Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

“This is a voyage for the body, mind and spirit. Discover the religions that have shaped India, as the fresh mountain air and vibrant colours lift your own spirits.”

Highlights

New Delhi | Mosque, temple & gurdwara visits | Shimla | Train journeys, including the "toy train" | Mandi | Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama | Tibetan craft workshops | Amritsar | Rishikesh, the "yoga capital of the world" | Ganga Aarti fire ritual on the Ganges River | Optional: bazaar, jungle trek, bathing in ghats, hilltop temple walks, nature walks, massages, Bollywood film nights

Description of Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

Take a tour of India and be introduced to the Mountains and Mystics of this incredible country. This is a journey of the body and spirit as we travel through the foothills of the world's highest mountains. These mystical lands look and feel very different from the rest of India - from the food and clothes to the crisp, clean mountain air and spiritual sway of the inhabitants. Discover the complex diversity of India and be enchanted by a land balanced between physical and spiritual worlds.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1:New Delhi. Welcome to India’s capital. Join your group and guide for a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We'll be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so ensure you bring these details to provide to your leader. If you're going to be late, please inform hotel reception. If you arrive into Delhi early, there are plenty of things to see and do. Perhaps pay a visit to the 12th-century Qutub Minar or the World Heritage-listed Humayun's Tomb. As the former residence of royal families and British soldiers, the Red Fort plays a vital part in Delhi’s history and is a must-see. Sampling spicy street food or trying your hand at haggling in the city’s bazaars are other great introductions to India. Notes: If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Day 2:New Delhi. This morning, join the group for a guided walking tour around Old Delhi, which has been an important city in India for over 2,000 years. Climb aboard a traditional cycle rickshaw and be driven through the colour and chaos of Delhi’s traffic. In the afternoon learn about the Sikh religion at the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) and visit the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest and India’s largest mosque.
Day 3:Shimla. Depart Delhi by train for the 4-5 hour journey across the state of Punjab to Kalka. From Kalka, board the World Heritage-listed 'toy train' and enjoy the six-hour climb through villages, tunnels and mountain passes. It's a long day of travelling, but Shimla's faded colonial charm will make up for it. On arrival in the evening, explore the town on an orientation walk.
Day 4:Shimla. Head out and explore Mall Road, Shimla's most popular shopping stretch. A nearby viewpoint also offers fantastic views of the Himalayas. Join the group for a visit to the Viceregal Lodge to witness where the partition agreement that separated India from Pakistan and Bangladesh was drawn up. If you like, join the hoards of monkeys milling about Jakhu Temple or stock up on souvenirs and specialty wooden crafts at Lakkar Bazaar. Set among rolling hills, Shimla also offers an array of nature walks that range from gentle to challenging. In the evening, enjoy an optional trip to the cinema and bop along to a Bollywood blockbuster.
Day 5:Mandi. Travel by jeep to the small town of Mandi. Situated on the Beas River, Mandi has a rich cultural heritage of both historical and theological significance. Once part of the salt route to Tibet, today it's the gateway to the Kullu Valley. Head into town for an orientation walk and explore a huge sunken shopping centre - the only one like it in India and the focal point of entertainment in Mandi. You can also spend time at the bathing ghats along the river or hike to hilltop temples just outside of town. In the evening, join the group for dinner and then stay in the former palace of the Raja of Mandi, which today has basic amenities.
Day 6:Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj. The journey up to the mountains of India is an adventure in itself. Join locals on a public bus for the six-hour drive along bumpy roads to Dharamsala. Strung with prayer flags and busy with robed monks strolling between monasteries, this hilltop retreat is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. Spend the afternoon wandering the peaceful streets, which are set to the backdrop of the Himalayas. There’s a lot to gain here from talking to locals and learning about the many facets of Tibetan Buddhism.
Day 7:Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj. Today visit the fascinating Norbulingka Institute, developed to train Tibetan refugees in skills needed to preserve the traditional arts and crafts of Tibet. Its grounds feature a beautiful temple and several workshops where you can witness woodcarving, painting and needlework in action. Then make your way to the Tsuglag Khang complex to see the Dalai Lama’s temple. You may also like to visit the Losel Doll Museum, which is a great way to learn about the daily lives and customs of people all over Tibet. Finally, treat yourself to a massage or try your hand at making traditional Tibetan momos (dumplings) in a cooking class. Please check with your leader for availability.
Day 8:Amritsar. Take a local train down to Amritsar, situated in the heart of the fertile plain known as India's ‘breadbasket’ and the centre of Sikhism in India. Tour the sights and weave your way through the rambling streets and bazaars of the Old City in a cycle rickshaw. Explore the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib), which sits in the middle of a sacred lake. Listen to the soothing sounds of the devout chanting verses from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Day 9:Amritsar/Overnight Train. Visit Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the infamous 1919 massacre that played a vital role in India's independence. Then head out to the India-Pakistan border to witness the pomp and circumstance of the daily flag ceremony, a military practice that the security forces of India and Pakistan have followed since 1959. Tonight take an overnight sleeper train from Amritsar to Haridwar. Sleeper trains are clean and air-conditioned, and beds are padded berths with sheets, pillow and blanket provided (although some people prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet). Please note that you may be sharing with locals of the same or opposite gender.
Day 10:Rishikesh. After pulling into Haridwar in the morning, there’s an hour drive to Rishikesh. Check in to your hotel before going on an orientation walk. Aptly named the 'Yoga Capital of the World', Rishikesh is a great place to relax and seek a little enlightenment. In the evening, take a stroll along the holy Ganges River as temple bells ring and the nightly fire ritual of Ganga Aarti begins. Being sacred, Rishikesh is a dry town and alcohol is prohibited.
Day 11:Rishikesh. The morning is yours to roam around Rishikesh. Perhaps tuck into a masala dosa for breakfast before walking it off on one of the trails along the Ganges. In the afternoon, reunite with your group for a walk through the jungle to nearby waterfalls and caves. Tonight,sleep under the stars near the Ganges just outside of Rishikesh, you’ll be staying in a fixed campsite with twin-shared tents and western-style toilets.
Day 12:Train/New Delhi. Bid farewell to Rishikesh and take the train back to Delhi (approx 7-9 hours). The train arrives back into Delhi around 11pm You’ll be transferred to your hotel on arrival
Day 13:New Delhi. There are no activities planned for today, so you’re free to depart the accommodation at any time.

Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.

01273 823 700

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Holiday type

Small group adventure

What is a small group adventure?
It's a great way to travel! Whether you are travelling on your own, with a partner or with friends, a small group trip is a fantastic way to see the world. You'll travel on a fixed itinerary that has been designed to help you discover the best of region. From the known highlights, the hidden gems that you won't find in the guidebooks.

Itineraries run on set departure dates, accompanied every step of the way by an English speaking local group leader. You chose the itinerary and the date that suits you best and you book on.

Why travel on a small group adventure?
Small groups allow us to explore where larger tour groups can't. Our maximum group size of 16 travellers allows us to use local transport to get from A to B, to visit rural villages, spend time with the locals and even stay at a local home overnight, and it allows us to give our travellers genuine, real life experiences of the countries we are visiting; what you'll be doing and how you'll travel depends entirely on your chosen itinerary.

Is an adventure right for me?
The word adventure means something different to everyone, and our range of trips reflects that. Whether you want to explore local markets, visit out of the way temples and meet local people or go on an early morning safari drive searching for the 'big five', we'll have a trip for you. If you are looking for a physical challenge such trekking the Kokoda Track or summiting Kilimanjaro, we can help with that too.

So what can I expect on this trip?
This is a classic style of small group adventure. You'll find your trip combines a good mix of included activities and free time, with some meals included as per your itinerary. We don't want you to feel chaperoned, it's your holiday not ours. Your group leader will be on hand to assist with organising anything you might wish to do in your free time, but how you spend it is up to you. Anything listed as included in your itinerary will be included in trip price; whereas anything listed as optional will be at an additional cost should you wish to take part.

These trips are great value, including things that you would struggle to organise independently, such as a night at a homestay in a remote village, or local guides around a remote place of interest. Transport will be a combination of private vehicle and public transport, whichever is the most appropriate for the route we are travelling; this might include train, plane, camel, tuk tuk, bicycle, boat…

On a majority of these trips you'll stay in 2-3 star accommodation, locally owned and reflective of the region you are travelling through. All solo travellers will be automatically roomed on a twin share basis with another group member of the same sex, unless you opt to pay for your own room at time of booking. There are no compulsory single supplements for solo travellers willing to share. Single rooms aren't available on camping trips, and you will be expected to help out with camp tasks such as setting up and breaking down your camp.

Can I book my flights with you?
Yes! We are a fully ATOL bonded tour operator meaning that we can book flights from the UK as part of your holiday package. Just ask us for a quote including flights when you make your enquiry.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

India plays host to a diversity of spiritual centres and places of pilgrimage. On this trip you will visit the Islamic mosques, Sikh gurudwaras, Tibetan settlements and Himalayan Hindu temples that all go towards representing the heart and soul of this incredible country. It is important to have some background knowledge on these places before visiting them so as to treat these holy places with the respect they inspire from the locals. Your leader will help you learn more about the place you visit to enable a deeper understanding and enjoyment from the experience.

