A historical tour through India & NepalTracing the Footsteps of the Buddha
November 1-15, 2022
Whether you’re simply curious about Buddhism, a “beginner,” or you’re a seasoned practitioner, have you ever longed to feel under your feet the very earth where Buddha lived and taught?
Travel with like-minded people on this memorable trip through India and Nepal. Join RetreaTours owners BJ & Lauren to visit the historical sites where the Buddha spent his days.
We’ll be led by an expert local guide whose sole focus has been the Buddhist circuit for almost 2 decades. Immerse yourself culturally, intellectually, and spiritually on this fascinating journey through the land where Buddhism was born.
If you’ve ever been intimidated by the idea of a trip to this part of the world, we’d love for you to join us on this safe, comfortable tour where all the details are handled for you. All levels of interest and experience are welcome on this journey, without expectation or judgment.
Trip at a Glance
- November 1-15, 2022
- This journey is triple carbon offset
- Escorted by BJ Graf & Lauren Rathvon, owners of RetreaTours
- Facilitated by expert Indian guide, specializing in the Buddhist Circuit
- Explore the iconic, transformative locations where the Buddha lived & taught
- Join 15 to 23 like-minded guests on this journey
- Early bird price of $4499 (USD) per person (based on double occupancy)
- Please see “Price & Inclusions” tab below for more details
- Price includes triple carbon offsetting for your entire journey
How to Register
While we work out way through the waitlist, Lauren will email you the registration and deposit link directly. Thank you for your patience!
Notes about COVID protocols (click to open)
We understand this may be your first international journey since the pandemic, and will be here to 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
We will keep you updated regarding India and Nepal’s entry and/or exit COVID testing requirements.
Please keep in mind that these requirements may change and we will let you know if they are updated. Please also be aware that your home country may have testing requirements to fly home. We can help arrange these tests, although they are not included in the trip cost.
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.
Bodh Gaya 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
November 1 Arrive in New Delhi, India (overnight in New Delhi)
November 2 Fly to Varanasi, India, the sacred city along the banks of the holy Ganges River (overnight in Varanasi)
November 3 Today we discover Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s first sermon in the Deer Park (overnight in Varanasi)
November 4 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 5 Today we’ll drive to Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 6 Explore the Mahabodhi temple and the Bodhi Tree that commemorate Buddha’s liberation (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 7 We’ll visit the nearby Mahakala Caves, where the Buddha practiced asceticism for years before discovering the Middle Way (overnight in Bodh Gaya)
November 8 Explore the wealth of Buddhist sites around Rajgir, including Vulture’s Peak and the Bamboo Forest (overnight in Rajgir)
November 9 Wander the impressive ruins of the ancient university at Nalanda, a center of Buddhist learning (overnight in Patna)
November 10 Visit Vaishali, the site where the Buddha first ordained nuns, then continue on to Kushinagar (overnight in Kushinagar)
November 11 Today we’ll take the time to explore the site where the Buddha entered Mahaparinirvana (overnight in Kushinagar)
November 12 Cross the border into Nepal and continue on to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha (overnight in Lumbini)
November 13 Discover the peaceful grounds of the Maya Devi temple and Lumbini Park (overnight in Lumbini)
November 14 Explore Nepal’s Kapilavastu site, where the Buddha spent his first 29 years (overnight in Lumbini)
November 15 Today you can fly back to New Delhi or even Kathmandu, Nepal, to continue your adventure, or perhaps it’s time to head home and reflect on your experiences in the footsteps of the Buddha.
What to Expect on this Journey
This trip is designed for anyone curious about Buddhism, whether it’s new on your radar or you’re a seasoned practitioner. We welcome Buddhists (of any school) and non-Buddhists alike—just pack your passport and your enthusiasm as we trace the footsteps of the Buddha through India and Nepal.
Our expert Indian guide will lead us through these remarkable sites, rich with history and meaning. BJ and Lauren are there every step of the way to facilitate a smooth, memorable journey, whether this is your first or fifteenth time to South Asia.
