Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £3145 per person
Places Visited: Kolkata, Kalimpong, Sikkim, Gangtok, Pelling, Darjeeling, Ghoom, Bagdogra
Gaze at the world’s highest mountains from the terrace of an exquisitely decorated Tibetan monastery, or the veranda of a secluded tea-estate bungalow, on this foray deep into the Himalayan foothills of northeast India. Its starting point is Kolkata – a metropolis whose name has become a byword for ‘poverty’, but which in reality is an exceptionally charismatic city full of fascination and old-world ambience. If you’re hoping for a taste of the Raj you won’t be disappointed with the remnants of British rule in the Bengali capital, nor indeed with the hill stations of Gangtok and Darjeeling further north, where Buddhist minority people rub shoulders with Hindu settlers from the plains in fabulously chaotic, cluttered bazaars! On the horizon, giant ice peaks form a dreamy backdrop to hilltop monasteries located in, quite simply, some of the most magical spots you’ll ever visit.
UK , Kolkata
Fly from the UK to Kolkata via the Middle East.
On arrival in the morning, you’ll be met by your TransIndus driver and guide and escorted to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from the journey, perhaps venturing out to the College Street Coffee House as an acclimatiser.
One of our favourite places to get accustomed to the city’s distinctive ambience is the College Street Coffee House on Bankim Chatterjee Street– a favourite hangout for Bengali intellectuals and artists. Grab a table under one of the paddle fans, order a dosa and masala chai and you’ll soon be drawn into the local ‘adda’, or chit-chat.
A full day’s sightseeing today, starting at the Victoria Memorial, the city’s most iconic building, and continuing to the Indian Museum, New Market, Park Street Cemetary.
Kolkata, or ‘Calcutta’ as it was known prior to 2001, is the capital of West Bengal state, and India’s third largest city. The former East India Company trading post preserves much of its colonial architecture, from the crumbling mansions in Chowringhee to the grandiloquent Victoria Memorial, whose marble domes soar above the banks of the Hooghly River. This is a city where everyday sights often prove the most arresting: pilgrims pouring through the Kali Ghat temple; the flower sellers spreading out their wares in the dawn light at Mullick Ghat; and the endless streams of rickshaws, trucks and pedestrians pouring across Howrah Bridge at rush hours.
Fly to Bagdogra and drive to Kalimpong for an overnight stay.
Formerly a waystage on the trade route to Tibet, Kalimpong is a typical Indian hill town – a much gritter-down-to-earth place than nearby Darjeeling, and one that’s fascinating to explore. The main attractions here are some beautiful market gardens – where orchids, amaryllis, palms, ferns and cacti are cultivated for export – and the unspoilt hill villages and deep river valleys to the south, where predominantly Lepcha communities still lead traditional lives. A spellbinding view of the distant Himalayas is to be had from the monastery of Zong Dog Palri Phodrang.
Drive to Sikkim in the morning for a two-night stay in the capital, Gangtok.
Sandwiched between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, Sikkim only became part of India in 1975, and much of it retains the feel of a remote Himalayan kingdom. Precipitous river valleys cloaked in rhododendron forest blaze with colour in the spring. Ancient Buddhist monasteries still cling to many ridgetops, and the northern horizon is dominated in clear weather by the glaciers and ice peaks of the Kangchenjunga massif. Views of the mountains are a defining feature of its ramshackle capital, Gangtok.
A full day’s sightseeing today, including Enchey Monastery, the Do-Drul Chorten, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Flower Exhibition Centre and Zoological Gardens to see red pandas and snow leopards.
Gangtok has been blighted with lots of unsightly ferro-concrete building in recent decades, but its beautiful Tibetan-style monuments survive and are lovingly maintained. On a hill above the town, Enchey Monastery is home to more than a hundred red-robed monks. Pilgrims through the precincts of the gold-towered Do-Drul Chorten, while the nearby Namgyal Institue of Tibetology holds a wonderful array of ancient Buddhist manuscripts, thangkhas and ritual objects. In the evening, soak up the lively atmosphere of MG Road, artery of the main market and restaurant district.
Drive to Pelling today for a two-night stay, visiting Rumtek monastery en route.
Seat of the Karma Kagya, or ‘Black Hat’ monastic order, Rumtek is the site of one of the largest and most splendid monasteries in the Himalayas. Its focal point is an ornately decorated temple featuring an impressive prayer hall with towering red-painted pillars.
The ridgetop town of Pelling, today’s final destination, boasts one of the best views in Skiim of Kanchengjunga and its outlying peaks, which – weather permitting – you’ll be able to savour from the comfort of your own hotel balcony.
