DAY 1 (Mon): ARRIVALS by International Flight
Arrive at Kochi International Airport; transfer to your hotel and check in. We will gather in the lobby at a time still to be set, in accordance with arrival times.
Kochi, or more familiarly Cochin, is spread across islands and promontories between the Arabian Sea and the Backwaters. The city was established in 1341 on the main trade route between Europe and China, particularly for the spice trade. People of various religions settled here, including Christians and Jews, who built their own communities and places of worship.
This evening, we will have an Opening Dinner and the first of several study sessions which will introduce the participants to the religious life of India through Jewish eyes. This session will focus on the Jewish and Christian communities of Kerala.
DAY 2 (Tue): COCHIN
After a morning study session together, we will explore the Fort Kochi area and historic Kochi, with stops at churches and alongside the fishermen’s wharves and little markets. Our lunch break will serve as a first exploration through our palates of what makes this land so different.
After lunch, we will share the insights we have gained. In the afternoon, we continue exploring the Fort Kochi area, its shops and stalls marked by the Colonial architecture of this coastal city: the "Dutch Palace”, built in the 1550's by the Portuguese and taken over by the Dutch; and the Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 and later embellished with hand-painted Chinese tiles.
In the early evening, we will visit a local theatre to witness the makeup ceremony of a Kathakali artist, and then attend this "story dance" pantomimic drama.
After the show, we will have dinner at a local restaurant, before returning to the hotel.
DAY 3 (Wed): COCHIN – ALLEPPEY
We will first visit Ernakulam’s 13th century Kadavumbagam Synagogue, followed by a visit to a Hindu temple, some shopping and a spice market before boarding a Kettuvallam - a traditional houseboat - in Alleppey and cruising through the fabled backwaters – the undisputed highlight of this region, with its tiny, colourful towns and fishing villages.
Lunch will be served aboard the houseboat, featuring the fresh catch of the day.
The backwaters are a network of canals and estuaries stretching over almost 1000 square miles with paddy fields, migratory birds, water lilies and coconut groves.
Note: Houseboats sail only during daytime; after dinner on the boat, we will hold a study session.
Overnight: Alleppey Backwaters
DAY 04 (Thu): ALLEPPEY – COCHIN - MUMBAI
After early breakfast on board, we will debark from the houseboat and drive to Cochin airport to fly to Mumbai.
(Please note: luggage allowance on this flight is 15 kg checked in baggage and 7 kg hand luggage).
Mumbai (Bombay) is the economic powerhouse of India. It is the most multi-ethnic, most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world. In the evening, we will visit the Jewish Center, Chabad House, a landmark in South Mumbai run by Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg z”l, until they were killed in the terrorist attack of 2008. The center, now dedicated to their memory, has an educational center, a synagogue, drug prevention services and a hostel. We will possibly also meet with additional communities, including members of the Progressive Jewish community.
DAY 05 (Fri): MUMBAI
After breakfast, we will proceed to Alibagh on the Konkan Coast.
Around 2,200+ years ago, some Jews escaped from the land of Israel to India and were shipwrecked off the coast of Mumbai. The few survivors were unknown to the rest of the Jewish world until they were discovered in the 1700s. They were referred to as Bene Israel or "Shabbat oil pressers." We will visit the picturesque synagogue and Navgaon cemetery. After a vegetarian lunch, we will return by speedboat to Mumbai, transferring to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat.
In the evening, we walk over to the Knesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue for Shabbat services and dinner, along with the local Jewish community.
DAY 06 (Sat): MUMBAI
The day begins with Torah study, linking the portion of the week with our experience of India.
After that, we will set out on an optional walking tour to explore this incredible city. Walk across to the famous Gateway of India, a symbol of the power of the British that also marked the end of British rule, as the last soldier left Indian shores from the Gateway.
Next, we will explore the fort area - Kala Ghoda - the city's premier art district, with museums, galleries and educational institutions. Stroll along the Colaba Causeway to the market and experience its unique atmosphere.
In the late afternoon, we will gather at the hotel for a schmooze, snacks and comparative study of the indigenous religions of India: Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
After Havdalah, the rest of the evening will be free.
DAY 07 (Sun): MUMBAI
We will take a guided excursion to the Elephanta Caves, an hour away from Mumbai. This 6th-century complex contains many superb Indian sculptures, including a magnificent bust of Shiva. In the afternoon, we will return to the city, touring further to include the Jain temple, Mani Bhawan (where Mahatma Gandhi used to stay), Dhobi Ghat (the outdoor laundry), the colorful Crawford Market, and Victoria Terminus train station.
DAY 08 (Mon): MUMBAI - AURANGABAD
En route to the airport, we shall stop at Dharavi, also known as “Asia’s largest slum” and the heart of small-scale industry in Mumbai. We will see a wide range of activities like recycling, pottery making, embroidery, a bakery, a soap factory, leather tanning, poppadum making and much more. Most of these manufacturers work in cramped conditions. People from all over India live in Dharavi, and this diversity is apparent in the temples, mosques and churches that help create a spirit of community.
Later, we drive to the airport and fly to Aurangabad, the most convenient point from which one can visit the renowned Ajanta and Ellora caves. This city was named by the last great Mughal emperor.
