Tour: Kolkata & Darjeeling

Date: 2 - 14 Oct 2018

Duration: 13 Days

Tue 2 Oct - Day 1 - Kolkata - Arrival Day

Day 1 is arrival day in Kolkata and you will be collected from the airport and transferred to your hotel. To allow you time to recharge following your journey, not activities are booked on your arrival day, giving you time to relax and enjoy the hotel facilities.

Wed 3 Oct - Day 2 - Kolkata

Day 2 will start with a morning visit to the largest flower market in India, which is over 130 years old and sits on the banks of the Hooghly river next to the iconic Howrah Bridge. From here stroll through the old streets of the potters district with your guide, an area renowned for producing life sized straw and clay sculptures for religious festivals throughout India, where can trace their families back over 300 years. Finish off the day with a visit the Victoria Memorial Museum, a beautiful Indo-Saracenic building built between 1906 - 1921, to commemorate the life of Queen Victoria, by George Curzon, who was viceroy at the time, before heading back to your hotel for free time before dinner.  

Kolkata info: Sunrise 06:18; Sunset 17:11; Daylight 10:52; Temp 24° - 36° 

Thu 4 Oct - Day 3 -Kolkata to Kurseong via Bagdogra

On day 3 following breakfast and check out, you'll fly out of Kolkata to Bagdogra airport, where you will transfer to your hotel Kurseong, which will take approximately 1h 30 mins, where you have free time to relax for the rest of the day. 

Kurseong: Sunrise 04:50; Sunset 18:16; Daylight 13:26; Temp 5° - 19°

Fri 5 Oct - Day 4 -Kurseong to Darjeeling

Day 4 we will visit is tea estate day, where you'll visit a local tea estate to observe either harvesting or pruning and learn about the tea production process and partaking in the all important taste testing.  We will visit one of the earliest estates established in the 1850s. Today the tea estate is certified as organic, bio dynamic and fairtrade. Apart from looking after the natural biodiversity of the surrounding  landscape, the estate further supports a number of socially responsible initiatives, encompassing a homestay run by a group of women from local villages, an international volunteer programme for local schools, scholarships and the targeted employment of female supervisors. Following visiting the tea estate 

Sat 7 Oct - Day 5 - Kurseong - Darjeeling

Following breakfast on day 5, we will check out and drive for an hour to old Ghum monastery*, which lies 20 mins outside central Darjeeling. The monastery dates back to 1850 and is the oldest monastery in the region. Compared to other monasteries, it is relatively small, with around 30 monks from the Gelugpa school of Buddhism. It is known for its 15-foot statue of Buddha, its well preserved murals of his life and 300 beautifully bound editions of Buddhist text. From here we will visit its neighbouring new Ghum monastery, which houses an even larger statue of Buddha at 26 feet. Next up is Dali Monastery, which was built in 1971 by the then Rinpoche (spiritual leader), who relocated to India following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. It is one of the largest monasteries in the region and serves as an educational centre to over 200 monks, making it great for capturing candid images of monks as they move between studies. From here we'll visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda, which was designed by a Buddhist monk as a symbol of world peace in 1992. This will complete our exploration of south Darjeeling, leaving us what remains of the day to visit north Darjeeling, of which our focus will be the Tibetan Refugee Centre. The centre was set up in 1959, to support Tibetan migrants and has grown to encompass, a senior centre, a school and workshops where locals create traditional handicrafts, such as carpets, clothing and ornaments, all of which are for sale, with the proceeds reinvested back into the community. Photographically the workshops are great for capturing artisans at work. If we are doing well on time we will pop into Mahakil Temple and Bhutia Busty Monastery, which are both on route, with Observatory Hill close by for a sunset capture.

*please note not all monasteries will allow photography inside the main temple, whilst others do for a small donation. 

