This fascinating and spiritual journey kicks off on the banks of the Ganges, in the sacred city of Varanasi: the ghats – hundreds of stone steps flanking the riverbank – are an incredible sight, particularly at sunrise when thousands of pilgrims bathe in the spiritually cleansing waters. From Varanasi fly to Agra, home of the world’s favourite monument to love; the Taj Mahal. You’ll then continue to the Pink City of Jaipur, in the heart of Rajasthan. The charming Samode Haveli will be your base while exploring highlights such as Amber Fort, the City Palace Museum, and the Hawa Mahal.
Return to Delhi to explore the stark contrasts of both Old and New; from the narrow streets of Chandni Chowk bazaar to the tree-lined lanes around colonial Connaught Place. You’ll then board a flight up to Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama, where Tibetan Buddhists have settled and built numerous monasteries and temples. Your final stop will be Amritsar, home to the incredible Golden Temple, the most critical site in the world for Sikhs. No two places on this unusual tour are alike, and together they span many centuries of Indian history and form the backdrop to landmark events such as the birth of Buddhism, Mughal invasion and rule, epic Rajput battles and British imperialism. Our Ganges to the Golden Temple Tour is designed to give you an idea of what’s possible and is simply a starting point when crafting your tailor-made journey.
In the early evening, you’ll be met by your guide for a tour of the Ganges – and its many ghats – by boat, culminating with the evening aarti ceremony. These ancient rituals have changed very little over hundreds and hundreds of years. The scent of sandalwood and incense swirls around, while the sounds of prayer chanting and clashing symbols rise to a crescendo. Hundreds of little oil lamps flickering on the river are a beautiful sight.
Upon landing, you’ll be met by your guide to explore the Norbulingka Institute, a centre established in 1988 to teach and preserve traditional Tibetan art forms. There is also a stunning temple here, the Deden Tsuklagkhang, a magnificent example of Tibetan religious architecture, displaying some of the most exceptional work done by Norbulingka artists. It’s the perfect place for prayer and reflection.
This evening, you’ll check-in to the delightful Chonor House for a three-night stay. A small friendly hotel of just 11 rooms, Chonor House has a wonderfully distinct Tibetan influence, with the décor in each bedroom depicting one aspect of Tibetan life in bold murals. There is a library, comfortable lounge and restaurant serving huge portions of delicious Tibetan, Indian and continental food (we’d recommend the Thenthuk; a traditional Tibetan noodle soup). Chonor House is not a luxury property, but it’s incredible energy and location – right opposite the Dalai Lama’s residence and monastery – make it an exceptional place.
Later this evening, you’ll be met by your guide to explore the spectacular Golden Temple at night, during the Putting to Bed ceremony. A unique and colourful ceremony, this daily ritual of putting the Holy Scripture to bed is a sight not to be missed on a visit to Amritsar. The temple is home to the Adi Granth, or Original Holy Book which is a collection of hymns of the great saints. The book is a focus of devotion, and during the day is kept in the Hari Madhir Sahib. It is returned to the Akal Takhat every evening around 9.15 pm in winter and 10.15 pm in the summer. The Putting to Bed ceremony was the highlight of our recent stay in Amritsar, you can read more about it by clicking here.
Later pay a visit to Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial to more than 1000 demonstrators who were killed or injured when the British, under the command of General Dyer, opened fire on them in 1919.
To end the day, you’ll head out to Wagah, a village divided in two at Partition, where the daily closure of the border takes place with great pomp and ceremony. Indian border guards in khaki and Pakistani border guards in dark green march, bark orders and lower their respective national flags in a symbolic stand-off, watched by orderly crowds of thousands waving national flags. There is much partisan cheering in the grandstands as the gates clang shut for the night, to be formally opened again the next day.
The itinerary we’ve described here is merely a starting point to share a flavour of the possibilities, and absolutely every aspect is flexible (from the hotels to the destinations to the length to the sightseeing). For example, you may like to explore Rajasthan further by including stops in Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer; or, take a Jeep safari in the jungle in Ranthambhore to spot wild Bengal tigers. Another possibility would be to visit Khajuraho between Varanasi and Agra, to take in the ancient carved temples. While we have suggested some of our favourite places to stay, this itinerary is 100% tailor-made, and a specialist can help you select hotel options best suited to your tastes and budget. Let us know what you’d like to create, and we can make it happen!
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