Pilgrimage to India & NepalWalking with the Buddha
with Tricycle & Megan Mook
October 31–November 13, 2023
Follow in the footsteps of the Buddha as we explore the lands that he walked in his time, from Lumbini to Kushinagar and each important pilgrimage site in between, on this carbon negative journey.
Trip at a Glance
- October 31–November 13, 2023
- This journey is triple carbon offset
- Facilitated by meditation teacher Megan Mook
- Accompanied by a representative from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
- Escorted by BJ Graf & Lauren Rathvon, owners of RetreaTours, with expert help from a local Indian guide
- Explore the iconic, transformative locations where the Buddha lived & taught
- Engage with your ‘travel sangha’ of 15 to 23 like-minded pilgrims
- Trip cost benefits The Tricycle Foundation
- Price per person of $5799 (based on double occupancy)
- Please see “Price & Inclusions” tab below for more details
- Price includes triple carbon offsetting for your entire journey, as well as all tips, all meals, and funding to the Tricycle Foundation
How to Register
- Please complete the registration form by clicking the box below.
- When we receive your registration form, Lauren will email you a link to pay the deposit.
- Once we have your registration form and deposit, your spot is officially saved!
Click to Jump to…
- Itinerary at a Glance
- Daily Itinerary
- Price & Inclusions
- Payment Details
- Cancellation Policy
- Our Carbon Negative commitment
- Suggested Fitness Requirements
- About our Hotels
- Travel Insurance
- Packing List
- Reading List
- About Megan Mook
- About Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
- About RetreaTours
- Testimonials from past ‘Walking with the Buddha’ pilgrims
- Video album
- Photo album
Notes on COVID Protocols (click to open)
We understand this may be your first international journey since the pandemic, and we will walk you through any requirements. We welcome any questions or concerns you may have; please email Lauren@RetreaTours.com.
Proof of COVID Vaccination + Booster
RetreaTours requires all guests to show proof of vaccination and one booster before your registration for this journey is complete.
For those who have not been able to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, we’d be happy to help you plan a private journey that follows the same itinerary.
Requirements for Entry to India and Nepal
There are currently no requirements for entry to India or Nepal.
Depending on local regulations at the time of the trip, face masks may be required at points during this journey (and you are always welcome to wear them whenever you like). We will keep you informed as the trip gets closer.
There are four places that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence, said the Buddha.
Lumbini is where the Tathagata was born.
Bodhgaya is where the Tathagata became fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment.
Sarnath is where the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dharma.
Kushinagar is where the Tathagata passed away into the state of Parinirvana in which no element of clinging remains.
These, Ananda, are the four places that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. And truly there will come to these places pious monks and nuns, and laymen and laywomen to reflect on the life of the Tathagata.
~paraphrased from Mahaparinibbana Sutta
Itinerary at a Glance
You’ll arrive in New Delhi on or before October 30 in order to rest up for your flight to Varanasi, India tomorrow morning. If you wish to extend your journey and visit the Taj Mahal before this pilgrimage, we can put you in touch with our wonderful Indian partners.
October 31 This morning you’ll take a 1-hour flight to Varanasi, the sacred city along the banks of the holy Ganges River. (overnight in Varanasi)
November 1 Today we discover Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s first sermon in the Deer Park (overnight in Varanasi)
November 2 We’ll spend today along the ghats of the Ganges River, soaking in the sights and sounds of rituals that the Buddha would have experienced in his day (overnight in Varanasi)
November 3 Today we’ll drive to Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 4 Explore the Mahabodhi temple and the Bodhi Tree where Buddha achieved Buddha’s liberation (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 5 We’ll visit the nearby Mahakala Caves, where the Buddha practiced asceticism for years before discovering the Middle Way (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 6 Explore the wealth of Buddhist sites around Rajgir, including Vulture’s Peak and the Bamboo Forest (overnight in Rajgir)
November 7 Wander the impressive ruins of the ancient university at Nalanda, a center of Buddhist learning (overnight in Vaishali)
November 8 We’ll visit Vaishali, the site where the Buddha first ordained nuns, before continue on to Kushinagar (overnight in Kushinagar)
November 9 Today we’ll take the time to explore the site where the Buddha entered Mahaparinirvana (overnight in Kushinagar)
November 10 Cross the border into Nepal and continue on to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha (overnight in Lumbini)
November 11 Discover the peaceful grounds of the Maya Devi temple and Lumbini Park, including the Sarus Crane Sanctuary (overnight in Lumbini)
November 12 Explore Nepal’s Kapilavastu site, where the Buddha spent his first 29 years (overnight in Lumbini)
November 13 Our journey together ends today. You can continue your adventure in Nepal, Bhutan, or head home and reflect on your experience of Walking with the Buddha.
