Delhi – Dharamsala – Amritsar – Varanasi – Khajuraho – Orchha – Gwalior – Bhopal – Mandu - Maheshwar – Delhi
18 Days/17 Nights
18 Days/17 Nights
Arrive into Delhi. After clearing customs and immigrations you will be met in the arrival Hall by our representative and assisted with your transfer to your hotel. Overnight at hotel.
After breakfast, this morning you embark on a sightseeing tour of Delhi. The tour starts with exploring the historical attractions of Old Delhi. Discover the iconic Red Fort spread over an area of 2 km, travel around the bustling market of Chandni Chowk, and visit India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid. Savor the authentic Mughlai cuisine, an integral part of Indian cuisine. Also visit Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site memorial. Later, proceed to Qutab Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses the world’s tallest brick minaret – Qutab Minar. Then, visit Humayun’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first garden-tomb in India which was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Later, discover Imperial New Delhi showcasing spacious, tree-lined boulevards and noteworthy buildings. Notable attractions include Connaught Place (CP), the Presidential Palace and India Gate. Overnight at hotel.
Today you check out and fly to Dharamsala. Dharamsala is really two towns – the lower administrative section and McLeod Ganj at about 5400 ft, with its monastery, school of Tibetan studies, and library. Mcleod Ganj, named after David McLeod, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during the British rule in India, is known today as ‘"Little Lhasa" due to its large population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan Government in Exile is headquartered here. Check in to your hotel and this evening you have the option of taking a relaxed stroll through Kotwali bazaar, Dharamsala’s busiest area. This bazaar offers all the charms of a small town marketplace with small shops selling local goods and all sorts of people wandering around it. This is a great opportunity for you to interact with the people and get a glimpse into everyday lives of the locals as they ply their trade. Overnight at hotel.
Today you explore Dharamsala in detail. This morning, visit the Tibetan Children’s SOS Village managed by the sister of His Holiness, which is also partly sponsored by Richard Gere. Pay a visit to Tsug-Lag-Khang (Central Cathedral). Though a plain and utilitarian substitute for its far more splendid namesake in Lhasa, also known as the Jokhang, the Tsug-Lag-Khang is nevertheless fascinating and peaceful. Situated opposite the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsug-Lag-Khang is known to the local Indians as the Main Temple. It is the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Named after a 7th century temple in Lhasa, Tsuglag Khang enshrines three main images: a three -meter high gilded bronze statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha; one of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion of whom the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation; and Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian who introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Both Avalokitesvara and Padmasambhava are facing Tibet. Also at Tsuglag Khang is a collection of sacred texts known as the Khagyur and the Tengyur. The Khagyur...
Life in McLeod Ganj revolves around this Buddhist temple complex, linked to the off-limits private residence of the Dalai Lama. A good example of Buddhism's spiritual and artistic traditions, the complex comprises Namgyal Monastery and Tsuglag Khang Temple, both worth a visit to get a sense of active lama practice. You'll often encounter monks debating in the courtyard or meditatively preparing colorful sand mandalas, diagrams that symbolize the universe and are used in the ritual of spiritual empowerment known as the kalachakra ceremony, after which the meticulous designs are destroyed. The gompa houses various cultural relics brought from Lhasa during the Cultural Revolution, including a 1,500-year-old idol of Guru Padmasambhav, and a life-size image of Avalokiteshvara, of whom the Dalai Lama is believed to be an incarnation. Next on the tour is the Norbulingka Institute. At this institute, you get a firsthand understanding of the techniques (and unbelievable patience) required to produce authentic Tibetan arts and crafts. A tour through the facilities allows you to see the cr...
