Journey Down the Ganges: India’s Holiest River

Detailed Itinerary


Tuesday, February 10, 2015: Arrive DELHI, India
Upon arrival in Delhi today, you are met and transferred to our hotel. Overnight at the Taj Mahal Hotel, or similar, for two nights. (D)
 
Wednesday, February 11: DELHI
Our first full day focuses on three major sites in Delhi: the National Museum of India, which contains over 200,000 works of art spanning thousands of years; the World Heritage site of Humayun’s tomb (known as “the predecessor of the Taj Mahal”), the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent; and the Qutub Complex, a World Heritage site with a 236-foot high minaret, a 1,500-year old iron pillar that does not rust, and a large mosque that was constructed from reused temple pillars. We will also slowly drive by and admire many other famous monuments, such as Jama Mosque, Red Fort, Raj Ghat (where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated), the ruined fortress at Feroze Shah Kotla, the Ashok Pillar, and Safdarjung’s tomb. (B,L,D)
 
Thursday, February 12: DELHI | VARANASI
After breakfast we transfer to the airport for our flight to Varanasi, the holiest town for Hindus. On arrival we check in to our hotel, and enjoy lunch followed by some time at leisure. In late afternoon, experience Varanasi’s enchanting street life, take a boat ride to see the ghats (broad steps down to the water, along the riverbank) lining the Ganges River, and witness the beautiful Ganga Aarti ritual after sunset, when hundreds of small lamps are set afloat on the river. Overnight at the Taj Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi, or similar, for two nights. (B,L,D)
 
Friday, February 13: VARANASI | SARNATH | VARANASI
Enjoy a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges River to witness early morning rituals. In the afternoon we visit Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. Explore the ruins of its monasteries, built more than 2,000 years ago; as well as its Archaeological Museum, which displays antiquities from Sarnath dating from the 3rd century B.C. to 12th century A.D. (B,L,D)
 
Saturday, February 14: VARANASI | BODHGAYA
After breakfast we depart Varanasi for Bodhgaya, where arrive in time for lunch. Bodhgaya is one of Buddhism’s most important and sacred pilgrimage centers and it was here, under a banyan tree, that Gautama attained supreme knowledge to become “Buddha,” the Enlightened One. Explore the Maha Bodhi Temple Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site whose courtyard is dotted with many stupas built over the past 2,500 years. Inside the main sanctum is the immense black stone statue of the sitting Buddha touching the Earth with his right hand—the posture in which he is said to have attained supreme enlightenment. Also drive by the Thai Temple and two Japanese temples. Overnight at The Royal Residency Hotel, or similar. (B,L,D)
 
Sunday, February 15: BODHGAYA | RAJGIR | NALANDA | SIMARIA | EMBARKATION
After breakfast we drive to Rajgir, the first capital of the Magadha Empire, scenically located in a lush valley. Buddha delivered many important sermons during the years he spent here, and today Rajgir is a complex of temples and monasteries. Continue on to the ancient university of Nalanda, perhaps the oldest seat of learning in India, thought to have been established in the 5th century B.C. Nalanda is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, and was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1915-37 and 1974-82. Its extensive remains include six brick temples and eleven monasteries, with many sculptures and images in stone, bronze, and stucco. Enjoy a boxed lunch en route to Simaria Jetty, where we embark our classic riverboat to begin our cruise down the sacred Ganges River. Overnight aboard the RV Bengal Ganga for eight nights. (B,L,D)
 
Monday, February 16: MUNGER | SULTANGANJ | BHAGALPUR
This morning we visit the Bihar School of Yoga, established in 1964 by Swami Niranjanananda to preserve and regenerate the total scope of yogic science by combining academic and scientific methodology with a spiritual vision. The School is located within the walls of Munger Fort, on the south bank of the Ganges River, which is thought to date from approximately the 12th/13th centuries. Several religious and historic monuments are also located within the Fort, including the Palace of Shah Suja, the ancient Chandisthana temple, and an 18th-century British cemetery. En route to Bhagalpur, cruise past Sultanganj, whose two great granite rocks on the riverbank are crowned by a mosque and a temple of Ghaibinath Siva. Excavations near Sultanganj have yielded ancient stupas, seals, coins, and terracotta Hindu and Buddha images. (B,L,D)
 
Tuesday, February 17: BHAGALPUR | Dolphin Sanctuary | Vikramshila | BATESHWARSTHAN | KARAGOLA 
Cruise from Bhagalpur to Bateshwarsthan via the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, established in 1991 for the dolphins’ protection and conservation. The area also supports a rich diversity of other wildlife, many of which are threatened with extinction, such as the Indian smooth-coated otter, several species of hard- and soft shell turtles, and an astounding variety of migratory and resident birds. Later visit the Vikramshila University, established by King Dharampala in the late 8th or early 9th century A.D. Along with Nalanda University, Vikramshila was one of the two most important centers of Buddhist learning in India during the Pala dynasty. Cruise onward to Karagola, an area rich in bird life where we may see large flocks of water birds such as common cranes. (B,L,D)
 
Wednesday, February 18: KARAGOLA | RAJ MAHAL
Depart Karagola this morning for Raj Mahal, founded by the Mogul Emperor Akbar as the capital of Bengal in 1592. Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, spent part of his youth here. Walk around and explore the ruins of the mosque and the areas where China clay is mined. (B,L,D)
 
