Darjeeling , Sikkim & Bhutan (SIK-BHU-20)
An incredible journey into the Himalayan Kingdoms of Sikkim and Bhutan for a taste of ‘old Tibet '.
Darjeeling , once a British summer resort, is equally famous for its tea and its ‘toy' railway. Sikkim 's ties with Lhasa have always been strong as it lies on a major trade route between China and India and tall, white banner-like prayer flags are a prominent feature of both the Sikkimese and Bhutanese landscapes.
Their lower altitudes are thick with the forests which provide timber for their lovely houses whilst in the north lie snow capped peaks, including Jhomolhari and Kanchenjunga , the world's third highest mountain.
Where are you going?
Days 1-2 : Flying into Kathmandu is an unforgettable experience with the Himalaya spread out before you. You will be met at the airport on arrival and transferred to your hotel. In the morning of day 2 a half-day city tour will introduce you to some of the highlights of Kathmandu .
Day 3 : Fly from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur then continue by road to Darjeeling . From the plains of North Bengal climb through, forests and tea gardens to Kurseong, to visit a tea factory, famous internationally for production of biodynamic tea. Continue to Darjeeling the through more tea estates, and small villages, still climbing steadily.
Darjeeling 's famous heritage “toy” train runs alongside the road, and to see the tiny steam engine huffing and puffing, uphill with just three carriages, is a marvelous sight. It was opened in 1881, primarily for the tea traffic, the highest point on this line is at Ghoom (2225m) where the ascent is achieved through a double loop.
Day 4 : Early morning drive to Tiger Hill (2650m) for a magnificent view of sunrise over Kanchenjunga, and other peaks of the Eastern Himalayas (weather permitting), returning via Ghoom Monastery, built in 1857.
In Darjeeling we will also visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute ( Mount Everest Museum ) and Zoological Park and have plenty of time to explore the exotic bazaar for bargains.
Days 5-6 : Tea gardens and small hamlets, mountain streams and rivers make a beautiful drive to the Sikkim border at Naya Bazaar. After entry formalities c ontinue through the scenic Rangit Valley then begin to climb through hairpin bends to attain the summit of the Pemayangtse-Pelling. From Pelling there are marvellous views of Kanchenjunga . In the afternoon take a conducted tour of the famous Pemayangtse Monastery. Sunrise on the great peaks of the Kanchenjunga group is an unforgettable sight as the great mountain, changes various colors and hues. After driving down to the Rangit River Valley we walk 2 kilometers to the Tashiding Monastery.
Day 7 : A fascinating journey through lovely countryside, crossing the Rabalg La (pass) with time to stop and explore a Bon monastery on the way. Martam is a scenic village near the Rumtek Monastery.
The journey is a fascinating ride, passing through river valleys, and crossing the Rabalgla Pass. We pass through scenic countryside, see exotic flora, and isolated homesteads, and explore a bon Monastery.
Days 8-9 : After breakfast we will visit the world famous Rumtek Monastery. The road to Gangtok winds down through terraced fields and small hamlets, on the way visit the Tibetology Institute, with its large collection of Buddhist icons, religious paintings and literature.
In the afternoon, visit the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handlooms, where skilled teachers and trainees work to keep handicraft traditions alive, followed by a walking tour of the bazaar.
The North Sikkim Highway , en-route to Phodong, passes Kabi Longstok. At this historic site, a treaty of brotherhood was signed between the Lepcha chief Tetong Tek and the Tibetan Chief Khye Bumsa - bringing together the ethnic groups to establish a new Sikkimese identity.
The Phodong Gompa of the Kargyupa Sect is a fairly recent structure, although the Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal built the original in 1740. The 16th Karmapa, stayed here after he fled from Tibet and prior to his installation at Rumtek. The Labrang Monastery, just a kilometer away was built in 1844, and belongs to the Nyingmapa Sect. Between the two monasteries lie the ruins of Tumlong, which was the capital of Sikkim for ninety years in the beginning of the 19th Century. Though nothing remains now of the Raja's palace, except for few stonewall, some of the original Chortens close to the palace can be seen.
Days 10-11 : Drive along the Teesta Valley followed by a 14 km climb to Kalimpong. Visit Colonial bungalows of the British period, Monastery viewpoint, and the Zong Dog Palri Fo Brang Monastery. This is famous for the "Kanguyar", in 108 volumes, brought personally from Tibet by the Dalai Lama. These Holy Scriptures was presented to the monastery, when the Dalai Lama consecrated it in 1976. The viewpoint presents remarkable views of Kanchenjunga , and other snow peaks.
Day 12 : It is 5 hours to Phuntsholing, the border town in Bhutan . We will first descend down to the Valley of the River Teesta and then drive along the rolling foothills and North Bengal flat lands, interspersed with Tea gardens, forests, rivers and cultivation.
Days 13-14 : Complete visa formalities and drive to Thimphu . Despite its small size Thimphu is alovely town with plenty of sights - the Memorial Chorten (built in memory of the third King of Bhutan), the Textile Museum, The Arts and Crafts School, the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved, Trashichho Dzong is the Secretariat building, which houses the Chief Abbot and central monastic body. It also houses the Throne Room. Thinphu's oldest fortress, Semtokha Dzong, still houses a few monks and is also the center for Cultural and Language Study.
Day 15 : The road to Punakha/Wangdue crosses the Dochu La (pass) (3150m), affording great views of the Eastern Himalaya . Punakha Dzong is the winter residence of Bhutan 's spiritual leader, the Head Abbot, and the Central Monastic Body. The Dzong is built between two rivers known as “Phochu” ( Male River ) and “Mochu” ( Female River ). After Punakha take a short hike to Chhi-Med Lhakhang in the picturesque Lobesa valley, to visit the temple of one of Bhutan 's foremost saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known as the “Divine Madman.”
Day 16 : Known for its natural beauty, the Phobjikha Valley is the winter habitat for endangered black-neck cranes (mid October to early March). The gravel road to Gangtey descends through fields of bamboo, emptying into a lowland valley of grass that falls within the borders of the Black Mountain Natural Park . To the Bhutanese, going to Gangtey is like going back in time, an interesting perspective given that they themselves live in a country firmly routed in the Middle Ages.
Gangtey is perched atop a hill and centered on the extensive 17 th century monastery. Many residents are families of the monks here. In Gangtey visit the carpet-weaving center and roam the village before returning to Wangdue
Day 17 : Drive to Paro via Thimphu .
Day 18 : A hike to Taktsang Monastery offers superb scenery. The name Taktsang means "Tiger's Nest' and monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800 m. It is said that in the second half of the 8 th century Padmasambhava alighted here upon the back of a tigress. The round trip hike takes about 4 hours. The National Museum (Ta-Dzong), former watchtower for the Rinpong Dzong standson a promontory overlooking the Paro Valley and was converted into a Museum in 1968.
In the evening visit a farmhouse for traditional hot stone bath and local hospitality.
Day 19 : Fly to Kathmandu
Day 20 : Depart