Arpana’s group facilitation was relaxed and warm, and her breadth of experience and depth of understanding evident. She created a space where I could gently explore grief in the largest sense of the word.
I joined the pilgrimage to India with Judy Arpana to fulfil a dream to return to a country I had visited as a teenager. I was not disappointed.
The itinerary was perfectly balanced allowing opportunities to relax and process our experiences before the next adventure began.
Indeed the pilgrimage did feel like an adventure as we explored towns, passed through villages and walked over the remarkable terrain of the foothills of the Himalayas to visit Buddhist temples, and listen to the teachings of nuns and lamas.
Every day was different, from the tranquility experienced in monasteries hidden high up in the mountains to the noise and clatter of towns, from the sound of young monks loudly debating to the calm, coolness of an early morning circumambulation around the Dalai Lamas residence in McLeod Ganj.
The essence of Tibetan Buddhism is everywhere in this magical part of India, a still, calming and refreshing thread woven comfortably through and mixing with other faiths, cultures, customs and lifestyles.
Judy’s knowledge and love for this country and it’s history is present in every story told, the love demonstrated to her by esteemed nuns and lamas is evident with every precious audience we were invited to. Karma, our guide and teacher, also embraced us all so that I felt like a treasured family member.
I am a Christian and I felt blessed to be given such insights into the ancient and fascinating history of Buddhism and how it was brought to the people of this region, to learn about the plight of Tibetan refugees, to see the resilience of survivors and their families in their new settlement. My beliefs were both challenged and enriched by this experience.
I would heartily recommend this pilgrimage to anyone who wants to know more about northern India and Tibetan Buddhism.
The pilgrimage provides an exclusive opportunity to be immersed in culture and custom but even more so if you are seeking a small, intimate tour group devoid of the challenges of large organised tours.
This well constructed tour is put together by Judy, Karma and Lily with such expertise and the small group dynamic is effortlessly managed so that we quickly became a tight knit, loving, caring albeit temporary family.
When contemplating trip to India there are plenty of people willing to talk to you cheerfully and in lurid detail about typhoid, crowds, dirt, poverty, tummy bugs and all round awfulness. I sometimes wonder if these folk have been to the sub-continent.
India weaves a spell that is so enchanting and magical, it is life changing.
Yes, all of the above exist but so does holiness, good humour, flavour, colour and design to take your breath away. There is delicious food and buildings of such splendour and magnificence they send your senses into a spin. You wonder why you waited so long to get there.
From the moment I got off the plane at Indira Ghandi airport in New Delhi, Judy was there waiting for me, smiling. A hug and a coffee in the cool air-con of the airport, then off we went. The pilgrimage had begun.
Judy and Karma took great care of us. All I had to do was show up, ready to travel, eat, explore, and be amazed.
Their combined experience meant we travelled easily, comfortably with good rest stops and food. I didn’t have to wrangle with booking tickets, rickshaw wallahs, accommodation – and all practicalities were taken care of.
This meant I could settle in, trust my guides and let my heart and soul open to the experience that is India.
The major bonus was that we went to places off the beaten track. Places of holiness and delight.
For example; we sat quietly in the Golden temple in Amritsar under a full moon, we had an hour with Jetsumna Tenzin Palmo at her nunnery, and we visited nuns in caves above the sacred lake in marvellous, mysterious Tso Pema.
There, one evening at dusk, I lit 108 butter lamps. This moment suspended in time, with the glowing candles, the smell of incense, the chanting of the monk, the ringing of the prayer wheels and the moon rising over the lake helped me heal the some of the sorrows and losses in my life.
We met a Tibetan oracle in the early dawn, we sat in a darkened cave and while Karma did a shamanic ritual, complete with thigh bones and drums, we visited the home of the Dalai Lama and met the Deputy Abbot of his monastery.
India is bonkers and it is intoxicating. It is a place that floods the senses and shifts the way you think. You find ways to see the world and understand yourself that, I believe, are not available in the (generally) ordered West.
The nature of the pilgrimage is that Judy and Karma know what they are doing and they do it so well and with such good humour, you feel very supported and cared for and free to enter the experience as fully as you choose.
My pilgrimage healed and inspired me. It sits with me still.
Just 5 years ago, in 2013, I embarked on the most wonderful journey of my lifetime…
Joining Judy Arpana’s Buddhist Pilgrimage to Northern India was when I truly realised that up until that journey (and like many other people with the same mind-set) that we are all under “the influence of permanence” and we imagine there is always lots of time remaining in our lives…
Perhaps, until I took that Pilgrimage with Judy, I too was of the mistaken belief that I could have been seen to be wasting away my life… I have been blessed and now realise fully the impermanence of My Life…
Consider contacting Judy Arpana about this year’s upcoming journey to Northern India… you will not be disappointed – your awakening awaits you there.
Judy’s Pilgrimages to Northern India are truly an insightful way of immersing oneself into the beauty and culture of this fabulous land.
Judy’s knowledge of India is remarkable and her connection with this ancient land and its people help make a pilgrimage with her, Karma and Lily a truly memorable life experience.
We’ve been on three tours with Judy, Karma and Lily – each one truly unique.
The spirit of this land never leaves you.
The hurly-burly and sometimes confronting scenes of Delhi, the “bright lights “of Kalimpong, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the very special Mcleod Ganj, Mandi, Bodh Gaya – these places are all captivating, and there are so many more.
This is THE way to see India and its beautiful people.
For me, Judy Arpana and Karma Lhundup weren’t “tour guides” showing me “the sights” and finding the selfie spots – they are everywhere in India!
