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Explore the historical and cultural riches of central India. This full-on tour whisks us from the hustle and bustle of vibrant Mumbai to the tranquil white-sand coasts of Goa, via the Deccan Plateau, ticking off temples, mausoleums, and must-see UNESCO sites. From city slums to the effervescent bazaars and slow-paced villages, this two-week trip gives you a taste of true India, as it is today, and as it once was.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
2 nights simple hotel
1 nights simple overnight train
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Our journey through central India starts in Mumbai. Traditionally known as Bombay, the city is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra - it's also the most populated and richest city in India, so prepare to join the bustle.
For those arriving in time, our tour leader will meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for a welcome meeting followed by an orientation of the Colaba area. Colaba is the gateway of Mumbai and we'll start by visiting the honey-coloured Gateway of India arch. This arch was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. As this arch was built for a British King, it was appropriately the place where the last British troops left India.
If you'd like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM), a one-and-a-half hour drive from the hotel.
If you'd like to join the Colaba tour, you'll need to arrive at the hotel by 5pm. If you're booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one hour to clear the airport and one-and-a-half-hour to drive to the hotel. The latest your flight should arrive is 3.30pm. If you miss the welcome meeting, our tour leader will catch you up as soon as possible.
The Sahil Hotel Mumbai (or similar)
Today we'll spend a full day sightseeing with our local guide. One highlight we'll visit is the area where the film 'Slumdog Millionaire' was set, a thriving and industrious quarter called Dharavi. We'll also visit the Mahatma Gandhi Museum where we'll learn about the great man's life and ideas through an impressive collection of books, photographs and letters.
On Malabar Hill we'll drive past the Towers of Silence. Built by the Parsis fleeing persecution in Persia during the 17th century, the Towers were a mortuary for the dead. Being traditionally Zoroastrians they were deposited in these towers to allow nature to dispose of them.
We'll also visit the municipal dhobi ghats and the Prince of Wales Museum, which houses a collection of Indian miniatures from the Mughal and Rajasthan schools.
This morning, you're free to explore Mumbai at your own pace. After an early lunch, we'll catch our train to Aurangabad. The journey takes around seven hours and gives us the opportunity to make friends with fellow local passengers and watch the ever-changing landscape roll by.
The Fern Aurangabad (or similar)
This morning we'll make an excursion to the Ajanta Caves, located in a pass in the Vindhya Hills. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these rock-cut Buddhist caves date back to the second century BCE and include intricately cut temples and monasteries that contain a treasure trove of Buddhist art.
Today, when we come upon this lost world, it seems as secluded and restful as a Cistercian monastery. The wall paintings illuminate Buddhist stories in flowing colours: real, live, characterisations, without the rigid hieratic postures one normally expects - an art form sanctioned by a transcendental philosophy, where lovers drink wine together and kings and princesses sit on their thrones attended by handmaidens.
This morning, we'll visit the Daulatabad Fort, towering 250m above the surrounding countryside on a volcanic lava rock. Its three main walls use spike-studded doorways as ingenious defences against elephant charges.
Nearby are the World Heritage-listed Buddhist caves, the Temples of Ellora. Dating from the 6th-8th century AD, they contain elaborate sculptures. These caves have been painstakingly hewn out of the hillside over a period of five centuries. They house over thirty monastic chambers and shrines and are a triple record of the aspirations of Buddhism, Jainism and Brahmanism. Here we'll see the rock-cut masterpiece, the Kailasa Temple, a replica of the mountain abode of Siva: it measures an astounding 33m deep by 81m long and 47m wide, and the stonemasons removed three million cubic metres of rock to create it. On our route back to Aurangabad we'll stop at Bibi-ka Maqbara (an imitation of the Taj Mahal built as a mausoleum for Aurangzeb's wife).
Once we arrive back in Aurangabad, we'll board an overnight train to Hyderabad. Sleeper trains are a rite of passage on any journey through India and are a great way to meet locals as we travel. Please note, we try our best to book second-class carriages and keep the group together, however due to demand and the train booking system, our group might be split, with some passengers in third class. If this happen, our tour leader will make sure everyone finds their seat and is comfortable.
Second-class sleeper carriages have four beds per compartment, separated by curtains. They're air-conditioned and bedding is provided, however, you might want to bring a sleeping bag liner for added comfort.
Overnight Train from Aurangabad to Hyderbad
Simple Overnight Train
This morning, we'll arrive in Hyderabad and transfer to our hotel before beginning our guided tour. Founded in 1589, the city went on to father some of the richest men in India, due in no small part to the diamond mines around nearby Golconda.
