This fast-paced riding holiday gives guests the opportunity to visit and stay in some of the finest Forts and Palaces of Rajasthan, as well as two nights in a luxury camp. Combining both Diwali and the Pushkar Fair, two of the largest annual festivals, you will immerse yourself in the cultural history of India and get a true insight into what these ancient traditions mean in the modern day.
While on horseback you will have a privileged view of rural Indian life and will be greeted by locals wherever you go. The rich diversity of the countryside will bring a new surprise at every turn, from carefully ploughed farmland to brightly coloured villages and onwards into semi-desert and sand dunes. The sandy tracks provide perfect going for the horses, which means there is plenty of cantering. The pure-bred Marwari horses are mostly home-bred and are also trained to compete in endurance races and tent-pegging, meaning they are fit, forward-going and full of spirit.
Along with the riding element of this trip, sightseeing tours in Jaipur, Pushkar and Delhi make for a good all round visit to India. An extension to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal can be arranged on request.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from SH of Campbellcroft on 24/11/2018
Day 1: Nov 13
Arrive in Delhi and transfer to Hotel Vasant Continental (or similar). Rooms will be available from 12 noon.
P.M - If time permits, sightseeing of New Delhi:
Delhi is today the political, economic and cultural capital of the World's largest democracy and has also become one of the greatest tourist centres of the World. You will visit Humayun's Tomb, aptly called the predecessor of the Taj Mahal. Drive past Safdarjung's Tomb, the Qutab Minar, 72 m high and one of the perfect towers of the Persian World. An orientation drive through New Delhi includes the Embassy area, Government Buildings and Birla temple. Return to the hotel for dinner and good night's rest.
Overnight Hotel Vasant Continental (or similar).
Day 2: Nov 14
After an early breakfast, drive to Dundlod (approx. 6-7 hrs). There will be plenty to see on the drive as you pass through towns, villages and farmland. Arrive in Dundlod and you will be welcomed into Dundlod Fort, your home for two nights.
DUNDLOD: The Dundlod Fort in the heart of the Shekhawati region was built in 1750. This majestic fort, surrounded by a moat, is a mix of Mogul and Rajputana architecture. The grand Diwan Khana (Audience Hall) at the centre of the courtyard is furnished with Louis XIV furniture. This old building has been beautifully maintained and now has all modern comforts. It has a large banqueting hall and each bedroom is uniquely decorated with paintings and photographs of the royal family from which your host is descended.
Today is one of the most important festivals of India - Diwali - and you are here to witness and share in this grand celebration:
DIWALI: or the Festival of Lights is held and celebrated every year in honour of Lord Rama. People celebrate Diwali with the bursting of crackers and by lighting up their houses with earthen diyas (lamps) in the grandest style. On the Diwali day prayers are offered to Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed God and to Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth. It is believed that the Goddess of Wealth will grace your home on this day. It is worth taking a walk in the market areas - the shops are beautifully decorated and are crowded with people in lovely dresses and costumes. At night the whole town is lit up with earthen oil lamps, candles and fireworks, and reverberates with the sound of crackers, joy and happiness.
Overnight Dundlod Fort.
Day 3: Nov 15
Try out the horses riding in and around Dundlod, including a ride out into the surrounding countryside. This is an opportunity for you to get to know your horse and provided you get along this will be your horse for the whole trail. In the afternoon you have time to wander around the town before visiting one of the best Marwari Horse studs in the country, here you will also be given a display of tent pegging - which was developed in India and now is fast becoming a popular equestrian sport.
Overnight Dundlod Fort.
Day 4: Nov 16
Ride to Mandawa (about 22 kms.) passing through several villages, farmers dwellings and farmlands. The terrain is soft and sandy and very good for riding. Arrive in Mandawa and transfer by jeep to Mandawa Castle or Desert Resort.
MANDAWA: A remote principality in the centre of the Shekhawati region that was a trading outpost for the ancient caravan routes that stopped here from China and the Middle East. The Rajput ruler of Mandawa, Thakur Nawal Singh, built a fort in 1755 to protect this outpost. Like many historic homes, Castle Mandawa is a curious mixture of old and new. Medieval turreted towers and planquin-roofed balconies blend with modern comforts. Family portraits, antique cannon and arms add to the charm of this family-run hotel where tradition still runs strong. Even time is measured by different a clock - a huge brass gong struck by the resident timekeepers at the fort every hour!
