Tailor-Made Holiday

Highlights of Central India

From the holy city of Varanasi to the jungles of Bandhavgarh

15 days

from $4,345pp (excluding flights)

This itinerary to Central India features some of the most memorable and varied aspects of the country, from its tigers to its temples, its palaces, and its people.

  • Known for some of the best wildlife parks in India - Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Pench - any visit to Central India should include a few days on safari in search of the iconic and majestic tiger.
  • Visit the holy city of Varanasi, situated on the edge of the River Ganges where religious rituals take place on the ghats daily.
  • Wander around the immaculate temple complexes of Khajuraho and see the unusual and erotic temple carvings.
  • Spend time exploring the magnificent Gwalior Fort and temples and palaces of Orchha.
  • Visit the world-famous Taj Mahal in Agra.


The journey begins in Delhi, the capital of India and entry point for most North or Central Indian Holidays. Spending a few days in the city is a wonderful introduction to this great country and its extensive and fascinating history.

An English-speaking guide who can eloquently and enthusiastically take you through the city is essential to start your journey off on the right foot. Barter in Old Delhi's spice markets, visit the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid Mosque. In New Delhi visit museums with antiquities and miniature painting collections. Learn more of India’s history at Birla house, Gandhi’s former home and now a modern testament to his life and principles or see Jantar Mantar, the amazing observatory built by astronomer Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1725.


If you are ready for it, Varanasi may just become your favourite place to visit in India, if not, certainly the most memorable. A short flight from Delhi, Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India and to quote Lonely Planet "one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic, unapologetically indiscreet places on earth" but do not let this put you off. It is unbelievably photogenic, with the River Ganges pouring through its heart, considered in India the spiritual start and end for human life. Lining the river are a series of ghats (steps) taking you to the water’s edge where the intimate rituals of life and death take place in public. Varanasi can be overwhelming but with a Steppes' guide to navigate the city, walk you along the ghats and accompany you to the evening religious rituals, you will leave the city having had the most extraordinary experience.


Not quite considered Central India, but the perfect inclusion on the journey to the centre. A visit to Agra to see the Taj Mahal will never fail to impress and probably the most hyped historical site that genuinely delivers.


Strangely left off many an itinerary, Gwalior is an absolute gem with its grandiose fort dominating the city skyline. A entire day could be spent exploring this enormous structure with few tourists to share it with. The icing on the cake is a stay at the Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel, a beautiful heritage hotel with warm, friendly staff and a fabulous swimming pool.


As far as the eye can see there are temples, palaces, and monuments dotting the landscape. A place you could stay for a week due to its relaxed, laid back atmosphere, pretty markets and extensive historical buildings. 


Khajuraho is a bit of a surprise. Clean and quiet with exceptionally well-maintained temples and gardens make it a relaxing reprieve. Meander around the erotically carved temple complexes with a Steppes local guide explaining what the architects and artisans were trying to achieve and why. We highly recommend staying outside the town as it offers a welcome contrast after the chaotic cities previously visited. Sarai at Toria sits on the Ken River and offers peace and tranquillity with lovely views, superb birdlife and the most relaxing early morning boat ride you can imagine.


For the grand finale stay for three nights at Taj Mahua Kothi Lodge in Bandhavgarh National Park. Although a long drive from Khajuraho on some fairly bumpy roads, it is well worth the journey. Arriving at the beautiful wilderness of Bandhavgarh, the kind and friendly staff at Taj Mahua Kothi will welcome you with a refreshing drink, the long drive forgotten. The setting of Bandhavgarh is impressive, with the ruins of the ancient fort providing a stunning backdrop. Bandhavgarh has a high density of tigers and sightings are regular along with a huge variety of other fauna.

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Price Excluding Flights $Flight cost from 
$ 5865.75 $ 877.5

Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Fly London to Delhi

Delhi may be one of the world's largest metropolises, but architectural wonders - new and old - fill the city, hidden beneath Delhi's urban sprawl. Mughal treasures, including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, are complemented by more recent additions to Delhi's architectural heritage, such as the stunning Lotus and Akshardham Temples. Meanwhile, contemporary Delhi thrives in Connaught Place, which - with its colonially-designed buildings, - is the most westernised part of the centre. Globalisation is in evidence, with brand names splashed across every storefront.

