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Sikkim – Darjeeling – Bhutan Tour Package

We start our journey in Darjeeling. This “Hill Station” has retained much of the colonial flair from bygone times. The “Toy Train” was built around 1880 and took the English colonial rulers from the hot plains to the cool mountains. Today this place is world famous for its many tea plantations and first-class tea. In the former kingdom of Sikkim we admire Buddhist monasteries and the diverse nature. During our stay with a host family, we get a good insight into the everyday life of the Sikkimese. This former kingdom in the Himalayas between Bhutan and Nepal has not yet been discovered by “mass tourism”.

In Bhutan we visit impressive dzongs, ancient monasteries and small villages. A hike takes us to one of the holiest monasteries in Bhutan, the famous “Tiger’s Nest” in the Paro Valley. The monastery clings spectacularly to a steep rock face, hundreds of meters above the valley floor. This simple round trip is very varied and has many highlights. The program only includes shorter hikes of 1 to 3 hours, which can also be omitted.

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Local English speaking tour guide

This trip is led by a local English speaking guide. He knows the country, people and customs and will also translate for us if we come into contact with locals along the way. They often don’t speak English.

Our comment on the trip

This is a very varied journey from Darjeeling to the former Kingdom of Sikkim. This region is still little developed for tourism and is considered an “insider tip” in the Himalayas. We then visit the Kingdom of Bhutan with its vibrant Buddhist culture, friendly residents and impressive Dzongs (monastic fortresses). This trip is hard to beat in terms of highlights.

Requirements

Easy trip with hikes of 1 – 3 hours (hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery 3 ½ – 4 hours). All hikes are optional and can be skipped.
The hikes are easy to moderately difficult (similar to the red and white marked mountain trails), but in bad weather it can be slippery. Good hiking shoes are recommended.
We carry our daypacks ourselves on the hikes.
Overland journeys of 1 – 5 hours, endurance for 2 full-day stages.

For your safety

Extensive emergency pharmacy
Pulse oximeter for measuring oxygen in the blood
Note: Satellite phones are not allowed in India, so we didn’t bring one with us on this trip. However, our tour guide has a local SIM card for his cell phone and, depending on the region, there is network coverage (generally not on treks).

Day 1: Arrival Delhi

Upon arrival, custom check and baggage collection. Our representative is waiting at the exit with a sign labeled your name. He organizes the transfer to the hotel or for the onward flight. Overnight at the hotel in Delhi.

Day 2: Delhi – Bagdogra (Flight)

After breakfast one of our staff follow you till the airport & fly to Bagdogra. When the weather is nice you can see the 8000 meter peaks Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Everest and Kangchenjunga. From Bagdogra you drive on a winding road past forested hills, small villages and tea plantations to Darjeeling. At the time of English colonial power in India, Darjeeling was one of the most popular “hill stations” to escape the heat of the lowlands. Even today you can still feel a lot of colonial flair in this place.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Darjeeling (2100 meters).

Day 3: Darjeeling “Toy Train” and “Darjeeling Tea”

If the weather is clear, we set off to “Tiger Hill” (2590 m) early in the morning. We enjoy a spectacular sunrise and a fantastic view of the Kangchenjunga massif. When the weather is clear you can see as far as Mount Everest. This excursion is also very popular with Indian tourists, so we decide for ourselves whether getting up early is worth it for us. Alternatively, you can also visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda.

We then travel on the famous “Toy Train”, which was built over 120 years ago. Traveling on this narrow-gauge railway is an exciting experience. After visiting the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, we go to a tea plantation for which Darjeeling is so famous. The main harvest time is from March to October. Depending on the situation, operations are reduced in November and no tea is picked during the winter months. On the way back, visit the Tibetan Refugee Handicraft Center and stop at a tea stall to enjoy a cup of tea and a beautiful view of the tea gardens in the Lebong area.

If we still have time, we will discover the Mahakhal temple on foot. The footpath up to the temple is lined with numerous gangs of monkeys or we explore the local market.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Darjeeling (2100 meters).

Day 4: Darjeeling – Remote west of Sikkim (Rinchenpong)

Today we have a varied journey ahead of us to the remote west of Sikkim. In the valley we cross the Rangit River and follow it until a pass road leads up to Rinchenpong. On a clear day we can see Kangchenjunga in the distance. Here we are guests in a typical Sikkimese farmhouse lodge.

Overnight stay in a simple farmhouse lodge in Rinchenpong (1600 meters).

