BOMBAY, INDIA – How many workers did it take to create the Taj Mahal, one of the architectural wonders of the world? The answer is 20,000. This you’ll learn—along with the fact that it took 22 years to build it—should you join the “Darjeeling Mail Train” for a two-week-long tour from Bombay to Calcutta.
What is indisputably one of the most famous buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal was built in Agra in 1648 by Shah Jahan as a monument to his beloved wife. It is among the many iconic buildings you will see should you join this unique train tour across northern India—along with spectacular countryside and exciting cities with colorful marketplaces and cultures that date back thousands of years. It’s a tour that gives you insights into northern India ranging from the “Ghost City” of Fatehpur Sikri to the famed Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that climbs skyward against a backdrop of the snow-capped summits of the world’s best-known mountains.
This unique rail tour is offered by The Great Canadian Travel Company, North America’s foremost experts in travel to some of the world’s least-traveled regions and a specialist in travel to northern destinations. This two-week adventure is priced from $11,395 per person. Prices are based on double occupancy and include accommodations aboard the Viceroy of India, most meals and drinks, services of a tour manager throughout, porterage services, a comprehensive off-train sightseeing program and all gratuities. Departure dates are: eastbound from Bombay – April 6 and September 14, 2009; westbound from Calcutta – April 10 and September 18, 2009.
On the eastbound itinerary, you’ll be met at Bombay airport and transferred to the Taj Mahal Hotel for a two-night stay. There’s a morning boat trip to Elephanta Island, thickly wooded with palm, mango and tamarind trees and a cave complex that dates back to the 3rd – 5th centuries. It was designed to depict the life of Lord Shiva, one of the most auspicious Hindu gods. There are many statues and works of art and perhaps the sighting of the monkeys that live on the island. The next morning features a tour of Bombay prior to lunch and boarding the train.
Relax onboard the train for the journey into Udaipur, known as “City of Lakes.” It also is famous for its Rajput-era palaces. Stop to admire the Lake Palace, which covers an entire island in Pichola Lake and is built entirely of marble.
The “Pink City” of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, has become one of the most important heritage cities in India. The beautiful Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), constructed of pink sandstone in 1799, was designed to extend the chambers of the harem and allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen.
Delhi offers a city tour that includes the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the most important in the city. You’ll also visit the Raj Ghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and Qutab Minar, dating from 1368, the tallest brick minaret in the world at 237.8 feet.
Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, has been a cultural and religious center for thousands of years. Believed to be as much as 5,000 years old, it attracts pilgrims who travel from afar to bathe in the waters of the Ganges, a ritual that Hindus believe washes away all sin.
At Siliguri, you’ll embark on the spectacular journey toward the hill station of Darjeeling. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway—the “Toy Train”—climbs to a height of 7,400 feet at Ghum (the highest station on Indian Railways), where snow-covered Mt. Kanchenchunga (28,000 feet) dominates the skyline. The ancient steam locomotives (the oldest built in 1889) climb through zigzags and loops to gain height and the cooler air of India’s most famous Hill Station. You’ll have dinner at the Hotel Windermere, where you will stay for three nights.
Explore Darjeeling with its colonial grandeur and plan an early morning start to experience the sight of the sun rising over the Himalayas, lighting up the snow-capped mountains of Kanchenchunga and Everest, 200 miles distant. A town tour of Darjeeling includes a visit to a Tibetan refugee center where you may purchase handicrafts and learn about famous mountaineering expeditions at the Himalayan Institute. There’s also a visit to a tea plantation and an opportunity to sample this famous local beverage.
There’s a private transfer from Darjeeling to Bagdogra airport for a one-hour flight to Calcutta. As the former capital of India, Calcutta was the birthplace of modern Indian literary and artistic thought. A tour includes a visit to Dalhousie Square, the bustling hub of English colonial power and trade during the two centuries that the city served as the capital of British India.
Reservations and additional information are available from the Great Canadian Travel Company, Ltd., 333 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 712, Chicago, Illinois 60601, 800-661-3830, www.greatcanadiantravel.com.