This morning you depart after breakfast, driving approximately 4 hours to the city of Amritsar. Arrive in Amritsar in the late afternoon and the check in to your hotel. This evening you will visit The Golden Temple. Plated in gilt and gold and heavily decorated, the temple is stunning at all times of the day. It is perhaps most beautiful though, in the light of the setting sun. For every Sikh it is important to visit the temple and bathe in the tank at least once in their lifetime. It is an intensely spiritual experience. Singing is natural to this religion, and on the ground floor of the Harmandir, the most holy place for the Sikhs, professional singers sing verses from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book. On the first floor there are three Granthis or employees of the temple who read continuously from the book, believing that there should be non-stop devotional activities for unity and peace. One side of the tank represents 63 Hindu pilgrim places. To bathe at this spot is the equivalent of having visited all the holy places of the Hindu religion. Of particular interest are the Langar Khana or communal kitchen and a 24- hour ‘soup kitchen.’ Members of the Sikh community come at all hours of the day and night and lend a helping hand, making thousands of rotis and curry to feed the needy of all communities. It is considered a sacred duty to work for a short time in the Langar. You will return to the hotel after watching the evening service at the temple. Overnight at hotel.
This morning you have the option of visiting the Golden Temple again. Also on the itinerary after a leisurely breakfast is a visit to the Jallianwala Bagh, the site of one of the many tragedies of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In the afternoon, you will drive to the Wagah border, often called the ‘Berlin wall of Asia’. This is a ceremonial border on the India–Pakistan Border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called 'lowering of the flags', which has been held since 1959. At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. The entire event is made all the more enjoyable by boisterous participation and the loud cheers of spectators on both sides of the border. Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans. At other times of the day, border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years. Overnight at hotel.
You leave Amritsar behind this morning as you transfer to the domestic airport for your flight to Varanasi, via Delhi. On arrival in Varanasi you will be transferred to your hotel. One of the India’s seven holy cities, Varanasi is the holiest of them all, and devout Hindus will visit Varanasi at least once in their lifetime. It is believed if you are cremated in Varanasi, you are released from the endless cycle of rebirth. Varanasi is also the oldest living city in the world, with a history going back to 2500 BC. After checking in you will make your way through the old city to the famed ghats of Varanasi, or steps along the river bank. We will time our arrival so that we can watch the evening aarti ceremony, when priests perform a ritual to put the river goddess Ganges to sleep and to ward off evil. The ceremony will be watched from a boat, and we will have time to travel up river viewing some of the 90 odd ghats which define life in the city. Overnight at hotel.
Sunrise and sunset are the most auspicious times in Hinduism. At sunrise you will once again take a boat down the river. People flock to the river to greet the rising sun and you will see a panorama of life in a pilgrim town. The activities vary from pilgrims taking a bath in the holy river, to yogis meditating on the steps leading to the river bank to women doing laundry and washing vessels. There is a certain timelessness about the sights which is extraordinary. After breakfast you stroll through the old city. 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. You walk through the narrow alleys where we share space with cows, scooters, cycle rickshaws, shops and people, your path leading you to the banks of the Ganges. Here you will board a boat and which will take you past temples, abandoned palaces and the crematorium where people wait in a queue to cremate their loved ones. Later you will drive to the airport and board your flight to Khajuraho. This tiny village is famous for its remarkable complex of temples built in an inspired burst of creativity between 950 and 1050 AD under the Chandela kings. Of the original 85, only 25 survive and each is a masterpiece dedicated to different deities. The presence of erotic temple sculpture, which accounts for less than 10% of the total carvings, has resulted in many theories. You spend the afternoon exploring the temples; their remarkable sculptures are unique in that they show great sensitivity and warmth displaying one aspect of Hinduism – a genuine love of life. Overnight at hotel.
After breakfast you will drive to Orchha. The drive takes approx. 4 hours. Orchha is a marvelous example of a medieval fort palace. Within the turreted walls are gardens, gateways, pavilions and temples, near the confluence of the Betwa and Jamni river. The Raj Mahal with its Hall of Private Audience exemplifies Bundela Rajput architecture. Despite the neglected appearance, there are some beautiful murals on the ceilings and walls of both religious and secular themes. The Jehangir Mahal was built in the 17th century and synthesizes both Hindu and Muslim styles. Around the central square courtyard are the three-storied royal apartments decorated with domes, arches and hanging balconies. The decorative turquoise blue tiles, and latticed screens give this palace a delicate and airy feel. Across the river the Chhatris, though sadly neglected are an atmospheric place to walk around in the afternoon, though the best sight of them are from the palaces. You will have lunch before driving to Gwalior, approx. three hours by road. Arrive by evening and transfer to your hotel. The evening is at leisure. Overnight at hotel.
