Bengal & Sikkim

Bengal & Sikkim

Escape on a road less travelled through West Bengal and Sikkim on a fortnight of Eastern discovery.

Kolkata is an enigmatic time-capsule of British colonial architecture, some grand, and some crumbling slowly in Venetian style under the tropical sun. Travel up country through West Bengal taking in the best of the cultural and historical heritage at the Bishnupur’s Terracotta temples, World Heritage Shantiniketan University campus and the 18th century palaces of the Nawabi era in Murshidabad, the erstwhile capital of the Mughal province of Bengal.

Marvel at the 13th-14th century monuments in Gaur and Pandua before reaching the Queen of the Hills, Darjeeling. Enjoy fine tea, great views and a ride on one of the most historic railway routes in the world in a quaint city that still retains a flavour of the Raj.

The erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim is one of India’s best kept secrets. The south is a mountainous maze of zig zag roads linking the main towns, traversing plunging valleys thick with lush subtropical woodlands and rhododendron groves. The land rises in the north to the spectacular white-top peaks of the eastern Himalayas, including the world’s third-highest mountain, Kanchenjunga (8598m). On clear days, spectacular sweeping Himalayan vistas are to be had from many vantage points.

Sikkim’s distinctive culture is an amalgamation of Bhutanese, Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian influences. Meditative, mural-filled Buddhist monasteries fluttering with colourful flags coexist with Hindu shrines.

16 DAYS
FROM £2995
Idea
Themes:
Activity Levels
Moderate
WHAT'S INCLUDED
  • Activities and excursions as specified
  • Entrance fees/tickets for the above
  • In-destination transfers & transport
  • Accommodation & Meals as specified
  • English speaking guides
  • 24/7 support while you travel

Explore this itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Kolkata

Fly into Kolkata via the Middle East this morning. You’ll be met by your driver and guide and transfer to your hotel for 3 nights.

Practically all of the Indian sub-continent under British control during the Raj was governed from Calcutta (as Kolkata was known till recently), till New Delhi became the capital in 1911. Imperial grandeur still remains all over Kolkata, with a wide variety of governmental, commercial and institutional architecture for history buffs to admire. Kolkata is also the hub of contemporary Bengali culture and cuisine, so there’s much to look forward to over the next two days.

Since there is so much to see in a great city like Kolkata, your guide will be happy to help plan your time here, based on your preferences and mood.

The remainder of the day is at leisure, or explore at your pace in the evening if you wish.

None
Days 2 & 3: Kolkata

Enjoy a guided tour of Kolkata over two days, covering the major attractions of the city like the Victoria Memorial on the Maidan and the Indian Museum with its famous collection of antiquities.

Walk through boulevards admiring the spectrum of Kolkata’s colonial architecture, including the impressive Writers Building, the High Court, St. Paul’s Cathedral, State Assembly, Town Hall, St. John’s Church etc.

You’ll also want to visit the wholesale flower market at Mallick Ghat early morning. The river ferry is a good way to observe daily life and the iconic Howrah bridge.

The Park Street Cemetery’s 18th -19th century Gothic tombs recall the early days of the Raj when the heat, humidity and illnesses took serious toll of colonial officers and all too often their young families.

Breakfast
Day 4: Bishnupur

An early morning start, driving (3.5 hrs) to Bishnupur’s famed Terracotta temples. The temples are unique in their architecture, constructed with laterite stone and bricks, then faced with finely carved terracotta tiles depicting scenes from Hindu epics and floral motifs.

After visiting the temples, walk around the local market for a chance to shop for terracotta artefacts, fine Baluchari silk sarees and fabrics.

A special treat awaits those interested in WW2 aviation history, at the old USAAF bomber airfield near Bishnupur. The massive concrete runway once carried B-29 bombers of the 462d Bombardment Group, and was one of only four B-29 airbases in India. The runway is still used by farmers and motorcyclists. A watch tower stands amidst trees evoking the sounds of bomber engines.

Check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 5: Shantiniketan

Visit the hamlet of Panchmura, a pottery centre where artisans can be observed handcrafting Hindu deities in the shape of horses and elephants from terracotta. Ranks of terracotta figurines make great photo opportunities.

Later, drive (3.5 hrs) to Shantiniketan’s University campus, which has been granted World Heritage status in 2023. Founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in the early 1900s, the Vishwa Bharati University remains a venerable crucible of Bengali art and culture. Open-air classrooms under the old trees around the campus teach students music, fine arts and other subjects.