Sun 8 Oct - Day 6 Darjeeling to Sandakphu - Singalila Ridge Jeep Ascent

On day 6 we will leave early and head up the initial stage of the Singalila mountain ridge, a popular trekking route, which usually takes 5 days to cover on foot. As we only have 3, we have opted for a combination of a jeep / trek ascent, which will allow us to cover greater distances and offer us more photographic opportunities. The journey will begin with a 1h 15 mins drive from Darjeeling to Manebhanjan, where we will transfer to a 4WD jeep. There is no denying the ride, along a gravel track, will be a bumpy one, but if the clouds are kind to us, the views of the Himalayas will be worth it. From our ultimate destination, Sandakphu*, which sits at an altitude of 3658 metres above sea level, it is possible to see four out of the five highest peaks in the world (Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga and Lhotse).  The full journey to Sandakphu without stopping, takes approximately 4.5 hours. The first hamlet we will come to is Chitre (2542 metres), which comes with its own monastery. From here we will journey onto Lama Dhura, inhabited mainly by Tibetan families, followed by Meghma on the Indo-Nepal border. Then it's Tumling (2926 metres),  which is mid – way and a popular overnight stop for trekkers.  At this poin we will enter the Singalila National Park, leading us to the final leg of our ascent. Depending on our arrival time at Sandakphu, we will either have a stroll around and capture the outlook as the light fades or check into our lodgings for the night. It is important to note that whilst on the Singalila ridge accommodation is very basic, regardless of which booking rate you are on.

*Our intention is to stay overnight at Sanakphu, but if there are any unavoidable circumstances or extreme weather conditions we will drop our stay to the lower altitude hamlet of Tumling (which still has great sunrise views).

Mon 9 Oct - Day 7 - Sandakphu - Darjeeling (with morning trek)

On day 7 we will begin the day with a sunrise capture from Sandakphu, as it is from this point you can see the 4 highest peaks in the world. Following breakfast we will take a morning trek beyond Sandakphu, towards Phalut, as some of the best views are located along this route, however as we are heading back to Darjeeling on this day, we will return in time to take a jeep back down to Manebhanjan, where we will once again swap vehicles and return to Darjeeling for our overnight stay. 

 

Sandakphu: Sunrise 04:48; Sunset 18:20; Daylight 13:32; Temp 5° - 19°

Tue 10 Oct - Day 8 - Darjeeling to Gangtok via Namchi

Day 8 is primarily a drive day to take us from Darjeeling to Gangtok, with a stop off at Namchi to visit a couple of sites and have lunch. We will begin the day with a 2 h 30 mins drive to Nagadak Monastery, which has superb examples of Buddhist mural paintings, followed by Samdruptse, also known as Tendong Hill, where there is the largest statue in the world of the Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava. Following lunch we will continue on for a further 2 h 45 mins to our overnight destination and the capital of Sikkim Gangtok.

Wed 11 Oct - Day 9 - Gangtok (day tour)

We will begin day 9 with an early morning capture from Hanuman Tok, a Hindu temple located approximately 30 minutes drive from the town centre, which at a location of 7,000 ft, is quietly regarded as the best viewing point in Gangtok before heading heading to Bakthang waterfall (20 mins). From Bakthang falls we will visit Banjhakri Waterfall (30 mins), which although a natural waterfall itself, has been enclosed within a themed park. From here we will head to the Gangtok cable car station for a 10 minute journey and aerial capture of Gangtok. We will then move onto the Handloom and Handicraft Centre which was established in 1957 with the aim of promoting and maintaining Sikkim's traditional arts and crafts, where we will have an opportunity to photograph artisans as they work intricately on bringing their creations to life. The institute has 20 centres throughout Sikkim, including the Gangtok centre, where they both train and sell items produced by their students such as, woven woollen carpets, blankets, shawls, Thanka paintings (beautiful illustrations of Buddha's life similar to the large  murals seen in monasteries) and exquisitely carved wooden tables (known as choktses or bakchoks), masks, decorative screens, lamp stands, dragons, birds and a myriad of delightful items that will no doubt tempt you into taking home a memento.  Following the the handicraft centre we will visit the Himalayan Zoological Park, which has big open enclosures for it's timid inhabitants and will prove an interesting challenge when it comes to spotting and photographing a snow leopard as we stroll through a portion of the 500 acres of this site (eyes peeled and zoom lenses at the ready is the name of the game). Depending on how we are doing for time, we can add either Rumtek or Lingdum Monastery to the end of the day or sunset at Tashi viewpoint, but as we have visited a number of monasteries on our tour and we know that they are quite strict about photography at Rumtek monastery we will only include if time allows.

