I have had the great honor and pleasure of experiencing Shantum Seth's day tour of Delhi as well as two of his tours of the Buddhist sights. Eighteen years ago, a friend and I took his three week tour, In The Footsteps of the Buddha, and it was truly a life changing experience for me. I am not the type of person who enjoys group travel but Shantum's tours are not traditional group travel in any way. There is a lot of time for meditation, reflection, and solitude to process all of what you are seeing. Shantum offers access to seeing India in a way that the traveler rarely can see---you visit homes, talk to people in all walks of life, including beggars, and have an opportunity to see beyond all of the inaccurate cliches and judgements that are so often made about India. The greatest gift is having Shantum with you to help you process and understand the parts of India that can be challenging and perplexing. He is always available for support, help, and a chat whenever you need it. My first experience traveling in India with Shantum transformed the way I viewed life, the world, and myself. As a result I made profound changes in my life and my four daughters and I have a more authentic and happier life today.
Last December (2012), my 26 year-old daughter and I took a full-day tour of Delhi with Shantum as well as a one week tour of the Buddhist sights. We took the Delhi tour on our third day in India and I told my daughter after the tour that if we went home today we would have seen so much of the real India that few tourists ever get to see. Shantum's Delhi tours, as well as his longer tours through India, are determined by the interest of the people taking the tour. My daughter and I were interested in seeing the diverse religious sights in Delhi and the Old Delhi section. We started the day with a walk alongside cows, cars, and motorcycles through the different parts of Old Delhi talking to shop keepers like the man whose store sells the hand-loomed Kadi cotton that Ghandi made famous. We tasted sweets and talked to shopkeepers in Shantum's favorite sweet shop. We then walked down a small lane and came upon the most famous Jain temple where we were the only people there and an elderly man took us on a tour of this truly exquisite building. We also visited the largest Sikh temple in Delhi that is open 24 hours a day and feeds 30,000 people a day (that is not a typo). The temple does not turn away anyone who is hungry and so you see wealthy Sikhs on pilgrimage sitting next to beggars. There is an opportunity for all visitors to help make chapati and I had so much fun sitting on the floor doing this while getting advice from Indian people on the best techniques. What amazed us was that 30,000 people a day were fed here without any special kitchen equipment (basically the food is cooked on giant hotplates), bureaucracy or administrators----just the good-hearted efforts of the Sikh people. We also took a tour of the Muslim area given by a young man who works for a non-profit there and stayed to hear the mystical Sufi music. Through all of this we had Shantum's endless wealth of knowledge on so many topics and his very kind heart to help us understand all that we were seeing. We both feel that during our day tour of Delhi with Shantum we learned more in one day than we ever have before.
Our trip with Shantum through the Buddhist sights was a constant awakening of knowledge, spirit, and heart. Shantum is an ordained teacher of the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and actually took Thich Nhat Hanh on his first Buddhist Pilgrimage in India. To be in these holy sights with a teacher like Shantum is an experience that I cannot find the words to describe. Often I am put off by religious/spiritual teachers because of their didactic, elitist attitudes and lack of a sense of humor---Shantum is the opposite of these kinds of teachers because he is humble, gentle, non-authoritarian, and if you travel with him you are guaranteed of laughing so hard that your sides will ache! I have absolutely no criticisms of traveling with Shantum and can unequivocally say that if you travel with him for a day or for 3 weeks you will be a better person who had the best travel experience of your life!
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