Explore the Heart of India – the North. Our North India tour brings a unique opportunity to experience ancient places of worship, the hospitality of the royal Rajputs, the vibrant colors of the North and the holiest of the rivers, the Ganges.
Our representative along with a driver will be at the Delhi International Airport well in advance to greet you. We first take you to your hotel.
The history of Delhi takes us back to the mythological times of Mahabharata. It is believed that it was once known as Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandava clan. Considering that the epic, Mahabharata is 3000 years old, Delhi has quite a history. But mythology apart, there is documented history of settlement in the area that takes us back about 2500 years. The region of Delhi has given birth to eight cities during its course of existence, innumerable monuments, and a rich culture that is as unique as it is old. Prepare to experience the glory of an era when India was the “center” of the world, but tonight you rest and prepare for the journey of your life. Overnight in Delhi!
Delhi has always been the preferred capital of India from its days of yore and continues to retain its status as the administrative capital of the country. Over the years, the Moghul rulers, who have ruled this city, have left it with a rich heritage flush with architectural wonders. This afternoon, we take you on a guided tour to some of the most famous historical structures in New Delhi as well as Old Delhi, and then, it would be time for some royal food.
There’s nothing like exploring Delhi the way locals do – by rickshaw, and this is precisely what we bring you. Making our way through the narrow, bustling streets adorned by temples, mosques and stalls, we take you to Jami Masjid – the Friday mosque, most famous for being the largest of its kind in India.
From here, we make our way to the majestic Red Fort that stands as an ode to the Moghul architecture at its pristine best. You will watch with awe, as you explore this yesteryear Moghul powerhouse. Coursing through the courtyards of this historic wonder, you will get to enjoy the intricate design of this structure that comprises red sandstone etched with white marble. You’ll be amazed by the artistry of ancient India here.
We then walk though Khari Baoli Spice Market. This is one of the oldest wholesale spice markets in the world. In this market, you will indulge your senses in the aroma of spices and Garam Masalas sold by masked women eagerly awaiting the next customer, as you walk and simultaneously make way to porters carrying bagfuls of nuts, herbs and spices. Test your bargaining prowess in these markets and freely interact with the local vendors – you’ll love the experience. If spices are not your thing, try the colorful glass bangles, bindis, silk sarees, traditional wedding attire, and more. It’s traditional shopping galore here. You also get the chance to view the abode of the celebrated Persian poet, Mirza Galib, in Ballimaran.
By the time you’ve covered the narrow alleys, it’s already time for lunch and we head towards the renowned Karim’s Restaurant for lunch. This is where you get to experience the spices that you’ve just witnessed. You’ll savor the traditional cuisines dear to Moghuls, in their unadulterated form at Karim’s. The restaurant itself goes back about 80 years! You’ll love digging your fingers (or forks) into the sheek kabas and mutton burras.
After a bit of rest following the hearty lunch, we set out to explore New Delhi. The credit of planning this comparatively modern part of Delhi goes to the British. You will enjoy going through the lush green surroundings that are befitting of a capital city. The Presidential Palace, which was once the residence of the British Viceroy to India, forms the core of New Delhi. You visit Lutyens’ Delhi and enjoy the British architecture designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. You’ll enjoy watching the majestic India Gate and Parliament Building. You walk the Rajpath that was originally built to honour the 90,000 men of the British-Indian Army who had laid down their lives for the Raj during World War I and the Third Afghan War.
We then head to Birla Temple or the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. This modern temple is among the most beautiful in the country and celebrates the lord of wisdom, Vishnu and his better half, the deity of wealth, Lakshmi. You will love the guided walk around the temple as you admire the spotless marble surroundings glistening against the dusk sun. You’ll come across several smaller shrines dedicated to various Hindu gods. The attention to detail in every aspect of the temple is something that you’ll enjoy.
