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Sikkim & Darjeeling Cultural and Hiking Trip with Kalimpong

Introduction

Your diverse cultural and hiking tour leads you first from the lowlands of West Bengal into the touristically little known northern mountains of this Indian state. In front of the ever-impressive scenery of the Himalayas, you will meet mountain farmers from various indigenous tribes, and on optional hikes through the cultural landscape, which are tailored- made to your travel time window and your interests, you get an insight into the simple way of life of the people. In the monastery town of Lava, you will visit the magnificently crafted Buddhist temple, and finally dive into the bustle of the colorful, exotic markets in the trading town of Kalimpong.

Then we continue to the north, to the state of Sikkim. Terraced rice fields, bamboo groves and dense jungle dominate the steep mountain slopes. Here the Tibetan cultural heritage is preserved, not only in the numerous Buddhist temples, monastic institutions and shrines, but it also plays an important role in the daily life of the people. The streets are lined with fluttering prayer flags, and the ceremonies of monks and shamans are of great importance. Experience such a prayer ceremony and learn a lot about the history of the former kingdom.

In the wild North Sikkim, near the border with Tibet, you will experience a firework of colors during the spring months in the high valley of Yumthang (3700 m above sea level), when the various rhododendron species bloom. Yaks graze on the banks of the river, which winds in a wild romantic setting through the vast valley, and is surrounded by snowy mountains. Traditional houses of pounded earth and wood, as well as lonely temples dot the largely untouched mountain landscape.

In the valley of Lachen you will encounter a different vegetation. From the lush-green mountain forests in the southern part of the valley of Lachen, you reach the subalpine zone after a few kilometers. Farther north dominate sea buckthorn and rustic, pine-covered fir forests. Finally, we reach the last settlement before the Tibetan border at nearly 4,000 meters above sea level, where we take a short hike into a secluded, wild and romantic valley.

You dive into the the Tibetan Buddhist heritage of Sikkim, and experience in the further course of the journey the historical west and south. Among others, you are given the opportunity to visit a typical Bhutia mountain village as a guest, and you will visit solitary monasteries and active monastic schools.

Finally, you will visit the tea city of Darjeeling, and experience the colonial charm of the Heritage Hotel Windamere, as well as the luxurious Glenburn Tea Estate. Discover the exotic market of the local people, learn a lot about the first ascent of Mt Everest at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, taste a range of excellent tea varieties and take a stroll through the extensive tea gardens. Don‘t just pamper yourself with culinary delights, but do treat yourself to a relaxing massage to round off the experience.

Highlights

Day 1 : Arrival in Delhi or Kolkota.
Transfer to a hotel near the airport.

Day 2 : Domestic flight to Bagdogra and start of the journey towards the Himalayas
Flight: from Kolkota ¾ hour, from Delhi 2 ½ hours; Drive: approx. 2 ½ to 3 hours
Transfer from the lowlands of West Bengal on a direct path to the rural area of Samthar.Here you will settle down in the beautiful bungalows and enjoy the village idyll - and with some weather luck you will have a fantastic panorama view of the Himalayas of Sikkim.Please discuss the next day's hiking with your local host. Overnight bungalow.

Day 3 : Hiking through cultivated areas
Optional hikes: 2 x 2 hrs.
If the weather is good, you can see the magnificent mountain panorama with the snow mountains Mt. Khangchendzonga, Simvo, Siniolchu, Lamaand, Chomoyomo, Pauhari and Chola, Nathula and Jalepla. After breakfast, you will undertake a further hike after checking the situation with your local guide. Explore the area, accompanied by a local guide, on narrow trails and cross terraced rice fields and forests. You meet the people who live here and get an insight into the everyday life of the area. The tiny hamlets and villages reflect a colorful mixture of cultures. This is where the Lepchas (the native people) as well as Nepalese ethnic groups live - both Christianity and Hinduism as well as Buddhism play an important role in the daily life of the people. Please discuss the next day's walks with your host. Overnight in bungalow.

Day 4 : Life in the countryside
Trekking: 4 or 4 - 5 hours
Today you will undertake a further hike after consultation with your host. Choose between a 4-hour hike through Lepcha and Nepali settlements, stroll along millet, vegetable and buckwheat fields. Or trek 4 to 5 hours through terraced fields, visit a more than 100 year old Lepcha monastery and picturesque farms. Also on the next day, further hikes can be integrated. Discuss this today with your host. Overnight in bungalow.

