Bhutan & Sikkim

Experience the magic and beauty of the Himalayan foothills, its unique cultures, distinctive architecture and spectacular scenery. This trip is a photographer’s delight!


The Last Shangri-la

One of the true homes of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kingdom of Bhutan, lies along the Himalayan chain, tucked between China and India.  Long isolated from the rest of the World,  Bhutan only opened its doors to tourism in 1974, allowing 287 tourists to enter. Today, although numbers are very much higher they remain strictly controlled so that they don't impact negatively on the facilities, culture and lifestyle of the country.  Consequently, with a history of active Government policy fostering the well-being and happiness of the people, the Bhutanese culture has been able to retain its traditional heritage,  architectural style and national dress, which is still commonly worn by both men and women.  

The scenery is awesome, with steep forested hillsides, and deep ravines and as the country is home to six Himalayan giants over 7,000m, there is very often a skyline of snowy peaks.  

A highlight of the trip will be the opportunity to attend one of Bhutan's colourful annual festivals,  the "Festival of the Black Cranes" in Central Bhutan. 

Bhutan truly is the Last Shangri-la

Sikkim & Darjeeling

India’s least populous state, Sikkim is a land of amazing geographical diversity, rising in altitude from a mere 290m to the towering peaks of the Himalayas. Mighty Kangchenjunga, the world's third-highest peak (8,598m), overlooks a timeless landscape of lush green hillsides with groves of flowering rhododendrons and rice terraces. The vermilion-coloured Tibetan-styled monasteries and rows of multi-coloured prayer flags add splashes of colour to the idyllic scene.  

The richness of Sikkim’s flora and fauna is truly impressive; 450 varieties of orchids, over 600 species of butterflies and 500 species of birds,  along with red pandas, snow leopards and other animals. Gardeners and nature lovers alike will find much interest and walkers will relish the opportunity of some countryside delightful walks in a landscape backdropped by the majestic Himalayas.   No wonder, Sikkim has become such a popular sightseeing and day-walking destination. 

Darjeeling: Often referred to as the “Queen of the Hills”, Darjeeling is alluring with a Himalayan landscape that features numerous waterfalls and tiny villages,  Tibetan monasteries, tea plantations and a narrow-gauge scenic railway. Surrounded by world-famous tea gardens and snow-capped mountains, Darjeeling remains an exotic destination.

Draft Itinerary Outline  -  (subject to change)   

Day 1. Auckland to Kolkata – depart Auckland late morning and arrive in Kolkata, late evening.

Day 2. Kolkata to Kurseong - a late morning flight to Bagdogra followed by a  2-hr drive will bring us to Kurseong, where we will begin our tour of Sikkim.  In the late afternoon, a sunset walk to enjoy the Tea Plantation landscape.  

Day 3.  Kurseong to Darjeeling - visit the sights of Kurseong, the "land of the white orchids" before taking the "toy train" to Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hill Stations. 

Day 4. Darjeeling - visits and short walks in and around Darjeeling. Surrounded by tea gardens and snow-capped mountains, Darjeeling is one of India's most exotic destinations. Visits include the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a wildlife park with Snow Leopards and a Tibetan Refugee Centre. 

Day 5. Darjeeling to Gangtok - drive to Sikkim's charming Capital City, the Capital in the Clouds.

Day 6.  Gangtok - visits include the awe-inspiring Rumtek Monastery, a Handicraft and Handloom Centre where you can watch the craftsmen at work and visit viewpoints with spectacular panoramas of Mt Kanchenjunga and Mt Siniolchu.

Day 7. Gangtok to Pelling - drive to Pelling via the Buddha Park at Ravangla

Day 8. Pelling - visits and short walks in the Pelling area, including the sacred lake of Khecheopalri and Darap Cherry, a traditional village that is home to many small ethnic communities. 

Day 9. Pelling to Kalimpong  - drive to Kalimpong, world-famous for its flower nurseries

Day 10. Kalimpong -  visits include Dr Grahams Home and School that was established in 1900 and the MacFarlane Church which was built by Scottish missionaries in 1890/91, There is the option of an excursion to the Durpin Dara lookout for a wonderful view of the Himalayas. 

Day 11. Kalimpong to Siliguri -  a free morning to explore the town, later drive to Siliguri to be closer to the airport for our early morning flight to Paro. 