Our final stop of the day is at Humayun’s Tomb, which dates back to 1570. The Tomb is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has the distinction of being the first garden tomb in the country. It is believed that the tomb was commissioned for construction by King Humayun’s widow and took a decade to complete. The intricacy of design and the symmetry of the structure will leave you admiring the Moghul architecture. It is also worth noting that the tomb laid the foundation of inspiration for the Taj Mahal that was to come up a century later. Your first day of tour to India ends with the visit to this historical tomb and you are escorted back to the hotel. Overnight in Delhi!
Delhi plays host to two of the best museums in India and today we visit those for a chronological insight into the history from the prehistoric times to the modern world. We begin with the National Museum.
The National Museum is among the largest of its kind in India. The artifacts here have the distinction of being displayed in their entirety in the Royal Academy in London as well as the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1940s before being put on permanent display in the National Museum. The huge museum brings you over 200,000 items. You will find relics that go back up to 5,000 years. The tour is made all the more informative and enjoyable by the audio aid provided to you coupled with the detailed descriptions that come along with each display item. Armor, ancient jewelry, historic sculptures, and paintings are displayed in many of the galleries. View the relics that go all the way back to the Indus Valley civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. There is also a section reserved for Buddhist art and sacred scripts.
We then move on to the Rail Museum. The museum itself is set in the vicinity that spans over 10 acres. India today boasts the largest rail network in the world and there is a huge history behind the network. In fact, the rail network began taking shape during the British Raj and the museum brings you a well-documented timeline of trains in India. You’ll see the now-obsolete steam engines on display as well as other items like the Saloon of Prince of Wales, antique train furniture, the Saloon of Mysore Maharajas. It’s amazing to see that even the train bogies were a work of art with intricate rosewood works in the royal saloons. The 1914 Fairy Queen steam engine is the star attraction here. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a kid again by opting for a toy train ride around the park.
We now head to Qutub Minar Complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is actually a complex that marked the beginning of Islamic era with its mosques, tombs, gardens as well as towers. The most famous structure however is the minaret which is over 238 feet in height, the tallest of its kind. The walls of Qutub Minar are adorned by the verses of the Holy Quran. The site today is visited by people of all ethnicity and religious backgrounds. It’s hearty to watch Indian families from all walks of life enjoying a good time here.
Our final pit stop for the day is Dilli Haat – Cultural Craft and Food Bazaar. If you love shopping for souvenirs, this is the place. Dilli Hatt is very tourist-friendly. The market was established in 2003 to bring a rural feel to shopping in the capital city. The word, “Haat” means the local market, usually used in reference to rural markets. There are over 150 stalls here that sell several traditional artistic works. Don’t shy away from a bargain as you scout for leather pouches made in Rajasthan, cashmere veils, silk purses with hand embroidery, silver bracelets, and wool carpets woven with hands. If you’re already feeling like a Moghul ruler yourself after visiting all the heritage sites, make a curled toe shoe yours. The traditional quilts from Rajasthan and silk puppets from Jaipur will make an excellent addition to your home. Bargains become sweeter as the day ends and the traders are eager to close down a few final sales. After this you spend your last day in your Delhi hotel as our tour to India takes you to other parts of the country. Overnight in Delhi!
Watch the landscape drastically change as you course through the 285 kilometer stretch between Delhi and Jaipur. The journey will take about 5 to 6 hours. Our journey towards the Pink City starts after breakfast in Delhi.
Just about 42 kilometers short of the Pink City of Jaipur is Samode Palace amidst the Aravali Range. The Palace stands ode to the culmination of Rajput-Moghul architecture. The Samode Palace stands distinct from the sandstone walled homes of the area and is a scene of immense beauty. It was restored in the latter part of 1980s and converted into a hotel.
We head straight for lunch first as we admire the beauty of the interiors. After our fill, we proceed to take a look at the Palace more closely and take a tour. The mirror hallways, the humongous marble arches, open courtyards laden with intertwined bougainvillea vines, royal staircases, and huge mosaic walls stand ode to the Rajasthani architecture of the time. The royal court or Durbar with floral hand painting coupled with the Sheesh Mahal or the Palatial Glass Enclosure built in the 19th century is just breath-taking.
