This Naturetrek holiday specifically focuses, in equal measure, on both wildlife and India’s fabulous historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Above all, and unusually for India, our itinerary achieves a maximum of variety with a minimum of exhausting travel. A brief domestic flight, two short and comfortable train journeys, and just a few hours of driving on the peaceful roads of rural India are all that are required to complete this fascinating and colourful circuit. We will visit such fabulous sights as the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and the temples of Khajuraho, all of which so magnificently encapsulate the lavish history of northern India over the past millennium. We will also visit Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve — one of India’s most scenic sanctuaries and currently a favourite amongst wildlife connoisseurs on account of the sheer abundance and variety of both its mammals and birds — and conclude our tour in the world’s most famous bird reserve … Bharatpur.
We begin in India’s capital, New Delhi. Here, we will drive to our comfortable hotel. Later, after a rest and a light lunch, an optional afternoon tour of Old Delhi might include such magnificent Moghul monuments as the Jama Masjid mosque and the Red Fort, though the keen birdwatchers in our party may choose instead to visit the Sultanpur National Park and Bird Sanctuary. In 1839 a British army engineer stumbled upon a complex of the most remarkable Hindu temples. Lost for centuries in remote jungle, these magnificent examples of Indo-Aryan architecture had escaped the destruction that Moghul rule inflicted on virtually all other Hindu monuments in northern India at the time. Today, Khajuraho’s temples, so skillfully constructed between 950 and 1050 AD under the later kings of the Chandela dynasty and boasting exquisite (and many erotic) carvings, are listed as a World Heritage Site. Now beautifully restored, they are set within delightful gardens favoured by abundant birdlife and marauding Rhesus and Common Langur Monkeys. From our base in Khajuraho we have ample time to explore the temple complexes and the wildlife of Panna Tiger Reserve.
Panna, a stunning national park of 543 square kilometres, has remained largely unknown and ignored by tourism, mainly because its few Tigers remain wary and elusive. Though consisting largely of dry deciduous forest, it boasts great scenic beauty through its combination of rolling hills and plateaux, grassy meadows, gorges and waterfalls. The broad waters of the River Ken pass through the park and allow us to enjoy wildlife viewing, abundant waterbirds and many large Marsh Mugger crocodiles on boat excursions. Primarily though, we will explore this extensive park on lengthy jeep tours, and sometimes on elephant back, encountering abundant Spotted Deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Wild Boar and troupes of Common Langurs, the more elusive Chinkara and Chousingha antelopes and, with luck, a Tiger, Dhole (Wild Dog) or even a Leopard! With such a variety of habitats, Panna also provides a most varied birdlife, with Painted Sandgrouse, and a wide variety of owls and nightjars likely to be amongst the highlights.
We next drive to Orchha, once the capital of the Bandela dynasty, and today a most picturesque and peaceful village that sits amongst a proliferation of temples, royal chhattris (tombs) and a striking 16th century fort-palace on an island in the Betwa River. There is much to enjoy for a day here, before we take the train from Jhansi to Agra, passing the imposing Gwalior Fort. A stay in Agra will allow us to soak in the splendour of the Taj Mahal and its environs … and to visit the magnificent Agra Fort. We will then drive on, stopping en route to explore the fascinating abandoned Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri, to Bharatpur, the most famous bird reserve of them all, where a feast of birds and other wildlife awaits us.
So, is there a down side to our managing director’s favourite Indian odyssey? Yes, just one! Your chance of a Tiger sighting on this tour is a fairly slim one. For this reason, we offer you the chance to extend your holiday with a visit to Ranthambore, one of India’s most spectacular and best known Tiger reserves, or any other of the country’s fine national parks.
I thought it was a wonderful holiday, well organised, with a variety of experiences, from wildlife and culture, to train travel, city and village life. A great way to see India.
The warmth, patience and enthusiasm of the leader and guides was infectious and I was awed by the beauty of both birds and mammals on this trip as well as the forests and wetlands. I found the people fascinating and delightful - falling over themselves to help. A holiday I will never forget and exceeded my expectations.
I thought it was a superb trip... from the points of view of variety sites covered and vast quantity of birds to watch - and in my case, learn about - especially in Bharatpur. I enjoyed all of it greatly.
We really enjoyed our 'Temples and Tigers' holiday...; India proved even more fascinating than we thought, if anything - lots of good birding, even a few leopards in Panna, some beautiful buildings and tremendous people who always seemed happy and friendly...
I must re-iterate how much I enjoyed the tour; not just the cultural 'sights' and the birds and wildlife, but the total experience of glimpses into a different way of life in villages and towns where we stopped along the way. People were all so friendly and welcoming, keen to show us things. The sounds, smells and colours will remain in my memory.