India is known for many things. What is typically not known is India’s long history as one of the most hospitable homes in the Jewish diaspora. For centuries, Jews found a haven in which their traditions flourished. Join us and visit the historic synagogues of Mumbai, Kochi, and Kolkata and explore scenic backwaters by boat to see little-known rural Jewish settlements. Kochi, perhaps the best known of India’s Jewish communities, boasts an architecturally unique sixteenth-century synagogue with a Hebrew clock tower and copper plates that granted regional Jewish autonomy in the eleventh century. Tour the iconic Taj Mahal, Amber Fort Palace, and fifth-century Elephanta Caves. Put your bargaining skills to the test at bustling, colorful markets offering a dazzling array of goods, from gems and jewelry to carpets and textiles. Enjoy traditional Indian dance, musical performances, and a variety of cuisine that’s simply out of this world.
Gain valuable insights from accompanying scholar and trip leaders Professor Nathan Katz, a leading authority and award-winning author on Indian Jewish life, and writer- photographer, Ellen Goldberg, both experienced leaders of Jewish tours to India who lived for years in South Asia. The itinerary is rich and varied; the hotels, world-class; and the people you’ll meet, spectacular!
Namaste. Welcome to India!
After entry formalities, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel for check-in and overnight. India’s capital, Delhi, is the nation’s hub: a buzzing, international metropolis that draws people from across the country and the globe. Home to sixteen million people, the city is steeped in history with millennia-old architecture, including temples, and monuments, while also exuding a “New India” vibe with its modern metro system and mega-malls. From a tourist’s perspective, Delhi is divided into two main parts: Old Delhi and New Delhi. Old Delhi is the city of the Mughals and home to the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, and bustling markets. New Delhi, built by the British to be their Indian capital, offers tree-lined boulevards, including the Rajpath — stretching from India Gate to the Presidential Palace and reflecting the striking Raj-period architecture — and an abundance of museums and modern shopping areas. During your stay, you’ll get a good taste of what’s here!
Start off the day in Old Delhi. See the Red Fort — the nineteenth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site — and board your cycle rickshaw for a whirlwind tour of Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s oldest and busiest market. You’ll end up at the tomb of Sarmad, a Jewish Sufi and mentor/guru to the Crown Prince of the Mughal Empire. Peer into the gates of the fifteenth-century Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque and another World Heritage Site. Next, tour Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, set in a lovely park, then visit a Tibetan Buddhist temple where Professor Katz will discuss the special relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Jews. Enjoy a visit to the Bangla Sikh Gurdwara temple, where pilgrims flock and perform devotional music. While there, you can help out in the community kitchen where volunteers prepare and serve ten thousand free meals daily! At day’s end, enjoy dinner and a restful evening at our hotel.
Ride the new, deluxe bullet train to Agra, home of the fabled Taj Mahal. Emperor Shah Jahan built this monument in memory of his beloved Queen Mumtaz. This spectacular seventeenth-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, set amid Mughal gardens and on the Yamuna River, lives up to its billing. From there, you’ll visit another World Heritage Site: the sixteenth-century Agra Fort, which was the seat of Mughal rule and administration. There will be time for shopping. Take the evening bullet train back to Delhi and return to hotel.
This morning, drive through New Delhi, passing by the Presidential Palace, Parliament House, and India Gate — a memorial to the seventy thousand Indian soldiers killed during World War I — as well as other elegant structures built in the first quarter of the twentieth century by famed British architects. Next, enjoy a private tour of the lavish Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, meet with the swami, and have lunch. Built in 2005 with the help of more than eight thousand volunteers, artisans employed ancient techniques to fashion the pale, red sandstone into decorative reliefs that include twenty thousand deities, saints, and mythical creatures. It is one of the largest and most intricate places of worship ever constructed. In the evening, you’ll be escorted on the short walk to Judah Hyam Synagogue for Shabbat services and dinner with members of the local Jewish community. Shabbat Shalom!
Enjoy a day of leisure. Optional walking tour available through Lodhi Gardens, a nearby city park with lush grounds dotted with ancient Mughal mausoleums that make a walk in the park like no other. Delight in lunch and dinner in any way you choose. We’re happy to help facilitate whatever you’d like to see or do on your last day in Delhi.
We will take a morning flight to Kolkata, once the capital of British India and filled with charismatic Raj-era architecture, fascinating street life, lovely parks, and rich intellectual and artistic traditions. You’ll have lunch at the Pareshnath Jain Temple, a beautiful site dotted with gardens and fountains, and learn about this religious tradition from Jain scholar, Professor Manju Nahata. Jain temples are known for their elaborate design, and this complex’s main sanctuary is filled with intricately patterned marble, mirrors, stained glass, European chandeliers, and gilded surfaces. From the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century, Kolkata had a thriving Jewish community that played a key role in the city’s development, built synagogues and schools, and thoroughly integrated into the fabric of society. Get an insider’s view from Jewish community leader Jo Cohen while touring the resplendent and recently renovated Magen David Synagogue, built in 1884 in the Italian Renaissance style. Nearby, see artisans at work at Kumortuli, a traditional potters’ quarter that for centuries has supplied the city with elaborate deities for its many religious festivals. Here, marvel at an army of sculptors as they work with straw, clay, bamboo, and other sundry materials to create vivid and fanciful art pieces. Great photo ops! Check in at hotel for rest and dinner.
