18 day tour
Sikkim & Bhutan
- Combine Bhutan with the former Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim
- Travel throug the idyllic valleys of Phobjikha, Bumthang and Haa
- Visit Trongsa Dzong, Punakha Dzong and the exquisite Tiger’s Nest Temple
On this trip, you will visit two of the most interesting areas in the ‘Buddhist Himalayas’: Sikkim and Bhutan. In the ‘tea capital’ Darjeeling you will enjoy the colonial charm and of course the delicious locally grown tea. Then you will travel up through the mountains to the former kingdom of Sikkim, nowadays a state within India.
Back from the mountains, you will cross part of the North Indian plain, only to head back into the mountains at Phuentsoling, by the Bhutanese border. A day later, in the remote town of Haa, you will find yourself in a totally different world. You’ll cross Bhutan’s highest car pass, hike up to Bhutan’s most enigmatic monastery, and leisurely explore the most relaxed capital in the world. Travelling west, you’ll visit some of Bhutan’s finest dzongs (monastery-burroughs) and discover the natural beauty of the Phobjikha Valley, home to wintering cranes from Tibet. In addition, you will have the opportunity to take day walks that allow you to venture into areas where jeep tourists do not come. And whenever there is a local festival taking place during your trip, rest assured we’ll take you there.
18 day tour of Sikkim & Bhutan
Route: Delhi – Kurseong – Darjeeling – Rinchenpong – Pelling – Rumtek – Kalimpong – Phuentsholing – Haa – Paro – Thimphu – Phobjikha – Punakha – Thimphu – Delhi
Day 01 – Flight Delhi/Kolkata – Bagdogra; to Kurseong (41 km / 1.5 hours)
Upon arrival in Delhi or Kolkata we can arrange your overnight stay in a hotel near the airport. In most cases this is required, as flights to Bagdogra generally leave in the morning. Early the next morning you will board the 2-hour flight from Delhi (or Kolkata) to Bagdogra. Your guide will be waiting there. He’ll take you first to Kurseong, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive. Your first night will be spent on a mountain range amidst lush tea gardens.
Day 02 – Kurseong to Darjeeling (31 km / 1.5 hours)
In the morning, you’ll visit the Makaibari Tea Garden and witness the production process of Darjeeling tea. In the afternoon, you’ll travel with the so-called Toy Train (a narrow-gauge train) to Darjeeling where you’ll check in at your hotel. In the evening, you can explore the local bazaar in Darjeeling. The city was built by the British in the mid-eighteenth century, initially as a rest and recovery place for their troops, but over time it became one of India’s most important hill stations (with resorts in the mountains).
Day 03 – Darjeeling
In the early morning, you’ll drive up to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise above the Himalayas. On the way back, you can visit the Yiga Choling Monastery, the oldest Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling. After breakfast, you have the day free to spend in Darjeeling. You can visit the Mahakala Temple on Observatory Hill, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, or the traditional craft shops in the Tibetan Refugee Center.
Day 04 – Darjeeling to Rinchenpong (130 km / 5 hours)
Today you’ll leave Darjeeling and drive to the village of Rinchenpong in Southwest-Sikkim where you’ll stay at the Yangsum farm. This family-run homestay is tucked away in an idyllic landscape with the Khangchenjunga Mountain (8586m), the third tallest mountain in the world, as a backdrop. Thendup Tashi and his wife Pema will make sure you feel at home here. A large part of the estate consists of semi-open forest, including pines, Himalayas, tuna chestnut, magnolias, rhododendrons and wild cherry. You can walk to the tiny local monastery or visit the old Lepcha Heritage House where you can learn more about the original residents of Sikkim.
