Coincides with Dusshera, Festival of Good over Evil and Bharat Milap in Varanasi.
One of the most comprehensive itineraries of North India. Essential India: travels through a diverse cross section of India both geographically and spiritually, from the Himalayas through Rajasthan, visiting the holy pilgrimage sites of Indian Spirituality which are the fabric of Indian culture. There cannot be a better way to comprehend the complexities of India than this.
Day 1: Arrival in Delhi.
Met at airport & transfer to hotel The Lalit
Day 2: Tour of Old Delhi Hindu Cultural Sites + Indo-Islamic Architecture& Sufi Rituals (B,L,D)
We depart the hotel at approx 9 am. This morning’s tour starts with entering the walled city of Old Delhi. In the midst of the Old City lies the great Jama Masjid- the principal mosque of Old Delhi. Built in the year 1656 AD by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, it is the largest & best known mosque in India. The courtyard of the mosque can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers. The mosque also houses several relics in a closet in the north gate, including an antique copy of the Qur’an written on deer skin. It lies at the origin of a very busy central street of Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk.
From here we take an exciting rickshaw ride through Chandi Chowk, the old marketplace of Shah Jahanabad now a colorful bazaar. At one end of the bazaar stands the Red Fort.
The Red Fort, built in the year 1648, is the largest surviving fort of Shah Jahanabad and is now called Old Delhi. It has the same Mughal architecture and structure as Agra Fort (which we will visit later in the tour). Agra Fort is better preserved and accessible whereas large parts of Red Fort are held by the Indian Army and one has to walk quite a distance to see the permitted areas. This is the reason we will not visit Red Fort.
Next, we drive to Safdarjung’s Tomb, situated at the head of Lodi Road, the tomb emits the glow of the Mughal era. Safdarjung’s Tomb was built in memorial of Safdarjung, the governor of the province of Awadh and NawabShuja-ud-daulah’s father. Safdarjung’s Tomb is one of the few buildings built during the last span of the Mughal era. The plan of the tomb structure is similar to that of the Humayun’s tomb over an area of 300 sq. mtrs. Two graves are inside the tomb, Safdarjung’s and the his wife. The chambers in the tomb are essentially rectangular in shape except the corner chambers are structured octagonal. The tomb overlooks the beautiful pavilions of BadshaPasand’ or the king’s favorite, Moti Mahal or the pearl palace and Jangli Mahal or the sylvan palace.
We will stop for lunch at a wonderful traditional Rajasthani restaurant.
Afterwards, we drive to Humayun’s tomb, one of the remarkable structures of the Mughal Empire in India. The monument is surrounded my many new buildings but still the structure has importance. Humayun’s tomb was built in 1565 A.D by HamidaBanu Begum (Humayun’s widow). Close to the monument, is the shrine of Nizamuddin which is very sacred among Muslims.
This evening we witness sufi rituals including Quawali music at the tomb of HazaratNizzamuddin. (Thursdays 5-7 pm). Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 3: Delhi – Kangra – Taragarh / Taragarh Palace (B,D)
Transfer to airport for a flight AI8913 depart 1040 / arrive 1220 to Kangra. From there, we drive (1.30 hour) to the Taragarh Palace. Formerly known as Al Hilal (land of the crescent moon), Taragarh Palace was built in 1931 by the 27 year old Nawab of Bahawalpur as a large European-style summer residence for himself up in the cool Himalayan jungle of the Kangra district. He laid out lush gardens, built a glass pavilion and a mosque. It was bought by the royal family of Jammu & Kashmir in 1951 for the Maharani who lived there for several years. It is now run as a hotel by the present royal family. In the evening, we visit Baijnath Temple, a Shiva temple dedicated to Shiva Vaidyanatha. It is supposed to be the temple where Ravana worshipped Shiva to gain immortality. The Baijnath is one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ and is thronged with pilgrims during the festival of Shivratri.
Day 4: Taragarh (B,L,D)
Enjoy a leisurely morning! We will have a late morning departure to visit the TashijongGompa that is the focus of a small Tibetan community who hail from Kham province in Tibet. We’ll have a pleasant walk around the village with possible opportunities for interaction with the residents.
We return to the hotel for lunch.
This afternoon we drive to Sherab Ling Monastery, one of the world’s largest Buddhist teaching centers. The monks received a Grammy for their Sacred Buddhist Chanting in 2003. (Best Traditional World Music Album). Sherab Ling Monastery nestles in the gentle pine-forested foothills of northern India’s Kangra Valley, the seat of its founder His Eminence TiSitupa XII, a leading Tibetan Buddhist teacher and peace campaigner.
Here the monks perform mesmerizing prayer ceremonies, as part of their daily lives, originating many centuries ago in the great Buddhists monasteries of Tibet. The monks begin their day with the Lineage Prayer, offering respect to a line of great meditation practitioners going back as far as the 7th century. The Mahakala Ceremony is part of each day’s closing ritual in which the monks ask for purification and dedicate their blessings to all sentient creatures.
We shall attend the monks’ evening prayer and chanting session.
Return to the palace for dinner and evening at leisure for relaxing and enjoying the ambiance.
