Active types will love this 16-day guided tour through India's spiritual north. The trip kicks off in Delhi followed by a train to Amritsar for some quality Sikh time at the Golden Temple. Next is a drive to the higher-altitude home of the Dalai Lama: McLeod Ganj. Here, you'll soak in several days of Tibetan culture and Himalayan views before circling back to Delhi—slowly—through historic villages and hill stations, culminating with a Hindu ceremony on a holy ghat.

Highlights

  • Visit a Sikh community kitchen serving thousands of free vegetarian meals a day
  • Lace-up for hiking trails that offer tea rooms, goats, and snowcapped views 
  • Wander through villages like Pragpur and Garli for beautiful architectural styles
  • Stay two nights in Shimla, the former summer capital of British India
  • Ride the Viceroy's Toy Train to Kalka for a relaxed journey with stunning views 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Delhi Delhi
Day 2 Delhi City Tour Delhi
Day 3 Train to Amritsar - Visit the Golden Temple Delhi
Day 4 Village Visit - Parade Ceremony in Wagah Amritsar
Day 5 Transfer to McLeod Ganj - Orientation Walk McLeod Ganj
Day 6 McLeod Ganj Tour - Guided Walk McLeod Ganj
Day 7 Half-Day Village Hike - Transfer to Dharamshala Dharamshala
Day 8 Full-Day Hike to Triund Dharamshala
Day 9 Transfer to Pragpur, via Andretta Pragpur
Day 10 Transfer to Shimla, via Garli Shimla
Day 11 Shimla Heritage Walk - Free Time Shimla
Day 12 Train to Kalka - Drive to Pinjore Pinjore
Day 13 Transfer to Haridwar - Evening Prayer Ceremony Haridwar
Day 14 Full-Day Hike to Kunjapuri - Transfer to Rishikesh Rishikesh
Day 15 Train to Delhi - Free Time Delhi
Day 16 Depart Delhi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi

Take a taxi to Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft market bazaar
Take a taxi to Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft market bazaar

Welcome to the capital of India! Upon arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, you will be met by a representative and greeted with a traditional welcome. Then, you will be escorted to your vehicle and transferred to your hotel for the night. Check-in, take your first day off, and relax! If feeling energized, you could also visit Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft market bazaar selling handmade souvenirs. This is a great place to browse handcrafted items that come from all 29 of India's states. The bazaar is also home to a range of food stalls selling tasty regional cuisine.

Think of Delhi as two distinct cities: Old Delhi, founded in the 17th century, and New Delhi, established in the early 20th century by the British. Old Delhi offers an exotic vibe with bustling streets and historical monuments spanning several kingdoms and empires, while sprawling New Delhi offers international hotels, wide tree-lined avenues, foreign embassies, and shopping centers, etc. You'll get a taste of both during tomorrow's tour!

Day 2: Delhi City Tour

Part of today's tour includes the Red Fort
Part of today's tour includes the Red Fort

After breakfast at your hotel, it's time for a full-day guided tour of Delhi! 

Your first stop is the walled city of Old Delhi, a place that's abuzz with local activity and still influenced by the great Mughals who once ruled from the ramparts of the majestic Red Fort. During the visit, you'll see top sights like Jama Masjid, the largest 17th-century mosque in India, Chandni Chowk,  the typical Indian market (a treat for the senses), and Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi (also called the 'Father of the Nation’).

From here, proceed to New Delhi where you'll drive past the Presidential Palace, the Secretariat Buildings, India Gate, and other colonial buildings. Make sure to look for the early 20th-century work of Edwin Lutyens, a British architect, who is featured prominently in the colonial districts.

Finish the tour with a visit to the famous Qutub Minar, a minaret that forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of Delhi. The 239-foot (73-m) tower contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps. Each level has a balcony that encircles the tower, but due to a fatal stampede in 1981, visitors are not allowed inside anymore. You'll also see Humayun’s Tomb, a marvelous example of Persian-inspired Mughal architecture.

