Darjeeling derived its present name from the Tibetan Dorjee-Ling, meaning Place of the thunderbolt. Until the nineteenth century, it was a part of the kingdom of Sikkim, and was first leased bt the British in 1835, and latter annexed in 1861, to as a base for trade with Tibet. In early 1840’s, tea plantations were developed, extensively, and Nepali labour was imported. This resulted in a change in the demographic balance, with Nepalese gradually gaining ground over other ethnic groups.After a political agitation, Darjeeling was granted, autonomy under a Gorkha Hill Council, with limited powers. Darjeeling retains it colonial flavor, and the fantastic views of the great snow capped ranges, is a major tourist attraction, along with Buddhist monasteries and exotic bazaar.
Day 04: Darjeeling
Guided tour of Darjeeling. Early morning visit Tiger Hill, for sunrise view of Khangchendzonga and Averest group, followed by Ghoom Biddhist Monastery. After breakfast, visir the Himalayan Zoological Park including the snow leopard enclosure, The Mount Everest Museum at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, and the Tibetan self Help Centre. Afternoon and evening free for exploring the exotic bazaar and shopping.
Day 05: Darjeeling - Gangtok
Drive in 3.30 hrs to Gangtok – the capital of Sikkim, located on a series of ridges in the shadow of the high mountain ranges bordering Tibet. Enroute complete entry formalities as you enter Sikkim at Rangpo.
Entry to Sikkim is restricted. All tourist visiting Sikkim must be in possession of valid visa endorsement on their passport. Apply for permission to enter Sikkim, while applying for India Visa. You can also get a Sikkim Entry permit at Rangpo. Keep 03 passport photos handy.
Upon arrival at Gangtok, Check in at the Hidden Forest Retreat - A charming retreat amidst 03 acres of forests This is a home-stay hosted by the Lachungpa family. It is located amidst a plant nursery with a fabulous, fresh wholesome feel. On these lush acres are cow sheds and green houses, a large organic vegitable patch, for Guava, Kiwi, and oranges, bonsai trees in the tea room and lilies and orchids glore. Birds chirrup, butterflies flutter, cicadas hum, and the views reach across the valley to Rumtek Hill.
The guest accommodation is built into the terraced hillside, on split levels. Rooms are bright with teak wood floors and ceilings and spotless white toilets. It is a special place to relax and let the peace and quite wash over you. Listed in Alastair Sawday’s Special places to stay in India.
Day 06: Gangtok
After Breakfast, your driver cum guide will take you on a local tour. You will drive around the local sightseeing circuit visiting the Govt. Institute of Cottage Industry which is keeping the local handicrafts alive. Here you see skilled teachers and trainees working at various handicrafts. There is also a sales outlet, where you can buy handicrafts at reasonable prices.. Continue to the Enchay Monastery, the Research Institute of Tibetology -, with its large collection of Buddhist, icons, religious paintings and literature and the Do-Drul Chorten. Back to the retreat for lunch. Evening free to explore bazar for bargains. Overnight at Hidden Forest Retreat
Day 07: Gangtok – Rumtek
Short drive to Rumtek. Check in at the Bamboo Resort. The resort is located in splendid isolation 26 Kms from Gangtok, close to the Rumtek Monastery. Owned by a Swiss- Sikkimese couple Helen and Topgay the resort has been aptly described as a East meets West sort of place. Buddhist Monastery like exteriors rub shoulders with grey marble interior floors and Feng Shui bedrooms with low double beds, Sikkimese cushions and rugs and all the vibrancy of Sikkimese culture. In 3 acres of oxen ploughed paddy fields and clumps of bamboo, it has refreshing mountain views. Listed in Alastair Sawday’s Special places to stay in India.