Gangtok: Sunrise 04:44; Sunset 18:19; Daylight: 13:35; Temp 6° - 19°

Thu 12 Oct - Day 10 - Gangtok (Tsomgo Lake 1 day excursion)

On day 10 we will take a 2 hour drive to Tsomgo Lake, which translates as 'source of water', however it is also known as Changu Lake. It is a high altitude glacial lake, located at 3752 metres above sea level and 12 miles from Gangtok. It lies along the Jawaharial Nehru Road, which leads straight through to the Indo-Chinese border at Nathula Pass. Because there is more chance of cloud in the afternoon and it is a popular route for tourists, particularly for the rides atop colourfully decorated Yaks, we will leave early to beat the crowds and to give us the best chance of an uninterrupted landscape capture of the lake.

Fri 11 Oct - Day 11 - Gangtok to Baranumber (village discovery tour day 1)

On day 10 we will check out early (7:30) to drive approximately 2 hours to a village called Kashyem where we will hand ourselves over to an NGO called Mondo Challenge for a 1 and a half day Village Discovery Tour. Mondo Challenge is committed to improving the education and livelihoods of local people living in poor rural areas in the region and currently support 15 schools located between Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Their work is funded through charitable donations, volunteers and eco-tourism, such as the village discovery tour we will be venturing on, from which the proceeds will be funnelled back into the community through educational facilities and directly to the villages we visit for the hospitality services they will provide during our 2 day tour with them. On arrival at Kashyem we will have some tea with our local hosts, stroll around the village, giving us an opportunity to photograph daily life, before we head to the 2nd village called Baranumber, which has a population consisting of around 98 households. The villagers are mostly field workers of the local quinine plantation and the hillside is terraced with small plots growing many kinds of crops. Once again we will explore the village, which includes a small monastery before spending the evening experiencing cooking and eating classic Nepali food in a traditional village kitchen, whilst sitting crossed legged on the floor, in typical Nepali style. Following dinner we will watch a cultural show by the villagers and round off the village experience by staying in local homesteads.

Sat 12 Oct - Day 12 - Baranumber to Bagdora (village tour day 2)

On day 12 following breakfast, we will visit Sillery Village which is surrounded by Sillery Forest, and whilst there visit a nearby handmade paper cooperative. After we've explored the cooperative, we will head to Newan Gaon, which sits within terraced paddy fields, where cultivation is still very traditional with the aid of animals and basic farming tools, giving us an opportunity to photograph a farming community that has yet to be hit by mechanised modernity.  Following our visit to Newan Gaon we will drive to Bagdogra airport, which will take approximately 3 h 30 mins, where we will check into our hotel and freshen up before our farewell dinner. 

Sun 13 Oct - Day 13 - Bagdora - Departure Day (check out 11am)

Day 12 is departure day from Bagdora. We advise booking your flights in line with a check out time of  11am from Bagdora Airport. If flying to UK direct flights can be booked to Delhi (approx 2 hours) where you can transfer to your international flight to the UK. Once your flights are booked email us and we will arrange for your hotel to airport transfer.

The ethical bit...

For each tour we select a charity that works in the area we visit to donate £25 per person to. For this tour we have selected a charity called Mondo Challenge, Kalimpong, supports the local community by providing training for teachers to improve their skills to enable effective teaching, providing grants to poor rural schools to supplement salaries and tuition, constructing and upgrading school buildings, funding inter-school activities, promoting, teaching agricultural practices to encourage self-reliance and coordinating parent teacher meetings to encourage parental involvement in children’s education.

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