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, go over the details of your trip and the leader will collect the local payment. 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.
We dive into the heart of India’s capital to explore both Old and New Delhi. Visit the famous Jama Masjid and climb the minaret for a bird’s eye view of the old city. Watch (and smell) the activity at the spice market, walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets, and learn the history of the Sikh religion at the important Gurudwara. Travel by the swish new metro, (Delhi and India's proud jump into the 21st century transportation network) into Connaught Place, the centre of New Delhi, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. The giant circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place, sitting at the centre of any map of Delhi, radiates with roads like spokes from a wheel. The circle’s obviously Victorian architecture was modeled after the Royal Crescent in Bath, England. The afternoon is free to wander on your own, take a rickshaw trip or visit some of the wonderful gardens like Lodhi Garden or Indian Gate, the memorial arch designed by Edwin Lutyens, has the name of martyred soldiers inscribed on its walls.. Other options include the ruins of Qutab Minar, Purana Qila or the beautiful Humayun's Tomb. If you would like to learn more abut the many different religions in India then consider a visit to the Laxminarayan Temple in Connaught Place or the stunning Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple carved out of pink sandstone and white marble. The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) is the principal mosque of Old Delhi in India. Masjid-i-Jahan Numa means "mosque commanding a view of the world, " whereas the name Jama Masjid is a reference to the weekly congregation observed on Friday (the yaum al-jum`a) at the mosque. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in the year 1656 AD, the Jama Masjid is the best-known and largest mosque in India; its courtyard can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers. The mosque houses several relics in a niche in the north gate, including a priceless copy of the Qur'an written on deer skin. The Sikh holy site of Gurudwara SisGanj stands at the site where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to accept Islam. During a time when the emperor was waging a war against Hindus, Guru Tegh Bahadur argued for freedom of worship and was executed as a result. Before his body could be quartered and exposed to public view, it was stolen under cover of darkness by one of his disciples, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, who then burnt his house to cremate the Guru's body. The severed head (Sis) of Guru Tegh Bahadur was recovered by Bhai Jaita, another disciple of the Guru, and cremated by the Guru's son, Gobind Rai, later to become Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh Guru. Whilst wandering through the lanes of Chandni Chowk we may stop at Paranthewali Gali, a street lined with stalls selling several different types of paranthas (stuffed Indian bread) straight off the tawa (frying pan). Besides the traditional aloo (potato) parantha, there is the unique kaju badam (cashew and almond) parantha. Accompanied by a variety of chutneys and pickles this is certainly going to be a memorable food experience.
Estimated travel time: 6 hours Early this morning we catch the Shatabdi Express to Amritsar. 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, and our trip to the border post to watch the formal flag ceremony 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 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. 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
The scenery gets more spectacular today as we travel to the Himalayan hill town of Shimla (originally Simla), former summer capital of the British Raj. Our drive from Dharamshala to Shimla on Day 7 takes us via Kangra where we will stop and and take the short walk up the hill to visit the Bajreshwari Devi Temple. The drive from Dharamshala to Shimla is approx. 8 hours. On Day 8 we will take a joyride on the Kalka-Shimla Toy train. We will leave Shimla in the very early morning and head to Barog (apprs. 90 minutes). Upon arrival in Barog we will walk to the Railway station. We will ride the toy train for about 2.5 hours from Barog to Summerhill. In Summerhill we will visit the Viceregal Lodge before walking the short distance back to Shimla. The Guinness Book on 'Rail Facts and Feats' included Kalka-Shimla Railway as the greatest narrow gauge engineering achievement in India. The train is one of the most unique railway tracks of the world. It is said that this railway line has been first sketched in November 1847, almost 50 years before it was actually constructed. The Kalka-Shimla Railway was built to connect the summer capital of colonial India with the Indian rail system and was inaugurated by the British viceroy, Lord Curzon in November 1903. As it leaves Kalka (at 656 metres above sea level), the railway enters the Himalayan foothills and immediately begins to climb. Flanked by towering hills, the line clings perilously to the sides of steep cliffs, crosses graceful bridges (864 of them) with mountain streams hundreds of feet below. The train passes through 103 tunnels, 969 bridges, 919 curves and 20 railway stations in its entire journey. Shimla, the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, is a city dotted with imposing Victorian buildings, monuments to British power in India at the time, and arriving in Shimla is like travelling back in time to the ‘glorious’ days of British rule. Scottish civil servant Charles Kennedy built Shimla's first British summer home here in 1822. By the latter half of the 19th century the town had become the summer capital of the British Raj, and every summer many British soldiers, merchants, and civil servants moved here to escape the heat and disease at India's lower altitudes. As the locals say "Shimla's like a graceful old lady...she may have put on a bit of weight recently and got a few gimmicky clothes, but underneath she's still elegant, still got class..." During our stay there will be an orientation walk of the main sights of Shimla, including Viceregal Lodge, formerly the residence of the British Viceroy Lord Dufferin and the Wild Flower Hall, one time home of Lord Kitchner, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India and the Gaiety Theatre, where Kipling and Baden-Powell (founder of th boy scout movement) walked the stage. There are a number of gentle walks that you can undertake while in Shimla. These include the walk to Prospect Hill, to the temple dedicated to Kamna Devi that is situated on the top. Or walk to Summer Hill or Jakhoo Hil with it temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman on top, which offers spectacular views of Shimla at sunrise or sunset. The State Museum has exhibits containing woodcarvings, ancient sculptures, weapons, jewelry, costumes, paintings from Chamba, musical instruments, and well-preserved terracotta from the Shunga period (2nd to the 1st century BC). There is an excellent collection of Pahari miniature paintings, other style miniatures, and paintings by contemporary Himachal Pradesh artists. There is a Gandhi exhibit, which mainly includes pictures and photocopies of letters. The museum is a 40-minute (about 21⁄2 km west) walk from Scandal Corner. Entry free. A minor institution in Shimla is the family-run achhar (pickle) shop. Thakur Brahta, started in 1925, sells many varieties of pickles and chutneys - from the common mango, lemon, garlic, red chili to the unusual mushroom. All are home-made. Note: beware of the many often-aggressive monkeys that roam Shimla. They may seem cute but are not particularly friendly and are prone to running away with any item they can get their hands on (cameras, glasses, etc). A walking stick is a good idea to keep the primates at bay.
