'India's Orient' - A Journey Across India with John Keay

16 days from £4390 per person

To the Mughals as to the British, India’s greatest prize lay in its eastern provinces of Bengal and Awadh. For ‘fertility, wealth and beauty’ they were described as ‘unrivalled anywhere in the world’.  Today’s hi-tech India may have passed them by, but the massive monuments and capitals of India’s opulent orient evoke a bygone age of quite breath-taking splendour.  

Highlights of the tour include rarely visited Jaunpur, then an extended stay among the post-Mughal splendours of imperial Lucknow, and finally an exploration of the superb Buddhist and Hindu sites of coastal Odisha.

This tour is a unique chance to discover some of India’s best kept secrets in the company of one of its outstanding authorities. John Keay has reported on India for the BBC and the Economist, has lectured there for the British Council and has been a regular visitor since the 1960s. Of his twenty-odd books half deal with Indian subjects. Among them, Into India remained the standard introduction to the country for over thirty years.


Day 1 Depart UK

Today, depart the UK on the British Airways flight BA257, non-stop to Delhi. (N)

Day 2 Arrive Delhi

Arrive into Delhi at 0855 hours and stay for two nights at the Claridges Hotel. Delhi is India's capital and a city of two halves. Old Delhi – the heart of Muslim India between the 17th and 19th centuries – is an historic district of grand mosques, majestic forts and crumbling monuments. In contrast New Delhi, with its large government buildings, wide tree-lined avenues and pretty white-washed bungalows was purpose-built in the 1930s by the British as a colonial capital and remains the epicentre of Indian political power. 

After lunch take a heritage walk followed by cycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi to explore the area’s dense network of alleyways, homes, bazaars and mosques visiting famous Chandni Chowk market, the beautiful Jama Masjid mosque and the Red Fort (L/D).

Day 3 Delhi to Lucknow – by air

This morning, fly from Delhi to Lucknow and stay for three nights at the Renaissance Lucknow Hotel. Lucknow is rich in Indian culture and British colonial history. Famous for being the centre of India’s independence struggle, the name of Lucknow will always be synonymous with the events of the 1857 mutiny. The capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow spreads alongside the banks of the River Gomti and is distinct in both layout and design with the structured Cantonment area a direct contrast to the old historic city centre. The city still retains a strong historic link with traditional crafts and arts that made it famous and is still renowned as a centre for zari work, chikan embroidery and attar perfume. (B/L/D)

Day 4 Lucknow

After breakfast meet your guide for a day of sightseeing. Start by driving past the Kaiserbagh complex (little remains of this complex today) which was once Nawab Wajid-Ali Shah’s Palace and the most beautiful of all the palaces in the Awadh region. Stop to visit the white marbled Baradari, an elegant Nawabi-style pavilion, and the Kaiserbagh Gates before continuing past the Sadat Ali and Begum Tombs and the Chatar Manzil, to the Asifi or Bada Imambara. Built by Nawab Asif-ud-Daula in 1784 to provide employment during a famine, Bada Imambara is admired for its unique architecture, the hall is devoid of any pillar or support and is considered to be the largest vaulted chamber in the world. It also serves as a mausoleum for Nawab Asif-ud-Daula.  Leaving the Bada Imambara continue on to see the 'Rumi Darwaza' or the Turkish Gate, the Asifi Mosque and Naubat Khana which is also known as Drum House.

From here continue to the old city to see the 19th century Hussainabad Clock Tower and the Hussainabad Imambara, with its golden dome and impressive elaborate calligraphy.  End the morning at the Hussainabad Picture Gallery to view the portraits of the Nawabs of Awadh.

Take a break for lunch before continuing your sightseeing to see the Shahnajaf Imambara. In this mausoleum are buried the remains of Ghazi-ud-din Haider and his wives, including Mubarak Mahal, his European wife.  The silver tomb of Ghazi-ud-din Haider lies in the centre of the building and is flanked by the more imposing silver and gold tomb of Mubarak Mahal on one side, and another tomb on the other side. Then reach the colourful 'Chowk' the oldest market place and historic centre of Lucknow and end the day with a heritage walk (1½ hours) through the lanes and by-lanes of the Chowk. (B/L/D)

Day 5 Lucknow

This morning, continue your tour of Lucknow at the Martiniere which was designed by General Claude Martin as a palatial home, but at the time of the Mutiny in 1857 it was a boys’ school as it is today. Then visit the Dilkusha Palace and Gardens built by a European architect for the Nawab - Sadat Ali Khan. The Nawab only saw this building on its completion and the first words that came to his lips were ‘Dil Khush Hua’ meaning ‘My heart is pleased’, thus it was aptly named ‘Dilkusha’.

