The Wonders and Religions of India

Led by Ed Langerak, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, and Lois Langerak, Retired Dental Hygienist

January 17–February 4, 2015

This program is now full. To add your name to the wait list, please call 507-786-3629 or email studytravel@stolaf.edu.

We invite you to visit intriguing India, with its enchanting architecture, dynamic history, vibrant culture, and boisterous diversity. We will, of course, marvel at some of the main tourist sites in The Golden Triangle and elsewhere, as well as enjoy the cuisine, ambiance, and people of India, but that’s not all.

Our educational theme will be India’s religious pluralism, its promise and its challenges. We will invite leaders or members of India’s major religions to lead discussions with us. We will not look so much for introductory lectures on the content of the religions (participants will be provided with resources that introduce us to the main religious beliefs and practices), rather, we will seek discussions on how the religions view each other and on the tension between ecumenical hopes and actual conflicts, including occasional violence.

Participants will be provided with and invited to read parts of Ed’s newly published book, Civil Disagreement: Personal Integrity in a Pluralistic Society, and he will invite participants who are interested to a few seminars that will discuss what we are experiencing in relation to the book’s ideas on such issues as types of pluralism, the meaning and justification of toleration, the role of religion in public life, and accommodating religiously dissident groups.

Explore India

We begin in Dehli, the capital whose complexities and contradictions coexist with its beauty. We’ll visit India’s largest mosque, ride cycle rickshaws through the heart of the crowded old city, see the elegant Red Fort and the Raj Ghat, which honors the “Father of the Nation,” Mahatma Ghandi. We’ll also visit the highlights of the new city, including the Bahai Lotus Temple, where we’ll engage in a discussion about the Bahai faith, and the new, huge Akshardham Temple compound, where we’ll talk with some members of this relatively new branch of Hinduism.

A flight to Amritsar brings us to the splendid Harmandir Sahib (Abode of God), the Golden Temple begun by the fourth Guru of Sikhs, Ramdas. We have the opportunity to experience the carrying of Siri Guru Harimandir Sahib — the holiest text of Sikhism — to this sacred temple. We’ll visit Wagha, and experience the pomp and pageantry of the Beating Retreat and the Change of the Guard, the charming spectacle that takes place every evening.

We fly back to Delhi and take a private coach to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, the picturesque Pink City of palaces and fortresses. We’ll ride elephants up the hill on which is situated the Amber Fort and Palace, and also see the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar, the remarkable 18th century astronomical Observatory.

Then it’s on to Agra, stopping to visit Fatehpur Sikiri, the opulent city built by Akbar the Great in 1569 and abandoned 14 years later for reasons we will hear about. When we visit the exquisite Taj Mahal, we will see why it is declared one of the Seven Wonders of the World. And across the river, the Agra Fort is a worthy companion quite apart from its providing one of the best views of the Taj.

A train takes us to the 22 remaining temples at Khajuraho — built during 100 years of inspired creativity around the turn of the first millennium — which compose an exotic and erotic paean to life and joy and to the fusion of people and of gods with each other and with their creator.

We’ll fly to Varanasi (Benaras), the holiest of holy cities for the Hindus. A boat ride at sunrise on the sacred Ganges reveals the religious ardor of pilgrims as they cremate their dead. An excursion to Sarnath, with its famous museum, brings us to the site of the Buddha’s first sermon, when he “Turned the Wheel of Law.” Back at Varanasi we’ll tour the city, attend the ceremony of the waving of the oil lamps as a symbol of devotion to the sacred Ganges, engage in a discussion about the long history and the religious character of this city with Professor Rana of Benaras University, and share an evening with a family that is prominent in classical music and dance, concluding with a classical dance performance.

We’ll journey by bus to Bodhgaya, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrim sites in the world, where the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (a descendant of that tree still grows there). We’ll visit other Buddhist sites as well, including the ancient Mahabodhi temple, and engage in discussions about Buddhism in India.

We finish our program back in Delhi, for a full day of exploring the city on your own, capped off by a festive farewell dinner hosted by our tour company, Insight India Voyage.

Program Leaders

Ed is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St Olaf, and Lois is a retired Dental Hygienist. Together they have led four student semesters abroad: Term in Asia, 1989-90; Term in the Middle East, 1996-97 and 2009-10; and Global Semester, 2003-04; as well as three Study Travel programs: Turkey, Israel/Palestine, and Jordan in January, 2009; Netherlands and Belgium in April, 2012; and Egypt in March, 2013. You can learn more about them at http://pages.stolaf.edu/langerak.

What to Expect

India is an assault on the senses. The vastly different sights, sounds, smells and press of people can be overwhelming. You should be capable of climbing in and out of a variety of means of transportation, including plane, train, boat, bicycle rickshaw and private coach. However, at cultural and religious sites, we will spend a great deal of time on foot and may encounter several sets of stairs. You should be capable of walking up to five miles per day over possibly uneven terrain, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling (including in crowded and noisy New Delhi), of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing different cultures, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Hotels will be tourist class (four star or superior rating) with private baths, air conditioning, and English-speaking staff.

The weather in January should be pleasant and dry. Averages for temperatures and rainfall in January for some of our stops are:

  • Delhi: high 65 F, low 45, negligible rainfall
  • Amritsar: high 68, low 40, ¾ inch of rainfall
  • Jaipur: high 70, low 50, negligible rainfall
  • Agra: high 70, low 45, about ½ inch of rainfall
  • Varanasi: high 73, low 48, less than 1 inch of rainfall

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.it.

Program Fee

The program fee is $3,625 through August 31, 2014. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Ed Langerak, assistance by Lois Langerak, accommodations, admissions for group activities, all transportation within India (except airport transfers), and gratuities to group guides, drivers and meal servers. All meals -- breakfasts, lunches, and dinners -- are included from dinner on January 18 through dinner on February 3. After August 31, 2014, the program fee is $3,775 per person. For single occupancy, add $775 to either program fee.

Airfare to and from Delhi is not included, nor is the required entry visa. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses include: International Airfare • Airport transfers • Any passport and visa fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Accident / baggage / trip cancellation insurance • Beverages, including at group meals • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities.

Please plan to depart the U.S. on Saturday, January 17 in order to arrive in Delhi on January 18.

Most flights to the U.S. leave Delhi very early in the morning (e.g., around 1 a.m.), so we have structured our itinerary accordingly, and do not have hotel reservations for the evening of February 3. You should plan to depart Delhi in the early morning of Wednesday, February 4.

For assistance with flight arrangements, may we recommend Noreen Deiss of Travel Leaders/Suntime Travel. She can be reached at 651-429-0039 or noreen@suntimetravel.com. We recommend you not purchase non-refundable airfare until we can confirm the program has enough participants to go.

Wait List

This program is now full. To add your name to the wait list, please call 507-786-3629 or email studytravel@stolaf.edu. 

Forms for registered travelers:

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