Board your widebody flight to cosmopolitan Mumbai where you will begin your tour.
Arrival this evening. After entry formalities, you will be met and transferred to your sea-view, king-bed room at the Taj Mahal Tower (or similar). Welcome to India!
Namaste. After a leisurely brunch and orientation at the hotel, travel by chartered boat from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island where you will learn the origins of Hinduism and Hindu mythology embodied by rock-cut temples dating from the 5th century – a fitting introduction to India. Dinner at the popular Samrath Restaurant, featuring vegetarian delicacies of the region.
On your first full day, your city tour will include two Indian Jewish congregations: Magen David Synagogue, built in 1864 by David Sassoon of the Baghdadi community, and Tiphaereth Israel Synagogue, built in 1886 by Bene Israel community members. You also will visit the recently-reopened Mumbai Chabad Center where you’ll learn of the tragic events of 2008, including the heroic actions of the Indian nanny, and the inspiring outreach it continues to do. Other special sights will include the famous Flora Fountain, Rajabai Clock Tower, the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus Station, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the unique Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai’s largest open-air laundry. This evening, Shabbat services and dinner nearby at the 19th-century Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat services and lunch at Kenesseth Eliyahoo. This afternoon, you’re welcome to join in an optional walking tour that includes the historic David Sassoon Library and the fabulous Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum, boasting a world-class art and history collection. This evening, you’ll be hosted for dinner at the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee)/Evelyn Peters JCC, where you’ll have the opportunity to meet JDC/JCC staff and volunteers and learn more about Mumbai’s Jewish community.
Fly to the southwest coastal city of Kochi, one of the happiest chapters of the Jewish Diaspora. Kochi is history! You will visit India’s oldest Catholic church, built by Vasco da Gama in 1503, and walk through the 16th-century Mattancherry Palace of the Raja of Kochi, who granted Jews land on which to build their synagogue adjacent to his Hindu temple. The beautiful Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568, boasts a Hebrew clock tower, a jewel-encrusted gold Torah crown gifted by a maharajah, and the original copper plates that established Jewish autonomy in the early 11th century. Be sure to mail a postcard from Jew Town – it’ll be imprinted with a Star of David cancellation stamp by the post office! The International Pepper Exchange is also in Jew Town, so don’t be surprised if you smell the pungent aromas of spices wafting through the streets. Then explore Fort Cochin where you’ll see the bustling harbor, open-air market and ancient Chinese fishing nets, still in use today. Check-in to the Vivanta by Taj-Malabar Hotel (or similar).
Go back in time to explore Muziris – the name the ancient Romans gave to this area – by taking a heritage tour of the rural villages of Paravur and Chendamangalam. There, Jewish settlements once thrived until the 1950s when residents emigrated en masse to Israel. They left behind their beautiful synagogues, among the oldest in the region, that recently were returned to their former glory by the state-run Muziris Heritage Project, now renovating many of the region’s historic religious and cultural places. You’ll also see the restored and splendid 18th-century Paliam Nalukettu, residence of the Hindu prime ministers to the former maharajahs where women ruled. We’ll continue our historic journey with a cruise of Kerala’s scenic backwaters, where the languid pace and lush tropical scenery is interrupted only by close-up glimpses of fishermen, cargo boats transporting goods as they have for centuries, and traditional village life.
Fly to the northeast city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta until 1999 when it took on the local Bengali name), filled with charismatic Raj-era architecture, fascinating street life, well-maintained parks, and rich intellectual and artistic traditions. Transfer to The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata Hotel (or similar). Cultural programs planned (TBA).
From the late-18th to the mid-20th century, Kolkata had a thriving Jewish community that played a key role in the city’s development. Though never more than 4,000 in number, the community was influential, built a number of synagogues and schools, and thoroughly integrated into the fabric of society. After India’s independence in 1947 and Israel’s Statehood in 1948, Jewish emigration began. By the 1960s, their numbers had dwindled to 500, and today, less than two-dozen remain. You will get an insider’s view from Dr. Jael Silliman, a Kolkata Jew educated and for years a college professor in the U.S., who since 2009 has returned to Kolkata to document Jewish life there. She will offer a private tour of the city’s first synagogue, Neveh Shalome, dating back to 1831, and the beautiful Magen David Synagogue, built in 1884. From there, you will tour the Pareshnath Jain Temple, actually a complex of four temples, adorned with colorful mosaics and mirrors, spires, figurines, floor tiles from China, and chandeliers from Italy. Built in 1867 and set amid peaceful gardens and fountains, it is a popular destination for religious pilgrims and tourists alike. You will have the opportunity to meet with Jain leaders and learn more about this religious tradition.
Welcome to the political and administrative center of the world’s largest democracy. Delhi is steeped in history and filled with millenia-old architecture, temples and monuments, while at the same time exuding a ‘New India’ vibe with its modern metro system and mega-malls. You will take a New and Old Delhi city tour that includes visits to Raj Ghat, the Gandhi memorial; the Ladakh Buddhist Vihara, a Tibetan Buddhist temple to learn about the Dalai Lama’s “Jewish secret”; the 12th-century Qutab Minar; and the 17th-century Red Fort. Take a rickshaw ride through the teeming, narrow lanes of the old city where you’ll see the 17th-century Jama Masjid and the tomb of Sarmad, a Jewish saint. Check-in to the Taj Mahal Hotel (or similar) in the city’s embassy district.
New Delhi, since 1947 the capital of India, was built in the first part of the 20th century as the capital of British India. Largely designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, the city houses many beautiful examples of Raj-era architecture. You’ll see such fabulous examples as India Gate, Parliament House, the Secretariat Complex, the Rajpath (also known as King’s Way), and Rastrapathi Bhawan (formerly the Viceroy’s House, where the President of India resides). You will then tour Akshardham, or Swaminarayan Temple, a Hindu temple complex that displays millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. More than 11,000 artisans worked on this lavishly decorated Hindu temple complex, inaugurated in 2005. Shabbat services and dinner at Judah Hyam Synagogue, within a short walking distance of the hotel. You will meet the present-day Jewish community of New Delhi this evening. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat services at Judah Hyam Synagogue, followed by lunch at Gulati’s vegetarian restaurant within a short walking distance. After lunch, you’re welcome to join in an optional afternoon guided walking tour through Lodi Gardens, a peaceful, well-tended 90-acre park with lush grounds dotted with ancient Mughal mausoleums that make a walk in the park like no other. After Shabbat, we’ll go to nearby Khan Market to browse and shop its upscale boutiques and bookstores, then enjoy a group vegetarian dinner at one of its trendy restaurants.
Board your private coach to Agra this morning. After lunch at the charming Zorba the Buddha Café, visit the 16th-century Fatehpur Sikri, the ghost city of palaces boasting magnificent desert architecture. Dinner followed by a performance of classical music and dance. Overnight at the ITC Mughal Hotel (or similar).
Fittingly begin your last day in India with a sunrise visit to the iconic Taj Mahal. Built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, there is an unknown Jewish connection to the Taj, and you will learn of the Jewish influence during the Moghul period in India. From there, you’ll visit Agra Fort, a fortress built of red sandstone in the 16th century by Emperor Akbar. This afternoon, return to Delhi for a festive farewell dinner where Professor Katz will summarize the Jewish experience in India. After dinner, transfer to the terminal to check-in for your return flight to the U.S.
Arrival in the U.S. Welcome home!