Day 5: Taragarh – Dharamsala (60 km) / Pride Surya Mountain Resort 9B,L,D)
An hour and a half’s drive will take us to the Norbulinka Institute, which is a major centre for Buddhist teaching and practical work. Named after the summer residence of the Seventh Dalai Lama, it was set up to ensure the survival of the Tibetan Buddhism cultural heritage. Over 100 students learn a variety of crafts in wood, metal, silk and thangka painting. The temple has a 4.5 meter (15 foot) high gilded statue of The Buddha and over 1000 painted images.
Afterwards we drive another 40 minutes to the headquarter of Tibet in Exile. Dharamsala. Visit the Offices of the Tibet Government in Exile, Museum of Buddhist Artefacts, Medicine and Astrology and some free time to stroll town independently & shop if interested
After checking into our hotel. We will take a short walking tour of the town, visit the main prayer wheel, and a nunnery.The Namgyal Monastery, which houses the Buddhist School of Dialectics, also known as the ‘Tsuglagkhang’ (cathedral) is opposite the Dalai Lama’s residence. It resembles the center of a similar one in Lhasa. Inside are large gilded bronze statues of the Buddha. Next to the Tsuglagkhang is the Kalachakra Temple with modern murals of mandalas – protectors of the Dharma, as well as Buddhist masters, with the central image being of the Shakhyamuni. Sand Mandalas are constructed throughout the year. This temple is particularly important as it practices Kalachakra Tantra, which is instrumental in. Evening free on the Mall.
Day 6: Early morning drive Dharamsala – Amritsar (140 km/approx 5 hrs). Hotel Ramada (B,D)
Afternoon witness the religious traditions of the Sikhs at the Golden Temple. The temple complex is a community where pilgrims travel for days from all over and are offered shelter and food for free. The whole operation is run by volunteers and is truly amazing to witness the efficiency by which thousands are fed each day. It is inspiring to witness the devotion of people to their faith and mankind. We will have an opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen. Selfless or voluntary service. Everyone is contributing in some way or the other at the shrine; chopping veggies, cleaning utensils, making bread, cooking lentil, serving, cleaning, offering water, participating in ongoing maintenance and repair. Everyone is giving back to society by way of self less service. We return to the hotel for dinner.
Day 7: Amritsar – Haridwar / Hotel Hariganga Haveli (B,D)
Morning train to Haridwar (depart 06:30 /arrive 13:30). We spend the day in Haridwar visiting various sites including the Neel Parvat Temple, dedicated to the Goddess Chandi Devi (Durga), which is on top of a hill overlooking the Ganges and about 6 km (3.7 miles) from Haridwar. We can get up to the temple via a ropeway. Local Indian women will be there performing devotional rituals to the goddess.
At sunset attend the prayer ceremony to witness aarti (ceremony of lights) at the Ganges, which starts at 6:15pm, we’ll enjoy the pre-ceremony festivities on the promenade. Overnight at the Hariganga Haveli.
Day 8: Haridwar – Rishikesh (25 km) The Great Ganga (B,D)
Morning drive to Rishikesh (45 min). After Checking in we walk to The Sivananda Ashram and then across the Ram Jhula (now called the Sivananda bridge) on the Ganga visiting several ashrams and temples Gita Bhawan, Gita Ashram, Swargashram and Parmarth Ashram. There are many shops stocked with spiritual books and music, clothes, articles of spititual nature. We will reach Parmarth Ashram in time for the Homa ceremony and Ganga Aarti (chanting, bhajan, kirtan) 5:30-6pm.
Day 9: Rishikesh – Delhi / The Pride Plaza (B,L,D)
Morning attend yoga class (optional). Check out around 1200 hrs. Rest of day independent. After lunch at one of the restaurants we return to our hotel for a brief wash and change, pick our bags and drive to Haridwar to connect evening train Shatabdi Exp. depar 1815 / arrive Delhi 2245 (dinner will be served on the train). On arrival transfer to a hotel near the airport.
Day 10: Delhi – Varanasi / Taj Ganges. (B,D)
After breakfast transfer to airport for flight 9W2423 depart 10.40 / arrive 1150 to Varanasi. We will be met at the airport and drive to our hotel Taj Ganges.
Evening attend aarti (light ceremony) on the banks of the Ganges
Day 11: Varanasi / Taj Ganges (B,D) Dussehra Festival
A visit to Varanasi reveals the spiritual heart of India, and the best way to experience this is to tour the Ganges in a country boat at sunrise. Pilgrims, yogis and mystics flock to the ghats (steps) which lie along the banks of the Ganges, to take a cleansing dip in India’s holiest river, practice yoga, meditate, or to complete mundane earthly chores such as washing clothes and vessels. Early morning life in this city revolves around the ghats. A contemporary of Nineveh and Thebes, Varanasi today is the oldest living city in the world. One of India’s most sacred cities, a devout Hindu believes to die and be cremated in Varanasi is to gain ‘moksha’ or release from the eternal cycle of rebirth. A visit to the old city is a fascinating insight into the rituals of Hindu spirituality. Every temple is well attended and every street corner has roadside shrines and vendors selling garlands, incense sticks and other items used in worship.
