Arrive in Delhi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is 12.00 midday) and enjoy the city. In the early evening (approx 17.00pm) you will meet your fellow group members and go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board to see exactly where and what time this meeting will be held.
New Delhi, the capital of India is one of the most historic capitals in the world and three of its monuments - the Qutab Minar, Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb - have been declared World Heritage Sites. Delhi offers a multitude of interesting places and attractions to the visitor, so much so that it becomes difficult to decide from where to begin exploring the city.
In Old Delhi, there are attractions like mosques, forts, markets and other monuments depicting India's Muslim history. New Delhi, on the other hand, is a modern city designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. Tree covered wide streets with many roundabouts are notable in New Delhi. Home to many government buildings and embassies, as well as Rashtrapati Bhawan, the one-time imperial residence of the British viceroys; India Gate, a memorial raised in honour of the Indian soldiers martyred during the Afghan war; the Laxminarayan Temple, built by the Birlas, one of India's leading industrial families. Further out in the southern suburbs you will discover more history including Humayun's Tomb, said to be the forerunner of the Taj Mahal at Agra; the Purana Quila, built by Humayun, with later-day modifications by Sher Shah Suri; Qutab Minar, built by Qutb-ud-din Aybak of the Slave Dynasty; and the incredible lotus-shaped Bahai Temple.
There are a number of outstanding museums worth visiting including the Craft Museum, National Gallery, Birla House (Ghandi Smirti) and Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum. (Note many museums are closed on Monday).
There are so many options for dining, from age-old eateries in the by lanes of the Old Walled City to glitzy, specialty restaurants in five-star hotels, Delhi is a movable feast. There are so many restaurants and bars, catering to all the varied tastes and budgets.
The best of Mughlai cuisine can be enjoyed at Karims, (both in Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin) where recipes, dating from the times o the Mughals have been the closely guarded secret of generations of chefs. The finest Frontier cuisine is available at the Bukhara, recently voted as the best Indian restaurant in the world!! And at the other end of the scale there are the many popular roadside eateries where kababs, rotis and biryani are the order of the day.
A delightful outlet offering a range of Indian cuisines are the food stalls at Dilli Haat. Here, the cuisine of different states is made available. Set in the midst of a spacious crafts bazaar these cafes are a very pleasant place to enjoy food.
Enjoy a city tour by local streetkids, a Planeterra-supported project. It is estimated that 400,000 children live and work on the streets of Delhi. In most cases, their families are too poor to provide for them, they have run away from abusive home environments or they are orphans. Planeterra’s New Delhi Streetkids Project supports over 5,000 of these street children through strategically placed contact points, shelters and a health post set up by a local partner organization. These youth centers provide clothing, food, healthcare, education, counseling, recreational activities, job skills training and job placements. Through Planeterra’s partnership with Salaam Baalak Trust, scholarships are made available to young people who once lived and worked on the streets of Delhi. By funding vocational training in trade schools and universities, and making job-placements based on each child’s individual interest, we can help break the cycle of poverty and give these youth the opportunity to create a brighter future. Many of these adolescents have been fully-trained as tour guides and lead exciting tours through the enchanting inner city streets of Paharganj, the New Delhi railway station, and The Old City. This tour is a unique way for travelers to engage in these children’s lives and the guiding provides an opportunity for them to improve their communication and speaking skills.
This afternoon catch the Shatabdi Express to Amritsar.
Estimated travel time: 6 hours
Amritsar, meaning "Pool of the Nectar of Immortality" is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh Religion. Learn more about Sikhs on our visit to Harimandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, the most sacred shrine in Sikhism. The temple sits in the center of a sacred lake, accessed by a marble causeway. The nightly ritual of moving the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) from the temple to the neighboring Akal Takht building in a gold palki is worth viewing. Religious leaders blowing long horns or beating drums precede the palki. As the procession moves, people chanting wait for their chance to shoulder the sacred palki.
The Golden Temple kitchen serves free food daily to more than 40,000 visitors. After watching the preparation in the huge kitchens we will join in this event known as 'langar'. The food is simple and tasty and includes delicious dals laden with ghee, scrumptious roti and yummy vegetables. (Note the meal is had sitting on the floor, using your hands and a small donation should be given to the temple on completion of the meal).
Five minutes walk from the Golden temple is Jallianwalla Bagh also known as the site of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, one of the defining events of India’s struggle for freedom from British rule. Powerfully depicted in the movie Gandhi, it was here on April 13, 1919, that British Indian Army soldiers under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. Official sources place the casualties at 379, but private sources put the number at over 1000 with more than 1200 wounded, and Civil Surgeon Dr Smith indicated that they were over 1800.
