When you arrive in Calcutta our friendly representative of Vacation India will greet you and you will be transported to your hotel in a private vehicle.
Geoffrey Moore house quite appropriately describes our first stop as “both monstrous and marvelous” Kolkata or Calcutta, which is the capital of the State of West Bengal and is located along the east bank of the River Hooghly, a branch of the Ganges. This river facilitated the entrance of the East India company into Bengal where they set up their trade settlement at Calcutta. This city later developed into the greatest colonial city of the Orient and the capital city of the British Raj. In these modern times the city Kolkata remains a lively and enticing place for locals and visitors alike.
Spend the night in Kolkata!
Calcutta continues to be a prominent feature of the old colonial architecture and is a true reflection of the impact that Britain had in the past. Our tour today will highlight much of this tradition. In the great grand Dalhousie Square, we see the British constructed their “city of palaces;” the High Court with its impressive Indo-Gothic brick front, the magnificent Writers’ Building with its pompous ornamental brick front, the Charnock Mausoleum and the incredible Tuscan-style Governor’s House; all signifying the political, administrative and judicial heart of the empire that extended from Aden to Burma. We have a look at the St John’s Church brandishing its whitewashed columns, also the Johann Zoffan and Dark Hole of Calcutta paintings are kept there, along with the lovely Post Office building that is situated on the spot of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’.
We will continue our tour by visiting the Victoria Memorial, an elegant pure white marble structure that is a landmark of the city. This architecturally and aesthetically amazing place was built in the 19th century in commemoration of Queen Victoria (1819–1901). The Memorial depicts the British tradition and its noble culture. On the inside there are reminders of the period of time when Britain ruled India and you will find manuscripts, artifacts, sculptures, old warrior dresses, pistols, french guns, coins and literature as evidence of this rule. There is also a wide collection of water-colored and oil paintings by European artists Johann Zoffany, Thomas Hickey, Daniells Charles D’oyly Tilly Kettle and others. Included also is a distinct gallery dedicated to showcasing the lives of both the European and native people of Calcutta in the period before independence. Statues of Queen Victoria seated on her royal throne and Prince Edward trotting his horse, will also attract your attention and being in this serene atmosphere with its beautiful green environment will create lasting memories.
Not far away is Maidan the ideal place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and just relax. It is a vast expanse of land that is enjoyed by picnickers , people playing a game of cricket, taking a stroll or a run, maybe riding ponies or just simply lazing the day away and a great way to be a part of the Bengali lifestyle. After a little rest and rejuvenation we move on to none other than Mother Teresa’s Mission, which is known by the locals as Mother House. It is in this place that you will be enlightened about a woman who was selfless, a humanitarian who devoted her life to meet the needs of the poor and helpless and one who had a significant religious influence throughout the 20th century. Her name is Mother Theresa. In this modest and peaceful home with the famous nun’s living quarters ,you will hear inspiring yet emotional stories of this extraordinary woman and her life and visit her grave to pay reverence.
Finally we take a visit to the British Colonial Cemetery, the remembrance cemetery for some of the most famous people of the Empire with decorative stone tributes. There will be feelings of admiration and respect for those who traveled thousands of miles and made contributions to this place or perhaps in search of a better way of life than what they had in England or Scotland. Perhaps it was simply for an adventure. Whatever the reason many of them died here and as a mark of respect to them this cemetery was created. As you amble through the shade of the ancient trees with roots that intertwine the monuments and tombs you will experience a sense of serenity.
This tour starts early in the morning at 7.00am so that we can beat the heavy traffic and the scorching heat of the day. Your guide will collect you from the hotel lobby. We will walk across the famous Howarah Bridge on foot, towards the River Hooghly. The Howarah Bridge contains as much as 2,590 metric tons of high tensile steel and is shaped like a plank. The bridge connects the major railway of Kolkata to the manufacturing cities Howrah and Kolkata. If you want to experience how the people live by the river, then Hooghly is the best place to be. Here you will see for yourself the sadhus, the wrestlers, wise men and ordinary people carry out their ceremonies each morning ,with a dip in the Hooghly river for a cleansing. It is an interesting ritual to witness and makes a good picture as you also learn more about why this is done.