You will be staying at The Lodhi, Bed & Breakfast

Day 2

Half a Day Exploring New Delhi
Today discover Sir Edwin Lutyen's beautiful garden city of New Delhi. Now packed with political buildings, the city was designed by British architects during the early 20th century. Visit the Raj Path, India Gate, Rastrapathi Bhawan and other landmarks.

Afterwards, head south to the Lal Kot, the ancient Tomara capital of the region. Explore some of the city's earliest monuments, including the medieval sites of Qutb Minar, Quwwat-ul-Islam and Alai Darwa.

Constructed in the 12th century, Qutb Minar is an impressive brick-built tower of victory that celebrates Islam's march eastwards. One of Delhi's foremost sites, it is the tallest minar in India.

Finish at Humayun's Tomb, one of Delhi's Mughal wonders and the architectural inspiration for the construction of the Taj Mahal. A stunning mix of red stonework and while tiled domes, the emphasis on symmetry makes it particularly spectacular.

Please ensure you carry your passport with you today in case it is required to enter any monuments or buildings.

Half a Day to Explore Old Delhi
A lifetime experience in the streets of Delhi is waiting for you on this memorable rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi.Pass through the vibrant bazaars that sit at the foot of the Jama Masjid, arguably the most famous place of Muslim worship in India.

Watch vendors cook up delicious street-side delicacies, admire as bicycle mechanics service Delhi's innumerable two-wheeled cycles and stand aside as children race through the crowds. Leave the rickshaw at Khari Baoli and walk through the spice markets. Learn about the history, traditions and cultures behind these street specialities ranging from two hundred year old sweet shops to the Paratha Wallah - the street that specialises in flat breads.

You will be staying at The Lodhi, Bed & Breakfast

Day 3

Fly Delhi to Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as Kashi and Benares, is situated on the north bank of Ganga in the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. It is one of the oldest living cities of the world with its history dating back to about 3500 hundred years. Varanasi is supposed to be the oldest living city in the world and is epi-centre of Hinduism and Indian culture.

Evening Aarti Ceremony
In the evening, take a boat ride to a private aarti / blessing ceremony organised for you.

You will be staying at The Gateway Hotel Ganges, Bed & Breakfast

Day 4

River Confluences - An early morning experience
Start the day attending the morning Aarti at Assi Ghat. After the aarti ceremony, continue walking along the Assi Ghat towards Dashashumedh Ghat. On this walk you will see how the life around the ghats wakes up - on your left you see the backdrop of the city and on the right the rising sun. After walking for about half an hour or so you will arrive at the Shivala Ghat and board a private boat. On this ride you will ride past Dashashumedh ghat, Harishchandra ghat, Manikarnika ghat (burning ghat), Alamgir Mosque and arrive at the Bhonsle ghat.

Trip to Sarnath
Leave Varanasi and travel to the nearby village of Sarnath, which is renowned due to its importance in Buddhism. After achieving enlightenment, it is said that Buddha came here and taught the Dharma for the first time.

A major site of pilgrimage, the calm deer park of Sarnath is in stark contrast with hectic Varanasi. Wander the stupas, statues, ruins and temples that litter the park, before visiting the archaeological museum.

You will be staying at The Gateway Hotel Ganges, Bed & Breakfast

Day 5

Fly Varanasi to Agra

Often considered synonymous with the Taj Mahal, historic Agra is in fact bursting with a variety of Mughal treasures. Whilst its pièce de résistance is undoubtedly this iridescent-white tribute to love, the city was once the capital of the Mughal Empire and its Mughal legacy survives through the magnificent structures that dot the area. A victim of its own success, Agra is plagued by wallahs, touts, guides and souvenir salesmen in a manner that can be quite overwhelming. Despite this, the city's wondrous sights make it completely unmissable and the bedlam on the streets fades away once the magnificence of the Taj takes a hold.