After breakfast, revel in the lovely gardens at the striking Victoria Memorial, built in 1921 to commemorate Queen Victoria, who in 1876 adopted the added title of Empress of India. From there, take a boat ride along the Hooghly River for a unique perspective of Kolkata life. Time permitting, see the 130-year-old Mullick Ghat Flower Market to experience its riot of color and intoxicating fragrance. To round out the day’s touring, we’ll visit the famous Kalighat Temple, built in 1809 and dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, and the Catholic Missionaries of Charities’ Mother House where Saint Mother Teresa lived, worked, and, ultimately, was buried. Learn about Jewish life in Kolkata from Dr. Jael Silliman, who was educated and taught in the U.S. and returned to the city of her birth to document the community. Then, discover the unique beauty of classical North Indian music in an intimate concert by musician Aurobinda Bhattacharjee.
Board your morning flight to the coastal city of Kochi, which has drawn traders and explorers to its shores for centuries. Today, it continues to be a unique ethnic mix of Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, and Parsis (Zoroastrians) — a mix of people who for centuries have lived peacefully in this lush, tropical setting, interlaced with winding waterways and a major port on the Arabian Sea. After a Kerala-style lunch, head to Fort Kochi to see the iconic Chinese fishing nets, open-air market, Koder House where local Jewish “royalty” lived, and India’s oldest Catholic church, built in 1503 by Vasco da Gama. From there, it’s a short hop to Jew Town, so named for its once-vibrant Jewish community that at its height boasted several synagogues. First, visit the sixteenth-century Mattancherry “Dutch” Palace of the Raja of Kochi, who granted Jews land to build their synagogue next to his Hindu temple. Palace murals, depicting scenes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are noteworthy. The beautiful Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568, boasts a Hebrew clock tower, a jewel-encrusted gold Torah crown gifted by a maharajah, and the copper plates that granted Jewish autonomy in the eleventh century. There, meet community leader Queenie Hallegua, one of the few remaining Jews in Kochi, who oversees the synagogue and nearby Jewish cemetery. Making your way through the narrow streets of Jew Town, explore the many antique, spice, and gift shops. One such shop is run by Sarah Cohen, the oldest surviving community member, who sells hand-embroidered goods, including kippot, or yarmulkes, out of her home with the help of her Muslim caretaker. Mail a postcard from Jew Town’s small post office — it will be imprinted with a Star of David cancellation! Onward to dinner, and then a well-deserved rest at the hotel.
Go back in time to explore the historically important region of Muziris, a name the ancient Romans gave to this historically important region. Home to many diverse religious traditions — including India’s first mosque, first church, and one of the country’s oldest Hindu Shiva temples. Here too, Jewish life once thrived. Offering a glimpse of what life was once like and reclaiming a part of its proud heritage, the Kerala state government initiated the Muziris Heritage Project, which has restored many of the region’s historic religious and cultural places. You will see that restoration firsthand when you tour the architecturally unique seventeenth-century Chendamangalam and Paravur Synagogues, and the splendid Paliam Nalukettu, the eighteenth-century residence of the Hindu prime ministers and where women ruled. Lunch will be hosted at a nearby residence that offers meals for travelers who want to have a more in-depth experience of the local culture. Then it’s back to the hotel to enjoy a performance of Kathakali dance, unique to this part of India, followed by dinner.
After breakfast and check-out, visit an Ayurveda center. Ayurvedic medicine, developed in India some three thousand years ago, is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems and is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. You will have the opportunity learn about this ancient practice and, if interested, have a consultation, massage, and, possibly, a yoga lesson. From there, fly to Mumbai and check in to your hotel for dinner and a rest.
With more than twenty million people, Mumbai is a financial powerhouse, a principal shipping port, and home to Bollywood, the world’s most prolific film industry. Mumbai’s center contains spectacular colonial-era architecture and gardens, street bazaars, top-notch dining, posh shops, every imaginable place of worship, and rich history. See Mumbai’s Jewish life, both the historic — at the nineteenth-century Indian synagogues Magen David and Tiphereth Israel — and the heroic — at Mumbai Chabad House, recently reopened after the 2008 tragic events. At Mumbai Chabad House we will meet the rabbi and enjoy lunch. You’ll also tour Marine Drive, a picturesque promenade along the Arabian Sea; the posh neighborhood of Malabar Hill; and the unique Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, the city’s largest open-air laundry. In the evening, take part in Shabbat services and indulge in a delicious dinner at the nearby Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, built in 1884 by Sir Jacob Sassoon and recently restored. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat at leisure. This afternoon join an optional walking tour to the historic David Sassoon Library and the CSMVS (formerly Prince of Wales) Museum, which boasts a world-class art and history collection. Lunch and dinner on your own — explore the many fabulous dining options Mumbai has to offer! We’re happy to help facilitate whatever you’d like to see or do in this dynamic, multifaceted city.