The village of Samode is not just about the palace. You’ll love taking a stroll in the village. Watch traditional workmanship as the craftsmen go about creating farm implements using hands and a few traditional tools. Get in touch with the rural India and feel transcended into an era gone by in the narrow lanes of the village. Our stroll takes us to Samode Bagh or Samode Garden, which was once a favorite retreat for the royals of Jaipur. You’ll find the garden fit for a royal outing with its pools, fountains and pavilions that speak of the yesteryear riches. The garden itself is landscaped in a geometric fashion reflecting Moghul style. Feast your eyes with the colorful roses, bougainvillea, marigolds and oleander. Lose yourself in the sweet smell of jasmines that often adorn the hair of Indian women.
After Samode Bagh, we continue on with our journey to Jaipur. True to its name, the city greets you with its majestic pink buildings. The colourful saris worn by Rajasthani women will entice you with their vibrant hues of red, violet and saffron. Watch the shades come out in the bright sun of colourful Rajasthan.
Upon arrival, we check into the hotel and take a lazy stroll across the traditional markets before retiring for the day. An amazing day awaits you in Jaipur!
We begin the guided tour of Jaipur by visiting the City Palace. The sprawling palace will leave you gaping with amazement. Calling this structure a palace is, in fact, an understatement. City Palace is a collection of several palaces. The beauty of huge doorways, intricate decorations, and beautiful gardens is simply incomparable. The museum is home to a wide collection of paintings, royal carpets, invaluable manuscripts, costumes and armor, and other royal artifacts.
We then set off to admire the ancient astronomical prowess of Jaipur on our visit to Jantar Mantar. The term Jantar Mantar, literally translated in English means “Calculating Instrument.” This park dedicated to astronomy was commissioned for construction by Raja Jai Singh somewhere between 1727 and 1734. It is home to 14 instruments in total where each has a distinct function related to astronomy. These ancient marvels can measure time, predict eclipses, and even track stars. To get a sense of the accuracy of these instruments watch the Samrat Yantra – a sundial – for just a while. You’ll see a shadow move a set number of inches every minute. The instrument is a whopping 90 feet and measures time accurately down to 2 seconds.
It’s now time to visit the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds. The royal women of Jaipur were considered too “precious” to be seen by commoners. The Hawa Mahal was built so that the royal women could observe the festivities of Jaipur through the high screen walls. The quintessential sandstone structure does justice to the title “Pink City” given to Jaipur as it turns red to pink with the changing light patterns of the day. The pyramidal structure is five-storeys tall and sports semi-octagonal spaces. The 18th-century structure has 953 small widows and watching the passers-by down below just like the royal women once did is a great experience. You will admire the detailed artwork that covers each inch of the wall. The grace and vibrant colors of the interiors make you take notice with immense appreciation.
After Hawa Mahal, we set out on a guided walking tour through the old bazaars of Jaipur. Watch the artisans as they churn out household items and handicrafts using some basic traditional tools. Don’t shy away from a hearty talk with the locals and perhaps a chai (tea) together. Give in to the temptation of trying some street foods the aroma of which will not escape your senses. Watch the age-old religious rituals being performed and lend a listening ear to the legends of the region narrated to you as you encounter many small shrines in the area.
After lunch, we head to Amber Fort set atop a hill. Hill forts held immense strategic importance to the Rajput rulers who by birth were warriors or Kshatriyas. Throughout Rajasthan, you find several hill forts. While some served the sole purpose of shielding the dwellings from enemy attacks, others were built to be Fort Palaces and Amber Fort is one such palace. Just think of arriving at the fort on Elephants like the royals once did. The path to the palace is somewhat like a aggregate of mazes that ultimately leads to the summit that holds the palace constructed out of sandstone and marble. You negotiate the curvy staircase that takes you to the courtyard giving you an amazing view of the surroundings. The mere sight of Ganesh Pol entrance will leave you awestruck as its golden-green hue enthrals you. You also get an unhindered view of the beautiful Maota Lake below. The royal women would use the lattice windows at the entrance to stay out of the view of the public while viewing the festivities of the town. Once you’ve comfortably savored the beauty of Amber Fort, we head back to the hotel, getting ready for the wonders that will unravel the next day – we spend another night in Jaipur.