When we are finished our visit to the Hooghly river, we will make it through the bustling crowded streets to Malik Ghat, where we will spend some time at the busy retail and wholesale flower market. You will be greeted with artisans at work making wreaths, garlands and other flower arrangements, large bundles of seasonal flowers already cut, tea sellers conducting a rapid trade. Marvel at the burst of bright, vibrant colors and the aroma of the flowers that saturate the air. Be mystified at how the vendors balance baskets with large floral arrangements on their heads. We will go back to the hotel for breakfast after our engagement at the flower market with a picturesque setting on the banks of the Ganges.
After breakfast we will go to Belur Math which is beautifully set between the palms and attractively placed amid the well- trimmed lawns of this massive religious center. It is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission and was motivated by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa the 19th-century Indian priest, whose message was that of the unification of all religions. It’s center of attention is the 1938 Ramakrishna Mandir which looks very much like Istanbul’s Aya Sofya, a cathedral an Indian palace and a Sikh gurudwara all at the same time.
From Belur Math, we ferry over Hooghly river to get to the Dakshineswar Kali Temple the city’s Hindu focal point, it is a place that is attended by a huge amount of people dressed in colorful clothing; street kids, devotees, sweetmeat vendors, flower garland hawkers and sadhu holy men. The temple is dedicated to Kali, the patron goddess of Kolkata. It was built in a Bengali style with nine turrets in 1847 by a wealthy religious widow, Rani Rashmoni, who in the beginning met resistance from the orthodox religions because she was not from the highest Indian caste better known as the Brahmin and so no Brahmin wanted to be the priest of this temple. Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who was a boy at that time was the only person who agreed to take on the priesthood and spent several years of his life advancing his ideas and philosophies and preaching about the unification of the faiths.
Our next visit is the College Street Book Market, popular for its bookstores and after that we will take a break at the Indian Coffee House, a great place to socialize and have a chat.
Move at your own pace for the rest of the time.
No visit to Kolkata is complete without having a taste of the delightful Bengali cuisine. Therefore this evening we will titillate our taste buds with some authentic Bengali food away from the tourist area and into a Kolkata neighborhood for some- dumplings, bread puffs, fried fish and sweet curd. Authentic Bengali Street Food!
Back to the hotel to stay overnight!
This morning we visit the Clay Pottery of Bengal where we will see their folk art that is said to be the best in the world. Hundreds of images and idols are made here all year round by the potters for the annual festivals. Replicas are prepared as pujas approach, particularly the Durga Puja. At that time a tremendous amount of giant godlike figures and idols that are brightly colored and splendidly dressed are displayed in the streets. When the festival is all over, they are submerged into the holy Hooghly River.
We then go to the Indian Museum – known locally as Jadu Ghar, the “House of Magic.” a must see for every tourist. This is one of the most significant museums of the world and certainly the oldest wide-ranging museum in Asia. Founded in 1814 the Indian Museum in Kolkata, houses one of the biggest and complete collections in Asia, which also includes one of the world’s finest collections of natural history. In the southern wing you will find the Moghul gallery, Buddhist Sculptures gallery and the Bharhut and Gandhara rooms which showcase Indian art from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD, including the Gupta and medieval galleries. The archaeology section has symbolic artifacts going way back from prehistoric times to the times of Moghul, along with remnants from Harappa and Mohen jo Daro the oldest unearthed Indus Valley civilizations.
As you explore the museum further, you will also view some amazing historical pieces that will make you marvel; the Egyptian mummy which an English seaman donated to the museum in 1880, a unique collection of weapons and antiques, an old fossilized tree trunk thought to be 200-million-years-old, a 50,000 year meteorite, the biggest collection of Indian coins in the world and the lower jaw of a whale that was some26-meter (84-foot) . Take a look at the 37 types of opium in the commercial-botany gallery and examine the bangles and rings weighing 7 kg that were removed from the belly of an enormous man-eating crocodile. Not forgetting the display of the Buddhist of India with its 80 prized and valuable pieces.
As you peruse the art section you will see papier-mâché figures, terra-cotta pottery, carpets and textiles. There are several displays of Indian and Persian miniature paintings, bronzes and statues from a variety of Asian civilizations, with amazing and surreal life-size models of animals and people from India’s various regions. To add to the adventure stop off at the attention grabbing section with stuffed dead animals, water creatures, reptiles and birds.