Enjoy the ambiance and take a walk through the countryside. In the evening visit Rumtek Monastery and join in the solemn evening prayers. Please keep your passports handy, They are checked at the monastery entrance
Headquarters of the Karamapa branch of the kargyu sect, Rumtek Monastery was rebuilt in 1964, as a replica of the Tsurphu Monastery, which was the original headquarters of the Kargyu Sect in Tibet. The 16th Gyalwa Karamapa, head of the order undertook this, after he fled from Tibet, and settled in Sikkim. Behind the main temple are the Dharma Chakra Center, and the Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies. Here monks spend a minimum of nine years, in study, followed by three years of meditation. The gilded chorten or stupa studded with precious stones containing the remains of the Karamapa, as also the main temple, are the main attractions. With its traditional architecture, exquisite paintings, intricate woodwork, housing treasures of manuscripts and icons, Rumtek is a splendid example of Tibetan monastic art.
Day 08: Gangtok – Pelling
Drive to Pelling in West Sikkim in 5.30 hrs. It is a long but fascinating drive. Croosing from the Teesta valley to the Rangit river valley over the Rabang la, 2100 m. Rivers, forests, mountain villages, terraced cultivation, bio diverse flora, Bon Monastery, and more. Upon arrival check in at Hotel Mount Pandim / Phamrong. In the evening take a sightseeing trip. You will visit the famous Pamayangtse Monastery, and walk to the Ruins of the old capital city of Rabantse, with its panoramic views.
Western Sikkim – The cradle of Buddhism in Sikkim: The legendary installation of the Namgyal dynasty, by three monks in 1642, introduced Buddhism in Sikkim. They came together at Yoksom, and as it had been prophesied, in sacred texts, they searched, and found Phuntsog Namgyal; anointed him with holy water, gave him the title of "chogyal" – meaning king of religion, and urged him to spread Buddhism, amongst the ethnic Lepchas. At that time the local people were animist worshipping nature spirits. Astride the Rathong River Valley, on various hills inter- visible to each other, are located a string of holy sites. Pamayangtse - the sublime perfect lotus, was built in 1705. It is the paramount of the Nyingmapa monasteries of Sikkim, and regarded the most prestigious. It is well known for its seven level wooden pagoda structure of mind boggling intricacy, depicting paradise. The late Dongzin Rimpoche crafted this, over five years of solo effort. Sangacholing Monastery - the place of secret spells, was founded in 1697. Clay statues dating back to the 17th Century are amongst the oldest in Sikkim. Both monasteries have splendid views of the snows and river valleys.
Day 09: Pelling - Hi Barmoik( West Sikkim)
Get up early for a breathtaking sunrise view of Mount Khangchendzonga, from your hotel terrace. Walk up to the Sangacholing Monastery for panoramic snow views. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, drive to Hi Barmoik. A 1.30 hrs journey through the Kalet River Valley. Check in at Dhongey House. Hi Barmoik village lies at the foot of the Vershay Rhododendron Sanctuary at an elevation of 1400 m. The community here is a blend of cultural, and ethnic mutiplicity, flourishing amidst bio diverse nature with a wide range of flora. The village stands on a series of ledges continuing up hill to 2400 m, with a massive spur of the Vershay Ridge rearing its head in the backgroud. Covered with lush vegitation, terraced cultivation, and lovely homsteads, the surroundings are tranquil and serene. A short walk from the house presents views of the panarama of snows.
Dhongey House is the family home of the Chhettri family. This is a large homestead surrounded by terraced fields, and homes of extended family members. Based on advice from the Awake and Shine team, and training at Samthar, the family has converted two rooms into comfortable guest rooms with modern toilets, and refurnished a lounge and a "chang " bar. Interiors have been decorated to showcase heritage household articles used by the family for generations. The house retains its farming roots - cow shed, goat house, herb garden, and hollow tree trunk honey comb.
After lunch explore the immediate surroundings and meet extended family members
Day 10: Hi Barmoik
Lifestyle exploration village walk which will include visit to homesteads of various ethnic groups - Limboos, Bahun, Sherpa, Tamang, Bhutia, Rai, Gurung, Mangar, Sarki, and Kami Damai communities. Song and dance can be arranged.
Overnight at Dhongey House.
