India is often considered the land of spirituality and philosophy. Several of the world's religions have roots in the country, namely Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The diverse traditions provide a vibrant kaleidoscope of India's rich social composition where communities live in relative religious harmony.
On this tour, celebrate the history and modernity of evolving religious practices with an optional extension to Dharamshala or Varanasi.
Welcome to India! Upon arrival, you will be met by our representative and transferred to your hotel.
Delhi is a bustling metropolis that incorporates the ancient with the modern. Amidst the skyscrapers, the monuments stand as a silent reminder to India's legacy. Driving from the airport, you will be impressed with Delhi's spacious, tree-lined streets and garden parks. Overnight at the hotel.
After breakfast, join a friend of Sodha Travel for a rickshaw ride in Chandni Chowk. Witness the architectural marvels, the multicolored facades, beautifully decorated shops, spice markets, and the fragrances emanating from the potpourri of eateries that line the historical alleys.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) built the walled city of Delhi on the banks of holy River Yamuna. It had a magnificent palace known as Red Fort, impressive mansions, enchanting bazaars, elegant shrines, royal gardens and fountains at every corner to romance ones' senses. The Emperor’s beloved daughter Jahanara designed a major street called Chandni Chowk in front of Red Fort, with a canal running down the center and pools at major intersections reflecting the moonlight. During the British regime, the street underwent major changes and since then this area has witnessed some of the most important events in Indian history. Today these splendid ruins and tales of valor are a testimony of the evolution of the times. Chandni Chowk truly reflects the national unity, secularism and diversity of India.
While on the tour, stop at Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the mosque between 1644 and 1656. There are three grand gates, four towers, three domes, and two minarets constructed of red sandstone and white marble. The courtyard can accommodate 25,000 worshipers.
Continue to the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, the oldest Jain temple in Delhi. It also houses a bird sanctuary and avian veterinary hospital. Jainism is a non-theistic religion founded in India in the 6th century BC by the Jina Vardhamana Mahavira as a reaction against the teachings of orthodox Brahmanism.The Jain religion teaches salvation by perfection through successive lives and non injury to living creatures.
Continue to Mehrauli and the Qutub Minar complex. Originally an ancient Islamic monument, the Qutub Minar is the tallest tower in India. Built of red sandstone and marble, the minar is not without controversy. Some believe it was built as a tower of victory to signify Muslim rule in the country, while skeptics claim it was erected to call the devoted to prayer. The complex also houses the first mosque to be built in India and an iron pillar that mysteriously has a high resistance to corrosion, even after being exposed to the natural elements for centuries. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, visit the notable temples in Delhi: Laxmi Narayan Mandir, an elaborate Hindu temple complex with red and white columns and artificial mountains watered by fountains; and the Lotus Temple, a Ba'hai house of worship and one of the most visited buildings in the world.
In the afternoon visit Akshardham Temple. Explore 10,000 years of India's history, culture, architecture, and spirituality on over sixty acres of manicured grounds. Akshardham is an elaborate Swaminarayan temple complex that features an IMAX theater, musical fountains, sunken gardens, and the Mandir with over 20,000 statues of India's religious personalities.
The main shrine of the temple houses the statue of Lord Swaminarayan. Be sure to experience the 12-minute boat ride that highlights over 10,000 years of India's heritage, including inventions, discoveries, and the world's first university of Takshashila.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
Today you have a day at leisure or you may board the express train to Agra. Upon arrival, visit the majestic Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj took over 22 years and 22,000 men to build. The monument is truly a wonder of the world. Enjoy lunch with a local family and then return to Delhi by car, en-route visiting Vrindavan.
Vrindavan, in the district of Mathura, is a replica of supreme Goloka Vrindavan in the spiritual sky. In all of India, the eighty-four-square-mile tract of land is considered to be the most sacred place of Krishna pilgrimage. Srila Prabhupada explained, “It is not that such devotees meet Krishna face to face in that tract of land, but a devotee’s eagerly searching after Krishna is as good as his seeing Him personally. How this is so cannot be explained, but it is factually realized by those who are pure devotees of the Lord.
Because Krishna, His name, form, pastimes, and remembrance are all on the absolute plane, to search for Him at Vrindavan in pure God consciousness gives more pleasure to the devotee than seeing Him face to face.” The Brahma-Samhita confirms that those devotees whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love always see the eternal form of Shyamasundar within their hearts. Explore the town and temples, and then continue to Delhi. Overnight.
In the morning, transfer to the rail station for your train to Haridwar. Haridwar is an ancient city and Hindu pilgrimage site on the Ganges River, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. In the afternoon visit the temples and ghats of the town, including the Mansi Devi temple.
In the evening, observe the "Aarti Puja" with lighted lamps. The presiding priests stand on a Chauki (wooden stand) near the water. To the chant of Sanskrit mantras, and the clash of cymbals and drums, the river is worshiped with flowers, incense, sandalwood, milk, and vermilion. First the blazing camphor lamp and then the many flamed aarti lamps are raised high and arched back to the water, the dark river reflecting the golden flames as Ganges accepts the worship. It is the Ganges that gives Haridwar its spiritual resonance. Overnight.
