India Himalayan Tour: Ancient Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Kingdoms of the Indian and Ladakh Himalayas

with Carol and Martin Noval
6 to 28 May 2018

Stunning valleys of Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh - India's "Little Tibet," and Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama. Day walks and touring by SUV.

Delhi – Kullu Valley – Naggar – Banjar Valley – Palampur – Dharamsala – Jammu – Leh – Thiksey – Hemis – Basgo – Alchi – Lamayuru – Leh – Delhi

"The two of you are incredible hosts providing a trip others can only dream of constructing. The trip was truly memorable and I hope to join you again in the future." 

F. Pipers
Jalori Pass

Join us on this on this cultural heritage tour in the Indian Himalayas in the vastly different high mountain regions of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, India's "Little Tibet."

Visit age-old Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries, explore fascinating bazaars, ancient stopping places on the old trade routes between India and Tibet. Take day walks through forests of cedar and pine, rustic mountain villages, meadows and Tibetan Buddhist monastery complexes. These regions and their people have a timeless, untouched quality.

Travel by deluxe a/c SUVs, mountain flights with incredible views. Stay in charming and well-appointed boutique and luxury mountain lodges and hotels in fabulous locations. Our trip is carefully planned for gradual acclimatization.

The first part of our Himalayan tour is in the lush forested region of Himachal Pradesh, south of the Great Himalayan Range. Though influenced by European settlers – from Alexander the Great’s soldiers to the British who settled in these valleys in the 19th century – the cultural traditions and ritual practices of archaic Hinduism remain largely unchanged from ancient times.

The second part of the trip introduces us to Tibetan Buddhist culture in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama. We then fly over the Great Himalayan Range into the storybook high-altitude Tibetan Buddhist moonland of Ladakh where the oldest sects of Tibetan Buddhism still flourish.

From Delhi, India's vibrant capital, a city of seven ancient and modern cities, it’s a short early morning flight from Delhi to the Kullu Valley.

Situated on the Beas River, the Kullu Valley is lush, with towering cliffs, forests of sacred deodar (cedar) trees, powerful rivers and waterfalls pouring out of the mountains. Slate-roofed, cedar-timbered Hindu temples overlook traditional villages and vast terraced patchworks of rice paddies and cornfields.

Here groups of villagers play kettledrums and massive curved brass horns, carrying their gods on shoulder-borne palanquins to visit neighboring deities in this "Valley of the Gods."

We stay in charming Naggar, an ancient capital and one-time home of Nicholas Roerich, an émigré Russian mystic and artist. Roerich's stately house is surrounded by a flower- and tree-filled garden with Roerich’s collection of archaic temple sculpture. His luminous water colors of the high mountains evoke the wonder and spirituality associated with the Himalayas.

It is a beautiful drive to a nearby village with massive trees, rough-timbered houses and a traditional temple constructed in a seldom-seen style. The village is also home to a unique waterfall cafe where we enjoy the delicious local food of the valley.

Driving up the valley through orchards and forests of Himalayan cedar, we explore the colorful Manali bazaar, the ancient temple of the goddess Hadimba set in a sacred groves of deodar trees, and high-altitude meadows with a grand sweep of snow- and glacier-capped Himalayan ranges.

From Naggar we drive into the Banjar Valley, a land that time has forgot, and spend three nights in well-appointed lodge. We take walks in forest and the village will get us into the local life and we will visit nearby villages with traditional hill architecture that will amaze you and ancient wooden temples that inspire.

Here nature spirits live under venerable trees, offered iron and bright red cloth trimmed in gold by the villagers.

Driving past flowering wild irises we reach a small mountain pass covered in virgin Himalayan oak and rhododendron forest. There are wonderful walks to a sacred Kali shrine and to an ancient fort with expansive views of snow-covered peaks.

Our next stop is Palampur in the Kangra Valley, famed for its tea plantations. The landscape here is broad and gentle with the Dhauladhar Mountains rising dramatically from the valley floor. We stay in luxury cottages overlooking tea gardens and visit a traditional tea plantation where we learn about the involved procedure of processing tea from bush to cup.

Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj is the home of the Dalai Lama and today the heart of traditional Tibetan culture and religion. Visit the Norbulingka Institute set in Japanese-style gardens and visit its complex of workshops where masters from Tibet teach the traditional arts of thangka painting and appliqué, wood carving, traditional Tibetan furniture making and bronze sculpture.

