Join us on this on this Himalayan tour in the Indian Himalayas in the vastly different high mountain regions of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. We'll 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. We'll take day walks through forests of cedar and pine, rustic mountain villages. These regions and their people have a timeless, untouched quality. Deluxe a/c SUVs, mountain flights with incredible views, charming mountain lodges and hotels.
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 cults of Tibetan Buddhism still flourish.
Himalayan Tour Overview:
From Delhi, India's vibrant capital, a city of seven ancient and modern cities, it’s a short early morning flight from Delhi to Chandigarh. We then drive through the foothills of the Himalayas 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. We may encounter groups of villagers playing kettledrums and massive curved brass horns carrying their gods on shoulder-borne palanquins to visit neighboring deities in this "Valley of the Gods."
In the Kullu Valley we explore traditional villages and ancient temples perched high above the town of Kullu with magnificent views of the valley and the high range at the end of the valley. We also visit Naggar, an ancient capital and one-time home of Nicholas Roerich, an émigré Russian mystic and artist; his beautiful house has a wonderful garden, stunning views of the high peaks, Roerich’s collection of ancient temple sculpture and his luminous paintings of the high mountains. Beyond Naggar we head to a small 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-sited local eating place where we will have lunch and enjoy the delicious local food of the valley. Moving up the valley through orchards and forests of Himalayan cedar, we explore the colorful Manali bazaar, the sacred village of Vashisht, and the high altitude meadows overlooking the Solang Valley with a grand sweep of snow- and glacier-capped Himalayan ranges.
From Kullu we will drive into a sylvan side valley of the Kullu Valley and spend three nights at a very special Farmhouse Lodge set in orchards on the river. We enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the lodge and take short walks in the forest and village. Here ancient nature spirits live under venerable trees and villagers offer them iron and bright red cloth trimmed in gold. On a day excursion we will drive past flowering wild irises on our way up to the Jalori Pass (3000 meters, 9850 feet) covered in virgin Himalayan oak and rhododendron forest and walk through the forest to a sacred lake.
Our next stop is 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. In Palampur we stay in a comfortable hotel next to tea gardens with lovely views, and have an afternoon stroll in the town bazaar.
From Palampur we head to Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama. On our way we visit the unforgettable Jwalamukhi Temple, the temple of the goddess’s tongue, an amazing place where tongues of fire shoot from the temple’s rock walls and a pool of cold water boils. It is a place where the goddess easily grants her devotees’ wishes. After visiting the temple we continue to the Norbulinka Institute, an impressive complex of workshops where masters from Tibet teach the traditional arts of thangka painting, wood carving and bronze sculpture. We have lunch at the institute’s restaurant and tour the workshops.
In Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj lies the heart of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Located on a ridge, there are expansive views over the valley below. With the hospitality and generosity of the Indian government the Dalai Lama established his residence here after fleeing Chinese-occupied Tibet. The old monasteries have been reestablished; refugee monks, nuns and lay people practice their religion and their traditional crafts and trades. The Dalai Lama’s residence, office and temple are situated right in the heart of McLeod Ganj. A hub of spiritual activity, there are daily services in the temple and in the evenings young monks fervently debate doctrines of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. In Dharamsala we stay in a lovely hotel with great views just near the Dalai Lama's temple.
We drive from Dharamsala to Jammu, a city renowned for its temples, where we spend the night at an art deco palace heritage hotel before our morning flight over the Great Himalayan Range to Leh, Ladakh. The mountain views are incredible. Our deluxe hotel in Leh is set in a lovely garden with great views of 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 of horses, yaks, goats and camels halted and traded goods on this crossroads of the silk, salt, tea and wool routes. On a promontory looming over the town stands the imposing nine-storied palace of the Ladakhi kings built of mud bricks. Its design was the model for the Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa. Above it is the original citadel of the ancient kings, and a small temple housing divine protector images, guardians of the kingdom.
Sitting under the palace, an ornate 18th-century mosque dominates one end of the main bazaar street. Along this street sit women in traditional dress who come daily to sell fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens – a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Each carrot, turnip, radish and bunch of spinach leaves, shines like a jewel. A lane of traditional Kashmiri bakers make bread in Central Asian tandoor ovens.
We walk in Ladakhi villages of large, flat-roofed houses, elegantly painted white with ochre and black trim, surrounded by carefully tended fields of barley and vegetables, apricot and apple trees, all irrigated by channeled snowmelt.
Ladakh’s 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 the later Chinese cultural style.
We never fail to be thrilled by the stunningly situated monasteries of Lamayuru, Basgo, Chemrey, and Thiksey Gompa 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.
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, a very special farmhouse lodge, heritage palace hotels.
The price of this 22-day Indian Himalayan tour escorted and guided by Carol and Martin Noval is $5400 per person (single supplement $850) (2014 cost: $5500 per person and single supplement $900). Group size 8-10 persons. This price includes hotels, all meals, snacks, mineral water and soft drinks, all airport transfers in India, three domestic flights (Delhi-Chandigarh, Jammu-Leh and Leh-Delhi), road transport by deluxe a/c SUVs.
About traveling in the Himalayas with us:
"...I so enjoyed my time in India and time with you both. I enjoyed the sights, sounds and many, many great conversations (and laughter!). I also miss the wonderful people of Ladakh and the FOOD!" Judith H.
"...hundreds of wonderful memories (and thousands of pictures!). Your planning for the trip was excellent; the guiding you provided throughout made the experience truly meaningful, and memorable. And no less important: you were fun to travel with! Thank you so much for making all of this possible." Ed K.
“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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