Eastern India: From Bodh Gaya to Kolkata to Puri
Travel through remote areas of Eastern India, to see Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries and stupas, Intricately carved Jain Caves, and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
With Professor Malcolm David Eckel
December 31, 2022 – January 15, 2023
Why travel on Far Horizons’ Eastern India Tour ?
- Led by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, a Great Courses lecturer
- See three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Nalanda Buddhist University, Konârak Sun Temple
- Travel through areas of India rarely visited by tourists
Travel & Tour Eastern India – Daily Itinerary
Day 1: Depart the USA
Day 2: Evening arrival into New Delhi
Day 3: Fly to Gaya. Drive to Bodh Gaya
Day 4: Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodhi Tree
Day 5: Buddhist Bamboo Garden, Golden treasury, Nalanda Buddhist University
Day 6: Patna Museum
Day 7: Kolkata City Tour
Day 8: Transfer Kolkata to Bishnupur. Baba Taraknath Temple
Day 9: Terracotta Temples of Bishnupur
Day 10: Panchmura Terracotta Village. Fly to Bhubaneswar
Day 11: Golden Triangle of the East – Rantagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri
Day 12: Udayagiri & Khandagiri Jain caves, Museum of Tribal Arts. Odissi Dance Performance
Day 13: Drive to Puri. Konârak Sun Temple
Day 14: Jaganath Puri Temple, Raghurajpur Heritage Village
Day 15: Return to Delhi
Day 16: Return to the USA
India is a mesmerizing and enticing destination that offers a banquet to the senses. A spiritual mecca, the profusion of convoluted cosmologies makes this country one of the most complex and rewarding on earth. Rarely visited by tourists, eastern India is where two of these spiritual systems began. This is the birthplace of Jainism, started almost 3,000 years ago in the Ganges basin, and the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya in the 5th century BC, creating the belief system that is now practiced all over the world.
Join Professor David Eckel and only 13 others on a captivating odyssey through eastern India to explore hidden gems of sacred sanctuaries way off the beaten tourist trail. Our unusual journey will take us from Bodh Gaya where the Buddha attained enlightenment, to Patna where a casket believed to contain the Buddha’s ashes was found, to the great city of Kolkata, to Bishnupur’s Laterite Hindu temples, to the Buddhist Golden Triangle of the East, to the intricately carved Jain caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri. Our truly unique exploration includes three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Bodh Gaya dominated by the ancient brick Mahabodhi Temple, the oldest Buddhist University of Nalanda, and Konârak, dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya.
Eastern India Tour Leader
Malcolm David Eckel studied Sanskrit at Oxford and received his PhD from Harvard University in comparative religion with special emphasis on the Buddhist traditions of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia. He is a Professor of Religion and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Religion at Boston University, where he has taught courses on Buddhism, comparative religion, and the religions of Asia. Professor Eckel has been a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and the Metcalf Award for Teaching Excellence, Boston University’s highest award for teaching. He also served as Boston University’s Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Humanities. Professor Eckel is a popular Far Horizons leader and lecturer on The Great Courses’ not-for-credit college courses. In addition to many articles, he has published three books on Buddhism: To See the Buddha: A Philosopher’s Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness; Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places; and Bhaviveka and His Buddhist Opponents. His experience as a traveler in India and Southeast Asia, and his knowledge of Buddhism, with its historical and modern influence in India, along with other Southeast Asia religions make Professor Eckel particularly suitable to lead this trip.
‘Excellent. David was crucial to my enjoyment of the trip. I learned a lot. He was responsive to my never-ending questions.’ – Laura Derby
‘David was one of the reasons I took your tour since I enjoyed his Great Courses lectures on Buddhism. He was friendly and approachable.’ – Susan Bezman
‘Always wonderful, kind, patient, and knowledgeable. We looked forward to each of his seminars.’ – Charlotte Mason
‘David’s knowledge of religions was an asset to the trip. His notes were helpful and the historical sequence unfolded as the trip progressed. He was also a very nice person.’ – Bryan Jenkins
Eastern India Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Depart on our flight for India.
Day 2: Evening arrival into New Delhi and overnight in the 5-star Pullmann Aerocity Hotel at Delhi’s International Airport.
Day 3: Fly to Gaya, and drive to neighboring Bodh Gaya, considered one of the world’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Meet this evening for our gala welcome dinner party. Overnight for two nights in the 4-star Mahabodhi Resort. (B/ /D)
Day 4: We will spend the day in the vast Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya. Begin at the Bodhi Tree or “Tree of Awakening”, under which Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher later known as the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment in the sixth century BC. This enormous ficus is a direct descendant of the original specimen planted in the third century BC. About 200 years after the time of the Buddha, the Emperor Ashoka constructed the Mahabodhi Temple. Over the centuries, it has been rebuilt repeatedly and is now part of a large monastery complex. This impressive temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest brick structures in eastern India. Also within the complex is a gigantic, 65-foot tall statue of the Buddha built in 1989 for the Dali Lama. (B/L/D).
