CAVES, STUPAS & ENLIGHTENMENT

A Buddhist Journey through Central India

Central India, Delhi & Around, Mumbai & Western India

Duration: 14 nights

Price: From £4,150 per person in low season based on two adults travelling together and including all flights in economy class, accommodation, some meals, private transfers, train transportation, experiences as stated and taxes

India is perhaps the most fertile cradle of religion anywhere on earth, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all originating here and Islam and Christianity also prominent players in its cultural history. This luxury culture holiday will see you taking in some of India’s most iconic religious sites, including the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the Buddhist pilgrimage sites of Sarnath and Bodhgaya, and the ultimate encapsulation of India’s fervent religiosity, Varanasi. Beginning and ending in Mumbai and Delhi, you’ll also enjoy your share of buzzing urbanity, and you’ll have the chance to practice yoga and meditation at a peaceful ashram.
Perfect forSpiritual seekers, history buffs and culture vultures looking to get to grips with India’s impossibly rich religious history.
In the knowExtending your trip to include a visit to Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest city, to visit the unforgettable Golden Temple.

Best for

  • Cultural Immersion
  • Educational
  • History & Heritage
  • Off the Beaten Track

All Exsus holidays are tailor-made

This itinerary is just a starting point. Tell us your budget/wishlist/preferred length of stay and we'll help you select the best hotels and experiences, so your holiday is totally personalised.

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Itinerary details

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2 nightsMUMBAI

Your journey begins in glamorous Mumbai – a dose of urbanity before your journey into India’s spiritual heart. As the home of Bollywood, Mumbai is also where India’s A-listers hang out, and is the place to see and be seen. While this is obviously a great place to catch an Indian movie, it’s also home to places of great religious, cultural and historical significance. The Kanheri Caves date back over 2000 years and were once an important centre of Indian Buddhism, while the magnificent rock carvings of Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour include Buddhist monuments and those dedicated to Lord Shiva. Also worth checking out is Leopold Café, a Mumbai institution and an impossibly atmospheric snapshot of the colonial era. Your home for 2 nights in Mumbai is Abode, a trendy boutique hotel in the south of the city.
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2 nightsAURANGABAD

The next stop on your journey is Aurangabad, an hour’s flight from Mumbai. A former capital of the Mughal Empire famed for its ancient gates, it’s also home to the Bibi Ka Maqbara, a marble mausoleum with a strong resemblance to the Taj Mahal. The main draw of Aurangabad, though, are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which lie nearby: the Ellora and Ajanta Caves. Ellora is a huge, rock-cut complex of temples, monasteries and caves representing three of India’s great religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The oldest monuments date from around 500CE and many are brilliantly preserved. Even older and more impressive than Ellora are the caves at Ajanta, carved into sheer cliff faces as long ago as the 2nd century BCE. The caves are hugely important to the understanding of early Buddhism and contain sculptures, and even surviving paintings, which rank among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art. Your base for exploration of the caves is Taj Vivanta, a palatial hotel surrounded by landscaped gardens and manicured lawns.
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3 nightsMAHESHWAR

After exploring the caves of Ajanta and Ellora you’ll be taken by private transfer (6hrs) to Maheshwar, a peaceful riverside town with great significance in Indian folklore and religion. A favourite of Bollywood directors for its great beauty, Maheshwar is home to over 100 temples and stupas and features prominently in the Sanskrit epic poems the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Your home for the next 3 nights is Ahilya Fort, a truly stunning hotel in an 18th-century fortress on the banks of the holy Narmada River. On a traditional wooden boat ride along the river, you can check out the island temple of Omkareshwar, or simply watch the sadhus worshipping on the riverside ghats as they have done for centuries.
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2 nightsBHOPAL

A private transfer to Indore will see you boarding a train to Bhopal, your next stop. India’s railways are an icon of the country, and offer fantastic opportunities to meet people from all walks of life and watch the countryside go by your window. The journey to Bhopal takes around 4.5 hours and takes you to a city with a fascinating past, and present, as a meeting point for different cultures. Shaped by a succession of female Islamic rulers who led the city in the 19th century, today Bhopal is home to one of India’s highest concentrations of Muslims, with numerous mosques dotting the bazaars of the old city. Nearby lies the Great Stupa at Sanchi, the oldest stone structure in India and an important Buddhist monument. Built in the 3rd century BCE by King Ashoka, who is credited with kick-starting the global spread of Buddhism, the stupa is remarkably preserved given its great age and offers a fascinating insight into an ancient time. You’ll stay at Noor-us-Sabah Palace, a beautiful heritage hotel on a palatial estate.
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2 nightsVARANASI

In a country where religion runs as deep and wide as the holy Ganges, Varanasi is the most important spiritual city of the lot – for the Hindu majority, at least. This is where pilgrims flock to worship and bathe in India’s holiest river, and your first sight of the ghats – steep stone steps which line the banks of the Ganges – is an unforgettable experience. Varanasi’s not for the faint hearted, and all the clichés about India being an assault on the senses, a riot of bold colours, smells and sounds, are writ large here. But its intensity is what makes it such a fantastic experience. This area is not just holy for Hindus, and you’ll make a trip to nearby Sarnath – an oasis of calm, as is often the case with Buddhist sites in India – where the Buddha is said to have made his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. You’ll spend 2 nights at Nadesar Palace, a palatial hotel overlooking the Ganges.
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2 nightsGAYA

Departing Varanasi and Sarnath, you’ll fly to Gaya for the next stop on your journey and another of the holiest sites in Buddhism. Gaya is an ancient city whose documented history goes hand-in-hand with that of Buddhism, right back to the life of Siddhartha Gautama 2,500 years ago. The nearby site of Bodhgaya draws pilgrims from all over the world, as it is said to be the site where the Buddha gained enlightenment after meditating for weeks beneath a Bodhi tree. The importance of Bodh Gaya to Buddhists worldwide is evident in its proliferation of international Buddhist temples, including ornate Thai and Bhutanese ones. You’ll spend 2 nights at Shantidevi Ashram, a peaceful, rustic guesthouse surrounded by a tropical garden where you can practice yoga and meditation.
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1 nightDELHI

Your journey ends in India’s capital, Delhi, a 2.5 hour flight from Gaya. Less glossy than Mumbai but endlessly fascinating, Delhi wears the cultures, kings and empires of its long and colourful past loudly. Winding streets lead to mysterious souks and vibrant bazaars, and mosques, temples and ancient monuments are everywhere. Some of the more prominent include the Jama Masjid, one of the biggest mosques in India, and the towering Qutb Minar, the largest brick minaret in the world. Humayun’s Tomb was built in the 1500s as a mausoleum to the Mughal emperor but looks more or less brand new, and the Red Fort is another imposing monument to the might and power of that empire. Your home for the final night of your journey is the Claridges, an elegant hotel dating from the 1950s.
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