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Duration: 19 days
Best time: Nov–March
Mode of transport: airplane, car/bus
This journey will include some of the major sites where Buddhism flourished in India as we travel though remote areas and bustling bazaars. Vividly painted mud-walled homes stand in stark contrast to vast deserts and chaotic cities. Bejeweled camels and sacred cows amble crookedly alongside cycle-rickshaws and elaborately clad sadhus on spiritual pilgrimage. This trip offers a rare opportunity to explore a treasure trove of cultural, historical, and spiritual riches – and indeed to see places, through their importance in the life of the Buddha, that shaped the history of the region and the world
NOTE:- All the itineraries can be customized to suit your own special interests, preferences, abilities, extension and reduction of numbers of days.
Upon arrival in Delhi you will be greeted by our representative and transferred to the hotel. The Imperial is one of Delhi’s top hotels, and conveniently located in the heart of the city. In the evening we gather for an orientation. (L,D)
This morning we take an hour-and-a-half flight to Patna, among the world’s oldest capital cities. In the 5th century BC, Ajatashatru shifted his capital from Rajgir to Patna, and for the next 1,000 years the city flourished under the patronage of powerful emperors. Today Patna mostly functions as a major transport hub and base for visiting the surrounding Buddhist sites. Here we see the sacred Ganges River that borders the city, and the five-mile-long bridge that spans the river. We continue a short distance by coach to Vaishali, the capital of the Lichavi Republic and one of the earliest republics in the world (6th century BC). This is also the place where the Buddha ordained his stepmother as the first nun, and where monkeys miraculously offered the Buddha honey. While here, we’ll examine an intact Ashokan pillar dating back to the 3rd century BC. After exploring Vaishali, over night in hotel (B,L,D)
We start our journey by coach to the hillside city of Rajgir, a lush green valley surrounded by craggy hills dotted with temples, shrines, and ancient caves. Rajgir, meaning “Home of Royalty,” was the first capital of the Magadha Empire at the time of the Buddha. It is an important site of pilgrimage, where the Buddha delivered several famous teachings, including those known as the Perfection of Wisdom. Rajgir was the site of the First Buddhist Council, which convened the year following the Buddha’s death. The city is also an important place for Jains, as the Mahavira spent time here and the hills are topped with Digambara shrines. In Rajgir we visit the Bamboo grove, which was the site of the Buddha’s first monastery (given to the Buddha by King Bimbisara). We’ll also spend time on Vulture Peak (Gridhakuta mountain), which the Buddha was especially fond of. Lastly, we have an opportunity to visit Jivaka’s mango grove (Jivaka was the Buddha’s physician), the jail where King Bimbisara was imprisoned by his son, and Satadhara (seven hot springs), where it is said the Buddha came to relieve his bodily pains. Hotel, Rajgir (B,L,D)
Leaving Rajgir, we make our way to Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The focal point of Bodh Gaya and one of the most revered sites in Buddhism is the Mahabodhi Mahavihara, built on the site where Buddha gained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago, now honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is here where Siddhartha Gautama sat under a Bodhi tree and meditated, determined not to get up until he gained enlightenment. Still standing is a Bodhi tree said to be a descendent from the original tree. From October through March tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the site. En route to Bodh Gaya we visit Nalanda. Founded in the 5th century AD, Nalanda was one of the world’s great universities and most important Buddhist centers. During its peak in the 7th century AD, Nalanda was home to over 10,000 monks and scholars. Visit the Great Stupa built on Shariputra’s relics, extensive monastic remains, and the Archaeological Museum housing finds from Nalanda and Rajgir. Hotel Bodh Gaya (B,L,D)
We spend the day practicing sitting and walking meditation, in and around the Mahabodhi Temple and Bodhi tree, where the Buddha spent 49 days before and after his awakening. Visit Bakrour village, across the Neeranjara River, where the young girl Sujata gave the monk Guatama rice pudding to end his period of austerities, before he became the Buddha. Hotel Bodh Gaya (B,L,D)
We drive across the countryside to the Dungeshwari caves in the Dungasiri mountains, where the ascetic monk Gautama practiced severe austerities. In the afternoon, visit some of the outlying temples erected by Buddhist practitioners from around the world at this sacred site. Among the many temples are those built by pilgrims from Bhutan,Tibet, Japan, and Thailand. Hotel , Bodh Gaya (B,L,D)
