Itinerary Details: 12 days/11 nights
Day 1: Varanasi Arrival
Namaste. Welcome to Varanasi! Upon arrival, meet our representative and transfer to the hotel. Varanasi, also known as Benares, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is raw, sacred, and mystical. According to myth, the city was founded by the Hindu deity Shiva, making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. Situated on the banks of the Ganges River, Varanasi is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus.
In the evening, observe the devout Hindus performing 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 worshipped with flowers, incense, sandalwood, milk, and vermilion. First the blazing camphor lamp and then the many flamed Aarti lamps are raised high and then arched back to the water, the dark river reflecting the golden flames as Ganges accepts the worship. It is the Ganges that gives Varanasi its spiritual resonance. Overnight in Varanasi.
Day 2: Varanasi
After breakfast, visit Sarnath, where Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, setting in motion the wheel of law.
In the evening, explore the rituals of death and rebirth. Meander through the narrow roads and lanes, visiting sacred ponds said to house healing waters and visit the home of Kali, the powerful Mother Goddess who destroys the ego and liberates humans from the cycle of death and rebirth. Step into the abode of Aghors, renunciants who practice ancient Tantric rituals at the burning ghat, Manikarnika. The experience culminates with a visit to the temple of Sankata Devi, the Hindu Goddess who destroys sorrow. Overnight.
Day 3: Varanasi - Bodh Gaya
In the morning, enjoy a sunrise boat ride to view the morning prayers and baths. You will alight from the boat at Manikarnika, the burning ghat where the dead are cremated. From Manikarnika, you will walk through narrow lanes into the very heart of the city, towards Varanasi’s most famous pilgrimage site, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Golden Temple). The lanes on the way are dotted with small shrines, residences, tea-shops, and lodgings for pilgrims. After a 45-minute walk, you will arrive at the Golden Temple. You will visit both the Kashi Vishwanath as well as the Annapurna Temple. From here, a short walk will bring you out through a larger lane, towards the colorful Phool Mandi (Flower Market).
Return to your hotel for breakfast and then drive to Bodh Gaya. 2500 years ago, Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya under the Peepal Tree. For this reason, it remains one of the most sacred cities for Buddhists. Overnight.
Day 4: Bodh Gaya
After breakfast, tour Bodh Gaya. Visit the Mahabodhi Temple, depicting Buddha's journey toward enlightenment; Bodh Gaya Archaeological Museum, housing a collection of Buddhist sculptures from the 1st century BC; and the Jagannath Temple, housing a statue of Shiva in black stone. Overnight.
Day 5: Bodh Gaya - Patna
This morning drive to Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar. The city is also the birthplace of the final Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Nanak and Guru Tegh Bahadur visited Patna and honored the birth house. Visit Golghar, a dome-like structure offering fantastic views of the Ganges, and the Patna museum, housing Mauryan and Buddhist sculptures. Overnight in Patna.
Day 6: Patna - Kushinagar
After breakfast, drive to Kushinagar, the site of Buddha's cremation ground. Upon arrival, tour the Rambhar Stupa, which marks the cremation ground. Also visit Mahaparinirvana Temple, housing the recumbent figure of Lord Buddha. Overnight in Kushinagar.
Day 7: Kushinagar - Balrampur
In the morning, drive to Balrampur. Upon arrival, check into the hotel. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Balrampur is famous for its association with sacred Buddhist and Jain temples. Afternoon at leisure to explore the sacred sites of the city. Overnight in Balrampur.
Day 8: Balrampur - Lumbini
Today you will drive to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. The spiritual heart of Lumbini, Maya Devi Temple marks where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in approximately 563 BC. In the adjoining sacred garden you’ll find the pillar of Ashoka, ancient ruins of stupas, and monks congregating under a sprawling Bodhi tree decorated with prayer flags.
Continue to the World Peace Pagoda, constructed by Japanese Buddhists and considered one of the world's greatest stupas. The shining golden statue depicts the Buddha in the posture he assumed when he was born. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Day 9: Lumbini - Kathmandu
After breakfast, drive to Kathmandu (7 hours). Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal. The Kathmandu Valley, consisting of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, may have been inhabited as early as 900 BC. The city houses various Hindu and Buddhist temples as well as the King's Palace. Overnight in Kathmandu.
Day 10: Kathmandu
Optional morning Mt. Everest flight. A spectacular experience in the sky! After breakfast, visit the highlights of Kathmandu: Kumari Bahal, the Temple of the Living Goddess; Kasthamandap, the wooden house that gave Kathmandu its name; Durbar Square, the central area housing an array of temples; the Royal Palace, overlooked by the ancient Hanuman Dhoka; and Swayambhunath, the 2000-year-old Buddhist stupa. Your guide will also take you to the Thangka art school. The primary function of the school is to train young artists in a pure and authentic lineage of Buddhist thangka paintings. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Day 11: Kathmandu Valley
Today, visit the enchanting 16th Century Newari towns of Bungamati and Khokana. These are two settlements in the Kathmandu Valley that have been least affected by modern changes. The village has hundreds of master wood carvers and sculpture producers. The ancient village came into existence as early in the 7th century. Regardless of the rapid changes in lifestyle of the urban population and the globalized way of living, the Bungamati locals have remained untouched by modern waves and are living the life that they know best--simply rural-- from the past several centuries.
In the afternoon, a tour of Patan city, built in 3rd century AD by Emperor Ashoka. Patan boasts of fine arts enclosed within 4 stupas. Meet with a local Himalayan Singing Bowl Master to learn about the ancient healing traditions. Return to Kathmandu and overnight.
Day 12: Departure
Today you will transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!