The itinerary has been created to experience the essence of India’s spirituality through the discovery of the sacred river Ganges. The Ganges (or Ganga in Hindu) originates from the Gangotri glacier in Gaumukh in the Himalayan range at 4100 meters above sea level and runs through India for 2525 km before flowing into the Bay of Bengal, hosting the Sundarbans into its wide delta. It is the holiest river for Indians, of great importance for Hindus and revered as a deity called ‘Gangaji’ or ‘Ganga maiya’ (Mother Ganges). Hindus believe that performing rituals in the ganges amplifies their benefits. The tour will touch on some of the most important places located along the the river Ganges to show the great meaning that the river has for the Hindu religion. At the same time you will admire India with its immense variety of architecture, cultures, traditions, beliefs and rituals, cuisine, flora and fauna. We will start from Kolkata, the city of joy. Here you will experience the culture and traditions of Bengal by visiting the traditional Zamindari mansions, the Marble Palace, the fish and spice markets and enjoying the typical cuisine. In Kolkata you will have the opportunity to live an Altromercato Experience and discover the work of one of the fairtrade cooperatives partner of Altromercato: Silence. You will see the operational area of the cooperative that exports its products, such as incense sticks, costume jewelry and candles through the Italian fair-trade network of Altromercato. Afterwards we will move to Shantiniketan, a village created by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore. Here you will meet the unusual nomadic tribes called Bauls who sing songs to narrate their life, their philosophy and their beliefs, inspired by their everyday experiences. Their exciting songs reach the heart and fill it with an inexplicable feeling of joy. This first part of the trip to West Bengal will end with a last boat ride on the Ganges enjoying the beautiful sunset, to pay tribute to this glorious deity that is the Ganges, which will makes this experiences unforgettable.
A night train will take us from Calcutta to the sacred city of Varanasi / Benares, on the banks of the Gange, which is considered the abode of Shiva. It is also one of the Shakti Peethas (places of worship of the goddess Shakti) and hosts one of the twelve Jyotirlinga (shrines in honor of Shiva) of India, which makes it one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Hindus. The city also has great historical significance, with its more than 3000 years of history. The silk produced here is famous all over the world, as inside the weave of the fabric are inserted gold and silver threads: an inevitable purchase for shopping lovers and at the same time something of great artistic value.
The next stop will be the capital New Delhi, full of fascinating monuments, museums and art galleries; architectural wonders, fabulous restaurants and colorful markets. We will move to Rishikesh, a small quiet town located on the slopes of the Himalayas, where the Chandrabhaga River flows into the sacred Ganges. Surrounded by beautiful hills on three sides and a valley where the ganges flow, this sacred land is an ideal meditation center where pilgrims from all over the world come in search of salvation. You can admire fantastic sunsets and the fascinating Aarti ritual; you will have the opportunity to seek inner peace through yoga and meditation. You will visit Haridwar temples and ashrams; in the evening you will take part in the sacred river Ganges veneration ritual, to experience the deep Hindu religiosity. In the district of Dehradun, you will discover the work of activist Vandana Shiva.
Registration can be requested for group travel or for self-travel. For group travel, registration is not binding. Upon reaching the minimum number of members necessary for the formation of the group, usually 4 or 6 people, you will be asked for confirmation of booking and payment of a deposit.
