TRANS-HIMALAYA SPIRITUAL TRIP

Surrounded by the Himalayas and the Karakoram with peaks reaching more than 8000 metres, Ladakh is a mountain desert and the highest habitable place on earth for man.

COURAGE, JOY, ENLIGHTENMENT ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD: LADAKH

Neighbouring China on the east and Pakistan in the west, Ladakh in northern India is at the crossroads of not one, but three great religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Surrounded by the Himalayas and the Karakoram, this ancient stop on Silk Route is a mountain desert and the highest habitable place on earth for man since the time when civilisations were set up along its sacred river Indus. A great place for contemplation and genuine journey into self, indeed.

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Mask dance at Hemis monastery depicts struggle between ego and wisdom.

Exactly a year ago I was thinking how much good it would do me to take a break from my daily routine and escape to some distant place. Wouldn’t it be great if some friends accompanied me on this epic journey? I started checking UNESCO’s World Heritage List religiously everyday until one day it dawned on me that most of the places on the list had connection to a holy land, a temple, a mosque or some sort of spiritual entity. I don’t really remember how the name Ladakh was mentioned first, but there it was. A cold and solitary mountain desert at 4000 metre altitude, a stop on ancient Silk Road nestled between the Himalayas and the Karakoram, it was set on the banks of Indus – one of the only three holy rivers where humans had created civilisation with the other two being The Nile in ancient Egypt and Tigris-Euphrates in Mesopotamia. The name Ladakh came from ‘La’ (high mountain pass) and ‘Tags’ (land) in Tibetan. What an appropriate name for an ancient Tibetan kingdom hidden among mountains, because the moment you land in Ladakh you enter a different dimension.

Indus starts in the Himalayas and is one of the three rivers where humanity created a civilisation.

Indus starts in the Himalayas and is one of the three rivers in the world along whose banks a civilisation was created.

Compared with other, more popular regions of India, little is known on Ladakh. It has the largest number of Buddhist monasteries outside Tibet, giving it the name “Little Tibet”. Located in Jammu & Kashmir, the region is still disputed by both Pakistan and India with China recently and increasingly joining the skirmishes. Despite the turmoil around it, I was smitten by the images of snow-capped Himalayas in the background and the colourful prayer flags flipping freely. Moreover, if I could plan carefully, I would be able to make it to the greatest Buddhist festival called “Kalachakra” held every two years. Plus, it would be the perfect start to my dream of starting tours to holy lands of the world. So on the 7th of July four friends and I went on the spiritual trip of a lifetime to the Himalayas. This is an account of our encounters with Buddhism, H.H. Dalai Lama, the mountain monasteries and the wonderful people of Ladakh.

Funda, Burcu, Tunç, Ilgın and Selma on a quest to discover self!

Funda, Burcu, Tunç, Ilgın and Selma on a quest to discover self!

 

KALACHAKRA

Kalachakra is a Sanskrit term used in Tantric Buddhism that literally means “time wheel” or “time-cycles”. The word is usually used to refer to a very complex teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Among the four Tibetan traditions, Kalachakra is most prominent within the Gelug. The 33rd Kalchakra initiation was held in Buddha garden (Choglomsar) near Leh, Ladakh in India from 3rd to 14th July, 2014. During the first three days of the Kalachakra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, along with the monks of Namgyal Monastery and senior lamas, conducted rituals which prepared and consecrated the venue. These included chanting of prayers, creation of the sand mandala and other rituals. His Holiness also gave preliminary teachings and Kalachakra Ritual Dance was performed by the monks of Namgyal Monastery. His Holiness confered the Kalachakra Initiation from July 10 to 13. On July 14, a long life empowerment (tsewang) and a ceremony offering prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was performed.

ITINERARY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visit world heritage monuments Qutab Minar and Humayun’s tomb in Delhi
  • Visit of incredible Taj Mahal in Agra.
  • Hemis festival, Leh
  • Attending Kalchakra festival in Leh to be presided by H.H.Dalai Lama

MAP OF INDIA

Monday, 07 July 2014

Istanbul – Delhi – Leh

 

This morning arrive at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport by TK 716 at 05:05 hrs. An Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) representative will meet you outside the customs gate and escort you to the old domestic airport to connect flight to Leh.