Overnight Castle Mandawa (or similar).
Day 5: Nov 17
Ride to Dundlod Stables (about 22 kms). Leave the horses at Dundlod Stables and drive to Nawalgarh (about 8 kms). The ride on this day is mostly on soft sandy terrain passing through small villages and farmlands. Due to a busy highway between Dundlod and Nawalgarh, crossing the highway has become a bit risky and we have to leave the horses at Dundlod and drive to Nawalgarh.
Arrive Nawalgarh and transfer to Roop Niwas Kothi. Later, visit the frescoed havelis.
Dundlod, Mandawa, Churi Ajitgarh and Nawalgarh are a part of the Shekhawati region which is Rajasthan's open air Art Gallery. No other region in India or perhaps, even in the world, has such a large concentration of high quality frescoes as the region of Shekhawati. In the beginning this semi-arid region had only its blank monochromatic palette to offer. No school of painting thrived till history and circumstances took up this colourless page and made it blossom with art for almost two centuries - from 1750 to 1930. Today this region is commonly called the Open Air Art Gallery of Rajasthan.The town of Nawalgarh was founded in 1737 A.D. and exudes an old charm with its coulourful bazaar having the largest number of painted Havelies in the Shekhawati region. The various Havelies are covered with frescoes depicting the whole gamut of social and religious life and where history is painted with humour.
O/N Roop Niwas Kothi
Day 6: Nov 18
After breakfast, first we drive to Khirod (about 10 kms ) where you will meet up with the horses and then ride to Bhairon Ji Temple (about 28 kms), passing through several villages and farmers dwellings. The landscape changes dramatically on this day as it takes you close to the great Aravali range of hills. After lunch, ride for some time through farm lands, then follow a dry river bed running parallel to the Aravali hills. Camp overnight in tents near a small temple.
Day 7: Nov 19
Ride to Kochor (about 25 kms.). The ride takes you across a varied terrain consisting of flat land and sand dunes, passing through quaint villages and farmland. After lunch you get to see a big salt water lake with the hills in the background. Overnight in tented camp near Kochor village.
Day 8: Nov 20
Ride to Danta (about 20 Kms). Today’s ride is a short one – you ride along a huge lake and across a spectacular landscape of sand dunes, hills and farmlands - cross several villages and see a couple of old forts till you reach Danta Fort. The village of Danta, is surrounded by two fortresses on top of a hill. One of the fortresses is now a hotel, the Danta Kila (kila means fort), where the night is spent.
O/N Danta Kila.
Day 9: Nov 21
After an early breakfast, bid goodbye to your horses and the grooms and drive to Pushkar (about 4 hours drive). Arrive Pushkar and transfer to Aaram Bagh Resort or similar.
After lunch, visit the Pushkar Fair - which at this time, would be at its peak as far as the animals are concerned.
Pushkar: Excitement, gaiety and keen sense of competition fill the air as the long journey to Pushkar begins. Spirited columns of people with camels, horses, bullock-carts, cars and jeeps head for Pushkar soon after Diwali.
The origin of Pushkar is lost in myth. It is believed that Brahma, the creator, was in search of a place to perform a Vedic yagna (sacrifice). As he pondered, a lotus fell from his hands and water gushed from the spot. Today, the faithful bathe in the holy waters of the Pushkar lake on Kartik Poornima(full moon in November). And on its banks, a mammoth 200000 people and some 50000 cattle become a part of the annual Pushkar fair.
A city of Pilgrimage from time immemorial with over 500 temples and 52 bathing ghats ( steps leading into a river or lake), which are linked to the lunar calendar, enclose the lake. Each ghat has its own miraculous qualities and powers of healing. Pushkar begets a legacy of timeless architectural heritage. Pushkar radiates an ambience of peace and spirituality that casts a lure to visit again and again.