Spread throughout the leafy university grounds are statues, sculptures, paintings and the celebrated Shantiniketan murals including works by Rabindranath Tagore and other notable Bengali luminaries.

Check into your hotel for one night

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6: Murshidabad

After an early breakfast, drive north (3 hrs) to Murshidabad to visit the Hazarduari Palace and complex.
In the 18th century, Murshidabad was the capital of the Mughal province of Bengal. Today, several mosques, tombs and gardens survive in a complex on the banks of the Bhagirathi or Hooghly River, the best of which is the grand Georgian Hazarduari Palace, built for the Nawabs in 1837.

The palace has now been transformed into a museum housing priceless paintings, furniture and antiques from the 18th-19th centuries.

Other beautiful structures within the complex include the Nizamat Imambara with its clock tower, the Wasef Manzil (a former regal residence) and the elegant Madina Mosque.

Murshid Quli Khan, who moved the capital here in 1700, is buried beneath the stairs at the impressive ruins of the Katra Mosque. Siraj-ud-daula was assassinated at the Nimak Haram Deori (Traitor’s Gate).
Drive further north (2.5hrs) to Gaur to check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 7: Gaur & Pandua

Visit the archaeological sites of Gaur and Pandua.

At Gaur (also spelt Gour) among the mango orchards lie the remains of graceful 13th -17th century monuments such as the Baradwari mosque, Dakhil Darwaza, and Qadam Rasul mosque.

Nearby Pandua are vast remains of the 14th century Adina Mosque. At the time of construction it was India’s largest mosque. The Eklakhi mausoleum also dates back to the 14th century.

After your sightseeing for the day, check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 8: Malda – Darjeeling

Today, take a morning train to New Jalpaiguri, the railhead for Darjeeling, then drive (2.5hrs) from there on to Darjeeling to check into your hotel where you’ll spend three nights. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax in the soothing climes of Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills.

Sprawled over a steep mountain ridge and dotted with unending stretches of emerald green tea plantations, Darjeeling is blessed with majestic views of Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. The colonial architecture exudes a charm of its own.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 9: Darjeeling

Start early to reach Tiger Hill around dawn to catch a breath-taking view of Kangchenjunga and the northeast Himalayas, stretching from the plains bordering Bangladesh in the south to the peaks of Lhotse, Makulu and Everest in the west, and Kangchenjunga to the north.

On the way back to Darjeeling, stop at Batasia Loop to get another excellent view of the Himalayas, with far fewer people around. Visit Ghoom Monastery and see the wonderful old murals and a 5m-high statue of Maitreya or ‘Future Buddha’. If interested, you can also visit two other gompas of interest nearby including the fortress-style Guru Sakya Gompa and Samten Choling Gompa which has the largest Buddha statue in West Bengal.

Later in the afternoon, visit the interesting Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to learn about the history of Himalayan mountaineering.

In the evening you may wish to explore the steep and winding bazaar streets below the town, bustling with textiles and an array of Himalayan products.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10: Darjeeling

The Darjeeling Hill Railway is a world famous, World Heritage narrow-gauge railway that still uses steam locomotives for regular passenger services.

This morning, board the 0900 departure to the nearby hill town of Kurseong, 32km south of Darjeeling. Kurseong is a bustling hill town best known for its tea estates and Raj-era boarding schools. Its name derives from the Lepcha word khorsang, a reference to the small white orchid prolific in this area. You’ll be met at the station by your car on arrival at 1130.

Darjeeling is the source of the finest teas in the world. Darjeeling’s most famous export is its aromatic muscatel tea, known for its amber colour, tannic astringence and a musky and spicy flavour. Visit the organic Makaibari Tea Estate in Kurseong, the biggest estate in the region for a plantation walk, with tea plucking and tasting sessions. Observe the sorting and drying machines process tea leaves.

Drive back to your hotel where the rest of the day is at leisure.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 11: Darjeeling - Gangtok

After breakfast, it’s time to leave West Bengal behind and drive (3.5 hrs) to Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim.

Check into your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 12: Gangtok

Explore the city’s major sights today.

Start at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology with its priceless and well-explained collection of Tibetan Buddhist artefacts.

Tsuklakhang, Gangtok’s ‘royal’ monastery is an oasis of calm, with superb interiors. Enchey Gompa is a small but photogenic Buddhist monastery, in a forested ridge just north of Gangtok. The monastery is known for its wall paintings.

