Adventure on the GRAND TRUNK ROAD, from Kolkata to Delhi: DURGA PUJA and RAMLILA SPECIAL!
An adventure which will not caress the landscape from the window of an AC car or bus, but will rather enter into the landscape itself, sometimes in people’s homes, in their daily life, in the corridors of night trains and among families of travellers, pilgrims, wandering ascetics, among the many colourful and extravagant characters who crowd Indian streets, mysterious in their appearance and yet more mysterious in their surprising warmness and hospitality.An adventure which will explore the many secrets held by this magical land, the stories handed down by the elders through the centuries, by old dusty books and by word of mouth, the places where life still flows gently – untouched through the centuries, with the same Gods, the same traditions, the same symbols and the same gestures transmitted from the dawn of Indian civilization – and those places where life is a frenetic and hallucinated survival run.
A different experience, quite peculiar, which aims at making the traveller more intimate with the land he is embraced by, which sometimes tries to repel him with pungent smells and obscene sights, and that some other times enchants him, bewitches him, leaves him breathless and wordless, makes him feel lost, delights him with random and curious meetings, with unexpected emotions: that makes him feel alive, most of all, and in silent agreement with the flowing of time and life in the most incredible country there is.
A journey that begins in Kolkata and ends in Delhi, a journey that lasts 15 days, 15 nights, and then who knows…Maybe for as long as we live, because the sights we fill our eyes with, when in India, will stay there for a long long time and hardly fade away. And this is, after all, the destiny shared by those who travel to India.
Why Ramlila and Durga Puja special?
This tour is named after two festivals that we will attend during our 15 days journey along the Grand Trunk Road.
The first of them is the Ramnagar Ramlila, held in Varanasi – the holy city on the banks of the Ganges – every year since 1830: this festival, of the duration of 31 days, is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic saga of the Ramayana, where Rama – the hero of this story – fights the demon Ravana to free his wife Sita, abducted by him. During the 31 days of the Ramnagar Ramlila, the episodes from the Ramayana are played in different parts of Ramnagar (a small town, very near to Varanasi), transforming the city itself into an open-air theatre, where actors and spectators move together from place to place.
After the Ramnagar Ramlila, our journey will encounter the Durga Puja in Kolkata. This festival of epic proportions, often compared to the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, worships the goddess Durga – one of the most venerated deities of Kolkata – and lasts for about one week. Hundreds of temporary structures, called pandals, are erected throughout the city, each of them with a different style and theme, each of them trying to surpass for beauty and originality the pandal of other neighbourhoods. Inside every pandals are placed different idols of Durga, made of clay and straw, hand-painted in the artisans district of Kumartuli. At the end of a week of celebrations, which includes street parades and a lot of music in the colourful lanes of Kolkata, the many Durga idols will be dipped in the waters of the Hooghly river, marking the end of the festival.
TRAVEL WITH US!
SEPTEMBER 26th, 2019 – OCTOBER 11th, 2019
16 Days / 15 Nights
MAX N° OF TRAVELERS
- The secrets and ruins of Delhi, the most historically rich city of Asia
- The peaceful atmosphere of Pushkar and the Sufi Mecca of Ajmer
- The captivating spirituality of Varanasi, and the Ramlila festival
- Agra and its majestic monuments
- The Durga Puja festival in Kolkata
COST OF THE TOUR
The price of this tour will be of €980 only!
A €245 deposit (down payment) is required to secure your spot. This deposit is non-refundable, but you can always use it to book another tour within 2 years of the payment.
The balance payment of €735 will have to be paid within 60 days of the scheduled departure, by July 26th 2019, which is also the deadline for bookings.
We have a limited capacity of 8 people, and we expect the trip to fill up quickly.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRIP?
If you have any questions that aren’t answered in the itinerary presentation, or if you would like to chat with us about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or whatsapp us at (+39) 3343098458 (Stefano) or (+39) 3923442347 (Giada). We can also arrange a Skype call.
For more detailed info, CLICK HERE
Day 1 First day in Delhi, the citadel of djinns and a riverside sunset at Yamuna ghat
Thursday, September 26th
- Arrival in Delhi, where you’ll be met by us at the airport before settling in at the hotel.