Explore Agra Fort
Explore Agra Fort, a huge, double-walled, red sandstone structure was built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. Stroll through the fort and examine Akbar's simple rooms, his son Jehangir's more decorated ones, and finally the exquisitely rebuilt rooms of his grandsons. These private and public rooms are coated in intricately sculpted white marble, in the style of the Taj Mahal. Afterwards, visit local craftsmen to see how the exquisitely precise 'pietra dura' inlay work is still done today.

Afternoon visit to the Taj Mahal
Visit the Taj Mahal with your local guide. The Taj Mahal, meaning ‘crown of palaces', is a white marble mausoleum built by the great Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal when she passed away in 1630. Work for this great tomb began in 1631 and it took the efforts of 20,000 workers and almost 20 years of masterly craftsmanship to complete this grand monument whose marble dome is 35 metres high.

You will be staying at ITC Mughal, Bed & Breakfast

Day 6

Travel from Agra to Gwalior (Rail Journey)

Drive to Kathgodam Railway station to board your train to Delhi - Kathgodam Express (1535/2050hrs)

Gwalior , located in the northern corner of Madhya Pradesh is famous for a thousand year old hilltop fort. The fort has a fascinating history and within the walls of palaces, temples, gates and water tanks which are illuminated at night by a light show. The city also houses the elaborate Jai Vilas Palace, the historic seat of the Scindias.

Full Day of Sightseeing at Gwalior Fort
Spend the day exploring Gwalior, beginning with its impressive hilltop fort. Perched majestically on top of a plateau overlooking the city, this sprawling structure is an imposing sight. Containing temples, palaces, defensive buildings and even a former prison, the plateau is scattered with impressive buildings from various eras.

Afterwards, descend into the city, stopping to admire the beautiful Jain sculptures that lie between Urvai Gate and the inner walls. Carved into the cliff face, these well-preserved figures range in size, with the largest sculpture standing at more than 17 metres.

You will be staying at Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel, Bed & Breakfast

Day 7

Drive from Gwalior to Orchha (Road Journey)

The drive to Orchha will take around 4 hours. Stop at Datia and take guided tour before continuing to Orchha.

Dreamy, isolated and marooned on a bend of the Betwa River, Orchha is a fantastically romantic cluster of stone palaces, temples, towers and gateways surrounded by acres of bright green jungle. From 1531 to 1783 this was the capital of the Bundela kingdom, which ruled the area between the Yamuna and Narmada Rivers, and the city rose to prominence in medieval times. As well as architecture, there was a great school of Bundela painting, whose lively work - featuring both secular and religious subjects - is visible on the interior walls of buildings such as the Laxminarayan Temple. There are numerous royal cenotaphs, formal gardens and fountains as well as a 17th-century fort and palace on an island reached by a causeway.

You will be staying at Amar Mahal, Bed & Breakfast

Day 8

Orchha Sightseeing
Explore the historic village of Orchha, rich with regal and religious buildings. Endowed with an incredible architectural heritage, Orchha is dominated by a magnificent palace complex on its eastern edge and a pair of stunning temples at its centre.

The majestic 17th century Jehangir Mahal and Raj Mahal palaces tower over the landscape, exhibiting an array of opulent Islamic architecture. In the centre of the village, the colourful Ram Raja Temple's spectacular rooftops offer incredible views of the surrounding buildings.

Outside the village, the Lakshmi Naryan Temple displays beautiful murals, and the serene chhatris - cenotaphs to Orchha's rulers - hark back to the village's powerful past.

You will be staying at Amar Mahal, Bed & Breakfast

Day 9

Drive from Orchha to Panna National Park (Road Journey)

Drive to Kathgodam Railway station to board your train to Delhi - Kathgodam Express (1535/2050hrs)

A beautiful combination of rocky hills and ravines, covered by teak, bamboo and sal forests; the Panna National Park is split from south-to-north by the Ken River. Characterised by extensive plateaux and gorges, the park is renowned for its thriving tiger population.

Tiger numbers within the park are still increasing, following their reintroduction to the area, and Panna is regarded as a significant case study on tiger conservation. Other fauna found here includes, hyenas, wild dogs, sambar deer, rusty-spotted cats and over 200 species of birds.