In the late morning, we'll explore the bustling bazaars and colourful Islamic monuments of this energetic capital. We'll head into the Old City and visit the Birla Temple and the Charminar, or 'Four Towers', built to celebrate the end of a plague in 1591. This magnificent cream square archway stands on four 56-metre-tall towers near to the colossal black granite Mecca Masjid Mosque, the sixth largest mosque in India, which can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers.
In the afternoon, we'll visit the extensive ruins of the Golconda Fort, its citadel towering 120 metres above the 16\super th\nosupersub -century battlements. Intriguing elements to the fort include the excellent acoustics, hot and cold-water system, natural air conditioning and Turkish Baths. Built by the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the fort was once considered impregnable and even its massive gates were equipped with elephant proof spikes. Battles fought here were significant in the struggle between the Moghuls and Qutb Shahi kings, who once dominated the area. We'll also visit the nearby Qutb Shahi tombs. There are ten tombs in the area, all made of black granite or greenstone and housed beneath an onion dome. The most impressive is that of King Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad who ruled until 1612
Quality Inn Residency (or similar)
Today we'll journey to Bidar, around a five-hour drive away - the roads are poor in this region, so expect a bumpy but leisurely ride.
On arrival, we'll visit Bidar's fort with its ruined palaces and tombs of the Bahamani Kings. Large parts of the fort are now in ruins, but the walls remain giving us a good idea of how vast the place would have been. We'll walk through the formal gardens before making a short stop at cannon point to see one of the larger bastions used to protect the city against invaders.
Hotel Sapna Continental (or similar)
This morning, we'll leave Bidar and drive to Gulbarga, the founding capital of the Bahmani dynasty. We'll take an orientation tour of the city, touching on the major sights, including the Bala Hissar Citadel, the elegant domed Jami Masjid, and the Tomb of Bahmani Sultans. Finally, we'll depart Gulbarga and continue our journey on to Bijapur.
Hotel Madhuvan International (or similar)
We'll start our day with a visit to the Gol Gumbaz, the vast mausoleum of its 17\super th\nosupersub -century ruler Mohammed Adil Shah. The mausoleum's unsupported dome is second in size only to St Peter's in Rome, an astounding 38 metres in diameter. We'll take a moment to test out the acoustics by standing on opposite sides and whispering into the walls. Before we leave Bijapur, we'll also visit the Jami Masjid Mosque and stroll through the bustling daily market. Our journey then continues to Badami.
Clarks Inn Badami (or similar)
This morning, we'll wake up in Badami. Once the capital of the Chalukyan, Badami is now a small village - with a busy bazaar - nestled between sandstone hills. We'll take a short drive to the famous Cave Temples of Badami. A World Heritage Site, the temples were hewn out of solid rock as early as 550AD and their interiors are lavishly adorned with reliefs and statues, one even containing an 18-armed Shiva.
Later this morning, we'll drive to Pattadakal, situated on the banks of the Malaprabha River. Another World Heritage Site, its pink-tinged sandstone temples date back to the 7th century and represent a mixture of South and North Indian temple styles, confirming its importance as a meeting point of both traditions. After a guided tour here, we'll stop at the temples of Aihole. The sheer number of Aihole's 70 temples brings to life the glories of the post-Gupta period and reveals the genesis of Hindu medieval art (c.600). Stopping to visit several of the temples, we'll finally continue to our destination for today, the town of Hospet, our base from which we explore the astonishing archaeological site of Hampi.
Clarks Inn, Hampi (or similar)
Today will be dedicated to exploring Hampi. The city was once the flourishing capital of the Vijayanagar Kings (14th to 16th centuries), who ruled one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. Suddenly destroyed in 1565 after the battle of Talikota, the ancient ruins are almost ethereal, a place of departed spirits.
We'll aim to visit the temples of Virupaksha and Vittala, with its remarkable carvings, and amid the desolate and fantastic boulder-heaped landscape we'll come upon the Queen's Bath and the richly carved King's Throne, the finely sculptured pillars of the Ramachandra Swami Shrine, the vaulted Elephant Stables, the two-storied Lotus Pavilion, and the huge granite image of Narasimha, one of Vishnu's incarnations. The city was reputedly the size of Rome at its peak, with a population of half a million people. We'll spend the day here with a local guide before returning to our hotel in Hospet.
Leaving Hospet behind, this morning we'll take the early Amaravati Express train to Madgaon, arriving at the palm-fringed shores of Goa in the late afternoon.
The Portuguese landed here in the 16th century, under Alfonso de Albuquerque, and captured the Arab trade settlement. They began building a city with houses, gardens and fountains, monasteries, chapels, and churches, including the white, 17\super th\nosupersub -century cathedral of St Catherine, which still stands.
Goa eventually became the entrepôt for East and West, where merchants could buy pearls, coral, rubies, golden jewellery, silks, China porcelain, lacquered furniture, ambergris, and exotic spices. The Portuguese influence is still very much apparent - the main religion is still Roman Catholicism and siestas are still widely practised on hot afternoons.