Amritsar sits right on the Pakistan-India border, we offer an optional trip to the border post to watch the formal flag ceremony, which is sure to be one of the highlights of the trip. Every evening hundreds of people gather to watch the famous goose-stepping parade and the ceremonial lowering of their national flags by the Indian and Pakistani army at sunset. The border also appeared recently in a Bollywood film 'Veer-Zaara' starring Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta.
Traditional handcrafted leather flat shoes, Amritsari Jootis, for men and women are available near the Golden Temple.
We travel along more Himalayan mountain roads on to the famous seat of the Tibetan government in exile, Dharamsala (litterally "Rest House"). (Drive is approx. 6 hours). Sometimes known as "Little Lhasa", after the Tibetan capital city, Dharamsala has been connected with Buddhism for centuries, with many monasteries having been established here in the past. In the 8th century, however, these monasteries declined, with Hinduism experiencing a revival. The local Gaddi people are now almost all Hindu, and for the most part worship the goddess Durga.
When the Dalai Lama left Tibet, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered to permit him and his followers to establish a "government-in-exile" in Dharamsala. Since that time, many Tibetan exiles have settled in the town, numbering several thousand. Most of these exiles live in Upper Dharamsala, or McLeod Ganj, where they established temples and schools.
McLeod Ganj, or Upper Dharamsala (as it sits 450m higher in altitude), is the residence of Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama. Dharamsala pulsates with the sights and sounds of old Tibet, and although certainly more modern, life here is basically Tibetan in character. Shops strung out along the narrow streets of McLeod Ganj sell traditional Tibetan arts and handicrafts and the aroma of Tibetan dishes lingers in the air. As the name suggests, there is also a strong British influence here, and Mcleod Ganj retains a stronger colonial air than Lower Dharamsala. There is even a small Anglican church, St. John of the Wilderness, featuring exceptional stained-glass windows.
Kangra Art Museum in Kotwali bazaar has artifacts dating back to 5th century which display the rich past of the Kangra Valley. It includes a gallery of Kangra's famous miniature paintings, sculptures, pottery and anthropological items.
TIPA, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, is home to the colorful and unique folk opera of Tibet: 'Lhamo' and is well worth visiting during our stay here.
Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, Tibetan culture was endangered by the systematic destruction of all features of Tibetan identity. Monasteries were destroyed and looted of their treasures. Millions of books were burnt and precious statues melted down. Scholars were branded reactionaries and imprisoned, craftsmen's guilds were disbanded and the artists were forced to abandon their trade. Although in 1980 the trend was reversed and religion once again became more openly tolerated by the Chinese authorities, the damage was done. Former institutions of learning were not re-opened and a mere relaxation of disapproval cannot bring Tibetan culture back from the brink of extinction.
Because of this, in 1988 the Tibetan community founded the Norbulingka Institute in an effort to promote and preserve Tibetan culture in exile. The Institute, situated near Dharamsala, promotes the traditional arts and literary studies of Tibet to ensure they are not lost forever, and a visit offers the best introduction to Tibetan culture and art available anywhere in the world.
On Day 5 we have the option to visit Norbulingka. Set amidst beautiful gardens, surrounded by the green fields of the Kangra Valley, the Norbulingka Institute stands against a backdrop of the towering Dhauladhar mountains of the outer Himalayan range.
On Day 6 travel by overnight train to Rishikesh, estimated travel time is 10 hours.
DALAI LAMA TEACHINGS
The Dalai Lama sometimes gives teachings in Dharamsala (and other cities throughout India). To see the current schedule check the following web sites: www.dalailama.com
Rishikesh is a holy city for Hindus located in the foothills of the Himalaya in northern India. Legend states that Lord Rama did penance here for killing the demon king of Lanka. It is also known as the gateway to the Himalayas and is located around 25 kilometers away from another holy city, Haridwar. Rishikesh is the starting point for traveling to the sites that form the Char Dham pilgrimage — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.
The sacred river Ganga flows through Rishikesh. In fact, it is here that the river leaves the Shivalik mountains Himalayas, and flows out into the plains of northern India. Several temples, ancient as well as new, can be found along the banks of the Ganges in Rishikesh. The city attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year, from within India, as well as from other countries. Rishikesh, sometimes nicknamed "the world-capital of Yoga", has numerous yoga centres that also attract tourists. It is believed that meditation in Rishikesh brings one closer to attainment of moksha, as does a dip in the holy river that flows through it. It is also becoming a popular spot for white water rafting enthusiasts, both from India and abroad, as it offers medium to rough rapids in the course of river Ganges.
Estimated train travel time: 8-9 hours.
This morning we take the train to Agra arriving late in the afternoon. Optional visit the Agra fort, via cycle-rickshaws.
