Journey Down the Ganges: India’s Holiest River

Detailed Itinerary

Monday, January 1, 2018: 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)

Tuesday, January 2: 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)

Wednesday, January 3: 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. Enjoy a festive dinner at the Peshwa Haveli (mansion) at Raja Ghat.  Overnight at the Taj Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi, or similar, for two nights. (B,L,D)

Thursday, January 4: 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)

Friday, January 5: VARANASI | BODHGAYA
After breakfast we drive to Bodhgaya, arriving 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)

After breakfast we drive 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 today and continue on to Munger, 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)

Sunday, January 7: MUNGER | 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)

Cruise from Bhagalpur to Bateshwarsthan this morning. After breakfast, we drive to the village of Antichak, where we visit the ruins of Vikramshila University, established 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. Return to the ship and continue cruising to Samtaghat. (B,L,D)

Today we cruise through the Farakka Lock Gate and the connecting feeder canal to the Lower 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)

Wednesday, January 10: JANGIPUR | MURSHIDABAD
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 (B,L,D)

Thursday, January 11: MURSHIDABAD | MATIARI
This morning we take local horse-drawn carts (tongas) to the early 18th-century Katra Mosque, the oldest mosque in Murshidabad. Returning to the jetty by tongas, we continue cruising to Matiari, past the well-known battlefield of Plassey, site of a 1757 battle that changed India’s history when the British East India Company established its rule that would last (and expand) over the next 190 years. (B,L,D)

Friday, January 12: MATIARI | KALNA
Make a morning visit to Matiari, a unique brass- and copper-working village (where the metals are still worked manually). Take a stroll through the village and visit some metalworkers’ homes to view their work. Returning to the riverboat, we continue cruising to Kalna, where we disembark after lunch. Take cycle rickshaws to visit the enchanting Rajbari temple complex, with its great concentration and mixture of temples. On one side of the road, 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 is 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 the flat-roofed temple of Giri Govardhan. (B,L,D)

Saturday, January 13: 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. This afternoon, 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. (B,L,D)

After breakfast aboard ship, disembark and transfer to the airport for flights homeward. (B)

Optional Pre-Tour Extension: Agra & Jaipur


Wednesday, December 27, 2017: Arrive DELHI, India
Upon arrival in Delhi you are met and transferred to our hotel, conveniently located near the airport. Since most flights will arrive very early this morning, we have also reserved hotel space for the night of December 26th so that you may check in when you arrive. Overnight at the Radisson Blu Plaza Delhi.

Thursday, December 28: DELHI | MATHURA | AGRA
After an early breakfast we depart for Agra. En route we stop to explore Mathura, one of India’s most ancient towns as well as a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, Jains, and especially Hindus. The Mathura Museum has one of the finest collections of stone and terracotta sculptures. End the day in Agra with a sunset visit to the World Heritage site of the Taj Mahal, a beautiful tomb complex in pure white marble and red sandstone, unique in its size and exquisite proportions. Overnight at the Trident Agra for two nights. (B,L,D)

Friday, December 29: AGRA
This morning we visit the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, the first Mughal structure totally constructed of marble. Continue to Agra Fort, a World Heritage site comprising a maze of lovely courtyards, mosques, and private chambers. This afternoon we explore Sikandra, the splendid tomb of Akbar, greatest of all Mughal emperors. (B,L,D)

Saturday, December 30: AGRA | FATEHPUR SIKRI | JAIPUR
Wake early this morning for a return visit to the Taj Mahal, to see the sun rise. After breakfast we depart for Jaipur, stopping along the way to visit the World Heritage site of Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned city of Emperor Akbar the Great. The audience halls, palaces, and mosques are perfectly preserved, as are the tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chisti, Panchmahal (a five-story palace), and the Buland Darwaza (a 174-foot-high victory gate). After a stop for lunch in Bharatpur, continue on to Jaipur. Overnight at the Trident Jaipur for two nights. (B,L,D)

Sunday, December 31: JAIPUR
Begin the day by exploring Jaipur’s City Palace, a complex divided into a series of courtyards, gardens, and palatial buildings, including the City Palace Museum. Continue on to the World Heritage site of Jantar Mantar, an extraordinary and vast astronomical observatory complex built in the early 18th century; and the splendid Amber Fort, site of a 17th-century palace overlooking a lake at the entrance to a rocky mountain grove. Tonight we have a special dinner at our hotel to celebrate New Year’s Eve. (B,L,D)

Monday, January 1, 2018: JAIPUR | DELHI
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for our flight to Delhi where, upon arrival, we transfer to the group hotel to commence the main tour. (B,L)

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