In India, everyday life plays out in bright colors, a vivid juxtaposition of ancient and modern against a backdrop of intricate architecture. Traveling aboard the Palace on Wheels train, document this enchanting land on photo shoots in rural villages, at the Taj Mahal, and amid evocative dunes. Focus on birdlife at a wildlife sanctuary, and snap action shots of dancers at a private performance.
Capture sunrise and sunset over the Taj Mahal, and go on photo shoots at five other UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Document the fairy-tale marble palaces of Udaipur's Lake Pichola during a scenic boat ride.
Photograph camels at sunset among the sweeping dunes of the Thar Desert.
Search for tigers in Ranthambhore National Park, and for rare birds and other wildlife in Keoladeo National Park.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Delhi, India
Arrive in Delhi at any time and check in to our hotel. The Taj Mahal Hotel
Day 2 — Delhi
Set out on a photo tour of New Delhi, the capital established by the British in 1911, and fill your viewfinder with architectural details of the India Gate and Parliament buildings. Then delve into Old Delhi, a patchwork of eight different cities built by a succession of rulers and a center of Muslim India between the 13th and 19th centuries. Take a bicycle rickshaw ride through the old city's busy, narrow lanes, and stop at a local spice market to capture the colorful bustle. Frame the golden spiked minarets of Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and the final architectural achievement of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This evening, gather for a welcome reception and dinner. The Taj Mahal Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Jaipur
Travel from Delhi to Jaipur in Rajasthan. Known as the "Pink City" for its rose-colored buildings, Jaipur is protected by high fortifications and multiple gates. The afternoon is free to explore the city on your own. If you wish, join a photo excursion to a traditional fruit and flower market, or relax and enjoy the beautiful gardens of the Jai Mahal Palace Hotel, a masterpiece of Indo-Saracenic architecture dating back to 1745. Jai Mahal Palace (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Jaipur
Begin the day with a morning photo shoot, capturing vibrant images of local men and women in traditional dress in the gardens of the Jai Mahal Palace. After breakfast visit Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, a stunning five-story sandstone building designed to allow ladies of the court to watch life on the streets below. Zoom in on the delicate latticework and honeycombed windows. Continue to Amber Fort, a 16th- and 17th-century hilltop complex that offers a treasures trove of photographic inspiration. Document its exquisite and well-preserved palaces, temples, gardens, and pavilions. Later this afternoon, take a guided tour of the 18th-century royal observatory known as the Jantar Mantar, and examine a variety of precise astronomical tools. In the evening, settle into your cabin aboard the Palace on Wheels. Palace on Wheels (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Ranthambhore National Park/Chittaurgarh
With your camera in hand, set out on a morning game drive in Ranthambhore National Park in search of the elusive tiger, as well as hyenas, wild boar, spotted deer, and sambar. Today is Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, which welcomes spring and celebrates the triumph of good over evil with song, feasts, and the "play of colors," in which celebrants douse each other in colored flour with radiant pigments. Get into the spirit and join the festivities or capture the brilliant colors with your camera at a private Holi celebration this morning. After lunch back on the train, arrive in the city of Chittaurgarh. Trace a turbulent history of siege, valor, and sacrifice at Chittaurgarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India, and enjoy a photo walk in the village with in the fort walls. Palace on Wheels (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Udaipur
Known as the City of Lakes, Udaipur is most celebrated for the fairy-tale marble palaces that appear to rise from the waters of Lake Pichola. This morning, a scenic boat ride on Lake Pichola provides an opportunity to capture the luminous white marble facade of Jag Niwas, now the Taj Lake Palace, and its shimmering reflection on the water. Venture into a spectacular labyrinth of courtyards within the City Palace, a soaring creation of marble and granite perched on the lake's edge. Incredible photographic opportunities abound at this palace complex, the largest in Rajasthan, which blends medieval, European, and Chinese architecture and is richly decorated with inlaid mirror-work, mosaics, and frescoes. Later, explore the narrow streets of the old city by rickshaw, and stop to photograph a local market before visiting the 17th-century Jagdish Temple, adorned with fantastic carvings. Palace on Wheels (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Jaisalmer