Day 12. Siliguri to Thimpu  (BHUTAN)   Fly from nearby Bagdogra Airport to Paro in Bhutan, then onward by road to Thimpu, the capital city.  While in Thimpu attend SIMPLY BHUTAN, a show that includes Bhutanese culture, dance, story-telling, history and archery. 

Day 13. Thimpu - Visit Buddha Point for an excellent overview of Thimpu. From here those who wish can walk the easy 2-hr Buddha Nature trail through the countryside and forest. Other visits include a traditional handmade paper factory, a 16th Century Monastic school and the impressive fortress of Trashichhoedzong.

Day 14. Thimpu to Gangtey - cross the Dochu-la pass (3,088m)  and visit the regional town of Wangdue Phodrang with its local shops and traditional veggie market.

Day 15. Gangtey - a day to enjoy the beautiful Phobjikha region. An easy morning walk in Gangtey Valley where the Cranes spend the winter months. Later explore the village and visit the Gangtey Goempa where the Festival will be held. 

Day 16. Gangtey to Punakha - attend the colourful "Festival of the Black Cranes" in Gangtey then drive to Punakha.

Day 17. Punakha - visit the impressive Punakha Dzong monastery, which was built in 1637, and later home visit to a traditional local Farmhouse.

Day 18. Punakha to Paro - a morning drive back to Paro, and in the afternoon visit the Ta Zong National Museum. Free time in the town to explore the town.

Day 19. Paro - Hike/horse ride to Tiger's Nest Monastery, later visit the impressive Drukgyel Dzong monastery.

Day 20. Paro to Kolkata -  a mid-morning flight

Day 21. Kolkata to Flight - a sightseeing tour to visit the highlights of India's 3rd largest city, Calcutta or as it is known today, Kolkata.

Late evening fly to Singapore and on to New Zealand

Day 22. Auckland - arrive late evening



 Trip Data

Transport: Private coaches or Toyota Innovas as road conditions require. Three domestic flights and one excursion on a local scenic railway.

Meals: Included, except for any meals taken at airports,  2 dinners and 2  lunches in Kolkata. Some meals will be picnics / packed lunches. Please note that drinking water or drinks at meals are not included, the exception being in Bhutan where 2 bottles per person per day are provided in the coach.

Accommodation: 3-star, twin-share or double rooms the norm. 

A supplement of approx. US$1299  applies if a single room is requested or if making a late booking that creates the need for a single room. The exact figure can only be confirmed when all hotels/accommodations are finalised. 

Walks:  All walks are optional. Most are graded easy and many are short, and others are between one and two hours.   The exception is the Tiger's Nest Trail in Paro which takes around 5hrs and we hire horses to take you up most of the climb to make it easier. We recommended that your walking shoes have sturdy non-slip soles and those who normally use walking poles should bring them.

Weather:  This trip will take place in the Autumn when skies are generally clear and the temperatures moderate. However, be aware that this region can experience rain and cooler weather at any time of year, so a warm jacket, raincoat and umbrella should be included.

Criteria for participation: The trip is open to active people of all ages, single travellers are most welcome. If you are willing to cope with the unusual and the unpredictable and some cultural differences you will be rewarded with a very memorable holiday experience. Please be aware that this journey involves a number of steep winding mountainous roads.

Price Includes: The return airfare Auckland to Auckland is in economy class, transport, and a basic driver/guide tip fund is included, with a supplement of US$70pp being collected on tour. All accommodations, activities/entries and meals as listed in the final itinerary are included. Bhutan visa, the services of English-speaking local guides and a Grassroots leader are included. 

Price does not include: personal spending, travel insurance, Indian Full Visa and any other travel documentation you may require. Any airport meals,  2 dinners and 2 lunches in Kolkata are not included. All costs incurred by travel disruption or delay, all personal services and any extra activities or service not noted as included in the final itinerary, are not included.



Trip Codes:  BS 231

 Trip Date:  27 October to 17 November 2023

Duration: 22 days

Party: 10 to 15 + leader

Price Range Guide for 2023: $14,650/15,100.  The trip price is subject to prevailing service prices and exchange rates and to the final airfare price achieved.  

Current Status: Only 2 places available in twin-share rooms; 1 for a male and 1 for a female or 1 double room for a couple.  Bookings must be completed by mid-May.