14 days, 13 nights
Difficulty Level: 2
Price (US$): From $4,125.00
Months Available: March through May and September through December
This trip allows you to experience the culture and wonders of the Eastern Himalayas – Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim, and Bhutan.
Kathmandu possesses some very special qualities. Walking the streets in the early morning, you will see the city at worship – hundreds of people paying public homage to their chosen deity. Hindus make offerings of flowers, fruit, rice grains and coins at shrines, and Buddhists prostrate themselves again and again in front of stupas. None of this is for the benefit of tourists or kept artificially alive by a heritage society. It is part of the powerful pulse that makes the city what it is.
Initially, the British desired to use Darjeeling as a sanatorium, but the efforts of the then Superintendent of Darjeeling, Dr. Campbell, led to its steady growth and economic progress. Today, Darjeeling is a large bustling town with relics from the British Raj intermingled with the local Nepalese and Lepcha culture.
Sikkim is sandwiched between Nepal on the west and Bhutan on the east. Formerly an independent nation, Sikkim became the twenty-second state of India on 16 May 1975. Gangtok is Sikkim’s largest city. It served as the royal administrative seat of the Kingdom of Sikkim from 1894 to 1975. Now, as the state capital, it retains a royal character. The Chogyal’s durbar (king’s palace) crowns the ridge, naturally facing Kangchenjunga, and the yellow roof of the Tsuklakhang (Royal Chapel) gleams from far across the valley.
Drive to Paro. Glimpse into the heart of the tranquil kingdom of Bhutan with an experience of the lifestyle that is famously measured as “Gross National Happiness.” Hike to the legendary Taktshang Monastery, also called Tiger’s Nest, on a trail through pine trees festooned with Spanish moss and occasional fluttering prayer flags.
Board the domestic flight from Kathmandu to Biratnagar or Bhadrapur in Eastern Nepal. Private transport will meet you at the airport and transfer you to the Nepal border-town of Kakarbhitta in the Terai region. Exit formalities at the Nepal immigration/customs office, change vehicles, and drive across the Mechi River into the India border-town of Panitanki. Process your entry formalities at the Indian immigration again and then proceed to your lunch-stop at Bagdogra.
After lunch, continue your drive to Darjeeling. Once you leave the fertile Indian plains, the road climbs through jungles, tea gardens, and small towns and village settlements to Darjeeling. On your way up, you might encounter the famous Darjeeling Toy Train chugging up or down the hilly terrain. Darjeeling is known as the “Queen of the Hills.” She has all the attributes of a queen: glamour and beauty with evergreen hills around, green tea gardens at her feet, and Mount Khangchendzonga as her crown. Darjeeling was also once the summer capital of Bengal during the days of the British Raj.
Stay at elegant New Elgin or similar. Dinner is at the hotel. (All meals)Day 05 - Darjeeling Morning visit of Happy Valley Tea Gardens to see the cultivation and preparation of famous Darjeeling tea. Onwards to the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre established in 1959 to rehabilitate Tibetan refugees. Here, excellent carpets, wood carvings, wood works, leather works, and more are produced. Then visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) to hear the heroic tales of great Himalayan mountaineering. The Padmaja Naidu Zoological Institute, located in the same hillside as HMI, hosts captive-bred snow leopards and red pandas.
After lunch, walk to the Lloyd Botanic Gardens, which has a large collection of Himalayan plants, flowers, orchids, etc.Stay at elegant New Elgin or similar. (All meals) Day 06 - Darjeeling to Gangtok Drive to Gangtok and transfer to your hotel. Time permitting, en route, visit Rumtek monastery.
Rumtek monastery is the seat of the Karmapa Rinpoche, head of the Karmapa sub-sect of the Kargyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. This four-level gompa was designed as a replica of the Kargyupa’s head monastery of Tolung in Tibet. Rumtek’s monks come from all over Sikkim, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. This monastery also hosts the Karmae Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies.Gangtok – the capital of Sikkim – is a perfect symbol of the confluence of the past and the present. Built on the flank of a ridge, Gangtok is at 1650m/5500ft above sea level. The town’s unique ambience derives from the happy blend of tradition and modernity. Hotel Norkhill or similar. (All meals) Day 07 - Gangtok A full day of sightseeing in Gangtok. First, visit Enchey Monastery. A story related to this monastery says that a Saint flew from Maynam Hill to the present site of the monastery and built a small shrine with 10 monks. Later, during the reign of Chogyal Sidkeong Namgyal (150 years ago), the present monastery was built. This monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa sect.