The significance of the Indian Museum of Kolkata has been demonstrated by its inclusion in the Constitution of India as being a place of national importance.
You are free in the afternoon!
After dinner in the evening we head to the station for an overnight train that will take us to New Jalpaiguri. Overnight in Train!
After your arrival at the railway station of New Jalpaiguri our friendly driver will take you to the Darjeeling hill station of (67 Km).
Throughout the course of the mid-19th century when the British came to this region of the Lesser Himalaya, which was then governed by the Gurkha of Nepal, they established a military outpost. Soon there was growth in the region around Darjeeling, as a place where the colonists could retreat for the summer and get away from the hot and humid plains. Not long after, they recognized that the conditions were ideal for the cultivation of tea and that other significant agricultural benefits could be derived. Consequently, there was a widespread establishment of tea plantations all over the region. Today Darjeeling with its fusion of the said tea plantations, the hills and valleys of the lesser Himalayas, streets laid vertically with a colorful blend of people, including Tibetans, Bhutias, Nepalis, and Lepchas all back-dropped by snow- capped mountain peaks, make this place the wonder that it is.
In Darjeeling you get to see firsthand where the most popular tea on earth “Darjeeling Black” comes from. In the 1840s a Scottish surgeon Dr.Campbell, planted bush that were originally from China and introduced the tea to India. Since then the tea growers here have mixed a number of well-known black teas with some of the newest fermentation techniques in the world to create the fusion, known as Darjeeling Tea, India’ national drink, with international acclaim and an unequaled unique blend.
Transfer to hotel overlooking the town on arrival!
A guided tour of Darjeeling (2154m) is what we have after brunch. On this tour we visit Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. Established in 1958 for the purpose of preserving ,conserving and studying the Himalayan fauna which was at that time facing extinction, this park is now one of the best in India. Its interior is woody and rocky and is the home to species such as clouded leopards, siberian tigers, Himalayan bears Tibetan wolves and red pandas. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is a zoo, but also the world’s biggest breeding center for a single captive population of snow leopards. The zoo’s committed and hardworking keepers do a fantastic job of caring for these animals and they live freely in an environment quite similar to their natural habitat
Adjacent to the zoo is the adjoining famed Mountaineering Institute, which was established in 1954 and has trained several of the best mountaineers in India. Inside the complex is the intriguing Mountaineering Museum which houses memorabilia and various details from the Everest missions of 1922 and 1924 that started in Darjeeling, along with details about recent climbs. As you browse over the displays take a moment to look for the telescope of Carl Zeiss, which Adolf Hitler donated to the head of the Nepali Army. Standing close to the museum, very close to the place where Tenzing Norgay was cremated is the Tenzing statue. Tenzing was the director of the Institute and a fearless Everest mountaineer, who lived most of his life in Darjeeling.
Tibetan Refugee Center, is our next destination. This center was founded in 1959 as a place for the recuperation of the Tibetan refugees who escaped with the Dalai Lama. There is a photographic display showing the early years of the Tibetan refugees in Darjeeling. This refugee center has been transformed into a home for the elderly, an orphanage, a clinic, a school a Tibetan Buddhist monastery or gompa and craft workshops that manufacture carpets, woodcarvings, woolen items, leather work and also a photographic display showing the early years of the Tibetan refugees in Darjeeling. Linger in the workshops or shop for handicrafts in the showrooms to help a worthy cause; the funds from the sales are used in the same Tibetan society.
Enjoy a walk through Chowrasta, late in the afternoon. Lively, merry and free is the best way to describe the main square. Here the Bhutanese, Tibetans and Nepalese socialize freely with the foreign and Indian tourists a well as the locals. Sit and have a chat on the green benches as you are serenaded by the musicians playing on their wooden stringed instruments called sarangis. Not far away on the Observatory Hills, bells from the temple of Mahakala the god worshiped by Buddhists and Hindus seem to join in the activities as they ring loudly. Overnight in Darjeeling!
Wake up early and start the day with a cup of tea. After that we will take an 11 km jeep adventure to Tiger Hill to see the sun rise majestically over Kangchenjunga.
