Cultural Tours of India

India

Trip Summary
For those who share a passion for travel and Yoga, please join us for a very personalized and spiritually infused journey exploring the wonders of North India. This is not a yoga retreat but the chance to incorporate a daily practice and visit some of India's gems. This journey boasts two western guides: Kristy Tonti will guide our Yoga practice while Gordon Janow will take on the streets, deserts and culture of India. Each morning will begin with a sunrise/Namaste Yoga session as well as some yoga afternoons as time permits.

Questions? email your guide at: gjanow@alpineascents.com

Why North India?
We'll travel to explore some of the true treasures of India. The itinerary is simply places we love to take our friends. Gordon's focus as travel guide is to provide exposure to the sights and culture of India, while sharing his passion for this 2nd homeland. The selection of places is an attempt to paint a picture of India from a traveler's perspective. India is best understood state by state. Prior to independence, it was a loose configuration of different cultures galvanized by the independence movement. Our journey will include visits to Delhi, and Rajasthan. Lodging will be in 3-5 star hotels, generally opting for the most interesting choices. This is a highly personalized hand-picked itinerary and a unique opportunity to see India and a very intimate way.

Yoga & Travel
This unique trip offers a perfect blend for those with a shared passion for yoga and exotic travel. This is the perfect answer for those passionate about travel and wanting much more then a yoga retreat. This journey allows us to incorporate a daily yoga practice into our travel itinerary creating the spaces to enhance both experiences.

Our Guides
Kristy Tonti, Yoga Instructor
Yoga Instructor, artist and student of Buddhism, Kristi will lead our morning yoga classes. She has studied and practiced yoga in India, California, Hawaii and Washington adding to her background in anatomy and personal training. Kristy has been teaching hatha, ashtanga, yin and vinyasa yoga for 13 years (practicing many years longer). Adored by her students, she teaches a very authentic form of Yoga, structured around the tenants of breathing (Pranayama), energy (Bhandas) and postures (Asanas). Kristys care and love of teaching is evident in each of her classes, monitoring her students and creating spaces for all types of people and levels of experience to reap the rewards of a committed practice and making the practice accessible to all. She has studied RYT with Mark Stephens and has extended training with such practitioners as Nancy Gilgoff and Michael Gannon. As Kristy notes, "Yoga's feeling of leaving you light, clear and relaxed is a perfect addition to Asian travel."

Gordon Janow, Travel Guide
Gordon has been visiting, leading tours and writing about India for over 20 years. He is the Director of Program for Alpine Ascents International. He has traveled to most every state in India. Gordon has served as an Indian subcontinent expert for numerous media sources such the New York Times and Outside Magazine and has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the Nightly News. Gordon leads private trips to India.

Local Guides
We have local guides hired at many of the sites, giving you the perspective of a local guide as well as Gordon and Kristy.

What Past India Travelers Say:
We are so pleased with the tour. You have opened a new world for us, a culture and place so beautiful, so complex, so rich. As usual in traveling we come home with another perspective on which to view our own world. The trip was a wonderful overview. I cannot wait for the opportunity to return with you and to explore more profoundly the richness of the culture. Thank you for everything that you have done.- Doug S.

Gordon - Your deft guidance and deep knowledge of India made our experience unforgettably outstanding. All five of our senses were continually stimulated - to the max. Also the unusual bonding of the group was gratifying. We care about one another.

Truly, the trip was absolutely wonderful.It infiltrates my thoughtsnight and day and I've not yet grown tired of looking at pictures. The way you orchestrated everything - time, places, food, experiences was great - just enough guidance and information. For example the way you easedus from elegant Raj boulevards gradually to the cacophony of Varanasi's thoroughfares seemedmasterful! I couldn't have asked for more. -- Laura I.

Your background and experiences in India helped us experience India in a unique way that no other tour can offer. --Sue R.

Day to Day Itinerary
(Early morning Yoga sessions from Jan. 6 onward, except when in transit)

Jan. 4: Fly from U.S. to Bangkok (or via Europe)

Jan. 5: Arrive in Delhi

Jan. 6, New Delhi/Old Delhi: We'll complete this tour at the beginning and end of the trip. As the capital of five empires, Delhi's sights are vast. In Old Delhi, we'll visit major architectural achievements, including Lal Qila (The Red Fort) and the Jami Masjid (Friday mosque) while wandering the bustling market streets. New Delhi sights include Humayan's Tomb and the shrine of Nizam-ud-din. Humayan's tomb is one of the oldest examples of Moghul architecture, precursor to the Taj Mahal. It's a building filled with raw energy, topped by giant domes and surrounded by linear gardens. We'll then visit the neighborhood of Nizam-ud-din, the birthplace of Quawali music. We'll also visit the Januarytar Mantar (built in 1725), a lunar and solar observatory that looks like a postmodern playground. The Januarytar also has instruments used in predicting eclipses. Should time permit, we'll visit the Modern Art Museum, Hauz Khas Village, and the Lodhi tombs and gardens. We'll also visit some of the more obscure shopping areas, such as Dilli Haat and Pragati Maidan. We'll overnight on the first-class to Jaiselmer.