Those interested in gardens and flowers should not miss the Flower Exhibition Centre, especially during late March and April, when alpine flowers are in bloom. The small conservatory style covered garden is a pleasant place to spot exotic orchids.

End the day by strolling along the Mahatma Gandhi Road, the main market street which brings all the locals out for an evening walk.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 13: Gangtok – Pelling

After breakfast, visit the Rumtek Gompa just south of Gangtok.

Rumtek is Sikkim’s most spiritually significant monastery, essentially a self-contained village with a colourful main prayer hall with a giant yellow throne awaiting the long-overdue coronation of the Kagyu spiritual leader, the (disputed) 17th Karmapa. Also visit the Old Rumtek Gompa nearby, which sees far fewer tourists and has a very colourfully decorated prayer hall.

Drive west to Pelling (4 hrs) through majestic mountains and scenic landscapes, stopping en-route at a picturesque tea garden and the 41m-tall Buddha statue at Ravangala which is set in manicured lawns with a great Himalayan backdrop. Pelling is a lovely town surrounded by pine forests.

Check into your hotel in Pelling for 2 nights.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 14: Pelling

Pelling is justly famous for its dawn views of Khangchendzonga, but you’ll have to wake up early, a price worth paying for.

After a relaxed breakfast, visit the town’s main highlights. The historic and popular Pemayangtse Gompa, the more peaceful Sanghak Choeling, and the ruins of the 18th-century royal palace of Rabdentse.

One of Sikkim’s oldest and most significant monasteries, Pemayangtse dates back to 1647. Rabdentse was Sikkim’s royal capital from 1670 until it was sacked by Nepali forces in the 18th century.

There are short trails around Pelling for those who wish to enjoy a leisurely walk in the clean fresh air.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 15: Pelling – Kalimpong

After enjoying another magnificent dawn show and breakfast, drive south to Kalimpong (5 hrs) stopping enroute to admire the views and the small town of Namchi.

The small ridgetop settlements of Kaluk and Rinchenpong have the jaw dropping Himalayan views that are considered even superior to those at Pelling and Darjeeling. Stretch your legs and stare north towards a magnificent mountain panorama of white Himalayan peaks and a saw-toothed range of lower crags to the east of the main massif.

Namchi’s famous for its two giant religious statues, both set against great Himalayan backdrops. The 45m-high statue of Guru Rimpoche is painted shimmering copper and gilt and sits on a lotus plinth high above Namchi on the forested Samdruptse ridge, set against a superlative view of the Khangchendzonga Massif.

A 33m Shiva statue is sited in Char Dham, a park that also contains replicas of great Indian pilgrimage sites, including Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Jagannath, all offering great photo opportunities and a nice pit stop.

Check into your hotel for a night, where the rest of the evening is at leisure

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 16: Kalimpong - Bagdogra – Departure
It’s time to bid farewell to Sikkim as you drive (3 hrs) to the Bagdogra airport to catch your flight to Delhi or Kolkata, and connect with your international return flight.
Breakfast
Day 1: Arrival in Kolkata

Fly into Kolkata via the Middle East this morning. You’ll be met by your driver and guide and transfer to your hotel for 3 nights.

Practically all of the Indian sub-continent under British control during the Raj was governed from Calcutta (as Kolkata was known till recently), till New Delhi became the capital in 1911. Imperial grandeur still remains all over Kolkata, with a wide variety of governmental, commercial and institutional architecture for history buffs to admire. Kolkata is also the hub of contemporary Bengali culture and cuisine, so there’s much to look forward to over the next two days.

Since there is so much to see in a great city like Kolkata, your guide will be happy to help plan your time here, based on your preferences and mood.

The remainder of the day is at leisure, or explore at your pace in the evening if you wish.

None
Days 2 & 3: Kolkata

Enjoy a guided tour of Kolkata over two days, covering the major attractions of the city like the Victoria Memorial on the Maidan and the Indian Museum with its famous collection of antiquities.

Walk through boulevards admiring the spectrum of Kolkata’s colonial architecture, including the impressive Writers Building, the High Court, St. Paul’s Cathedral, State Assembly, Town Hall, St. John’s Church etc.

You’ll also want to visit the wholesale flower market at Mallick Ghat early morning. The river ferry is a good way to observe daily life and the iconic Howrah bridge.

The Park Street Cemetery’s 18th -19th century Gothic tombs recall the early days of the Raj when the heat, humidity and illnesses took serious toll of colonial officers and all too often their young families.