At 2590 meters this is the highest point in the area and quite popular for its spectacular views of the sun rise over the snowy mountain peaks of Mount Kangchenjunga at dawn and glides down to the valleys and rivers. You will note this as one of your favorite moments in India, as you are mesmerized by the beauty of the sunlight changing the colors of the peaks, spreading red , pink and orange shades around them. If we get lucky today and the skies are crystal clear, you will cast your sights on Mount Everest the highest and most famous peak in the world which is just 100 miles away. Before going back to the hotel for breakfast we will visit the Ghoom monastery. This monastery is known locally as the Yiga Choeling Monastery of Ghoom and is one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the area of Darjeeling. Constructed in 1850 by Lama Sherab Gyatso a monk and a famous astrologer and owned by the sect called the Yellow Hat or the Gelupka. The main pull to this site is actually the 15-foot model of the Lord Buddha otherwise called the Gyalwa Shampa and The Maitreya Buddha meaning the “Buddha of the future or the Coming Buddha”.
After eating breakfast we will travel to the railway station at Darjeeling and take a coveted ride on the infamous Darjeeling Toy Train to Kurseong (31 Km). It is one of the three Mountain Railways of India that were confirmed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you are on board this enthralling, 2ft-wide gauge toy train that was built in the 19th century, the route will certainly capture your attention for the full three hours. The small coaches are pulled by a blue Glasgow-built steam engine up the precipitous mountains, over out of this world scenic landscapes and through heart throbbing curves and inclines with the use of simple engineering cleverness and innovative skills. You will have a wonderful experience as the whistle blows and the smoke swirls. The train jangles along at 6mph on a track that stretches along the narrow streets of Darjeeling’s in such a close proximity to the markets and houses that you can easily catch a snack on the way.
Some 5km outside Darjeeling the train ascends to almost 1000 feet in just a few minutes. The first stop of the Toy Train is Ghoom. At the highest point of 7,407ft up in the Himalayas, Ghoom is the world’s highest narrow-gauge railway station and mounts over the bright green assortment of tea gardens revealing a little peak of the splendid Himalayan range, Mount Kanchenjunga. Going further along the peaceful Himalayan slopes, tea lovers will be in a place of their dreams. Expansive tea plantations decorate the scenery for miles and you will be greeted from time to time by the tea picker, with her basket tied to her forehead and her customary wear as she pauses just long enough to wave her hand. Traveling in such a slow train is quite a contrast to the train rides in the city and it gives you an opportunity to take in your surroundings at an easy pace. As we travel up the hilly landscape in this slow moving steam train, you will see the local school children jumping on and off the train in motion. The Toy Train comes to a halt for water and to allow its passengers to get desired photos of the famous Batasia Loop. It’s at this point that the track coils around itself through a tunnel and over a hilltop. Kurseong is our final stop and as we get closer you will see houses that are pastel painted literally stacked on top of each other on the mountainsides.
You will be picked up by a car after arriving in Kurseong and be driven back to Darjeeling.
Spend the rest of your time in in Darjeeling at your own pace!
Perhaps you may have a desire to sip on some tea in the evening. if so you can go over to the Tea Planters Club. In this eccentric outdoor café at the club you can simply relax ,as you write, read, draw, paint, and do what makes you happy within the backdrop of the Himalayas .This café which boasts a fantastic view and history that is very interesting. History tells the story of the missions of the British who stayed there before gathering their Sherpa crews on the long march through Sikkim and across Tibet to the foot of Everest. Overnight in Darjeeling!
After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world and a $40 billion industry. But, the only place on earth that produces the “the champagne of teas,” a unique light brew with a trademark Muscatel flavor is the Eastern Indian slopes. The popularity and demand for this product is so vast that an association had to be formed to create firm guidelines as to where the tea must be produced, if it is qualified to be branded as “Darjeeling”. This is so, because even though Darjeeling’s region produces some 9,000 tons of tea a year, many more thousands of tons are still branded and sold with the label “Darjeeling” all over the world.
