Cultural Tour to North-East India

(Kolkata, Guwahati, Gangtok, Varanasi, Kolkata)

from 20 August up to 3 September 2009

A plunge into the culture and tropical nature of the north-eastesrn areas of India near the borders with China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. A unique chance to wander in the metropolitan Kolkata, state of Sikkim with its Tibetan monasteries at the foot of the Hymalaya, in the capital of Assam, Guwahati, with its famous Tantric center of Kamakhya at the banks of the Brahmaputra river, and in the capital of Hinduism, Benares, where we will follow the ritual services at the holy Ganges, visit the deer-forest, a holy site of Buddhism etc.

The trip will be challenging, away from the usual tourist centers, yet the participants are expected to be compensated with the impressions of the cultural diversity and virgin natural beauty of the areas, definitely richest not only in India but in the whole world.

THE TOUR PROGRAM (the dates can change depending on the tickets and hotel rooms availability):

 Day 01 / Thursday 20 August: Athens – Kolkuta. Flight to Kolkata via a third city.

 Day 2 and days 13-15 / Friday 21 August and Tuesday 1 – Thursday 3 September. Kolkata:

A cosmopolitan Calcutta used to be the capital of the British India and the Gate of India until 1912. It is the capital of the West Bengal and a large commercial and industrial center. From the time of the British rule unique monuments and buildings, like Victoria Memorial, National Museum with the rich collection of Greek-Buddhist art of Candara, Botanical Garden, Writers Building, Asiatic Society, catholic churches and Hindu temples, are preserved.

An important Greek community of merchants flourished between the beginning of the 17th and the middle of the 20th centuries. The neo-classical Doric church is preserved near the famous temple of Goddess Kali. Its charity activity comprises foundation of the orphanage, health centers and delivery of food and clothes to those in need. Great personalities, like social and religious reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, great modern wise man Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekenanda, Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, philosopher Sri Aurobindo, national hero Subhas Chandra Bose, Mother Teresa and others lived in the city.

 Days 3-5 / Saturday 22 – Monday 24 August. Guwahati:

Guwahati, the capital of Indias north-eastern state of Assam, is built on the banks of Brahmaputra and idyllic hills of the eastern Himalayas. The city is known from the ancient times as Pragjyotisha (the town of the eastern light) and makes up the Gate to other seven north-eastern states, also mentioned as “ the seven sisters”. Guwahati is a dynamic tourist attraction.

 Citys main sights:

Kamakhya temple: The city is famous for this temple. It is situated on top of the Nilachal hill, 10 km from the center of the city. The temple is the most important Shakti (Goddess of creative power) worship center. The Kamakhya temple was built in the 10th century by king Naranarayan of the Koch dynasty. Animal sacrifice is practiced here as a means of appeasing the Goddess.

The temple of Shiva: Umananda temple of Shiva is situated on a small island in the middle of river Brahmaputra and can be reached by boat.

Navagraha temple: The temple of nine planets, an ancient center of astronomy and astrology, is in a beehive-like red dome. The main lingam (phallus symbol) is encircled by nine others representing the planets.

Vashistha Ashram: hermitage of the above mentioned yogi and writer, is 12 km away. It is a place of pilgrimage with greenery in abundance.

Zoo: A visit to the zoo, which can boast of the unique white rhinoceros, royal tigress and other wild animals of India settled naturally, is a must.

Museum: Has a large collection of works and scenes from every-day life and art of the indigenous tribes.

Days 6-8. / Tuesday 25 – Thursday 27 August. Sikkim:

Gangtok: The capital of Sikkim, an exceptional summer resort, lies on a side of the hill of the then independent kingdom of Himalaya. Situated at an altitude of 1700m., Gangtok is famous for its picturesque beauty and impressive view of Kanchenjunga, the worlds third highest mountain.

Sights around Gangtok

Rumtek monastery: The largest monastery of the east Himalayas is built by Gyalwa Karmapa in accordance with the strict rules of the Tibetan traditional monastery building. Rumtek is the headquarters of the Tibetan Kagyu Buddhism.

Tsongo Lake: The name means “the source of the lakein the Bhutia language. This tranquil lake is situated 40 km to the north-east of Gangtok, at an altitude of 3780 m and is considered sacred by the local peoples.

Namgayal Institute of Tibetology: Built in 1958, it constitutes a unique Institute of research of Mahayana Buddhism, as well as the language and traditions of Tibet. The famous center of Buddhist studies has a rare collection of Tibetan, Sanskrit and Lepcha manuscripts, sculptures and Thankas. Can be reached by funicular where from one can admire a panoramic view of the city and the Himalayas.

Enchey Monastery: This Tibetan monastery is 200 years old and is famous for the mask dance called ‘Cham‘. An important seat of the Nyingma order.

Flower Exhibition Center: houses a rare variety of orchids, seasonal flowers and bonsai.

Jawaharlal Nehru Botanical Garden: 24 km from Gangtok, the Garden has a forest of oak-trees and 50 other kinds of trees. It is a home to red panda and Himalaya leopards.

Tashi View Point: Built by the last king of Sikkim, Sri Tashi Namgyal, at the distance of about 8 km from the city, it offers a unique view of the Siniolchu and Kanchenjunga mountains.

Days 9 -12 / Friday 28 – Monday 31 August. Benares (Varanasi):

Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, is also known as Benares and Kashi (the city of light). The city of God Shiva is believed to offer spiritual liberation from the cycle of reincarnations for those who aspire to it

 Since ancient times the kings used to build their palaces on the banks of the sacred river of Ganges, which is believed to have the power to purify of all sins. The city with thousand of temples and centers of traditional studies and arts has developed gradually around the palaces. One of twelve jyotirlinga, which represents the Master of the Universe, is in the Golden temple in the old city. The unique temple of the Mother India houses the marble map of India in place of the idol.

The Ghats (wharves) on the Ganges are the most famous pilgrimage places. Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation ghat where the cremation lights burn continuously from time immemorial.

Varanasi is an important center of studies. The holy city has become a symbol of spirit, philosophy and mysticism for thousand years; great saints and spiritual personalities like Buddha, Shankaracharaya, Patanjali, Kabir, Tulsi Das, J. Krishnamurti and others visited it. The tomb of the great Greek Indologist Dimitrios Galanos the Athenian is in Benares. Nowadays the city has five Universities and plenty of traditional schools of all religions. The Benares Hindu University and the Sanskrit University are the most important internationally recognised centers of Indian classical studies.

Sarnath, where Buddha delivered his first sermon in the deer-forest, is eight km from Varanasi. A huge stupa is erected there, and monasteries representing all Buddhist countries of the world with their peculiar architecture are around it.

Benares is famous for its silk products and industry, where over a half million people are involved.

Day 15 / Thursday 3 September:  KolkataAthens.  Flight via a third city.