After our boat ride, we walk through the narrow alleys where we share space with cows, scooters, cycle rickshaws, shops and people to the banks of the Ganges. Return to your hotel for breakfast and some independent time.
The 2 week long Dussehra festival peaks today with the burning of effigies of Ravana and his two brothers Kumbhkaran and Meghnath. The essence of this festival is victory of truth over evil. Evening is reserved for the festivities which start approx 6 or 630 pm. Dinner at The famous Kabab Factory.
Day 12: Varanasi (B,D) Bharat Milap
In the Morning we visit Sarnath, the spiritual center of Buddhism (where Buddha gave his first sermon). The ancient ruins are fascinating, including the Dhamekh Stupa which is believed to mark the spot where Buddha preached his famous sermon; this archaeological museum is excellent. There is also a monument dedicated to Buddha and a modern Buddhist temple with murals by a Japanese painter depicting the story of the life of Buddha.
The Bharat Milap festival is held the day following Dussehra at Nati Imli, Varanasi. The people of Varanasi celebrate Bharat Milap with great fanfare and devotion. Thousands gather in the streets to see the procession of Lord Ram and his reunion with younger brother, Bharat. People pay their respect by putting Tilak on their forehead and garlanding Lord Ram and his brothers. Another interesting part of the Bharat Milap celebration is the presence of Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) with all his royal entourage and regal finery.
Day 13: Varanasi – Khajuraho / Hotel Radisson Khajuraho (B,D)
Morning transfer to the airport for a flight 9W2423 depart 12:40 /arrive 13:35 to Khajuraho. Afternoon, we visit Classical Temples from Chandella Style of the 9th- 11th century, illustrated with remarkable sculptures of the classical erotic literature, the KAMA SUTRA.
Day 14: Kahjuraho – Orchha – Agra / The Gateway (B,L,D)
Drive to Orchha.(170km/ 105 miles) which was the capital of the kingdom of the Bundella Rajputs from 1531 to 1783. We visit Jahangir Mahal Palace, an Indo-Persian style palace of the Mughul period and the Ram Raja Temple, built in the 17th century. Lunch at the Orchha Palace Hotel. Afterward, we drive to Jhansi and board Shatabdi Express to Agra (dep 1755 hr/ arr 2030 hr).
Day 15: Agra (B,D)
Sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Return to hotel for breakfast. Then excursion to Mathura, birthplace of Krishna, and Vrindavan, where Krishna spent his childhood. We visit Krishna temple and the birth place of Lord Krishna. Drive to Vrindavan; visit Radha Raman, Madan Mohan, Govinda Mandir, Raga Ji Ashram; witness religious ceremonies–music & chanting–at ISCON Temple, the temple devoted to Krishna.
Day 16: Agra-Fatephur Sikri-Jaipur / Samode Haveli (B,D)
Departure (8 am) for Jaipur, visiting Fathepur Sikri, the deserted city, enroute. Fatehpur Sikri was erected after a holy man, Sheikh Salim Chisti, living in Sikri, decreed the births of three sons to Akbar after all his children had died in infancy. There are three sections to the City: The Royal Palace (notable for the Emperor’s throne), outside the Royal Palace and the the Jami Masjid (the location of the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a masterpiece in brilliant white marble). The centerpiece of this remarkable monument is the Jewel House of the Diwan I Khas. Architecturally extraordinary, the four doorways lead into a single story room where a huge central pillar carved to baroque richness, supports a seat reached by mid-air walkways. It is over 400 years old and today its pristine red sandstone buildings are as perfect as when they were first chiseled.
During his stay in Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar spent much time studying religions other than Islam. From discussions with Hindus, Jains, Parsis and recently arrived Portuguese Jesuits from Goa, he developed a new religion called Deen Ilahi, which attempted to combine elements from all major religions. Fatehpur Sikri itself can be seen as a similar synthesis: a place where Islamic architecture fuses with Hindu and Jain decorative art. Akbar, as was common of the Muslims of the time, had several wives–one Hindu, one Christian and one Jewish. You can see the reflection of her religion in decorative style of each wife’s palace.
Lunch on arrival. Afterwards, visit Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), Jal Mahal (Water Palace), the City Palace and Jantar Mantar – the observatory built my Maharaja Jai Singh in 1728. The City Palace museum has an extensive collection of art, carpets, enamel ware and weapons. (Note: Akbar’s magnificently illustrated Ramayana and Razmnama are sometimes on display at the Jaipur Library–if so, we can view these).
Afterwards we drive to Govind temple for the sunset ceremony.
Day 17: Jaipur – Delhi (B)
Drive to Delhi en rourte visit Amber, the ancient kingdom of Jaipur. Amber was also the name of its ancient capital, situated 7 miles away. Its’ history can be traced backed to the 12th century. Amber Fort is superbly located, protected by wild Arrival Hills on all sides. Originally built in the 11th Century, it was extended by Raja Mannish in the late 16th century. The ascent to the Fort will be on elephant backs.
Continue drive to Delhi. Rooms for wash and change at The Pride Plaza till 9 pm. Later transfer to international airport for flt home.