Day 5 : Via Lava Monastery to the small town of Kalimpong
Drive: 4 hours, hiking options: 3 ½ hours and / or 2 hours, maximum 5 1/2 hours
The journey continues through expansive pine forests to a Tibetan village at 1700 meters above sea level, finally ending at Laa Monastery in Lava (2100 meters above sea level). It is one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the region. Finally, continue to the small trader‘s town of Kalimpong. 
Overnight at Hotel Silver Oaks, Kalimpong

Day 6 : Small town of Kalimpong - on to Sikkim
Drive: approx. 3 hours
In the morning you will discover Kalimpong on foot and by car. Take a city stroll and discover the bustling market. If possible and according to your interests, you visit various sightseeing places of Kalimpong, for example the oldest wooden church of St. Theressa, a Buddhist monastery, a Hindu temple, a cactus nursery, a handmade paper workshop or Dr. Graham's school. After lunch at the Hotel Silver Oaks, you will drive to Sikkim via the Rangpo border post. In Rangpo, you will need a visa & passport as well as a passport photo for the Sikkim permit, which you will receive at the tourist office immediately after the border crossing.
Then follows a varied drive past terraced paddy fields and on streets which are lined with lush, subtropical forest. Drive past tiny hamlets, through bustling cities and jungle which is inhabited solely by hordes of monkeys. Eventually you reach a few kilometers below the famous Rumtek monastery Bamboo Retreat, which is situated in a quiet location, surrounded by terraced rice fields and bamboo groves. The rooms are individually designed with loving attention to detail, with balcony and panoramic views.
Overnight at Bamboo Retreat.

Day 7 : The native people and monastery culture of Sikkim
Drive: approx. 1 hour; Optional hike: approx. 1 - 2 hours
You are invited to take a walk across terraced fields to a settlement of native people. Together with a villager you visit an old traditional house on stilts and enjoy a welcome tea with local treats. On occasion, you will experience an authentic welcome ceremony through the Lepcha village shaman. Afterwards you will visit a monastery with an active monastery school which was built according to the Tibetan example. Inside the colorful monastery, the wall paintings tell of important events in the life of Buddha. The monastery, which is welcoming and open to the world, also maintains an active monastic school; often the young monks can be found in the practice of the Tibetan alphabet or in the recitation of mantras, holy prayers. It is possible to attend a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony. In the afternoon, visit the famous monastery of Rumtek. It was built by the 16th Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism, in 1966, after he fled from Tibet via Bhutan to Sikkim in 1959. Overnight at Bamboo Retreat.

Option: Cultural dance & singing performance in Lepcha village on request

Day 8 : Day trip to Gangtok
Drive: approx. 2 hours
Today we enjoy a city tour of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Retracing the past, visit Gangtok's oldest monastery, the Royal Palace Chapel, the Tibetology Museum, Sikkim's largest Buddhist shrine, and depending on the weather, various vantage points with a view of the city and the surrounding mountains. You bring the day to a close on the traffic-free shopping quarter of Gangtok, or watch a Bollywood movie, very authentically in a typical Indian cinema.
On request and if possible, visit the handicraft area. In the evening return to Rumtek.
Overnight at Bamboo Retreat.

Options

-    Children's village visit instead of city visit Gangtok.
-    Small folklore presentation by the pupils of the Children's Village (Nepali, Lepcha, Bhutia).

Day 9 : Get to the historic west
Drive: approx. 6 ½ hours
A varied ride along vast rice fields leads you through the biggest tea garden of Sikkim to the town of Ravangla at about 2200 m above sea level. Finally, we cross the river Rangit, and reach the village of Tashiding. You walk up to the hill and discover the monastery, the temple and the many Chorten (shrines). This idyllic and peaceful place of power is decorated with numerous colorful prayer flags and mantras carved in stone. If you are lucky, you will meet the stonemason or experience one of the many ceremonies carried out here on special days. In the evening, the journey continues to Yosum. Enjoy a cozy dinner in the traditional house of the hotel owner.
Overnight at hotel.

Day 10 : Buddhist temples in the founding place of the kingdom
Hike: about 2 ½ hours
Take a hike to the small Dubdi Monastery today. The way leads up a hill, on a path covered with stones. There is another temple dedicated to local protecting deities. Back in Dubdi you will also visit the site of the founding of the Kingdom of Sikkim. Overnight at hotel.