In the evening, you will head to Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, an important Sikh house of worship in Delhi. Fun Fact: This eco-friendly shrine complex recently banned the use of plastic.

Day 3: Train to Amritsar - Visit the Golden Temple

The Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara of Sikhism
The Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara of Sikhism

After breakfast in Delhi, you'll be transferred to the rail station to board a morning train to Amritsar, a city in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab

Once settled in the hotel, you'll visit the spectacular Golden Temple, a colossal complex of white marble and gold, and the most sacred site in the Sikh religion. Sikhs from all over the world wish to make a pilgrimage to Amritsar at least once in their lives in order to pay respects to Sri Harmandir Sahib in their Ardas. The Harmandir Sahib was envisioned by Guru Arjan Dev (Fifth Guru). 

While here, you will also visit the world’s largest community kitchen that serves langar (food) to every visitor, regardless of social or religious affiliations. On average, about 75,000 free meals are served daily. There is an option to take a tour of the kitchen—an opportunity you should not miss. This overall experience is a living example of the Sikh faith's rejection of the notion of caste.

Later, you'll proceed to Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial that commemorates the 2,000 Indians who were shot indiscriminately by the British (under the command of General Michael Dyer) on April 13, 1919, while participating in a peaceful public meeting

Then, after dinner, you'll experience the Palki Sahib (holy palanquin) ceremony at the Golden Temple where the holy book Guru Granth Sahib is carried to a room for its overnight resting place—yet another mesmerizing experience that you won't soon forget. As with all Sikh shrines, the head must be covered at all times, so remember to take a scarf. It is also respectful to cover your shoulders and knees at this place of worship. 

Day 4: Village Visit - Parade Ceremony in Wagah

Catch a ceremony in Wagah
Catch the daily pre-sunset ceremony in Wagah

Following breakfast, you will visit a traditional village on the outskirts of Amritsar for a true Indian outback experience. The journey brings to the visitor the heart of the Sikh land where you experience the richest hospitality as extended by Punjabis. Tread the narrow by-lanes of the village and pay a visit to several sites including a carpet-weaving home enterprise, where you learn the art of weaving a carpet. You can also experience a bullock cart ride through the lush green fields and witness how fresh vegetables and fruits grow.

Later, you'll drive to the Indian-Pakistan border town of Wagah to witness the Wagah-Attari Border Ceremony, which occurs two hours before sunset every day. At the time of independence in 1947, migrants from India entered Pakistan through this border crossing; today, the Wagah border is famous for this ceremonial closing of gates.

In the evening, return to Amritsar where you'll have the option to explore local bazaars, including Hall Bazar where there is a wide variety of woolen garments, like sweaters and shawls, as well as hand-woven carpets and blankets.

Day 5: Transfer to McLeod Ganj - Orientation Walk

McLeod Ganj
McLeod Ganj's lofty setting

This morning, you'll depart Amritsar and make the drive to the small town of McLeod Ganj (127 miles/205km) in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Keep your camera close, as the route climbs steadily through sub-tropical vegetation and terraced fields that turn into pine-covered mountains.

On the way, you'll stop to view the Pong Dam Wetland Wild Bird Sanctuary and then enjoy a picnic at the ancient rock temple of Masroor. Just before reaching McLeod Ganj, there will be a quick stop at the Church of St. John in the Wilderness.

After an orientation walk in town, you'll have time to explore the markets and eateries at your own pace.

Day 6: McLeod Ganj Tour - Guided Walk

A Tibetan woman walking past prayer wheels in Dharamsala
A Tibetan woman walks past a set of prayer wheels in Dharamsala

Today, you'll spend the morning exploring the main Tibetan settlement of McLeod Ganj. The town has a large population of Tibetans, due to the fact that the Dalai Lama settled here in 1960 after fleeing Tibet. Since then, a government in exile has been created, along with the addition of new schools, craft workshops, and monasteries in and around town.

In the afternoon, there will be a one-way walk uphill (out of the main village) as you pass the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. From here, continue through the forest while enjoying stunning views of the mountain range in order to get to the Tibetan Children's Village School, which is home to over 2,000 refugee children. From this school, a car will be waiting to transfer you back to the hotel.

