ADVENTURE on the GRAND TRUNK ROAD: Kolkata to Delhi, PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR & KALI PUJA Special!
Why Pushkar Camel Fair & Kali Puja special?
During this tour we will attend two festivals, both unique, intense and very fascinating in their own way.
The Pushkar Camel Fair is a fair for livestock trading – mostly camels, but also other animals – which is held every year around the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartik (October-November), involving many types of entertainment, such as camel races, tribal dances and singing, a longest moustache competition, midnight bonfires in the desert and much much more. The Pushkar Fair also draw many pilgrims who comes from all over India to bath in the sacred waters of the Brahma Lake, around which the fair is held.
The Kali Puja is a Hindu festival dedicated to Kali, the patron Goddess of Kolkata, which lasts for about one week. On this occasion many pandals – temporary structures – are built all around the city, almost in every neighbourhood, and Kali statues, hand-shaped in clay by the artisans of Kumartuli, are displayed for darshan and devotion. At the end of a week of celebrations, including street parades with musical bands and visits to the many Kali temples of Kolkata, the statues of Kali are dipped in the Hooghly river and left to decompose by the riverside.
TRAVEL WITH US!
October 25th – November 9th 2019
16 days / 15 nights
MAX NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS
- 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 majestic Taj Mahal
- The world famous Pushkar Camel Fair and the Sufi Mecca of Ajmer
- The secrets and ruins of Delhi, the most historically rich city of Asia
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 August 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.
The price of €980 will cover all fixed costs, including accommodation, guides, all transports, meals and activities listed in the itinerary.
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: Kalighat temple and New Market
Friday, October 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: the ghats on the Hooghly river and the artisans district of Kumartuli
Saturday, October 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: Kali Puja, the hidden temples of Kalabagan and the British cemetery
Sunday, October 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 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 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.
- Then 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.
- 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!).
- Today, in India, it will be the day of Kali Puja and Diwali festivals, which in Kolkata merge into a joint celebration which involves the whole city and that goes on all day. For Kali Puja a great number of pandals – temporary structures – will be built all around Kolkata, almost in every neighbourhood, and Kali statues will be displayed for darshan and devotion: in the evening of this day they will be taken to the river and immersed into its sacred waters. At night, for Diwali, candles will be lit, kids will play with firecrackers and there will be music, drumming and street parades.
Day 4 Kolkata: an ancient cafeteria for poets, the spectacular Jain temple and the only China Town of India!
Monday, October 28th
- This morning, after breakfast, 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 Indian 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 muslim neighbourhood of Chitpur and the market area of Tiretti Bazaar, where we will find a few very odd Chinese Buddhist temples: Kolkata has the only China Town of India!
- 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, yoghurt 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
Tuesday, October 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. After dinner we will set to explore the crematorium of Manikarnika ghat – where the souls of the deceased achieve freedom from the cycle of rebirths – always more fascinating and intense after dark!
Day 6 Ghats and secrets of Varanasi, through narrow lanes and cremation grounds. A concert of Hindustani classical music at night!
Tuesday, October 29th
- 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.
- We’ll have dinner at Keshari 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
Thursday, October 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 widows ashrams of Vrindavan
Friday, November 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.
- 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 Agra!
Saturday, November 2nd
- After breakfast we’ll take a morning off to enjoy the placid atmosphere of Mathura’s ghats and to rest before the long adventure ahead of us!
- We’ll have lunch in the old city of Mathura, and after that we’ll proceed to the railway station and catch our train to Agra (only 1 hour): travelling in the daylight will allow us to enjoy the stunning views of the Indian countryside and its colourful villages.
- We’ll arrive in Agra in the afternoon. In the evening we’ll have dinner in a rooftop restaurant with a view on the Taj Mahal, which we will visit the next morning.
- Before night we’ll take a walk in the Taj Ganj area, which surrounds the Taj Mahal with many colourful houses and hectic alleys.
Day 10 The spectacular Taj Mahal
Sunday, November 3
- 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 our train will depart to Ajmer, this time crossing the Rajasthan plains until the very edge of the Thar desert.