With the hospitality of the Indian government the Dalai Lama established his residence in McLeod Ganj after fleeing Chinese-occupied Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s residence, office and temple are situated right in the heart of McLeod Ganj. A hub of spiritual activity, in the evenings young monks fervently debate doctrines of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy using strong footwork and vigorous claps to make their points. We walk the kora, a sacred walk around the hill below the Dalai Lama's temple.

Ladakh Dancer

We drive from Dharamsala to Jammu and spend the night at an art deco palace heritage hotel before our morning flight over the Great Himalayan Range to Ladakh. The mountain views are incredible. Our deluxe hotel in Leh is set in a flower-filled garden with dramatic views over the Indus Valley to the Stok Range.

Leh, the principal city of Ladakh, still has the feeling of an age-old Central Asian trading center. Here traders from all over India, Tibet and Central Asia with their caravans halted and traded goods on this crossroads of the silk, salt, tea and wool routes.

On a promontory overlooking the town looms the imposing nine-story mud-brick Leh Palace of the Ladakhi kings. Its design was the model for the Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa.

Below the palace, an ornate 18th-century mosque dominates one end of the main bazaar street. Along this street sit women in traditional dress and top hats who come daily to sell fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens – a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. A lane of traditional Kashmiri bakers bake delicious bread in Central Asian tandoor ovens and we sample some fresh from the tandoor.

Visit strikingly beautiful Ladakhi villages with flat-roofed Tibetan-style houses stylishly painted white, ochre and black. The Ladakhi kitchen plays a central role in daily life, especially during the long winter. They are graced by beautiful arrangements of cooking pots and utensils of many generations and large iron stoves decorated with auspicious symbols.

Carefully tended, terraced fields of barley and peas are irrigated with channeled snowmelt, marvelous feats of traditional engineering. Village women put on ceremonial shawls and often their distinctive Ladakhi "top hats" to tend their fields.

temples and monasteries house some of the greatest treasures of Asian art.

The 1000-year-old Alchi temples, set in a grove of ancient willow trees, house monumental statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, each a masterpiece. The temple’s walls and the robes of the statues are richly painted in a Kashmiri style that vanished from Ladakh a thousand years ago and are among the few surviving examples of northern Mahayana Buddhist art uninfluenced by later Chinese-Tibetan cultural styles. From Alchi we take an excursion to Lamayuru monastery, the most ancient monastery of Ladakh, set in a moonland landscape.

Explore the stunningly situated monasteries of Basgo, Hemis, and Thiksey – with 12 stories of whitewashed buildings spilling down a hillside. One of Thiksey’s temples has a gigantic gilded statue of Maitreya, the Buddha to come, whose face is so outstandingly beautiful that it has become the iconic representation of Ladakh. The ancient citadel of Basgo is set in a surreal landscape with wonderful views of the village rooftops below.

 At sunset we will go up to Shanti Stupa, the peace stupa on a mount overlooking Leh, to watch the evening glow on Leh town.

It's a short and stunning flight over the Himalayas to Delhi. Back in Delhi, we explore the great sites in Old and New Delhi, ancient temples and colorful markets.

On this trip we stay in charming, well-appointed hotels and mountain lodges, and a heritage palace hotel. Enjoy a wide range of great food: Himachali, Tibetan, Ladakhi, Indian and Continental.

Himalayan Tour Photos taken by our travelers are on our Trips Into India Facebook page.

The cost of our 2018 22-day Indian Himalayan tour is $6500 per person in double occupancy (for single supplement add $1400). This includes hotels, all meals, snacks, mineral water and soft drinks, all airport transfers in India, three domestic flights (Delhi-Kullu, Jammu-Leh and Leh-Delhi), road transport by deluxe a/c SUVs. Group size 8-10 members. Carol and Martin will guide you throughout the trip.

About traveling in the Himalayas with us:

"My trip with you replays itself in my mind quite often and makes me more eager every day to go back to India. I have been on quite a few tours and trips, many purported to be "educational" about history and culture of an area. None of them came close to yours. In the end, the leaders of the tour are the key to the experience."

Barbara McD.

"I feel so privileged to have seen parts of India through your eyes. You two just raised guiding to a new level. What Joy! Simply cannot wait to put on my India travel shoes again and, best of all, experience the wonders with you two at my side."

Margrit V.
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