Start in Kolkata (Calcutta) and end in Kathmandu! With the in-depth cultural tour Inside the Hidden Kingdoms (Thimpu Festival), you have a 23 day tour package taking you through Kolkata (Calcutta), India and 11 other destinations in Asia. Inside the Hidden Kingdoms (Thimpu Festival) includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
Arrive in Kolkata (Calcutta). Once the capital of British India, Kolkata has had a turbulent past. It was central to the struggle for Indian independence and thousands of Bengali refugees came here at the start of the 1900s. It is a city of striking contrasts and can be overwhelming initially, but the unusual sights, pungent smells and the chaotic sounds of the countrys second largest city are an experience unique to India. For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kolkata at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, youll need to arrive into Kolkata Airport (CCU), which is one hour from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to take a stroll around the Kalighat area. One of the oldest parts of the city, it is densely populated and busy, with an interesting temple dedicated to the goddess Kali.Start point Lytton Hotel, Hotel reception, 14 & 14/1, Sudder St, Fire Brigade Head Quarter, New Market Area, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal 700016, India 17:00
Today we intend to explore this most interesting of cities, with a tour of some of its major sites. We plan to visit St Johns Church and the many historic Raj buildings around Dalhousie Square, the Jain and Kali temples and the magnificent marble dome of the Victoria memorial, where the sumptuous grandeur of European and Mughal influences come together in a blaze of white marble. We also visit the clay modellers village of Kumartuli where the potters spend all year creating a wealth of images and idols for the annual festivals and, as the time approaches for the models to be prepared for the coming pujas, the streets are filled with an overwhelming display of brightly coloured and richly attired idols.
We will pay an early morning visit to the colourful flower market where tons of brightly coloured marigolds are sold by traders, before driving to Belur Math on the banks of the sacred Ganges. A place of pilgrimage for people all over the world, the site is famous for its tranquil setting and the architecture of its buildings, in particular the Ramakrishna temple which is designed to celebrate the diversity of Indian Religions and resembles a temple, a mosque, a church when viewed from different vantage points. After exploring Belur Math well take a short boat ride across the river to the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Constructed in the 19th century by wealthy widow Rani Rasmani, it is said that the goddess Kali appeared to her in a dream promising to manifest herself at the site if a temple was constructed in her honour.
In and around SundarbansAfter breakfast this morning we leave Kolkata for the unique landscapes of the Sundarbans. Translating as the beautiful jungle, this UNESCO World Heritage setting is home to one of the largest mangrove forests on the planet. Set amongst a vast delta that is fed by the waters of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers, the area is a haven for Bengal tigers, crocodiles and a remarkable diversity of birds. A short cruise takes us to the Sundarban Tiger Camp, our base for the next two nights. Well have lunch before heading out by boat again to the Sajnekhali Tiger project area. There is a small museum and a watch tower for spotting tigers and other wildlife, and a crocodile enclosure and a turtle hatchery which helps preserve these endangered animals. The nearby heron sanctuary is a beautiful spot, and Egrets are common visitors to this part of the jungle and are likely to be spotted.
Starting early we continue our exploration of the Sundarbans, cruising along winding creeks and through dense mangrove forest in search of the wildlife the area is famous for. If we are in luck we may spot Royal Bengal tigers relaxing on the mudflats next to the rivers and creeks. Other wildlife we can see includes Fishing cats, Leopard cats, Macaques, Wild boar, Indian grey mongoose, Pangolin, and Chital, as well as an abundance of birdlife. Well make a stop at Dobanke Watch Tower where well enjoy a canopy walk to view the animal and bird life at the tree tops, and visit the spotted deer rehabilitation centre. In the afternoon we pay a visit to some of the local villages where well get an insight in to local culture and life, including the challenges of living with Bengal Tigers as neighbours.
After a final cruise in the Sundarbans, a visit to Sudhanyakhali Watch tower and lunch at the Tiger Camp, well leave for Kolkata. Therell be time for an evening meal in the city before boarding the Darjeeling Mail overnight sleeper train. Travelling on an Indian train is a fantastic experience, with millions using the rail network every day it is the perfect opportunity to meet local families. We reserve berths in advance in 2nd class with air conditioning. Whilst well try to ensure the group is all together, due to overwhelming demand and the system for booking train tickets in India, it may not always be possible to have everyone in the same carriage and some reservations may be in 3rd class. In such cases our Tour Leaders will help everyone to find their carriage and ensure you get the most out of your journey. Each berth is separated by curtains and has 4 or 6 bunk beds. Bedding (consisting of a sheet, blanket and pillow) is provided but you may wish to bring your own sleeping liner for added comfort. Train travel in India is safe and civilised but for added security whilst you sleep it may be a good idea to bring a bike lock for your bags. If you do not wish to carry one with you, your tour leader can help you to purchase one locally before your train journey.