You will be staying at Sarai at Toria, Full board

Day 10

Sarai at Toria Activities
Activities available include: a visit to the Chandela hilltop fort of Ajaygarh, a boat ride on the river, birdwatching, village visits, a walk around the town of Panna, a visit to the nearby waterfalls and a visit to the ancient temples at Khajuraho.

Morning Game Drive
A morning game drive in Panna National Park.

You will be staying at Sarai at Toria, Full board

Day 11

Drive from Panna National Park to Bandhavgarh National Park (Road Journey)

Drive to Kathgodam Railway station to board your train to Delhi - Kathgodam Express (1535/2050hrs)

Community Initiatives
Experience a range of conservation efforts to give back to the local community at Bandhavgarh. They conduct conservation lessons for young children at local schools, encouraging them to adopt sustainable living under these initiatives.

Situated in hill country, this scenic park was once the hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Rewa. The setting of Bandhavgarh is impressive, the park taking its name from an ancient fort perched on top of high cliffs. If the sole reason for visiting a national park in India is to sight a tiger, then the first choice for many is Bandhavgarh. Spend at least a couple of days here and tiger sightings are almost guaranteed, as the park is relatively small with a high density of tigers. As well as tigers, there is also ample prey, alongside leopards.

Early morning and afternoon game drives are by jeep, but when tigers are positively sighted in the forest, elephant-back is the best way to get as close to them as possible. If visiting Bandhavgarh under time constraints, why not organise a VIP photography permit to ensure you maximise the physical time spent in the park? Enter before the public, and have free access all day, in all zones. It is essential to book jeep safaris well in advance.

You will be staying at Kings Lodge, Full board

Day 12

Morning and Afternoon Game Drives
Over the next two days, spend time searching for Bandhavgarh's tigers and other wildlife.
The days start early, usually before sunrise, as this is when the wildlife is at its most active. With both a driver and naturalist leading the drives, there is an excellent chance of memorable animal encounters. By using smaller, open jeeps, not only is there the chance to explore the less accessible parts of the park, but also plenty of space for taking photographs. Each day return to the lodge around midday for lunch. Have time to relax, before heading out into the park again mid-afternoon, returning at sunset.

You will be staying at Kings Lodge, Full board

Day 13

Morning and Afternoon Game Drives
Today take two further game drives in Bandhavgarh national park with your naturalist.

You will be staying at Kings Lodge, Full board

Day 14

Drive from Bandhavgarh National Park to Jabalpur (Road Journey)

Drive to Kathgodam Railway station to board your train to Delhi - Kathgodam Express (1535/2050hrs)

Fly Jabalpur to Delhi

You will be staying at Trident Gurgaon, Bed & Breakfast

Day 15

Fly Delhi to London


Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

Kings Lodge

Kings Lodge

In a large natural forested estate just outside of Bandhavgarh National Park, Kings Lodge is a comfortable wildlife lodge with an excellent team of dedicated naturalists....

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The Lodhi

The Lodhi

The Lodhi Hotel is a modern, chic city hotel with a zen-like feel set amongst three acres of gardens....

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Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel

Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel

Usha Kiran Palace, Gwalior is a 40 room heritage hotel managed by the Taj Group and is the best place to stay in Gwalior....

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Sarai at Toria

Sarai at Toria

Sarai at Toria 's uniquely designed accommodation is situated on a beautiful riverside site, close to the UNESCO heritage site of Khajuraho and Panna National Park....

View Accommodation

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

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"It was extremely helpful to work in conjunction with Joe and his much more up to date knowledge of India and arrive at an itinerary which we were happy with. We enjoyed the whole trip and probably what made it special for us was the fact that all the arrangements worked so well and we really didn’t have to worry about anything at all. Even when we decided to make a small change it was dealt with efficiently and promptly. We can't think of anything that would have made our trip more enjoyable."

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"We asked for a rather particular kind of Indian holiday. You delivered it in full. Highlights? Honestly, each day was a highlight in itself. "

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

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