See India through Jewish eyes!
Itinerary | B=breakfast L=lunch D=dinner ( ) = en route
Namaste, Welcome to India! After entry formalities, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel for check-in and overnight.
India’s capital, Delhi is the nation’s hub: a buzzing, international metropolis that draws people from across the country and the globe. Home to 16 million people, the city 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.
From a tourist’s perspective, Delhi is divided into two main parts: Old Delhi was the city of the Mughals and is home to the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and bustling markets; and New Delhi, built by the British to be their Indian capital, whose tree-lined boulevards include the Rajpath, stretching from India Gate to the Presidential Palace, reflecting striking Raj-period architecture, plus museums and modern shopping areas. During your stay, you’ll get a good taste of what’s here!
Start off the day in Old Delhi. See the 19th-century World Heritage Site, the Red Fort, and board your cycle rickshaw for a whirlwind tour of Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s oldest and busiest market, ending up at the tomb of Sarmad, a Jewish Sufi and mentor/guru to the Crown Prince of the Mughal Empire. Peer into the gates of the 15th-century Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque and another World Heritage Site.
Next, tour Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi set in a lovely park, followed by a visit to a Tibetan Buddhist temple where Prof. Katz will discuss the special relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Jews. Enjoy a visit to the Bangla Sikh Gurdwara temple, where pilgrims flock and perform devotional music. While there, you can help out in the community kitchen where volunteers prepare and serve 10,000 free meals daily!
Dinner and a restful evening at our hotel.
Ride the new, deluxe bullet train to Agra, home of the fabled Taj Mahal. Emperor Shah Jahan built this monument in memory of his beloved Queen Mumtaz. This spectacular 17th-century World Heritage Site, set amid Mughal gardens and on the Yamuna River, lives up to its billing. From there, you’ll visit another World Heritage Site: the 16th-century Agra Fort, which was the seat of Mughal rule and administration. There will be time for shopping.
Take the evening bullet train back to Delhi and return to hotel.
This morning, drive through New Delhi, passing by the Presidential Palace, Parliament House and India Gate, a memorial to the 70,000 Indian soldiers killed during World War I, as well as other elegant structures built in the first-quarter of the 20th century by famed British architects.
Next, visit the lavish Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple for a private tour of this remarkable complex, meet with the swami, and have lunch. Built in 2005 with the help of over 8,000 volunteers, artisans employed ancient techniques to fashion the pale red sandstone into decorative reliefs that include 20,000 deities, saints and mythical creatures. It is one of the largest and most intricate places of worship ever constructed.
This evening, you’ll be escorted for the short walk to Judah Hyam Synagogue for Shabbat services and dinner with members of the local Jewish community. Shabbat Shalom!
Day at leisure. Optional walking tour through Lodhi Gardens, a nearby city park with lush grounds dotted with ancient Mughal mausoleums that make a walk in the park like no other. Lunch and dinner on your own. We’re happy to help facilitate whatever you’d like to see or do on your last day in Delhi.
A morning flight to 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.
You’ll have lunch at the Pareshnath Jain Temple, dotted with gardens and fountains, and learn about this religious tradition from Jain scholar Prof. Manju Nahata. Jain temples are known for their elaborate design, and this complex’s main sanctuary is filled with intricately-patterned marble, mirrors, stained glass, European chandeliers and gilded surfaces.
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. Get an insider’s view from Jewish community leader Jo Cohen while touring the resplendent and recently-renovated Magen David Synagogue, built in 1884 in the Italian Renaissance style.
Nearby, see artisans at work at Kumortuli, a traditional potters’ quarter that for centuries has supplied the city with elaborate deities for its many religious festivals. Here, marvel at an army of sculptors work with straw, clay, bamboo and sundry items to create vivid and fanciful art pieces. Great photo opps!
Check-in at hotel for rest and dinner.
After breakfast, enjoy the lovely gardens at the beautiful marble Victoria Memorial, built in 1921 to commemorate Queen Victoria. From there, take a boat ride along the Hooghly River for a unique perspective on Kolkata life. Time permitting, see the 130-year-old Mullick Ghat Flower Market to experience the riot of color and intoxicating fragrance. A visit to the famous Kalighat Temple, built in 1809 and dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, and to the Catholic Missionaries of Charities’ Mother House where Saint Mother Teresa lived, worked and ultimately was buried, round out the day’s touring.
Learn about Jewish life in Kolkata from Dr. Jael Silliman, who was educated and taught in the U.S. and returned to the city of her birth to document the community. Then, discover the unique beauty of classical North Indian music in an intimate concert by musician Aurobinda Bhattacharjee.
Board your morning flight to the coastal city of Kochi, which has drawn traders and explorers to its shores for centuries. Today, it continues to be a unique ethnic mix of people – Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Parsis (Zoroastrians) – who for centuries have lived peacefully in this lush, tropical setting that’s interlaced with winding waterways and a major port on the Arabian Sea.