Then drive past the ruins of Sikanderbagh to reach the ruins of the atmospheric Residency which was the site of the dramatic siege and subsequent battles that took place during the uprising of 1857. Of interest in the compound is the Treasury and the nearby cemetery where Sir Henry Lawrence, amongst others, is buried.

This afternoon take a guided walk along Hazrat Ganj, this famous road has witnessed many changes over the last 116 years from Queen Victoria’s reign, the 1857 Indian Mutiny through to the modern day. (B/L/D)

Day 6 Lucknow to Varanasi – 330kms

After breakfast depart by coach, via Allahabad, to Varanasi and stay three nights at the Ramada Plaza JHV Hotel. Situated on the banks of the sacred River Ganges, Varanasi has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage for over 2,000 years and is one of the oldest surviving cities in the world. An assault on the senses, few places compare, making any visit here an undoubted highlight of the country.

Later this evening make your way to the riverside and watch the beautiful evening Aarti religious ceremonies take place. (B/L/D)

Day 7 Varanasi

Early this morning, take a ride on a small rowing boat on the River Ganges to silently view the sunrise and witness the pilgrims who gather to perform their daily religious rituals on the riverbank in the lifting mist. This truly is a magical experience. After breakfast take a guided walk through the heart of the old city lanes and in the afternoon visit the evocative ruined city of Sarnath where Buddha first preached his message of enlightenment 2,500 years ago and a Benares Silk Weaving Centre. (B/L/D)

Day 8 Varanasi - visit Jaunpur

Today, leave Varanasi for a full day visit to the town of Jaunpur which is located around 70kms to the north of Varanasi. The town was once an important centre of 14th and 15th century regional Islamic architecture, a short-lived capital of the Sharqi Dynasty and one of India’s political, architectural and artistic centres. Having established a degree of independence from the Tughluqs, successive Sharqi rulers embarked on impressive building schemes and became increasingly active patrons of the arts. Despite later floods, and an earthquake, many of the more fascinating structures still remain.

On arrival, first visit the Atala Mosque before continuing to the Jama Masjid Mosque – the former was completed in 1408 and has an impressive arched gateway and beautiful sanctuary interior, whilst the latter, finished 30 years later, is considered the most ambitious of Jaunpur’s mosques built on an even grander scale than its predecessor.

Also visit the famous Akbari Bridge as well as the ruined Old Shahi Fort which houses an old mosque dating from 1377 and a hamman, or Turkish bath, within its walls. Later in the afternoon leave Jaunpur and return to Varanasi for your overnight stay. (B/L/D)

Day 9 Varanasi to Kolkata – by air 

Spend that day at leisure to further explore Varanasi or relax by the pool at your hotel. This evening fly from Varanasi to Kolkata and on arrival transfer to the heart of the city to stay for two nights at the Oberoi Grand Hotel. Kolkata, the gateway to Eastern India, is a city of extreme contrasts. Sometimes described as the forward-thinking intellectual capital of India and noted for some wonderful landmarks of the British Raj, on the other hand, the city has been called ‘the soul of India’ and is one of the most populous urban areas on earth. Above all Kolkata is an intensely human city and the warmth and charm of its people once experienced is never to be forgotten. (B/L/D)

Day 10 Kolkata

Today explore Kolkata. Places of interest include the colourful flower market and the nearby Howrah Bridge, a vital link across the Hooghly River, this, the third largest bridge in the world, is used daily by around 2 million people! Kolkata’s lungs are the vast expanse of park land called the Maidan, bordered by the Hooghly River at one end and Chowringhee at the other. Around the Maidan are many of Kolkata’s historical landmarks – the magnificent Fort William (unfortunately not open to visitors), St. John’s Church, which has a memorial to the city founder Job Charnock, the Writers Building which is now the seat of government and the silver-domed General Post Office. At the southern end of the Maidan is the imposing white marble Victoria Memorial which was built by the British in 1921 and today is a treasure trove of Raj relics. You may also wish to visit the Indian Museum which was built in 1875, is a fine example of Italian architecture and is the largest museum in the country. Finally, you could visit one of the most important temples in the city – the Kali Temple at Kalighat, which also happens to be situated close to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute (B/L/D).