Day 5: Hike to remote temples

Today we discover the rural surroundings of Rinchenpong. We hike through an oak forest to a nearby hill where there is a lonely monastery and, if the weather is clear or you are lucky, enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the Kangchenjunga massif with the mountain giants Pandim, Kabru and Narsing at 1900 meters. In the afternoon we discover the lonely hamlets with their traditional Lepcha houses and experience the rural, natural lifestyle of the small farmers. In the evening we have the opportunity to attend the evening ceremonies and evening prayers in the village monastery.

Note: The morning hike is optional and can be skipped.

Overnight stay in a simple farmhouse lodge in Rinchenpong (1600 meters).

Day 6: Rinchenpong – Pelling (Rice fields, ruins, temples and large statues)

We drive to Pelling through a varied landscape with terraced rice fields, rushing waterfalls and remote settlements. In Pelling we visit to the famous Pemayangtse Monastery from the 18th century with its uniquely carved wooden sculpture. The monastery was involved in the royal government during kingdom times and played an important role. Pemayangtse Monastery is also called the “Perfect Sublime Lotus,” which means “the all-encompassing, perfect lotus.” We also climb to the Nyingma Monastery of Sanga Chöling. The latter is on a hill above Pelling. From there we enjoy an incredibly beautiful view of Kangchenjunga and other snow-capped mountain peaks. There is a meditative atmosphere in this place, especially in the morning and evening hours. Today around 20 monks live in the monastery. The numerous chortens on a terrace next to the main temple are very old, sacred burial places of important lamas and are reminiscent of Buddhist teachings. On foot from the monastery we reach the Chenrezig statue, which was completed in autumn 2018. The newly built complex also includes a skywalk and a gallery inside the statue. With a height of 41 meters, it is the highest of the three large statues in Sikkim. Depending on the weather, we don’t undertake the hike to Sanga Chöling until the next morning. We stay in a Sikkimese inn below Pelling.

Overnight stay in Pelling (1700 meters).

Day 7: Pelling -Yuksom

On our way to Yuksom we visit the sacred, wish-fulfilling Khecheopalri Lake. The original name of the lake was Kha-Chot-Palri, which translates to “the sky of Guru Padmasambhava”. The small, legendary lake is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. We start at the lake and take a lovely hike past small villages, terraced fields and forests with cardamom plantations. The hike is mostly downhill and takes approximately 3 hours. From the end point at Rathong River we continue to Yuksom, where we will spend the night.

Note: The trek from Khecheopalri Lake to Rathong River is optional, the route can also be covered by vehicle.

Overnight stay at Yuksom (1750 meters).

Day 8: Yuksom

Yuksom is now just a village but was once the capital of Sikkim. The most popular trekking in Sikkim starts from here, which leads to the almost 5000 meter high Goecha La pass close to the 8000m Kangchenjunga. We don’t hike quite that far, but we make our way to the coronation site of the first king of Sikkim. A small temple and a huge stupa announce the site of the founding of the empire. We reach the Norbugang Chörten, the sacred place where the coronation of the first king took place in 1642. The stone throne on which Chogyal Phuntsok Namgyal was crowned King of Sikkim by three lamas stands under a gigantic cedar tree (Cypressus cashmeriana). We then make our way uphill to Dubdi by vehicle or on foot. The oldest monastery in Sikkim, which was built in 1701, is located here.

Overnight stay at Yuksom (1750 meters).

Day 9: Yuksom – Kewzing

After breakfast drive to Kezing en route visit the Tashiding monastery, which stands on a cone-shaped mountain. There are several chortens next to the monastery. It is said that just seeing these chortens cleanses all sins. We can try this! The prayer walls with the mantras artfully carved in stone are also beautiful. The stonemason who created all the works of art unfortunately died a few years ago. In the late afternoon we reach Kewzing, a typical Bhutia village. Here we are guests in the home of a family and immerse ourselves in the culture of the Bhutia-Sikkimese, who originally come from Tibet. We take a short tour of the village on foot. We end the evening with a traditional Bhutia dinner in the simple kitchen of our host family and then around the campfire with a small cultural performance. Of course, a “Chang”, a home-brewed beer made from millet, is a must.

Overnight stay in a simple family house in Kewzing (1550 meters).