Jan. 7, Jaiselmer arrival: Taken straight from Tales of the Arabian Nights, this walled city of gold is truly the "stuff dreams are made of." Much time will be spent wandering the narrow streets of the old city and peering across the desert high up on the ramparts. Your train will be arriving in Jaiselmer at 12.40 hours and we transfer to hotel. Informal tour of old city.

Jan. 8, Formal Tour of Jaiselmer: Jaiselmer lies in the western extremity of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert. The ancient city, which stands on a low range of hills, surrounded by a stone wall three miles round, was founded in 1156 A.D. Within its walls lie temples, forts and palaces, all built of yellow sandstone. The Jain Temples in the fort are decked with deities and dancing figures in mythological settings. The library attached to these places of worship contains some of the most ancient manuscripts in India — some dating back to the 12th century — written on palm-leaf in black ink with handpainted wooden covers. Down in the city are the renowned Havelis or mansions of Salim Singh, Nathmalji and the Patwas, every house boasting superb latticework in innumerable and intricate designs.

Jan. 9, Manvar: We'll travel two hours to desert camp. It is beautifully staged resort-style lodging in the remote Thar Desert. We'll partake in a three-hour camel safari, traveling across sand dunes. As this area is rarely traveled by tourists, one easily harkens to the era of camel crossings and caravansaries, as the methodical rhythm of the animal's travel helps us transcend time.

Jan. 10, Drive to Jodphur (5-6 hours): After a morning departure, we'll take an afternoon tour of Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the land of the valiant Rathore kings, whose courage was a match for the tyranny of the Thar Desert. A bleak scarp rears up 120 meters from the desert valley. Straddling the rocky crevices is the massive Jodhpur Fort, its sheer walls reflecting the strength of its warrior builders. The fort is entered through seven gates, each a formidable barrier. The museum within the fort is one of the finest in Rajasthan and displays royal apparel, ancient paintings and manuscripts, fabled treasures of the royal household, and an armory. An interesting section displays folk music instruments from different regions of Rajasthan. Delicately latticed windows and pierced screens worked in sandstone form the dominant motif within the rugged casket of the fort and the palaces are exquisitely decorated. On the road down from the fort, the splash of blinding white marble on the left is Jaswant Thada, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II's cenotaph, built in 1899 (all previous rulers have their cenotaphs at Mandore). As with the Taj Mahal in Agra, the marble is from Makrana. The town below has more fine buildings and temples, and is interesting to walk through, particularly the market near the clock tower.

Jan. 11, Drive Udaipur: After breakfast, we'll take a six-hour drive to Udaipur.  En route a visit to Ranakpur, the famous Jain temples of Ranakpur which lie buried in a shady glen and cover a vast area. The central temple is called Chaumukha (four-faced) and is the most complex and extensive of Jain temples in India, covering an area of over 40,000 square feet (3,600 sq. meters). 1,444 pillars, none of which are alike, support its 29 halls. A subsidiary shrines in the shape of side alters throng around in all directions, including a temple dedicated to the Sun God which displays erotic carvings.  We'll overnight in a Udaipur hotel.

Jan. 12: Udaipur: Our sightseeing in Udaipur city includes a visit to the City Palace, which stands on the crest of a ridge overlooking Lake Pichola. The largest palace in Rajasthan, it was built at various periods but still has a harmony of design, enhanced by massive octagonal towers surmounted by cupolas. Now a museum, it is a labyrinth of courtyards richly decorated with inlaid mirror-work, galleries covered with frescos, temples and roof gardens that afford a wide panorama below. Sahelion-ki-Bari (Garden of the Handmaidens) is a good example of the Hindu art of landscaping on a princely scale. Ornamental pools with finely sculptured cenotaphs of black stone are surrounded by a profusion of fountains. The Jagdish Temple in the old town was built in the mid-17th century and has a remarkable bronze statue of Garuda, the mythical bird, facing his revered master, Lord Vishnu. The shops and craftsmen's ateliers in the narrow streets of the bazaar justify endless walking.

Jan. 13 and 14: Travel to Chatra Sagar: After a journey of four to five hours, we'll arrive at an old Maharajah hunting area turned five-star tent camp. This luxurious tented area sits on the edge of a huge damn as we watch birds and wildlife traverse the area. This will be one of the most interesting and peaceful days of the journey, as we'll visit local villages whose residents practice the timeless skills of weaving, pottery and smithing, much as they have 500 years. In the morning, those interested can hike around the dam. This is an opportune place for afternoon Yoga.

Jan. 15, Travel to Jaipur: After an early four- to five-hour drive to Jaipur, we'll arrive at the Rose Pink City, the capital of Rajasthan founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II (1693-1743). The Old City (known as the Pink City) is a great place to wander around. The whole city was painted pink by Maharaja Man Singh II when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited Jaipur in 1876 AD. Today, every home within the city is obliged by law to maintain its pink facade. The well-planned city, laid out in a grid pattern, was designed by a young Bengali engineer and scholar named Vidyadhar Bhattacharya.

