आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः
“Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions.” – Rig Veda
A large marble replica of the holy footprints, or ‘charanarvind’, of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) between the two Mayur Dwars commemorate his incarnation on Earth. The sixteen holy symbols which mark god’s feet as per the Hindu shastras are seen in these holy footprints. In humble reverence to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, four conch shells shower water at his lotus feet. *
India can seem unapproachable and insurmountable.
After a successful trip with 20 yogis in October 2017 to Southern India, I am happy to announce that this year we are going to the North.
How would you like to go with a guide who speaks the language, knows the culture and can guide you through yoga and meditation every day? I will pick you up at the airport, be with you every day during our travels and see you off when it is time to go home.
Your safety and comfort is my utmost goal, so you can relax and take in the culture. I am happy to report that not a single member got sick during our retreat last year. You probably heard that when visiting India, illness, jokingly called Delhi-belly, is unavoidable. But meticulously paying attention to hygiene can keep you from contracting Delhi-belly, and that is my job.
I have family and contacts in India which have helped me keep the costs down and I have extensive experience planning travel in India. This will allow you to have a once in a lifetime experience, traveling in a country like India, and still interact closely with the culture. India has many amazing things to offer and I am delighted for the opportunity to share yoga, meditation and the wonders of my homeland with you.
I will guide you through all the formalities required prior to travel, from visa to vaccinations and the cultural norms to be mindful of once we are there.
India has so many historical and cultural treasures to explore, that you can only do so much in one trip, if you want to stop and savor this amazing land. However, if you were to take only one trip in your lifetime, this is the one to take, as we cover four major historical and ancient cultural sites: Delhi – the Imperial capital city with Mughal architecture, the magnificent Taj Mahal, Varanasi – the religious capital of India and last but not least Bodhgaya. About 2,500 years ago, under a Bodhi tree Prince Sidhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha (the Awakened One) in the very spot that we will visit in Bodhgaya.
We will stay at 4-star hotels, such as Grand Imperial, Agra. I am excited to report that we have just gotten permission to stay at the magnificent Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Delhi for our final two nights! This is an amazing feat of architecture. The detailed carving on the 1000 foot long wall of elephants and all of the rishis and gods on the main structure are simply breathtaking. Additionally it is impressive to know that the temple was completed in a short period with teamwork and community effort. While we will see some really amazing things on this tour, stay at this Temple will be very memorable.
Road travels in India are nothing like here. We will be in 3 states, and we have taken great care in minimizing long road trips, to maximize your time seeing the country. Even though we have a very comfortable air-conditioned coach, the road conditions can be unpredictable.
Highway travel can be subjected to unplanned strikes, traffic jams with cows, elephants, bullock-carts to bicycle rickshaws. The roads are not as well maintained as the US highway system, they are often bumpy, narrow and traffic laws are seen as more of a suggestion than a command.
Despite all these hassles, I can guarantee you will have a great experience. That is why we are taking local flights and trains to cross states. This is the advantage I can offer you, because I know the country, and I know my travelers and what they are accustomed to in the US.
Itinerary: 16-27 Sep 2019 (Delhi/Agra/Varanasi/Bodhgaya)
16 Sep : Arrival in Delhi. Transfer to hotel. Overnight in Delhi
17 Sep : Delhi/Agra by Train
The Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was built in 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. This magnificent white marbled mausoleum has its own story to tell. It is the final resting place of Arjuman Banu, also known as Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan lost his wife while she was giving birth to their 14 child. He was inconsolable and envisaged a memorial that would befit his love, his mourning lasted a year. When he returned, his hair had turned white and his face was ravaged with grief and sadness. He had her body exhumed and taken back to Agra in a golden coffin, escorted by their son Shah Shuja. In Agra, her body was buried in a small building on the banks of the Yamuna. The construction of the mausoleum began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. It is supposed to represent Shah Jahan’s vision of Mumtaz Mahal’s home in paradise. The architecture of the Taj Mahal combines elements of Islamic, Indian, Persian, Ottoman and Turkish styles of art. The principal architect was Ahmed Shah Lahauri; thousands of artisans and craftsmen were employed during the construction of this monument to love. Material from all over India and Asia were used to construct the Taj Mahal and over 1,000 elephants were used to carry building material. The white marble was sourced from Makrana in Rajasthan, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, jade and crystal from China and sapphire from Sri Lanka and Arabia. The Taj Mahal was constructed in such a way that the white marble reflects the sky. So, the monument changes colour during the day. Early morning the Taj appears pinkish, milky white at noon, a sparkling golden at sunset and shimmering silver in the moonlight.