The excitement, as we set out to Agra after breakfast, is going to be palpably apparent. Agra is the city that hosts the magnificent Taj Mahal. The drive will roughly be 4 to 5 hours long. We check in to the hotel as we arrive in the city by evening.
The credit of bringing Agra to international limelight goes to two yesteryear Moghul emperors, Akbar and Shah Jahan. Agra was once an indiscreet village but these emperors decided to make it their second capital and named the village the Seat of the Emperor or Dar ul Khalifat. What followed was a barrage of beautiful structures made of sandstone and marble. Agra has retained its Moghul flavor to this day, which you will experience during your exploration.
On the way to Agra, we make our first stop at Chand Baori in a village called Abhaneri. Chand Baori is a step-well that takes you back to 9th century Hindu Rajasthan. Don’t mistake this for any well; it stands 13 stories deep with 3500 steps. It is among the deepest step-wells in the country going down approximately 100 feet. Chand Baori is located right opposite the temple dedicated to Hashat Mata, the deity of happiness and joy. The well was an elixir of life for the people of Rajasthan which is otherwise arid. It also has a royal residence which once paved way for royal stay and stage for performance arts. Ensure that you wash your feet, face and hands before you enter the Hashat Mata temple as the traditions demand this ritual. The walls of the temples are adorned with intricate carvings that portray music, dance, sports and love.
Post lunch, we make a stop at Fathepur Sikri which has the dubious distinction of being the deserted city. Located 40 kilometers from Agra, Fathepur Sikri is perhaps among the most well kept ghost towns in the world. Built by Akbar, the most considerate and tolerant of the Moghul monarchs, Fathepur Sikri is a very aesthetic, historic town. The city was built in 1571 and is a perfect example of architectural design that amalgamates Hindu and Persian styles. The fact that the city was abandoned at one point has left it undamaged, so much so that the walls are so pristine that they still look fresh out of an artist’s chisel. We visit the Jewel House of the Diwan-i-Khas or the “Hall of the Important Ones.” You’ll be left admiring the mid-air walkways that lead to the magnificent monarch’s seat. The symmetrical ornamentation of the central pillar of this single-story monument is marvelous. Four huge doorways lead to this royal space.
We arrive at Agra late in the evening and head to the hotel to prepare for some breath-taking sightseeing the next day!
Overnight in Agra!
Tip: Taj Mahal remain closed on Fridays
We take you to Taj Mahal quite early. You will watch the morning sun paint the domes of the Taj Mahal crimson as the spotless marble forms a glistening white canvas. The view is made all the more delightful by the mist lazily rising from the calm waters of River Yamuna. It’s as if you’re suddenly transported to a fantasy land full of beauty everywhere. After viewing the Taj Mahal in its morning glory, we return to the hotel for breakfast.
We continue our North India tours after lunch with a visit to the Agra Fort which is entirely made of sandstone. The imposing structure was the representation of Moghul power in North India at one point in history. Its construction had taken a couple of generations of Moghul emperors to complete. The Agra Fort was where Shah Jahan is believed to have spent his last days watching the magnificent Taj Mahal – the testimony of love for his wife, Mumtaz – taking shape.
Late in the afternoon, we explore the “Baby” Taj or the Itimad-ud-Daulah. The origins of this structure precede the Taj Mahal. It was commissioned for construction by the Queen of Jehangir, Nur Jahan. Itimad-ud-Daulah enjoys the distinction of being the first Moghul structure to be constructed using marble. It was also the first time that Moghul architects tried their hand at inlay of precious stones into marble structures and their success is evident by the beauty of this structure.