- At 3 PM, our welcome meeting takes place: here you will meet all your fellow travelers.
- After drinking a welcome chai, we’ll start exploring the neighborhood, inching our way through the crowded streets of Paharganj and the New Delhi railway station.
- Then we will visit the Feroz Shah Kotla Fort, an ancient citadel in ruins, built in the 14th century by the Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq, who wanted to establish here the capital of its reign. This citadel is one of the most haunted places in Delhi, according to many locals. Every Thursday, a crowd of visitors – both Muslims and Hindus – come here to pray the djinns of the citadel: the djinns are otherworldly and invisible creatures of the islamic and pre-islamic mythology, created from a smokeless fire by Allah. Since they are granted free will – just like humans are – by their creator, they can be both evil and good. The djinns of the citadel are believed to be of the benevolent kind and many local people believe that they can fulfill their prayers. For this reason, many people come to visit the ruins of this ancient and once glorious city to post their prayers – written on paper – on the stone walls of the citadel and in its dark underground. Among these ruins there is also an imposing mosque with a collapsed roof, which is still active nonetheless, and an Ashokan pillar of the 2nd century BC.
- From here we will ride the metro to Kashmiri Gate, at the northern borders of the Old City, and we’ll walk towards the Yamuna Ghat, where we will watch the sunset from the riverside ghats, among small Hindu shrines, temples, colourful brick houses and many local people taking bath in the river, doing the laundry and flying kites.
- We will have dinner in one of the many historical restaurants of the Old City, also known as Shajahanabad, from the name of the Emperor who had it built almost four centuries ago.
- Back to our hotel by metro.
- If you plan to arrive in Delhi a few days before the beginning of the tour, we’ll be more than happy to arrange for you extra hotel nights, guides and anything else you may need, and also to suggest you some places to see or some activities to do in the meanwhile.
Day 2 Delhi: the magicians Ghetto and the ancient ruins of Merhauli
Friday, September 27th
- After breakfast, we will ride the metro to Kathputly Colony, also known as the Magician’s Ghetto; a slum of colourful brick houses where hundreds of artists, musicians, illusionists, street performers and acrobats live. We will visit the place, watch them perform their arts and listen to their stories, as they try to survive in today’s Delhi despite the threat of eviction and the diminishing importance of traditional forms of art in modern India.
- After the visit, we we’ll ride the metro back to the city centre, and here we’ll have lunch in Connaught Place, the heart of the New Delhi built by the British Raj at the beginning of the 20th century.
- After lunch we will go explore Mehrauli, a vast archaeological park which consists of a great number of monuments, ruins and mausoleums from the first city of Delhi and from most of the dynasties who ruled over Delhi and India, now covered by roots and climbing plants, and also believed to be haunted by ghosts and djinns.
- We will continue to the Dargah of Qutbuddin, the shrine of a very important Sufi saint of India, today worshipped by people of all faiths who throng its shrine everyday to receive his blessing, to pray and offer rose petals, embroidered chadars and incense sticks.
- Back to our hotel and dinner.
Day 3 Delhi, Sufi night at Nizamuddin Dargah
Saturday, September 28th
- We meet in the morning, around 10, and we have breakfast together. After breakfast, we will ride the metro to the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, the most important Sikh temple of the capital. After this, we’ll go to Chawri Bazar, in the heart of the Muslim district and the Old City.
- Lunch at Karim’s, an historic restaurant in the Old City, mostly non-vegetarian and specialized in kebabs, meat curries and other Mughal dishes.
- After lunch, we’ll visit the Jama Masjid, an imposing mosque of red sandstone built during the Mughal dynasty; then we’ll pass through the underground market and continue walking towards Chandni Chowk, the main street of the Old City and one of the most important and crowded markets of India, where we’ll spot a beautiful Jain temple, an hospital for birds, another Sikh Gurudwara, street food alleys and much much more.
- We’ll go back to our hotel and take rest or do some more exploring by yourself.