You’ll arrive in New Delhi on or before October 30 for your October 31 flight to Varanasi.
Walking with the Buddha 2023 Daily Itinerary
The practical daily itinerary below is an outline of the sites we will be visiting. Megan Mook will lead discussions, meditations, and will weave a powerful narrative throughout all of the sites we experience. We’ll have time for meditations at these sites, as well as group sitting at our hotels.
You’ll also be joined by a representative from Tricycle magazine, as well as BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon, the owners of RetreaTours. An expert Indian guide will lead us along this journey, imparting historical and cultural wisdom.
Welcome to India!
You’ll arrive in New Delhi, India on or before October 30, 2023. Tonight’s hotel is not included night so you can choose from one of the many wonderful options in New Delhi; we will provide a suggested list of hotels for you.
On the morning of October 31st, you’ll head to New Delhi’s airport and take a quick 75-minute flight (included) to Varanasi. We will meet you upon landing to begin our fantastic journey together. This afternoon and evening will be about getting settled, meeting together in person for the first time, and setting the intention for our pilgrimage together. Our home base will be the 5-star Taj Hotel Varanasi.
Sarnath & Varanasi
On November 1, we’ll take a short drive (~30 minutes) to Sarnath. This is where the Buddha journeyed after his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, and it is here that he encountered the five men who had been his companions throughout his austerities. He preached his first sermon at Dhamekha Stupa in the Deer Park to set in motion the ‘Wheel of the Dharma.’ We’ll also visit the Sarnath Museum, the oldest site museum of the Archaeological Survey of India, which is home to some stunning historic pieces.
On November 2nd, we’ll focus on the banks of the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi. Mark Twain once remarked that Varanasi “is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Our sunrise boat ride on the Ganga will give us an insight into the same types of rituals that the Buddha would have witnessed in his day in this very spot. We’ll have the opportunity to witness the sacred tradition of cremation along this holy river, as well as the unfolding of daily life along the ghats.
I remember that ninety-one billion previous buddhas
turned the sublime wheel in that supreme grove named after the sages,
where peace, tranquility, and concentration are actualized, and deer always dwell.
Thus I too will turn the sublime wheel in the supreme grove named after the sages.
— Lalitavistara Sutra, 25. 56-57
Tomorrow we’ll drive to Bodh Gaya (~6 hour drive), where we’ll spend the nights of November 3-5. The beautiful Mahabodhi temple complex at Bodh Gaya honors the location where the Buddha attained enlightenment. This complex, which draws pilgrims from different Buddhist traditions all over the globe, is home to a direct descendant of the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha meditated.
We’ll share in group exploration and meditation at the Mahabodhi temple. Our Bodh Gaya hotel, Anand International, was carefully chosen because of its proximity to the Mahabodhi Temple, allowing you to revisit during your free time.
During our time in Bodh Gaya we’ll visit the Mahakala caves (~45-minute drive). Also called Dungeshwari, this is where Siddhartha lived on the banks of the Nairanjana River with five ascetic followers for four to five years, practicing austerities. We’ll visit Sujata village, where, near death from starvation, Siddhartha was offered milk rice by a Brahmin girl.
The path has been interrupted;
impurities have been extinguished.
The outflows have dried up and flow no longer;
the path, now ended, I travel no longer.
This is called the end of suffering!
— Lalitavistara Sutra, 22.33-34
Rajgir & Nalanda
On the 6th we’ll drive to Rajgir (~3-hour drive) where we’ll spend the night at Indo Hokke hotel. The area around Rajgir is extraordinarily rich in Buddhist heritage sites. We’ll spend time at Vulture Peak (Gridhrakuta) which is said to be the favorite of all the Buddha’s retreat locations. Vulture Peak served as the stage for the Buddha’s second turning of the Dharma wheel and his teachings on emptiness.
We’ll visit Venuvan Bamboo Forest, where the Buddha spent his 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 17th rainy seasons. These grounds were a gift to the Sangha from King Bimbisara, and they have recently been renovated into a lovely park, full of butterflies, birds, and even mischievous macaque monkeys.