The Maharaja of Gwalior was one of the five Maharajas awarded a 21 gun salute by the British, a reward for their loyalty during the Mutiny of 1857. After the Privy Purse was abolished the family played an active role in modern Indian politics. Gwalior is dominated by the colorful Fort which stands on a steep cliff making it almost impregnable. The fort’s size is impressive, and the first Mughal Emperor Babur described it as “The pearl amongst fortresses of Hind.” Among some of the treasures within the fort is awe inspiring Jain sculptures, Jain and Hindu temples and the charming sandstone palace, the Man Mandir. Decorated with ornamental parapets and cupolas, the exteriors were once covered in brightly gilded blue, green and yellow tile work with patterns of animals and flowers. Around the courtyard are beautifully decorated rooms with low entrances indicating that they were used by the royal ladies. The south wall still retains it ornate molded and colorfully tiled friezes. This gate also has a son et lumiere every evening. The Jai Vilas Palace is a much more recent structure, designed by Lt Colonel Sir Michael Filose in 1872. It resembles an Italian palazzo in places using painted sandstone to imitate marble. Part of the palace is the residence of the present Maharaja, but 35 rooms house the Scindia Museum, which displays an eccentric collection of royal possessions, curiosities and memorabilia. Of particular note here is the extraordinary Durbar Hall, approached by a crystal staircase. Inside the hall hang two of the world’s largest chandeliers each weighing 3 ½ tons. In keeping with the idiosyncrasies of the Scindia Maharajas, the dining room beneath the Durbar Hall, still displays a battery operated silver train set that transported cigars, dry fruit and drinks around the table after dinner. Overnight at hotel.
Board the Bhopal Shatabdi this morning to Bhopal. The state capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal was founded by King Bhoj of the Parmara dynasty in 11th century. The city was originally known as Bhojpal named after Bhoj and the dam ('pal'). As the Parmar dynasty declined in power, this city was taken over by an Afghan soldier Dost Mohammad Khan. Due to the lack of capable male rulers, the Begums of the royal family ruled Bhopal for close to almost 100 years, making it the second largest Muslim state to be ruled by four Begums (queens) from 1819 to 1926. This afternoon after you have checked in to your hotel, you visit Bharat Bhavan. Designed by Charles Correa in 1982 as a center for the performing and visual arts, it also houses a museum of arts, an art gallery and library of Indian poetry, classical and folk music. Tribal paintings, sculptures and carvings are displayed along with contemporary works of art. The various complexes with the Bhawan are the Rang Mandal, the theatre repertory, Anhad, the hall for classical music, Vagarth, the poetry library, Bahirang, the open air auditorium and Roopankar, the museum of art. Overnight at hotel.
Enjoy a full day excursion to Sanchi. This group of Stupas and monasteries perched on a peaceful hill are among the most important Buddhist sites in India, although the Buddha himself never came to Sanchi. There is a quiet stillness about the place in keeping with Buddhist beliefs. The first Stupa was built during Asoka’s reign in the 3rd century BC. Over a century later it was doubled in size and the gateways were built 75 years later. Finally four figures of the Buddha were placed facing each gateway 450 years later, completing the construction. The Great Stupa as this was called had staggered entrances because it was common belief that evil spirits travel only in a straight line. Around the great Stupa are a number of smaller ones. From the 14th century Sanchi lay forgotten and deserted and was rediscovered by General Taylor in 1818, the year before the Ajanta caves were found. Treasure hunters destroyed much of the Stupa, but there are still outstanding sculptures to be seen. The earliest decorative carvings were done on wood and ivory, but the craftsmen of Sanchi easily transferred their skill to the sandstone here. The carvings illustrate scenes from the life of the Buddha, events in the history of Buddhism and the “Jataka” tales, stories about Buddha’s previous life. The four gateways are of particular interest showing the seven incarnations of Buddha, the Wheel of Law and the birth of the Buddha in a series of dramatic carvings. We stay the night at the Noor us Sabah hotel in Bhopal. Overnight at hotel.