- We meet again in the late afternoon and we visit the Nizamuddin Basti, an historic neighbourhood in the central part of Delhi, which hosts the dargah (shrine) of the 13th century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulya. After having dinner in the best restaurant of the basti, we will visit the dargah and here we’ll attend a live concert of Qawwali music, which was created right here, in this shrine, by the closest disciple of Nizamuddin Aulya, the poet and mystic Amir Khusro, who is buried close to his master in a beautiful shrine of red sandstone and marble.
- Back to our hotel.
Day 4 Delhi, the second-hand book market of Daryaganj and the hidden gems of the Old City
Sunday, September 29th
- Today there will be no planned activities in the morning: you can choose if you want to rest, to do some shopping or to explore other monuments or just the surroundings of our hotel. You can still meet us for breakfast around 9 AM!
- For lunch we take the metro to Delhi Gate and have lunch at Changezi Chicken, a very good restaurant near the Old City (both for vegetarians and non-vegetarians).
- After lunch we will visit the Daryaganj Sunday Book Market, which is held in the streets of the historical neighbourhood of Daryaganj: here it is possible to find many old and rare books, both in english and other languages.
- We’ll walk through the Old City to discover some of its hidden gems, such as small Sufi shrines, ancient Hindu temples, havelis and mosques. At Chawri Bazaar we’ll take the metro and go back to our hotel in Paharganj.
- The rest of the afternoon is free!
- We meet again for dinner and then we go to the railway station to catch our overnight train to Ajmer, which departs around 10:30 PM. Here we will serve you drinking water and fresh fruits. Also, many food vendors will come on board at almost every stop of the train.
Day 5 The quiet atmosphere of Pushkar: Brahma temple and lakeside ghats
Monday, September 30th
- We arrive in Ajmer around 6:30 AM, then we transfer to the small town of Pushkar by bus, just 11 kms away. We rest for a few hours, then we set out for a morning visit of the Brahma Temple, which is one of the very few temples, in all of India, dedicated to the Hindu god of creation. This gorgeous temple, definitely one of the most important sites of pilgrimage for the Brahmin caste, is situated next to the Pushkar Lake; a small round lake surrounded by 52 ghats with stoned staircase which lead into the water, old haveli painted in bright colors, temples and houses painted in white and blue.
- After taking a break for lunch, the rest of the afternoon is all to yourself, so that you can enjoy exploring the dusty and narrow streets of Pushkar, which are forbidden to motor-vehicles but not to holy cows, stray monkeys, camels, cats and dogs.
- We regroup around 5.30 PM, and we climb to the top of the Pushkar Hill, which is reached through a long and steep staircase in the jungle. We watch the sunset from here and visit the temple on top of the hill.
- Dinner by the lakeside.
Day 6 The Sufi Mecca of Ajmer
Tuesday, October 1st
- Meeting at 9 AM for breakfast.
- This morning, we will explore some rural villages around Pushkar, which can be reached by local buses or motor-rickshaws.
- Lunch in a village and return to Pushkar, where you can take some rest.
- We meet again at 4pm and we go to Ajmer, 11 kms away from Pushkar. First we’ll take a walk in the Old City, and then we’ll head to the stunning Dargah Sharif – shrine of the notorious mystic Sufi and saint Mouinuddin Chishti – to attend a Qawwali music concert, a form of religious music mostly popular among the Sufis and created in India. We will enjoy the concert sitting cross-legged in the marble courtyard of the shrine.
- After dinner, we’ll enjoy a walk through the Old City lanes, lightened up by candles, lanterns and fires, and crowded with local people enjoying the cool of the evening and the many street food stalls, intoxicated fakirs and whirling dervishes, children battling with colourful kites on the rooftops of old brick houses, families of pilgrims coming to the shrine to pay their respect to Moinuddin Chishti’s marble grave.
- Back to Pushkar by bus.
Day 7 Railway adventure to Agra and dinner by the Taj Mahal
Wednesday, October 2nd
- We meet for breakfast, if you want, and then we leave the rest of the morning free, so that you can have some rest before embarking on another train journey.
- We take a bus to Ajmer and we have lunch in a restaurant near the station.
- At 12:45 PM our train departs to Agra! We’ll get to see the countryside of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh from the open windows of our Sleeper compartment, which is the best way to travel in India!
