HIMALAYAN INSIDERS TOUR
This tour is based around homestays, visiting places totally away from the tourist track. You'll see: snow topped mountains, forests and reserves, hill stations and villages, markets, train journeys, tea gardens, walking, cooking, camping, drinking the local millet beer 'chang' and spectacular sunrises (at 4am!).
More luxurious accommodation is available in Darjeeling and Kalimpong if you are looking for extra comfort.
Sample Sikkim and Darjeeling tour: 14 days/13 nights Bagdogra, Kalimpong, Samthar, Richenpong, Pelling, Turuk and Darjeeling.
Cost: £2245 for a couple (not per person) for this Himalayan insiders tour to Sikkim and Darjeeling, excluding international flights. All our tours are private - you won't be part of a group.
The price quoted is for full board, an English understanding Indian driver, local hosts/guides, other travel costs.
This is a sample tour to Darjeeling and Sikkim. We can mix and match according to the dates and places you would like to visit. Note that we don't arrange air flights.
Day one and two
We will retrace our steps and drive to the hill station of Kalimpong, market town set within the Himalaya. Kalimpong is flatter, and the climate warmer than Darjeeling - making it easier to explore.
The mix of cultures - Lepcha, Bhutia, Nepalese - brings with it a rich religious mix of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. The area produces 80% of India's gladioli and is also an important orchid growing area. Several Buddhist monasteries hold a number of rare Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. The bazaar was once the wholesale market for all raw wool coming from Tibet. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the 'hat' market brings together a wealth of people, cultures and goods.
Overnight: (2 nights) Gurudongma House, The homestay is 3km from the town and has four guest rooms. Food is a mixture of Indian, Nepali, Chinese, Sikkimese, and western recipes. The garden is gorgeous.
Day three, four and five
Driving along the old trade route to Tibet, we will enter the vast stretch of virgin forests, which extend from the Bhutan border to the plains of North Bengal.
We will pass through forests to Lava, a small village. Trade caravans on their way to Bhutan, used to stop at Lava. We'll have a chance to view the Rachela Pass, which opens into Bhutan, and visit the nearby monastery. We can break our journey with a picnic lunch and short walk to Tamang village (a 2-hour walk), crossing a mountain stream to meet our jeep for the last 6kms to the Samthar Farm House.
Scenic and remote, the Samthar Plateau is 1500m high, isolated by river valleys and forests. The inhabitants are a blend of Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepali. Getting up early morning at the farmhouse, you can sit on a rock at the top of the terraced gardens, drinking tea while you watch the sun rise. You can walk around the plateau, met the locals in their homesteads, and visit the 100 year old Lepcha temple. In the evening, the lamps will be lit and local Millet beer - "chang" - served in traditional bamboo containers, for song and dance with the locals. There will also be the chance to learn Indian cooking.
Overnight: (3 nights) The Samthar Farmhouse is a mountain retreat - a former Lepcha house built of stone and timber and converted by General Singh. The views are spectacular - especially at sunset and sunrise.
Day six, seven and eight
After breakfast we’ll trek down to Teesta Valley Ropeway with guide and porter and then by car on a 4 hour journey through the Himalayas (through market towns and up steep mountainsides) to the tiny village of Rinchenpong in Sikkim.
Remote and peaceful, Sikkim is dominated by the spectacular mountain terrain, including Mt Kangchendzonga. Its population is made up primarily of Nepalis and Lepchas (the indigenous people of the area). China does not recognize India's claim to the area - hence the need for permits. Sikkim is governed by the Sikkim Democratic Front, known as the most environmentally conscious government in India.
Over the next few days, we'll be able to explore the area - monasteries, the monastic school, nearby villages, and the surrounding countryside. There is the chance to learn Sikkimese cooking and the option of overnight camping (first traveling by jeep, then trekking).
Overnight: (3 nights) Yangsum Farm. The farm is 2km from the village and home to Tashi Thendup and Pema Chuki, a brother and sister team who manage the homestay. The family manages a 44 acre mountain farm of open mixed forests, fruits and spices (cardamom, avocados, oranges, banana, pears, apricots and mango), staples and vegetables.
From Yangsum Farm we’ll make our way to Pamayangtse. Here we could go for Monastery tour with guide.
Overnight: (1 night) at Mount Pandim Hotel.
Day ten and eleven
Rise early for spectacular sunrise view over Mt Khangchendzonga and make our way to Turuk. Located in South Sikkim, at an altitude of 1200m. It is a grand old mountain estate established in 1848, offers superb family hospitality in splendid isolation, amidst diverse flora, citrus fruits, ornamental plants and a small coffee plantation. You can do village walk and bird watching.
Overnight: (2 nights) at Turuk Kothi
Day twelve and thirteen
We’ll make our way to Darjeeling. Darjeeling is a hill station set against the incredible panorama of the Himalayan peaks. It combines a hectic bazaar with lofty wisps of the Raj. Terraced construction gives way to tea estates that plunge into deep subtropical valleys, Kanchenjunga (India's highest peak) crowns the skyline.
The town has a population of 200 000, and an ethnic mix of Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha and some Bengalis. The common language is Nepali.
Until the nineteenth century, it was a part of the kingdom of Sikkim but was overrun by the Nepalese. The British intervened to broker peace and in return pressurized the Sikkim raja, to gift Darjeeling to the British for an annual sum of Rs 3000, in 1835. In the early 1840's, tea plantations were developed and Nepali labour imported. It still produces some of the world's finest tea.
Once you've settled into your hotel, you can visit the town, exploring interconnecting roads and steep steps that lead to bazaars, shops and monastaries. We can take an early morning drive to Tiger Hill, with a magnificent view of sunrise over Mt Kanchendzonga, visit the zoo, monasteries and the Tibetan Self-help centre.
Overnight: (2 nights) New Elgin
After a farewell meal, we'll drive you Bagdogra for journey to Delhi or Calcutta for your return journey back home.
NOTE: Entry to Sikkim is restricted. You will need to apply for permission to enter while applying for an Indian Visa. The permits are free and easy to obtain.
If you are looking for a train journey -
We'll start the tour in true insider fashion, with a journey from New Jalpaiguri Rail Station to Kurseong by toy train. You will travel through mountains, forests, paddy fields, tea plantations, and villages.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) has UNESCO World Heritage status for its ingenious approach to creating a rail link across the steep mountainous terrain. The 88km long narrow gauge railway was constructed between 1879 and 1888, and remains fully operational with most of its original features. The railway line is laid alongside the road which it crosses 177 times, taking travellers up the Himalayas from an altitude of 150m to 2222m. The first (and most scenic) part of the journey is up to Kurseong.
Kurseong is a peaceful hill town set amid forests. The town has a lively market (the toy train actually goes through the market), good local clothes shops and a monastery. There are good places for walking. From Kurseong we can take the toy train to Darjeeling and reorganize the above tour.
Overnight: (3 nights) Cochrane Place, on the outskirts of the town. Once home to Percy John Cochrane, MBE, the house has been restored and recreated into a small hotel with 12 rooms.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT DARJEELING AND SIKKIM
When to visit
Available year round, except for the monsoons in July-August. The ideal period is January to May and September to December. Special monsoon packages are available for the paddy season.
Nepali is the main language of the people. Large sections speak Lepcha and Tibetan. In the towns most people can communicate in English.
TOURS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU...
North India tours
- Click here for our Eastern Himalaya tour
- Click here for our Rajasthan tour
- Click here for our Himalayan tour
- Click here for our North-East India tour