Day 10: Kwezing – Ravangla Buddha Park, Temi Tea Garden and Rumtek Monasteries

Today’s varied drive takes us to the town of Ravangla, where we walk through the town, past tiny pubs and corner shops. We take a detour and visit the Buddha Park with the gigantic Buddha statue, which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in March 2013. We drive along the mountain ridge with a spectacular panorama to the largest tea garden in Sikkim. The Temi tea garden is known for its excellent, organically grown tea and is considered an insider tip among expert. We continue to the town of Singtam in the valley and head north to the Rumtek region. If you follow the road lined with prayer flags, you come to the original old monastery of Rumtek from 1734. It exudes a wonderful peace and lies on a mountain ridge with fantastic views of the hills and fields of Martam. A small shrine in a side room is dedicated to the protector of the Kagyu school, the Mahakala. However, because of its strong impact, the figure is covered.

From 1959 to 1981, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, head of the Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism, lived here. After fleeing to Sikkim due to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he was given asylum, land and assistance in the construction of the new monastery of Rumtek by the King of Sikkim. His home monastery in Tsurphu in Tibet served as a template. The monastery was an important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists during the lifetime of the 16th Karmapa. Karmapa is one of the most important reincarnations in the Tibetan Buddhist world and head of the Karma Kagyu school. The Karma Kagyu school is one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hats) movement.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Rumtek (1350 meters).

Day 11: Rumtek

After breakfast we take a hike along narrow paths across terraced rice fields to a small indigenous settlement. We walk through the village and get an insight into village and country life. We are invited to the village shaman in a house built on stilts. Here we can experience a ceremony and enjoy drinking tea together.

We then visit the “Lingdum Zurman Kharwang” monastery. Inside the colorful complex, the murals recount important events in the Buddha’s life. The cosmopolitan monastery also maintains an active monks’ school. The young monks can often be found memorizing the Tibetan alphabet or reciting mantras (powerful prayers).

As an alternative to visiting the monastery, we can also go on a long hike through the rural area. Uphill we reach the village of Rey. On the way back to our accommodation we have the opportunity to visit the village monastery, a typical country house, the school or a small dairy.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Rumtek (1350 meters).

Day 12: Rumtek – Gangtok

Today we drive to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. The Institute of Tibetology has one of the most beautiful collections of Buddhist literature, as well as a large number of thangkas, bronze figures and cult objects. From there we continue to the Do-Drul Chorten.

Traditional crafts are taught at the Cottage Industries Institute. Traditional wood carvings, textiles and bamboo items are also available here. We visit the Mummy Temple above Gangtok, from where we have a magnificent view of the Kangchenjunga massif. We set off on foot to the Gangtok bazaar. We enjoy the hustle and bustle and maybe even make a deal or two.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Gangtok (1650 meters).

Day 13: Heading to Bhutan

A long day drive takes us through the “flatlands” of India and on to the border with Bhutan, which we cross at Phuentsholing. We will also spend the night in this border town. Here we say goodbye to our Indian tour guide and our driver. From here we will travel with a Bhutanese guide and driver.

Note: Today we are not only traveling from India to Bhutan, but our local crew is also changing. In India we were accompanied by Indians, in Bhutan there is now a Bhutanese guide and driver. Perhaps we notice that the Bhutanese employees are more reserved than we have experienced with our crew in Sikkim in the last few days. This has to do with life and culture in Bhutan, where respect and hierarchies play a very important role. As a rule, the crew “thaws out” quickly, especially if we ourselves behave openly and actively seek conversation. And it is precisely such changes that are part of the charm of this trip; we experience two different cultures during the same trip.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Phuntsholing (300 meters).

Day 14: Drive to Thimphu

Our first day in Bhutan takes us on a long but varied drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. If we feel like it, we’ll take a first stroll through the city. In the evening we drive up to the “Buddha Viewpoint”, where an almost 50 meter high Buddha figure was built high above Thimphu. This is filled with 100,000 small Buddha statues and the creators dream of this impressive building being on the “8th”. should become a “wonder of the world”. Whether it’s a wonder of the world or not, it’s definitely worth a visit and the view over Thimphu is also worthwhile.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Thimphu (2320 meters).  

Day 15: Weekend market and capital Thimphu

After a leisurely breakfast, we explore the famous weekend market in Thimphu. Products and food from local farmers are sold here. Everywhere you see large amounts of chili, which is very important in Bhutanese cuisine. Depending on the season, you can also find more “exclusive” foods such as fern. These foods also have their place in Bhutanese cuisine, although fern was primarily eaten even earlier.

At the “Institute for Zorig Chusum” (Institute of the 13 Crafts) we admire some of Bhutan’s crafts, including thangka painting, clay sculpture making and wood carving. It’s exciting to be able to look over the backs of teachers and students during their training.

