Northern India - Ladakh, Dharamsala and the Golden Temple

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Day 1: Arrive in New Delhi

You are met upon arrival at Delhi International Airport and transferred to your hotel. We will meet this evening for our group orientation and welcome dinner. Overnight in Delhi.

 

Day 2: Delhi Sightseeing, Train to Amristar

The capital city of India is often the starting point of a visit to India. For all Indians, it is the capital of their country, the center of power and culture. There are two Delhis: Old Delhi - the city built for Shahjahan, the man who built the Taj Mahal. Then New Delhi - built by the British in 1931. It is this juxtaposition between the Old and the New one, which is one of the attractions of the capital. While Old Delhi evokes a distinctly Asian atmosphere, New Delhi is modern, with wide avenues and imposing office buildings.

Today our sightseeing includes a visit to the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and Kutub Minar (the world's tallest brick minaret with a height of 237.8 ft or 72.5 meters). In the late afternoon, we will transfer to the train station to board our evening train to Amritsar where we will arrive late in the evening. Overnight in Amritsar.

 

Day 3: Amritsar

Today is dedicated to a full sightseeing program of Amritsar. The Golden Temple, a glittering gold and marble temple, is one of the holiest Sikh shrines. The temple interiors are elaborately designed with fine inlay and semi-precious stones. During Maharaja Ranjit Singh's reign, the lower half of the temple was decorated with marble while the entire upper half was inlaid with copper covered over by gold plate. Hence its new name, the Golden Temple.

The Akal Takht, next to the Golden Temple, is the seat of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, the religious governing body of the Sikhs. The building of the Akal Takht was started by Guru Arjan Dev and completed in 1609 by Guru Hargobind. The Adi Granth is housed on the ground floor of the Akal Takht and is taken out in a procession every morning to be placed at the Harmandir Sahib. In the evening it is brought back to the Akal Takht.

The Durgiana Temple does not resemble a traditional Hindu temple in its architectural form, but rather that of the Golden Temple. It rises in a similar manner from the midst of a tank and has canopies and a central dome. One of the greatest reformers and political leaders of resurgent India, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, laid its foundation stone. It is a well-known repository of Hindu scriptures. Also called the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, it is dedicated to goddess Durga and a large part of the temple is dedicated to Hindu deities Laxmi, The Goddess of wealth and Narayan, The Preserver of Universe.

We will also visit Jallianwalla Bagh, the memorial site of the massacre that took more then 379 lives on the Punjabi New Year, April 13, 1919. Read the stories of the survivors and learn why the British took so many innocent lives that day.

This evening, we visit border point at Wagah to witness the closing ceremony between the two countries, India and Pakistan. The ceremony is very popular with Indian tourists and draws large crowds. After dinner we will witness the night ceremony in the Golden Temple. Overnight in Amritsar.

 

Day 4: Dalhousie

In the morning we drive towards the Footsteps of the Himalaya crossing the western end of Dhauladhar Range of Himalayas arriving at the old British hill- station of Dalhousie, situated at 6600ft (2012 m). Named after Lord Dalhousie (a British Governor- General of India), the town was first explored by the British General Napier (the Chief Engineer in the Punjab) during a hunting trip in 1853AD. It was later converted into a cantonment and sanatorium. Overnight in Dalhousie.

 

Day 5: Chiminu Village - Himalayan Home Stay

Today we drive to Chiminu Village along the Saal River before reaching the trailhead for our home stay at the Himalayan Orchard Huts. This will be our base of exploration for the next three nights as we stay with a local family on their organic farm. Overnight at Himalayan Orchard Huts.

Note on the home stay - The scattered village of Kut-Chadiara in the Panj-La Valley lies perched mid-way up a steep terraced slope at 4347 feet (1325m) above sea level. Surrounded by fruit trees, vegetable fields and forest, the Himalayan Orchard Huts offers a bird's eye view of the mighty Saal River in the valley below and is a 30 minute climb from the stop at Chiminu Village, 3.7 miles (6 km) from Chamba town.

The Himalayan Orchard Hut is the home of an environmentalist extended family who offer food and accommodation to those wishing to experience true village life. The house is made of clay and wood in traditional fashion and offers neat, clean and basic rooms with verandas overlooking the hills and valley. The delicious food provided includes rare traditional dishes, famous from the time of the King's rule in Chamba District. The food is mainly Indian with options for catering to western tastes as well. Pure drinking water comes directly from pure spring water.