Day 5: Our two-hour drive takes us from Bodh Gaya to Rajgir, famous for its hot water springs, and a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. Within the environs are many sites to visit. In the 4th century BC, the Buddha’s friend and protector, King Bimbisar, offered the bamboo grove or Venu Van to be used for meditation. Inscriptions found inside one of the cave contends that the nearby Son Bhandar Caves were carved out of a cliff face in the 3rd or 4th century by a Jain wise man as a dwelling for Jain ascetics. The interiors of the dual chambers were polished and ornamented with sculptures. Holes meant to support beams seen above the cave entrance suggest that the cave once had a second story and a wooden verandah. The Vulture Peak, a small mountain just outside the city, is said to be the site where the Buddha revealed the Mahayana. Near the Vulture Peak is the Rajgir Vishwa Shanti Stupa or World Peace Pagoda, completed in 1969. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nalanda was an ancient university and Buddhist monastic center from the 5th to the 12th centuries. At its height, scholars from as far away as Tibet, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia traveled here to study. After our explorations, continue to Patna, an ancient city that sprawls along the south bank of the Ganges River. Overnight in the 5-star Hotel Lemon Tree Premier. (B/L/D)
Day 6: Patna is the state capital, and home to Bihar Museum, a contemporary landmark exhibiting bronze sculptures and old coins from the region. We will enter to view artifacts from nearby sites, along with textiles, paintings, bronze images and sculptures and terra cotta images by Hindu and Buddhist artists. Also housed here is a collection of rare British-era paintings depicting day-to-day life. After spending the morning within the museum, go to the airport for an afternoon flight to Kolkata and overnight for two nights in the 5-star Oberoi Grand Hotel. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 7: Today is a Kolkata day! Begin in Dalhousie Square, the location of St. John’s church, High Court, General Post Office (GPO), Town Hall, and other important British colonial buildings. Then stop by the Mallik Ghat. The unique perfumes of vivid marigold, clusters of sacred lotus, vibrant roses, and bright yellow sunflowers await as we walk through the largest flower market, not only in India, but also in Asia. Nearby, see Howrah Bridge, the sixth longest cantilevered bridge in the world, spanning the Hooghly River. Stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral, completed in 1847 and the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Kolkata, is noted for its Gothic architectural style, “Indo-Gothic”, a mixture of Islamic and European features. We will see the impressive, gleaming white marble Victoria Memorial, dedicated to the British queen, and The Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, the former home of Mother Teresa, one of the most celebrated and revered women in Indian History; her tomb is within the grounds. (B/L/D)
Day 8: Drive from Kolkata to Tarakeswar to see Baba Taraknath Temple. The sanctuary is a major pilgrimage spot, and the interior holds the Shayambhu Linga, a non-figurative representation of the Hindu god Shiva. Within the complex are other shrines dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali and Lord Lakshmi-Narayan, a manifestation of Vishnu. Continue to Bishnupur and the Annapurna Hotel, our home for two nights. (B/L/D)
Day 9: Bishnupur is an ancient city that was the capital of the Malla dynasty for almost a thousand years. Today it is renowned for clay crafts, Baluchari sarees, and ornately decorated medieval Hindu temples. By walking and cycle rickshaw, we will explore Bishnupur’s glorious past reflected in its splendid architecture. Magnificent Jor Bangla Temple, lavishly bedecked with terracotta tiles revealing contemporary life in the 17th century, portrays the slanted roofs of traditional thatched huts. Built of brick with both exterior and interior walls adorned with terracotta tablets, Madan Mohan is a Bengali ‘chala’ style Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. 17th century Rasmancha, one of the oldest brick temples in India, is unique in design. Standing on a raised platform of laterite blocks, forty pillars support a pyramid-shaped roof that cover the three interior rooms adorned with carved lotus flowers. Funded by a Malla Queen in 1737, Radha Madhab Temple is an example of the Ek Ratna architectural style. This beautiful building has a sloped roof below the single tower with two outside walls decorated with scenes from the Ramayana and other mythological stories. (B/L/D)
Day 10: Depart Bishnupur and drive to Panchmura craft village where, for 300 years, families have created hand-made clay collectibles. The villagers offer a wide range of terracotta products from animal to human figurines but they are renowned for their huge clay horses. Continue to Kolkata to board an afternoon flight to Bhubaneshwar, called the ‘temple city’ with its multitude of sanctuaries in the old city and the nearby countryside. Our home for three nights is the 5-star Mayfair Lagoon Hotel in Bhubaneswar, a luxury resort overlooking a lush lagoon. Be sure and make reservations for a sumptuous experience in the spa! Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 11: Today’s all day excursion takes us into the nearby Assia Hills to discover Odisha’s Buddhist Triangle of Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, hidden well off the beaten tourist trail. Dating back to the 1st century CE, Lalitgiri is the oldest Buddhist site in Odisha. Excavations have unearthed remnants of a stupa complex, and two stone caskets were found containing bone relics, believed by some to be of the Buddha or one of his important followers. Ratnagiri was home to a 5th century Buddha monastery, or mahavihara. Elaborately decorated with doorways and pillars of contrasting colors of green and purple shades, each of the three brick structures enclose a central paved courtyard with monastic cells. During archaeological research, two dozen colossal Buddha heads were unearthed, and one of the shrines is still home to a 12-foot-tall sculpture of the Buddha. The sanctuary of Udayagiri spreads across two hills and is the largest Buddhist complex in Odisha. The walls of one of the many stupas is adorned with niches containing multiple representations of the Buddha. (B/L/D)