We’ll explore the nearby ruins of Nalanda on the morning of the 7th. Nalanda was the ancient center of Buddhist learning from the early 5th century to 1200 CE, and was one of the world’s first residential universities. From Tricycle: “In [Nalanda’s] prime it had over 10,000 students, 2,000 staff, and denied 80% of its applicants. It would be hard to overstate how big time it was, and not just in Buddhist history. Dating back to the fifth century, it was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the world. Scholars came from all over the world to study philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and other subjects.”
As we delve deeper into these brick ruins and hear the stories of Nalanda, you can’t help but picture Shantideva and Naropa roaming these grounds!
Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajgrha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great community of monks and a great community of bodhisattvas.
— Heart Sutra
After our Nalanda exploration, we’ll head to the city of Vaishali (~5-hour drive, where we will spend the night at the Vaishali Residency). Tomorrow morning we’ll visit the Ananda stupa at Vaishali, home to a well-preserved Ashoka pillar.
Vaishali was the capital city of the ancient Licchavi Clan during the time of the Buddha, and is thought to be the world’s first republic. This is where the Buddha first ordained nuns, and where he gave his final teaching before departing for Kushinagar.
Then the Blessed One said to the bhikkhus: “So, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness. The time of the Tathagata’s Parinibbana is near. Three months hence the Tathagata will utterly pass away.
— Mahaparinibbana Sutta, 3.63
After our visit to Ananda Stupa, we’ll continue on to Kushinagar (~5 hours), where we will spend two nights at The Imperial Kushinagar. On our way, we’ll stop at Kesariya Stupa, one of the tallest excavated stupas in the entire world and reminiscent of Borobodur temple in Indonesia.
On the morning of November 9th, we’ll visit the Mahaparanirvana Temple in Kushinagar at sunrise. The 20-foot-long reclining Buddha statue inside the temple is simply mesmerizing, dating from the 7th century. Later today, we’ll pay homage at Ramabhar Stupa, the site of the Buddha’s cremation.
And even, Ananda, as with the body of a universal monarch, so should it be done with the body of the Tathagata; and at a crossroads also a stupa should be raised for the Tathagata. And whosoever shall bring to that place garlands or incense or sandalpaste, or pay reverence, and whose mind becomes calm there — it will be to his well being and happiness for a long time.
— Mahaparinibbana Sutta, 5.26
On November 10th we’ll cross the border into Nepal and head to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha (~4-hour drive to the border, time at both the Indian and Nepali immigration offices, then a 1-hour drive to Pawan Palace hotel in Lumbini).
We’ll stay in Lumbini for three nights, giving us plenty of time to explore the gems here. We’ll visit the Maya Devi temple early in the morning and watch the endless prayer flags emerge from the morning mist. This is thought to be the spot where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha under a sal tree. These gardens, home to a pillar of Ashoka and a sacred pond, are a lovely spot for meditation.
While in Lumbini, we’ll also take a drive (~90 minutes) to Tilaurakot, a site believed to be Kapilavastu, the kingdom where Siddhartha spent his first 29 years. Standing on the ruins of the ancient city walls and looking out at the countryside, one can only imagine what Prince Siddhartha might have been feeling as he left his family and embarked on his quest for liberation.
We’ll also pay a visit to the Sarus Crane sanctuary within Lumbini Park. If you’re familiar with the story about Buddha, Devadatta, and the swan, it’s thought the actual bird in question was a Sarus Crane.
Our pilgrimage ends on the morning of November 13th in Lumbini. We are including a flight from Lumbini to Kathmandu, Nepal in this journey. You can choose to extend your time in Nepal or you can fly home directly from Kathmandu. (Multi-destination international tickets are possible, with an arrival into New Delhi and a departure from Kathmandu. We will happily help you sort out these logistics.)
If you wish to explore the beauty of Nepal’s mountains, wildlife, and rich culture, let us help! We can even help arrange a private trip to Bhutan, a short and scenic flight from Kathmandu.
If Gautam Buddha Airport in Lumbini is offering flights back to New Delhi by then, you can return there directly from Lumbini and fly home from India. We’ll give you updates on this situation as we receive them.
What are our past Walking with the Buddha pilgrims saying?
Please click here to see testimonials from past India & Nepal pilgrims
If you’ve considered taking a tour of the places most connected to the Buddha, I’d strongly recommend traveling with Lauren and BJ. They go the extra mile to smooth and sweeten the journey with their warmth, unflappable openness to the momentary unfolding of reality, and respectful attention to people, places and particulars. Two thumbs up! ~P.M.