Day 7: Half-Day Village Hike - Transfer to Dharamshala

Watch the views change with the light
A dusky view in Dharamshala

This morning, you'll take a gentle and gradual hike from McLeod Ganj town to visit the villages of Dharamkot and Naddi.

Dharamkot is a famous tourist village surrounded by dense pine and deodar forests, while Naddi offers up-close views of the snowcapped Dhauladhar range (part of a lesser Himalayan chain of mountains).

From this village, you'll be picked up and transferred to Dharamshala, surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas for your overnight. Next, you'll visit the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture, a registered trust dedicated to preserving Tibetan literary and artistic culture. This is where you can see thangka painting, statue making, and wood carving taking place in the institute's workshops, which are set in a beautiful courtyard garden that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of town. There's also a lovely shop selling quality souvenirs—a potential feel-good purchase that helps support the monks. 

Day 8: Full-Day Hike to Triund

Mountain Goats near Triund
Mountain Goats near Triund

After a hearty breakfast, it's time for a full-day hike to Triund. This is the highest peak in the vicinity of Dharamsala and a perfect trek to enjoy the astounding views of the snowcapped Dhauladhar range.

The excursion starts with a drive to Dharamkot, the base of the trek, where the trailhead is located. The trail is well marked all the way up to Triund with a few tea shops that provide refreshments as well as a mix of oak, rhododendron, and deodar trees. You'll also pass by local shepherds who roam the hills with their herds of sheep and goats.

You'll reach the top of the peak in the afternoon and enjoy a packed lunch. The meadows offer beautiful landscapes and there will be time to make good use of your camera. Overall, the hike is a personal experience where the Himalayan scenery becomes an inseparable part of your tour.

From here, return to Dharamkot on foot and then transfer back to Dharamshala in the early evening. 

Day 9: Transfer to Pragpur, via Andretta

A Tibetan Monastery in the area
A Tibetan monastery in the Kangra Valley

After breakfast, you'll set off for Pragpur (87 miles/140kms) located in the scenic Kangra Valley. This quaint little village drew attention when the state government, in 1997, certified it as a Heritage Village, making it the first such village in India.

En route, you'll visit Andretta, a tranquil village famous as a settlement of artists and craftspeople. Here you will visit the showroom of Sadar Gurcharan Singh, the first studio potter in India followed by a stroll around the village. 

From here, resume the journey to Pragpur and check into your hotel. Later in the afternoon, you'll explore this remarkable village's elegant Havelis, mansions, Italianate buildings, and traditional mud and slate houses situated on cobbled streets.

Day 10: Transfer to Shimla, via Garli

British vibes in Shimla, India
Soak up the British vibes in Shimla

After breakfast in Pragpur, you'll make the drive to Shimla (121 miles/195kms). But first, make a stop in Garli where you'll explore a treasure of architecture while meandering through the village. Narrow paths lead to mansions decorated in different styles with elaborate woodwork, gothic windows, gabled roofs, jharokha windows, brick jaali work, huge arches, and imposing doors. These photogenic buildings also come with interesting names such as Santri Wali Kothi, Mystery House, Raeeso Wali Kothi, and Bhagwan Niwas.

Post-visit, you'll continue the journey to Shimla, India's largest and most famous hill station. Set deep in the foothills of the Himalaya, the driving route climbs steadily past steep river valleys, pine forests, terraced fields, and orchards. Once you reach an altitude of 7,083 feet (2,159 m), take notice of the ridge, its cool, airy atmosphere, and the impressive vistas across the countryside all the way to snowy peaks in the distance.

Once settled at your hotel, you'll spend the evening exploring the main village areas of the Ridge and the Mall, including Christ Church, the Gaiety Theatre, and Scandal Point on foot.