Day 11 Kolkata to Bhubaneshwar – by air 

Today fly south to Bhubaneshwar, capital of Odisha (Orissa). On arrival transfer to the Mayfair Lagoon Hotel for your overnight stay. Situated on the edge of the lush green paddy fields of the Mahanadi Delta, Bhubaneswar offers a wonderful mix of both the ancient and modern. The planned town with its wide streets and well-kept gardens offers a striking contrast to the architectural legacy of its period of greatness over one thousand years ago.

Bhubaneswar, named after ‘The Lord of the Universe’, is also known as the ‘Temple Town’ or ‘Cathedral City’ owing to the 7,000 temples that once surrounded Bindusagar Tank. Nearly 500 of these original temples are still standing and their gracefulness combined with the extraordinary beauty of the stone carving makes for a rewarding visit (B/L/D).

Day 12 Bhubaneshwar to Puri – 80kms

Spend the morning in Bhubaneshwar and make your way to Bindusagar Tank the focal point of the city. Although many of the original temples no longer remain those that do are regarded to be masterpieces of Hindu architecture with the most famous being the great Lingaraja, Muktesvara and Parsuramesvara Temples. After lunch, visit the magnificent Japanese Peace Pagoda at the top of Dhauli hills and then continue on to Puri, home of the Jaganath temple dedicated to the Lord of Universe, the temple is one of the original Char Dham pilgrimage sites for Hindus. See the Jaganath temple from a viewing platform over the wall – please note that non Hindus are not allowed inside the main temple area. Stay for three nights in Puri at the Mayfair Heritage Hotel (B/L/D).

Day 13 Puri – visit Konark

This morning, leave your hotel and drive outside of the city to Konark. Considered to be one of Hindu India’s foremost architectural treasures, Konark is a World Heritage Site famous for its Sun Temple built by King Langula Narasimha Deva in the 13th century. Dedicated to the Sun God Surya, it is now believed that the temple took 1,200 masons over 16 years to complete, however, by the start of the 20th century the complex was in a bad state of repair, either covered by the encroaching sand, in a condition of collapse or missing statues, removed to decorate other temples of the region. Nevertheless, recently much care has been taken to return the site to its former splendour and although there has been substantial renovation, it has been carried out carefully and sensitively.

Set back from the main road the Surya Temple today has no deity for worship, however, is still an impressive and important structure. Built in the shape of a war chariot – with twelve pairs of great stone wheels carved on either side of the temple platform – a team of seven horses is shown pulling the chariot towards the dawn, a fact that is consistent with Hindu mythology, where the Sun God navigates the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses which each represent a day of the week. Some archaeologists also believe that the twelve pairs of wheels represent the months of the year and that the eight spokes of each wheel the division of the day into prahars. Covered with carvings portraying every aspect of life and mythology – dancers, love, war, music and hunting – Konark is not only an important historical religious centre but also significant for making known normal daily life at the time of its construction (B/L/D).

Day 14 Puri 

A day to relax and enjoy your hotel or explore the town on your own (B/L/D).

Day 15 Bhubaneshwar to Delhi – by air

This morning return to Bhubaneshwar airport for your return flight to Delhi. On arrival, take a panoramic drive through New Delhi to see Rashtrapati Bhawan, the official residence of the Indian President, Rajpath and the imposing India Gate. Stay overnight at the Vivanta by Taj Ambassador Hotel (B/L/D).

Day 16 Delhi to London Heathrow 

This morning transfer to the airport for your British Airways flight non-stop to London (B).

KEY: N = No meals B = Breakfast L = Lunch D = Dinner

What's included

  • International flights from the UK
  • Train travel as specified
  • Shared coach transfers
  • Sightseeing with local English speaking guides
  • Hotel accommodation and taxes
  • The tour will be led by John Keay together with the full time services of a tour manager
  • All gratuities to drivers, porters and local guides in India

What's not included

  • Cost of visas
  • Travel Insurance
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Meals unless specified

Guide to Price

The price above is a guide and can vary according to selected airlines, hotels and season. If you wish to travel alone we will be very happy to assist you with your arrangements and will provide a proposal on request

What To Do Next?

We can design a unique journey to suit you as our tours are totally tailor made. By combining your own ideas with our knowledge and experience we can help you to create your own unique journey tailored exactly to your requirements Once you have formulated your ideas, or if you require some advice, please call us or simply request a quotation

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