RetreaTours organized and superbly executed the best tour I have ever been on. Their attention to detail, deep knowledge of the locales we visited, unrivaled communication skills, and a genuine caring for their clients make them a clear standout compared to most other tour companies!! ~J.B.
Journeys that are most meaningful and heartfelt for me combine visiting historic sites in a respectful way, opportunities for deep learning, creating community with fellow travelers, and lots of fun along the way. Retreat Tours has surpassed my expectations on both trips I’ve taken with them and I’m hopeful I’ll have the opportunity to join them again! ~B.C.
BJ and Lauren are amazing tour organizers. Every detail was carefully thought out and organized. They also made adjustments as needed based on unforeseen hiccups along the way. In particular, their sensitivity to and understanding of the Buddhist path provided the space for all of us to continue our practices on this trip. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this trip to anyone interested in a pilgrimage type of retreat. From the hotels, to the food, to the actual travel requirements, their service was/is impeccable! ~T.M.
RetreaTours takes care of you, before, during and after the tour! Well-planned, excellent guide and teachers provided. Deeply satisfying and beneficial, spiritually and in so many day to day adventures. ~E.T.
Lauren and BJ are the two people I would follow, trust them 100%. Their hearts and minds are in every step. Would not go any where with out them. ~M.C.
Thanks to the planning, the guides and all of the attention to detail BJ and Lauren handled, total attention could be paid to the amazing sights, sounds and surprising experiences encountered along the way. It transformed what could have been a difficult, overwhelming trip, into an informative, fascinating, amazing adventure! ~N.S.
Joining a tour like this is a great way to be introduced to an area unknown to a new or infrequent traveler. Additionally, RetreaTours seems to coordinate the group such that an individual is not feeling short-changed by other guests that don’t play along. It feels like the client-focus of a single person trip, but with the benefits of meeting new friends and sharing experiences with people that really appreciate the adventure. Almost like the best of both worlds. Also, having the little details addressed by RetreaTours eliminated a lot of day-to-day stresses that even experienced travelers have. That means it can appeal to everyone! ~P.S.
You guys are consummate tour professionals. You think of everything, prepare your guests thoroughly, and are extremely skilled at dealing with whatever arises in a trip. Nothing threw you! We all felt completely supported and embraced by you throughout the entire trip. You were unflagging in your support and care! I can’t imagine a better set of tour organizers than you. You should be very proud of what you do. In this case, I expect that India is a difficult place to navigate, and you made it seem effortless! ~R.H.
I have never been with a tour group before RetreaTours 2022 Walking with the Buddha and I really think that no other tour group could have topped this experience. Lauren and BJ were so well organized, superb at being helpful, supportive, encouraging, inspiring and flexible with the ever changing landscape of our daily lives. Their skills and knowledge provided a very doable and interesting structure and flow to each day. Their own compassionate actions helped to cultivate an environment of caring and safety which extended well beyond our group. I found so often I could just let the wandering pilgrim in me stay present with whatever was showing up. A deep bow to everyone on this tour. I definitely want to travel with RetreaTours again. ~L.Y.
Lauren and BJ took care of us in every possible way. Traveling under their wing made it possible for me to immerse myself in the awesome scenery, the incredible history, and enjoy an experience I knew I would only be able to have this once in my life. I am already planning my next journey with RetreaTours. Can’t wait to see them again. ~P.D.
What makes traveling with Lauren and BJ so unique is the crazy amount of love & care they put into every little detail and extend to every single person (and being) they meet on their way. They are so inspiring and absolutely wonderful human beings… oh, and the travel experiences they offer are fabulous, too! ~B.M.
Take any RetreaTours journey, and you will experience an unforgettable experience in the care of BJ and Lauren, travel guides extraordinaire. They attend to every detail, large or small, so you can focus on your adventure. Their nurturing attentiveness is coupled with warmth and humor that makes every day on the road a true delight. Thank you, Mama and Papa Bear! ~M.C.
BJ and Lauren earned every bit of the trust I placed in them in signing up for this tour. Their ever present attention to detail and awareness of the needs of every member of the tour leaves me speechless. Their passion for what they do in developing and planning these excursions resounded in every aspect of the tour process from the initial application for the tour, the ongoing communication, their ability to make every member of the tour feel welcome and valued with personal care and attention down to the smallest detail. Their extensive knowledge and the groundwork they do in preparing for the tour resulted in creating a complete experience. They deliver 100% of what they promise on their website. I cannot find words to describe the level of praise for BJ and Lauren. I would travel to the ends of the earth with them. ~B.H.