When you have had your fill of breakfast at the hotel we will enjoy an excursion to Glenburn Tea Estate (36 Km) which is 150-years-old for a Tea Tour all day. It’s going to be a rocky ride but the trip will be worth it. The air is infused with the smells of citronella and wild ginger and you are surrounded by a spectacular scene with clusters of giant bamboo, broad-leaved teak trees, overflowing waterfalls that tumble on the sides of the hills and slope clinging tea bushes that have been smartly trimmed.
A trip to the tea gardens will showcase women in the tea gardens with their broad-rimmed hats and head scarves working in the fields. It’s a systematic process and done very effectively by these workers; two leaves and a bud are hand plucked and then tossed over the shoulders into a basket behind. This action will be repeated time and time again and thousands of leaves will be picked during a 12 hour shift each day. A local guide from the estate will escort you and give you a tea lesson you will not forget about the picking, drying and rolling to discharge the enzymes that cause decay and about heating the sugar. Terroir, weather and season are as you will learn, as important as for any wine.
A delicious picnic lunch on the banks of the river Rung Dung will make you go wow! After your fill, we will visit the factory to explore how the actual tea making process is done. Watch the process at work with the lengthy trays ,machines rolling and the packaging sections functioning at full capacity from the point of weighing up to that of sorting. To top it all off ,you will be part of a traditional tea tasting to get you familiar with that tastes, smells and colors of the different kinds of teas cultivated on this estate.
Return to Darjeeling for an overnight stay!
After lunch at Darjeeling, we make our exit from West Bengal and travel to the city of Gangtok, the Sikkim’s capital. This is the second point in our journey and it will be just as fascinating. It will be a four hour long trip with scenes of the most creatively built houses you have ever seen woven together with bamboo, forest packed with beautiful flowers and rice terraces extending to the horizon.
Hills and settlements, town and villages are all part of the make- up of the state of Sikkim. It is a long stretch of green valleys and hills that are broken only by the Teesta river and its offshoots, along with the waterfalls that spill into the river. Traveling from city to city can be a bit tedious as each town sits on a hill. This means climbing up some 6000 ft to Gangtok, then down and then all the way up to the top of the next hill. This distance between the two would be approximately 10 km by flight, but if you are traveling up and down the bending roads then it’s about 10 times that. Sikkim was an independent mountain empire, ruled by a Buddhist King between Nepal and Bhutan up until the mid-1970s.
Elevated some 28,000 feet above sea level Sikkim is a quiet and serene place in the shadows of the Himalayas. Its landscape is made up of roads twisting around majestic mountains that flood from the monsoon rains, the abundance of bananas trees lining the side of the road, red rhododendrons, friendly, warm and industrious people, leaves, wood, twigs, terraced rice paddies boxes, bamboo groves and chickens all over. And of course ribbon-like, deep valleys with thin rivers.
When we arrive at Gangtok we will transfer to the hotel where you can explore a little further on your own!
In the late afternoon you can take in the sounds and sights as you walk about Gangtok, If you feel like having your first traditional Sikkimese meal then you can take an easy stroll to MG Road. If you feel the need for some spiritual upliftment, then perhaps you may want to head to the monastery around 4pm for prayers and chants and at the same time enjoy the magnificent view of the city from the top. You can also sip on a cup of hot chocolate with a great view at Baker’s café. Mingle with the locals and have a chat as you learn more about Sikkim and life in both the former independent kingdom and as it is now; an annexed state of India.
Stay in Gangtok overnight!
Please note: Foreign visitors require permit to enter Sikkim
It’s going to be a day of exploration as we enter Gangtok and its surroundings. Many of the traditional values and heritage are still maintained here and so we get the chance to unearth some of the heritage of this vibrant town on the hilltop. Located on a lengthy ridge that fringes on the borders of Ranipool River, we have the advantage of a splendid view of the whole Kanchenjunga Range, a revered mountain to Sikkim’s indigenous people.
Wake up early and walk through the haze on your way to the Enchey monastery, which is located above Gangtok. A monastic retreat, it was constructed by the 8th Chogyal Mona in the mid 19th century and is currently the home to one hundred monks. Here you will see several murals, Buddhist symbols and the location for the prized feature of the town; the masked lama dance that is held every year. You will encounter monks robed in red, both young and old ranging in age from 7yrs -70 yrs at their daily morning prayers. From amongst the pine forest the once murmuring voices elevate into song then gradually subside. Cymbals bang, brass horns boom, the conch shell blares and the rhythmic beat of the drum is spellbinding.
