Flights usually depart London in the evening.
The group flight will arrive into Delhi in the morning and we will transfer to our hotel. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel during the day. You are free today to explore Delhi or rest after your flight; rooms may not be available until noon but it is often earlier than this.
Transfer in the early morning to the domestic airport terminal for the flight to Bagdogra. On arrival at Bagdogra we join our vehicles, and take a beautiful 4 hour drive from the heat of the plains through jungle, tea estates and pleasant hillside villages to the coolness of Darjeeling. The road winds its way up into the hills through Kurseong. At 1458m it is the little sister of Darjeeling. The word Kurseong comes from the Lepcha word for a small white orchid which grows prolifically in this area. Surrounded by tea estates it is the southern terminus for the steam powered trains of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the last 32km follows the route of the famous Toy Train, once the normal mode of transport to the famous hill station. We should arrive by late afternoon and there may be time for a wander round Chowrasta, the main square of Darjeeling. (Approx 4 hours drive).
On a clear day its worth getting up early for the beautiful sunrise views of Kanchenjunga from the roof of the hotel. At 2,134m and spread over a steep mountain ridge surrounded by tea plantations with a backdrop of the jagged white Himalayan peaks, Darjeeling is the archetypal hill station. Originally the site of a small monastery called Dorje Ling it was discovered by the British and established as a sanatorium for the troops in the mid 1800's. The British soon recognised the potential of the place and built their colonial bungalows and planted tea. These days people come here to escape the heat of the north Indian plains and you will find yourself surrounded by mountain people from all over the eastern Himalaya who have come to work and trade - Mother Theresa spent her early years here as a nun.
After breakfast we drive about 2 - 3 hours to Dhodrey, the trailhead of our trek. The traditional place from which the trek to the Singalila ridge starts from is the border town of Manaybhanjyang. However, this involves an unrelenting steep climb of 3000ft- not a great way to start a trek! Instead we drive further to Dhodrey, a picturesque village from where we follow a gentler path uphill through magnificent rhododendron forests (a blaze of reds in spring), passing meadows and meeting villagers along the trail. Almost as soon as you reach the crest of the ridge you'll find yourself at the small settlement of Tonglu (3,100m), where we spend the first night under canvas. Approx 2-3 hrs walking.
If the weather is clear we are greeted by wonderful views of Kanchenjunga. At 8,586m Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. It is made up of five peaks, four of them over 8,450m and its name means Five Treasures of Snow. First climbed in 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band its impressive south face is with us for most of our trek. After breakfast we leave Tonglu on an easy, broad track down to Tumling. Here we cross into Nepal to the small border village of Jaubari, a Nepali settlement. We are following the ridgeline and the views across both India and Nepal are astounding. We continue descending to the village of Gairibas at 2,538m. From here we start to climb gently to Kanyakatta and further on to Kalapokhari. Approx 5/6 hours walking.
A short day today to help with acclimatisation. As we leave camp we can see the whole of today's walk ahead of us. We start with a gradual ascent to Bikhebhanjyang. We are walking through forests of rhododendron and magnolia - particularly spectacular in spring. Sandakhphu is the high point of our trek at 3,636m and is the end of an old jeep track that serves some of the villages in this area. The views from here are truly amazing - the towering slopes of Kanchenjunga lie ahead and Everest, Lhotse and Makalu now come into view. Approx 2.5 - 3.5 hours walking.
A very short day to enjoy the views. We are now on the Singalila Ridge, the border between Nepal and India. At times we are walking in Nepal and at others in India. The trail undulates following the ridge through chestnut, oak and silver fir with commanding panoramic views of the Himalaya all day. Dwarf rhododendrons and primulas colour the landscape in spring. Tonight we have a spectacular wild camp at Sabargam. The views from here are stupendous and we should see a magnificent sunset and sunrise over Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu and a whole host of other Himalayan peaks. Today there is plenty of time to enjoy the views and take in the scenery. Approx 3-4 hours walking.
A longer day today as we trek to the end of the ridge at Phalut and then descend to Samaden. The trail to Phalut undulates further along the Singalila Ridge. The breathtaking mountain vistas of the Everest and Kanchenjunga ranges are laid out before us in all their glory. Phalut is at 3,600m and just behind the single lodge there is a ten minute walk up to a viewpoint where we are surrounded by Himalayan giants. From here we descend to Samaden. The trail is glorious and takes us through forests of oak, conifers, pine and rhododendrons, an explosion of colour in spring. We camp tonight in the village of Samaden (2,480m), a beautiful spot in a small settlement with excellent views. Approx 7-8 hours walking.
Our trail today winds through a collection of small settlements inhabited by Rais, Sherpas and Tamangs. Terraced fields and villages dot the landscape. We descend to the Sirikhola for lunch after which we cross a suspension bridge and continue for another 2.5 hours through more villages to Rimbik (2,286m), a large Sherpa village set amongst the forest landscapes of the Singalila National Park. We stay in a basic lodge with great views across the valley. Approx 6 hours walking.
It's quite a long drive to Darjeeling (4-5 hours) but with an early start we should arrive by lunchtime. The road winds up and down ridges climbing finally to Darjeeling. The rest of the day is free to explore one this most famous hill station of British India. It originally belonged to the Chogyals (Kings) of Sikkim until the late 1700's, when it was annexed by the Gurkhas. In the early 1800's the British East India Company gained control of the region and gave the land back to Sikkim. In 1828 two British officers stumbled across Dorje Ling monastery, situated on a quiet, forested ridge. They thought it would make a nice place for a sanatorium. The King of Sikkim happily leased the uninhabited land to the East India Company and a hill station was born. The population increased and forests made way for colonial houses and tea plantations. It has always possessed one incomparable asset: the stunning view of Kanchenjunga, surely one of the finest mountain views in the world. Today, more than fifty years after independence, the town still has a late Victorian air. One change which has taken place, however, is the arrival of large numbers of Tibetan refugees, considerably strengthening the Buddhist influence in the town.