1° DAY: ARRIVAL IN KOLKATA
Arrival at Kolkata International Airport and check in at the Hotel. Kolkata, is the capital of the state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it is the main commercial, cultural and educational center of East India, and its port is the oldest in the country and the only river port. Calcutta was the capital during British colonialism, for this reason preserves in many buildings the architectural style of that period, which contrasts sharply with the degradation of some urban areas and with the more recent and dynamic suburbs and with the inevitable air-conditioned shopping centers. After a short rest, you will have the opportunity to visit the fair trade cooperative Altromercato, Silence. The main objective of the cooperative is to allow people with disabilities (mainly people with deafness) to obtain technical training, in order to support themselves. You will visit the main workshop in Kolkata and the production of candles, incense and postcards. The guide will briefly explain the sign language and in this way if you want you can communicate with the deaf craftsmen. Lunch will be included in the program. At the end of this visit, you will see the production phase of the jewelry. Overnight in Kolkata (L)
2° DAY: TRASFER TO SHANTINIKETAN
Kolkata – Shantiniketan
Early in the morning, fast train to Shantiniketan, whose name means ‘abode of peace’. It is an authentic nerve center of Bengali art and culture. The Nobel Prize-winning poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) founded a school here in 1901. Upon arrival, transfer to the host families. in the evening, baul song show (nomadic tribe). Overnight in Shantiniketan (B, D)
3° DAY: VISIT TO SHANTINIKETAN
Shantiniketan – Kolkata
In the morning sightseeing tour that includes the Tagore Museum, the art school, the Craft village and a walk in the Santhal tribal village, followed by a cultural program and a traditional lunch. Afternoon return by train to Kolkata. The day ends with a rickshaw ride in the New Market. Overnight in Kolkata. (B, L)
4° DAY: VISIT OF KOLKATA
In the morning after breakfast, 3h walk to discover the cultural heritage of the North of Kolkata, which includes the ancient noble palaces and mansions, the potters village in Kumartuli, the lively local shops and the narrow streets and alleys from which the city has evolved in a few centuries. Return to the hotel to have lunch and rest. In the afternoon, visit the Indian Museum, Victoria Memorial hall, St. John’s Church, and Kali Temple. Night train to Varanasi. Overnight by train. (B)
5° DAY: VISIT TO VARANASI
In the morning arrival in Varanasi and transfer to the hotel on the banks of the Ganges for some rest. To follow, guided visit of Varanasi. The lush vegetation on the banks of the river increases the charm of the city. It’s a perfect destination for travelers fascinated by Hindu beliefs, customs, culture and ideas. Here you can live authentic experiences of Hindu life. Overnight in Varanasi. (B)
6° DAY: VISIT TO VARANASI
After breakfast, guided tour of the sacred city with its many attractions, ancient temples such as Kashi Vishwanath, Kal Bhairava, Durga Kund and Annapoorna. Varanasi is also an important center of art, crafts, education and culture. There are the Benares main Ghats, or bleachers leading to the Ganges, many of which are used for ritual ablutions, others for cremations. Often the bleachers are associated with a legend or a mythological episode; others are private. The most important steps for cremations is the Manikarnika Ghat, known as Mahasmasana, included in the sightseeing tour. It is believed that burning bodies in these special places is the right way to achieve Moksha, salvation. In the evening, you will see the famous religious ritual of the Ganga Aarti Puja, which takes place every day at sunset at the Dasaswamedh Ghat, near the Kashi Vishwanath temple and is a very choreographic ceremony. It is performed on a stage by a group of young Pandits, wrapped in saffron tunics, who hold the ceremonial dishes in front of them. Overnight in Varanasi. (B)
7° DAY: VISIT TO SARNATH
After breakfast, time to discover the Ghats (stairways) that dot the Ganges. In the afternoon, visit the Buddhist city of Sarnath, located 13km northeast of Varanasi, near the confluence of the Gomati River in the Ganges in Utta Pradesh. Sarnath Deer Park is the place where Gautama Buddha first taught Dharma. Today it is one of the 4 key points of the Buddhist community (with Bodhgaya, Kushinagar and Lumbini in Nepal) and attracts believers from all over the world, especially on the day of Purnima (or Buddha’s birthday), when life is celebrated, the death and enlightenment of Buddha. Overnight in Varanasi. (B)
8° DAY: TRANFER TO DELHI
Varanasi – Delhi
In the morning domestic flight to New Delhi, meeting with our operators just out of the terminal and transfer to the hotel for some rest. Later in the morning visit to the poor neighborhood of Paharganj, in Old Delhi, led by the young people of the NGO, which works with street children, educates them and trains them professionally. The paths of City Walk aim to bring to light the tragic reality of street children and to show the world from their perspective. The walk takes place in the Paharganj district and in the areas around the train station, accompanied by a former street child who was helped by the NGO and today has an occupation. You will have the unique opportunity to visit the city with exceptional guides and for them it will be an excellent opportunity to improve their communication skills. Lunch in a typical paraganj restaurant. After lunch visit some of the most important attraction of Old Delhi such as the Red Fort (visit only from outside), a UNESCO World Heritage since 2007, built in 1639 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the creator of the Taj Mahal), the the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, where an ancient copy of the holy Quran written on Deer skin is preserved. Visit small lanes of this part of the city such as Chawri Bazar, one of the busiest streets of Old Delhi. Later visit Raj Ghat, the site of Mahatma Ghandi cremation. If more time available later you can visit also the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, one of the most prominent Sikh gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship in India, known as the “Sarovar.” Overnight in Delhi (B).
