North India: Gods, Temples and Archaeology
Travel from Mumbai to Agra to Delhi to Jaipur, see nine UNESCO World Heritage sites: the rock-cut temple caves of Ellora and Ajanta; Khajaraho; the glorious Taj Mahal; Agra’s Red Fort; the splendid Fatehpur Sikri; the Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur; and in Delhi, Mughal Emperor Humayun’s Tomb and the14th century Qutab Minar complex.
With Professor Malcolm David Eckel
February 1 – 15, 2020
Why travel on Far Horizons’ North India Tour ?
- Led by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, a Great Courses lecturer
- Like royalty, climb to Amber Fort by elephant
- Explore nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Ellora Cave, Ajanta Caves, Agra Fort, Khajuraho, Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, The Jantar Mantar, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutab Minar
- Limited to 14 participants
(click to enlarge)
Travel & Tour North India – Daily Itinerary
Day 1: Depart the USA
Day 2: Arrive Mumbai and overnight
Day 3: Ellora Caves. Overnight Aurangabad for two nights
Day 4: Ajanta Caves
Day 5: Fly to Varanasi. Sarnath. Overnight Varanasi for two nights.
Day 6: Chunar. Shitla Mata temple. Boat ride for evening prayers
Day 7: Varanasi city tour. Khajuraho. Overnight Khajuraho
Day 8: Orchha’s Shjeesh Mahal, Orchha Fort. Cenotaphs. Ram Raja Temple. Overnight Orchha.
Day 9: Datia. Gwalior Fort. Overnight Agra for two nights.
Day 10: Red Fort. Tomb of Itmad-u-Duala. Taj Mahal
Day 11: Sunrise at Taj Mahal. Fatehpur Sikri. Overnight Jaipur for two nights
Day 12: Amber Fort, Jantar Mantar, City Palace.
Day 13: Morning free. Fly to Delhi. Overnight Delhi for two nights
Day 14: Delhi: Humayun Tomb, Qutab Minar, Old Delhi.
Day 15: Fly back to USA
India is a country that offers a feast to the senses — incense and spices waft in the air, a cacophony of sounds are heard, and with its varied peoples, modes of dress, delicious cuisines, the visual and historical wealth of its ancient architecture, you are ever engaged. The cornucopia of remarkable sites, scenery, and profusion of convoluted cosmologies makes this country one of the most complex and rewarding on earth. Home to one-sixth of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, India presents a full and diverse culture, and a staggeringly layered and intriguing history.
India juxtaposes the old with the new – from the pre-historic Indus civilization to the British Raj to Bollywood. India’s history goes back five thousand years to when Hinduism originated. Its history has seen the development of many religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, and Islam, all of which co-exist today within this huge country.
Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Trips invites you to join Professor David Eckel and only 13 others on an enchanting odyssey through this vibrant land. View several UNESCO World Heritage sites – the rock-cut temple caves of Ellora and Ajanta; Khajaraho where structures are lavishly garnished with nagara-style symbolism and erotic sculptures; the glorious Taj Mahal; the Jantar Mantar Observatory; and in Delhi, Mughal Emperor Humayun’s Tomb and the14th century Qutab Minar complex.
North 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, make Professor Eckel particularly suitable to lead this trip.
North India Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Fly to Mumbai.