Overnight at Agra.
Listed among the World Heritage Sites, Fatehpur Sikri, was the political capital of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1571 to 1585). The capital was later shifted to the city of Agra. There are majestic buildings built by Akbar including the fort which is a blend of Mughal and Persian architecture.
Agra/Varanasi by overnight train
19 Sep: Arrive Varanasi.
Local Sightseeing to include: a boat ride on the Ganga, Kashivishwanath temple that holds the Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva, Kal Bhairav temple with an elephant gate, evening Pooja, Vishwananth temple, have a lassi at the popular and safe Blue Lassi and shopping at Baba Blacksheep, a welcome respite of non-pushy shopping.
20 Sep: In Varanasi sightseeing. Sarai Mohana village to see the silk weavers in action, Beneras Hindu University’s Bharat Kala Bhavan, collection of miniature paintings and palm leaf manuscripts from the 12th Century, sculptures and local history. Ram Lila performance by the Ramnagar Fort. Overnight at Varanasi.
21 Sep: Varanasi/Bodhgaya by road.
Mahabodhi Temple is one of the ancient and most important shrines of India. The literal version of Mahabodhi Temple is the Great Awakening Temple – where Lord Buddha became enlightened. Perched on the banks of the Niranjana River and visited by pilgrims from all over the globe, Mahabodhi Temple was constructed by Emperor Ashoka, and boasts of a 52 m tall spire that houses the colossal gilded image of Lord Buddha. In the sanctum sanctorum, the huge image of Buddha, in which he is sitting in a ‘Bhumisparsh Mudra’ (touching the ground), looks mesmerizing. It is said that the image is 1700 years old and positioned in a manner that Lord Buddha faces the east. Mahabodhi Temple along with Bodhi Tree completes the holy pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. The Bodhi Tree, a variety of fig tree, is one which grew from the original tree under whose kind shelter Lord Sakyamuni meditated and ultimately attained enlightenment – and thus became the Buddha. Under the Bodhi tree, there is a platform embracing the footprints of Lord Buddha carved in stone. In its vicinity, a slab of red sandstone adorns the site. This slab marks the spot where the Lord sat in meditation.
The temple is festooned with friezes that depict scenes from the life of the Buddha. Along the northern wall of the temple, the Chankramana Chaitya (Jewel Path) is a raised walkway, where Lord Buddha used to meditate while walking. Adjoining the temple there is lotus pond that is said to have been the place where Lord Buddha made his ablutions. Built of brick in the 3rd century, Mahabodhi Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist shrines that have managed to fend off the ravages of time. Mahabodhi Temple is regarded as an excellent specimen of Indian brickwork. The brick structure became the role model for many later Buddhist architectural works. The style of the edifice declares that it was built primarily to form a monument, not a shrine of Buddha. The four towers on the corners rise elegantly, escorting the main tower to an extent. Encircled on all four sides by stone railings, Mahabodhi Temple bears railings of two types, equally in style and material. The older railings are made from sandstone and trace their origin around 150 BC. Dating back to Gupta period (300 CE – 600 CE), the other railings are erected from unpolished coarse granite. The old railings comprise images of Hindu deities, while the later ones have figures of stupas (reliquary shrines) and garudas (eagles associated with Vishnu). The marvelous temple was announced as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002.
