We are very excited about the tour of India we are currently developing. Watch for next month’s newsletter for a final itinerary and dates. While some details remain to be sorted out, the basic structure of the tour is already in place. We are visiting northern India including Rajasthan, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. The tour will begin and end in Delhi, India’s capital. Delhi is currently getting a facelift as it prepares to host the Commonwealth Games in October this year. Construction projects and road works were everywhere last month when we visited. The city is putting its best foot forward and next year will be an ideal time to visit. Best of all, Delhi’s brand new metro system will be operational, allowing easy, efficient, inexpensive transportation across the city’s vast expanse. Delhi’s main sights include the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid (mosque), the tombs of Humayan, Safdarjang, and the Lodi rulers, the Qutb Minar, and a number of wonderful temples, both ancient and modern. After Delhi we’ll plunge into romantic Rajasthan. In all likelihood, the images you have in your mind of India come from the state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan boasts magnificent hilltop forts, Maharaja’s palaces, deserts, beautiful temples, camels and elephants, women in bright saris and men in multi-colored turbans. We will visit Jaipur with its famed Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), city palace, and Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar appears to be a collection of giant, modern sculptures but is in fact an 18th century astronomical observatory. Near Jaipur is the magnificent Amber Palace. As much fortress as palace, Amber commands a dramatic hilltop in a nearby valley. We’ll ride elephants up the zigzag approach road.
We will also visit Udaipur, one of India’s most romantic destinations, and our personal favorite. The setting itself is breathtaking with the town built on the hills surrounding lovely lake Pichola. Twin “floating” palaces adorn tiny islands in the lake, making this one of India’s most picturesque locations. We’ll visit the multi-tiered city palace, have a sunset cruise on the lake, and dine lakeside. Nearby is Ranakpur, one of the most magnificent and important Jain temples in India. The temple boasts a number of halls supported by a forest of intricately carved, white marble columns (1444 or them), no two alike.
One unique connection experience we are excited to include is a visit to Rohetgarh, a heritage hotel in a small village south of Jodhpur. While the hotel itself is quite luxurious it is connecting with the Bishnois tribal peoples of the region that is our goal. Our host family has a unique relationship with the Bishnois, allowing us special access. The Bishnois have been called the premier ecologists of the world with a centuries-long record of responsible stewardship of their environment. We’ll visit one of their villages, learning about their customs, ceremonies, and relationship to the land. We’ll journey to the Black Buck antelope preserve, a rare species that owes its survival to the Bishnois. We’ll also visit the homes of shepherds, farmers, and weavers to learn about their way of life.
Before we leave Rajasthan we will be sure to visit mighty Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. Still owned and operated by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, this is Rajasthan’s signature fortress. We will also arrange for a night in the desert. We’ll explore the desert from the back of a camel, enjoy a desert sunset, and have an evening of Rajasthani food, folk music, and dancing.
The state of Uttar Pradesh is full of delights but the two destinations we have selected are perhaps the most significant stops on our itinerary. We’ll visit Agra and Varanasi. Agra is home to the sublime Taj Mahal. Some say the Taj is the most beautiful building in the world. It has been described as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity” and “the embodiment of all things pure.” Our local guide will make the story of Shah Jehan and his beloved Mumtaz Mahal come alive as we hear the history of this storied building. Varanasi is India’s most holy city, an impressive claim in a nation of such ancient and storied mysticism. One of the world’s oldest cities, situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, Varanasi is host to an unending stream of Hindu pilgrims. They come to perform ritual ablutions in the sacred waters, accessing the river at any of the dozens of ghats that line the river. It is a unique and mystical city and not to be missed. Our guide will explain the intricate and intimate rituals that are taking place publicly while helping us to understand the foundational philosophies of Hindu faith. Varanasi is also a center of Indian music and we have an opportunity to make another connection. We are able to arrange an evening with some local musicians, meeting them and learning about their music. Lastly, the important Buddhist site of Sarnath is a mere 45 minute drive from Varanasi. We’ll visit this historic site of the Buddha’s first public sermon and learn about this great religion.
We hope it is obvious from the brief description above that we are trying to get the most diverse taste possible in 2 ½ weeks. We’ll also visit an ashram, enjoy classical entertainment, provide cooking demonstration and/or lessons, and participate in important festivals. From the classic experiences of famous temples, forts, palaces, the Taj Mahal and Varanasi to desert camel treks, village visits, and musicians’ homes we hope to experience a significant portion of the mosaic of India. Stay tuned in the months to come as this story continues to unfold.
*At the time of writing we were unable to guarantee certain experiences. However, we are quite confident we’ll be visiting Pushkar and the world-famous temples of Khajuraho.