The walled city of the Agra Fort was first taken over by the Moghuls, at that time led by Akbar the Great, in the late 16th century. Akbar liked to build from red sandstone, often inlaid with white marble and intricate decorations, and it was during his reign that the fort began changing into more of a royal estate.
However, it was only during the reign of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan (who would eventually build the Taj Mahal) that the site finally took on its current state. Unlike his grandfather, Shah Jahan preferred buildings made from white marble, often inlaid with gold or semi-precious gems, and he destroyed some earlier buildings inside the fort in order to build others in his own style. At the end of his life Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son, Aurangzeb. It is said that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal.
The fort was also a site of one of the most important battles of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company's rule in India, leading to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.
On Day 10 we see sunrise in the city of Agra a city that is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. We visit the great icon of Mughal architecture the Taj Mahal in the early morning for the best light- be sure to have plenty of memory in your camera! This afternoon we visit I’timad-ud-Daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj'. It was built before the Taj Mahal by Nur Jahan, Queen of Jehangir, for her parents. The first Mughal building to be faced with white marble and where ‘pietra dura’, (precious stones inlaid into marble) was first used.
Constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22 000, the Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumt?z Mahal. Mumt?z had already borne the emperor fourteen children when she died in childbirth, and it is the romantic origin of the Taj as much as its architectural splendour that has led to its fame worldwide. Actually an integrated complex of many structures, the Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, itself a combination of Islamic, Hindu, Persian and Turkish elements.
On Day 11 we have an early morning Bus journey to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.
Founded in 1728, Jaipur, or “The Pink City” as it is often called, is unlike any other pre-modern Indian city, in that the entire town was planned according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. The city is in fact built in the form of a nine-part mandala known as the Pithapada, which combined with wide streets makes for an unusually airy, orderly atmosphere. That the results of this urban planning have so endured to this day (present day population approximately 3 million) is nothing short of miraculous.
Enter the heart of the mandala (on foot or by cycle rickshaw) and you are in the central palace quarter, with its sprawling Hawa Mahal palace complex, formal gardens and a small lake. Built in 1799, the Hawa Mahal, "Palace of Winds", was part of the City Palace, an extension of the Zenana or chambers of the harem. Its original intention was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Constructed of red and pink sandstone highlighted with white lime, the five-storied facade is peppered with 953 small windows. The breeze (hawa) that comes through the windows keeps it cool even in hot months, and gives the palace its name.
After breakfast on Day 11 we have the option to visit the ruined city of Amber, former capital of Jaipur state. Founded by the Meenas, Amber was a flourishing settlement as far back as 967 AD. Overlooking the artificial lake south of Amber town stands the Amber Fort/Palace complex, famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. At the bottom of a hill sits Amber Fort, initially a Palace Complex within the Fort of Amber on top of the hill (today known as Jaigarh fort). The two forts are connected through well-guarded passages.
During our time in Jaipur you may also wish to include a visit to the Jantar Mantar, or Royal Observatory. The term Jantar Mantar actually refers to a collection of architectural astronomical instruments built between 1727 and 1733 by Maharaja Jai Singh II at his then-new capital of Jaipur. It is modelled after the one that he had built for him at the then Mughal capital of Delhi. He had constructed a total of five such observatories at different locations, including the ones at Delhi and Jaipur; the Jaipur observatory is the largest of these.
Another great option is to see a Bollywood film in India it is much, much more than what we are accustomed to in the west. The atmosphere, energy and pure fun (not to mention volume!) has to be experienced to be believed. The Raj Mandir Movie Theatre is widely acclaimed as the largest cinema hall in Rajasthan, and one of the best in the country. The exterior is adorned with asymmetrical curves and shapes with stars, illuminated by hidden lights at night. The reception has a number of glittering chandeliers hanging in domes from the ceiling. The auditorium is spectacularly decorated with indirect lighting of changing colors hidden behind the plaster troughs of walls and ceilings. Even if you do not understand the language of the film screened, you will be entertained anyway by the emotions involved in the movie and of course the crowd..
We catch a local bus to Pushkar (about 3 hours) . Pushkar is a holy town on the banks of a small lake in central Rajasthan. This is believed to be the only town in the world to house the temple of the creater (Lord Bramha) as per Hindu beliefs. The town has scatterred temples across small hills. The place has today also become a spiritual haven for tourists from world over. Apart from temples, the town has Dunes around to go on an optional camel ride. Our CEO also takes us for a morning hike to Savitri Devi Temple. You also have the option of visiting the Dargah of Sufi saint who is regarded holy by both Muslims and Hindus of the country. On Day 13 we take the afternoon train to Delhi (approximately 7 hours journey).
Depart at any time.