Explore Buddhism (and more) in India this new year

Ring in the New Year in India

My friend Valerie Hellerman and I will be bringing a small group to India, starting Dec 28, for 14 days on a “Footsteps of the Buddha” and cultural/religious history of India journey with special focus on Buddhism’s holiest city, Bodhgaya. Our journey will be an opportunity to experience New Year’s Eve on the holy river Ganga (Ganges) in Varanasi before welcoming 2018 in Bodhgaya, and closing with a return to New Delhi to see the opulence of British Imperialism along with a final journey back in time to the Taj Mahal, a monument of superb architecture, serene beauty, and loving devotion from the days of Muslim or Mughal rule over North India.

Our goal is to see Indian history in comfort but not detachment or idealized romanticism. India is the home of over 1 billion people today and retains perhaps the world’s greatest diversity of deeply rooted traditions, cultures, languages, and religions. Together we will explore these and, in particular, we will experience the Buddha’s life and teachings, by walking the dusty roads and trails where the Buddha once walked and taught. We leave Lumbini and Kapilavastu, where the Buddha was born and passed away, off of our itinerary to allow for a deeper connection with the holy cities that we do visit. This isn’t a “rush and see the sights, take a photo and go” tour, but rather a pilgrimage and opportunity for personal growth and inner reflection.

GUIDES

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I have lived in Bodhgaya twice (in the fall of 2010 and 2014) teaching Buddhist Philosophy for the Antioch Education Abroad program, housed in the Burmese Monastery.  In my time there I have visited Varanasi and Delhi numerous times, as well as other cities including Kolkata, Dharamsala, and Pune in the south. In my studies I have also visited Thailand, Burma, Taiwan, and Korea and embarked on three “Woodenfish” Buddhism in China experiences (once as a student and twice as teaching faculty).

My meditation background runs through numerous traditions, beginning with the FWBO (now Triratna), leading into Vipassana – with several retreats under Matthew Flickstein and one with John Travis, Tibetan study and practice, including attending teachings from H.H. the Karmapa in Bodhgaya and H.H. the Dalai Lama in his home temple in Dharamsala, and Zen practice with study-retreats in Taiwan and China along with a current practice in the Boundless Way Zen tradition.

As we travel, we’ll talk about the particular cultures and practices of each holy site, meeting practitioners, engaging in yoga and meditation ourselves and stepping out of the craziness of Western drama and news cycles. 

Valerie Hellermann and her husband Norman Rostocki are the founders of Hands on Global Travel, a fully insured travel service registered in the state of Montana created to provide alternative international trips  – travel with a purpose. Valerie spent over ten years as the project manager for the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation, a Montana based non-profit. A former nurse, she has turned her attention to organizing trips abroad. Valerie works directly with international NGO’s striving to build a stronger global community.

Valerie has organized and led MANY trips to India, Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Morocco, West Africa and Central America.

India truly transports you to a different state of mine, fostering deep reflection on one’s life and world. I look forward to co-guiding this journey for you, providing historical and cultural information as well as teachings on the Buddha’s thought and meditation techniques as we visit Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other historical sites.

New Delhi, Sarnath, Varanasi

Dec 27 – we fly out of USA (or other place of origin) toward India.

Dec 28 – arrival in New Delhi. Our journey will begin in New Delhi, where participants will be given a short time to adjust to India. We will spend the night in the Lemon Tree Premier Hotel, not far from the international and domestic airports.

Dec 29 – fly to Varanasi (a short domestic flight, under 2 hours).

In Varanasi we will stay at the Hotel Temple on Ganges, just off the famous Assi Ghat along the Ganges River. The 29th will be another day of relaxation and acclimation. From our hotel you can venture to the ghats or local markets, to a host of nearby tourist shopping areas, or into and through ancient winding roads along the river. I will be available to offer impromptu classes on the history and life of Varanasi, also known as Kashi, city of light, as well as guided (or unguided) meditations.