At dusk, we head to Mehtab Bagh right opposite the Taj Mahal that would now be basking in the colours of the evening sun. Mehtab Bagh, across the Yamuna, is a sprawling 25-acre garden. The view of the Taj Mahal, devoid of any human obstruction, gives you great opportunities for photography. The fact that the Taj turns pink under the evening sun makes the viewing an amazing experience.
You will be left with enough time at the end of this day to enjoy Agra at a comfortable pace. We spend another night in the beautiful Agra.
Overnight in Agra!
We leave Agra for Gwalior comfortably in an air-conditioned train. Gwalior was once a princely state in Madhya Pradesh. The most famous structure here is the medieval Gwalior Fort. The Moghul Monarch, Babur who had an eye for aesthetics, had described this hillside fort as the “pearl amongst the fortresses in the country.” Gwalior is also home to the famous Jai Vilas Palace that historically belong to the royal Scindias; the descendents of this family still play an important role in India’s politics.
We begin this leg of our North India Tour by visiting the 8th century Gwalior Fort. A huge 3-kilometer plateau plays host to this magnificent structure that has seen many battles, imprisonments and events of historical significance. It is believed that the fort has been witness to Jauhars. When the warrior Rajputs lost a battle, the royal womenfolk would burn themselves to death rather than face the shame and atrocity that came with the defeat. Over time, the practice more or less became a ritual of defeat known as Jauhar. As you course through the upward tracts of the fort, you come across the imposing 50-meter statues of Jain Tirthankaras (omniscient Teaching God who preaches the dharma) that are carved into the rocks. The fort sports an outer wall that is 35 feet tall and has a perimeter of 2 miles, no doubt the fort was considered impregnable in its glory days. The fort hides in its womb some of the architectural marvels such as the Gujari Mahal built in 15th century by Raja Mansingh Tomar. The palace was built for his dear queer Mrignayani who demanded that he build her an exclusive palace complete with unending water supply through a conduit from the nearby Rai River. The Mansingh Palace is adorned with turquoise tiles that pay a befitting tribute to the love of Raja Mansingh to Queen Mrignayani. Within the fort vicinity is the famous Scindia School which was founded by Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia. This school was built in 1897 for the sole purpose of exclusively educating the Indian nobility.
We then visit the Jai Vilas Palace. Don’t be misguided by its Indian name. The structure was designed by Lt Col Sir Michael Filose. It stands ode to the royal Indian hospitality and extravagance as the 400-room palace was built for the sole purpose of making the stay of Edward, Prince of Wales comfortable during his 17-week tour of India in 1875 or 1876. The descendents of the Maharajas have made this palace their abode. The beautiful Scindia Museum occupies 35 rooms of this palace and displays innumerable royal artifacts from the world over. Ascending the crystal staircase that leads to the royal Durbar is an out-of-this-world experience. The high ceiling of the hall is decorated by two magnificent chandeliers, undoubtedly the most extravagant of their kind. The Chandeliers weigh an impressive 3.5 tons and are 12.5 meters high. They are lit using a whopping 250 light bulbs. Of course, they are the largest in the world. It is said that eight elephants were hung to the ceiling to check whether it was strong enough to bear the weight of these marvels. You’ll also find Asia’s largest handmade carpet here. Several items that depict the royal eccentricities are also found; the women-only pool with its own boat, cut-glass furniture, and stuffed tigers are some of those, not to forget the prized exhibit – the silver train – on the dining table that was used to ferry food around to the guests.
We savor the delicacies of the region at lunch before we continue our tour to India that takes us to Orchha, 120 kilometers from Gwalior. This small yet beautiful village is surrounded by thick green cover and lies by the banks of Betwa River. The village is rich with several historic monuments. Once we settle down in the hotel, we visit Fourteen Chhatris or cenotaphs. These cenotaphs were built in commemoration of the region’s Bundela kings. You will love the ambiance the place oozes out with its many parrots and vultures that circle the high horizons. The view of the river is just breath-taking.