The fair offers a matchless opportunity to trade in cattle and leather goods. Womenfolk shop for bangles, clothes, utensils and sundry household items.
The most dramatic events of the festivities are the cattle auction and the camel race. Sports involving the camel - the friend of the desert folk of Rajasthan are a legion. Equally diverting are the gaily dressed rural folk.
O/N Aaram Bagh Resort or similar
Day 10: Nov 22
Full day in Pushkar - visiting the fair and the town.
O/N Aaram Bagh Resort or similar
Day 11: Nov 23
After breakfast, drive to Jaipur (about 3 hours drive). Arrive Jaipur and transfer to Hotel Alsisar Haveli or similar.
P.M: sightseeing of Jaipur.
JAIPUR: The rose-pink capital of Rajasthan, is surrounded on all sides by rugged hills crowned with forts. Enclosed by embattled walls, the city was built early in the eighteenth century. Jaipur is aptly called the " Pink City of India". It takes its name from the famous Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, who founded the city in 1728. A keen astronomer, he built an observatory which still exists and is equipped with quaint masonry instruments of remarkable size. This observatory (called Jantar Mantar) is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
CITY SIGHTSEEING: The City Palace which now houses a museum containing rare manuscripts, painting and an armoury; the Jantar Mantar observatory- built in the 17th century by Jai Singh.
Day 12: Nov 24
A.M: Sightseeing of Amber Fort including elephant ride to reach the fort entrance.
AMBER FORT : 12 Kms. from Jaipur lies the city of Amber with an ancient imposing fort cum Palace overlooking the lake at the entrance to a rocky mountain grove. Built in the 17th century, the palace is a distinguished specimen of of Rajput architectur and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Jai Mandir (hall of victory) is so delicately ornamented with fine inlay work that it glows. The fort of Jaigarh, crowning the summit of a peak is of amazing beauty and grandeur.
P.M: Late afternoon flight to Delhi and transfer to International Airport in time for flight home. Flights depart late evening/early the next morning.
Day 12: Nov 24
AM: sightseeing of Amber Fort as above, including elephant ride to the fort entrance.
PM: at leisure to rest/shop or more sightseeing.
Day 13: Nov 25
After an early breakfast drive to Agra (about 4 hrs drive). Visit Fatehpursikri (A UNESCO World Heritage Site ) en-route.
Arrive Agra and transfer to Hotel Jaypee Palace.
PM: sightseeing of Agra Fort :
AGRA FORT : The Agra Fort ( a UNESCO World Heritage site ) is one of the most important and robustly built stronghold of the Mughals, embellished with number of richly decorated buildings encompassing the imposing Mughal style of art and architecture. It was constructed by the third Mughal emperor Akbar on the remains of an ancient site known as Badalgarh between 1565 and 1573. He ordered to renovate the fort with red sandstone and some 4000 builders daily worked on it and it was completed in 8 years (1565-1573).
This powerful fortress of red sandstone, semi-circular on plan, is surrounded by a 2.5 kms. long and 21.4 m high fortification wall. Double ramparts have been provided here with broad massive circular bastions at regular intervals. There are four gates on its four sides, one of the gates was called “Khizri-gate” (the water gate) which opens to the river front, where ghats (quays) were provided. The fort has survived through the onslaught of time, nature and men. Spreading over an area of about 94 acres of land, it comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jehangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jehan ( the builder of Taj Mahal), audience halls, such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques.
Day 14: Nov 26
AM: sightseeing of Taj Mahal.
THE TAJ MAHAL, one of the wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved consort Mumtaz Mahal, is a beautiful mausoleum is pure white marble and an architectural marvel. Built in 1631-48 in Agra, seat of the Mughal Empire, the monument sums up many of the formal themes that have played through Islamic architecture. Its refined elegance is a conspicuous contrast both to the Hindu architecture of pre-Islamic India, with its thick walls, corbelled arches, and heavy lintels, and to the Indo-Islamic styles, in which Hindu elements are combined with an eclectic assortment of motifs from Persian and Turkish sources.