Day 11: Shimla Heritage Walk - Free Time

The Ridge road is a large open space, located in the heart of Shimla
The "Ridge" is a large open space, located in the heart of Shimla

This morning, you'll take part in Shimla's very own Heritage Walk, which gives you a deeper insight into this intriguing living legacy of the British Raj. This walk is 2.5 miles (4 km) and includes highlights like castles, temples, heritage hotels, banks, and government offices. These are some of the best examples of British architecture of the era and reveal the nostalgic history of the summer capital of the British.

Not only is the tour visually appealing but also educational. Your guide, a narrator, will offer various interesting stories of Shimla's glorious past. For instance, this one-time seat of imperial power was also the location for crucial talks prior to Independence.

Following the walk, you'll also visit the excellent State Museum, housed in a colonial mansion. The museum has a varied and well-displayed collection of contemporary and ancient art. There are also examples of local wood carvings, ancient sculptures, deity masks, and temple bronzes.

Later, you are free to explore the warren of bazaars that cling to the hillside where the village is most vibrant. 

Day 12: Train to Kalka - Drive to Pinjore

Toy Train
Views from Viceroy's Toy Train

After breakfast in Shimla, you'll make your way to Kalka by a different route: the Viceroy's Toy Train. Completed in 1897 under the instruction of Lord Curzon, this 60-mile (96 km) line, with 103 tunnels and 24 bridges, was a massive undertaking meant to ease the previously arduous journey. The route is truly memorable as the train steadily rattles its way through the stunning scenery. Although it is not the quickest option (5.5 hrs), it is undoubtedly the most romantic.

Upon arrival in Kalka, you'll be picked up for the short transfer to Pinjore for your overnight where you will have time to enjoy the historic Pinjore Gardens, an example of the Mughal gardens architectural style. 

Day 13: Transfer to Haridwar - Evening Prayer Ceremony

Haridwar
Haridwar is a pilgrimage site located on the Ganges

After breakfast in Pinjore, you'll make the drive to Haridwar (130 miles/210 km). Propitiously located at the point where the Ganges River emerges from the Himalayas, Haridwar (also called Hardwar) is Uttarakhand’s holiest Hindu city, and pilgrims come here in droves to bathe in the fast-flowing river.

Upon arrival, check-in at your hotel and take some free time to explore the ashrams and temples in this ancient city.

In the evening, you'll attend the Aarti (evening prayer ceremony) held at Hari-ki-Pauri Ghat. The name of this famous ghat literally means "Feet of the Lord" (a footprint on a stone wall is said to belong to Lord Vishnu). In terms of spiritual importance, Hari-ki-Pauri is considered to be equivalent to Dashashwamedh Ghat where the Aarti takes place in Varanasi. Legend has it that some amrit (nectar) landed there after falling from a pot carried by the celestial bird, Garuda.

Day 14: Full-Day Hike to Kunjapuri - Transfer to Rishikesh

Rishikesh
Finish the day in Rishikesh

After breakfast in Haridwar, you'll set off on a tranquil full-day hike to the Kunjapuri  Devi Temple, one of the most revered Shakti Peeths of Goddess Shakti in Garhwal Himalayas. This will be an amazing experience with views of the spectacular snow-clad Himalayas as well as the Ganges.

After spending some time at this stunning temple, you'll continue along trail through the forests with more spectacular views. The total trail is 9 miles (14 km). 

Upon completion, you'll be picked up for the short drive to Rishikesh for your overnight. 

Day 15: Train to Delhi - Free Time

Say goodbye to this holy city
Pilgrims performing a Hindu ritual on the river

After breakfast in Rishikesh, you'll be transferred to the rail station to board a morning train back to Delhi.

Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for the night. How you spend the rest of the day is up to you! You'll have the option to relax at the hotel or make use of a private driver who will be available for any additional sightseeing or visits to local markets where you can pick up some last-minute souvenirs. 

Day 16: Depart Delhi

Delhi's India Gate monument
Delhi's India Gate monument

It's time to say goodbye to India! At the designated time, you would be transferred to Delhi's international airport for your departure flight or onward journey. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Spirit of India Adventure - 16 Days
Map of Spirit of India Adventure - 16 Days