Next, visit the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom, the center for promoting and training rural Sikkimese in traditional handicraft production: a veritable storehouse of exquisite carpets, blankets and shawls in Lepcha weaves.
Then visit Do-Drul Chorten, one of the most important stupas of Sikkim, built by Trulsi Rinpoche, head of the Nyingmapa order. It contains rare mandalas of Dorje Phurpa, sacred manuscripts, and other sacred objects. Surrounding the chorten are 108 prayer wheels.
Proceed to the Research Institute of Tibetology, renowned worldwide for the study of Buddhist philosophy and religion. A treasure house of rare Lepcha, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscript, thangkas, numerous priceless statues, and prized object of arts.
A stop at the Orchid Sanctuary is also planned, although there will be very few orchids in bloom at the moment.
Hotel Norkhill or similar. (All meals)Day 08 - Gangtok to Phuntsoling Drive to the Indian plains and enter Bhutan at Phuntsoling. (7 hour drive).
Hotel Norkhill or similar. (All meals)Day 09 - Phuntsoling to Paro Drive to Paro. (6 hours drive). Stroll the streets of Paro in the evening. Overnight at Hotel. (All meals) Day 10 - Paro (Tiger's Nest hike) Begin the day with breakfast before a short drive to Taktshang Monastery. The trail to the monastery climbs through pine trees festooned with Spanish moss and occasional fluttering prayer flags. Hike at your own pace for about two to four hours.
Built in 1600s, the monastery clings to the edge of a sheer-rock cliff that plunges 2,952 feet into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rimpoche is believed to have meditated here for three months. Packed lunch will be served.
Drive further up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, the fortress of the victorious Drukpas. From Drukgyel Dzong, the Tibet border is only a two-day hike away. Overnight at Hotel. (All meals)Day 11 - Paro to Thimpu Depart Paro for Thimphu (two-hour drive) after breakfast. Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital (7,609 feet), is situated in a valley surrounded by terraced rice fields. The main street in Thimphu, Norzim Lam, is lined with shops. Visit Memorial Chorten, built in memory of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Drive to Drubthop Lhakhang, the nunnery temple. Learn more about the culture through visits to the Bhutanese Indigenous Hospital and Traditional Painting School. Overnight at Hotel. (All meals) Day 12 - Thimpu to Punakha Drive to Punakha after breakfast at the hotel. The road climbs steeply through a scenic forest of pine and cedar trees, to Dochula pass (10,000 feet). The pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges, on the descent to the fertile valley of Punakha (4,430 feet).
Before proceeding further to the town of Punakha, hike about 30 minutes to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple) on a small hilltop. The temple was dedicated to the great Yogi in the 14th century, known as Drukpa Kuenley, as well as the “Divine madman.” He dramatized Buddhist teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses and temples are a result of his influence. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility.
After lunch, continue to Punakha Dzong (fortress) situated between the two rivers, Pho Chu and Mochu (male and female river). The fortress is now used as the winter seat of Je Khenpo (the spiritual head of Bhutan). The Dzong served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than 300 years. The intricate Buddhist paintings inside the monastery are spectacular.
Overnight at hotel. (All meals)Day 13 - Punakha to Paro Enjoy a relaxing breakfast before making the return drive to the journey’s beginning in Paro (approximately five hours). Overnight at hotel. (All meals) Day 14 - Depart for Bangkok Transfer to airport for flight to Bangkok. (Breakfast)
“I wanted to go to Nepal to help rebuild, and it was a challenge for me on many levels. The incredible part is that our guide Sune, and all the porters not to mention the family were there to help us accomplish our goal of doing what we could to help them. To receive the patience, physical assistance, guidance (and the incredible food!) touched me deeply. And as it turned out we did help! A lot of rocks got moved. Wire was woven. Progress was made in deconstructing a house. Plus we had fun! I am still integrating all that I experienced. There is something very intense about being in the vicinity of the Himalayas, the stunning beauty, the vastness, the challenges that reduce the ego and enlarge the heart. I’m glad I answered the call to participate in this adventure.”