On a platform 22' high and 313' square.Corner minarets 137' tall. Main structure 186' on a side, dome to 187'. The mausoleum is 57 m (190 ft) square in plan. "The central inner dome is 24.5 m (81 ft) high and 17.7 m (58 ft) in diameter, but is surmounted by an outer shell nearly 61 m (200 ft) in height."
PM: after lunch, drive to Delhi (about 4 hrs) and transfer to the International Airport in time for flight home. Flights depart late evening/early the next morning.
Please note that you will not need to pay for internal flight on Day 12 with this option.
Single supplement policy
The single supplement is compulsory if booking alone but halved if you are willing to share and we cannot find you a sharer.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
India (Lonely Planet Country Guides) - Sarina Singh
City of Djinns - William Dalrymple
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia - Paul Theroux
An Indian Summer - James Cameron
Into India - John Keay
No Full Stops in India - Mark Tully
Rajasthan; India's Enchanted Land- Raghubir Singh
Rajasthan; Land of Kings - S. Matheson & R. Beny
The Royal Palaces of India – G. Michell & A. Martinelli
Arts and Crafts of Rajasthan - A. Nath & F. Wacziarg
Plain Tales from the Raj - Charles Allen
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are mostly Marwari horses with a few Kathiawari and Sindhi horses, all of which are indigenous to India and range from 14hh to 16hh. They are lean but very fit horses which makes them most suitable for desert safaris. Your hosts breed these horses and they are kept in absolutely immaculate condition. Marwari horses are warm blooded and thin skinned not unlike Arabians. They are alll very well schooled, responsive, forward going and have no vices.
The tack is all made in India from fine leather of Kanpur. The saddles are known as SAWAR (rider) saddles as they are designed for Cavalry - they are not dissimilar to polo or army saddles, see our pictures for more details. They are comfortable for horses and safe for the riders. The saddle covers and martingales are made up of the Dundlod family colours.
The exotic beauty and vigour of the Marwari horse is their lasting heritage. Marwari was bred to lift the heart in battle and please the eye. He is easily recognised by his proud carriage, upright graceful neck and distinctive aquiline head with deep expressive eyes, the crowning glory of which are the unique inward curling or scimitar shaped ears set high on the poll and without exception unique to the noble Indian horse. The intelligence and natural regal bearing of the Marwari is blended with tremendous equipoise, graceful animated gaits and stamina. He displays an alert stillness when in repose and incredible elan vital in action. Hardiness and longevity have enabled the breed to survive wars, famine and droughts. The Marwari agreeably adapts to different life styles and environmental conditions and performs in various sports and formal riding disciplines. Loyal, tireless and competitive, the Marwari has evolved from one of the world ancient breeds to present a new archetype of beauty, brilliance and personality.
Riders of an intermediate level onwards. There are some steadier horses for nervous riders but beginners or novices cannot be accommodated. There are grooms available who will ride the horses while the rider rests in the jeep if you are feeling tired at any stage. This is a full service trip and no participation by riders is needed in the horse care.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The accomodation is for the most part in the historic Forts and Palaces of the impressive Rajasthan region. For two nights the accommodation is in luxury tented camps with fully furnished tents, a flushing toilet and a hot shower.
The food is varied and fresh. Indian meals are always available and are delicious but a choice of western dishes are also available in most of the hotels. The level of spicing is variable but generally milder and vegetarian dishes are offered. It's a good idea to try some sweet Lassi - this is a tasty yogurt based drink which, as well as being delicious, is a good pro-biotic.
This is luxury accommodation and food is prepared and cooked very carefully, as long as you take sensible hygiene precautions (such as thorough hand washing) you should not have any trouble from an upset stomach.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
General information, correct as of 3rd February 2014:
You must obtain a visa before travelling to India. If you arrive without a visa, you will be refused entry. Visas can be obtained online via the Indian government agency, VFS Global - http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/ On this website you will find a step by step guide outlining the forms you need to fill in. You will also be required to send your passport and 2 approved photographs so factor in enough time for this to be done and for your passport and visas to be returned to you. There are a number of companies who will charge a fee to check your information for you before it is submitted, so you could take advantage of these if you are not confident that you have filled out the forms correctly. There are also Visa collection centres in London and Leicester, however these do not guarantee a same-day visa and can entail hours of queuing.
