Cats and Culture: A Luxury Tour of Central India | Fauna Travel

Cats and Culture: A Luxury Tour of Central India

Tiger in Kanha National Park / Gaurav Sharma

15 Days

India has an ancient culture built on layers of native kingdoms and foreign invaders, as well as an impressive diversity of wildlife, including tigers. The country has a dizzying array of temples and over 50 tiger reserves, so it’s impossible to experience all of them in one trip. However, this itinerary is the best introduction to the country’s cultural and natural highlights. After starting in Delhi, fly to Mahdra Pradesh state for a luxury safari in the most tiger-dense parks in the world. Your outdoor adventure is followed by visits to some of India’s most iconic cultural sights, such as the Ganges River in Varanasi, The Red Fort in Jaipur, and the Taj Mahal. Accommodations include palatial hotels to ensure you rest in style, but excursions led by expert local guides will give you an authentic taste of the country.

This trip is a 5-star overview of the country’s cultural and natural highlights, including the best tiger reserves, Varanasi, and the Taj Mahal.

Note: This trip can also be done with 4-star hotels and is just as immersive of an experience

✧ Your custom travel playlist includes KumarSanu’s “Ek Ladaki Ko Dekha”
We love how Bollywood tunes blend traditional Indian music with international references. Kumar Sanu is one of the most prolific and celebrated singers in Bollywood, and this track from a film about the waning days of the British Raj has a tone that makes us want to travel.

Day 1-2: Delhi

The Imperial New Delhi

Upon arrival in Delhi, you will be greeted by a representative and driven to your hotel, The Imperial. It’s a classic luxury hotel that is beautiful with a distinct personality.

After breakfast, take a morning tour to explore the grandeur of the Mughal Empire by visiting Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and the Red Fort, the most opulent fort and palace of the Mughals. This includes a rickshaw ride through narrow alleys to the boisterous and colorful Spice Market, one of Asia’s largest.

Continue your afternoon tour with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, and finish your day with a drive along the ceremonial avenue past the India Gate, Parliament House, and through the Diplomatic Enclave.

Day 3-5: Kanha National Park

Banjaar Tola

Wake early for your transfer to the airport and flight to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh state to start your wildlife safari. Upon arrival at Raipur airport, your driver will meet you for the four-hour-long journey to Kanha National Park. The drive winds through rural countryside and colorful villages, with a lunch stop by the Narmada River, the second holiest to the Ganges. Upon arrival at Kanha, check in at Banjaar Tola, a luxury-tented safari camp near the park gate.

Kanha National Park is a 366 square mile tiger reserve with breathtaking vistas of grassy plains and strands of sal forests. It is one of India’s largest and most scenic national parks and is home to various mammals, including tiger, leopard, sloth bear, barasingha, and wild dog. With hundreds of chital grazing on green grass, Kanha Meadow has been aptly called “the Ngorongoro of India.”

Each day here starts early with a wake-up call and tea or coffee delivered to your room. After breakfast, depart in a 4×4 with a resident naturalist and forest guide. You can have lunch in the park in your jeep and continue your safari, or return to the camp for the afternoon to relax. We suggest one full day and one half-day in the park.

Day 6-8: Bandhavgarh National Park

Samode Safari Lodge

After a morning safari, drive 6 hours east to Bandhavgarh National Park, India’s premier tiger reserve. It is often said that in most of India’s parks, you have to be lucky to see a tiger, but in Bandhavgarh, you have to be unlucky not to see a tiger. Check into the earthly yet luxurious Samode Safari Lodge for dinner.

Bandhavgarh National Park covers 168 square miles and is set amongst the Vindhya Hills in Madhya Pradesh. The park takes its name from the 2000-year-old Bandhavgarh Fort, located on top of the highest hill in the region. The fort is surrounded by many smaller flat-topped hills forming a maze of well-forested valleys. This was the private game reserve of the Maharajas of Rewa and was declared a National Park in 1965. More than 25 species of mammals and 250 species of birds live inside the park. This includes the world’s highest tiger density and healthy populations of leopards, wolves, hyenas, wild dogs, gaur, chital, sambhar, barking deer, and sloth bears.

Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park / Lakshmi Narashimha / Unsplash

Each misty morning you will continue the tradition of a dawn safari accompanied by birdsong. A local tracker and professional guide will accompany you and help you interpret the sights and sounds of the jungle. Most animals, especially tigers, have a regular movement pattern and are partial to their favorite haunts. Your guide visits the park daily to keep track of these movements, and a good guide can substantially increase your chances of seeing a tiger.