We then visit the very beautiful textile museum and get a good insight into the textile art of Bhutan. On festival days, many women wear elaborate, hand-woven kiras that take up to 6 months to make. Maybe we’ll be lucky and get to watch the women weave.

But we can also go out on our own, do some shopping, watch the hustle and bustle on the street or have a leisurely cup of tea in one of the restaurants.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Thimphu (2350 meters).

Day 16: Drive over the Dochula Pass and hike in the Botanical Gardens

Our journey today takes us from Thimphu to the Dochula Pass. This is very photogenic with the 108 stupas at the top of the pass and when the weather is nice we have a fantastic view of the mountain peaks of Bhutan. From the top of the pass we hike along an old path down into the valley through a subtropical mountain forest to the “Royal Botanical Garden”. Depending on how spring progresses, you will find a sea of flowering rhododendrons from mid-March to May. From here the journey takes us on a winding road to Punakha, almost 2000 meters lower.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Punakha (1250 meters).

Day 17: Most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan

This morning we visit the Punakha Dzong, architecturally the most beautiful dzong in all of Bhutan. Built in 1638, it was the second dzong in Bhutan. Punakha was the capital and administrative center of Bhutan until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu.

We then drive the vehicle towards Talo. On the way we visit the Sangchen nunnery. This nunnery is directly supported by the Bhutanese royal family. The village of Talo with its monastery is located above Punakha and is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Bhutan. The houses are scattered on the hill and on the nearby slopes. The Talo Monastery is considered an important place for the royal family and usually only one prayer room in the monastery is allowed to be visited. We enjoy the wonderful view over the valley. We then hike back to the Punakha valley through beautiful forests and past fields.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Punakha (1250 meters).

Day 18: Drive to Paro

Today we are going back to Paro. At the top of Dochula we stop again for the beautiful view. After the pass we visit the Simthoka Dzong. Then the journey takes us to Paro. In Paro we visit the Drakarpo Lhakhang, which is little known to tourists. Depending on your mood, we walk from the small town of Shaba up to the temple, which takes around an hour, or we take the vehicle on the jeep road to the parking lot below the temple. The temple, which is impressively clinging to the rock, is considered one of the holiest places in Bhutan. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche meditated here in the 8th century. He broke vertical rocks out of the rock face. The removed rocks created the platform on which the temple was later built. The name Drakarpo means something like “split (or white) rock”. There is a small cave directly below the temple. The “sinless” can try to squeeze through the narrow cave. Warning, this is not for people with agoraphobia. A path leads around the temple on which pilgrims walk the traditional circumambulation (kora). The round lasts 20 to 30 minutes. There are pilgrims who make this circumnavigation 108 times, but we’ll probably leave it at just one circumnavigation. Hand, foot and other prints of Guru Rinpoche and other saints who are said to have meditated here can be seen everywhere in the rocks.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Paro (2280 meters).

Day 19: Famous Tiger’s Nest

The most famous monastery in Bhutan is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It owes its name to the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, the greatest tantric master in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. He flew from Tibet to Bhutan on the back of a tigress in the 8th century and landed here. The monastery is located extremely spectacularly on a steep rock face. After breakfast we drive to the parking lot below the monastery. From here a partly steep path leads us to a small restaurant. From here you have a breathtaking view of the monastery. In 1998 the complex burned down completely, only the cave with the statue of Guru Padmasambhava was not damaged. The system was later completely rebuilt and only those in the know notice that the system is only a good 20 years old. taktshang Goemba is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Bhutan. If we feel like it, we can stop at Kyichu Lhakhang on the way back. This is considered to be the oldest temple in Bhutan and was built in 659 by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. Afterwards we have free time in Paro. This small, pretty place is ideal for strolling through the streets, drinking tea in one of the small restaurants or doing your last-minute shopping.

Overnight stay at the hotel in Paro (2280 meters).

Day 20: Flight from Paro to Delhi

Transfer to Paro airport and flight back to Delhi.

We will be picked up at the airport and taken to a nice hotel with a swimming pool. We have a room here until the evening and can end the trip comfortably.

Those who wish can visit some of Delhi’s attractions on a half-day sightseeing tour with a local guide. This is not included and must be booked in advance.

Note: Many of our esteemed travelers find the stark contrast between the metropolis of Delhi and the impressions of their trip a real culture shock. In addition, you often spend a long time in the car in the crowded streets of Delhi. Decide for yourself how you would like to spend the last day of your trip.

In the afternoon/evening (depending on the flight connection) we drive to the airport, where we check in for our return flight.