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Soul of India: The Colorful South 2015

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Sri Lanka is home to a range of landscapes, each more exotic than the next. Its predominantly Buddhist spirituality mingles with the remnants of its history in the spice trade. This tear-shaped island’s natural bounty is a cornucopia of treasures, from the tea fields to the coconut plantations. Before you explore India, come discover the land that inspired Mark Twain to exclaim: “Dear me, it is beautiful. And most sumptuously tropical.”

It's Included:
International airfare from Delhi to Colombo and Colombo to Chennai (for Land Tour-only travelers, Delhi to Colombo is not included)
Accommodations for 1 night in Delhi, 2 nights in Negombo, 2 nights in Dambulla, 2 nights in Kandy, 1 night in Nuwara Eliya, and 1 night in Colombo
23 meals—daily breakfast, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners
11 small group activities
All land transportation
Services of a resident, English-speaking OAT Trip Leader
NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
All transfers
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    Fly overnight to Delhi.

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    You'll arrive in Delhi this evening, where you’ll be met by an OAT representative and transfer to our hotel.

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    After breakfast, we’ll begin our discoveries by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers, with each adding their own flavor.  

    Our first stop in this lively city will be Raj Ghat—a serene monument set on the site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. Next, we’ll explore Jama Masjid—the largest mosque in India—before taking a rickshaw ride through the bustling lanes of Chandni Chowk bazaar. This afternoon, you’ll enjoy lunch on your own.

    Tonight, we’ll transfer to their airport for our flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. When we arrive late this evening, we’ll transfer to our hotel in Negombo.

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    After breakfast, we'll take a city tour of Colombo. During this morning-long tour, you'll visit some of the city's most vibrant attractions, including Gangaramaya Temple. Built in the 1800s, Gangaramaya is considered Colombo's most important Buddhist temple, and we'll take in its eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. We'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then return to our hotel in Negombo. This evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

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    After breakfast this morning, we'll explore a fish market and stop at a local beach in Negombo. Then we'll set off for Dambulla, stopping en route to visit Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This sanctuary, operated by the Sri Lankan government, cares for orphaned and injured elephants in their natural surroundings. We'll observe these fascinating creatures at work and play, and have the chance to speak with the mahouts (elephant-minders).

    We'll enjoy lunch together at a local restaurant before continuing on our way to Dambulla, a journey of around four hours. We'll arrive in late afternoon and have some time to relax at leisure before dinner together at our hotel this evening.

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    Today we visit the immense Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Rising high above the jungle that surrounds it, this monolith is visible from miles away. Dubbed “The Lion Rock” because bricks and stucco were originally added to form the shape of a giant lion, we'll see all that remains of this façade as we enter: two enormous clawed, feline feet flanking the 1,001 steps to the top. We'll have time to explore the terraced gardens of the fortress, as well as the lush Water Garden and the ancient Boulder Garden. And we'll climb the spiral staircase to see the Mirror Wall and the colorful frescoes of the sensual Cloud Maidens, whose beauty inspired visitors from long ago to scribble graffiti on the polished lime wall.

    En route to our hotel we'll stop for lunch at a local restaurant. The remainder of your day is at leisure in Dambulla. You may choose to stroll the mango orchards surrounding the hotel, take a walk by the river, or treat yourself to a therapeutic spa treatment.

    Tonight, we'll enjoy a cooking demonstration of local fish followed by an included dinner at our hotel.

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    Truly an ancient city, with inhabitants as early as the third century BC, Dambulla is best known for the most extensive array of cave temples in Sri Lanka. This morning, we explore the Dambulla Cave Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 80 caves in the area, but the temple complex features five main caves found beneath a vast stone outcropping. Elaborate murals adorn the walls, some honoring Buddha's life, others featuring the Hindu pantheon—all gazing down upon a phalanx of marvelous statues: 153 Buddhist, three of Sri Lankan kings, and four of non-Buddhist deities.

    Afterward, we travel overland to Kandy, a journey of four to five hours including stops en route to visit a spice plantation and eat lunch. We'll cross a lush country for our sojourn in Kandy, encircled by mountains and the Mahaweli River. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the imperialist scramble of the 17th and 18th centuries, several European countries tried to scoop up beautiful Kandy to add to their burgeoning empires. But neither Portuguese, nor Dutch, nor British navies could break through Kandy's natural mountain fortress; after the Portuguese succeeded in their coastal conquests, Kandy became the last independent kingdom on the island.

    This evening we'll enjoy a special traditional dance performance before dinner together at our hotel.

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    After breakfast at our hotel this morning, we visit the Temple of the Tooth, which is nestled deep within the royal palace complex. Here lies a sacred tooth of the Buddha, which has been revered throughout the ages as a good luck charm of sorts—it's believed that whoever holds the tooth holds the country in his hands as well, and ancient kings fought over it as they did over their land.

    Later we explore the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya. The locale that comprises the gardens has been a royal site since 1371, when King Wickramabahu III held court here. Now, 4,000 species—including more than 300 varieties of orchids—thrive on the lush 147-acre grounds, which also boast a suspension bridge, a lake, spice beds, and a pavilion-sized fig tree. We'll have lunch together here, then return to our hotel for free time at leisure.

    Later this afternoon, we'll meet with a local monk to discuss his way of life in Sri Lanka. Enjoy dinner this evening at the hotel.

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    This morning after breakfast we depart for Nuwara Eliya, a town situated in the central highlands that is the most important place for tea production in all of Sri Lanka. In this picturesque location nestled in the mountains, we'll visit a tea factory to witness firsthand how this vital crop is processed, as well as a tea estate where the plant is carefully tended. Included in our tour of Nuwara Eliya is the region's lush Victoria Park. The sprawling grounds of this manicured sanctuary offer visitors the opportunity to see a variety of birdlife, including the Indian blue robin, pied thrush, and Kashmir flycatcher. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll stop at a local market. Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

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    This morning, we'll depart for Colombo. Along the way, we'll glimpse scenic waterfalls and serene tea gardens, stopping en route for lunch. Tonight, we'll stroll through the Galle Face promenade, which winds along the coast through Colombo's financial district. Afterward, we'll share stories of all we have seen over a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:

    Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and some free time this morning. Later in the morning, we'll transfer to the airport for our flight to Chennai, where we'll meet our Indian Trip Leader and check into our hotel to begin your Soul of India adventure.

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