9° DAY: TRANSFER TO RISHIKESH
In the early morning, transfer to New Delhi station and travel on the “Dehradun Shatabadi” train to Haridwar. On arrival tour of the city. Here the Ganges leaves the Himalayan mountains and starts its journey through the plains; this place gives a special sacredness of the city. The sightseeing tour includes a visit to the Chandi Devi temple which, located on the top of the Neel Parvat, offers a panoramic view of the city. The temple can be reached with a 3km walk from the Chandi Ghat. The tour also includes the Mayan Devi Temple, which is located east of Har-Ki-Pauri, and the Bhimgoda Dam and Pawan Dham Temple, famous for its glass-decorated Hanuman Mandir. In the evening, you will attend the Aarti ceremony in Har-Ki-Pauri. It’s one of the most important Ghats on the Ganges and an ablution at this point is a must for all devotees. The ritual of the Ganga Aarti that turns every evening is a wonderful sight: thousands of lanterns are floated on the river and the priests recite an evening prayer. In the evening transfer to the hotel in Rishikesh (25km – about 30 min). The spectacle of the Ganges River branching off to the slopes of the Himalayas is wonderful. Overnight in Rishikesh (B)
10° DAY: VISIT TO RISHIKESH
Early in the morning, Yoga classes at Yoga Neeketan Ashram. This ancient traditional Indian art is celebrated with the International Yoga Week, which takes place in Rishikesh, on the slopes of the Himalayas and on the banks of the Ganges. The term Yoga comes from the Sanskrit ‘Yuj’ which means to join, bind, unite, subdue, direct and concentrate attention, use and apply. When practicing Yoga, you exercise control over the forces of the body, mind and soul. It is a very useful practice to discipline the intellect, the mind, the emotions and the will; allows you to have a serene approach to life in all its aspects. After class, return to the hotel for breakfast. Next, sightseeing tour of Rishikesh with a visit to the Lakshman Jhoola, a suspended bridge that crosses the Ganges. A pleasant 2km walk leads to Sivanand Jhoola, also known as Ram Jhoola. Beyond this bridge is the Swargashram area, a quiet and serene place filled with Ashrams. The small path that runs along the zora unfolds right next to the river and is full of shops and restaurants on one side and ashram on the other. Swargashram is known for its quiet atmosphere and closeness to the Ganges. Overnight in Rishikesh (B)
11° DAY: VISIT TO VANDANA SHIVA CENTRE
Early in the morning, Yoga class at the Yoga Neeketan Ashram. After the lesson, transfer by car to Dehradun, to the Vandana Shiva center called Navdanya, a participatory research initiative of the Research Foundation for Sciences, Ecology and Ecology (RFSTE). Navdanya means ‘nine seeds’, which constitute India’s source of food security. The aim of the Navdanya biodiversity protection program is to support local farmers, saving and protecting crops and plants at risk of extintion, making them available through direct sales. Nowdays, more than 5000 varieties of crops have been re-established including 100 of rice, 150 of wheat, 150 of beans (rajma), 15 of millet and different varieties of legumes, vegetables and medicinal plants. During the stay it will be possible to have a direct experience of the activities carried out by one of the major centers of biodiversity protection in the world. In the evening return to Rishikesh. Overnight in Rishikesh (B, L)
12° DAY: departure for return
Transfer by car to Delhi airport (about 5 hours) and departure by international flight
All the itinerary has been designed in order to promote direct or indirect benefits for local communities, environment and cultural heritages. When possible we have selected traditional accommodations sensible to social and environmental issues, following general principles and practices of responsible tourism. You will have the opportunity to visit the chaotic Delhi with different eyes, visiting the most remote and unusual parts of the old city with the help of marginalized young people trained as tour guides by the NGO Salaam Baalak. Through the helps of these young guides you will have the chance to learn about their life experience as street children. This NGO has been working for several years in the slums and poor neighborhoods of the capital, creating several accommodations for street children and promoting their education and access to work. During the two-hour guided tour in the areas of Paraghanj, you will have the opportunity to visit these shelter homes and understand the projects undertaken by this NGO. In Deradun you will have a first-hand exposure to the work of Vandana Shiva in her centre Navdanya. Navdanya’s mission focuses on improving the well being of small and marginalized rural producers through non violent biodiverse organic farming and fair trade. In Kolkata we have arranged for a short rickshaw ride to benefit this community to sustain their livelihood. Her you will have a chance also to discover the work of Silence, an Organisation partner of Altromercato experience. Silence’s most important objective is to let disabled people (mainly deaf people) get a technical education in order to work and to earn their own livings. Everything started in 1976 when a handful of deaf people formed a little informal group with their creative skill-sets and lots of dreams to achieve an economic and spiritual self-sufficiency. Their dedication and a bold initiative to create hand-painted greeting cards attracted a group of social activists. And together, they formed a society that registered as an NGO in 1979. For the first few years Silence depended on the well-wishers and the infrastructures investment agencies for the procurement of a workshop for the artisans), an emporium (a retail outlet) and investment in tools and equipments. Silence is now able to face its expenses for production, staff and property with its own steadily growing sales revenues. Silence has got its own education centre in cooperation with the University of Jadavpur (Training Institute), where artistic handicraft, trade and IT are taught so that many people can also find a job in other organizations. Silence shares the profits with the artisans and provide them with a welfare system and with health insurance. In Shantiniketan, the tour is designed to have involvement of the Baul and Santhal communities as to create benefit to their livelihood.
