Treasures, Tigers and the Taj Mahal, India

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15530A, International


  • Get the opportunity to see tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and hyenas
  • Immerse yourself in India's melting pot of cultures, religions, and traditions
  • Spend a total of six days viewing the incredible wildlife of the Indian subcontinent in Kanha and Kaziranga national parks


  • All meals and lodging
  • Professional guide service
  • All transportation on trip


DatesFeb 8–21, 2015
Price$5,295 (12–15)
$5,995 (or fewer)
StaffKathie Fowler

Trip Overview

The Trip

Origin of great religions and one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India emits a ceaseless, nearly overwhelming energy. There are 4,000 years of history here. This is where the Buddha wrestled with the meaning of suffering and the way to enlightenment; where for eons Hindus have sought unity with God through reincarnation; and where the Moghul Muslims constructed the perfect edifice, the Taj Mahal. This ever-changing, yet timeless, place challenges all of your senses, greeting you with ornately carved temples; fakirs on beds of nails; sacred cows; and gleaming, marble palaces from bygone eras; snake charmers; and the hustle-bustle of streets teeming with rickshaws and bicycles. India is a country of striking contrasts, and the diversity of its natural history easily matches the grandeur of its civilization. For many years Africa has been regarded as the ultimate continent for wildlife viewing; the world is beginning to realize, however, that India's range of wildlife rivals that of the famous African game parks.

Forests and fauna with a wide variety of trees, plants, and animals are found throughout the entire subcontinent in various reserves, natural parks, and areas fortunate enough to have escaped the crush of overpopulation. Here, we will look for Bengal tigers, leopards, and other smaller cats, along with the Asian elephant, the Indian rhinoceros, many primates and antelopes, and a variety of deer and bovine species. Also, with close to 1,200 recorded species of birds, India alone holds roughly 12 percent of the world's avifauna population. Finally, there are more than 400 reptile species in India and numerous fascinating invertebrates.

During our whirlwind swing through this ancient land, we'll focus primarily on India's magnificent wildlife. We will also explore the country's history, beliefs, customs, and architectural treasures, such as the Taj Mahal, along the way.

Our journey focuses on central India, West Bangal (Kolkata) and eastern portions of the country, where we will experience some of the best cultural and natural history sites in the states of Uttar Pradesh (Kanha), West Bengal (Kolkata) and Assam (Kaziranga).

We'll start in Delhi, exploring both the old and new city, with its rich history and ancient monuments.

Next we’ll drive to Agra to marvel at one of the wonders of the world -- the Taj Mahal. Words hardly do justice to the Taj, which seldom fails to move those who see it. From Agra, we'll ride India's famous railway system to Kanha National Park (the setting for Kipling’s Jungle Book). Here we will have three and a half days to look for tigers and other wildlife, both by jeep and from the backs of elephants through different habitats, including sal forest, bamboo thicket, plateau grasslands, meadows and mixed forests, all of which support an excellent variety of wildlife.

From Kanha, we'll fly to Kolkata, and have a tour of the Colonial area and Mother Theresa’s ashram. We will then catch a flight to Jorhat, and drive to Kaziranga National Park in the northeast state of Assam. Here, from vehicles and the backs of elephants, we should be able to see the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. There are also sizable numbers of tigers, leopard, wild buffalo, and wild elephant in the area. The birding here, too, is excellent. The park holds Bengal florican, several species of fishing eagle, storks, and innumerable other species. We should feel quite sated by the time we return to Delhi.

This trip is suitable for adults who enjoy nature, adventure, and cultural exploration. The sites on our itinerary are nowhere near border areas and provinces in which unrest (very occasionally) occurs. We will travel largely by rail, with one night in sleeper berth compartments -- a real treat given the history of the Indian national railway system! We'll also take several short flights on commercial airlines. The balance of our transportation is by private bus. We'll stay in first-class hotels and comfortable jungle lodges.

We plan to see as much as possible of India's incredible wildlife -- much of which is endangered -- and immerse ourselves in the country's rich cultural history. We will also explore Indian conservation, political, and religious issues, and discuss the ways in which they contribute to overpopulation. Finally, we will have an excellent opportunity to observe tigers in their natural state, and to understand the Indian subcontinent's complex ecosystem.


Day 1: All participants should arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport today and transfer to our hotel in New Delhi. We will get acquainted over a welcome dinner and orientation. Dinner will be the first meal provided.

Day 2: Delhi, the national capital of India, is a veritable museum of Indo-Islamic and British-influenced architecture. We will tour the old city in the morning and after lunch visit New Delhi with its formal parks, magnificent parliament building, and presidential palace. Overnight in Delhi.