Jaipur got its name from its founder Sawai Jai Singh (1693-1743), who had the vision to create a meticulously planned city as his capital. Jaipur was and remains the only city in the world that symbolizes the nine divisions of the universe through the nine rectangular sectors that subdivide it. Jaipur is a royal city and its small buildings and festivals testify to it. Jaipur and its surroundings are like an endless museum. The city also offers an endless variety of crafts. Jewelers here still fashion beautiful enamel-on-gold pendants, studded on the reverse with the precious stones or pearls and turquoise that one sees in miniature paintings. Jaipur's lacquer bangles are famous the world over.

Jan. 16, Explore Jaipur: This morning after breakfast, we'll drive to the Amber Fort, 11 km north of Jaipur and the regional capital for six centuries before Jaipur was built. Rising majestically on the slopes of a hill, this 11th-century fort and palace complex is blends Hindu and Muslim styles. It may be possible (subject to availability) to enjoy an elephant ride up the ramparts of the fort. The earlier constructions in the inner apartments designed by the Hindu founder are austere, while later constructions abound in the rich flourishes characteristic of Muslim influence. The Diwani-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) affords a view of the strategic location of Amber. The Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) is the finest example of the artistic exuberance of the day — panels of alabaster, fine inlay work, and a shimmering Hall of Mirrors renowned for its fine mirror work. The Sukh Nivas (Hall of Pleasure) has 17th-century air conditioning.

Continue exploring Jaipur, one of the best-planned cities in India, built of rose-pink sandstone by the great astronomer-king Jai Singh II in 1727. The City Palace stands in the center of the city. Part of it is still the Maharaja's residence, while most of the complex has been developed into a museum containing rare manuscripts, fine specimens of Rajput and Mughal paintings, royal apparel and an armory.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is the landmark of Jaipur. It stands on one of the main streets — a curious building, elaborate and fanciful, built of pink sandstone with a delicate honeycomb design. Five stories high, it is composed of semi-octagonal overhanging windows, each with its perforated screen, which allowed the ladies of the court to look onto the main street without being seen.

Januarytar Mantar is the Royal observatory, built by the founder of Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. The huge stone instruments were devised to study the movements of the sun, moon and planets, and are incredibly accurate.

We'll have time to wander through the colorful bazaars, a veritable collector's paradise where you can watch ancient craft forms. Meenakari or enameling delicate patterns of birds and flowers fired in glowing red, deep green, peacock blue and white; the gold jewel is then given further sparkle with emeralds, rubies, white sapphires and dangling pearls. In tiny ateliers, you can see the age-old tie-dye methods of cloth printing, with yard upon yard of vivid turquoise, ochre and crimson cloth unfolding.

Jan. 17: Travel to Delhi. We'll travel for five or six hours, then arrive at our hotel. 

Jan. 18: Depart Delhi, return to the U.S. or home country


Extension to Varanasi/Agra ( one can extend to both Varanasi and Agra or just visit one site)
For those interested in further travel we can offer extension to Agra ( Taj Mahal and/or Varanasi)

Day 16: Fly to Varanasi : In the morning you will be transferred to the airport to board flight 9W 333 to Varanasi, departing at 1040 hours and arriving in Varanasi at 1150 hours. Afternoon visit Sarnath, located 6 miles (9 km) from Varanasi, which is the center of the Buddhist world, just as Varanasi is that for the Hindu. It was here that Buddha preached his first sermon, partially recorded on one of its stones.  Dhamek Stupa dating back to 500 AD, is the largest with geometrical ornaments on its wall. Dharmarajika Stupa was set up by emperor Ashoka to contain the bodily relics of the Buddha. There is an outstanding museum, worth visiting.

Day 17: In Varanasi:  Early in the morning, before sunrise, depart for a boat ride on the sacred Ganges River, where devout Hindus can be seen performing their daily ablutions. The bathing ghats, over three miles in length, lead down from a steep bank to the river  and are the soul of the city.  Here, where the wavelets of the Ganges lap the last of the stone steps, can be seen young Hindu men practicing Hatha yoga, older men seated, eyes closed in meditation, Brahmin priests under sunshades, waiting to bless the passing pilgrims, and beggars sitting in serried ranks. Manikarnika burning ghat is the chief cremation centre of Varanasi. Corpses lined in white silk or linen are borne on bamboo stretchers to the smoking pyres, where they are deposited to await their turn. Photography is not usually permitted here.  Return to  hotel for breakfast. Afterwards, explore Varanasi, the religious capital of the Hindu faith since the dawn of history. Known as Kashi in the 7th century BC it constitutes a microcosm of Indian life. No one knows how old it really is - when Buddha came here in 550 BC, it was already a flourishing ancient settlement. The town is one inextricable maze of small streets and alleyways, hiding in disorderly array no less than 2,000 temples and shrines. Domes, pinnacles, towers and derelict 18th-century palaces dominate the left bank of the Ganges river. The streets are noisy, color is rife. Overnight at the Hotel.

Day 18: Flight to Delhi, transfer to Hotel ( can depart this evening)

Day 19: Travel to Agra to visit Taj Mahal and Fatephur Sikri

Day 20: Visit Taj Mahal (2nd visit) early morning /return to Delhi for flight home

Prices available on request