Day 05 – Rinchenpong to Pemayangste (Pelling) (44 km / 3 hours)
Today you will travel through Jorethang Bazaar to Pelling, and visit the famous monastery of Pemayangtse. The land around Pelling is largely unspoilt terrain and is covered with woods and meadows, and rich in waterfalls. The main attraction is the Buddhist Pemayangtse Gompa (monastery). It was designed and built by Lama Lhatsun Chempo in 1705, and it is one of Sikkim’s oldest monasteries. The upper floor of the monastery houses a rare piece of woodworking, a seven-layer imagination of Guru Rinpoche’s Heavenly Palace. After visiting this monastery, you can see the ruins of Rabdantse Palace, the former home to a Sikkimese king.
Day 06 – Pelling via Tashiding to Rumtek (155 km / 7 – 8 hours)
Today is a long journey. You’ll first drive to the Tashiding Monastery, a Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma sect. Tashiding was founded in 1641 by Ngadak Sempa Chempo Phunshok Rigzing, one of the three wise leaders who led the Sikkim’s first king’s coronation ceremony in 1717. Then you continue to Rumtek where you’ll stay in a pleasant eco-resort, a family-bedded accommodation overlooking the city of Gangtok.
Day 07 – Rumtek
Today you have the time to discover Rumtek and the surrounding area. Rumtek Gompa is Sikkim’s most famous monastery. It was originally built under the leadership of Karma Kagyu Sekte’s main lama in the middle of the eighteenth century. After lunch, drive to Gangtok, the very pleasant capital of Sikkim. The center is a pedestrianized area, and a pleasant place for walking and exploring shops and cafes. Thanks to a serious environmental approach by the Sikkimese government, this is also one of India’s cleanest city centres. Gangtok also has a number of attractions to be visited by car or on foot, such as the Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology and the Do Drul Chorten (the largest stupa in Sikkim).
Day 08 – Rumtek to Kalimpong (70 km / 3.5 hours) After breakfast you’ll drive down to Kalimpong. The road leads through one of the most beautiful regions of Sikkim and meanders through the hills high above the Teesta River. Kalimpong is a small but vibrant town, surrounded by rolling hills and deep valleys. This place was once part of Bhutan and also a major hub on the trade route to Tibet. If today is a weekday, you can visit the market and cactus and flower nursery, as well as the Dzangdogpalri monastery where the evening prayer takes place in the late afternoon.
Day 09 – Kalimpong to Phuentsholing (175 km / 5-6 hours)
Today’s journey crosses the undulating foothills of the Himalayas and passes through forests and lush green tea plantations. In the second part of the afternoon you’ll reach the border town of Jaigaon, and its sibling across the border, Phuentsholing. Although Phuentsoling is Bhutan’s most Indianized city, after passing the beautifully decorated border gate you will notice an immediate change in the level of cleanliness and level of organisation. After being “stamped out” of India and “stamped into” Bhutan you have officially entered the Himalaya’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom.
Day 10 – Phuentsholing to Haa (216 km / 6-7 hours)
Within minutes after leaving Phuentsholing, the road starts winding its way up the mountains through sharp curves and switchbacks. For the next four hours you’ll follow a river valley with impressive wooded mountains towering high above you. Small hamlets of semi-traditional farmhouses are sprinkled on the slopes. After three to four hours of driving (depending on the state of the roads) you reach the confluence of the Thimpu Chu and the Paro Chu (rivers). From here, you’ll follow a small road that gives access to the Haa Valley. The next part of the road is one of the most beautiful bit of scenery you will see during the entire trip through Bhutan. You’ll pass many small villages of traditional half-timbered houses, painted in the national colors of red, brown and white, while driving through a landscape of small fields, alpine meadows and vast forests where bears, leopards and tigers still roam.