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Price & What is Included
This journey’s fee is $5799 USD, with a private room supplement of $1189 (please read further for more information about the private room supplement).
This price only covers the actual retreat, not international airfare (for a full list of inclusions, please see below).
When registration opens, a $1000 deposit holds your space. The second installment of $3000 is due by June 1, 2023 and the balance is due by August 1, 2023. The private room supplement is due along with the last installment.
If you prefer to have your own room, the private room supplement ($1189) will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this supplement is necessary). Please note that we cannot guarantee you a roommate for this trip, and if you room alone, you will be responsible for the single supplement. Your entire supplement goes to cover the other half of the hotel rooms that a roommate would be covering.
- All accommodation in India and Nepal, from the night of October 31 to November 12
- All meals in India and Nepal, from dinner on October 31 until breakfast on November 13
- All ground transportation within India and Nepal, beginning with airport transfer in Varanasi
- Flight from New Delhi to Varanasi, India
- Flight from Lumbini to Kathmandu, Nepal
- All site fees
- All tips at hotels and restaurants
- All tips to local expert guide and driver
- Triple carbon offsets for your entire journey (door to door)
- Funding to the Tricycle Foundation ($1000 per pilgrim)
- A total of $2000 USD being distributed among local non-profits
Price does not include:
- International airfare (although we will be more than happy to advise you!)
- Indian visa fee (we will advise on the entire visa process; a 30-day visa will cost ~$25 USD)
- Nepal visa fee (~$30 USD cash, to be purchased at the border)
- Travel insurance (required)
- Laundry services
- Alcohol (note: there is no alcohol for sale in the entire state of Bihar, where we will be from November 3-10)
- Hotel night or airport transfer in Delhi on October 30th
Please refer to the Price tab for specific information about price & what is included on your journey.
We accept payments via check and credit or debit card (via PayPal) for our American guests. For our guests outside the U.S., please write Lauren@RetreaTours.com for transfer details.
- Paying by Check: Checks can be made out to RetreaTours and sent to 8821 NW 14 Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.
- Paying by Credit Card or PayPal balance: You can pay with credit card, debit card, or PayPal balance. All PayPal transactions must be in USD. Note that you do not have to pay with your PayPal balance; please click here if you’d like further instruction.
We will email you an invoice via PayPal before each installment’s due date.
We do everything in our power to do right by our guests. We are proud to say that in the wake of our COVID-related trip cancellations through 2020 and 2021, we were able to offer each of our guests the choice of a 100% credit, if not a full refund.
We’ve re-examined each trip and done our best to reduce the deposit amounts as much as possible. Upon your registration, your deposit immediately goes toward reserving your space for flights, hotels, and excursions that must be booked months in advance and are often non-refundable.
Cancellation by our guests
The cancellation charges are as follows unless otherwise indicated on the detailed itinerary for each trip. All cancellations must be received via e-mail or US mail.
- Cancellations prior to 120 days to departure, money will be refunded minus the non-refundable deposit.
- Cancellations received 61 to 119 days prior to departure are subject to a penalty of 50% of the total cost of the trip.
- Cancellations received 60 days or fewer prior to trip departure will forfeit the entire cost of the trip.
If a trip is canceled by RetreaTours
When a tour is canceled in the case of force majeure, the Tour Participant will receive a refund minus any funds that we are unable to recover from any supplier.
FAQ: Visas, Health, Food, Money & more
- Passport and Visa information
- Health & Vaccines, Travel Insurance
- Money & How to Get Local Currency
- What do I need to know about the visa?
First and foremost, your passport MUST be valid at least 6 months beyond the end date of the trip (that is, May 14, 2024), and you’ll need three empty pages in the Visas section of your passport (make sure they are in the Visa section, not the Amendment or Endorsement section).
You will need to arrange an Indian visa before you arrive; we will provide you with more detailed information before you apply for your visa. You will get your Nepal visa upon arrival in Nepal for ~$30 USD.
- I have special dietary needs—can I be accommodated?
Vegetarians should have no problem anywhere on our travels. The only thing that might prove difficult is veganism in India. Although meat is entirely avoidable, India is the world’s largest consumer of butter, and it is almost unavoidable in most of their curries, stews, and even breads.