Day 3: After breakfast, we will drive to Agra (four hours), site of the Itmad-Ud-Daula and the Taj Mahal. In the morning we will visit the Itmad-Ud-Daula, an exquisite marble tomb built in the 1600s entirely in white marble and inlaid with semi-precious stones. This tomb was made by Emperor Jahangir’s queen, Nurjahan, in memory of her father mirza Ghis Beg during 1622-1628 A.D.

In the afternoon we wil visit the Mehtab Bagh, a 25-acre garden constructed from 1631-1635 A.D. Known as the “Moonlight Garden,” it is laid across the western side of the river Yamuna and is aligned with the Taj Mahal. It is considred the ideal location for viewing the perfect beauty of the Taj under the moonlight.

Day 4: We will enjoy an early sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal -- one of the wonders of the world -- built by Emperor Shah Jehan. In the 17th century, the emperor commissioned this remarkable building as a permanent resting place for his favorite wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Though it took a workforce of some 20,000 men from all over Asia 21 years to build the Taj, the effort appears to have been worth it. Tagore, the Bengali classical poet and literary giant, described the Shah's project as a "dream in marble" and "a tear on the face of eternity." And while its architectural layout has a distinct Islamic theme -- representing paradise -- the Taj is really more of a monument to undying romantic love.

We will return to our hotel for breakfast and enjoy some free time. After lunch we will check out of our hotel and visit the Agra Fort which, like the Taj, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Reportedly, the Shah spent his last years thinking of his deceased wife while gazing out at the Taj from the Fort, where one of his sons had imprisoned him.

In the late afternoon, we'll transfer to the railway station for an overnight train ride to Jabalpur, our gateway to Kanha National Park.

Days 5-7: We will arrive in Jabalpur in the morning, then drive to Kanha (approximately four hours) and transfer to the hotel. For the next three days we will enjoy game viewing at Kanha, which is one of India’s largest national parks and the location for Rudyard Kipling's famous "Jungle Book." Kanha is also home to Project Tiger, one of the country’s most important conservation forts. Here we will travel by jeep and elephant for tiger and wildlife viewing. Some of the species we may encounter include the endangered hard-ground barasingha (this being the only place where the sub-species remains) barking dear, spotted deer, the largest bovine gaur, golden-backed jackal, jungle cat, common langur, sloth bear, and the elusive chausingha and tiger. One evening we will be treated to a Baiga tribal dance performance.

Day 8: After breakfast, we will drive to Raipur airport (4 and a half hours), and catch a flight to Kolkata. Overnight in Kolkata.

Day 9: After breakfast we will pay our respects at Mother Teresa’s tomb within the Sisters of Charity’s Motherhouse. There is also a small museum that displays Mother Teresa’s worn sandals and enamel dinner bowl. Upstairs, “Mother’s room” is preserved in all its simplicity.

After lunch we will catch a flight to Jorat and then drive straight to Kaziranga National Park (two and a half hours).

Days 10-12: Kaziranga is arguably one of southern Asia's greatest wildlife sanctuaries. It is the last remaining stronghold of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, which you should see from atop an elephant if not from the road. Tigers are also well represented here, but can be difficult to see given the thick cover. Our best opportunity for tiger sightings will come on an elephant game drive. We have a good chance of seeing the endangered wild Asian elephant; the extremely local and vocal hoolock gibbon; capped langurs; smooth Indian otters; water buffalo; swamp and hog deer; wild boar; and, if we are extremely lucky, we might even get a fleeting glimpse of the rare Ganges River dolphin, in the Brahmaputra or one of the other rivers in the park.

Birdlife abounds, too: three hornbill species, the endangered Bengal florican (a member of the bustard family), the endangered white-winged duck, six species of stork (including the severely endangered greater adjutant stork), three species of pelican (including the threatened spot-billed pelican), multiple raptors (including six eagle species), the threatened swamp francolin, the Eurasian griffon, fairy bluebird, and 350 other avian species recorded to date. We will stay at the delightful and very comfortable Wild Grass Lodge for the three full days we'll spend in this fascinating northeast corner of India, where our busy schedule will include game rides by elephant and jeep, a tour of a Gibbon sanctuary, and a boat ride on the famed Bramaputra River.

Day 13: After breakfast we will drive five hours to Guwahati and catch a flight to Delhi. Overnight at hotel in Delhi.

Day 14: After an early morning transfer to the international airport, we say our goodbyes and catch our flights abroad.