Go back to the hotel for breakfast!
After you have eaten your breakfast, we will venture up the thin bended roads and up 5,545ft (1,690m) to the Rumtek monastery (24 Km). We must stop at Rango ‘s border point on the Teesta River where your permit must be shown. We move on from here to the guava and orange plantations which are somewhat overshadowed by the drabber landscape, where the prayer flags of the Buddhist fly in the wind.
Built in the sixties Rumtek was a replacement for the Tibetan monastery that was devastated by China’s Red Guards. It is now also the Buddhist Black Hat Sect’s worldwide center. A black hat and also a throne which is allegedly made of angel hair and preserved in a box to stop it from flying up into the heavens anticipates the new spiritual leader’s arrival. It’s a succession that is disputed bitterly.
Inside there is an abundance of statues, spiritual Scriptures that the earliest monks recovered and sneaked over the border when the Chinese attacked Tibet and Thankas, which are the paintings of Tibetan Buddhist on silk or cotton. Up to this day religious murals continue to be added to the monastery and its beautifully decorated front and colorful latticework creates a marvelous sight for the eyes. Our next stop will be the Handicraft Center where traditional Sikkimese handicrafts are created. Here the Buddhist artists are skillfully working on making masks, paintings and embroidery and a small museum displays Sikkim works and national award-winning paintings.
What you do with the rest of the day is up to you! May be you will want to take in the fantastic scenes, slow down and relax and simply enjoy life. In Gangtok you can either stay at the Netuk House Hotel, or the traditional Sikkimese family house which is currently being run as an intimate small hotel and offers splendid service and food. Overnight in Gangtok!
This morning we take a four hour scenic drive to Pelling, an alluring little village that is surrounded by eminent monasteries, historic remnants, mountains particularly Mount Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest and original villages.
We check into Hotel Elgin Mount Pandim, which offers amazing views of the Himalayas. The Elgin group’s Pelling is an opulent property with meticulously manicured gardens on eight acres of virgin forest with a royal feel and look. Possibly because it was owned by Sikkim’s royal family. The rooms are pleasantly furnished in a vintage yet modern style, with shiny wood floors, brass fittings Tibetan motifs, and electric heaters, plaster moldings sharing space with bathtubs, and televisions.
If you want to have a genuine experience of life here you can opt for a Village Home Stay in Darap and Pelling and Village (8 Km from Pelling).
Indulge in an enjoyable lunch as you gaze at Mount Kangchenjunga! For the perfect view of Kangchenjunga and the other peaks that are around stay at Pelling only 43 Kms away. Kanchendzonga an enormous mountain both in height and width is Pelling’s reigning deity. It is the abode of five gods with a peak for each one and is thought to be the provider of physical and spiritual protection and it was impossible for any army to ever conquer it. The closeness of the mountain makes you feel like you can touch it. Very often this massive mountain is concealed behind the dense mist and clouds giving it an almost mystical and elusive appearance, that hastens the soul and reminds us of the patience, respect, acceptance and faith in the divine plan; all eastern spiritual values.
In the afternoon we continue on to the Pemayangtse Monastery which is the chief of all the monasteries of the Nyingma-pa sect of Tibetan Bhuddism and one of the most revered Buddhist monasteries. Here you will meet a monk who is well reputed, Yapu Yongda. He is the one responsible for opening a school in Pelling to teach children Bhuddhism and also general subjects. The Pemayangtse Monastery displays large murals of gods that have a terrifying and fierce look all over the walls. Upstairs you will see a painted work of genius depicting different levels of heaven. But, that’s not all, in the chambers the displays of murals on the walls are much softer, milder and more spirited. There are also a number sensual paintings which are a common feature in ancient Hindu temples, that are usually made of stone, for example as in Khajuraho.
The remainder of the day is free! You can remain indoors in the comfort of your hotel or head to the loft to feel the peace or view the mountains and colorful birds flying freely. You may prefer to treat yourself a traditional Sikkimese meal while you converse with your host about life in the region. If you want to go outdoors, why not take a walk into the valley lined with red rhododendrons and view the magnificent Mount Kanchendzonga. Overnight in Pelling!