Adventure on the GRAND TRUNK ROAD: Kolkata to Delhi
A tour of 15 days along the historic Grand Trunk Road, the mother road of the Indian subcontinent, the backbone which hold together the past and the future of India, balancing the passions and the stories of both, the great metropolis of the future, such as Delhi and Kolkata, and the sacred cities of Hinduism and Sufism, like Varanasi and Ajmer, amidst ruined caravanserais and skyscrapers, mosques and shrines hidden by the tropical vegetation, the thousands of Hindu temples which form the sacred geography of India, like an intricate mandala of Gods and Goddesses, legendary cities and heavenly rivers; Ganges and Yamuna, the Thar desert, the slums of Kolkata, the ancient ruins of the seven cities of Delhi.
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 the 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 struggle for survival.
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.
TRAVEL WITH US!
JULY 25th 2019 – AUGUST 9th 2019
16 days / 15 nights
MAX NUMBER OF TRAVELERS
- Kolkata, the City of Joy, with its hidden temples and welcoming people
- The captivating spirituality of Varanasi, the most sacred city of India
- Mathura and Vrindavan, two charming pilgrimage destinations
- The peaceful atmosphere of Pushkar and the Sufi Mecca of Ajmer
- The secrets and ruins of Delhi, the most historically rich city of Asia
* Moreover, for those who want to visit the majestic Taj Mahal, a one-day excursion can be booked for a little extra cost upon reservation.
COST OF THE TOUR
This will be our very first tour, and so the launch price will be of €900 only!
A €225 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 €675 will have to be paid within 60 days of the scheduled departure, by May 25th 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). We can also arrange a Skype call.
For more detailed info, CLICK HERE
Day 1 Arrival in Kolkata: New Market and the Kalighat temple
Thursday, July 25th
- Arrival in Kolkata, 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 around Sudder Street and New Market. Then 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.
- If you plan to arrive in Kolkata a few days earlier, before the start of the tour, we’re 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 Kolkata: along the Hooghly river, from Babu Ghat to the artisans district
Friday, July 26th
- This morning, after a leisurely breakfast, 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.
- After having lunch in a restaurant nearby, 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 bit more.
- At dinner we’ll have the chance to talk about your impressions on the first day in Kolkata!
Day 3 Kolkata: hidden temples in the Kalabagan slum, the British cemetery and the house of Mother Teresa
Saturday, July 27th
- 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 neighborhood 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 center 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’ll 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 to Rajdhani, a fancy restaurant in Park Street, where we will enjoy a delicious thali in Rajasthani style. (Must try: boost this experience by eating with your hands!)
Day 4 Kolkata: the slum of Narkeldanga, the Jain temple and an ancient cafeteria of artists and poets
Sunday, July 28th
- 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 colored 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.
- After letting you rest and pack your bags, we’ll gather again at 5 PM to go together to the Howrah railway station, where we will catch the overnight train to Varanasi!
- In this case, dinner will be served on board, and it will consist in a thali, a typical Indian meal which consists in different foods such as rice, lentils, vegetables, Indian bread, yogurt and sauces, served on the same iron plate. In addition, you will be given some fresh fruits and water for the train journey, as well as some biscuits and some more fruits (or whatever is your preference) for the next day at breakfast.
Day 5 Varanasi and its sunset ceremony on the holy Ganges river
Monday, July 29th
- Arrival in Varanasi by 9.30 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.
- Dinnet 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, and then we’ll take a walk to the cremation ghat of Manikarnika, even more suggestive and spectacular after dark!
Day 6 Ghats and secrets of Varanasi, through narrow lanes and cremation grounds. A concert of Hindustani classical music at night
Tuesday, July 30th
- 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.
- After lunch, you’re free to go back to the 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.
- We’ll have dinner at Kerala Ganges Restaurant – an excellent vegetarian restaurant – and after that we will head to the Old City, where we will enjoy a concert of classical Hindustani music in the courtyard of an ancient haveli.
Day 7 Southern ghats of Varanasi, through fighting pits, ashrams and sandstone forts
Wednesday, July 31st
- 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 and much much more.
- After lunch, you’re free to explore a little bit more on your own, before heading to Mathura 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 8 The Old City of Mathura and the widow ashrams of Vrindavan (optional trip to the Taj Mahal)
Thursday, August 1st
- Arrival in Mathura around 8 AM and check-in in our hotel. Despite its small size, Mathura is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism: it is considered Lord Krishna’s birthplace, one of the most popular and widely worshipped gods in India.
