A Jewish Heritage Tour of India

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Posted on 12/31/2017

Did you know that India has a long and storied Jewish past? Want to know more about it? Talk of the Town will delve deep into the country’s Jewish roots with our 12-day ‘A Jewish Heritage Tour of India’, departing Dec. 5-16, 2018.

“Many people don’t know that India has a strong connection to the Jewish community, thinking only of Hinduism in terms of religion,” said Henry Wiseberg, owner of Talk of the Town. “But it makes sense that one of the world’s most religious destinations has several branches of faith from which it draws spiritual enlightenment from, and we explore this in full while on this comprehensive itinerary.”

Upon arrival in Delhi, you will see such landmark attractions as the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and the majestic India Gate before driving to Agra. While en route, you’ll stop at Sikandra to visit Akbar’s mausoleum, completed in 1613 by his son Jahangir, and then arrive at the famed Taj Mahal, whose love story has touched the hearts of couples around the world. Built by Emperor Shah Jehan, the 17th-century structure stands as a lasting tribute to his beloved consort Mumtaz Mahal.

From there, the tour continues to Jaipur, the rose-pink capital of Rajasthan and also known as the ‘Pink City of India’. Famous for its garnets and rubies, the city is known to enchant visitors with its latticed window-lined streets and its beautiful Maharaja’s palace. You will also visit the fort-palace of Amber, a fascinating blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture, and the Observatory, home to a 90-foot-high sundial.

In Mumbai, the sightseeing continues with stops at the Prince of Wales Museum, which was built to commemorate King George V’s first visit to India in 1905, and Mani Bhawan, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visits to Mumbai between 1917 and 1934.

You’ll get your first look into India’s Jewish heritage after taking the train to Pune, where Bene Israel military pensioners first settled in the early 19th century. Eventually, the area began to welcome Baghdadi Jews in small numbers, including the well-known philanthropist David Sassoon who built the Magnificent Synagogue. Other highlights in Pune include the Succath Shelomo Synagogue, Ohel David Synagogue, the Sassoon Hospital, and the must-see Raja Kalkar Museum, home to approximately 17,000 artworks, bizarre musical instruments and carved wooden doors.

The trip returns to Mumbai for the final two days, during which you’ll visit the Sassoon Docks, which was built by an influential family of Baghdadi Jews, and explore the Fort Heritage District and Kala Ghoda Art District, home to the Kenneseth Aliyahoo Synagogue. You will also pay a visit to the Shaar Harahamim (or Gate of Mercy Synagogue), built by Bene Israeli Samaji Hasaji Divekar, drive to Dhobi Ghat, known as Mumbai’s unique outdoor laundry system, and even attend Shabbat service and enjoy a Shabbat meal with community members, giving you the perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn first-hand knowledge of Jewish history.

As a fitting end to the tour, you’ll take a side trip to Navagaon, where the Bene Israel story began 2,100 years ago with seven shipwrecked Jewish families. From these initial seven families came entire Bene Israel communities and synagogues situated in Pen, Mumbai, Alibag, Pune and Ahmedabad, with smaller communities scattered around India. After thriving until the 1960s, the Bene Israel community shrunk considerably in India, with many old synagogues falling into disrepair. Today, visitors can still pay tribute to the original shipwreck survivors, who are buried in the Navagaon cemetery in Mala.

If you wish to extend your stay and learn more about India’s Jewish past, you can opt for a three-day Cochin post-trip extension, which includes visits to Chandamangalam, home to a church, temple, mosque and the remains of a Jewish synagogue, as well as Parur, considered the largest of Kerala’s synagogue compounds. You’ll also explore Cochin’s Jew town and stop at two renowned synagogues: Paradesi and Kadavumbhagam.

“There are so many layers to India, from its architecture and food to its attractions, people and faith,” added Wiseberg. “We uncover all of these layers, and then some on this tour, and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with our guests. If you want to see a side of India that few people even know about, join us on this incredible journey.”
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