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 the various religions of India. As spiritual traditions are the fabric of the culture of India, there is no better way to “get into the culture” than to visit its sacred sites.
Sep 26: Arrival in Delhi. Met at airport & transfer to hotel Svelte.
Sep 27: Delhi (B)
A full day of sightseeing in Old & New Delhi including: the Red Fort, Jama Masjid (the great mosque), a rickshaw ride through the Chandni Chowk Bazaar in Old Delhi; Gandhi Darshan/Raj Ghat which marks the spot where Gandhi was assassinated; the Gandhi Memorial Museum and Qutab Minar.
Sep 28: Delhi – Kangra – Dharamsala.(B,D)
Transfer to airport for a flight to Kangra (flight IT4354 dep 14:30/arr 16:00). From there, we drive (45 mins) to the capital of the Tibetan Govt in Exile and the home to HH The Dalai Lama of Tibet. After checking into your hotel Surya we will have a short walking tour of the town, visit the main prayer wheel.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 centre of a similar one in Lhasa. Inside are large gilded bronze statues of the Buddha and it is a good place to chat with the monks.
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 bringing about world peace and harmony. If the Dalai Lama is in Dharamsala he leads the prayers on special occasions. Evening free to explore the bustling Tibetan market, its monastery and Tibetan life in Mc Leod Ganj or upper Dharamsala.
Sep 29: Dharamsala – Taragarh. Taragarh Palace (B,D)
In the early morning we walk to the Namgyal Monastery (Dalai Lama’s monastery) to witness the monks chanting/meditation. We join the locals for a walk circumambulating the monastery complex. It is a breath-taking and inspiring experience– not to be missed! The walk will take 20-30 minutes, depending on how long you care to linger at the mid-point, where there are large prayer wheels and often monks chanting and playing music while locals pray at the chortens.
After breakfast a visit the Offices of the Tibet Government in Exile, Museum of Buddhist Artifacts, Medicine and Astrology. Drive onwards to 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.
Arrive at the Taragarh Palace in late afternoon. 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. Late afternoon and evening free to enjoy the facilities.
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. Baijnath is one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ and is thronged with pilgrims at the festival of Shivratri.
Sep 30: Taragarh (B,D)
Optional morning yoga/meditation led by Sanjay. Afterwards, we drive to Sherabilling Monastery, one the the world’s largest buddhist teaching centers. The monks received a Grammy for their Sacred Buddhist Chanting. Afternoon: attend the monks’ prayer and chanting session.
Oct 01: Early morning drive Dharamsala – Amritsar (140 km/approx 5 hrs). Hotel Comfort Inn (B,D)
Afternoon witness the religious traditions of the Sikhs at the Golden Temple. This will include both a guided tour by one of the Sikh priests as well as time for individuals to stroll independently and reflect/meditate. 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 feed each day and also inspiring, as elsewhere in India, to see the devotion of the people to their faith. We will have opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen. Voluntary service is one of the main paths of Sikhism.
Everyone is contributing in some way or the other at the shrine; chopping veggies, cleaning utensils, making chhappatis, cooking daal, serving, cleaning, offering water, participating in ongoing maintenance and repair. Everyone is giving back to humanity by way of self less service. We return to the hotel for dinner.
Oct 02: Amritsar – Haridwar / Hotel Hariganga Haveli (B,D)
Morning train to Haridwar (dep 06:30/arr 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 get up to the temple via a ropeway. Local Indian women will be there performing devotionals to the goddess.
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.
Oct 03: 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.
Oct 04: Rishikesh – Delhi / Hotel Ashok Country Resort
Morning attend yoga class. Check out around 1200 hrs. Rest of day independent. Or we will drive to the Lakshman Jhula Bridge along the river, visiting several ashrams and temples. 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. dep. 1815 / arr. Delhi 2245 (dinner will be served on the train). On arrival transfer near airport hotel Ashok Country Resort.
Oct 05: Delhi – Varanasi / Taj Ganges. (B,D)
Transfer to airport for flight 9W723 dep. 1040 / arr. 1150 to Varanasi. Transfer to hotel Taj Ganges.
Evening attend aarti (light ceremony) on the banks of the Ganges
Oct 06: Varanasi / Taj Ganges. (Dussehra Festival). (B,D)
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. The visit to the old city is a fascinating insight into the rituals of Hinduism. 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, visiting the temples and being able to watch the rituals of Hindu worship. Return to the hotel for breakfast and 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 6:30 pm.
Oct 07: Varanasi – Bharat Milap (B,D)
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; the 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. Dinner at The famous Kabab Factory.
Oct 08: Varanasi – Khajuraho / Hotel Taj Chandela (B,D)
Morning transfer to the airport for a flight to Khajuraho (Flight 9W723 dep 12:20/arr 13:00). 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.
Oct 09: Kahjuraho – Orchha – Agra. / Hotel Trident (B,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 on your own at the Orchha Palace Hotel. Afterward, we drive to Jhansi and board Shatabdi Express to Agra (dep 1755/ arr 2030).
Oct 10: 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.
Oct 11: Agra-Fatephur Sikri-Jaipur / Shahpura House (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.
Oct 12: Jaipur – Delhi.
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. Shared rooms for wash and change at Ashok Country Resort. Farewell dinner & transfer to international airport for flt home.
6-15 Pax: $4384 (Travelling with Escort in A/C Tempo Traveller / A/C Innova)
Single Room Supplement $1905
• Accommodation on twin sharing basis.
• Two nights Delhi at Svelte (B)
• One night Dharamsala Surya Resort (B,D)
• Two nights Taragah at Taragarh Palace (B,D)
• One night Amritsar at Comfort Inn (B,D)
• One night Haridwar at Hariganga Haveli (B,D)
• One night Rishikesh at The Great Ganga (B,D)
• One night Delhi at Ashok Country Resort (B)
• Three nights Varanasi at Taj Ganges or Ramada (B,D)
• One night Khajuraho at Taj Chandela (B,D)
• Two nights Agra at Hotel Trident (B,D)
• One night Jaipur at Shahpura House or Alsissar Haveli (B)
a.1 Welcome dinner in Delhi on day 2
b.1 Farewell dinner in Delhi
Arrival, departure transfers and land transport in A/C Innova from (Oct 15-23) Pathankot till Haridwar and A/C Tempo Treaveller in Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra, Jaipur and Delhi as per itinerary.
Professional Local English Speaking Guide during sightseeing in Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra and Jaipur as per itin.
Accompanying Spiritual and Yoga Escort throughout.
Train tickets in A/C Chair Car Amritsar – Haridwar – Delhi and Jhansi – Agra
Boat ride on River Ganges
Elephant ride to Amer Fort
Yoga classes; Delhi, Taragarh & Rishikesh as per itin.
Homa Ceremony in Rishikesh
Portage at Rly stations and Airports.
Mineral water during long drive.
India Gov Services Tax 2.58%
Airfare Extra PP: (Exact price TBD when booked)
Delhi – Kangra min $100 max $270
Delhi – Varanasi $110 max $265
Varanasi – Khajuraho min $100 max $215
Cost Excludes: International airfares, insurance, Still/Video Camera fee, personal expenses like laundry, telephone calls, tips etc. or anything not mentioned in the cost includes.