Many vegans that we have known to travel through India adopt what is locally referred to as a “pure veg” diet: no meat, no eggs, but it allows for dairy consumption. (It is worth nothing that some of the reasons for avoiding dairy consumption in the west is slightly mitigated here, as there is less factory farming and antibiotic use in livestock.) Milk can be avoided by not consuming creamy dishes or milk tea.
Gluten is also avoidable in India by choosing rice over chapatis and other local breads. Celiactravel.com has GREAT printable cards in local languages to present to restaurants and hotels about your intolerance of gluten. Click here for the Hindi version. If you have multiple dietary needs, it may be worth your while to check out these specialty cards, available in 60 different languages.
When you register for a trip, you will answer a set of questions, including a question about food allergies. We’ll take a look at your answers and let you know if we have any suggestions or concerns.
There is typically a large amount of Western/”Continental” food available at meals, for those of you who aren’t in the mood Indian food.
- Can I drink the water?
In a word, No. Although many cities around the world are getting more advanced public water systems, we don’t recommend it. Not only from a pathogen standpoint, but it’s a different set of bacteria than your body is used to. Why risk an upset stomach if you don’t have to? We recommend drinking only bottled water, and you will want to rinse your toothbrush off in bottled water.
For those of you who wish to use your own filtration system (LifeStraw bottle, etc), you can definitely bring them and use tap water in them, which will save on the plastic of water bottles!
- What vaccines do I need?
None are required to enter India, but we suggest you work with your physician or your area’s travel health expert to decide what options are best for you. You can read the CDC’s recommendations here and the UK NHS recommendations here.
- What about malaria?
You may or may not wish to consider anti-malarial drugs, so please work with your physician or travel doctor when making these choices. Please see our blog about this topic for more information. Here is an NHS malaria map for India and one for Nepal. You’ll see on the maps that the areas we will be visiting are in the low to no risk” areas, although BodhGaya is on the border of “low to no risk” and “low risk.”
- Do I need travel insurance?
Yes, travel insurance is required on this trip. Please find out what must be covered in the “Travel Insurance” tab on this page. You’ll provide us with your travel insurance company name, policy number, and emergency number before the start of the trip.
- How much money should I bring?
All of your meals and transportation are covered once you arrive in Varanasi (except your $30USD Nepal visa), so you just have to gauge how much you want to spend on extras (laundry, souvenirs, and alcohol when available [only in Nepal]). Please see the “Price and Inclusions” tab on this page for all the specifics.
- How do I get the local currency?
You can either exchange cash in Nepal and India or use a local ATM (which we personally prefer for ourselves). Just make sure you call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling in India and Nepal, so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see it being used halfway across the world. Most smaller shops will not take credit cards.
- Will I be able to charge my electronics (phone, iPad, etc)?
Yes, just be sure to bring along a Universal Travel Adaptor that can go with you anywhere in the world!
- Will we have WiFi?
We will have access to wifi at all of our hotels, but please know it may be strongest (or only functional) in common spaces like the lobby or the restaurant. WiFi speeds may not be what you are used to at home.
We will be asking that you download WhatsApp for communication on tour, in addition to communication with family back home, as it works remarkably well on very little internet connectivity.
- Should I get an International phone plan? What about a local SIM card?
Please check with your cell provider about international options that might work for you. If you have an unlocked smartphone, you can purchase a SIM card upon arrival at the airport in New Delhi for your time in India. However, as we are crossing overland into Nepal in a rural area, there is no convenient place to purchase a Nepal SIM card for your 3-night stay there.
Suggested Fitness Requirements and Other Health Notes
Suggested Fitness Requirements
- Guests will want to feel comfortable walking 1 mile at a time at a moderate pace
- Guests will want to be comfortable sitting for 2-2.5 hours at a time on the bus without a break
- Guests will want to comfortably climb stairs 2-3 flights of stairs at a time
We won’t be at most sites for more than 3 hours at a time, and there will be opportunities to sit and rest at each site, although it will most often be on the ground. Guests make wish to bring an inflatable meditation cushion for meditation opportunities. We will provide meditation rugs, but if you need any height, please consider an inflatable travel pillow or cushion.
The air quality in India and Nepal in this time can be worse than what you may be accustomed to, as it is the dry season and there is no rain to occasionally clear the air. In addition, there may be seasonal crop burning happening at this time.
We advise wearing a good face mask for any prolonged time outdoors if you have pre-existing respiratory conditions. We highly recommend wearing a mask for any time you spend in and around New Delhi.