Dec 30 – Activities in Varanasi. Explore Varanasi with professional guides, take an optional yoga class, and enjoy a private concert in the evening with the group.Dec 31 – Today we will embark on a  long day-trip to Sarnath,  where we will explore the stupa at Deer Park, where the Buddha gave his first teaching. We will have time to visit the museum there as well as the Central University of Tibetan Studies where my old friend Pema Tenzin teaches. Returning to Varanasi, we will watch an Aarti (a Hindu religious ceremony) on the river.  Part of the significance of this ritual is to honor the life-giving force of mother nature (Mother Ganges or Ganga Mata) which has sustained this city and her people for countless generations.

Photos from Varanasi and Sarnath (Copyright Justin Whitaker, 2010)

Jan 1 – Our final day in Varanasi will be New Year’s day, where we can watch a morning Aarti on the river, ride up the river to the “Burning Ghats” where devout Hindus are cremated at their holiest site along the river.

What better way to let go of 2017 and open to the possibilities of the new year?

Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Vulture’s Peak

Our second morning of 2018 will be spent saying goodbye to Varanasi as we make our way to Bodhgaya by car (or private bus). These highways are relatively recently paved and have very little traffic (in fact, the most likely cause of a traffic jam would be a farmer bringing musk ox across the road in a particularly rural patch). It is a beautiful way to take in the sights and colors of rural India before arriving in Buddhism’s holiest city: Bodhgaya.

There we will spend FIVE days exploring the many temples and holy sites of the city, as well as venturing off on optional trips to Nalanda University (the world’s first university and home of many of Indian Buddhism’s greatest scholars, including Shantideva) and Rajgir, home of Vulture’s Peak, where the Buddha delivered many of his most famous teachings. We will also have a guided journey into the countryside across the Falgu river to Pragbodhi or Dungeswari Cave, where the Buddha is said to have meditated before his awakening.

Our housing will be at the Hotel Lumbini International and meals will be held there as well as the nearby Hotel Sujata and the Royal Residency (a.k.a. the place where Richard Gere stays). From our hotel it is a 5-minute walk to the 80-foot Buddha statue, to the Royal Bhutan Temple, the Japanese Temple and more and just 15 minutes to the Mahabodhi Temple or the Kalachakra grounds and the Be Happy Cafe (where they make amazing food and the best coffee in Bihar!).

Jan 9 – Free day:  we can relax or venture out on optional trips to to the Qutb Minar, Old Delhi, the National Museum and more. Cars will be arranged for a full day of sight-seeing.

Jan 10 – day-trip to the Taj Mahal. Flights out of Delhi to the US will be late this night, so we will pack our bags and leave them in arranged cars for the day as we venture to Agra for the day. The majestic Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of the cherished queen Mumtaz Mahal, will serve as our final place of respite and reflection in India. Though we will have seen signs of the Muslim presence in northern India, this building in many ways represents its height, built as an act of love and loss and combining Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles, and standing to this day as a testament to India’s incredible history.

From the Taj Mahal, we will take cars directly to the international airport.

Once registered, you will receive a pre-trip planner with information on travel immunizations you will want to check out, difficulties to expect, gear to pack, and more.

Cost: $3000 (plus you pay your own airfare to/from New Delhi). This will include all internal airfare, busses, taxis, hotels, guides, planned tours, and most meals – minimum of two meals per day, allowing some freedom for you to do your own thing at times. Registration deadline at current rate is Nov 15 – after that we might be able to take more people, but that is not guaranteed. 

Baksheesh or gift moneyit is recommended that you bring an additional $100-150 to be offered to guides, holy people, offerings at temples, etc in small amounts along the way. This is by no means required, but Indian society is very much one of giving to the poor, to the holy, and to those who offer service and guidance. We will help you along the way so that you understand the Indian etiquette of generosity.

*Possibly the Imperial Hotel,  an oasis in the busyness of New Delhi just off of Connaught Place.  Or the Metropolitan.

 If you are interested in joining us, please contact me at Buddhistethics@gmail.com or Valerie at Hands On Global Travel.
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