Upon arrival at Aurangabad airport, we will transfer to the hotel for check-in. Before dinner, we will integrate a study session to prepare for Ajanta and Ellora.
DAY 09 (Tue): AURANGABAD
After breakfast, we will enjoy a full day exploring the World Heritage site of the Ajanta Caves, rock-cut monuments dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E. that contain paintings and sculpture considered to be among the very earliest masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, influencing the development of Buddhist art throughout Asia over the next 1,000 years. The vast complex of Ajanta consists of several vihara (monastic halls of residence) and chaitya-grihas (stupa monument halls), all cut into the mountain.
DAY 10 (Wed): AURANGABAD
This morning, we explore another masterpiece of cave sculptures at Ellora Caves – a UNESCO World Heritage site. The epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture, the 35 “caves” were built between the 5th and 10th centuries. The 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu, and five Jain caves were all built in close proximity, evidence of the religious tolerance prevalent during this period of Indian history.
On our return, we will stop at the Daulatabad Fort, a labyrinthine structure dating from the 14th century that served as an alternative capital to Delhi for seven years until the capital of the Delhi Sultanate was shifted back to Delhi in 1334.
In the evening, we will hold a study session to prepare for our experience of Delhi, and to discuss the life and significance of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi.
DAY 11 (Thu): AURANGABAD - DELHI
In the morning, we transfer to the airport and fly to Delhi. Upon arrival in Delhi, we will check in at the hotel.
In the afternoon, we will visit the Qutub Minar, the 12th century tower of victory built by a slave king and the prototype of all minars (towers) in India. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
DAY 12 (Fri): DELHI
After breakfast, we begin the exploration of Old Delhi. From the majestic Red Fort to the gold-lined shops of Dariba Kalan, this tour will allow us to savor centuries of the city’s culture, up-close.
From the Red Fort we will visit Jama Masjid - the largest mosque in India built in 1650. From here we will take cycle rickshaws for a tour of Chandni Chowk (Silver Street) and a glimpse into an old-world lifestyle slowly fading from Delhi. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be felt in the Chandni Chowk's narrow lanes. While on the tour, stop at Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest wholesale spice market - operating since the 17th century. The street is congested with shops selling spices, nuts and herbs – ideal towards Shabbat and Havdalah!!
We will also visit the 16th century Humayun’s Tomb, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a precursor to the Taj Mahal.
Return to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat. In the evening, we will walk over to the Judah Hyam Synagogue for Kabbalat Shabbat, followed by a group dinner.
DAY 13 (Sat): DELHI
The day begins with Torah study, linking the portion of the week with our experience of India. There will then be an (optional) exploration of the city on foot, covering some important sites of New Delhi. First stop is the India Gate, honoring the Indian soldiers martyred during the Afghan war; then, along the Rajpath, past the Parliament House and ministries.
In the late afternoon, we will gather for a schmooze, snacks, and wrap-up Shabbat session until Havdallah.
DAY 14 (Sun): DELHI – VARANASI
Post breakfast, transfer to the Airport and fly to Varanasi.
(Please note: luggage allowance on this flight is 15 kg checked in baggage and 7 kg hand luggage).
The ‘eternal city’, Varanasi or Benares, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India, and the Ganges, which flows through the city, is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. For the pious Hindu, the city has always been a special place, and it is considered a particularly auspicious place to die, ensuring an instant "routing" to Heaven.
En-route from the airport, we will visit the Buddhist city of Sarnath, just outside Varanasi. Sarnath is as holy to the Buddhists as Varanasi is to the Hindus, being the place Buddha chose to deliver his first sermon. We will explore the ruins of a once flourishing Buddhist monastery and visit an interesting collection of Buddhist art and sculpture. The Ashoka pillar of Sarnath is the National emblem of India.
On arrival in the city, we will check in for our stay.
In the evening, we will visit the Ganga Ghat to see the Aarti, a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities.
DAY 15 (Mon) VARANASI
Early this morning, we will take an unforgettable sunrise boat ride on the Ganges (shared), floating past ghats as worshippers begin to appear on the riverbanks. Varanasi's unique culture is associated with the Ganges, where life and death intermingle. The living flock to the ghats to pray, in the belief that bathing in the waters of the sacred river will result in the remission of their sins, while the ashes of the dead are scattered in the water to break the cycle of reincarnation and let the soul rise to enlightenment.
Return to the hotel for breakfast.
Afterwards, you are free to visit some of the other important sites in the city. Dotted with temples, the city's principle shrine is the Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Shiva. The temple was destroyed repeatedly during various invasions but was finally rebuilt in 1776. (Important: Non Hindus are not allowed to enter the main sanctuary of the temple).
Late afternoon: Reconvene for study session and closing discussions at the hotel, after which we will proceed to our closing dinner.
DAY 16 (Tues): VARANASI – DELHI
DEPART DELHI by international flight
In time, assisted transfer to Varanasi airport to board the flight to Delhi. Upon arrival in Delhi, proceed to connecting flights to onward destinations or return to the city, as per individual plans.
Note: Itinerary subject to change. Museum visits and personal shopping time may be disrupted due to unforeseen circumstances or the many religious, state and local holidays observed in the destinations being visited.