They lead me towards the deepest treasures of their life.
India with its Tibetan Buddhism and culture is at the heart of who they are. And from the little I have understood, those treasures are priceless.
Visiting India years ago with Judy Arpana was so very special, it remains with me… It was 1997, but I remember it so fondly and learnt a great deal about myself!
Thanks to Judy and her vast knowledge of India, I felt very cared for, a gem in life, it was, and shines just as brightly today. If you can go, go and have this wonderful experience…
There are really no adequate words to express what going with Judy to India has done for my life.
I went on this trip with no expectations or preconceived ideas and was totally delighted with my experience.
Our guides were incredible and looked after our every need constantly. The accommodation was always clean and very comfortable. The total experience was a journey of discovery and it was up to the individual person as to what they took out of the trip.
The entire trip was filled with new discoveries and emotion. The group was perfect and Judy and Lily were fantastic hosts who looked after our every need. I think for me (the thing that stood out) was the teachings we received from the various selected people.
I would recommend this trip to anyone who would like a glimpse of the real India with guides who know what they are doing.
Traveling with Judy and Lily was a great experience. Seeing a Grandmother and her Granddaughter in their flow together and coordinating all the little details we did not have to worry about was beautiful to witness.
The amazing number of local people we were able to meet over a 2 week period was testimony to the long connection that Judy has had with India and the Tibetan community there.
This is not an experience you could have during that time period on your own.
If you are interested in a life changing break I would say that this is it!
My first impressions of India…
New Delhi at dawn; fumes, vehicles, noise, a veritable assault on the senses and we were only 10 metres from the airport! “Thank heavens it’s Sunday and there’s not much traffic,’ announced Judy Arpana, our pilgrimage pilot, as we thundered through the city in our Mercedes bus/van/thing, exercising the only road rule that seems to exist in India – Biggest Rules!
This was the first of many times I was to be grateful for having Judy as our ‘Fearless Leader’. Left to my own devices, I would still be at the airport curled in the foetal position, whimpering softly and pleading to be left alone. Not for us the 15-hour wait at the bus station, or that undignified screaming match with the unhelpful, smiling bastard at the railway booking office. We had only to make really earth-shattering decisions like should I have ginger tea or chai, or where should we meet for lunch?
This was not a tour for tourists – heaven forbid!
There was a wide choice of activities, but 99% of the time I found myself with Judy and the others doing really boring stuff like meeting and having dinner with the Tibetan State Oracle, or drinking chai with Nuns and Lamas in their dwellings on the side of spectacular mountains, or watching the sun rise over the Himalayas from the roof of the Nechung Monastery while the monks prayed and chanted at their morning puja.
The whole trip was an incredible learning experience. I met some holy men who didn’t do a thing for me, and a leprous beggar who taught me volumes with a nod and a smile.
The main point for me was that we were able to experience India without having to be concerned about travel arrangements or accommodation dramas and could just absorb and enjoy.
I had wanted to go to India ever since I was a young girl. Something holy and mystical awaited there, I was sure.
But I was afraid to go…
…afraid of being overwhelmed by sheer numbers, the depth of poverty, the number of beggars and the possibility of becoming very sick. I didn’t hold these fears about Bali, Fiji, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, but I did become quite sick in three of those places and was hospitalised in Phnom Penh!
When I saw a small group Cultural Tour of South India mentioned on Facebook I knew this was the time. Tour leader Judy Arpana is an expert on India and has led so many tours there that I knew I’d be in safe hands.
South India was the perfect choice for an Indian novice like me, avoiding the shock of major cities like Delhi and Mumbai. The pick up at Chennai airport was smooth and efficient and I gawked out of the window of the mini bus, eager for my first glimpses of India. Yes, the traffic was mad, there were people everywhere despite the late hour, and a lot of people were bedding down for the night beside the busy roadway.
To ensure a soft landing Judy had booked the group into a coastal resort, where we woke to the sound of birds and waves and shared a splendid breakfast. There were fishing boats on the beach, hammocks under palm trees and a good-sized pool to swim in: a great way to unwind after the long flight.
Next morning we were off, heading south to Mahabalipurum. Our skilful driver allowed for fast travelling, as he carefully avoided any obstacles on the road, like slow moving ox carts. The scenery was mainly agricultural. Over the next few days we saw temples carved from stone, ruins of an ancient Portuguese fort and were served fresh coconut juice straight from the tree at a small plantation.
The highlight of those days for me was visiting a small pottery-making village, thanks to our tour guide Velou, where cooking pots and stoves are still made by hand and the children were delighted to meet us.
On day six we visited the Thiruvannamali Temple, with its soaring towers facing the four directions and the Ramana Maharshi Ashram in the evening, with its white peacocks and melodic chanting.
Another highlight of the tour was winding our way high into the Kolli Hills, where lush vegetation and spectacular scenery greeted us. Our stay in the hills was special, as each day our meals were prepared and eaten at the local ashram.
We visited and swam in waterfalls, drank herbal soup in a tribal village and were treated to a full moon puja by the resident guru at the ashram, complete with fresh flowers, colourful lights, oil and incense burning, brass bells and chanting.
Then it was back to earth for two days and nights in the pretty seaside town of Pondicherry, with its French influenced architecture and food, and a long beachside boulevard for strolling in the evening.
I wasn’t ready to leave India but the dream had come true and now I know I will go back.
The only way to visit North India is with Judy Arpana.
I still remember the most interesting people we met on the way, the food shared with fellow travellers, the laughs along the way…
Definitely not your normal tour to India — thank goodness!