Day 12: This morning’s drive takes us to see ancient rock-cut caves that, as early as in the 1st century BC, were shelters for Jain monks. The largest at Udayagiri, Rani Gumpha, is two stories, elaborately embellished with intricately carved images. The friezes on the upper floor depict the victory march of a king. Nearby Khandagiri Cave is also abundantly bedecked with reliefs of deities and charming scenes from everyday life. We then return to the old city of Bhubaneswar to visit two holy places. Several times a day, the lingam at Lingaraj Temple is washed and decorated with flowers and sandal paste and, with luck we will see one of the ceremonies. With lattice designs and refined carvings, Mukteswar Temple is certainly an architectural gem. A highlight here is the wonderful decorative gateway with twin columns supporting a semi-circular arch that blends Hindu and Buddhist characteristics. We will stop at the Museum of Tribal Arts & Artefacts to view displays of traditional dress, silver and bead jewelry, elaborate headdresses, weaponry, and other artifacts representing the more than 60 tribal groups in the region. Our final stop will be at the Dance Academy School to enjoy a presentation of Odissi Dance, one of the classical dance forms of India. (B/L/D)
Day 13: Depart this morning for Puri where we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Konârak. Dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya, the creator of the universe and the source of all life, the fabulous 13th-century Hindu temple has twelve pairs of gigantic stone wheels on the sides of the structure transforming the entire temple into the chariot of Surya. The figures of horses on the front and on each side of the staircase further enhance this allusion. The elegant structure is exquisitely bejeweled with stone carvings. Overnight for two nights in the 4-star Mayfair Heritage Hotel in Puri, with gorgeous ocean views. (B/L/D)
Day 14: Begin the day at Jaganath Temple, a massive temple complex dedicated to Lord Jagannath, a form of Vishnu, and an important pilgrimage site. Only Hindus are allowed inside but we will be able to view the spectacular architecture from the outside. Then we move on to Raghurajpur, declared a ‘heritage village’ in 2000 by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). Although other traditional art forms are created here, the village is known for its Pattachitra artists. Painted on cloth and depicting scenes of myths and folktales, this art form dates back several centuries. The ancient Gotipua tradition has survived in this small village and we will have an opportunity to learn about this dance performed by young boys who dress as female to praise of Lord Krishna. The carved dancers on the bas-reliefs on the Sun Temple in Konârak are evidence that this is a very old tradition. (B/L/D)
Day 15: Depart Puri this morning to fly to Bhubaneshwar airport where we will board a mid-day flight to Delhi. Upon arrival, we will join together for our final lunch and then have time to rest before our long flight back to the USA. Overnight in the Pullmann Aerocity Hotel at the Delhi Airport. In the late evening, board our planes for the return flights. (B/L)
Day 16: Arrive USA.
$9,995.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes group accommodations based on double occupancy; most meals (as listed in the itinerary); airport transfers for the group flights; three internal flights in India; entry fees to sites named in itinerary; ground transportation throughout the tour; gratuity to drivers and guides; emergency evacuation insurance for each participant.
Single Supplement: $1425.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost does not include: International round trip flights to Delhi; Meals other than those listed in the itinerary; food, alcoholic and other beverages not on set menus; a separate donation check of $150.00 per person to a designated donation project; passport and visa fees; airport fees and taxes; excess baggage charges; email, telephone, and fax charges; necessary vaccines and tests; laundry or other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural projects and museums we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person.
A deposit of $750.00 per person is required along with your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information. Prior to the trip, we will send links to various websites of pertinent interest. Click here to download our Registration Form.
Cancellations and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450.00 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
International flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If you do not arrive or depart on the scheduled days, you are responsible for all transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip
for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Note about Travel in Eastern India
This trip is designed for adventure loving travelers and may involve schedule changes, poor road conditions, and local staff unaccustomed to western tour groups. Although the majority are designated 5-star, the hotels in this off-the-beaten-tourist-trail area may not be up to western standards. India is huge and several days will entail long drives. All participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our very full touring days. Keeping up with the group is each participant’s responsibility; please do not expect assistance from the other group members or staff. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. An open mind, spirit of adventure and a sense of humor are essential.
This Archaeological Tour to Eastern India is limited to 14 participants