- We arrive at Agra station in the late afternoon and after leaving our luggages in the hotel we go to a rooftop restaurant in the Taj Ganj area: here we’ll have dinner with a beautiful view on the Taj Mahal, which we will visit the next morning!
Day 8 Taj Mahal and the other monuments of Agra
Thursday, October 3rd
- This morning, at dawn, we visit the Taj Mahal: you can visit it on your own, if you want, and we will provide you with every piece of advice you’ll need to make this experience a very pleasant one! We will also provide you with a small guide that we wrote for you, with some stories, anecdotes and secrets about one of the most beautiful and controversial monuments in the world.
- The visit is programmed so early because we want to avoid the huge crowds of tourists and also to have a better light (both for photographers and for those who want to see the Taj Mahal in all its splendor).
- After your visit is finished – and you can prolong it until lunch – we will meet again and eat together.
- After lunch you might come with us to see the Taj Mahal from the river bank of the Yamuna, you might explore the monuments of Agra a little bit more by yourself, take some rest before the night train or do some shopping in the streets of Taj Ganj.
- We have dinner near the station and around 8:30 PM we catch our overnight train to the holy city of Varanasi!
Day 9 Varanasi, the frenetic spirituality of the holiest city of India
Friday, October 4th
- Arrival in Varanasi by 7 AM and check in. Only for those who would like to – and this is a very good way to recover your energies after the train journey and to see another important aspect of Indian culture – we can arrange a yoga class in one of the many schools and ashrams of Varanasi.
- After taking some well-earned rest, we meet for lunch around 1.30 PM
- In the late afternoon we meet again and we take a boat ride on the Ganges river, stopping by the most characteristic ghats of Varanasi. After watching the sunset from the other side of the Ganges, we will dock at Dashashwamedh ghat and from our boat we will attend the Ganga Aarti: the evening ceremony of lights. This ceremony is a very suggestive and elaborate puja, performed by many Brahmin priests, using candles and snake shaped chandeliers, musical instruments, chanting of mantras, conch shells and other sacred objects and symbols.
- Dinner at Dosa Cafè, a tiny restaurant in the Old City, behind Dashashwamedh ghat, where the best dosa of Varanasi are prepared in a family kitchen.
Day 10 Varanasi, the Northern ghats and the Ramnagar Ramlila festival
Saturday, October 5th
- After breakfast it’s on to Varanasi ghats!
- We’ll spend the morning visiting the impressive ghats of Varanasi, starting from those in the central part of the Old City – including Manikarnika ghat’s cremation ground, where bodies are burned over wooden pires by the Ganges river- and proceeding towards the Northern ones, less known and less explored by tourists and pilgrims, but equally charming and rife with secrets.
- We’ll have lunch at Kerala Ganges – an excellent vegetarian restaurant with a beautiful view on the ghats. After lunch, you’re free to go back to our hotel, explore this stunning city on your own or just relax, have a chai on a rooftop bar and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of Varanasi.
- Late in the afternoon we’ll meet again to go to Kashi Vishwanath temple, also called the Golden Temple, which is considered by many to be the symbol of Varanasi. This is the most important Shiva temple of India; its domes are coated with golden copper, and inside its inner chamber there are plenty of shrines and other minor temples, each of whom is dedicated to a different divinity and related to a different legend of the Hindu mythology.
- For dinner we will move to Ramnagar, which is a small town on the other side of the Ganges. Here we will attend one of the street plays of the 188-year-old Ramnagar Ramlila, a dramatic folk re-enactment of the life of Rama according to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana.
Day 11 Varanasi, Southern ghats and night train to Kolkata
Sunday, October 6th
- We meet for breakfast and we go explore the Southern ghats of Varanasi, such as Tulsi Ghat, with the Khushti wrestlers arena and the house of the poet Tulsi Das, Shivala Ghat and its stunning red sandstone fort, Harishchandra ghat crematorium, the Jain temple of Jain ghat, Lolark Kund and much much more.
- After lunch, you’re free to explore a little bit more on your own, before heading to Kolkata by overnight train.
- Also in this case, dinner will be served on board, and it will consist in a thali.
- In addition, you will be given some fruit and water for the journey, as well as some biscuits and some more seasonal fruit (or whatever is your preference) for the next day breakfast.
