Sikkim is still one of the last Himalayan `Shangri-Las' with its remoteness, spectacular mountain terrain, hundreds of varieties of orchids and ancient Buddhist monasteries. Add to this the charm of the people and their cultural traditions, and you have a land with few equals in the world!
Day 1 - Rinchenpong
Today, after breakfast, you drive from Darjeeling to Western Sikkim. As Sikkim lies at a lower altitude than Ladakh in North West India, the countryside here is more verdant, with dozens of little streams trickling down the valleys between the green hills. After approximately four hours you'll reach the tiny village of Rinchenpong. The name means "Assembly Place" in Lepcha dialect. It is a place for people who love tranquility and traditional lifestyles, far from the madding crowd. The distant views of the Himalayas, abundant fresh air, lush green forest, and surrounding farmland create a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere. You stay for two nights in a lovely farmhouse run by the owners.
Day 2 - Rinchenpong
The farmhouse is scenically located in idyllic countryside. The friendly owners are happy to show guests around the 44 acre, fully organic, farm, with its abundant vegetables, fruits, flowers and trees. Accommodation consists of six spacious and well furnished double bedrooms. Guided walks can be arranged to nearby picnic spots, and an old hilltop monastery. Delicious meals made from local produce are a highlight.
Day 3 - Pelling
In the morning you drive from Rinchenpong to Pelling, a small town situated on a ridge with spectacular mountain views. Apart from the views, monasteries are the main attraction of Pelling. In the afternoon you visit Pemayantse Monastery, one of the most important in Sikkim, which lies hidden between two high snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas that reach over 2000 metres. The monastery is home to more than 100 monks and is also a religious school for Buddhist studies. The isolated position of the monastery has enabled its wonderful preservation, so you can gaze in awe at the amazing colourful murals, finely detailed wood carvings, prayer wheels Buddha images that cover the three floors of the building. It is incredible to think that all of this is detailed work was done by hand. You'll spend the night in Pelling, and from your hotel window you'll have a breathtaking view of the third highest mountain in the world - Mount Kanchenjunga.
Day 4 - Yuksom
Early in the morning your guide will lead you on the 3km hike to Sanga Choling Monastery, perched on top of a hill. It will take you no more than an hour to hike up to the monastery along a narrow path, and it's definitely worth the effort. This is the oldest monastery in Sikkim, giving you magnificent views of the verdant foothills and the imposing mountains behind them. After breakfast this morning, you head off to Lake Khechepori, a holy place surrounded by fluttering prayer flags. From Khecheopalri you can walk part, or all, of the way to Yuksom. The path initially passes through farmland, and then descends steeply through dense forest to cross a small river. After walking for around 2 hours you rejoin the road to Yuksom close to the spectacular Kanchenjunga waterfall. From here you can drive the last few kilometers to Yuksom, or the more adventurous can continue to walk, on a steep uphill path, for another 2 hours to reach Yuksom. Please note that a reasonable standard of fitness is required for this walk, and shoes with a good grip, as the path is steep at times. It should not be attempted during bad weather or after heavy rain, as the path can become slippery and leaches can be a problem. If the walk is not possible, or if you do not wish to walk, you can drive the whole way to Yuksom in around an hour. There's a real rural feel to the village of Yuksom with hens, goats and cows wandering free. The local area is very green and almost jungly, interspersed with arable fields and meadows. The locals try to sell their produce in small wooden houses, and there are charming restaurants where, under the lean-to roof, you can watch the fireflies that often light the village in the evenings.
Day 5 - Gangtok
Today, after breakfast, you drive from Yuksom to Gangtok, stopping en route to visit Tashiding. The gold topped monastery in Tashiding stands on a conical hill between two rivers and can be seen from far and wide. It is a short but steep walk from the chortens at the bottom of the village to the top of the hill along a path lined with tall fluttering prayer flags. The Tashinding monastery was founded in the 17th century by one of the three lamas who brought Buddhism to Sikkim. Inside the monastery, a pot of holy water is kept sealed only to be revealed and its droplets given to devotees once every year at the Bumchu Festival during the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. The sacred pot of water does not dry up nor spoil and today, even after 300 years, the water remains fresh. At the end of the day you'll arrive in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Perched on the ridge of a hill at an altitude of 1700 metres, Gangtok is famous for its scenic beauty and spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. The town offers a mild temperate climate with a temperature of around 23 degrees centigrade in summer and around 6 degrees centigrade during winter.
Day 6 - Gangtok
It is a winding and bumpy drive to Phodang monastery, a small monastery 40 km north of Gangtok. The serene atmosphere here allows you to feel the timelessness of a part of Sikkim rarely visited by tourists. Lying on a spur of the hill, there are tremendous views of the valley below. Labrang Monastery is some two kilometres uphill from Phodang and is a small older and unusual octagonal structure. You can enjoy here the spectacular scenery and views of the Kanchenjunga. In the evening you can enjoy a stroll in Gangtok's lively, traffic free, M G Road street market.
Day 7 - Kalimpong
Today you drive from Gangtok to Kalimpong, stopping en route to visit the Rumtek monastery, perhaps the most wonderful of all the monasteries in the area. Every last inch of its interior is covered with brightly coloured murals and fine wood carvings. You are welcome to sit in on a session with the monks and listen to their mystical choral chanting whilst enjoying (or trying to keep down) a cup of Po Cha- salt yak butter tea- a real India experience. Before the Chinese take-over of Tibet, Kalimpong was the centre of India's wool trade with that country, with Tibetan caravans winding their way down from the Tibetan plateau to trade wool for manufactured goods. As a result, even today, Kalimpong is home to people from many different backgrounds, and a short walk from the market area reveals temples, monasteries, churches and mosques. Kalimpong is also a centre for bird watching, hill-walking, and visiting word famous flower nurseries. Kalimpong produces 80% of India's gladioli and is a significant orchid-growing area.
Day 8 - Bagdogra
Today you return to Bagdogra or New Jalpaiguri (both approximately a 3 hours drive away) where your tour ends. You can extend your holiday in the north-east of India by taking a short flight from Bagdogra to Guwahati (or an overnight sleeper-train from New Jalpaiguri to Guwahati). Guwahati is the gateway to Assam and the place to start our Guwahati & Kaziranga module. Alternatively, you can drive directly from Kalimpong to Phuntsoling (180 km, 6 hours drive) to visit Bhutan.