We drive today from Bodh Gaya to Varanasi, known as the City of Light, and home of the sacred Ganges River. Varanasi is one of the holiest places in India and is considered by Hindus to be the most auspicious place to die and be cremated. The old city of Varanasi, where spirituality and commerce mingle, is a maze of narrow streets shared by pilgrims, locals, sacred cows, and Hindu sadhus (holy men). Ghats along the river teem with people offering their prayers. It is also one of the centers of Indian classical music. Varanasi has been a center of learning and civilization for more than 2,000 years. It is a holy city dedicated to Lord Shiva. Like Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, it is one of the world’s ancient living cities. Hotel , Varanasi (B,L,D)
This morning we go to the Deer Park in the town of Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s first Dharma talk, where he offered a path to overcome suffering. We also visit the outstanding archaeological museum that houses the famous teaching Buddha statue of the 5th century AD and the Lion Capital (3rd century BC) that is the symbol of the Republic of India today. Evening Arthi by boat where a professor will join us for guiding. . hotel , Varanasi (B,L,D)
This is the site where Buddha uttered his final words and is said to have taken his last breath between twin Saal trees. hotel, Kushinagar (B,L,D)
Today we visit the Mahaparinirvana Temple. Dedicated to the final days of the Buddha. Today it stands as a serene memorial and a site of quiet contemplation. This site is home to a magnificent 18-foot reclining Buddha, built of stone in the 5th century AD. We explore the temple and its reclining Buddha statue, as well as various stupas that have been erected by Buddhists from throughout the world. We also circumambulate the emotionally-moving site of the Buddha’s cremation. Hotel , Kushinagar (B,L,D)
Leaving the site of the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana (great passing away), we head to his birthplace across the border in Lumbini, Nepal. The Buddha mentioned both destinations in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which names the four holiest places to visit. It is in Lumbini where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddartha Gautama. The site, marked by a great stone pillar attributed to Emperor Ashoka, was rediscovered by a German archeologist in 1896. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area around the holy site is divided between Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana monasteries. Hotel, Lumbini (B,L,D)
This morning we make a visit to Lumbini’s sacred garden; the Temple of Maya Devi, the Buddha’s mother; and the tank where the young Prince Siddhartha is said to have been bathed 2,500 years ago. We’ll walk across Lumbini Park and visit some of the temples built by Buddhist pilgrims from around the world, each with its own distinctive style. Hotel, Lumbini (B,L,D)
We rise early today for our drive from Lumbini to Kapilavastu. This is the former kingdom of Prince Siddhartha’s father, King Suddhodhana, who tried in vain to protect his son from witnessing or experiencing any suffering. After stopping for lunch at a Maharaja’s hunting lodge, where we dine near a lovely pond full of lotuses, we move on to Sravasti. The ancient capital of the Koshala Kingdom, this is where the Buddha spent several months in retreat each year for 24 years of his life. Hotel , Sravasti (B,L,D)
Today we visit the stupa of the terrorist Angulimala, who was converted by the Buddha. Sit at the site of the Buddha’s hut and trace his steps on the walking meditation path. We’ll also spend time in the beautiful Jeta Grove, where the Buddha gave some of his most important teachings. Among these was the Anapanasati sutra on the full awareness of breathing. Hotel , Sravasti (B,L,D)
Today we start leisurely from Sravasti as the day will be primarily a travel day, We drive past the historic city and state capital of Lucknow to Kanpur on the river Ganges. Landmark Hotel, Kanpur (B,L,D)
As we near the end of our journey, we travel today to Agra, stopping en route at Sankasia. It is here where the Buddha is believed to have descended from heaven after giving teachings to his mother. We can circumambulate the stupa and visit the Ashokan pillar from the 3rd century BC.We drive on to Agra, famous of course as the site of the magnificent Taj Mahal. , Agra (B,L,D)