Like most areas in India, Goa has its own culinary specialities, you might want to sample the locally brewed spirit feni - a spine-tingling drink made from coconut or cashews.
Welcome Heritage Panjim Inn (or similar)
This morning we'll visit Old Goa where our tour leader will give us an orientation tour. The afternoon is then free to discover Goa at your own pace. We'll be based in Panaji, Goa's easy going capital; a friendly, sleepy town of narrow winding streets and whitewashed shuttered houses. Close by the capital are the superb beaches of Gaspar Dias and Dona Paula. The Malabar beaches here are long and pristine white against the turquoise waters of the Arabian Sea - note that although beautiful, some areas have a strong undertow.
Our tour of central India ends at our hotel in Goa.
There are no activities planned today, so you're free to depart at any time. If your flight leaves later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you'd like a hotel transfer, you'll need to depart from Goa's Dabolim Airport (GOI), around a one-and-a-half hour drive from the hotel.
There is considerable variation between the different regions of India but, in general, the climate is tropical. Summer temperatures on the plains are very hot, but cooled by the South-West Monsoon, which lasts from June- September. During these months it can be very wet and therefore very humid. At altitude, temperatures can become quite cool at night even in the summer and may drop below freezing between December and February so warm clothing is necessary. In the winter, northern and mid India can be very cool, with cold evenings, so warm clothing, including plenty of layers, are essential. The south of India remains warm and sunny during the winter months.
3 Pin Round
Catholicism, Hindu, Islam and Sikhism
Hindi and English.
Pack mainly for \ Hot Conditions\ . Select your clothing carefully, bearing in mind that temperatures are hot most of the year. You should bring a light jumper/fleece for cooler evenings. You may also consider bringing a small umbrella or waterproof between October and December when the chance of rain is greater. We recommend loose fitting shirts, trousers and underwear (nothing tight or made of nylon). Local people may be offended by revealing western styles of dress. Brief shorts tight fitting clothing etc. should be avoided by both men and women. Laundry facilities are available at most hotels.
Comfortable walking shoes and sandals/trainers.
One main piece of baggage and daypack.Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself.
Torch, insect repellent, sun hat, sunglasses, sun cream and a water bottle.
During this trip, we'll pass through areas that are off the usual tourist path, meaning accommodation options can be limited. In Bidar, Bijapur and Badami in particular, our hotels are quite simple. Accommodation in India is as varied as the country itself and standards might not always meet those back home. Service can be slow, especially when travelling with a group and a number of hotels in India don't serve alcohol due to complicated licencing laws or for religious reasons. Hot water is not always available at small properties and with a group staying, you might find the water is cooler if you're showering last. Hotels also don't usually have heating, so it can become chilly in the winter months, however, blankets will always be provided. Due to the growth in tourism in India, it's not always possible to stay at our listed accommodation and an alternative will be found.
Food in this region is always fresh and tasty and one may days you will find it much cheaper than at the more touristy parts of India such as Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Whilst in Bidar, Bijapur and Badami you are less likely to find meat options and alcohol is also harder to find. You will however have lots of tasty, fresh vegetarian dishes and delicious dals. Food isn't hugely spicy but there is a good mix of spicy and mild available in most places.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
India: Holders of passports endorsed British citizen, as well as Australian, New Zealand and US passport holders may be eligible for the e-Tourist Visa to enter India. The visa can be applied for through the official Indian government visa website only - https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html . Please check all eligibility criteria that can be found on the website but important points are listed below - You must be arriving into one of 29 selected entry points which can be found via the official Indian Government website link above. However, you can exit from any of the authorised immigration check posts in India. Passports must have at least 6 months validity from the date of arrival in India and at least two blank pages for stamping. Visa applications will take approximately 4 days to process. There are different validity visas and the costs are as follows: 30-day validity (travelling between April and June) - $10 30-day validity (travelling between July and March) - $25 1-year validity - $40 5-year validity- $80 Those applying for a 30 day electronic visa can only apply within 30 days of arrival for your visa to be valid. Furthermore double entry is permitted and you can only obtain two 30-day visas in a calendar year. Please note these costs are subject to frequent change so you should check on the official Indian government visa website mentioned above. Biometric data will be collected on arrival in India. If you are not eligible for the e-Tourist Visa, please refer to VFS Global to apply for your Indian visa - https://www.vfsglobal.com/india/uk/how_to_apply.html Whilst the online form offers a relatively quick way to apply for a visa, some applicants have reported difficulty in completing the form. If you do require assistance, then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. They can complete the online visa on your behalf for a service fee + the visa cost. See www.travcour.com
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.