- For those who want to visit the Taj Mahal, only 50 kms from here, we can arrange a private car and organize a day tour for you, at the extra cost of 40,00€ to 90,00€, depending on the number of participants. The exact price will be confirmed at the time of booking.
- After checking- in, we’ll take some rest before meeting again for lunch around 1.30 PM.
- We’ll take a walk on the Mathura ghats, and we’ll continue by exploring the narrow lanes of the Old City.
- We’ll take a bus and go visit Vrindavan, a small town just 11 kms from Mathura, where about 20.000 widows live, and hence known as the “city of widows”. In India, widows are not allowed to get married again, and in the most conservative families they’re not even allowed to stay home or to have a social life; they can only retire in poverty and isolation. Many of them, in Vrindavan, come everyday to its many ashrams and spend several hours a day chanting bhajans -sacred hymns- to make their spirit soar and to diffuse a sacred atmosphere in the city, all of this in return for a little meal and sometimes a bed for the night. For this reason, Vrindavan attires widows from all over India, some of them very young, some of them on the verge of death.
- We will visit Krishna temple, the Sri Krishna Balaram, and after that we will enjoy the stunning evening Aarti by the Yamuna river.
- Dinner nearby.
- Ride back to Mathura by bus.
Day 9 Railway adventure to Pushkar!
Friday, August 2nd
- After breakfast, it’s on to Pushkar! We will leave Mathura in the morning and we’ll ride a bus to Bharatpur, only 30 kms away from here.
- We’ll have a quick lunch in Bharatpur and we’ll board the train to Ajmer. During the journey we’ll get the chance to see the Indian countryside in the daylight, the rural villages and towns of Rajasthan and the fields flooded by the monsoons rains.
- Arrival in Ajmer around 9.30 PM.
- Upon arrival, we’ll have dinner near the station, then we’ll ride the bus to Pushkar and we’ll settle into our hotel while the narrow streets are lightened up by the candles and fires of the many temples and shrines of this charming little town.
Day 10 Brahma temple and Pushkar lake
Saturday, August 3rd
- We start this day with a relaxed breakfast, and then we set out for a morning visit to 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.
- Dinner by the lake
Day 11 The shrine of Moinuddin Chishti – Sufi Mecca of India – and the Old City of Ajmer
Sunday, August 4th
- 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 12 The festival of snake charmers comes to Pushkar
Monday, August 5th
- In India this is Naga Panchami day (Snake festival)! After breakfast we’ll go to the ghat area of Pushkar to witness the street exhibitions of the wandering snake charmers and the other celebrations of this festival day.
- Around 11.30 AM we will leave Pushkar and go back to Ajmer, where we will catch our last train to Delhi.
- Lunch in Ajmer.
- The train to Delhi departs in the early afternoon. Also in this case the dinner will be served on board and it will consist in a thali. We will also provide fruits, snacks and water for the journey.
- The arrive in Delhi is scheduled around 10 PM.
Day 13 The crowded and crumbling old Delhi and a placid sunset on the Yamuna riverside
Tuesday, August 6th
- 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 give you a couple of hours to explore Chandni Chowk and the Old City by yourself, to do some shopping or to relax in one of the many tea-houses of the Old Delhi.
- We meet again and we all go together to the Yamuna ghats, by the riverside, to watch the sunset in an oddly placid and peaceful spot of the Indian capital.
- For dinner we will eat in one of the many street food stalls of the Old City. We could choose among a great number of classic Indian recipes, like aloo chaat, chole bathure, pakora, samosa, kulfi and much more.
- We ride the metro back to our hotel.
Day 14 Delhi: the Magician’s Ghetto and the haunted ruins of Mehrauli
Wednesday, August 7th
- After breakfast, we will ride the metro to Kathputly Colony, also known as the Magician’s Ghetto; a slum of colorful 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 center, 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 15 Delhi: jinns of the citadel and a qawwali night at Nizamuddin dargah
Thursday, August 8th
- We meet for breakfast around 9.
- This morning we’ll visit 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, made of a smokeless fire. Since they are granted free will – just like humans – by their creator, Allah, they can be both evil and good. The djinns of the citadel are believed to be of the benevolent kind and that they fulfill people’s 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.
- Lunch and return to the hotel. We will leave the afternoon free, so that you can rest, prepare your luggage or do some last minute shopping.
- We meet again in the late afternoon. We’ll 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 16 Breakfast and good-bye
Friday, August 9th
- 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 (excluding the Taj Mahal) 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 900€.
You will have to pay €225 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 €675 (the remaining 75%) will be due within May 25th 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. The optional day-trip to the Taj Mahal has a price range of 40 to 90€, according to the number of participants: also this amount has to be paid together with the final payment.