Day 3: An early morning flight takes us to Aurangabad and a drive to Ellora. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains 34 caves carved out of the slope of a hill, many ornamented with intricate carved facades and sculpture. Located on a busy caravan route, this spot became the focus of intense religious and artistic activity in the 6th century. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are represented here. The Hindu cave architecture culminated in the 10th century with splendid Kailash Temple, Ellora’s masterpiece. Carved from the living rock and completely freestanding, it is a giant replica of the Sacred Mountain. Overnight for two nights at the Taj Residency, a palace-styled hotel sited within five acres of landscaped gardens in Aurangabad. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner. (B/L/D)
Day 4: Today we will journey to Ajanta, where the near-vertical sides of a horseshoe-shaped ravine reveal caves full of dazzling artwork. Less than two centuries ago this remote spot was practically unknown. The shadowy entrances had been abandoned under a thick blanket of rainforest, but in 1819 a small group of British troops found the façade of a cave protruding through the dense foliage. Ultimately, a total of 28 cavern shrines were found, many with interiors adorned with vibrant multicolored murals that rank among India’s most beautiful treasures. These caves predate Ellora and span a period of 800 years. (B/L/D)
Day 5: An early flight takes us back to Mumbai where we connect to our flight to Varanasi, located on the banks of the river Ganges. Upon arrival we will go directly to Sarnath, where, in the 6th century BC, Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon that put into motion the Wheel of Law, the Dharmachakra. Siddhartha ultimately became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, and he and his followers continued to return to Sarnath to rest from their rounds of teaching. Over the centuries, this became a place of pilgrimage, and the richness of the monasteries, temples, and shrines bear witness to the holiness of the site. Most impressive is the Dhamekh Stupa, composed of a cylindrical tower ornamented with decorative bas-reliefs. We will then drive to Varanasi’s Raj Ghat to board a craft and travel to the Brijrama Palace where we stay for two nights. Perched on the bank of the Ganges overlooking Darbhanga Ghat and embellished in traditional motifs – hand-painted frescoes, Banarasi silk walls, murals of dazzling mirrorwork, stunning antiques – this elegant heritage hotel offers a glimpse into the grandeur of a golden age of two centuries in the past. (B/ /D)
Day 6: An early drive takes us to Chunar, a fort built high on a hillside guarding the surrounding countryside with superb Mughal tombs that are still visible. Enjoy lunch from the top of the fort, overlooking the Ganges. On the way back to Varanasi we stop at the small village of Shul Tankeshwar to visit Shitala Mata Temple, dedicated to Shitala, the goddess of smallpox. Faithful Hindu disciples believe that she protects them from this disease. We will board a vessel to return to Varanasi, and along the way, stop at the Shitla Mata temple, dedicated to Shitala, the goddess of smallpox. Faithful Hindu disciples believe that she protects them from this disease. Continue our cruise to the small village of Shul Tankeshwar and visit the temple dedicated to Shiva. As we continue along the river, we will spot Ramnagar Fort, built in the 17th century for the Maharaja of Kashi and still used today. Arrive Varanasi in time for the evening prayers held at Dasaswamedh Ghat. At dusk the shores come alive with worshipers joining together in the final prayer ceremonies of the day — a truly mesmerizing and singular experience. Every evening, as dusk descends, the Ganga Aarti is performed along the Dasaswamedh Ghat. Using fire as an offering to the Goddess Ganga, devotees float candles and flowers down the river. Return to hotel after the prayers which is a few minutes away boat ride. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 7: The great city of Varanasi stretches along a crescent of the river Ganges and is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Located on an ancient trade route, the city is among the holiest of all tirthas, or crossing places, and stands at the center of the Hindu universe. Early this morning, board a private boat and watch the sunrise over the city. Along the river banks are 18th and 19th century pavilions, palaces, temples, terraces, and ghats, where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daily ritual ablutions. After leaving our boat, walk down the narrow winding alleys and return to the hotel for breakfast. Transfer to the airport for our flight to Khajuraho, the religious and political capital of the Chandela dynasty during the 9th to 13th centuries. The breathtaking Hindu and Jain temples here have UNESCO World Heritage status. This afternoon we will visit the Eastern and Western Temples, famed for the delicate sensuality and eroticism of their sculpture. Much of the ornate carving that adorns the walls of the sanctuaries is almost three-dimensional, with shades of pink in the stone imbuing the figures with flesh-like tones. Every square inch of these shrines is covered with incised human and divine forms in every aspect of life. Overnight at the 4-star Radisson Jass in Khajuraho. (B/L/D)