Our train in scheduled to arrive in to New Jalpaiguri station at 08.00 and well stop for breakfast before continuing by road to the hill station of Darjeeling. In the days of the Raj the Bengal government escaped from the Calcutta heat to take up its official summer residence here and todays city dwellers still do likewise with Darjeeling being a popular holiday spot. At 2134m, the town is beautifully situated on a mountain ridge; the near vertical streets are crowded with a colourful mixture of Hindus and hill tribes - Lepchas, Bhutias and Tibetans among them. On a clear day the views over the mountains to the snowy Himalayan peaks are magnificent. Therell be time to relax after the train journey before enjoying an afternoon orientation walk of the town and a visit to a tea estate. Our train in scheduled to arrive in to New Jalpaiguri station at 08.00 and well stop for breakfast before continuing by road to the hill station of Darjeeling. In the days of the Raj the Bengal government escaped from the Calcutta heat to take up its official summer residence here and todays city dwellers still do likewise with Darjeeling being a popular holiday spot. At 2134m, the town is beautifully situated on a mountain ridge; the near vertical streets are crowded with a colourful mixture of Hindus and hill tribes - Lepchas, Bhutias and Tibetans among them. On a clear day the views over the mountains to the snowy Himalayan peaks are magnificent. Therell be time to relax after the train journey before enjoying an afternoon orientation walk of the town and a visit to a tea estate. The towns high altitude, cool climate and fertile soils are great for the cultivation of tea and hence the town is dotted with several estates producing world class tea.
Tiger Hill is the areas highest viewpoint (2590m), some 8 miles from Darjeeling and weather permitting, we plan to make a dawn excursion here to contemplate the sunrise and the beauty of the worlds third highest mountain Kanchenjunga (8586m) and other eastern Himalayan peaks. If the morning is very clear it may also be possible to see Mt Everest (8848m). Please note that due to local restrictions on number of vehicles, the sunrise visit to Tiger Hill cannot be guaranteed; should this be the case, we will reschedule our visit for later on in the day. There are many things to see in the town including the Mountaineering Institute with its Everest Museum or you may wish to visit the Tibetan Refugee centre where Tibetan craft work is on sale. This afternoon will be left free for you to explore Darjeeling and take some of the other smaller walks around town.
Ghoom Gompa (monastery) is about 8km south of Darjeeling and well worth a visit.The journey there is taken on the Toy Train line, a narrow gauge railway running between New Jaipaiguri and Darjeeling. Whilst we endeavour to book the traditional steam trains many of the trains servicing this route are now diesel. There will also be plenty of time to make short walks in the surrounding area or alternatively you could visit the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway museum. There will be an option to walk back to Darjeeling along the scenic ridge track via Allobari village (weather permitting) approximately 2hrs walk.
In and around PellingToday we have a long drive to Pelling (approximately 8 hours) and this afternoon we cross into the former Kingdom of Sikkim, annexed by India in 1975 to become the 22nd Indian state. On arrival in the town there will be the opportunity to take an optional walk to the Sanga Choling monastery, approximately one hour each way.
Today we visit Kecheopelri or the Wishing Lake, considered to be the holiest lake in Sikkim. It is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike. We will have a picnic lunch at the lake and then return to Pelling. This afternoon we will visit Pemayangste Monastery. This great monastery is the second oldest and one of the 60 still active, and is home to an exceptional collection of religious artworks. Established in the 8th century by the famous Indian teacher Padmasambhava, its members are devotees of a mystical type of Tantric Buddhism, characterised by the red caps they wear. Their religion is derived from Tibetan Lamaism, a curious mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, mythology and magic.
On our 8 hour drive along the mountain roads today we pay a short visit to Rabdentse, the former capital of Sikkim in the 16th century before continuing on through semi tropical forests, cardamom plantations and small villages to Gangtok the present day capital of Sikkim, spectacularly set on a long ridge flanking the Ranipul River and offering many fine vantage points of the entire Kanchenjunga range.