Today the train carries us into the heart of the Thar Desert to magical Jaisalmer, founded by Rawal Jaisal in A.D. 1156. Rising above the city, the imposing turrets and bastions of the golden sandstone fort conceal a lively town within. Photograph the magnificent fort and discover the havelis, once the mansions of wealthy merchants, decorated with elaborate facades. Cap off our day photographing camels at sunset in the desert dunes. Savor a traditional tea and learn about the lifestyle of people living in the desert. Enjoy an outdoor dinner and special photo shoot with folk dancers and music unique to the Thar Desert region. Palace on Wheels (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Jodhpur
Jodhpur's blue-hued old city lies at the foot of the massive Mehrangarh Fort, perched on a rocky outcrop some 120 meters high. Visit the 15th-century fort and learn about its colorful history. Shoot sweeping panoramas of the city below, and explore the museum that houses a spectacular collection of miniature paintings, ivory artifacts, and weapons. Later, in the heart of the old city, hone your portraiture skills during a photo shoot with local Rajasthani men displaying traditional handlebar moustaches. Enjoy lunch at a royal palace hotel before returning to the Palace on Wheels for the final leg of our rail journey. Palace on Wheels (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Keoladeo Ghana National Park/Agra
Disembark the train in Bharatpur after an early breakfast and head into the wetlands of Keoladeo Ghana National Park, a renowned bird sanctuary. Keep your camera ready while searching for egrets, flamingos, and many other bird species and wildlife. Later, during a photo walk around Bharatpur village, meet with and photograph local residents engaged in daily life. Then stop at a hotel near the park for a cooking demonstration and lunch. En route to Agra, stop at Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1569 to 1585, where elegant carved sandstone palaces remain incredibly well-preserved. ITC Mughal (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Agra
Rise early this morning to photograph the Taj Mahal as it sparkles in the dawn's light. Constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, the Taj Mahal is often described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love. Pay a visit to a marble inlay workshop to see how the intricate stonework on the Taj Mahal was created. This evening, return to the Taj for a sunset photo shoot before gathering for a festive farewell dinner with a traditional sitar musician. ITC Mughal (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Agra/Delhi
Rise early and cross the Yamuna River to photograph the Taj Mahal at sunrise from the beautiful Mehtab Bagh gardens. At a specially arranged photo shoot, capture the Taj's reflection on the water with camels in the foreground. Then drive to Delhi and relax in day rooms at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Later, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Day rooms at The Taj Mahal Hotel (B,L,D)
National Geographic Explorer and acclaimed documentary photographer Chris Rainier specializes in highlighting endangered cultures and traditional languages around the globe. In 2002, he received the Lowell Thomas Award from The Explorers Club for his efforts in cultural preservation, and was elected in 2014 as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, where he specializes in cultural preservation. During his continued tenure with the National Geographic Society as a National Geographic Fellow and Explorer, he has been the co-founder and co-director of the Enduring Voices Project and director of the All Roads Photography Program, both designed to support indigenous groups desiring to document their traditional cultures and create sustainable solutions to preserve the planet in the 21st century. Chris also served as a cultural editor and photographer for National Geographic Traveler magazine for over 18 years. Today he directs The Cultural Sanctuaries Foundation, whose mission is to create legally protected cultural zones around the globe that protect both traditional knowledge as well as the biodiversity the communities are guardians of. In the early 1980s, Chris served as the last assistant for famed photographer Ansel Adams. The two worked together to amplify the use of art photography as a social tool, ultimately helping to preserve threatened wilderness areas and national parks. Rainier has been traveling to the continent of India and the Indian Himalayas since 1984. He has explored and documented many tribal regions, including visual studies of the diverse religions of India, on well over 20 trips. He also has deep passion for teaching photography, and for the past 20 years has been leading photographic expeditions for National Geographic around the world. Chris has brought numerous photography groups to places as diverse as Varanasi, Rajasthan, and Ladakh. He looks forward to sharing the richness and stunning culture of India with travelers.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
This is an active trip that involves walking up to two
miles a day, climbing stairs (often without handrails),
and walking on crowded streets with uneven footing.
Participants should be physically fit. Those who are
prone to motion sickness may be uncomfortable on
the train or during drives on bumpy roads. This expedition
is not suitable for anyone with a serious medical
condition or limited mobility.