Enjoy the tranquil setting, a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate yourself after the stress, strain and pollution of urban life. Overnight at Himalayan Orchard Huts.

 

Day 6: Himalayan Home Stay - trekking options

After breakfast, we begin our day trek with picnic lunch. Total hiking time today will be 4-6 hrs of moderate hiking. For those who would prefer a shorter hike there is an option to be transferred by car back to the trailhead and to return to the Himalayan Orchard Hut. Overnight at Himalayan Orchard Huts.

 

Day 7: Himalayan Home Stay - cooking class

This day is your chance to take part in an Indian cooking class, visit an organic farm and relax in the tranquil surroundings. For those who would prefer a more strenuous option, an opportunity for another hike will be available. Overnight at Himalayan Orchard Huts.

 

Day 8: To Dharamsala

Today we say good-bye to our host family and journey to Dharamsala, the Tibetan Capital in exile since 1959 and home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Dharamsala sits at an elevation of 6831 feet (2082 m). Overnight in Mcleod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala.

 

Day 9: Dalai Lama's Monastery, Dharamsala

Today is a full day of sightseeing around McLeod Ganj. Sights include a visit to the Dalai Lama's Monastery and glimpses of his Holiness's house from outside. The area is home to many Tibetan exiles and we will have time to visit some of the many shops selling Tibetan crafts. Overnight in Mcleod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala.

 

Day 10: To Naggar; Naggar Castle

This morning we drive along the Beas River to the village of Naggar, located at an elevation of 5940ft (1810 m). Surrounded by magnificent mountains, waterfalls and snow covered ranges, the village of Naggar is known for the impressive cultural heritage and rich architectural style. The Russian artist Nicholas Roerich lived here in 1929 AD.

In the past Naggar was the capital of the erstwhile Kullu Rajas for about 1400 years. It was founded by the Visudh Pal and remained as the headquarters of the state until the capital was transformed to Kullu (Sultanpur) by the Raja, Jagat Singh.

Our stay in Naggar will include a visit to Naggar Castle, whose architecture and beauty combine to make the castle a showcase of Kulu-Manali's Pahari culture. Built by Raja Sidh Singh more than five centuries ago, local legend had the castle being constructed from the remains of a rival's palace. Raja Sidh Singh ordered that a long chain of labourers be formed over the Beas River, connecting its left and right banks as stones of the ruined castle were manually passed to Naggar, to construct one of most striking examples of Pahari architecture. It stands today as an architectural marvel in stone and bonded timber, also containing woodcarvings of blue pine and spruce. The castle is strongly built; its walls being 42 inches wide. It is so strong that it withstood the devastating earthquake of 1905 when most of the houses in the valley were destroyed. Overnight in Naggar.

 

Day 11: Naggar

This morning we visit the Roerich Art Gallery, which houses the paintings of Nicholas Roerich as well as his scriptures. Roerich was the former residence of Professor Nicholas Roerich who came to India in 1929. His residence was later converted into an art gallery, which houses many of his paintings of the Himalayas. Later, we visit the beautiful Gauri Shankar mandir. The temple was built in the 11th and 12th century and is considered one of the last great monuments of the Gurjara - Pratihara traditions. Apart from the Gauri Shankar mandir (and time permitting) we can visit some of the other famous temples in the area, namely Vishnu, Chatar Bhuj, Tripura Sundri Devi, Tripura Sundari and Lord Krishna Temples. Rich in wood and stone carvings, these temples are constructed in the Shikhara and Pagoda-style. Overnight in Naggar.

 

Day 12: Over the Rohtang pass to Jispa

It's an early start today as we drive over the Rohtang pass (elevation 13,051ft (3978 m) crossing the Pir Panjal ranges of the Himalayas. Our final destination today will be Jispa at 10 500ft (3200m). Jispa is a beautiful village on the Delhi - Manali - Leh Highway and is situated on the right bank of Bhaga River. Overnight in Jispa.

 

Day 13: Sarchu

From Jispa we will ascend up to Baralacha La at an elevation of 16,500ft (5029 m) driving through the beautiful trans-Himalayas. Baralacha La has a small lake called Suraj Tal (Sun Lake) formed by the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga Rivers. We arrive at the high plateau of the Himalayas called Sarchu (also known as Sir Bhum Chun) located at 14157ft (4315 m). Sarchu is the dividing line between two states - Himachal and Jammu Kashmir. Overnight in Sarchu in a mobile tented camp.

NOTE: Due to the Hemis festival we may have to change days 15 to 18 around for the Leh portion of this trip. We will see all that is on the itinerary but the order may change.