This morning we rise just before the sun to gaze at the shifting facades of the Taj Mahal at the most glorious time of the day. Constructed by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is the most extravagant monument ever built for love. It took seventeen years, 20,000 workers, and a king’s treasury to build. We wander the inner chambers and the marble paths, as millions have done over the centuries, and marvel at the dedication that went into its construction. After breakfast back at the hotel, we set off to explore the Agra Fort. Previous incarnations of the fort date back to the Rajputs, but the citadel that stands today was the work of Akbar the Great in the 16th century. The fort is a testament to the military might and architectural genius of the Mughals. It was subsequently occupied by emperor Shah Jahan who died here, imprisoned by his son and left to gaze at the Taj Mahal he had built. Later this afternoon we visit the Old City, particularly Akbari Mosque marking the entrance to the 16th- century stone streets of Kinari Bazaar. Agra (B,L,D)
This morning we drive to Delhi via Fatepur Sikiri and Mathura to Delhi . (BLD)
We will explore this pulsating capital city, where a few empires rose and fell over the span of 5,000 years. We visit Gandhi Smitri, the site where Gandhi was assassinated as he was coming into the gardens for a prayer meeting. The building now houses one of the best museums on Gandhi, including his meager worldly possessions at the time of his death. After lunch, visit Old Delhi, over night in Delhi hotel
Tonight we will have an early dinner as a farewell with the group. We will arrange the transfer to the airport for flights home..
Visas are required if you are British and for most other nationalities. For UK residents full details of the visa process can be found here. Other nationalities should check with their travel agent or the relevant embassies.
If your trip visits Ladakh, in the very north of India, or Sikkim in the northeast, do not mention this on your Indian visa application. This can sometimes slow down or even cause the embassy to reject your visa.
When you reach immigration, you are required to pick up an immigration form. If you have an e-visa, ensure you stand in the correct queue – please follow the signs to the e-visa booth (in Delhi this is at the back of the immigration hall). You will need to fill out an additional form at the booth – please make sure that you have the details of your start hotel ready (these details can be found on your Final Joining Instructions).
There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice. Dengue fever is a known risk in places visited. It is a tropical viral disease spread by daytime biting mosquitoes. There is currently no vaccine or prophylaxis available for Dengue, therefore the best form of prevention is to avoid being bitten. Some of our India trips spend time at altitude. In regions over approx. 2000m, there is low to no risk of mosquito-borne diseases. For trips going to altitudes of over 3000m there is a risk of being affected by Acute Mountain Sickness. Our itineraries are designed to enable everyone to acclimatise to these altitudes, but you should be aware that it is still possible for you to be affected. Please see the TRIP NOTES for further information.
Eating and Drinking
Dinner is included at the homestay, and we also include a dinner and cooking demonstration with a local family in Periyar. The houseboat is full board. You should allow at least £15 (approx. US$24) per day for lunch and dinner. You can eat out very cheaply in India, but if you go to the more expensive restaurants most of the time, you will spend more than the suggested amount. In most of the towns there is a good choice of restaurants and a choice between Indian and Western style food. If you are a vegetarian, India is probably one of the best destinations to travel to. Tea and soft drinks are very cheap. Please note that hotels (apart from 5-star hotels) and bars in Kerala are no longer allowed to sell alcohol, but it is still possible to buy alcohol in government shops. Mineral water is available in the bus in 20ltr containers so please bring a bottle with you to refill. Please note that service in restaurants can be quite slow.
The most important feature of the Indian climate is the ‘wet season’ or monsoon. The main monsoon strikes the coast of Kerala in late May and sweeps its way northward over the next month or so. The ideal time to visit is during the dry season from October to March. Days will be hot and the nights warm, the average range of maximum daytime temperatures being between 21ºC – 30ºC and from 6ºC – 20ºC at night. However, in the hills temperatures can be considerably cooler and you can expect temperatures to drop to a few degrees above zero at night. We ask you to note that frequent rainstorms can be expected throughout the tour on November departures. However, the storms are usually of quite short duration and the sun normally comes out fairly quickly afterwards. Please note that swimming in the sea at Kovalam is not always possible, depending on recent weather conditions, however the hotel we use in Kovalam will always have a pool.