Day 11 – Haa to Paro (69 km / 3-4 hours)
In the early morning, the car ride begins with the climb to Bhutan’s highest navigable pass, the Chele La (3988 m). Every once in a while (when whether permits), you will be treated to a beautiful view of the Himalayan Range. Even better views can be had on a short walk up on the mountain ridge. Descending through thick forests, you’ll arrive in Paro. The rest of the day can be spent exploring this little town, starting with the Rinpung Dzong. Dzongs are a unique Bhutanese phenomenon. These are buildings that combine a monastery with a provincial administration office. In the past, they also housed the army. The Paro Dzong has a separate bastion tower that now houses the National Museum. You can also visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, or Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – Bhutan’s founding father – to commemorate his victory over Tibetan invaders.
Day 12 – Paro to Thimphu (55 km / 1.5 hours)
Paro’s main attraction is the famous Taktsang Gompa (or Tiger’s Nest Temple). In the morning, you’ll make the 2.5 to 3 hour walk up. This monastery clings spectacularly on a high rocky wall. Both the location and the monastery itself are a phenomenal and unique experience. After lunch, you’ll make the short drive to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. On arrival, you can visit Tashichoe Dzong, Bhutan’s largest dzong. It houses the parliament, the throne of the king and the central monk body.
Day 13 – Thimphu
Thimphu is probably the most relaxed capital in the world, and also a very pleasant place to be. Depending on your interest and the time available, you can visit various sights. The National Memorial Chorten is built as a memorial to Bhutan’s third king and is definitely worth a visit, as is the atmospheric Changangkha Lhakhang temple. If you prefer to stretch your legs and explore the mountains around Thimphu, there are two easy walks leading to small monasteries, nestled between glorious forests and beautiful views across the Thimphu Valley.
Day 14 – Thimphu to Phobjika (155 km / 5.5 hours)
Today you’ll make a big jump to the East and reach the less visited parts of Bhutan. On the first stretch, to Punakha, you’ll pass the Dochu La Pass (3120m). A short stop here is worth it because of the beautiful views of the Himalayas, including the highest mountain of Bhutan, the Gangkar Puensum (7497m). From the pass, you can take a walk over the old route (now used by shepherds and their cattle) down to Tebesa, a small hamlet. In spring, the rhododendrons bloom exuberantly here and the forest is richly filled with birds. Then you’ll travel via Punakha to the Phobjikha Valley.
Day 15 – Phobjikha
The day begins with a visit to an information centre dedicated to the blacknecked cranes. These rare and elegant birds breed near marshes and lakes on the Tibetan plateau in summer, but take refuge in the lower sheltered valleys on the southern side of the Himalayas during winter. They are usually present between mid-October and mid-March. Walking along the Gangtey Nature Trail you have a good chance of seeing the cranes. The trail ends at Gangtey Goemba, another highlight of the area. This is the largest Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan. The Nyingmapa monk belongs to an older and, in Bhutan, relatively “rare” Buddhist order.
Day 16 – Phobjikha to Punakha (78 km / 3 hours)
The following morning you drive back to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan. If you are interested in a 5-hour walk, you can choose to walk the first part of the route. You’ll climb up to a small pass at 3230m altitude and then descend through a magnificent forest with large deciduous trees and rich in birdlife. After arriving in Punakha, we’ll visit the Punakha Dzong, the most beautiful dzong of the country according to many. It has three courtyards and a number of beautifully decorated temples, including the Hundred Pillar Temple where Bhutan’s kings are crowned and married.
Day 17 – Punakha to Thimphu (77 km / 3 hours)
After breakfast, you’ll first visit a newly built nunnery monastery. This is quite the experience, because where in the Himalayas do you still find newly built monasteries, entirely traditional and inhabited by hundreds of young nuns? Then you’ll walk through some traditional villages to a much older monastery, the Chimi Lakhang. This is actually more a temple than a monastery. It is dedicated to the Divine Madman Drukpa Kunley, a 16th century independent mind who, among other things, preached free sex. After lunch you will return to Thimhpu for your last night in Bhutan.
18 – Thimphu – Paro; flight to Delhi (65 km / 1.5 hours)
After breakfast you’ll be driven to Paro where you’ll board your flight to Delhi or Bangkok.