Please see the FAQ above for more on this or contact Lauren.
About our Drives
We will have our own private bus for this journey, with comfortable seats and climate control, big windows, and curtains. We will stop every 2 hours (or as needed) for a bathroom break and to stretch our legs. Our guests traditionally find these rides entertaining and educational because you can witness daily life in rural India unfold in front of you–something not many visitors to India get to experience.
Here are the expected drive times between destinations on our journey:
- Varanasi to Bodh Gaya: ~6 hours (with lunch at a restaurant on the way there)
- Bodh Gaya to Rajgir: ~3 hours
- Rajgir to Vaishali: ~5 hours
- Vaishali to Kushinagar: ~5 hours, broken up with sites and lunch
- Kushinagar to the border of India and Nepal: ~4 hours
- Border to India and Nepal to Lumbini: ~1 hour
About our Hotels
We have carefully chosen each hotel based on comfort, location, and safety. We can say with confidence that these are the very best hotels in each of these locations; if you wish to check out their websites, you can find them here:
- Varanasi: Taj Hotel Varanasi
- Bodh Gaya: Hotel Anand International
- Rajgir: Indo Hokke
- Vaishali: Vaishali Residency
- Kushinagar: The Imperial Kushinagar
- Lumbini: Pawan Palace
Each of our hotels will have a private ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, and WiFi access (although in some locations the connection will not extend to the rooms and will only be usable in common areas like the lobby or restaurant).
Most of these hotels do not have heat, but they can provide extra blankets and/or a space heater upon request. Nights should not get chillier than 65°F.
RetreaTours requires that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation. Please send Lauren your policy information as soon as you have it.
We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.
Please familiarize yourself with RetreaTours’ guest cancellation policy in your journey’s contract. Please read this article to understand a bit more about trip cancellation insurance and what it may or may not cover. “Cancel For Any Reason” policies do exist, as well, although do check to see what percentage of the trip cost they actually reimburse.
When to purchase your policy
Please purchase this insurance as soon as we tell you the trip has reached its minimum. Please do not wait until the last minute, should you need to use your (optional) cancellation coverage before then.
Where to search for policies
Below you will find some options to start your search for trip insurance. However, we ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.
Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com are two sites where you can see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like. Squaremouth’s interface is very easy and intuitive to use, and you can easily opt out of trip cancellation coverage.
World Nomads provides policies for guests under 70 that includes trip cancellation options. Use the link above and pop in your info to get an immediate quote.
It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.
About your International Flights
We are more than happy to recommend international flights, but ultimately you will make the purchase yourself directly through the airline website or through a 3rd party site like Expedia or Kayak. (We recommend going directly through the airline when possible, as it makes any needed changes easier.)
We do not know if Lumbini’s new international airport will be offering flights to New Delhi before our journey together. For that reason, we have included a flight from Lumbini to Kathmandu, Nepal in this trip.
We recommend a multidestination ticket, flying into New Delhi, India and departing from Kathmandu, Nepal. Qatar offers great options for this route.
As soon as we reach our trip minimum, we can assist you and offer suggestions!
You’ll want to arrive in New Delhi on or before October 30th. Our trip ends in Lumbini on the morning of November 13 and we expect to land in Kathmandu by 3 PM. Please do not make any arrangements to leave Kathmandu before 6 PM on November 13th.
Expected Temperatures & Suggested Packing List
The expected and historical temperatures on this journey range between 65°F (18°C) at nights and 88°F (31°C) during the day. This means mornings and late evenings might be cool, but temperatures will get warmer in the afternoons. This is not a rainy time of year, although it will still be humid.
Why did we choose this time of year?
We chose November because the temperatures are quite pleasant and we avoid the fog that can slow drive times typical of late December through February. In addition, we’ll be just missing the decreased air quality that comes with Diwali, as well as the noise that comes with high wedding season in December.
We will provide a suggested packing list in the late Spring.
There is no required reading for this trip, but for those of you interested, here are some reading materials to help familiarize yourself with the historical footsteps of the Buddha.
Our Carbon Negative Commitment
Please visit our Carbon Negative page to learn more about what we are doing to mitigate the impact of our collective journey, including a triple carbon offset credit to cover not only your time in India and Nepal, but travel to and from your home.
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We purchase triple carbon offsets for your travels with us—that’s from your home, through the entire tour, and back to your home again, times three!