It’s a short stroll from your hotel to the Gateway of India where you’ll board a chartered boat to Elephanta Island, about six miles east in Mumbai Harbor. There, you’ll learn the origins of Hinduism and Hindu mythology embodied by this UNESCO World Heritage Site — its fifth-century caves are among India’s greatest examples of sculptural art and rock-cut architecture. The main Shiva-dedicated temple is adorned with courtyards, halls, shrines, and breathtaking statuary. In the evening, dinner will be served at the Joint Distribution Committee/Evelyn Peters JCC for an opportunity to learn more about Mumbai’s Jewish community and meet some of its members.
Highlights of your morning city tour include such major sights as Flora Fountain, Rajabai Clock Tower, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus Station), and Bombay University. After lunch and check-out, there will be time for shopping on nearby Fashion Street, or at the nineteenth-century Crawford Market that sells items ranging from food and unusual gifts to cosmetics and pets. At the farewell dinner, Professor Katz will summarize your Jewish experience in India. After dinner, we will board the flight home or onward destination. Bon voyage!
Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi
The Taj Mahal Hotel is a harmonious blend of grandeur and understated elegance with the use of antiques and priceless art flawlessly juxtaposed with contemporary style and state-of-the-art amenities. All rooms offer stunning views of Delhi’s iconic skyline. Situated on six acres of lush, landscaped grounds in the embassy district, the hotel is close to the fascinating Lodhi Gardens, and a ten minute walk to the synagogue.
Celebrated restaurants within the hotel include Machan, House of Ming, The Grill Room and Wasabi by Morimoto. The Emperor Lounge is the place for high tea (or coffee) and a world-class selection of fine malts, wines and martinis are served up at Rick’s Wokkerie and Lounge Bar.
After a day of touring, be pampered in the Jiva Spa, lounge in the inviting swimming pool or burn some calories at the well-equipped fitness center.
Taj Malabar, Kochi (Cochin)
The Taj Malabar Resort & Spa, situated on one of a cluster of picture-postcard islands off the Malabar Coast of Kerala, offers old-world charm and world-class luxury.
The modern guest rooms feature an array of amenities and facilities along with stunning views from your private balcony overlooking the harbor out to the distant Chinese fishing nets.
Kerala’s cuisine features fresh seafood, herbs and spices. The traditional banquet, called Sadya, is an elaborate meal with multiple courses and more than twenty different accompaniments. The hotel features several restaurants including the Rice Boat Restaurant, 24-hour dining at Pepper, and Mattancherry, the comfortable lounge named after the port city closest to Jew Town, Cochin.
Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai
The original Taj Mahal Hotel was opened in 1903. The Taj Tower was added in 1970. It fully addresses the expectations of today’s traveler with luxuriously modern rooms overlooking the Arabian Sea or the dramatic cityscape of Mumbai.
The Gateway of India is at its front door, as is the ferry jetty to Elephanta Island and other points along Marine Drive and beyond. Behind the hotel are shops, restaurants, museums (the former Prince of Wales Museum) and Knesseth Eliyahoo (Fort Synagogue). This is the place to stay in Mumbai.
Within the hotel and the adjoining heritage wing, one will find numerous dining options such as The Zodiac Grill, Wasabi by Morimoto, Souk, and Chef’s Studio, the by-appointment-only gourmet dining space. The Patisserie as well as Shamiana, Mumbai’s first all-day coffee house, complement several unique lounges including Harbour Bar which holds Mumbai’s Bar License No. 1.
The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata
The Oberoi Grand, fondly referred as the “Grande Dame of Chowringhee” offers the ultimate classical residence in the City of Joy. This heritage hotel’s neo-classical facade and grand pillared entrance mark a successful fusion of classical Victorian and traditional Indian style and reflect the city’s colonial history. It’s location in the main business and shopping district of Kolkata makes it is an ideal location for travelers.
Standing stately for over 125 years, The Oberoi Grand combines classic architecture and charm with state of the art amenities and facilities, offering guests an oasis of tranquility amidst the bustling city.
The hotel features elegantly appointed rooms, equipped with all modern facilities blending uniquely with the colonial architecture.
The dining options at the hotel provide a great opportunity to savor cuisines from around the globe. Recreational facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and a full service Oberoi Spa.