Day 8: Depart for Orchha, a town whose beauty is due to the eminent 17th century ruler, Bir Singh Deo. A Bundela Rajput chief, he erected a multitude of strongholds across the region during his 22-year rule, including many of Orchha’s finest buildings. Our explorations begin in Orchha Fort containing three magnificent palaces. Jahangir Mahal was built as a citadel for the Mughals. Decorated with stunning turquoise tiles, carved stone elephants and delicate lattice-work, it still reveals its original grandeur. Raj Mahal was once the prime residence of Bundela kings and their queens. The elegant palace was festooned with fragments of mirrors and lively paintings. The opulent 18th century Sheesh Mahal, now a heritage hotel, was originally intended as an exclusive country retreat. We will explore the 17th and 18th century cenotaphs, or chattris, memorials grouped along the Betwa River built to revere the dead ancestors of the Bundela rajas. And a kilometer away towers Chaturbhuj Temple, dedicated to Vishnu of the four arms. Imposing spires in the shape of pine cones soar above the impressive 16th century, multi-storied sanctuary. In the evening, we will enter Ram Raja Temple, the only temple in India where Lord Rama is worshiped as a king. This is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage site and we will enter in time for evening prayers where devotees are at worship. Overnight in the Amar Mahal in Orchha, a former palace that still depicts the charm of a bygone era. (B/L/D)
Day 9: Depart for Datia where we will stop to view the rambling Narsing Dev, or Govind Mandir, sited on an outcrop of rock overlooking the town. Bir Singh Ju Deo built the palace to welcome the Mughal emperor Jehangir for a one night visit to Orchha & Datia. Even though it was never occupied, this edifice is a testament to the architectural accomplishment of the Rajputs and is considered one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in India. Continue on to Gwailor, where the impressive Gwalior Fort is perched high on a sandstone plateau shadowing the city. Known to be one of the most invincible fortresses of India, it was called ‘The Pearl in the Necklace of the Forts of India’ by the Mughal Emperor, Babur. As we climb the winding road to the hilltop, we pass through a line of sacred 15th-century rock-cut Jain statues sixty feet tall. Enter the gate in the high walls and an abundance of sacred sanctuaries, royal citadels, and water reservoirs are revealed. The Man Singh Palace was built by the ruler in the 15th century, and its colorful façade is truly memorable. The exterior displays vibrant enamel friezes of yellow ducks, lively elephants, crocodiles, tigers and other charming scenes from nature. Thus its alternate name is Chit Mandir, or Painted Palace. Man Singh, an aficionado of the arts, would surely have been pleased to know that this is now considered the only intact pre-Mughal palace in India! The Teli-ka-Mandir shrine was built in the Dravidian style and is notable for its generously sculpted exterior. And the 15th-century Gujari Mahal Palace is now an archaeological museum. In the late afternoon, board a fast train to Agra. Dinner is on our own. Overnight for two nights at the 5-star Jaypee Palace in Agra. (B/L)
Day 10: Today will be spent seeing Agra’s sites. Itmad-ud-daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj’, is a delicate architectural beauty. This exquisite tomb of a member of the royal court was designed by the favorite queen of the Moghul sovereign Jahangir, son of Akbar the Great. It is the first in India to be constructed entirely of marble, the same stone used for the Taj Mahal and is celebrated for striking architectural details including finely carved jalis, or marble lattice screens. The Taj Mahal, with UNESCO World Heritage status, was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favorite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum who died in 1631 shortly after giving birth to her 14th child. Twenty thousand workmen took twenty-two years to complete this architectural masterpiece, considered to be one of the most exquisite buildings ever created. Move on to Agra Fort, the majestic 16th century stronghold of the Moghul Empire for generations and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Constructed of red sandstone brought from Rajasthan, the imposing fort is encircled by glowing crimson ramparts and entered through massive, decorated gates. During the Indian rebellion of 1857, this historic fort was the location of a battle which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain. After a delicious lunch of South Indian cuisine, the rest of the afternoon and dinner is free. (B/L)