Always keep a copy of your passport and your Indian visa separate from your passport, in case of loss. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months. For further information on entry requirements, visitors are advised to check with the Indian representation in the UK at India House, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4NA. Telephone: (020) 7836 8484.
The British High Commission in India can be found at Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi - 110021. Telephone: +(91-11) 26872161. Email: postmaster.nedel@ fco.gov.uk.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office also provides travel advice on their website at www.fco.gov.uk
The temperature although warm during the day (max 30C) will drop in the evenings to approx 13C. It is therefore essential to have a warm fleece to hand especially when camping.
Anti-malaria precautions are advised as necessary to some areas at certain times of year. If you have recently visited a place known for yellow fever you will need a vaccination certificate. Your G.P. will advise on necessary vaccinations and precautions.
For up to date information on health matters please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org or visit the departmwetn of health's web site on www.dh.gov.uk
Voltage is the same as in the UK and most appliances such as battery chargers for videos, hair dryers etc. can be plugged in with appropriate adapters. These are available for purchase at most airports and travel shops
Riding clothes, half chaps are recommended, riding gloves, riding boots, walking shoes, fleece, sweatshirt, long sleeved shirts, windcheater/raincoat, plenty of socks, swimming costume/shorts, light flip flops/sandals, sunblock, sunglasses with string, insect repellent, torch, camera on a shoulder strap, binoculars.
There is a laundry service in most of the hotels.
Towels are provided in all the accommodation including the camps.
It is recommended that a riding hat is worn but this is a personal decision, if not you will be grateful for a light scarf to keep dust and grime out of your hair. This will also be useful if visiting any Sikh shrines when the head must be covered.
Saddle bags will be provided for the riding part of the trip.
Out of respect to local custom women should avoid bare shoulders, legs and low neck lines.
This is a 12 day/11 night programme with 6 days riding available on a set date each year to coincide with the festivals. There is the option to add a 2 night extension to Agra.
Lonely Planet Guide/ NEOS Guide to Rajasthan/Delhi & Agra. ‘The City of Djinns’-William Dalrymple, ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’-Paul Theroux, ‘An Indian Summer’-James Cameron, ‘Into India’-John Keay, ‘No Full Stops In India’ –Mark Tully, ‘Rajasthan;India’s Enchanted Land’-Raghubir Singh, ‘Rajasthan, Land of Kings’-Matheson S.& Beny R., ‘The Royal Palaces of India’ –Michell G. & Martinelli A., ‘Arts and Crafts in Rajasthan’-Nath A. & Wacziarg F.,‘Plain Tales From The Raj’-Charles Allen, The
Bagahvaad Gita and of course many others have been written about this huge, diverse land and its 847 million inhabitants. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
During the ride it is possible you will see some of the wide range of antelope species which inhabit the area. There are also many interesting birds and reptiles if you look out for them.
PERSONAL TOILETRIES: For peace of mind it is recommended that should you require any sanitaryware you take this with you. A toilet roll with inner cardboard tube removed will take up little space and may be an invaluable item.
BEGGARS: You will not visit India without coming into contact with many distressing facets of this unfortunate community. Without appearing harsh, it is strongly advised by the Indian Authorities and charity workers in the country not to give to these people. Should you wish to do something extra to help these communities then a donation to an established charity will go much further and give you a relatively hassle free visit.
TAXIS/RICKSHAWS; In major cities these should be metered and have a tariff rate. If in doubt agree a fare before departing and check that the meter is used. Do not be persuaded to go where the drivers get commission
India forms a natural sub-continent with the Himalayas to the north. The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which are sections of the Indian Ocean, lie to the west and east respectively.
The official language of India is Hindi written in the Devanagari script and spoken by some 30% of the population as a first language. Since 1965 English has been recognised as an 'associated language'. In addition there are 18 main and regional languages recognised for adoption as official state languages. There are another 24 languages, 720 dialects and 23 tribal languages.
India will sideswipe you with its size, clamour and diversity - especially if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload. Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you.
The time difference for India is GMT/UTC +5.5hrs and the dialling code is +91. India has adopted metric weights and measures.