Day 12 Kolkata and the magical atmosphere of the Durga Puja festival
Monday, October 7th
- Arrival in Kolkata around 8.30 am, check in and rest till lunch time.
- In these days Kolkata celebrates the Durga Puja. This festival of epic proportions worships the goddess Durga – one of the most venerated deities of Kolkata – and lasts for about one week. Hundreds of temporary structures, called pandals, are erected throughout the city, each of them with a different style and theme, each of them trying to surpass for beauty and originality the pandal of other neighbourhoods. Inside every pandals are placed different idols of Durga, made of clay and straw, hand-painted in the artisans district of Kumartuli. At the end of a week of celebrations, which includes street parades and a lot of music in the colourful lanes of Kolkata, the many Durga idols will be dipped in the waters of the Hooghly river, marking the end of the festival. We will encounter the celebrations for the Durga Puja in many different places and moments of the day.
- After lunch we will head to Kalighat, the most important Hindu temple of Kolkata, dedicated to Kali; the patron Goddess of the city. This is an extremely vibrant and chaotic temple, with a very intense atmosphere of devotion and crowds of pilgrims from all around West Bengal.
- We’ll enjoy dinner in a restaurant close by: the Banana Leaf, which serves typical food from South India, and then we’ll go back to the hotel and take rest.
Day 13 Kolkata, the ghats on the Hoogly river and the final immersion of the idols
Tuesday, October 8th
- Today, all over India it will be celebrated the Dussehra festival, and in Kolkata is the last day of the Durga Puja, when the Durga idols are dipped in the holy waters of the Hooghly river at Nimtala ghat.
- After having breakfast all together, we will leave the morning all to yourself, so that you can rest, do some shopping at New Market or visit some more places around the hotel.
- After lunch, we’ll take a bus ride to Babu ghat, the second oldest ghat of Kolkata, by the Hooghly river, where we will see vendors, Brahmin priests, Hindu ascetics, masseurs and local people who come here to celebrate pujas, to bath in the Hooghly, to get open air massages on the steps leading to the river and to find some precious peace and rest in the heart of the crowded metropolis.
- We will go by ferry to the Flower Market, the biggest flower market of Asia. This colourful and busy market is located next to the Hooghly river, in the shadow of the massive Howrah Bridge. After this, we will explore the nearby ghats, such as Armenian ghat, with the open air akhara of the Khushti wrestlers and the busy ferry pier, and Nimtala ghat, with its crematoriums, haunted houses and small Hindu temples covered by the roots of huge banyan trees. At Nimtala ghat we’ll also see the final immersion of the Durga idols in the river.
- We will walk towards Kumartuli, the fascinating artisans district of Kolkata, where hundreds of artists hand-shape and hand-paint big and small terracotta idols and statues of Hindu gods.
- We go back to the hotel by metro, where you can take some time to relax or maybe explore the city a little bit more.
- We’ll have dinner at Rajdhani, a fancy restaurant in Park Street which serves a delicious thali typical of North India
Day 14 Kolkata: slums, cemeteries and hidden temples
Wednesday, October 9th
- After breakfast, we’ll ride the metro to Tollygunge – an area located in the Southern part of Kolkata – and we will walk through the Kalabagan slum, a neighbourhood of small and humble brick houses along the Tolly canal, which looks more like a rural village than a city slum. Here we’ll also find a complex of ancient Shiva temples, hidden in this lively and colourful slum, and many other riverside shrines.
- From there, we will proceed towards another unique place, which is Chetla Choto Rashbari: a vibrant manufactory of chai clay pots. A narrow lane, where hundreds of pots are out to dry, leads to the heart of this manufactory, where a dozen men are working, hand-shaping these little pots that will be used by all the chai-walas of the city to serve tea.
- We go back to the city centre by metro and we stop for lunch at Arsalan, who prepares the best biryani in the city. Biryani is a mixed rice dish made with spices, meat, eggs or vegetables.
- After lunch, we will visit the Park Street Cemetery, an ancient Christian cemetery from the colonial era. Architecturally, the graves are a mix of gothic and Indo-Saracen style, but there are also classical domes, obelisks, Roman columns and other constructions in a perfect European style. All the graves are covered by the tropical vegetation, by musk, ivy, cracks and other marks made by the ravages of time. Many prominent members of the British colonial society are buried here.