Dharamsala is the home in exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and if in town, there is the opportunity to meet with His Holiness and offer support to the Tibetan cause. You will visit the fantastic Norbulingka Institute, which was developed to train (and house) Tibetan refugees in the skills needed to preserve the traditional arts and crafts of Tibet, so that the skills will not be lost. There is a shop here where you can buy some of the craftwork and clothing made by the refugees.

In the hills above Chamba you spend three nights as the guests of a local family at a farmstay to experience traditional rural life. Much of the food you enjoy here has been organically grown and cultivated by local workers. By opting to take walks into the hills with a local guide, take part in some traditional farming, or even having your bags carried for you by the villagers, you are supporting some of the families that live in the area.

At the end of our journey travellers may donate any unwanted clothing, medicines and bandages, which are distributed to a group called Goonj. This organisation is a nationwide movement that provides help to remote villages in Assam, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttaranchal and wherever the demand arises or disaster forces people to look for support.

Reviews of Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 17 Oct 2012 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


visiting Golden Temple Travelling on Toy train to Shimla using local buses

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Good level of general fittness needed.
Don't visit India if all you want to do is change it

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


use of local guides, tipping Kitty so made sure staff were tipped correctly for that country use of local transport

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


excellent

Reviewed on 30 Nov 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The golden temple at Amritsar and the border ceremony at Waga on the Pakistan India Border. Plus Mcleod Ganj and Naddi up from Dharamsala.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be aware that the hike to Chamba from Khajjiar involves a final climb partway up the mountain to get to the accommodation.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Only 8 of us and we are all very environment minded. I was more distressed to see the local people throwing paper out of the toy train window and some of the towns littered with trash. If only Responsible Travel could do more to educate the local population to recycle the trash as much as possible. We ate at local small cafes and restaurants and stayed in small local hotels, used cycle rickshaws and tuk tuks. Actually used all forms of transport so I think the local businesses did benefit. Pehaps in Dharamsala since it is all about Tibet it might have been nice to stay at a Tibetan guest house.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Fantastic! I love India; the people are so friendly and so colourful, the temples are wonderful. The entire spectrum is there to be enjoyed.

Reviewed on 27 Nov 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar at night when it wasn't busy.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Check who your guide will be in advance and whether or not he or she has done the trip before. Our guide had never done this trip or even been to the places we visited before. Also ask if there are local guides available and if you will be able to book them yourself if not. Also if going in autumn or winter from October note that it can get very cold and the hotels have no heating. The guide also has a habit of trying to get us to eat outside in near freezing conditions which should be resisted. There are two one day treks on the trip. The trip notes are a little confusing and suggest that there is only one (although this has been reported to the tour operator so they might change it). On the second day your main luggage goes on ahead to the hotel you will stay in the following day so you need to have a day pack that is big enough for an overnight stop but small enough for you to carry with you on the trek.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


The use of local transport - trains and buses minimized impact on the environment but this did mean we had several very long days on trains and buses

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The holiday was a little disappointing. Despite being called Mountain & Mystics we had the opportunity to learn relatively little about either because the tour leader had little knowledge and we didn't have local guides. This was a shame because the itinerary was interesting.

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you for taking the time to give us your comments on the trip and in particular on your leader. We select a variety of leaders who are both locals and westerners, but most importantly the qualities that we look for in our Leaders are a passion for the country that they are leading and a desire to share this with their travelers. We take great pride in our recruitment and training program that we use to train all of our leaders. Once a leader is recruited they undergo an intensive week of training covering all of the technical aspects of leading and this is followed by a 3 week training trip when they shadow an experienced leader to learn about different styles of leadership, and to meet the local operators and guides along the way. We believe that this combination of formal classroom learning and practical on the road training allows our leaders too observe and understand group dynamics and customer service as well as the administrative aspects of the job. It is always hard when a leader is leading a trip for the first time but I assure you we have very detailed notes for the leader, great local operators along the way, and have other leaders spend time running through the finer details of the trip before they start.

Reviewed on 31 Oct 2005 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Staying with a family.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Pack light as you do have to carry your bags around and you WILL shop!!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes - we travelled on local buses and used local-run hotels and taxis / rickshaws etc.

Reviewed on 31 Dec 2005 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The most memorable part was a hike we took up to a water-based community just outside of Vinales. The hike was lovely, the views were amazing and the watercommunity was unique.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you take plenty of money - and a VISA card.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes.

4. Any other comments?


Our guide - Natalia - made the holiday. She was fun and bubbly and informative.

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