Day 9-10: Varanasi

BrijRama Palace, Varanasi

Wake in the morning for a 6.5-hour drive through the countryside to Varanasi to immerse yourself in Indian culture. Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, and its prominence in Hindu mythology is unrivaled. Hindus believe that one who dies here will attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth and that the waters of the Ganges river can wash away sin. Your hotel here is the Brij Rama Palace, which stands on Darbhanga Ghat, a long stretch of steps leading down to the water of the Ganges and one of the oldest manmade structures in the city.

As the sun goes down, visit the Ganges for a glittering Aarti prayer ceremony. This magical evening begins with a slow upriver float from Assi Ghat as the sun cascades across the city skyline. The Aarti ceremony starts by lighting up multi-tiered ceremonial brass lamps and a well-synchronized and rhythmic chanting of the holy mantras. Priests blow the conch shells to sanctify the atmosphere, and other priests wave incense sticks to worship Mother Ganga. Return to your hotel to rest after a long day.

Wake early for a fantastic boat journey – the dawn light is ideal for photography. There are a fraction of the people out as the night before, only pilgrims and priests performing morning prayers, as well as children taking their morning baths. Ride downstream to Kedar Mandir, a temple with red and yellow steps, more popular among locals than tourists. Return to the hotel for breakfast before walking to Varanasi’s street markets and sacred ponds.

In the evening, continue your walk through the city and traverse from the land of the living to the houses of the dying. You may hear bells jingling and yelling from behind during the walk. It is likely a body carried by the bereaved. Sadhus of the Aghor Ashram carrying human skulls may add to the mortal atmosphere. End the day with a ceremony at the Sankata Devi Temple, home of the demon slayer goddess.

Day 11-12: Jaipur

Rambagh Palace

Start your day with a rejuvenating early morning yoga session before departing for the airport to Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital city of Rajasthan and is known as the “Pink City.” It sits on a dry lakebed in a wild, somewhat arid landscape, surrounded by barren hills surmounted by fortresses and crenelated walls. Upon arrival, check-in at the luxurious Rambagh Palace, which was once home to the Maharaja.

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur / Courtesy of Taj Resorts
Rambagh Palace, Jaipur / Courtesy of Taj Resorts

Spend the next day on a Jaipur city tour, with a start at the magnificent Amber Fort, the most iconic building in Jaipur. The fort includes multiple palaces, halls, gardens, and temples, including Sheesh Mahal, an elaborate mirrored palace. Continue your tour with a visit to City Palace, the residence of the present Royal family, who have opened their gates to visitors and converted a part of their palace into a museum. The complex contains many unique paintings, mirrorwork, floral decorations, and a panoramic city view.

After lunch, take a walk to explore the bazaars and cuisine of Jaipur. Many old lineages of craftspeople have been maintained since the city’s founding, making it one of the best destinations to shop for traditional crafts. While shopping, you will sample local delicacies sold in and around the markets.

Day 14: Agra

Oberai Amarvilas

Oberai Amarvilas, Agra / Courtesy of Oberoi
Oberai Amarvilas, Agra / Courtesy of Oberoi

Start your final day with a breathtaking hot air balloon ride over the city before departing on the four-hour drive to Agra. You will stay at the opulent Oberai Amarvilas, a luxurious palace with a stunning pool. The hotel has a splendid view of the Taj Mahal, which is the primary motivation for every visit to Agra. After settling in, depart for a sunset tour of the Taj Mahal. The building looks stunning from its grand entry, but the best view is from across the river Yamuna at a garden called Mehtab Bagh. Finally, enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Taj Mahal / Julian Yu / Unsplash
Taj Mahal / Julian Yu / Unsplash

Day 15: Departure

Rise early for coffee and the legendary Taj Mahal at daybreak. The Taj Mahal constantly changes its color depending upon the sun’s angle and can be enjoyed at any time, but sunrise is the best time for taking pictures.

After returning to your hotel for breakfast, we suggest visiting Sheroes Cafe for tea. The Sheroes are women who have fought to survive after debilitating acid attacks, and the cafe gives them opportunities for empowerment and livelihood despite the challenges.

Depart Agra for the four-hour drive to Delhi, where you will check in at an airport hotel to await your international flight. We love lounging by the pool at the Roseate Hotel if you have a free night before leaving India.

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