Tour: Kolkata & Darjeeling

Date: 12 - 24 Oct 2019

Duration: 13 Days

Sat 12 Oct - Day 1 - Kolkata - Arrival Day

Day 1 is arrival day in Kolkata. Once you have booked your flight, email us the details and we will arrange for your airport to hotel transfer. To allow for different arrival times and to give you an opportunity to recharge following your journey, the first meet is at 18:00 in the hotel foyer, for an introduction to your tour leader and the rest of the group before dinner.

Sun 13 Oct - Day 2 - Kolkata

On day 2 we will begin with an early morning capture of the Victoria Memorial (1906 - 1921), which was designed by William Emerson to commemorate Queen Victoria and sits within Maiden Park, where grazing horses amongst city joggers is not an uncommon sight. We will then head to the largest flower market in India, which is over 130 years old and sits on the banks of the Hooghly river. Following the market  we will stroll through the potters district, renowned for creating life sized religious sculptures from straw and clay, where artisans here can trace their heritage back 300 years. In the afternoon we will return to visit the Memorial Museum which is said to be one of the best in India and end with a sunset capture of the iconic Howrah Bridge.

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

Mon 14 Oct - Day 3 -Kolkata to Kurseong via Bagdogra

On day 3 following breakfast we will check out of our hotel and take a flight to Bagdogra airport from Kolkata. On arrival at Bagdogra, we will drive to Kurseong which will take approximately 1h 30 mins, where we will check into our hotel and depending on our arrival time will reconvene for a sunset stroll and evening meal. 

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

Tue 15 Oct - Day 4 -Kurseong

On day 4 we will visit one of the earliest tea estates established in the 1850s, which is certified as organic, bio dynamic and fair trade. The estate further supports a number of socially responsible initiatives, encompassing a home stay run by a group of women from local villages, an international volunteer programme for local schools, scholarships and the targeted employment of female supervisors. Here we will learn about the tea production process and partake in the all important tea tasting, as well as have the opportunity to photograph tea harvesting or pruning depending on the season.  

Wed 16 Oct - Day 5 - Kurseong - Darjeeling

On day 5, we will drive for an hour to old Ghum monastery*, which dates back to 1850 and is the oldest monastery in the region. It is known for its 15-foot statue of Buddha and its well preserved murals of his life. From here we will visit its neighbouring new Ghum monastery, which houses an even larger statue of Buddha, at 26 feet. Depending on time, we'll include Dali Monastery, which is one of the largest monasteries in the region, housing over 200 monks. Next is the Japanese Pagoda, which was designed by a Buddhist monk as a symbol of world peace in 1992. In the afternoon we'll visit the Tibetan Refugee Centre, which was set up in 1959, to support Tibetan migrants and encompasses, a senior centre, a school and workshops, where locals create traditional carpets, clothing and ornaments, the proceeds of which are 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.

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

Thu 17 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 on foot. As we only have 2, we have opted for a combination of a jeep / trek ascent. The trek starts with a 1 h 15 mins drive from Darjeeling to Manebhanjan, where we will transfer to a 4WD jeep. There is no denying the ride 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, Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga and Lhotse.  The full journey to Sandakphu takes approximately 4.5 hours, passing through the small Himalayan hamlets of Chitre, which comes with its own monastery, Lama Dhura, inhabited mainly by Tibetan families, followed by Meghma and Tumling (2926 metres), which at mid-way, is a popular stopover for trekkers, before we head up through the Singalila National Park to our overnight stopover Sandakphu. 

*Our intention is to stay overnight at Sanakphu, but if there are any unavoidable conditions we will drop our stay to the lower altitude hamlet of Tumling (which still has great sunrise views). It is also important to note that accommodation is very basic on Singalila ridge.

Fri 18 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°

Sat 19 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.

Sun 20 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°

Mon 21 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.

Tue 22 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.

Wed 23 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. 

Thu 24 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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