Day 11: Rise early to have one more look as the Taj Mahal emerges out of the dawn mist at sunrise. We then depart for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fatehpur Sikri, founded as the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 by Akbar the Great, deserted by him in 1585, and completed abandoned by 1610. Akbar’s son Prince Salim, later Jahangir, was born here and after his second birthday, the emperor began the construction of the walled city and imperial palace. The city came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, after Akbar’s victorious Gujarat campaign in 1573. This superb red sandstone ghost town, certainly one of the most stunning in India, contains elaborate royal residences, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, halls, and tombs, all in a uniform architectural style, and including Jama Masjid, a splendid mosque still in use today. In the afternoon, continue to Jaipur. This evening, we observe a prayer service at Govind Devi Temple, devoted to Lord Krishna and enshrining an image of him which has been worshiped by the royal family of Jaipur ever since it was brought from Vinadavan to Jaipur in the 18th century. Overnight for two nights in the Jai Mahal Palace, a palatial 18th-century estate in Jaipur. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 12: The rose-colored city of Jaipur is the picturesque capital of Rajasthan and a vibrant showcase of Rajasthani architecture. Glorious palaces and temples are scattered throughout the town in an assortment of styles that span the centuries. Begin the day with the visit to Amber Fort with a short stop to admire Hawa Mahal, or the 18th century Palace of Winds. The five-story façade contains 593 finely screened windows and balconies that would enable the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in a strict state of purdah. Then on to the Amber Fort, the former seat of the Rajput rulers of Jaipur. We will ascend to the fortress in royal fashion—seated on the back of an elephant. Fortified by natural hills and high ramparts, Amber’s magnificent palace is distinctly Rajput. The walls of the royal apartments are covered with intricate mosaics of mirrors and colored glass. Raja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, was no ordinary man. He was a scholar and an astronomer, and in building Jaipur, he gave India its first planned city. High walls enclose the old city, and the seven sections within are laid out in a planned pattern, as dictated by the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient architectural treatise. We will see the Jantar Mantar, the royal open-air observatory with its gigantic, astronomical instruments, the largest of Jai Singh’s five remarkable observatories. We will enter the mammoth City Palace, a blend of traditional Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. In the center of the compound, Chandra Mahal, with balconies and windows studding its seven-story façade, is still the residence of the royal family. The first and second floors house the Sawai Man Singh Museum containing a select collection of various types of Rajasthani dresses, a fascinating armory of Mughal and Rajput weapons, and spectacular swords, some encrusted with jewels and encased in magnificent scabbards. (B/L/D)
Day 13: After a free morning to rest or explore the shops of Jaipur, meet for lunch in one of Jaipur’s excellent restaurants. Our evening flight takes us to New Delhi with dinner on our own. Overnight in the 5-star Imperial Hotel. Built in 1931 in a mix of Victorian and colonial architecture reminiscent of the peaceful days of the Raj, it was New Delhi’s first luxurious grand hotel. (B/L)
Day 14: India’s capital, New Delhi, is a captivating blend of the ancient and modern. This morning we will visit the two important Mughal sites. Begin at the Qutab Minar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 13th century tower built by the first Muslim sultan of Delhi to celebrate his victory over the Hindu kings. We also visit the lovely complex of buildings commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s wife to house her husband’s tomb. No visit to Delhi is complete without experiencing the narrow streets of Old Delhi by rickshaw, passing food vendors, sacred cows, and the shops of local merchants along the way. Our final lunch together will be in one of Delhi’s fine restaurants. There will be time to rest at the hotel prior to transferring to the airport in the evening for the flight back to the USA. (B/L)
Day 15: Fly back to the USA.
February 1 – 15, 2020
$9,495.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes group accommodations based on double occupancy; most meals (as listed in the itinerary); airport transfers for the group flights; 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: $1,595.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost does not include: International flights to Mumbai and return from 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; 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 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 administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 90 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. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation.
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.
This trip is designed for adventure loving travelers and may involve schedule changes, poor road conditions, and local staff unaccustomed to tourist groups. 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 North India is limited to 14 participants