- The last stop of this day will be Mother House, the convent where Mother Teresa has spent most of her life and where she was buried after her death. Every morning, volunteers from all over the world gather here for mass and breakfast, before going to the many centers of the Missionaries of Charity, scattered around the city, where they will serve all different kinds of destitute and sick people. For those who would like to volunteer, we are more than glad to help you out
- After taking some rest in the hotel, we will go for dinner
Day 15 Kolkata, Narkeldanga slum and the ancient Tibetan temple
Thursday, October 10th
- This morning, after breakfast, we will explore a slum located in the Narkeldanga area, close to the Sealdah railway station. Proceeding towards North, we will visit the Pareshnath Mandir, a beautiful Jain temple, much appreciated for the incredible architecture of its facade, the sophisticated mosaic decorations of coloured stones and mirrors, and the golden statues on the inside.
- Before lunch, we’ll roam around the biggest second-hand book market of Asia, in College Street, and we’ll go back in time by entering the India Coffee House. This historic restaurant and coffee house has been, for a long time, a meeting place for poets, writers and intellectuals, such as the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Then we will visit the Colootola Masjid, a massive and beautifully decorated mosque, situated in the Rajabazaar area, one of the many huge markets of Kolkata.
- Lunch break and return to the hotel.
- In the afternoon, we’ll discover the Tibetan temple of Bhot Bagan Math, which was the first to be built in the Indian plains, far from the Himalayas.
- After dinner, we’ll spend the last night together drinking a cocktail on the rooftop of the Linsday Hotel, where we can admire the frenzy of the New Market by night
Giorno 16 Last day in Kolkata and departure
Friday, October 11th
- This morning, according to the time of your flight (if you are flying out of India on this day), we’ll meet for the last breakfast together. After that, we will take care of your transfer to the airport, or, in case you will stay in India longer, we’ll be glad to help you plan the rest of your journey and to chose your next destinations.
THE PRICE INCLUDES
- All lodging in double-accommodation rooms of mid-range hotels. Single supplement for a private room is available for only 100€, otherwise we’ll work to place singles of the same gender together.
- All transfers within India (related to the itinerary) by train, bus, taxi and other local transports.
- Transfers to and from the airport.
- Three meals per day
- All entrance fees and tickets for the activities included in the itinerary.
- Guides (Giada & Stefano) for the entire duration of the tour.
THE PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDES
- International airfare to/from India
- Travel insurance (required)
- Indian visa
- Other things not included in our offering
NOTE ON ITINERARY
- This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change due to inclement weather, forces of nature, and other circumstances beyond our control.
- There are no activities planned for the evenings – considering that you may be tired or need some time alone – but we may suggest something to do, maybe just take you out for a beer or a night walk to explore India after dark.
- If you want some more practical information about travelling in India, you can check our practical guide to India.
NOTE ON TERMS OF PARTICIPATION & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
In order to participate to one of our tours it is compulsory to have a medical travel insurance and a valid Indian Visa. We are not responsible for personal injuries occurred during the tours and we are not responsible for the loss or theft of any personal effects.
Our tours are open to everyone, but we kindly ask our travel companions to be in decent physical and psychological conditions, since adventure is always accompanied by an element of unexpected. The most important thing to bring with you is a flexible, positive and open-minded attitude.
Our tours are not luxury or comfort oriented: there will be days when we’ll walk a lot and probably days of hot and humid climate (in certain periods of the year); moreover, India is a chaotic place, very intense and sometimes stressful, with sub-standard hygienic conditions.
If you’re uncertain about whether this trip is a good fit for you, please contact us and we’ll be glad to discuss it with you further!
Like said before, the price of this tour is only 960€.
You will have to pay €245 of down payment (25% of the whole amount) to secure your spot: this amount is non-refundable, but, in case you have to cancel your trip, you can still use it to book another tour within 2 years of the payment.
The balance payment of €735 (the remaining 75%) will be due within July 26th 2019, which is 60 days ahead of departure. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy.
For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional 100,00€ will be included in the final payment.