Estimated travel time 9-10 hours Today we drive to Rishikesh, via Nahan and Paonta Saheb Gurudwara 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 Rāvaṇa, the demon king of Lanka. It is also known as the gateway to the Himalayas and is located around 100 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. Rishikesh is home to the 120 year old Kailas Ashram Brahmavidyapeetham, an institution dedicated to preserve and promote the traditional Vedantic Studies. Prominent personalities such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Rama Tirtha and Swami Shivananda have studied in this institution. During the mid-1960s, The Beatles visited the now closed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram. One of the holiest cities in India, Rishikesh is not just known for its religious connection but also for its beautiful landscape. Surrounded by hills (the Lesser Himalayas) on three sides and holy Ganga river flowing through it, Rishikesh is an ethereal experience. Rishikesh is the gateway to famous Chardham which are Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. In fact Rishikesh is a favourite of those coming to meditate and seek salvation. It is believed that meditation on the land of this holy place leads to salvation. Every year many people come here in the ashrams to meditate and gain peace of mind. The place is also very famous with foreigners who come to India in search of spiritual quest. Rishikesh is famous for its ashrams on the banks of Ganga, at many such ashrams yoga is practiced and taught regularly. Such is the feeling of Rishikesh that even Beatles could not escape from the magical experience. They had visited India in 1960 to pay visit to their Guru in Rishikesh. What else works in Rishikesh's favour is its altitude (1360 metres). It is higher than other holy cities of Haridwar and Varanasi, the water in Ganga here is cooler and cleaner. The flow of the river is stronger here and the city is less populated than others. It is more calmer and peaceful here. It is such a beauty, the water gushing from the Himalayas, the banks dotted with ashrams and temples (both ancient and recent) and a hilly landscape in the background of all this, Rishikesh is truly amazing. Rishikesh is sometimes called the yoga capital of the world. A considerable number of tourists come here every year for yoga, meditation, spiritual growth. Its ashrams are famous for their calm and conducive environment for yoga, the spiritualness in the air further evokes one. There are many ashrams here, some more famous than others. Here we also visit the prominent holy city of Haridwar. In Hindi, Haridwar stands for Dwar of Hari or Gateway to God, with 'Hari' meaning god and 'dwar' meaning gate. Haridwar is regarded as one of the seven holiest places to Hindus. After travelling, 253 km (157 mi) from its source, at Gaumukh, 3,139 m (10,300 ft) above sea level, situated at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier, Ganga enters the Indo-Gangetic Plain of North India for the first time at Haridwar, and this is what gave the city its ancient name, Gangadwára , as the place where the Ganges descends to the plains. According to Hindu mythology, Haridwar is one among the four sites where drops of the elixir of immortality, Amrita, accidentally spilled over from the pitcher, in which it was being carried away by the celestial bird Garuda, after the Samudra manthan . These four spots -- Ujjain, Haridwar, Nasik, and Allahabad -- have today become places, where the Kumbha Mela is celebrated once every 3 years in any of these 4 places and after a period of 12 years, the Maha Kumbha Mela is celebrated on the 12th year at Prayag in Allahabad. Millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate here from all over the world to celebrate the event. They perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganga. The spot where the nectar fell is considered to be the Brahma Kund at Har-ki-Pauri (literally, "footsteps of the Lord," and symbolically the footprints of the Amrita), the most sacred ghat of Haridwar; thousands of devotees and pilgrims flock here during festivals or snan from all over India to take a holy dip. This act is considered to be the equivalent of washing away one's sins to attain Moksha.
Estimated train travel time: 8-9 hours. This morning we take the train to Agra arriving late in the afternoon. On day 13 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. We also ride one of the cycle-rickshaws to visit the Agra Fort. 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. 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. In the evening of Day 13 we catch the train to Delhi arriving late at night. (Train travel 3 hours)