- We will have dinner in the train and arrive in Ajmer around 9:30 p.m. From here we’ll take a bus to Pushkar (only 11 kms away) – which is the final destination of this day – and we will reach there while the narrow lanes of this little charming town are lit by candles, fires and the lights of a hundred temples.
Day 11 Pushkar Camel Fair!
Monday, November 4th
- Pushkar is normally a very quiet place, where motor vehicles are not allowed to disturb this atmosphere, but camels, cows, elephants and monkeys are free to roam the streets! This said, once in a year Pushkar become a source of attraction for thousands of visitors from all over India and abroad, who comes here to attend the legendary Pushkar Camel Fair. It is a fair for livestock trade – mostly camels, but also other kinds of animals – but there will be also camel races, tribal dances and singing, a longest moustache contest, midnight bonfires in the desert and much much more!
- This morning we will visit the Fair for as long as it takes for us to be exhausted by this bizzare gathering of camel herders, tribal dancers, snake charmers and tourists.
- After lunch we’ll visit the Fair a little bit more and then walk by the ghats of the Pushkar Lake.
- 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 12 Pushkar Lake and the Old City of Ajmer, the Sufi Mecca of India
Tuesday, November 5th
- Also this morning we will attend the fair and, later on, we will visit the Brahma Temple, which is one of the very few temples, in all of India, dedicated to the Hindu God of creation: Brahma. 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.
- Lunch in Pushkar
- 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 13 Traveling towards Delhi
Wednesday, November 6th
- In the morning, after breakfast, you can decide how to spend the last few hours in Pushkar: at the Fair, in your hotel room, shopping at the bazaar or walking by the ghats!
- After that we’ll go back to Ajmer and have lunch near the railway station.
- At 2 pm our train to Delhi – the last stop of our adventure – departs. Dinner will be served on board and it will consist in a thali (a vegetarian dish with different veg. curries, rice, chapati and a sweet). We’ll also provide fruits and water for the journey!
- In the evening we’ll reach Delhi and settle in our hotel in Paharganj area.
Day 14 Delhi: the Magicians Ghetto, Feroz Shah Kotla Fort and the hidden gems of the Old City
Thursday, November 7th
- 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 lunch 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. According to many locals this citadel is one of the most haunted places in Delhi! 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.
- Then we move to the Old City of Shahjahanabad (from the name of the emperor who had it built). We will start our visit from the Jama Masjid, an imposing mosque of red sandstone built by the Mughal dynasty, then we’ll cross the underground market and proceed towards Chandni Chowk, the heart of the Old Delhi, where all kinds of things can be found: a jain temple and a hospital for birds only, a sikh gurudwara, a street dedicated only to a specific item of street food, second-hand books stalls, street barber shops, hindu shrines and shops selling almost everything!
- 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 15 Delhi: the ancient ruins of Mehrauli and Tughlakabad
Friday, November 8th
- Breakfast near the hotel
- This morning 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.
- Then we take a bus to the nearby Tughlakabad, where the ruins of the city built by the Emperor Tughlaq – and soon betrayed by its tragic destiny – are in a state of neglect among the grass and secular trees of a thick jungle.
- Back to the city centre for lunch: we’ll eat in one of the many restaurants of Connaught Place, which is the heart of the city built by the British rulers in the first half of the 20th century, and whose expenses had a great toll on the finances of the British Raj, eventually contributing to its demise.
- After we return to the hotel you can decide if you want to rest, do some last minute shopping or come with us to visit the Gurudwara of Bangla Sahib, which is the most important sikh temple of the capital.
- We’ll spend our last night in Delhi in the streets and pubs of Paharganj!
Day 16 Breakfast and good-bye
Saturday, November 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 for the activities included in the itinerary.
- Guides (Giada & Stefano) for the entire duration of the tour.
THE PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE
- International airfare to/from India
- Travel insurance (required)
- Indian visa
- Other things not included in our offering
NOTE ON THE 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 980€.
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 August 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.