Breakfast
Day 4: Bishnupur

An early morning start, driving (3.5 hrs) to Bishnupur’s famed Terracotta temples. The temples are unique in their architecture, constructed with laterite stone and bricks, then faced with finely carved terracotta tiles depicting scenes from Hindu epics and floral motifs.

After visiting the temples, walk around the local market for a chance to shop for terracotta artefacts, fine Baluchari silk sarees and fabrics.

A special treat awaits those interested in WW2 aviation history, at the old USAAF bomber airfield near Bishnupur. The massive concrete runway once carried B-29 bombers of the 462d Bombardment Group, and was one of only four B-29 airbases in India. The runway is still used by farmers and motorcyclists. A watch tower stands amidst trees evoking the sounds of bomber engines.

Check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 5: Shantiniketan

Visit the hamlet of Panchmura, a pottery centre where artisans can be observed handcrafting Hindu deities in the shape of horses and elephants from terracotta. Ranks of terracotta figurines make great photo opportunities.

Later, drive (3.5 hrs) to Shantiniketan’s University campus, which has been granted World Heritage status in 2023. Founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in the early 1900s, the Vishwa Bharati University remains a venerable crucible of Bengali art and culture. Open-air classrooms under the old trees around the campus teach students music, fine arts and other subjects.

Spread throughout the leafy university grounds are statues, sculptures, paintings and the celebrated Shantiniketan murals including works by Rabindranath Tagore and other notable Bengali luminaries.

Check into your hotel for one night

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6: Murshidabad

After an early breakfast, drive north (3 hrs) to Murshidabad to visit the Hazarduari Palace and complex.
In the 18th century, Murshidabad was the capital of the Mughal province of Bengal. Today, several mosques, tombs and gardens survive in a complex on the banks of the Bhagirathi or Hooghly River, the best of which is the grand Georgian Hazarduari Palace, built for the Nawabs in 1837.

The palace has now been transformed into a museum housing priceless paintings, furniture and antiques from the 18th-19th centuries.

Other beautiful structures within the complex include the Nizamat Imambara with its clock tower, the Wasef Manzil (a former regal residence) and the elegant Madina Mosque.

Murshid Quli Khan, who moved the capital here in 1700, is buried beneath the stairs at the impressive ruins of the Katra Mosque. Siraj-ud-daula was assassinated at the Nimak Haram Deori (Traitor’s Gate).
Drive further north (2.5hrs) to Gaur to check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 7: Gaur & Pandua

Visit the archaeological sites of Gaur and Pandua.

At Gaur (also spelt Gour) among the mango orchards lie the remains of graceful 13th -17th century monuments such as the Baradwari mosque, Dakhil Darwaza, and Qadam Rasul mosque.

Nearby Pandua are vast remains of the 14th century Adina Mosque. At the time of construction it was India’s largest mosque. The Eklakhi mausoleum also dates back to the 14th century.

After your sightseeing for the day, check into your hotel for one night.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 8: Malda – Darjeeling

Today, take a morning train to New Jalpaiguri, the railhead for Darjeeling, then drive (2.5hrs) from there on to Darjeeling to check into your hotel where you’ll spend three nights. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax in the soothing climes of Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills.

Sprawled over a steep mountain ridge and dotted with unending stretches of emerald green tea plantations, Darjeeling is blessed with majestic views of Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. The colonial architecture exudes a charm of its own.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 9: Darjeeling

Start early to reach Tiger Hill around dawn to catch a breath-taking view of Kangchenjunga and the northeast Himalayas, stretching from the plains bordering Bangladesh in the south to the peaks of Lhotse, Makulu and Everest in the west, and Kangchenjunga to the north.

On the way back to Darjeeling, stop at Batasia Loop to get another excellent view of the Himalayas, with far fewer people around. Visit Ghoom Monastery and see the wonderful old murals and a 5m-high statue of Maitreya or ‘Future Buddha’. If interested, you can also visit two other gompas of interest nearby including the fortress-style Guru Sakya Gompa and Samten Choling Gompa which has the largest Buddha statue in West Bengal.

Later in the afternoon, visit the interesting Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to learn about the history of Himalayan mountaineering.

In the evening you may wish to explore the steep and winding bazaar streets below the town, bustling with textiles and an array of Himalayan products.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10: Darjeeling

The Darjeeling Hill Railway is a world famous, World Heritage narrow-gauge railway that still uses steam locomotives for regular passenger services.