Optional morning ceremony to celebrate the Ganges. Later, drive to Rishikesh (45 minutes), considered the heart of yoga consciousness in Northern India. Hike to the Vashishta Caves. Made famous by the ancient sage Vashishta, it has been the home to yogis for centuries, most recently the renowned Swami Purushottamananda. About a five-minute walk is another cave known as the Jesus Cave. Set in the side of a sheer cliff on the banks of the Ganga, the cave has a spectacular view of the river and the surrounding peaks of the Himalayas. The cave derived its name from the belief that Jesus spent time there during his sojourn in India during the “Lost Years.”
Return to Haridwar and overnight.
Located directly on the Ganges River, the Haveli Hari Ganga is a royal residence with exquisite courtyards and interior furnishings. Built in 1913 for personal guests of the royal family, this heritage hotel was the personal residence of Maharaja of Pilibhit.
Today, transfer to the rail station for your train to Amritsar. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel.
Amritsar is one of the most ancient cities in India and an important seat of Sikh history and culture. As a gateway for travelers on route from Central Asia, Amritsar soon became the center of commercial activities. Located in the state of Punjab, the city also houses the Golden Temple, the most sacred shrine of Sikhism.
In the morning, visit the Golden Temple. Shining in the morning light, the gilded splendor of its paneling, dome, and minarets illustrates spiritual transcendence. The temple is a fairy palace to the devotees of the Sikh faith.
Adjacent to the temple is Langar Hall, considered the largest community kitchen in the world. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar expresses the ethics of sharing, inclusiveness, and oneness. The food is freshly prepared and comprises of parshaada (roti), cooked vegetables, daal, kheer, and karaha prashad. The service is performed by the volunteers called Sewadars. This practice of selfless service goes beyond the bound of religion and serves to nourish the soul, creating a sense of unity and oneness. The experience of the Gurudwara Walk will empower you to be one of the sewadars at the Gurudwara. In the role of a sewadar, experience the ultimate joy of giving.
In the evening, experience the ceremony at Wagah Border, the border line running along the Grand Trunk Road between Amritsar in Punjab, India, and Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan. People from all across the country visit to witness the Beating Retreat Ceremony that is held daily before sunset. The ceremony includes the closing of the international gates and lowering the flags of both the countries.
The flag ceremony is conducted by the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers since 1959. Officially, the purpose of the ceremony is to formally close the border for the night and lower the national flag. However, it is an entertainment ceremony and a patriotic display for the thousands of people who attend daily.
Return to your hotel and overnight.
In the morning, transfer to the airport for your flight to Leh via Delhi. Located at 11,975 feet, Leh was once the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. The town boasts a strong religious co-existence of Tibetan Buddhism and Islam.
There will be no activity on your first day of arrival as it is recommended for tourists to relax and undergo minimal exertion to enable them to get acclimatized to rarefied oxygen level in this high-altitude region ensconced in the high Himalayan plateau. Overnight.
After breakfast, explore the lovely Saboo Valley and its rural landscape on foot (3 hours with shorter options), learning about the Ladakhi way of life. Your walk into the Saboo Village takes you through cultivated lands passing through the traditional houses and then walking through the valley climbing up along the old castle where you are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the the Indus Valley. Lunch at a local house with a family.
After lunch you will proceed on a gentle orientation tour of Leh. Visit the popular landmarks, which include the magnificent Leh Palace. Some of the sections display some fine traces of Ladakhi architecture. From the palace continue by foot to the LAMO [Ladakh Arts & Media Organization] Center on a short walking tour passing some amazing old houses. The centis housed in one of the most important heritage houses, Munshi (Togoche) House situated at the foot of the Leh Palace.
Following a tour of the house there will be a short presentation or talk by a Ladakhi scholar on the architectural heritage of the Old City. Enjoy an overview of the old city from the terrace of the Munshi House as you sip the special Ladakhi tea with light snacks. The heritage exploration continues from the Munshi House through the old city ending in the bazaar.
Later in the afternoon, enjoy a drive to Shanti Stupa for a sunset view across the Indus Valley. Overnight.
Today after early tea/coffee, you are driven to Thiksey Monastery, situated towards the East of Leh picturesquely on a hill-lock, which also houses a two-story stucco statue of Maitreya Buddha seated on a lotus. Upon arrival you witness the monks gathered in the assembly hall for the morning prayer ceremony, which begins before sunrise at 7 AM. After that you will be guided to visit the other parts of the monastery followed with a breakfast at the Thiksey Monastery restaurant.
After breakfast, you will be driven two kilometers ahead of Thiksey Monastery for a photo halt along the banks of River Indus and then you will drive to Hemis Monastery; Hemis is the largest and the wealthiest monastery in Ladakh. After, continue to Shey Monastery, the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After early tea/coffee you will be driven to Stok Village at Dhamma House (Meditation Class) to meet with the teacher, who will guide you to a one-hour meditation class. After breakfast you will be driven to Alchi through the Ladakh countryside. Upon arrival, you will visit the one of the oldest monasteries Alchi Gompa , known more as a monastic complex (chos-'khor) of temples in Alchi Village. The complex comprises four separate settlements in the Alchi Village in the lower Ladakh region with monuments dating to different periods. Of these four hamlets, Alchi Monastery is said to be the oldest and most famous.
Afternoon at leisure and overnight.
Today, transfer to the airport for your flight to Delhi. Upon arrival, connect to your onward flight. Bon Voyage!