Today we explore Gangtok including the Drodul Chorten. Built to commemorate the victory of good over evil, it contains a complete set of holy books and is surrounded by 108 prayer wheels. We also pay a visit to the Institute of Tibetology whose collection of rare books and manuscripts will interest students of Buddhism. Here there are numerous priceless religious paintings, statues and other religious artwork. Finally we spend some time at the Tashi Handicraft Centre, a small centre established to help Tibetan refugee women find work. There are many items of tapestry, knitting and embroidery in traditional ornate designs. The rest of the day is free to relax and soak up Gangtoks relaxed atmosphere.
In and around Kalimpong, RumtekWe drive today to the other side of the Ranipul Valley to the Gompa at Rumtek. The headquarters of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism was built in the 1960s as a replica of the Tsurpus monastery in Tibet. The religious murals are still being added to today. We then continue to the little bazaar town of Kalimpong. The town was formerly an important trading post for wool merchants coming from Tibet and the local bazaar is still the place to meet people of a dozen different cultures and religions.
Departing for the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing we drive for approximately 7 hours through the vast tea estates of the Gangetic plains of Bengal. Approximately one quarter of Indias tea is grown in West Bengal state. On arrival in Phuentsholing we will meet our Bhutanese local guide and there will be time for a wander in the town.
We drive towards Thimpu along winding roads, passing paddy fields, apple orchards, pine forests and small hamlets, protected by sculptures of the eight auspicious signs of the Tashi Tagye. The Bhutanese capital lies in a fertile valley formed by the Wang Chu River, and has expanded rapidly over the last couple of decades. On arrival in Thimpu we will have a sightseeing tour to see the Tashichho Dzong - the religious and political centre of Bhutan.
Today we spend a full day at the annual Thimpu Festival. Each dzong in Bhutan has its own annual festival, and the capital naturally holds one of the largest celebrations. Colourful costumes and elaborate masks are used in the traditional chhams, dances, to ward off evil spirits. Locals see the festival as both a break from day to day life and a chance to receive blessings and pray for health and happiness in the year to come.
Today we will spend more time at the colorful Thimphu festival and enjoy the celebrations, dances and overall excitememnt of the annual event. In the afternoon we may have some free time to relax in the capital.
In and around PunakhaOn the road to Punakha we climb up through oak, pine and rhododendron forest to reach Dochu La Pass (3050m). If the weather permits, magnificent views pan out across the mountains towards Gangar Pensum at 7541m, the tallest mountain in Bhutan. Dropping down into the valley, Punakhas benign climate allows orange and banana groves to flourish within sight of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains. Our accommodation tonight is set 8 kilometres from the centre of Punakha on the banks of the Mo Chu River. We camp in two man walk in tents with thick mattresses, all bedding and towels. Toilet tents are provided with flush toilets. There are shower tents with hot water available as well as the chance to try out a traditional hot stone bath. There is a central area with space to relax around a camp fire and the cook team will create traditional Bhutanese meals to be served in the dining tent. Electricity is supplied in the dining and toilet tents and the walk ways are lit by small lamps but you will find a torch useful.
In and around ParoIn the morning we pay a visit to Punakha Dzong built in 1637 on a sand bank at the confluence of the rivers Mochu and Phochu, this sacred dzong was the seat of the Bhutanese government until 1960 and is a fine example of Bhutanese monastic architecture with squat rectangular buildings made up of two or more tiered levels crowned by a tower and small golden spire above. Returning westwards we take an afternoon drive to Paro. (Approx. 5 hours.)
This morning there is an opportunity to climb up to visit the Taktsang or Tigers Nest Monastery. The monastery clings precariously to a cliff face, and local legend recounts that Guru Rinpoche, who founded the Drukpa Sect and brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a tigress to start the first monastery. In the afternoon well visit a local farm and have the chance to sample some yak butter tea and have a group talk with the farm host. Paro is also home to Kyichu, Bhutans oldest temple or lhakhang as it is also known.
Today we fly the short distance to Kathmandu, the bustling Nepalese capital. On arrival we take a walking tour visiting the bazaar and the Durbar Square area, the centre of old Kathmandu. Much of the day to day life of Kathmandu takes place in the bazaar: a fascinating mixture of people selling fruit, vegetables and spices; potters spinning their wheels to produce small household bowls and containers for temple offerings; devotees visiting their favourite gods at temples and small shrines dotted along the sides of alleyways; rickshaw wallahs honking their horns and the ever present sacred cow wandering amongst it all. Please note: Our flight between Bhutan and Nepal is with Druk Air. Druk Air sometimes changes their flight schedule at short notice - if this happens, then we will inform you of any itinerary change as soon as possible.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kathmandu. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kathmandu at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, youll need to depart from Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM).End point Hotel Ambassador, Hotel reception, Lazimpat Rd, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal 09:00