Arrival this evening. You will be met and transferred to the Taj Mahal Tower Hotel (or similar). Namaste: Welcome to India!
Your first morning in India! After a leisurely brunch at the hotel and orientation, travel by chartered boat from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island where you will learn the origins of Hinduism and Hindu mythology embodied by rock-cut temples at this World Heritage Site dating from the 5th century. This evening, dinner at the Joint Distribution Committee/Evelyn Peters JCC, where you’ll have the opportunity to meet JDC/JCC staff and volunteers and learn more about Mumbai’s Jewish community.
See Mumbai’s Jewish life, both the historic – at the 19th-century Indian synagogues, Magen David and Tiphaereth Israel – and the heroic – at Mumbai Chabad House, recently reopened after the 2008 tragic events. Our city tour will also include major sights such as Flora Fountain, Rajabai Clock Tower, Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus Station), Malabar Hill, one of the world’s priciest neighborhoods, and the unique Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, the city’s largest open-air laundry. This evening, Shabbat services and dinner nearby at the 19th-century Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat services and lunch at Kenesseth Eliyahoo. This afternoon, you’re welcome to join a walking tour and visit the historic David Sassoon Library and fabulous Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum), boasting a world-class art and history collection. Sample the marvelous cuisines of Mumbai on your own for dinner.
Fly to the llush, southwest coastal city of Kochi, one of the happiest chapters of the Jewish Diaspora. Kochi is history! After a vegetarian lunch traditionally served on a banana leaf, we will cross the harbor by boat to Fort Kochi where we’ll continue on foot to visit India’s oldest European church, built 1503 and where Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was originally buried, the iconic Chinese fishing nets, open-air market, and Koder House where local Jewish “royalty” lived. Check in to the Vivanta by Taj-Malabar Hotel (or similar). Kathakali dance recital, unique to this part of India, followed by dinner at the hotel.
Go back in time to explore Muziris, the name the ancient Romans gave to this area, on a heritage tour of the villages of Paravur and Chendamangalam. There, Jewish life once thrived, replete with synagogues that are among the oldest in the region and recently restored to their former glory. You will also visit the splendid 18th-century Paliam Nalukettu, residence of the Hindu prime ministers where women ruled. Our journey continues with a cruise of the area’s scenic backwaters where you’re sure to see fishermen, cargo boats transporting goods as they have for centuries, and traditional village life. Returning to Kochi, we will tour the 16th-century Mattancherry “Dutch” Palace of the Raja of Kochi, who granted Jews land on which to build their synagogue next to his Hindu temple. The beautiful Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 and the oldest in the Commonwealth of Nations, boasts a Hebrew clock tower, a jewel-encrusted 22-karat gold Torah crown gifted by a maharajah, and the original 11th-century copper plates that established Jewish autonomy – all of which we’ll see. Be sure to mail a postcard from Jew Town – it’ll be imprinted with a Star of David cancellation stamp by the post office! Dinner at the hotel.
In the morning, we fly to the northeast city of Kolkata, once the capital of British India and filled with charismatic Raj-era architecture, fascinating street life, lovely parks, and rich intellectual and artistic traditions. From the late-18th to the mid-20th century, Kolkata had a thriving Jewish community that played a key role in the city’s development, built synagogues and schools, and thoroughly integrated into the fabric of society. We will see a splendid example of Jewish life when local community leader A.M. Cohen shows us the 19th-century, Italian Renaissance-style Magen David Synagogue, which was recently restored to its former glory. From there, we’ll stroll through nearby Chinatown and Idol Makers’ Street where craftsmen fashion colorful deities for the city’s many religious festivals. We will then check in to the Oberoi Grand Hotel (or similar) where we will enjoy dinner.
After breakfast, we will tour landmark sights: Victorial Memorial, set amid lovely gardens, a scenic sroll along the Hooghly River, and tour the lovely Badridass Jain Temple where we’ll meet with Calcutta University’s Jainism expert and enjoy a vegetarian lunch. After a return to our hotel, that evening we will learn more about Kolkata’s now-waning Jewish community from writer-historian Dr. Jael Silliman, who has invited us to her home for dinner prepared under the exacting direction of her mother, Flower. Following dinner, a recital of classical Indian music.
After an early flight, you will enter the political and administrative center of the world’s largest democracy. Delhi is steeped in history with millennia-old architecture, temples and monuments, while also exuding a ‘New India’ vibe with its modern metro system and mega-malls. You will take a New and Old Delhi city tour that includes visits to the Gandhi memorial, a Tibetan Buddhist temple where Prof. Katz will speak about the Dalai Lama’s “Jewish secret,” and an up-close tour of the old markets by rickshaw, starting from the Mughals’ Red Fort and ending up at the tomb of the Jewish saint Sarmad and largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. Check-in to the Taj Mahal Hotel (or similar). That evening, sample Delhi’s fabulous cuisine on your own.
New Delhi was built in the first part of the 20th century as the capital of British Iindia and houses fine examples of Raj-era architecture. After breakfast at the hotel, we will drive by such superb examples as India Gate, Parliament House, the Secretariat Complex, the Rajpath (also known as King’s Way), and the former Viceroy’s House, now the President’s residence. We will tour and meet the swami at the lavish Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu Temple – on which more than 11,000 artisans worked! – where we’ll also enjoy a vegetarian lunch. We will tour other sights, as time permits, ending up at Delhi’s leading Sikh temple, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, whose live devotional music wafts 24/7 over the compound and feeds thousands of pilgrims daily. From there, we’ll return to our hotel to get ready for Shabbat services and dinner at the nearby Judah Hyam Synagogue.
Shabbat Shalom! Optional guided morning walk through Lodi Gardens, whose lush grounds dotted by ancient Mughal mausoleums and mosques make a walk in the park like no other. After a group lunch, time on our own for rest or recreation. After a group Havdalah, we’ll go to the popular Khan Market for dinner at the vegetarian Café Turtle.
After a buffet breakfast at our hotel, we’ll board an express train to Agra. Our first stop there will be one of India’s lesser-known “must-sees” that’s a World Heritage Site: the 16th-century Fatehpur Sikri, the “ghost city” of palaces boasting magnificent desert architecture. From there, we will catch a sunset view of the Taj Mahal from across the river at Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), do a bit of shopping, and dine at the vegetarian Dasaprakash Restaurant. By then, we will be ready for a good night’s sleep at at the ITC Mughal Hotel (or similar).
After breakfast and check-out, begin your last day in India by touring two World Heritage Sites, fittingly beginning with the iconic Taj Mahal, built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan. From there, you’ll visit Agra Fort, a sprawling fortress built of red sandstone in the 16th century by Emperor Akbar. Early-evening, return to Delhi for a festive farewell dinner where Prof. Katz will summarize our whirlwind Jewish experience in India. After dinner, transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S.
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Please note: This tour has easy to moderate walking/standing that, at times, includes some uneven surfaces and steps to negotiate. The program-and activity-rich itinerary blends longer days with some shorter days and leisure time. In addition, this tour involves stepping in and out of vehicles and motorcoaches.