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!

Bhutan  

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, its architectural style and national dress, which is still commonly worn by both men and women.  

The scenery is awesome, with steep forested hillsides, 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 at least one of Bhutan's colourful annual festivals,  the "Festival of the Black Cranes" in Central Bhutan (subject to the current date). 

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 adding 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 of 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 plantation and a narrow gauge scenic railway. Surrounded by world-famous tea gardens and snow-capped mountains, Darjeeling remains a most exotic destination.

Draft Itinerary Outline  -  (subject to change)   

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

Day 2. Kolkata - late morning, a sightseeing tour to visit the highlights of India's 3rd largest city, Calcutta or as it is known today, Kolkata.

Day 3. Kurseong - fly to Bagdogra and drive 2-hrs to Kurseong, the "land of the white orchid"

Day 4.  Darjeeling -visit the sights of Kurseong before taking the "toy" train to Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hill Stations. 

Day 5. Darjeeling - visits and short walks in and around Darjeeling 

Day 6. Pelling - stunning views of Mt Kangchenjunga, just 26 km from Pelling.

Day 7. Pelling - visits and walks in the Pelling area, including the sacred lake of Khecheopalri.

Day 8. Gangtok - Sikkim's charming Capital City

Day 9. Gangtok - visits will include the inspiring Rumtek Monastery. 

Day 10. Kalimpong - drive to Kalimpong, world-famous for its flower nurseries

Day 11. Kalimpong - excursion to Durpin Dara lookout for a wonderful view of the mountains. An afternoon countryside walk.

Day 12. Phuntsoling (Bhutan) - enter Bhutan.

Day 13. Paro - drive deeper into Bhutan to stay in the country's largest city, Paro 

Day 14. Paro - Hike/horse ride to Tiger's Nest Monastery, visit the impressive Drukgyel Dzong monastery

Day 15. Thimpu - morning drive to Bhutan's Capital city

Day 16. Thimpu - visit historical and cultural sites, such as the Handicraft Emporium and Folk Heritage Museum

Day 17. Punakha - cross the Dochu-la pass (3,088m), visit the impressive Punakha Dzong monastery, which was built in 1637.

Day 18. Gangtey - attend the colourful "Festival of the Black Cranes" in Gangtey.

Day 19. Bumthang - drive via Trongsa as we head east into Central Bhutan.

Day 20. Bumthang -  a day to enjoy the culture and way of life of this picturesque region of Bhutan. 

Day 21. Mongar Valley - continue east over Bhutan's highest pass, the Thrumsing-la Pass (4,000m), spectacular views.

Day 22. Trashigang - continue travelling deep into the remote region of Eastern Bhutan, a morning drive down the famous zigzag road to Transhigang.

Day 23. Samdrup Jongkhar - drive towards the Indian border for our final night in Bhutan.

Day 24. Cross the border and drive to the airport in the Indian town of Guwahati, fly to Kolkatta and on to Singapore.

Day 25. Flight - arr. Singapore and take the morning flight to Auckland, arriving late evening.

 

 Trip Data

Transport: Private bus or 4WDs as road conditions require. Two domestic flights and one excursion on a local scenic railway.

Meals: Included, except for any meals taken at airports and 1 dinner and  1 lunch in Kolkata. Some meals will be picnics / packed lunches. Please note that drinking water or drinks at meals are not included.

Accommodation: 3-star and 4-star, twin-share or double rooms the norm. However,  please be aware that the final three nights in Bhutan will be in very basic hotels. Very few tourists visit this remote region so modern Western-styled facilities have not yet developed.  

A supplement of approx. US$1,550 applies if a single room is requested or if making a late booking that creates the need for a single room. The exact figure to be confirmed when all hotels are finalised. 

Walks: Graded easy to moderate, most of the walks will be short, some less than 1hr others up to  2+ hours. Participation in the walks is always optional. 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: Return airfare Auckland to Auckland in the budgeted economy class, transport, a basic driver/guide tip fund is included, with a supplement of US$60 being collected on tour. All accommodations, activities/entries and meals as listed in the final itinerary are included. Bhutan visa, plus the services of English speaking local guides and a Grassroots leader are included. 

Price does not include: personal spending, travel insurance, Indian Full Visa (approx NZ$70) and any other travel documentation you may require. Airport meals and one dinner and one lunch 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.

FACT FILE

 

Trip Codes: BS 201 

 Trip Date:  25 October 2020

Duration: 25 days

Party: 12 to 15 + leader

Price Range Guide: $13,000/13,300  subject to prevailing exchange rates and final airfare price achieved. 

Current Status: Viable numbers, flights currently being set up, larger payments starting very soon.