You may have heard the term “carbon neutral,” which means that a company offsets as much carbon as it produces. With this 300% offset, RetreaTours is actually offsetting more carbon than we produce each year, making us “carbon negative” (or “climate positive,” which has a nicer ring to it!)
Since 2012 we’ve focused on making travel safe and easy for our guests; with our triple carbon offset tours, we’re pleased to make our trips as sustainable as they are memorable.
Please write to Lauren for any questions you may have about this journey. If you have not received a reply within 48 hours, please do check your spam folder.
About Megan Mook
I can’t tell you how EXCITED I am about this journey!
My first time in India, I lived and studied for a month at Sera Mey Monastic College, one of the great Tibetan monasteries which was re-established in southern India. On my second trip, I went on a multi-month pilgrimage to Ladakh with my Tibetan Language teacher, an esteemed elderly monk from Ladakh who was educated in Tibet before exile. Both of these trips were in the early part of my studies – before I moved to Thailand and pursued a Master’s Degree, and before I gained real world experience about what a life committed to practice and teaching actually means.
I love translating what I’ve learned through my experience of traditional Dharma study into digestible, secular language. And I firmly believe that the fastest and most gentle way to progress on the path is through the heart. “Heart” is what I strive to bring to each meditation, whether I’m guiding others or practicing myself. That said, I love getting heady with philosophy and thinking things through in new ways! I can’t wait to meet you all and explore these phenomenal places together.
Learn more at MeganMook.com.
About Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
Established in 1990 as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization, The Tricycle Foundation is dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available. In 1991 the Foundation launched Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the first magazine intended to present Buddhist perspectives to a Western readership. Tricycle soon became the leading independent journal of Buddhism in the West, where it continues to be the most inclusive and widely read vehicle for the dissemination of Buddhist views and values.
Our readership includes longtime practitioners, those who are curious about Buddhism or meditation, and those who do not identify as Buddhist but value the teachings of wisdom and compassion that Buddhism has to offer. By remaining unaffiliated with any particular teacher, sect or lineage, Tricycle provides a unique and independent public forum for exploring Buddhism, establishing a dialogue between Buddhism and the broader culture, and introducing Buddhist thinking to Western disciplines. This approach has enabled Tricycle to successfully attract readers from all walks of life, many of whom desire to enrich their lives through a deeper knowledge of Buddhist traditions.
Tricycle has been recognized with the prestigious Folio Award for Best Spiritual Magazine three times, and has twice garnered the Utne Media Award, most recently in 2013. As part of our commitment to our readers who are seeking to implement or sustain Buddhist values and practices, Tricycle accepts advertising only from teachers, programs, centers, and businesses whose offerings we believe will support those aims. Because of this selective policy, we depend on donations to support ever-rising printing and production costs, content updates to our website, and life-enriching programs. The Foundation also hosts occasional pilgrimages that provide opportunities for new and experienced practitioners to explore sites of importance to Buddhist history and practice.
The mission of The Tricycle Foundation is to create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large. At the core of the Foundation’s mission is the alleviation of suffering that Buddhist teachings are meant bring about. Tricycle is an independent foundation unaffiliated with any one lineage or sect.
A three-wheeled vehicle aptly evokes the fundamental components of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism itself is often referred to as the “vehicle to enlightenment,” and the tricycle’s three wheels allude to the three treasures: The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, or the enlightened teacher, the teachings, and the community. The wheels also relate to the turning of the wheel of dharma, or skillfully using the teachings of the Buddha to face the challenges that the circle of life presents.
About BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours
BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon have traveled the globe year-round since January 2013, researching, designing, and leading impactful journeys. We are deeply grateful for the trust that our guests place in us to save them time and resources while they enjoy a memorable journey.
We are committed not only to our guests, but to our host destinations and the planet. We engage with local businesses and guides to keep money within the community, and we triple carbon-offset each of our tours.
We invite you to visit our Testimonials page to see what other people have to say about us!
Please enjoy these videos, taken by BJ and Lauren on-site at each location.
To enlarge each of the videos after pressing play, please click the square icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the video. You can see a full YouTube playlist, including actual footage from our 2022 journeys, here.
Please click a photo to see an enlarged version and the location; you can use your arrow keys or mouse to navigate within the album.
Want to see our other Pilgrimages with Tricycle?
We love traveling with Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and we know that you will enjoy these transformative journeys, too. Please click here to see all of our current Tricycle Pilgrimages at a glance.