 Day 11 : Via wishing lake to the Pemayangtse Monastery
Drive: approx. 3 ½ hours
Drive on to the wishing lake, which is decorated with colorful prayer flags. People believe that the soul of the inconspicuous lake makes children's wishes come true. Guru Padmasambhava, the teacher who established Buddhism in Tibet, is said to have meditated here. Continue to the hotel town of "Pelling". Thanks to the beautiful view of Mt. Kangchendzonga, Pelling is not only popular with Indian tourists. Visit the famous Pemayangtse monastery dating from the 18th century, with its unique wooden carved sculpture, and enjoy the really impressive panoramic view of Mt. Khanchendzonga.
Overnight at hotel.

Day 12 : Secluded West Sikkim
Drive: approx. 2 ½ hours
At the bottom of the valley you cross the river Rangit and finally reach a secluded area with unspoilt nature.
In the evening, visit the village monastery, where the monk students enthusiastically recite their Tibetan prayers. You have the opportunity to attend the evening prayer ceremonies.
Overnight at the farm house.

Day 13 : Rinchenpong
Rest day with hiking options, for example through oak forest to a hill where an old Buddhist temple is located. In good weather you can enjoy a 360 ° panoramic view of the green mountain scenery of Sikkim and Mt. Khangchendzonga.
Overnight at the farm house.

Day 14 : Transfer to the Glenburn Tea Estate
Drive: approx. 6 hours
Today you leave Sikkim at the small border post of Melli, and reach in West Bengal the tea gardens of Darjeeling. On the way, you visit a vantagepoint with a view of the confluence of the streams Tista from the north, and Rangit from the west. In a tea garden, not far from the Rangit river, you stay in an idyllic bungalow, that reflects the character of the tea plantations during the colonial period.
Overnight at the Glenburn Tea Estate.

Day 15 : Glenburn Tea Estate
In the morning a guided tour of Darjeeling's tea gardens awaits you. You will visit the in-house tea factory, where of course you can also sample some tea. The afternoon is at leisure. If you wish, you can take a walk in the vicinity of the plantation, or relax with tea or a body massage.
Overnight at the Glenburn Tea Estate.

Day 16 : Glenburn Tea Estate
Rest day at the Glenburn Tea Estate. Optional hike through spacious tea gardens for a picnic along the banks of the river Rangit.
Overnight at the Glenburn Tea Estate.

Day 17 : Windamere Hotel
Drive: approx. 1 ½ hours
Transfer to the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling. Explore the area on your own, and visit for example, Observatory Hill, where a pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus (about 10 minutes walk from the hotel) is located. Playing hordes of monkeys enliven the holy place. Visit perhaps the Mountaineering Institute (HMI) with its Everest Museum and remarkable zoo (about 30 minutes walk from the hotel). Stroll through the lively pedestrian zone in Chowrasta and discover a variety of souvenirs.
Overnight at Hotel Windamere

Day 18 : Return Journey
Drive: about 3 ½ hours;
Transfer to Bagdogra Airport. Domestic flight to Kolkota (about 45 minutes) or Delhi (about 2 ½ hours). City sightseeing and return flight to Europe.

Tour Guides

All our tours are accompanied by experienced, local, English speaking tour guides.

Accommodation

A mix of hotels, bungalows and guest houses that reflect the local history and culture, and have proven over the years to be popular with our customers. Twice you stay at the luxurious Glenburn Tea Estate, once at the traditional Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling, once as a house guest at a homestay.

Hiking Tours

On several smaller and optional hikes and walks you immerse yourself into the world of the Himalayan peoples, get acquainted with the cultural heritage of Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong.

Climate, Temperatures and Precipitation

The humidity can be very high in Sikkim, especially during the monsoon season starting from July to mid-September.
Per 100 m altitude ascent the temperature decreases, depending the on weather conditions, by approx 0.5°C to 1°C and Per 100 m altitude descent the temperature increases, depending the on weather conditions, by an average of 0.5°C to 1°C.

Month Jan Feb March April May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Year
Average maximum temperatures in ° C at 1800 m. 12 13 18 21 22 22 22 22 22 21 18 14 19
Average minimum temperatures in ° C at 1800 m. 4 5 9 11 13 16 16 16 15 12 9 5 11
Average rainfall in mm in Gangtok 31 79 116 289 552 603 650 574 488 181 40 22 3626

Best Travel Period

This region can be visited all year round, and you can adjust your travel time window individually to your personal requirements. In spring intoxicate the blossoms of the awakening nature; In autumn the climatic conditions are ideal for hikes, and the harvest season brings many colorful, religious ceremonies. In winter, the Buddhist New Year is celebrated with its many ceremonies, and the climate at lower altitudes is very pleasant for walks. During the monsoon season in summer, the air humidity is generally quite high, but the north is largely spared from massive rainfall.

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