Visit nearby Pemayangtse monastery on a daytrip from Pelling, and enjoy a walk around the village.
Pemayangtse Monastery (the name means “Perfect Sublime Lotus”) occupies a plum spot on a high hilltop surveying a jaw-dropping sweep of foothills, valleys, forest and snow peaks. One of the loveliest places in the whole Indian Himalaya, it was built in the 17th century and marks the start of a popular trekking route north to the base camp of Kanchenjunga. Pride and joy of the resident monks is a richly detailed and painted wooden panel depicting Guru Rincpoche in his Celestial Abode, rising above hell.
A half-day’s drive today takes you from Pelling south to the hill station and tea-growing centre of Darjeeling.
It’s not hard to understand why the British chose Darjeeling as the site of an army sanatorium back in the early 19th century. Dense oak and sal forest cloaks the high, undulating ridge on which the hill station was founded, at a refreshing altitude of 2,200m. For much of the year, the skies remain blue and air blissfully cool. Whole hillsides of lush tea gardens carpet the surrounding slopes. Visitors pour in to watch the pluckers at work amid the terraces, to marvel at the rhododendron flowers and enjoy the old-world atmosphere of the town itself, with its mock-Tudor bungalows and Gothic churches.
An early start today to reach the top of Tiger Hill (2,585m) shortly after dawn, when the skies are most likely to be clear, revealing a superb panoramic view of Kanchenjunga and the northeast Himalaya. Afterwards, visit Ghoom Monastery and a tea plantation.
The top of Tiger Hill offers a truly extraordinary 360-degree vista, extending from the plains bordering Bangladesh in the south to Lhotse, Makulu and Everest in the west, and Kangchenjunga to the north. Few viewpoints in the world encompass a comparable elevation, though you’ll need to be there shortly after sunrise to see it in all its glory.
Ghoom Monastery is the day’s other highpoint. Its centrepiece is a particularly beautiful bronze-faced Maitreya, the ‘Buddha to Come’.
Visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute today, and take a ride on the world-famous Darjeeling railway to Kurseong.
An exhibition detailing the history of Himalayan mountaineering forms the core of this illustrious training institute in Darjeeling, where Sir Edmund Hilary’s climbing partner Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the once director. Anyone interested in the sport will enjoy seeing how equipment has evolved over the past sixty years!
No visit to Darjeeling is complete with a trip on the glorious little Himalayan Railway, a narrow-gauge line built by the British at the end of the 19th century, and the only one in India that still uses steam locomotives. Kurseong provides the perfect target for a short taster ride. You’ll be met at the station and driven back to your hotel in town.
Fly back to Kolkata for a two-night stay. Visit the Kali Ghat temple in the early evening.
Dedicated to Kali, the black-faced incarnation of the Goddess Durga, the temple of Kalighat is the most important Hindu shrine in the city, and by far its most atmospheric. Raucous crowds attend rituals here from dawn til dusk, forming snaking queues in the temple precincts as they wait to fling hibiscus flowers at the three-eyed, gold-tongued deity.
For the last day of your holiday you’ll be free to explore the city in greater depth, with or without your guide, and shop for souvenirs.
West Bengal in general, and Kolkata in particular, retains a strong intellectual tradition, and the city holds a wealth of museums and art galleries. Heated debate on the latest film, novel or political scandal is the order of the day at the famous Indian Coffee House, in the University district, where paddle fans whir overhead and the waiters all where ice-cream-wafer turbans. In the early morning, a great place for aimless wandering is the flower market at Mullick Ghat, just south of Howrah Bridge. Wrestlers exercise on the waterfront, while in the potters’ workshops nearby, voluptuous deities are fashioned out of clay for the annual Durga Puja festival.
It’s time to bid farewell to India as you head for the airport to catch your return flight to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £3145 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 12 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
Kolkata, or ‘Calcutta’ as it was known prior to 2001, is the capital of West Bengal state, and India’s third largest city, with a population of approximately 14.1 million. The tra...
Another spellbinding view of the distant Himalayas is to be had from the monastery of Zong Dog Palri Phodrang, whose gilded finials and Tibetan-style upswept eaves crown Rinkingpo...
Sandwiched between Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, Sikkim only became part of India in 1975, and much of it retains the feel of a remote Himalayan kingdom. Precipitous river valleys cloa...
It’s not hard to understand why the British chose Darjeeling as the site of an army sanatorium back in the early 19th century. Dense oak and sal forest cloak the high, undulating ...
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