Moreover, your contribution of 70 euros will support development projects in favour of one of the most marginalized tribal communities of India. Tribal communities are still at the margin of Indian society and for this reason two are the main projects financed: 1) to conserve biological and cultural diversity 2) to promote the formal education of children belonging to Kattunayakan community of the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Rishikesh and Varanasi are certainly famous tourist destination in India, drawing tourists from all parts of India and the world. However, it is advised that you following carefully a code conduct which respects local culture to avoid any hassles or unwanted troubles along your journey. In particular, avoid to show affection in public places, such as hugging, kissing etc., as this behaviour is not appreciated by local people.
You are also advised to follow a certain dress code. There are basically two reasons why it is recommended to be careful about what clothes you wear while traveling to India. The first reason is to prevent you from hurting the sentiments of the local people and second, to protect you from the varied weather conditions prevailing in seasons. One more thing to keep in mind is mosquitoes…it is advised to keep your arms and legs covered because it provides protection (however, don’t forget to bring with you mosquito nets and repellents, especially for backwaters cruises). Some tribal communities, especially the veterans in the village, are sensitive to photography. It is always good to take permission before taking photograph in the villages and local markets. Temples, churches and synagogue, monasteries and mosques are places of worship. Visitors should be modestly dressed. Admission might be denied to men and women wearing short pants/skirts, sleeveless
India’s time zone is GMT/UTC +5.30, so chances of jet lag cannot be ignored. It is advised that you get onto India’s time zone as soon as you leave home and try to eat and sleep on Indian time. Also, if you reach India early in the day, try to stay awake – this will help the body’s internal clock to reset.
A conscious approach to travel requires a considerable capacity and willingness to adapt and adjust to the local environment and culture. If you wish to travel with us we request you to be open enough to experience local culture, religious and traditions without bias and pre-conceived ideas you might have before the departure and which belong to our Western cultural way of thinking. Exploring with fresh eyes, with patience and openness, you will be able to access the real essence of Indian cultural heritage through the places and people you are going to meet; if you are ready to do this effort you will really enjoy the beauty of a completely different cultural tradition, the extraordinary of the nature, the solemnity of temples and palaces, the holiness of the waters of countless rivers that flow through this magic land.
We selected beautiful and traditional heritages resorts with excellent facilities throughout the tour.
Some of the transfers will be done by train: Kolkata-Shantinikethan-Kolkata; Delhi-Haridwar, and one internal fligh from Varanasi to Delhi) and one overnight train from Varanasi to Kolkata will help you discover the real India. Private AC vehicles, mini coaches (Tempo Traveller), according to the number of participants, for transfers from Haridwar to Rishikesh and from Rishikesh to Deradun. Country boat rides in Kolkata.
The best period of visit is Mid-September to Mid-March. December is Poush Mela festival in Shantiniketan. October is Durga puja in Kolkata, which is the greatest festival of the Bengalis and it is celebrated with much grandeur throughout the city. Mid -January is Poush Shankranti, or the harvest festival which is celebrated traditionally all over India. February/March is Maha Shivratri and it is celebrated in Rishikesh, Varanasi and Kolkata.