We retire for the night in Orchha!
On this day, we spend time admiring the temples, palaces, the fort complex of Orchha. You will be amazed by the beautiful religious murals that dot the entire region.
We begin with Jehangir Mahal. This luxurious abode of Moghul rulers is complete with elephant entrances, huge courtyards, bathing pools and Jacuzzis, ornate towers, and a few hundred rooms. This multilevel palatial complex gives you an idea of the luxury that the kings and queens once enjoyed. Listen to the mesmerizing stories that the guide will narrate to you and don’t miss looking over Orchha to the horizon.
Our next stop is Laxmi Narayan Temple at the highest point of the town. The hill temple brings you a panoramic view of the surroundings that includes palaces and the revered Chaturbhuj temple. The temple exhibits a wealth of religious murals that are extremely well preserved to this date. Each painting tells a unique story. While some depict the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, others stand ode to the uprising of 1857. Murals of the weird creatures of “Garden of Earthly Delights” will keep you entertained while the paintings of Radha Krishna will keep you mesmerized. There are the portraits of the mysterious Naga Sadhus in the temple. You will find the architecture of the temple which is triangular in shape itself is quite unique and rare.
You will find the Chaturbhuj Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, quite unique with its opulent construction that reminds you of a palace. The high ceilings, many windows and the foundation itself are characteristic of a palace. Your senses will force you to take notice of the huge towers and dome of Chaturbhuj Temple.
Raj Mahal or the King’s Palace is next on our list. The palace is unique due to its simplistic exterior which is devoid of the usual dome. The palace is Rajput but has some influence of Moghul architecture. You will love the latticed screens, huge arches atop the hallways and the many windows that form Raj Mahal. The palace was originally commissioned for construction by Raja Rudrapratap Singh in the early part of the 16th century and was seen to completion by his successor Raja Bharati Chand. The simplistic structure hides five storeys inside, which isn’t apparent until you enter it. Colourful murals are all over the palace. Some of the murals depict Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, in Lord Ram’s presence; Lord Vishnu with his consort Laxmi in a relaxing posture over Shesha Naga (serpent); Lord Krishna lifting Mount Govardhanagiri with his little finger; Dashavatara or the 10 avatars of Vishnu; and the competition of Samudra Manthan (churning of the sea) for Amrut (the elixir of life) between gods and the demons.
The ceilings in some of the chambers are so ornate that you’ll be forgiven for mistaking them for Persian carpets. The first floor is flush with glass work, mirrors and frescoes that will blow you away. Visit the top floor for a great view of all the architectural wonders that you’ve just seen. Darbar-i-khas (the hall to meet the important ones) and Darbar-i-aam (the hall to meet the commoners) are right at the entrance of the palace. There is also a stage that probably once hosted festivities involving dance and music.
The visit to Raj Mahal marks the end of our sightseeing in the area and it’s time for us to head toward Khajuraho, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is famous for its erotic sculptures. The name is derived from the Khajur (date) tree that is widely found in the area. We move to the hotel upon arrival in Khajuraho and rest for the night.
Your tour to India takes you to the Khajuraho Temples, most famous for its erotic sculptures that take you to the erotic literature of Kama Sutra. The temple is located in a remote area and remained out of sight of the Muslim invaders of the time gone by who had a penchant for destruction of temples. The temple is in pristine condition even today and believed to be the representation of life in heaven. The temple is as much religious as it is creative in depicting eroticism and came into existence between 10th and 11th centuries. A closer look of the figures reveals the detailed artistry. You can distinguish minute aspects such as shapely nails and jewelry of the sensuous beauties.