If the railway is working, and time and schedules permitting, you can take the toy train to Ghoom and return by car. The train chugs its way out of Darjeeling, stopping on the way to take on water and to allow passengers to take photos at the famous Batasia Loop. Darjeeling has a busy bustling market and there are plenty of good restaurants and little eating stalls to tempt you. To end the day a pre-dinner pink gin at the Windamere Hotel is highly recommended.
Before we leave Darjeeling we visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute founded by Tenzing Norgay and where many of the famous Sherpa climbers have been trained in mountaineering skills. We then drive to Gangtok (5-6 hours), the capital of Sikkim and the second part of our journey. Spectacularly situated on a ridge that flanks the Ranipool River, the town has magnificent views across the entire Kanchenjunga Range. In Gangtok we stay at the Netuk House Hotel, a traditional Sikkimese family house, now run as a small hotel with splendid food and traditional service.
A bustling friendly hill station perched at between 1,400m and 1,700m on a ridge Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim. The name means 'hilltop' and the town is steeply tiered along a precipitous mountain ridge. If clear the views are inspiring with Kanchenjunga soaring above the horizon. Now part of India, Sikkim was once an independent kingdom inhabited by Lepchas. Over the years Tibetans migrated over the border for trade but it was not until 1642 that Sikkim became an independent kingdom with its own Chogyal (King). Over the centuries Sikkim was invaded by Nepalis, Bhutanese and Tibetans but it always managed to preserve its independence. The British East India Company saw Sikkim as a gateway to trade with Tibet and in 1888 it came under British rule and the capital was shifted to Gangtok. Sovereignty was returned in 1895 and in 1947 after Indian independence the Prime Minister, Nehru agreed to a special protectorate status for Sikkim. However after Nehru's death his daughter Indira Gandhi had little patience for maintaining Sikkim and its monarchy (the Raja had married an American who was now queen of Sikkim) and in 1975 Sikkim became the 22nd state of India. Populated by Lepchas, Nepalis and Bhutias, most who follow Tibetan Buddhism the culture here is more akin to Tibet than India.
We spend today exploring Gangtok and its surroundings. In the morning we visit Rumtek, 24km from Gangtok and the largest and most famous monastery in Sikkim. Founded in the 16th century, Rumtek served as the main seat of the Karma Kargyu lineage in Sikkim. The Karma Kargyu is one of the sects of Tibetan Buddhism and the Karmapa Lama is the head of this sect. When the 16th Karmapa arrived in Sikkim in 1959 after fleeing from Tibet, he found the monastery in ruins. As the place is auspicious he had the monastery rebuilt and it became the main seat in exile of the Karmapa Lamas. When the 16th Karmapa died a new reincarnation was found in Rumtek. However, in 1999 the Tibetan Karmapa escaped from Tsurpu in Tibet and fled over the Himalaya to Dharamsala. Since then Rumtek has become embroiled in controversy as to who is the 'real' 17th Karmapa and armed guards now patrol the monastery. It has some excellent Buddhist paintings and relics, and a good view towards Gangtok.
We return to Gangtok for lunch and the afternoon is free for individual exploration. You could visit the 200 year old Enchey Monastery, which sits above the town. From Ganesh Tok and Hanuman you get a bird's eye view of Gangtok and on a clear day views of the Himalaya in the distance. The Flower Show (or Flower Exhibition Centre) is famous for its floral exhibitions, especially in spring. Its orchid show from mid March to April is said to be one of the finest in South Asia (please note the Flower Show is often closed in December). Also worth visiting is the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, which specialises in research into Tibetan Buddhism and the language of Tibet. The institute houses an excellent collection of Tibetan Buddhist artefacts. There should also be time to explore the bazaars and markets and well recommended is the Cottage Industries Institute where local handicrafts are made. (Please note that opening days and times of the various sights in Gangtok change frequently. The Cottage Industry and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology are usually closed on Sunday's and Public Holidays and the Flower Show is often closed in winter. Your leader will have up to date opening times.)
After breakfast we set off for the drive to Kalimpong. We leave Sikkim at Rangpo and drive through the wild Teesta Valley. If it is possible we leave the main road and take a quiet but spectacular side road through vast forest plantations and small villages to the ridge overlooking Kalimpong. En route to the hotel we will visit the most important Hindu temple in Kalimpong, and the Dr Graham's home and school. Dr Graham was a Scottish missionary and he founded the home in the early part of the century. We spend some time exploring the bustling bazaar before driving to the Himalayan Hotel, where we stay tonight. In the early days of the last century the hotel was the family home of David MacDonald, who was the British trade agent in Gyantse for 20 years. After he retired he turned the family home into an hotel and it has remained in the family ever since. Although a bit faded at the edges now, it still retains its charm and character. It has been home to Everest expeditions from the days of Mallory and Irvine and Hillary and Tenzing were frequent visitors. Alexandra David Neel and Heinrich Harrer are just some of the famous travellers who have stayed here. Today's driving time is around 4hours.
We drive to Siliguru where we board the overnight train to Calcutta (Kolkata). Overnight train
We arrive in Calcutta (Kolkata) in the early hours of the morning and have the day to explore this fascinating city. Once the capital of British India, Calcutta has had a turbulent past. It was central to the struggle for Indian independence and thousands of Bengalis refugees came here at the start of the 1900's. It is a city of striking contrasts and the unusual sights, pungent smells and the cacophony of sounds of the country's second largest city are an experience unique to India.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.