Getting There

The cost of air transportation between the United States and India is not included in the trip fee. All travel within India is included. You are responsible for making your own international flight arrangements. You will need to buy an Indian visa -- available through India's embassy or consulates in the U.S. -- prior to leaving home. Once you have registered for this trip, the leader will assist you in obtaining a visa.

Accommodations and Food

Our hotels in New Delhi will be of four-star quality; the eco-lodges will be comfortable but not luxurious, allowing us access to natural areas we could not otherwise explore. All of our accommodations have running hot water and showers. Vegetarian options will be available throughout the trip.

Trip Difficulty

Potential trip members should be aware of the demands of adventure travel. You do not have to be in excellent physical condition to make this trip, but there will be bumpy jeep and elephant drives over rough terrain, as well as some long stretches of bus and train travel. Our opportunities for walking will be restricted when we are in tiger habitat. (Remember -- the tiger is at the top of the food chain in his territory!) Otherwise, we will be on foot for a fair amount of time each day. Emotional balance, flexibility, maturity, and a spirit of adventure are essential to making this an enjoyable experience. There might be some itinerary variations depending upon our flight and train schedules; however, these are not expected to occur.

We will visit India when the weather is optimal -- after the monsoons and before the summer heat returns with a vengeance. Nonetheless, we are likely to have 90-degree temperatures in the midparts of some of the days we are in open, non-forested areas. It will be a dry heat, however, and should be tolerable. The weather should mostly be in the 70s and 80s by day, but could drop into the low 40s at night when we are in our forest lodges. Occasional rain is possible, but heavy and prolonged rains are rare outside of the monsoon season (June-August).

No inoculations are legally required for entry into India. A vaccination against Hepatitis A, however, is recommended, and a vaccination against meningitis should be considered. Typhoid fever outbreaks are rare outside of the monsoon season, so vaccination against typhoid probably isn't necessary -- it's up to you. Make sure you have had a tetanus booster within the last 10 years, and that you have had the usual "childhood" vaccinations, such as polio.

Malaria is not highly prevalent outside of the monsoon season. Nonetheless, it is a serious health risk, and you should consider taking prophylactic medication. Consult your physician. The leader will send complete health recommendations to registered participants well in advance of departure (or upon request by prospective participants).

We will drink bottled water, which is widely available throughout India. We will eat and stay in places where good hygiene is the norm and not the exception.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will provide a detailed equipment list.


The last century hasn't been good for India's natural heritage. The sheer size of the country's ever-expanding population -- currently a staggering 1.2 billion people -- has led to increasingly destructive environmental practices. Fire, the ox, the plow, and now the bulldozer and chainsaw have transformed vast areas of pristine forest into agricultural plots, or, worse yet, wasteland. Indeed, India has lost almost 90 percent of its forest since 1900. According to current estimates, there are only about 2,500 critically endangered Bengal tigers left in the wild. A century ago, India had more than 40,000 of them. The cheetah has already become extinct in India, and the Asiatic lion may be next -- there are just 250 left, all confined to the Gir National Park in the state of Gujarat.

It is a sad irony that so many species are disappearing or endangered in the land that fostered three of the world's most compassionate religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. However, not all the news is bleak. Since the early 1970s, strong government legislation and programs, such as Project Tiger, have resulted in increased wildlife protection and critical habitat preservation.

Compared to Africa or even South America, India's wildlife sanctuaries and national parks have received remarkably little international attention -- mainly due to the extreme remoteness of many of the areas and their lack of suitable facilities. The Indian government has only recently increased its efforts to open these areas to eco-tourism, in the process revealing the country's incredible richness and biodiversity. Clearly, more eco-tourism is needed to reinforce government support for habitat preservation and the protection of endangered wildlife.

On this outing, we will see firsthand how overpopulation and poverty affect not just humans but the entire natural world. Perhaps nowhere else on the planet are man's impacts on the natural world so readily visible -- from scant protections for water and air to deforestation, poaching, and overhunting. In India, as in most of the world, conservation can only work if culture, socioeconomic realities, and the human psyche are taken into account. There is much fertile ground for discussion when one immerses oneself in the frothy, aromatic cauldron of one of the most complex countries in the world -- India!



An outdoor enthusiast all of her adult life, Kathie has traveled extensively in the Himalayas, both privately and with the Sierra Club, and has also led trips in California’s Sierra Nevada, Cost Rica, Ireland, and Italy. Kathie’s travel opportunities in-creased after her retirement as Director of Communications from a Napa Valley winery, and she was excited to be given a trainee position on the India trip in 2014. She fell in love with this fascinating, ancient land and looks forward to leading the trip in 2015.

Assistant Leader:

Pritpal Singh Kochhar

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