Delhi tours and excursions
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) offers heritage walks of Old Delhi and Mehrauli Archaeological Park at weekends. You can also arrange private guides. Alternatively pick up a copy of Old Delhi: 10 Easy Walks for inspiration. Join the charitable organisation Salaam Baalak Trust for a city walk with a difference. These two-hour walks (Monday to Saturday) are led by a former street child who show you what life is like for kids living on the streets.Tel: (011) 2464 1304 ; (011) 2358 4164.
The Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation (DTTDC) operates the HOHO bus service - hop on, hop off sightseeing tours covering New and Old Delhi (daily 0800-2000). The New Delhi tour takes in Jantar Mantar, Birla Mandir, Qutb Minar, the Lotus Temple and Safdarjung's Tomb. The Old Delhi tour stops at Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Rajghat and Humayun's Tomb. They also offer Delhi by Evening tours. All tickets must be purchased in advance and are available online or at the booking office at N-36, Connaught Place.Tel: (011) 4094 0000.
The Hope Project is a charitable organisation that was set up in 1980 to help the poor with education, health and livelihood projects in the Nizamuddin community. The centre also runs tours around the Nizamuddin basti offering visitors the chance to visit the mosques, dargahs (Islamic shrines) and culinary delights of this predominantly Muslim neighbourhood.Tel: (011) 2435 3006.
Ranthambore National Park
Southwest of Agra, and a few hours' drive or train ride south from Delhi, the Ranthambore National Park offers the opportunity to see the elusive tiger, along with other large wildlife including leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, snakes and much more – an Indian equivalent of a safari. A number of operators will organise inclusive trips, among them Gurgaon-based Tour My India.Tel: (0120) 405 2615.
The Taj Mahal has been described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love. It is also India's most emblematic and famous tourist attraction. Renowned for its tree-lined reflective pond leading up to the fabulous domed roof, few know that the Taj Mahal is, in fact, a mausoleum, not a mosque. Completed in 1653, it was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The Taj Mahal reportedly took 20,000 workers 22 years to complete. Sunrise is the best time to see the monument in all its glory. Most impressive are the four tall minarets, the majestic dome in the middle and the black-and-white chessboard marble floor.
The Shatabdi Express, an air-conditioned train, covers the 199km (124 miles) to Agra from Delhi in between two and three hours, departing from New Delhi station every day except Friday.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh
About an hour's drive from Agra, and atop a hill offering great views, another spectacular example of Mughal architecture near Delhi is the 'ghost city' of Fatehpur Sikri. Dating from the latter half of the 16th century, this fortified settlement was originally intended as a twin capital with Agra, but was soon abandoned due to a lack of suitable water supply to support the residents.
The city boasts a remarkable collection of palaces, gardens and other buildings, and one part, containing a large mosque and an awe-inspiring entrance gateway, is very much alive and functioning as a centre of worship.
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh
Near the Taj Mahal is Agra Fort with its striking high red sandstone ramparts. The fort houses the graceful Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), the Hammam-i-Shahi (Royal Bath), the Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque) and the Zenana Meena Bazaar, where the ladies of the court would linger over silks, jewellery and brocades.
The complex boasts a number of individual palaces built from both the ubiquitous local red sandstone, and from white marble. There are also mosques and a number of other buildings.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh