Sacred India

Everybody who has burned with intense inquiry has found the sunrise. Others only believe. The truth is to be known, to be lived, to be given your own form and expression.

The journey presented through these few days in India are of intense enquiry into the myths and stories surrounding some of the great religions of the world, in both their exoteric and esoteric garbs. At each point of your itinerary, you will meet masters and exponents of the vistas you will travel through. You will travel with them; share a meal, a moment.

Your journey is a labour, a re-discovery of the divine creative and redemptive image that you have unwittingly suppressed within. The knowing infuses with qualities that gratify the longings deep within. How fluid and open you are to the rites of passage and insights that present themselves from moment to moment determines the speed of this gratification.

The journey begins in Delhi, and continues through the ancient kingdom of Magadh, walked by Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Chanakya and more esoteric beings like Babaji, Swami Vivekananda, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sadhus and Tantrics have passed. You travel into the heart of India and encounter sensuality in all its glory, and pass through for a well-needed sojourn into the wilderness. From here your journey is through the touristy cities of Agra and Jaipur, but with a difference in that your journey of intense inquiry continues into Islam and Sufism and the venerated traditions of Rajasthan. There is a full day in Delhi towards the end to sit back and bask in communion.  Each day yoga, meditation and integrate the experience of the day previous, the three realms of the human being – body, mind and soul.

1 DELHI
Your hotel in Delhi is available for check-in after 12:00 noon. You will be received at the airport and accompanied to your hotel located in a quiet tree-lined residential neighbourhood. The cook offers home-cooked meals from Pan-Asian to Continental fare.

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

2 DELHI
A short walk from the haveli is the beautiful Deer Park. This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are in the park. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

This morning you visit the Mehrauli Archeological Park with a specialist Sacred India guide. Mehrauli, also mentioned Yoginipura, is one of the seven ancient cities that make up the present state of Delhi. Your first stop is the Yogmaya Temple. The temple is said to be built by in 3000 BC and is dedicated to the divine feminine. Visit the Dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki the renowned Sufi mystic. He was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and spiritual successor of Moinuddin Chishti, whose dargah is at Ajmer.

Continue to the Qutab Minar, now a world heritage monument. The 72.5-meter tall pillar was built by Qutab ud din Aibak (1192-98). In the courtyard of the Quwwatu’l-Islam mosque stands an iron pillar, raised originally as a standard to Vishnu in the 4th century AD by Chandra Gupta. Cast in a process now lost to the world, it has remained rust-free through-out the centuries.

In the afternoon you visit the Bahá’í House of Worship, popularly known as the Lotus Temple due to its flowerlike shape. The temple has a diameter of 70 meters and rises 34.27 meters from floor to the top. Nine pools of water around create the illusion of a 27 petalled lotus floating on water. The Bahai Faith is an independent world religion and inculcates the principle of oneness and the wholeness of the human race. The scriptures are unique in that for the first time the writing of a major religion is authentically available in the handwriting of its Founder; or signed by the founder, if in the handwriting of his secretary. Drive past the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the administrative North and South Blocks, the circular House of Parliament and the Memorial Arch of the First World War called India Gate. Drive past the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, St James Church and turn back via the Nigambodh Ghat where it is said Lord Shiva discovered the lost knowledge of the Vedas. Continue onto the Raj Ghat, and visit the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

3 DELHI – PATNA
A short walk from your haveli is the beautiful Deer Park. This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are in the park. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

Leave for the airport in time to check-in for the flight to Patna.

You will be received at the airport and accompanied to your hotel in down-town Patna. The hotel offers centrally air-conditioned rooms with three food outlets and a swimming pool. This morning you visit the Patna Museum. The museum was built in 1917 and houses the historical artefacts found in the vicinity of Patna. On display is the world-famous Didarganj Yakshi statue, discovered on the banks of the Ganga in 1917. Drive past the Transport Bhawan and High Court buildings to the Takht Patna Sahib Gurudwara, the birthplace of the Tenth Guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This is one of five Holy Seats of Authority of the Sikhs. Guru Nanak visited this place before going to Gaya.

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

4 PATNA – NALANDA – BODH GAYA
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are by the swimming pool. Return to your room to dress and come down to breakfast.

After breakfast, you leave for Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya lies in fertile lands watered by the Nairanjana river. Across the river more than 2500 years ago, the young ascetic Siddhartha, gazed at the serene landscape of the Uruvela village (modern Bodh Gaya). It was here he attained Samma Sambodhi, and was henceforth known as The Buddha.

Enroute to Bodh Gaya lie Kundalpur and Nalanda. Kundalpur is the birthplace of Lord Mahavir, the Jain Tirthankar some about 2,550 years ago. The Jain tradition is known as the Sramana tradition. The sramanas were ascetics, who led pure and austere lives, without possessions, wandering from place to place and subjecting themselves to rigorous austerities and self-discipline. Through the teachings of Parsvanatha and Mahavira, the last two of the 24 tirthankaras, the tradition grew into the organized religion of Jainism.

At Nalanda lie the ruins of an ancient University that flourished from the 5th century till 1199 AD, when it was sacked and set afire by the Afghan Bakhtiar Khilji. Admissions were extremely coveted, and only two out of ten eminent scholars was admitted. Evacuations have yielded nine levels of occupation; temples and monasteries all built in red brick. At its zenith, it had a vast library, 2000 teachers, over 10000 students from as far as Japan, Sumatra, Java and Korea. Legend has it contained 9 million volumes that burned for 6 months after its sacking. Buddha and Mahavira both taught here.

On arrival in Bodh Gaya, you check-in to your hotel, near the Maha Bodhi Temple. The hotel offers deluxe rooms and a restaurant serving Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Continental cuisine.

5 BODHGAYA
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are at the Maha Bodhi Temple. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

The core teaching of Buddhism propound – abstain from unwholesome actions, perform wholesome actions and purify the mind. Bodh Gaya is quite an international town with monasteries, guesthouses, meditation centres and Buddhist temples from different countries. The Archaeological Survey of India has a small museum which houses antiquities evacuated in and around Bodh Gaya. You take a guided tour of the Mahabodhi Temple. The sanctum houses a gilded statue of the Buddha in the bhomisparsha mudra, with one finger touching the earth, calling it to witness his awakening. Outside in the sunken courtyard stands the fifth generation Bodhi Tree. Seven spots within the temple are sacred because it was at each of these spots Siddhartha spent a week meditating after attaining Enlightenment.
In the afternoon you continue to the spot where the lady Sujatha offered sweetened milk rice to an emancipated Siddhartha and suggested that life-threatening austerities could not be the path to enlightenment. We return and visit the Thai Temples and the massive statue of Buddha built by the Japanese.

6 BODH GAYA – VARANASI
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are at the Maha Bodhi Temple. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

The morning is at leisure.

After lunch, you leave for Varanasi and check-in at the hotel featuring an on-site spa & multiple dining outlets.

Varanasi is an ancient Vedic city dating from the beginning of the first millennium BCE. Its Sanskrit name Kashi means radiance. Of its many temples, the most important is Kashi Vishvanath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of the city. Shiva represents both the axis of the universe as well as that of one’s inner being. Since time immemorial it has served as a holy centre of pilgrimage and a seat of Vedic learning. It is famous for its silks, shawls, brocade and embroideries.

The city is laid in a sacred geometrical grid. It was estimated correctly that the sun and the moon were approximately 108 times their respective diameters from the earth, and this number was used in sacred architecture. The distance to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple from the gate and the perimeter of the temple were taken to be 54 and 180 units, which are one‐half each of 108 and 360. The astronomical basis of the Vedic ritual was the reconciliation of the lunar and solar years.

There are several pilgrimage circuits in Varanasi for circumambulating the city. Several Aditya shrines have been located, six of these lie along one side of an isosceles triangle with a base of 2.5 km. The triangle surrounds the former temple of Madhyameshavara, which was the original centre of Kashi. Pilgrims walking along the triangle are symbolically circumambulating the cosmos.

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

7 VARANASI
Early this morning enjoy a boat ride on the Ganga at sunrise to witness the procession of life as pilgrims and devotees perform their rituals amidst the ringing of bells from countless temples. Walk through the crowded lanes, past Cremation Grounds and the gold-domed Vishwanath Temple.

This morning you will visit the Benaras Hindu University and meet with notable Academia It is the largest residential university in Asia, with over 12,000 students living on its campus and is spread across 5 ½ sq km of land donated by the ruler of Varanasi in 1916.

After lunch, you are at leisure. You can take a rickshaw (pedal cab) back to the ghats and be part of that procession, or we could arrange a guide for you to explore and discover the city for yourself. We could also arrange the time with notable scholars or artists. In the evening we congregate at the ghats to witness the Aarti worship of the river.

8 VARANASI – KHAJURAHO
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are at the Ganga Ghats. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

Spiritual discourse and practice after breakfast.

Leave for the airport in time to check-in for the flight to Khajuraho.

You will be received at the airport and accompanied to your hotel located only 500 meters from the world heritage site of Western Group of the Khajuraho Temples.

The builders of the temples at Khajuraho were the Chandelas, a Lunar dynasty. Legend says that the Moon God seduced Hemwati, the lovely young daughter of a Brahmin priest while she was bathing in a forest pool. This union gave birth to Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela dynasty. Some say the Chandelas followed a Tantric cult. Tantra itself is a broad-minded discretionary discriminating path towards merging with the divine beloved. It is a short-cut, requiring complete immersion, for nothing less will complete the journey.

The temples of Khajuraho were built in 9th ‐12th century. Of the 84 temples, 23 have survived. Like Varanasi, the temples are laid in a sacred geometrical grid. Such a practice has remained common since recorded history of the Indus Sarasvati civilizations of 4000 to 5000 BC and mythically into tens of thousands of years earlier. In Khajuraho, this geometry is drawn from the Dantla hills. At its peak of 390 m is located a shrine to Shiva, which is a reference point for the temple entrances. The southeastern edge has the Lavanya hill that is separated from the Dantla hills by the eastward flowing river Khudar. At the foothills of the Lavanya hill at a height of 244m is the shrine of goddess Durga as Mahishasurmardini. The shrines to Shiva and Durga on the Dantla and Lavanya hills span the polarities of spirit (Purusha) and matter (Prakriti), which are bridged by the river between the hills. The Lakshmana temple, one of the oldest of the complex, is considered the axis mundi of the site. This temple is oriented to the sunrise on Holi, a day of re-birth following catharsis. The groups of temples form three overlapping mandalas. The temple, as a representation of the cosmos and its order, balances the asuras (demons/active principle) and the devas (gods/passive principle), as well as inheres in itself other polarities of existence. The temple is envisioned like Mount Meru, the axis of the universe, and the planets move around it.

This afternoon you visit the western group of. It features carvings in delicate details of gods, goddesses, celestial maidens and lovers. The temples are designed to lead one’s eyes from ground level ever upwards to the ultimate heaven. They are ornately carved, with each frieze and sculpture depicting the genius of the men who carved it and the king who inspired them. The sensual appeal of the erotic sculptures is only a small part of the wealth of the site. Taken in totality, the sculptures of Khajuraho depict the everyday life of the people and the court of the 10th and 11th centuries.

This is followed by a Sound and Light Show at the temples of the western group

9 KHAJURAHO – PANNA
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are on the hotel lawns overlooking the temple complex. Return to your room to dress and come down to breakfast.

After breakfast, you leave for two days of leisure within the forests of the Panna National Park. You stay here is in the Ken River Lodge, fondly called the Tree House by locals, because of its lovely Machaan restaurant overlooking the Ken River, it is the finest place to get lost from the world. It is spread in sprawling jungle of 50 acres along the Ken River and offers a unique opportunity to laze with the crocodiles, roar with the tigers and soar with the birds. It offers a unique blend of traditional royal hospitality and comfortable country living.

Panna National Park is spread over 1645 sq. km was carved out of the hunting reserves of Panna, Bijawar and Chatarpur states. Out of the total area, 543 sq km is core and 1002 sq km is buffer. In 1994 it became India’s 22nd Tiger Reserve. It is predominantly an open forest and offers great opportunity to view animals like Tiger, Sloth Bear, Cheetal, Sambhar and Nilgai. Panna is also home to crocodiles and over 300 species of birds.

You can take a wildlife safari into the Tiger Reserve. Your expert trained naturalist will give you a full orientation of what to expect on your safari drives into the jungle.

Dinner may be served in the dining room or you may enjoy a surprise palanquin dining experience with a jungle dinner in an ox cart. Savour delicious Indian cooking, including Haandi dishes served in earthenware pots. After dinner, indulge in decadent desserts, served with tea, coffee or cognac. You are escorted back to your stone cottage for a peaceful night’s sleep.

10 PANNA
Your personal wake-up call will include the delivery of freshly squeezed orange juice, tea, coffee and homemade biscuits through the butler hatch for you to enjoy. This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are overlooking the forest.

Your day is at leisure. You can take wildlife safaris into the Tiger Reserve.

11 PANNA – ORCHHA – AGRA
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are overlooking the forest. Return to your room to dress and step-out to and breakfast.

You now travel north to Orchha. Founded in the 16th century by the Bundela Rajput chieftain Rudra Pratap. Orchha is a rich legacy of the ages. The palaces and temples retain much of their pristine perfection. Complementing the noble exteriors are interiors which represent the finest flowering of the Bundela School of Painting. You will have time for quiet contemplation along the banks of the Betwa, a beautiful rocky river.

Lunch is at the Sheesh Mahal Palace.

There is a train to be caught, the Shatabdi Express to Agra and you reach the railway station in time to step on board for your journey. Along the way, you will cross the mighty Chambal river and the ravines at Dholpur, once roamed by fierce dacoits.

You will be received at the railway station and accompanied to your hotel spread over 35 acres of gardens, and in close proximity to the Taj Mahal. It is the only Indian hotel to have won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for its excellent representation of Mughal architecture. The hotel offers a speciality Indian and Oriental restaurant, a lobby bar and a multi cuisine restaurant serving Continental, Chinese and Indian fare.

12 AGRA
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are in the hotel gardens. Return to your room to dress and come down to breakfast. The morning is at leisure to pamper yourself at Kaya Kalp – the Royal Spa, recreating in today’s context, the opulence and luxurious lifestyle of the Mughal Dynasty. Spread over a vast expanse of more than ninety-nine thousand square feet, this is the largest spa in India and offers therapy based on ancient customs, to create meaningful experiences for the soul.

Late afternoon you visit the Taj Mahal and stay until sunset. The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of the Empress Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved spouse of Shah Jahan and is described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love. The vastness of geometric perfection and balance with design, together with the finesse of the rich inlay work with semi-precious stones in white marble is executed with great skill. It marks the most developed stage of Mughal architecture.

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

13 AGRA – JAIPUR
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are across the river watching the sunrise on the Taj Mahal. Return to your hotel to dress and breakfast.

You leave for Jaipur. Enroute are the imperial ruins of Fatehpur Sikri, chiselled of red-sandstone, with its many halls, gates and palaces.

Popular legend says that Sheikh Salim Chisti lived in a grotto in Sikri. Akbar, hearing of his renown, sought his blessings for a son and when his wish was granted, named the child Salim and choose the site to build a city expressing his ideas and vision, and carried out experiments in art and architecture. The design combines several regional elements of regional architecture with that of Central Asia and Iran. It has many fine monuments.

Lunch is at the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Bharatpur, a family home was converted into a hotel. From the kitchen, the family personally supervise the preparation of meals.

Your next stop is the Chand Baoli and Harsat Mata’s temple at Abhaneri. The Chand Baori is one of India’s deepest and largest step wells. Step wells are the unique concept of India. These big tanks were used as cool places of resort and water reservoir in parched days. It was a ritual to wash hands and feet before visiting the temple. Adjoining the Chand Baori, is the temple of Harshat Mata, goddess of joy and happiness.

On your arrival in Jaipur check-in to your hotel, a quintessential Indo-Saracenic regal residence steeped in history and tradition, offering its guests contemporary luxuries and the impeccable hospitality and courtesy that are signature style.

The city of Jaipur was designed by a young Bengali architect, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya who formalized the city’s plans in accordance with the principles of town planning set down in the “Shilpa Shastra” – an epochal treatise on the Hindu architecture. The wide straight avenues, roads, streets, lanes and uniform rows of shops on either side of main markets were arranged in nine rectangular city sectors (Chokris).

Spiritual discourse and practice followed by dinner.

14 JAIPUR
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are by the pool. Return to your room to dress and come out to breakfast.

The morning is at leisure.

This afternoon you will visit the Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, City Palace and the Astronomical Observatory. The fort of Amber is built on the rugged hills that surround Jaipur. Within the Amber Fort are ornate palaces, massive gateways, courts, stairways and pillared pavilions that recall the glory and wealth of the Jaipur royal family. The City Palace and museums have an excellent collection of miniature paintings, carpets, royal paraphernalia and rare astronomical works. Outside lies the observatory, whose precision of instruments is a unique achievement for the 18th century.

In the evening you witness the Sound and Light Show at the Amber Fort.

15 JAIPUR – DELHI – DEPARTURE
This mornings’ easy yoga and meditation are by the pool. Return to your room to dress and come out to breakfast.

You leave for Delhi in the afternoon and proceed to the International airport where you have access to a luxury lounge with a shower if you so desire, dinner, internet access, newspapers, magazines, drinks and a meal.

Images courtesy Larissa Beniaminova Uma and Thor Santisiri

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