This morning, board the 0900 departure to the nearby hill town of Kurseong, 32km south of Darjeeling. Kurseong is a bustling hill town best known for its tea estates and Raj-era boarding schools. Its name derives from the Lepcha word khorsang, a reference to the small white orchid prolific in this area. You’ll be met at the station by your car on arrival at 1130.

Darjeeling is the source of the finest teas in the world. Darjeeling’s most famous export is its aromatic muscatel tea, known for its amber colour, tannic astringence and a musky and spicy flavour. Visit the organic Makaibari Tea Estate in Kurseong, the biggest estate in the region for a plantation walk, with tea plucking and tasting sessions. Observe the sorting and drying machines process tea leaves.

Drive back to your hotel where the rest of the day is at leisure.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 11: Darjeeling - Gangtok

After breakfast, it’s time to leave West Bengal behind and drive (3.5 hrs) to Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim.

Check into your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 12: Gangtok

Explore the city’s major sights today.

Start at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology with its priceless and well-explained collection of Tibetan Buddhist artefacts.

Tsuklakhang, Gangtok’s ‘royal’ monastery is an oasis of calm, with superb interiors. Enchey Gompa is a small but photogenic Buddhist monastery, in a forested ridge just north of Gangtok. The monastery is known for its wall paintings.

Those interested in gardens and flowers should not miss the Flower Exhibition Centre, especially during late March and April, when alpine flowers are in bloom. The small conservatory style covered garden is a pleasant place to spot exotic orchids.

End the day by strolling along the Mahatma Gandhi Road, the main market street which brings all the locals out for an evening walk.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 13: Gangtok – Pelling

After breakfast, visit the Rumtek Gompa just south of Gangtok.

Rumtek is Sikkim’s most spiritually significant monastery, essentially a self-contained village with a colourful main prayer hall with a giant yellow throne awaiting the long-overdue coronation of the Kagyu spiritual leader, the (disputed) 17th Karmapa. Also visit the Old Rumtek Gompa nearby, which sees far fewer tourists and has a very colourfully decorated prayer hall.

Drive west to Pelling (4 hrs) through majestic mountains and scenic landscapes, stopping en-route at a picturesque tea garden and the 41m-tall Buddha statue at Ravangala which is set in manicured lawns with a great Himalayan backdrop. Pelling is a lovely town surrounded by pine forests.

Check into your hotel in Pelling for 2 nights.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 14: Pelling

Pelling is justly famous for its dawn views of Khangchendzonga, but you’ll have to wake up early, a price worth paying for.

After a relaxed breakfast, visit the town’s main highlights. The historic and popular Pemayangtse Gompa, the more peaceful Sanghak Choeling, and the ruins of the 18th-century royal palace of Rabdentse.

One of Sikkim’s oldest and most significant monasteries, Pemayangtse dates back to 1647. Rabdentse was Sikkim’s royal capital from 1670 until it was sacked by Nepali forces in the 18th century.

There are short trails around Pelling for those who wish to enjoy a leisurely walk in the clean fresh air.

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 15: Pelling – Kalimpong

After enjoying another magnificent dawn show and breakfast, drive south to Kalimpong (5 hrs) stopping enroute to admire the views and the small town of Namchi.

The small ridgetop settlements of Kaluk and Rinchenpong have the jaw dropping Himalayan views that are considered even superior to those at Pelling and Darjeeling. Stretch your legs and stare north towards a magnificent mountain panorama of white Himalayan peaks and a saw-toothed range of lower crags to the east of the main massif.

Namchi’s famous for its two giant religious statues, both set against great Himalayan backdrops. The 45m-high statue of Guru Rimpoche is painted shimmering copper and gilt and sits on a lotus plinth high above Namchi on the forested Samdruptse ridge, set against a superlative view of the Khangchendzonga Massif.

A 33m Shiva statue is sited in Char Dham, a park that also contains replicas of great Indian pilgrimage sites, including Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Jagannath, all offering great photo opportunities and a nice pit stop.

Check into your hotel for a night, where the rest of the evening is at leisure

Breakfast, Dinner
Day 16: Kalimpong - Bagdogra – Departure
It’s time to bid farewell to Sikkim as you drive (3 hrs) to the Bagdogra airport to catch your flight to Delhi or Kolkata, and connect with your international return flight.
Breakfast

Interested in this itinerary? It's great as is, but we'll be happy to tailor it for you.

Our prices do not include international flights unless explicitly stated.

The price shown is per person, based on two people travelling and sharing a room, outside peak periods. Prices may vary depending on the time of travel, and single supplements may apply.

Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)