Thursday, February 19: RAJ MAHAL | FARAKKA | JANGIPUR 
This morning we cruise through the Farakka Lock Gate and the connecting canal to the Ganges, revealing vast panoramas. Visible at a distance is the Farakka barrage, which regulates the Ganges water into Bangladesh and India. Continue cruising the waters of West Bengal toward Jangipur. (B,L,D)
 
Friday, February 20: JANGIPUR | MURSHIDABAD | CHOURIGACHA
Cruise from Jangipur toward Murshidabad. Time permitting, visit the early 18th-century Temples of Baranagar, considered to be among the best examples of Bengal terracotta art. Arrive at Murshidabad Jetty, opposite the New Palace. We visit the Hazarduari Palace, built in the early 19th century by an English architect, Duncan McLeod, in the Greek “Doric” style. The palace has more than a thousand real and false doors in its vast corridors. Opposite the Palace is the 19th-century Nizamat Imambara. Also visit the impressive, early 18th-century Katra Masjid (mosque), with its huge domes and tall minarets. (B,L,D)
 
Saturday, February 21: CHOURIGACHA | KALNA
We depart Chourigacha and cruise past Matiari, a unique brass-making village, and the religious town of Mayapur, situated on the banks of the confluence of the Ganga and Jalangi Rivers. In the afternoon we take rickshaws to visit the temple town of Kalna, including the enchanting Rajbari complex with a great concentration and mixture of temples. The early 19th-century Nabakailas temple complex contains 108 “eight slope-roofed” Shiva temples arranged in two concentric circles. On the other side of the road lies a walled complex with Bengal’s most diversified collection of temple architecture, including the 19th-century Pratapeshwar Temple, Lalji temple (built in 1739, and the oldest in the complex), Krishnachandra Temple, and a flat-roofed temple of Giri Govardhan. (B,L,D)
 
Sunday, February 22: KALNA | KOLKATA (Calcutta)
Cast off early this morning from Kalna and cruise toward Kolkata, through the vast countryside of golden Bengal. Relax aboard our riverboat and watch the passing scenery of the areas where various European settlers established their respective East Indian Companies in the 17th to 19th centuries. (B,L,D)
 
Monday, February 23: KOLKATA | DISEMBARKATION | FLY HOME
After breakfast, take an orientation tour of Kolkata’s colonial areas, including the Writer’s Building, General Post Office, High Court, Raj Bhawan, Town Hall, Council House, Treasury Building, and Reserve Bank of India. Also visit Dalhousie Square and drive past St. John’s Church and Victoria Memorial, stopping for photos. After lunch aboard ship, disembark and transfer to the airport for flights homeward. (B,L)
 
*** Optional Post-Tour Extension: Odisha ***
 
Monday, February 23, 2015: KOLKATA | BHUBANESWAR
After this morning’s orientation tour of Kolkata’s colonial areas, those who are on the optional extension will transfer to the domestic airport for a short flight to Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa). Upon arrival, transfer to our hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. Overnight at the Trident Bhubaneswar Hotel, or similar, for three nights. (B,L,D)
 
Tuesday, February 24: BHUBANESWAR
Today we explort Bhubaneswar, a Hindu pilgrimage center popularly known as the “Temple City of India,” with about 400 extant temples dating from the 7th to 13th centuries A.D. In the morning, visit the Parsurameswar, Mukteswar, and Lingaraj temples (only Hindus can enter Lingaraj); as well as the Bindusagar Tank, said to contain water from every sacred river in India. After lunch, visit the Rajarani and Brahmeswar temples, and the Tribal Research Institute Museum with exhibits of tribal dwellings and artifacts created by Odisha’s craftsmen. (B,L,D)
 
Wednesday, February 25: RAGHURAJPUR | PURI | KONARAK | PIPLI
Make a morning visit to Raghurajpur, a heritage crafts village known for its master Pattachitra painters, traditional crafts, and Gotipua dance troupes, the precursor to the Indian classical dance form of Odisha. Continue on to Puri, one of the four celebrated religious centers of India and famous for the 12th-century Jagannath Temple that dominates its landscape. (Only Hindus are permitted to enter the temple premises.) After lunch we visit the 13th-century Sun Temple at Konarak, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designed to represent the chariot of the sun god, Surya, with twelve pairs of ornamented wheels pulled by seven horses. The immense structure is covered with carvings, sculptures, figures, and bas-reliefs. On our return to Bhubaneswar we stop at Pipli, a town of artisans famous for designing beautiful appliqué handicrafts. (B,L,D)
 
Thursday, February 26: CHAUSATH YOGINI TEMPLE | FLY HOME
This morning we visit the 9th-century Temple of Chausath (64) Yogini at Hirapur village. Built to harness supernatural powers, this small, circular, hypaethral (open to the sky) temple provides a glimpse into religious and occult (tantric) practices that are still alive in local tribal traditions and folklore. Only four such distinctive temples remain in India, two of which are in Odisha. Return to our hotel for lunch and then enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure. After an early dinner, transfer to the airport for our flight to Delhi, connecting with your flights home. (B,L,D)

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