After a Kerala-style lunch, head to Fort Kochi to see the iconic Chinese fishing nets, open-air market, Koder House where local Jewish “royalty” lived, and India’s oldest Catholic church, built in 1503 by Vasco da Gama.
From there, it’s a short hop to Jew Town, so named for its once-vibrant Jewish community that at its height boasted several synagogues. First, visit the 16th-century Mattancherry “Dutch” Palace of the Raja of Kochi, who granted Jews land to build their synagogue next to his Hindu temple. Palace murals, depicting scenes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are noteworthy.
The beautiful Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568, boasts a Hebrew clock tower, a jewel-encrusted gold Torah crown gifted by a maharajah, and the copper plates that granted Jewish autonomy in the 11th century. There, meet community leader Queenie Hallegua, one of the few remaining Jews in Kochi, who oversees the synagogue and nearby Jewish cemetery.
Making your way through the narrow streets of Jew Town, explore the many antique, spice and gift shops. One such shop is run by Sarah Cohen, the oldest surviving community member, who sells hand-embroidered goods, including kippot (yarmulkes), out of her home with her Muslim caretaker. Mail a postcard from Jew Town’s small post office – it’ll be imprinted with a Star of David cancellation!
Dinner, and then a well-deserved rest at the hotel.
Go back in time to explore Muziris, the name the ancient Romans gave to this historically-important region. Home to many diverse religious traditions – including India’s first mosque, first church, and one of the country’s oldest Hindu Shiva temples – here too, Jewish life once thrived, and synagogues that are among the oldest in India and recently restored to their former glory.
Offering a glimpse of what life was once like and reclaiming a part of its proud heritage, the Kerala state government initiated the Muziris Heritage Project, which has restored many of the region’s historic religious and cultural places. You will see that restoration first-hand when you tour the architecturally-unique 17th-century Chendamangalam and Paravur Synagogues and the splendid Paliam Nalukettu, the 18th-century residence of the Hindu prime ministers where women ruled.
By now, you’ll be hungry for lunch, which will be hosted at a nearby residence that offers meals for travelers who want to experience the culture more in-depth. Then it’s back to the hotel to enjoy a performance of Kathakali dance, unique to this part of India, followed by dinner.
After breakfast and check-out, visit an Ayurveda center. Ayurvedic medicine, developed in India some 3,000 years ago, is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems and is based on the idea that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. You will have the opportunity learn about this ancient practice and, if interested, have a consultation, massage, and maybe even a yoga lesson.
From there, fly to Mumbai and check in to your hotel for dinner and a rest.
With more than 20 million people, Mumbai is a financial powerhouse and principal shipping port that’s home to Bollywood, the world’s most prolific film industry. Mumbai’s center contains spectacular colonial-era architecture and gardens, street bazaars, top-notch dining, posh shops, every imaginable place of worship, and tremendous history.
See Mumbai’s Jewish life, both the historic – at the 19th-century Indian synagogues, Magen David and Tiphereth Israel – and the heroic – at Mumbai Chabad House, recently reopened after the 2008 tragic events, where we will meet the rabbi and have lunch. You’ll also tour Marine Drive, a picturesque promenade along the Arabian Sea; the posh neighborhood of Malabar Hill; and the unique Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, the city’s largest open-air laundry.
This evening, Shabbat services and dinner at the nearby Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, built in 1884 by Sir Jacob Sassoon and recently restored. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat at leisure. This afternoon, join an optional walking tour to the historic David Sassoon Library and the CSMVS (formerly Prince of Wales) Museum, boasting a world-class art and history collection. Lunch and dinner on your own – explore the many fabulous dining options Mumbai has to offer! We’re happy to help facilitate whatever you’d like to see or do in this dynamic, multifaceted city.
It’s a short stroll from your hotel to the Gateway of India where you’ll board your chartered boat to Elephanta Island, about six miles east in Mumbai Harbor. There, you’ll learn the origins of Hinduism and Hindu mythology embodied by this World Heritage Site whose 5th-century caves are among India’s greatest examples of rock-cut architecture and sculptural art. The main Shiva-dedicated temple is adorned with courtyards, halls, shrines, and spectacular statuary.
This evening, dinner at the Joint Distribution Committee/Evelyn Peters JCC for an opportunity to learn more about Mumbai’s Jewish community and meet some of its members.
Highlights of your morning city tour include such major sights as Flora Fountain, Rajabai Clock Tower, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus Station), and Bombay University. After lunch and check-out, time for shopping on nearby Fashion Street, or at the 19th-century Crawford Market that sells items ranging from food and cosmetics, to gifts and pets. At the farewell dinner, Prof. Katz will summarize your Jewish experience in India. After dinner, transfer to the airport to board your flight home or onward destination. Bon voyage!
* Stays at hotels listed, or similar.
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.