Day 11: Rinchenpong – Kalimpong
Drive 03 hrs to Kalimpong. The journey will take us down to the Rangit River, followed by a scenic drive along the valley through forests and quaint villages. Exit Sikkim at Malli check post, and drive up the forested road to Kalimpong. Check in at hotel /homestay of choice ( Hotel Silver Oaks / Hotel Himalayan / Gurudongma House). Afternoon free to take a walk , explore bazaar or relax..
Kalimpong, is an exotic town of beautiful people, mystical and enchanting? Ruled by Bhutan for 155 years, and annexed by the British in 1865, it was developed as a center of the wool trade with Tibet. The Lepchas, who were the original inhabitants, were subjected to Bhutanese, Tibetan, British, and Nepalese influences. History has left behind a fascinating ethnic blend of Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepalese people. Here Buddhism rubs shoulders with Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Gompas, churches, temples, monasteries, monks and missionaries; all coexist in a jovial and tolerant society. Flower and orchid nurseries, colonial bungalows, churches of the "Raj", and Buddhist monasteries are there to explore. A quaint bustling bazaar, is a Pandora's box of surprises? Kalimpong is a wanderer's delight. Buddhist tankhas, hand beaten silver, Bhutanese weaves, Chinese lamps, hand crafted paper, Lepcha daggers, Nepali Khukaris and Buddhist masks, are some of the shopping attractions. The Wednesday and Saturday "Hat", or village market, brings together people from surrounding areas, selling an amazing variety of products.
Day 12: Kalimpong
Guided Tour of Kalimpong. Visit Buddhist Monastery, Orchid & Flower nursery, Churches and homes of the colonial era, Dr Grahams Homes campus and chapel, Durpin and Deolo Hill view points, and the exotic bazaar.
Day 13: Kalimpong - Lava - Lolegaon - Samthar
Drive cum trek/ drive to the remote village of Samthar – partly along a wilderness trail. Enroute visit Lava Buddhist Monastery, drive through miles of forested hills with views. A chance for two short treks through forests, bio-diverse flora, isolated hamlets, terraced cultivation, mountain streams, and more.
Scenic and remote, the Samthar Plateau, is located at an elevation of 1500 Meters. The inhabitants are a blend of various ethnic groups-Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepali. The original Lepcha tribals lived in the valleys. They were woodsman, and utilized the forest resources to live off the land. Knowing no religion, they worshiped nature spirits. When the Bhutanese ruled this land, many were converted to Buddhism. Latter the British rulers brought in Christian missionaries, who converted some of them to Christianity. Hinduism arrivedwiththe Nepalese settlers, who taught the Lepchas to farm the land. Today the ethnic groups are fused together in harmony. They have adopted Nepali as a link language, yet maintained, theirdiversecultural identity. It is an ideal place to peep into lifestyles of this fascinating hill community. It also has diverse flora, well-developed mountain agriculture, forests, and river valleys, and offers breathtaking views of the Panorama of snows.
Check in at the Samthar Farm House – a unique retreat which is listed in Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to stay in India.. An old Lepcha house built of stone and timber, converted by General "Jimmy" Singh for comfortable living, whilst maintaining its ambience. There is a nature garden and breathtaking sunrise views of the great peaks. It is known for its ambiance, variety and quality of home-cooked meals, and personalized service. Click here for details.
Day 14: Samthar
Get up early for breathtaking sunrise views. See the entire panorama of snows - Khangchenganga group of peaks, Simvo, Siniolchu, Lama Anden, Chomoyomo, and Paunhari, and then in an easterly arc the passes of Chola, Natula, and Jalepla, leading into Tibet.. After breakfast, take a guided Village exploration walk. A fascinating experience of visiting Nepali and Lepcha homes peopled by Buddhist, Hindu and Christian folks living in a happy tension free community. Peep into local lifestyles, mountain agriculture, see the village blacksmith, basket makers, and other crafts persons at work, visit a school, meet the village Shaman, and people of various ethnic groups. Optional : Cooking lessons in afternoon
Day 15: Samthar - Bagdogra
Drive through a forest road to the plains, and on to Bagdogra airport.