Rising early today you visit one of the archeological treasures of this area. Bhimbetka Hill has South Asia’s richest collection of prehistoric paintings. The site was discovered VS Wakankar in 1957. A dense deciduous forest with over 30 species of trees with edible fruit and flowers and home to a rich variety of wildlife and many birds and perennial springs, is the home to over 1000 shelters which were occupied from the early Stone Age to the late Stone Age. The most striking remains here are the painting covering the walls and ceilings in over 500 shelters. Red and white are the dominant colors, with smatterings of greens and yellows. The paintings belong to three periods. The Upper Paleolithic paintings usually in white, dark red and green lines depict large animals. The Mesolithic figures and animals, usually in red, are smaller and hunting is the common theme. Stick men are shown grazing, riding and dancing in groups. Women are sometimes seen with a child. The later period, probably dating from the early centuries AD when green and yellow are also used, is quite different, showing battle scenes with men riding elephants and horses, holding spears, shields, bows and arrows. Religious symbols in the form of Ganesh and Shiva also appear along with trees and flowers. Return to the city in the afternoon and the evening is at leisure. Overnight at hotel.
Today you start after breakfast and drive approximately 6 hours to reach Maheshwar. Tucked away in central India, this temple town finds mentioned in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was restored to its pre-eminent position in the 18th century by the revered Holkar queen, Rani Ahilya Bai of Indore. The town is renowned for its bathing ghats and rows of pretty tiered temples, which are distinguished by their overhanging balconies and intricately ornamented doorways. Ahilya Fort where you are staying has been restored by Richard and Pamela Holkar, descendents of Ahilya Bai. A cosmopolitan and very erudite couple, Richard is also a gourmet chef and personally orders the meals each day. Most of the ingredients are grown in house. On arrival, check in and the rest of the day is at leisure.
Built on the banks of the Narmada River which is considered holy by many Hindus, the fort has a very picturesque setting. The temple and ghats or steps which lie along the river are serene and peaceful; the sound of chanting and temple bells is hypnotic. After breakfast you will visit Maheshwari, which is famous for its textile, very fine cotton and silk handlooms. The craft was revived by the current members of the royal family and weaver’s community work next door to the fort. You may also like to spend time at the local school built for families of the weavers. In the evening you will take a sunset boat ride along the ghats. Overnight at hotel.
The one and a half hour drive today takes you to Mandu. In terms of Islamic provincial architecture, Mandu has some of the best examples. Lacking the elaborate ornamentation of the later Mughal rulers, Mandu came under Muslim rule in the early 14th century when it was annexed by the Khaljis of Delhi. At that time, Mandu was renamed Shadiabad or City of Joy. Later in 1405 Hoshang Shah made it his capital, and under the most famous of the Khalji rulers, Mahmud Khalji, there was a resurgence of art and literature, fostering Hindu, Jain as well as Hindu development. Mandu continued to prosper until the 1500s, when it gradually passed out of Muslim control and was finally the stronghold of the Maratha clan. The earliest Islamic building here is the Mosque of Dilawar Khan that shows distinct Hindu influence. The later Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace reflects the penchant of the Muslims for romantic beauty. Built primarily to house the harem of Ghiyas-ud-Din’s increasing harem, its shapes and kiosks have the impression of a stately ship that was “crewed” entirely by women, some from far off places such as Turkey and Abyssinia. It consists of three great halls with a beautiful bath at one end. Hoshang Shah’s tomb is India’s first marble monument, a refined example of Afghan architecture. It has the characteristic dome, delicate marble latticework and porticoes, courts and towers. Shah Jahan is supposed to have sent his architects to study this tomb for inspiration before designing the Taj Mahal. Hoshang Shah started the Jama Masjid, which was inspired by the great mosque in Damascus, and it took three generations to complete this grand building. The most imposing part of this mosque is the Prayer Hall with numerous rows of arches and pillars which support the ceilings of three great domes and the 58 smaller ones. The central niche or mihrab is beautifully designed and ornamented along its sides with scroll of interwoven Arabic letters containing quotations from the Koran. Two hours ahead is Indore. Drive directly to the airport to board your flight to Delhi where on arrival you are met and transferred to your hotel. Overnight at hotel.
The day is at leisure. Later tonight a Go India representative will assist with your transfer to the international airport for your onward flight.
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