Visit Kundan Bazaar for mementos, the Archeological Museum, Thai monastery, Bodhgaya Multimedia Museum, various national monasteries, Dungeshwari Hills near the Falgu river, visit the cave where the Buddha stayed for 6 years as an ascetic before becoming enlightened. Stay in Bhutanese monastery?
22 Sep: Excursion to Sarnath: One of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in India.
Buddha, the great sage, after attaining enlightenment (Buddha-hood) at Bodh Gaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon regarding the redemption of humanity to five ascetics who later became his disciples (i.e. Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit). It is this place where foundation of a new order of monks (Sangha) and a new order of religious doctrine (Dhamma) was laid. Sarnath is also sacred to the Jains because they look upon it as the site of asceticism and death of Shreyamshanath, the 11th Trithankara. In ancient Buddhist literature the place is mentioned as Rishipatna and Mrigdava or Mrigadaya. The place was called Rishipatna , as it was here the bodies of five hundred Pratyeka Buddhas or Rishis(Sages) fell after their attainment of nirvana (Salvation). According to the Jataka, in one of his previous births, incarnate as a leader of a herd of deer, had saved the life of a doe, appeared before the king of Benaras (modern day Varanasi) who relished on the flesh of a deer everyday. On being moved by his sacrificial zeal, the king made the place a free roaming ground, thus it was known as mrigadava (Deer Park).
This event is described in Buddhist texts as dharmachakra – pravartana, meaning the turning of the Wheel of the Law. The Buddha taught them everything that he had learned and thus they also became enlightened. This marked the foundation of the first Buddhist Sangha or the community of monks.
The Buddha’s main teachings after his enlightenment centered around the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
After preaching his first discourse at Sarnath, the Buddha spent the next rainy season at the Mulagandhakuti vihara in Sarnath. By then, the Buddhist Sangha had grown to 60 people. The Buddha then sent out the members of the Sangha to teach the Dharma, the Law of Nature.
The flourish of Buddhism in Sarnath can be attributed to a large extent to the support of kings and wealthy merchants inhabiting the region. By the 3rd century B.C., Sarnath had flourished as a major center for arts, and the town reached its zenith during the Gupta reign (4th -6th century A.D.). According to the History of Sarnath Uttar Pradesh, when the Chinese traveler Hsuan Tsang visited Sarnath in the 7th century, there were 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living in Sarnath.
Sarnath came to be a major center of the Sammatiya school of Buddhism, one of the Nikaya or Hinayana schools. The occurrence of images of Heruka and Tara at Sarntah monasteries indicate that Vajrayana Buddhism also flourished here.
The end of the 12th century saw Sarnath being ransacked by Turkish Muslims. The site was extensively plundered for building materials and has been lying in ruins since then. Thereafter, Sarnath remained completely deserted until 1836, when the British began excavations and restoration of this historic city.
See where the Buddha first taught the Dharma. Dharmekh stupa and the Mulagandhakuti Vihra mark were the Buddha stayed during one rainy season meditating, Ashoka pillar, Central University of Tibetan Studies. Overnight in Bodhgaya.
23 Sep: Excursion to Rajgir and Nalanda – where the Buddha started preaching, Nalanda University 5th C Buddhist University that had an estimated 10,000 monks. Overnight at Bodhgaya.
24 Sep : A day of yoga, meditation and contemplation and to spend time in nature where Buddha was enlightened. Overnight at Bodhgaya.
25 Sep : Bodhgaya/Delhi by flight. Overnight in Delhi. Possible stay at Swaminarayan Akshardham temple*
26 Sep:Sightseeing to include Segway tour of Rajpath, Lodhi art district, Akshardham temple, Lodhi gardens, the magnificent Lotus temple.
27 Sep: Departure for USA. Bon Voyage!