In a way, the Khajuraho Temple celebrates unhindered womanhood depicting a facet of women which so deeply buried that it is never apparent. The sculptures capture women in various moods of compassion, love and care. Women writing letters to their loved ones, combing their locks, entertaining their offspring, and applying kajal (eye makeup) are just few of the sculptures. The detailed carvings make apparent moods of shyness, seduction, eroticism, and innocence. The design of the temple is such that you would start admiring upwards from the ground ending your gaze at the infinite horizons atop.
Tip by Mr. Nicholas Goslett (UK): I would recommend that tourists look at the Khajuraho temples in the earlyish morning when the sun is streaming into the openings. I went in the afternoon and missed some of the wonderful interior carvings
We take half a day to savor the beauties of Khajuraho and then take a 45-minute flight to Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Benares, the holiest city in India.
The city itself was founded way back in 6th century BC and is counted among the oldest cities in the entire world. The renowned American author, Mark Twain, had once said, “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” For Hindus, Kashi forms the core of universe. Having been in existence for more than 2000 years, Kashi is among the few ancient cities like Rome, Jerusalem, and Athens that live on in modern times.
Hindus believe in ultimate freedom of the soul after death where it attains moksha or the ultimate peace. Unless the soul attains moksha, the soul is caught in a constant lifecycle through incarnation. It is considered that when one dies a natural death in this holy city, the soul automatically attains moksha, away from rebirth and the sufferings that come along with our earthly existence.
Once you arrive in Varanasi, you will be greeted by our representative and you are taken to your hotel.
In the evening, you will be taken on a rickshaw ride to the Ghats (steps leading to the river) by the Ganges. The Ghats are always bustling with religious ceremonies and the evening aarti is particularly spectacular. You witness the ritual from the comfort of your private boat. The evening Ganga Aarti is a religious yet flamboyant affair as silk clad Brahmin (high cast) priests perform the rituals. Flaming lamps, incense sticks, and yak tail fans are waved devotionally while chanting the sacred mantras. Bells and conch shells are sounded rhythmically during the ritual. The smell of burning camphor and incense sticks will invoke a sense of reverence in any bystander. The combination of factors during the Ganga Aarti makes it quite a mesmerizing affair as you watch the whole ritual transfixed. Devotees float oil lamps in the water. The sight of these tiny flickering lamps that number several hundred during auspicious days is truly mind-blowing. After witnessing the Ganga Aarti, we return to the hotel. It’s been quite a day for us!
We set out to explore the waterfront of the river Ganges or Ganga at dawn. The banks are lined by palaces and matts (religious dwellings) that are several centuries old. Hindus believe that a bathe in the river Ganga washes away all your sins. You find scores of people taking a dip in the river, while colorful saris are hung to dry by the side. Watch the priest offering prayers to Mother Ganga and performing Yoga and meditation in the morning. You’ll be amazed at the number of funeral pyres that burn by the banks. Watch the flames reflecting their bright yellow hue on the serene waters of Ganga.
Varanasi also holds a lot of significance for the Buddhists. We travel about 13 kilometers to Sarnath. It is believed that Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon here. The archaeological haven used to be a deer park and today is a must-visit for Buddhists. The Dhamekha Stupa which holds high reverence to followers of Buddhism is here. As we walk around this massive structure, we encounter the Buddhist monks who chant religious prayers in unison adding to the reverent feel of the area. You get a guided tour of the Archaeological museum here and you witness the Sarnath Pillar. The structure atop the pillar with four lions is the national emblem of India. You will also learn about the first Buddhist monks who settled in the area in 300 BC.
We return to Benares in the afternoon and set out for some sightseeing. You must know that Varanasi has long been the seat of learning and cultural exchange in India. We visit the Benares Hindu University which is among the oldest in the country and offers courses in engineering, medicine, philosophy, languages as well as liberal arts. We also visit the Bharat Mata (Mother India) Temple. People worship the map of the Indian Subcontinent here. It stands as a tribute to the country’s freedom struggle against the British Raj. We spend our final night of Tour to India in the holy city of Kashi.