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25 days in India: itinerary, budget & other concerns

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Hi all,

I am planning a trip to India for about 25 days. I am especially keen on sites with historical significance (I recently read William Dalrymple's City of Djinns and 10 years after my first visit to Delhi, I felt a sudden strong urge to return!), cultural places, architecture, and (minimal) non-mall shopping. I like to take my time with cities instead of squeezing everything into 36/48 hours.

I expect to take a couple night trains, and would appreciate advice on whether it is safe for two females to do this, and which trains - other than Shatabdi Express - are reliable. And which connections will benefit greater from night trains?

Cities I currently have in my itinerary and plan to visit in order:

Delhi
Agra (day trip)
Jaipur/Jodhpur
Calcutta
Kerala

The hitch is that I am also considering Darjeeling, and am very keen on visiting the Himalayan region, but I can't decide between Ladakh, Shimla or Nepal. Also, I'm not sure how or where to fit it into the itinerary. I thought one of these places would be a lovely way to end the trip.

I will be travelling to Delhi in late January 2013. My combined budget (hotel cost will be shared) is USD1,600 (+/-). If you can provide some hotel recommendations for any of the cities (no more than USD30 per night), that would be very helpful!

Many thanks in advance!

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