Leave: Delhi                                    at: 08:40 hrs                                     by: Go air flight G8 193

Arrive: Leh                                    at: 09:55 hrs                                    class: Economy

Leh – A land of varying landscapes, from white desert to blue, ice-capped mountains to lush valley, Ladakh, like a dream captured in a snow globe, is a wildly beautiful milieu set between the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas. Located in a small valley just to the north of the Indus River is Leh, the capital of Ladakh, a region often referred to as ‘Little Tibet’. The centuries-old culture of this picturesque capital city has found expression in its monuments, monasteries, oral literature, art forms, fairs and festivals.

Arrive in Leh and check-in at your hotel.

There will be no activity on your first day of arrival as it is recommend to relax and undergo minimal exertion to enable to get acclimatized to rarefied oxygen level in this high-altitude region ensconced in the high Himalayan plateau. The rest of the day is at leisure.

Lunch and dinner are at the hotel.

Meals included: Lunch & Dinner

Overnight: Leh

Tuesday, 08 July 2014

Leh

This morning visit Hemis monastery and enjoy the festival activities.

Hemis – 40 Kilometers from Leh, it is the wealthiest and best known biggest gompa in Leh/Ladakh. Hemis festival is one of the most famous monastic festivals to commemorate birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dance drama of the life and mission is performed wearing facial masks and colourful brocades robes. During it the four-storey thanka of Guru Padma Sambhava is hung in the courtyard and other precious thankas are also exhibited.

Later visit Thiksey monastery.

Thiksey- This beautiful monastery houses a two story stucco statue of Maitreya Buddha seated on a lotus and boasts of a spectacular view of the valley. Continue on a guided tour of the monastery, visiting the beautiful prayer room which has many handwritten and painted books, the temple dedicated to goddess Tara with her 21 images placed in glass-covered wooden shelves. You will also see few small shrines devoted to several guardian divinities including Cham-spring – the protector deity of Thiksey.

Lunch is at a local restaurant.

Return to your hotel.

Dinner is at the hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Overnight: Leh

Wednesday, 09 July 2014

Leh – Alchi (Uleytopko)

This morning after breakfast you will be driven to Uleytopko (approx 4-5 hrs).

En-route visit Likir and Alchi monasteries.

Likir: Founded in the 11th century AD and dedicated to different monastic order in 15th century AD, its earlier Gompa was destroyed in a fire. The present Gompa dates back to 18th century. Skilled craftsmen producing excellent thankas, earthen pots, folding wooden stools live here in the village. Majestically situated, Likir commands a spectacular view. It is picturesquely situated on a little hill in the valley near the Indus River and the village of Saspol. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and was established in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje, under the command of the fifth king of Ladakh, Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-chen-rgyal-po).

Alchi: Renowned as the oldest Buddhist learning centre in Ladakh, Alchi Monastery is located on the bank of Indus River. A national heritage, it is distinct from other monasteries in Ladakh as it is situated on flat ground unlike others which are located on hilltops. The foundation of the monastery was laid by Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo in the middle of 12th century. It has three main structures known as Du-khang, Sum-tsek and the temple of Manjushri. Du-khang, the assembly hall, is the largest and the oldest preserved part of the monastery. Walls of the assembly hall are full of ancient paintings that depict different forms of Buddha and goddesses.

Lunch will be at a local restaurant.

Arrive in Alchi / Uleytopko and check-in at – Uleytopko resort / Apricot tree.

Dinner is at the hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Overnight: Uleytopko / Alchi

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Alchi (Uleytopko) – Leh

This morning after breakfast you will be taken for a visit of Lamayuru monastery (approx 2 hrs).

Lamayuru- It is located on a steep mountain between Bodhkharbu and Kha-la-che. The monastery belongs to Red-Hat Sect of Buddhism. At its peak, the monastery housed 400 monks but nowadays there are only 50 inmates. About 150 monks reside in Lamayuru village. The monastery is famous for its rich wall paintings, collection of thangkas, murals, scriptures and statues of different forms of Buddha and other deities. There are several legends about the monastery. According to one, it was founded by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa in 11th century who came to the place for meditation. However, the foundation of the monastery was predicted in the Bodhisattva Madhyantaka.

Lunch is at a local restaurant.

After lunch you will be driven to Leh (approx 3 hrs).

Arrive in Leh and check-in at your hotel.

Dinner is at the hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Overnight: Leh

Friday, 11 July 2014

Leh

This morning you will be driven to Buddha garden at Choglomsar (approx 30 minutes’ drive) to attend the Kalchakra ceremony presided by H.H. Dalai Lama. Note- No vehicles will be allowed in 1-2 Kms radius of the Kalchakra venue and guests have to walk this distance.

