Fort

Ahilya Fort is situated high above the banks of the scenic Narmada River. The historic fort was built in 1766 and in recent years was converted into a small hotel, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and a swimming pool for guests to enjoy during their stay. The on-site restaurant prepares traditional Mughal dishes along with alternative international cuisine options. Ahilya Fort provides guests with beautiful views across the river and surrounding forests. 

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Reviews

Outstanding trip, custom made to our desires. Once again, Travel The Unknown did not disappoint, exceeding our expectations. The in-country coordination worked with clock-work precision.

Vladimir Lange & Amy Opfell (USA) , Tailormade India

I thoroughly enjoyed my tailor made tour of northwestern and central India. Guides and accommodations were excellent and we saw as much of the area as could be packed into two weeks. I look forward to another tour with Travel the Unknown.

Mary Trubek (USA) , Tailormade India

I have been on 3 tailor made trips with Travel The Unknown and have found them to be knowledgeable and reliable. We`ve stayed in some wonderful places and have had some unusual and satisfying experiences that go beyond the standard tours.

Joan Edmunds (USA) , Tailormade India

The animal experience at Tadoba, Pench and Satpura was just wonderful, especially for tiger, jackal and sloth bear interaction.

Mervyn Cooke , Tailormade Wildlife, India

I would highly recommend Travel the Unknown to anyone visiting India. The service we received both prior to, during and following our travels was always timely and excellent. We were able to customize our trip to our liking and to enjoy a wide variety of activities. The guides in every location were outstanding! Honestly. Having travelled through much of the world I can truly say that we have never been more impressed with the quality of the guides arranged for us in each location, as well as the service we received. Similarly, the hotels were excellent and allowed us to live very comfortably while, at the same time, enjoy an authentic Indian experience. If you haven`t already booked your trip with Travel the Unknown, then either do so now....or at least give them a chance to show you what they can offer.

Tracey & Gary , Tailormade India

Travel the Unknown put together an Itinerary in North East India - Living Root Bridges for me and a travelling companion. The accommodations, transportation, promptness of drivers, and knowledge of our guide was excellent. Easy booking from office and good pre trip information. Thanks TTU!

Christina Taft , Living Bridges of Meghalaya, India

What an excellent service! Rahul adapted, extended and improved our trip so many times without a qualm and we ended up with the trip of a lifetime. The destinations are unusual and interesting but everything has been checked out by the team and works brilliantly. I can`t wait to do another trip.

Penelope Smith , Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival, India

I had been studying the Apatani Tribe for quite some time… I’m talking roughly 7 years! Travel The Unknown made my dreams come entirely true. They organized every aspect of my experience in the most minute detail. I have never felt such confidence in an agency nor worked with one more knowledgeable about their destination. Because of them and their kind efforts, I will continue to travel with Travel The Unknown for all future expeditions to this or similar regions. Thanks, Travel The Unknown, for everything!

Christian Noni , Tailormade North East India

Another fantastic trip with this company. WE really managed to get off the beaten track and have seen some amazing sights. Well put together. We will travel again with Travel the Unknown

Hazel & James Frost , Tailormade India

Wow, India is incredible and Travel The Unknown put together a trip that really showed the diverse nature of the country and cultures, from the busy capital Delhi to the splendour of the Taj Mahal and then off the main tourist trek with an overnight sleeper train to Varanasi on the Ganges, the Hindu religious capital with bathing , washing and cremations alongside the river - an astonishing experience. We then moved to the forgotten North East corner where there is a tribal culture in an area seemingly cut off from the rest of India. Our destination was the Living Root Bridges which are unique and remote. Just want to go back to India for more...

Ken Sankey , Living Bridges of Meghalaya, India

This trip was my first time travelling with Travel The Unknown, but definitely not my last!

Lori Martin , Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival, India

As always Travel The Unknown were exceptional in organising my trip to India. The guides for Meghalaya and the Golden Triangle were friendly, extremely helpful and very informative. The tour was busy but never felt rushed; the combination of Meghalaya and Golden Triangle giving quite a varied perspective of India.

Terry Cooper , Living Bridges of Meghalaya
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