There is no dedicated dharma teacher on this journey as there is on our Pilgrimage to India and Nepal with Tricycle. Instead, we will operate organically, and as the group feels called, we can assist in arranging spaces for optional meditation and group discussions. We will hold the space for intellectual and spiritual curiosity and blossoming.
That said, if you feel drawn to follow a teacher on this path for Buddhist teachings, you may wish to consider our Pilgrimage to India and Nepal with Tricycle instead.
The beginning of our journey!
Tracing the Footsteps of the Buddha 2022
Welcome to India!
You’ll arrive in New Delhi, India on November 1. We’ll stay in a very comfortable hotel in New Delhi’s Aerocity near the airport, and we’ll get a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s 90-minute flight to Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city set along the Ganges River.
Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dharma
On November 2nd, we’ll take a short drive (~30 minutes) to Sarnath. This is where the Buddha journey after his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, and it is here that he encountered the five men who had been his companions throughout their austerities. He preached his first sermon in the Deer Park to set in motion the ‘Wheel of the Dharma,’ the founding of Buddhism.
On November 3rd, 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 will give us an insight into the same Hindu rituals that the Buddha would have witnessed in his day. We’ll have the opportunity to witness the time-honored tradition of cremation along this holy river, as well as the unfolding of daily life along the ghats.
The Navel of the Earth
Tomorrow we’ll drive to Bodh Gaya (~6 hours), where we’ll spend the nights of November 5th, 6th, and 7th. The Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya commemorates the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment. This temple 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. In the Jataka Tales, this place is recognized as the “navel of the earth,” the exact spot where Siddhartha attained enlightenment.
“Here on this seat my body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve, but my body will not move from this seat until I have attained Enlightenment.”
We’ll share in group exploration and meditation at the Mahabodhi temple. In addition, our Bodh Gaya hotel 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 spend time at the Dungeshwari (Mahakala) caves (~45-minute drive). This is the site where Siddhartha Gautama lived on the banks of the Nairanjana River with five ascetic followers for four to five years, practicing austerities. After he realized that these austerities could not lead him to enlightenment, he abandoned them. We’ll also visit Senani village, where Siddharta walked after leaving his ascetic companions. Near death from starvation, here he was offered milk rice by a Brahmin girl named Sujata.
High Peaks & Higher Education
On the 8th we’ll drive to Rajgir (~2.5 to 3 hours) where we’ll spend the night. The area around Rajgir is extraordinarily rich in Buddhist heritage sites. We’ll spend time at Vulture’s Peak (Gridhrakuta) which is said to be the favorite of all the Buddha’s retreat locations. We’ll visit Venuvan (Bamboo Forest), where the Buddha spent his 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 17th rainy seasons.
We’ll also explore the nearby ruins of Nalanda the following morning, the ancient center of Buddhist learning from the early 5th century to 1200 CE. Nalanda was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the world, focused not only on Buddhism but also medicine, philosophy, and science, with over 10,000 students in its prime.
After our Nalanda exploration, we’ll head to the city of Patna (~2-hour drive), where we will spend the night. Tomorrow morning we’ll visit Vaishali (~2-hour drive) en route to Kushinagar (~4 hours), where we will spend two nights. The Buddha spent much time in Vaishali, and this is the place where he first ordained women as nuns. Vaishali is also where he preached his final sermon before moving on to Kushinagar. Kushinagar is the site where the Buddha achieved Mahaparinirvana and was then cremated. The 20-foot-long reclining Buddha statue inside the Parinirvana Stupa is simply mesmerizing, dating from 637 CE or earlier.
The Land Where Buddha was Born
On November 12th we’ll cross the border into Nepal and head to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha (~4 to 5-hour drive, plus time for immigration at the border). 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 peaceful gardens, home to a pillar of Ashoka and a sacred pond, are a lovely place for morning meditation.
While in Lumbini, we’ll also take a drive (90 minutes) to Tilaurakot, a site that many people believe is the true location of 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.
Our pilgrimage ends on the morning of the 15th, but we can help you to arrange further exploration of Nepal or India. This journey ends in Lumbini, Nepal, where there are currently flights to Kathmandu, Nepal and New Delhi, India. We can help you plan your international flights into Delhi and out of Kathmandu, if you wish.