Attend the Kalchakra ceremony (preparation prayers & Kalchakra ritual dance)

Hot lunch will be served at a place close to the venue

Continue with the Kalchakra ceremony.

Return to your hotel.

Dinner is at the hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Overnight: Leh

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Leh – Delhi – Agra

Early morning an Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) representative will escort you to Leh airport for a flight to Delhi.

Leave: Leh                                    at: 07:00 hrs                                     by: Go air flight G8 196

Arrive: Delhi                                    at: 08:20 hrs                                    class: Economy

On arrival in Delhi you will be driven to Agra (200 Kms / approx 4 hrs).

Agra – Two great Mughal monarchs, Akbar and Shah Jahan, transformed the little village of Agra into a befitting second capital of the Mughal Empire – giving it the name Dar-ul-Khilafat {seat of the Emperor}. Today, a visitor to Agra is caught up in a world of contrasting edifices of red sandstone and white marble, narrow lanes and quaint buggies, and that irresistible charm that this favourite city of the Mughals still retains.  It is not surprising, that modern Agra still reflects its Mughal heritage most conspicuously. A walk down the narrow bustling streets of the city will introduce the visitor to the wafting aroma of Mughlai cuisine.

Arrive in Agra and check in to your hotel.

This late afternoon visit Agra Fort- An imposing structure with walls of red sandstone, almost two miles long and contains palaces, audience halls and mosques. The fort presents a good sampling of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles. It was built by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Subsequent additions were made to the fort by his son Jahangir and grandson Shahjahan.

Meals included: Breakfast

Overnight: Agra

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Agra – Delhi

 

Early morning visit Taj Mahal at sunrise.

The 17th century Taj Mahal is often called a poem in stone. If so, the mausoleum is a love poem – created by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years to be completed and was designed and planned by a Persian architect Ustad Isa. Apart from its stunning design balance and perfect symmetry, the Taj is also noted for its elegant domes, intricately carved screens and some of the best inlay work ever seen. (Taj Mahal remains closed on Friday).

Return to your hotel for breakfast.

This morning you will be driven to Delhi (200 Kms / approx 4 hrs).

Arrive in Delhi and check-in at your hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast

Overnight: Delhi

Monday, 14 July 2014

Delhi

 

This morning after breakfast you will be taken for a full day tour of Old and New Delhi.

The city consists of two parts – Old & New Delhi. Old Delhi was the capital of Muslim India between 17th and 19th century and has many mosques, monuments and forts. New Delhi, the imperial city was created by the British as the capital of India. In 1911, Edwin Lutyens, the most renowned English architect of the day, was chosen to design New Delhi.

Begin your day with an exploration starting in Old Delhi, visiting the Jama Masjid, the royal mosque built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan in 1656. It is one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world and is constructed in red sandstone and white marble. The main prayer hall has a seating capacity of more than 20,000 worshippers.

Enjoy a cycle rickshaw ride through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk, the spine of Old Delhi. Jahanara Begum, the daughter of Shah Jahan designed this commercial place in 1648.

Drive through the majestic boulevards of New Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhawan (Presidential Palace) is where the Viceroy once lived and now is the official residence of the President of India. It is an imposing structure with 340 rooms, constructed high up on Raisina Hill. View India Gate, a war memorial arch built in honor of 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.

This afternoon visit New Delhi.

Visit Humayun’s Tomb, the first great example of Mughal architecture in India, it developed to become the hallmark of the Mughal Dynasty.  The squat building of white marble and red sandstone, with a dome and high arched entrances, surrounded by formal gardens, is generally regarded as a prototype of the famed Taj Mahal of Agra. Humayun’s wife is buried in the red-and-white sandstone, black-and yellow marble tomb.

Next on the itinerary is Qutab Minar, a soaring tower of victory, 72.5 meter high with five distinct stories. The construction of this minaret commenced in 1193 and was completed in 1368. Built on the foundation of a Hindu temple, many elements of the construction reflect their Hindu and Jain origins. Within the complex, there are myriad monuments that combine both Islamic calligraphy and Hindu motifs.

Meals included: Breakfast

Overnight: Delhi

Tuesday , 15 July 2014

Leave Delhi

 

Early this morning an A&K representative will escort you in time to International airport for flight to onward destination.

Meals included: None

Overnight: None

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