 

Day 14: To Leh

Starting early today we will be crossing two high passes - Lachung La (16,820ft/5127 m) and Tanglang La (17,582ft/5359 m). This is the second highest motorable pass in India and one of the highest in the world. Our journey today includes 21 hairpin bends through the mountains. In the late afternoon we will arrive in the town of Leh.

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh District in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Leh, with an area of 17420 square miles (45,110 km2), is the second largest district in the country (after Kutch Gujarat) in terms of area. The town is still dominated by the ruins of the Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace. Leh is at an altitude of 11,562?ft (3524 m). Overnight in Leh.

 

Day 15: Sites of Leh

Today is dedicated to sightseeing in Leh. This morning we pay a visit to a miniature version of the Potala in Lhasa, Leh Palace. The palace was built in the 17th century and is now dilapidated and deserted. It was the home of the royal family until they were exiled to Stok in the 1830s. We also visit the Shanti Stupa that was built by a Japanese order and was opened by the Dalai Lama in 1985. Before lunch we have time to visit the colorful local bazaar.

After lunch, we venture outside of Leh to Spituk Gompa standing majestically on top of a hillock overlooking the Indus Valley. It was built in the 15th century and houses a collection of ancient masks, antique arms, icons and thangkas. We also visit Phyang Gompa, which belongs to the Brokpa sect and houses hundreds of statues, thangkas, old manuscripts and some old weapons. Overnight in Leh.

 

Day 16: Hemis Festival in Leh

Hemis Monastery is one of the biggest gompas in the area. Built in 1630, it belongs to the red sect, Brokpa. It is also known as Chang Chub Sam Ling or "the lone place of the compassionate person".

The Hemis Festival is in honor of Guru Padma Sambhav's birth anniversary (Guru Padma Sambhav is believed to have triumphed over demons for the safety of the local people) and takes place mainly at the Hemis Monastery, the largest in Ladakh.

Festivities include spectacular masked dances to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. These "devil dances" are an important part of the local entertainment in Ladakh and are loud, merry performances celebrating the victory of good over evil. A colorful fair displaying some beautiful handicrafts, it is one of the special highlights of the festival. We visit the Hemis Monastery to take in the festival during our time in Leh. Overnight in Leh.

 

Day 17: Leh - Thikse & Shey Gompas

Today we visit some important sites outside of Leh. Our first stop is Shey Gompa. Until the 16th century, the Shey Gompa was the royal residence. This Palace Monastery has the largest statue of Maitreya Buddha (the Buddha to come) in Ladakh. Erected in the mid-17th century, crafted from gold and gilded copper sheets, it stands 17.5 m high.

We also visit Thikse Gompa, an imposing monastery and one of the finest examples of Ladakh's architecture. It belongs to the Gelukpa order. The 12-story monastery complex contains numerous stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Buddha's teachings. Overnight in Leh.

 

Day 18: To Alchi over the Khardung La pass (highest motorable pass in the world)

We have an early departure as we drive up to the Khardung La known as the worlds highest motorable pass (18,380ft/5602 m) before continuing on to Alchi (elevation 11,483 ft/3500 m). Nestled in the valley of the Indus River along an ancient trade route, Alchi is famous for its shrines, some of which we will visit. Many of the 900-year-old wall paintings and murals are so well preserved that they appear to have been painted recently. Overnight in Alchi.

 

Day 19: Return to Leh; Lamayuru Monastery, Basgo Castle

After some morning sightseeing around Alchi we return to Leh. Enroute, stops include Lamayuru Monastery, the oldest known in Ladakh, dating back prior to the 10th century. This gompa is in a spectacular setting making the views unforgettable. It also houses a famous collection of frescoes, carpets and thangkas. Driving along side of Indus river, we will stop at Basgo Castle also known as Basgo Rabtan Lhartsekhar Castle. Inside is the "Golden Maitreya", a sacred copper-gilt image of the Buddha Maitreya, two stories high and the three-story high Buddha Maitreya made of clay. We arrive back in Leh in the early evening. Overnight in Leh.

 

Day 20: Delhi

We have an early morning flight today back to Delhi. The remainder of the day is free for any last-minute shopping or a journey by cycle rickshaw to the spice market or the Sikh Temple. This evening we will have our farewell dinner. Overnight Delhi.

 

Day 21: Delhi

Today we say goodbye to this remarkable part of India. You will be transferred to the airport for your onward international departure flight.

 
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