If you wish to visit the Taj Mahal, or perhaps explore the beauty of Nepal’s mountains, national parks & wildlife, and rich culture, let us help! We can even arrange a private trip to Bhutan, a short and scenic flight from Kathmandu.
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Price & What is Included
This early bird retreat fee is $4499 USD per person (double occupancy). The single supplement for this trip is $995 (please keep reading for information about the single supplement). After July 1, 2022, the price increases to $4799.
This price only covers journey within India and Nepal, 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 $2000 is due by June 15, 2022 and the balance is due by August 1, 2022. The single supplement ($995) is due along with the last installment.
If you prefer to have your own room, the single supplement is $995 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this single 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. This particular single supplement, although high, is actually subsidized by RetreaTours, and 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 November 1 to 14.
- All meals in India and Nepal, from dinner on November 1 until breakfast on November 15 (*except one lunch at the airport on November 2)
- All ground transportation within India and Nepal
- Flight from New Delhi to Varanasi, India
- Airport transportation upon arrival in New Delhi and departure in Lumbini
- All site fees
- Tips at hotels and restaurants
- Tips to expert local guide and driver
- Triple carbon offsets for your entire journey (door to door)
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; eVisas for 30 days will cost ~$25 USD)
- Nepal visa fee (~$30 USD)
- Travel insurance (required)
- Laundry services
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.
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 15, 2023), 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 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.”
- What are the physical requirements for this trip?
Participants should be able to comfortably climb stairs, slowly but in a stable fashion. Guests should be able to walk unassisted for 1 mile at a time. Guests should be comfortable sitting for 2-3 hours at a time on the bus without a break. We won’t be at most sites for more than 2-3 hours at a time, and even then there will be benches or low walls to take breaks on. Guests make wish to bring an inflatable meditation cushion for meditation opportunities.
- 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 (except your $30USD Nepal visa and tip to local guide/driver), 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 our 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 our 3 night stay there.
- How can my family get ahold of me in an emergency?
Before the trip begins we will give you a contact for our hotels; in addition, we will give you our Indian phone numbers and WhatsApp numbers ahead of time, as well as an American number good for text messages and voicemails.
About our Hotels
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).
We have carefully chosen each hotel based on comfort, location, and safety. These are our intended hotels for each stop on our journey:
- New Delhi: Novotel Aerocity
- Varanasi: Hotel Madin
- Bodh Gaya: Hotel Anand International
- Rajgir: Indo Hokke
- Patna: Lemon Tree
- Kushinagar: The Imperial Kushinagar
- Lumbini: Buddha Maya Gardens Resort
About many Indian and Nepali bathrooms…
You will have a Western toilet in all of your rooms (as opposed to a squat toilet). However, it is worth noting that many Asian bathrooms are considered “wet rooms”—that is, the shower shares the entire bathroom space with the sink and toilet (as opposed to having an inset shower stall or bathtub with a curtain or shower door). You may also find, in addition to a traditional showerhead, a large bucket and a smaller dipper for a “bucket bath.” This is a great way to save water, and we’ll tell you all about it in our orientation!
If you are traveling with RetreaTours, we require that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation.
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. You may even wish to consider a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy.
Below you will find some options to look into, if this is a new world to you. 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.
World Nomads provides medical coverage for guests under 70 that includes trip cancellation, as well. You can use the box on this page to get a quote and see coverage.
InsureMyTrip.com is a good place to see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like.
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.
Your international flights depend on any pre- or post-trip extensions, but you may find a roundtrip flight from New Delhi to be the most economical. However, flights into New Delhi and our of Kathmandu are possible, should you want to spend more time in Nepal (or Bhutan). BJ will be more than happy to help you with these details!
Expected Temperatures & Suggested Packing List
The expected and historical temperatures on this journey range between 65°F (18°C) at nights and 85°F (30°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.
Updated packing list coming soon!
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.
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 placed in us by our guests; we save our guests’ time and resources during trip planning and maximize their engagement and enjoyment on tour.
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 write Lauren@RetreaTours.com 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.
Please enjoy these videos, taken by BJ 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.
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.