CALCUTTA, DARJEELING & SIKKIM
Date: 06 November - 21 November, 2013
Lecturer: Martin Symington
Cost: £3490 • Course Code: CALC-13
Our journey starts in Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is now officially known), capital of West Bengal and of the British Raj until 1911, and takes us up into Darjeeling. During the 19th century the colonials cut a deal with the rulers of the independent Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim: they leased an area to the south of the kingdom where some British officials had stumbled on the Buddhist monastery of Dorje Ling in an area of spellbinding scenery and alluring climate. Here they established a hill station to escape the searing heat and humidity of summer.
In Calcutta, perched on the edge of the Hooghly River, we discover the delights of the Victoria Memorial. This iconic landmark rises regally from the capital’s skyline and displays, through the impressive white marble structure, a fusion of British and Mughal architecture. The memorial, designed by Sir William Emerson in 1901 following the death of Queen Victoria, today houses a museum and gallery displaying royal artefacts, portraits and memorabilia of the British reign.
From the sensory overload of the cityscape we journey into the cool foothills of the Himalayas. Here we are greeted with lush green tea plantations, the air heavy with sweet aromas and a skyline dominated by dramatic mountain peaks. Along the way we savour the region’s delicacy and discover the secrets of the perfect tealeaf from local specialists. Darjeeling, not only renowned for its tea, reveals a wealth of colonial history including Ghoom, the highest railway station in India to which we enjoy a train ride. Here lies the Yiga Choling Gompa, the area’s most famous monastery that enshrines a five metre high Maitreya Buddha. A dawn pilgrimage to Tiger Hill shows us breathtaking views over Kanchenjunga at sunrise, the tip of Mount Everest often also visible in the distance.
Continuing into Sikkim we explore its capital: Gangtok. Proudly overlooking the city is Rumtek Monastery, the largest in Sikkim and home to the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The kingdom was absorbed into India in 1975 but remains a bastion of Tibetan Buddhist religion and culture.
We stay throughout at comfortable hotels including Calcutta’s Oberoi Grand Hotel, an oasis of tranquillity in the centre of the bustling city, featuring state of the art facilities within classical Victorian architecure. In Darjeeling we stay at the Windamere Hotel, gloriously located on Observatory Hill and boasting spectacular views of the local landscape.
Tour Director Martin Symington is one of Britain’s most prolific travel journalists. Martin has travelled extensively in India and visited more than 100 countries on assignments for national newspapers and travel magazines.
Day 1Depart Heathrow 1335 on Emirates via Dubai.
Day 2Arrive Calcutta 0740 and transfer to the Oberoi Grand Hotel for two nights. Afternoon: the nine-spire Kali Temple (a beautiful example of traditional Bengal architecture), the Victoria Memorial and St John’s Church.
Day 3Calcutta: morning excursion to witness Hooghly river bathing ghats (devotees come to make offerings and wash in the auspicious waters), flower market, Mother Teresa’s house and tomb, Botanic Gardens, Eden Gardens cricket ground (largest in India) and race course.
Day 4Depart Calcutta by air for Bagdogra. Continue by coach to Darjeeling’s Windamere Hotel (3-4 hours drive) for four nights. Afternoon: Chowrasta Square (Darjeeling’s popular main square) and local markets.
Day 5Darjeeling Himalayan Railway trip to Ghoom (UNESCO World Heritage Site and highest railway station in India), Yiga Choling Gompa (5m high Maitreya Buddha), Gurkha War Memorial, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Lloyd Botanical Garden.
Day 6Early morning excursion for sunrise on Tiger Hill (views of Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest). Morning: Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre and Observatory Hill. Afternoon: Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park.
Day 7Whole-day excursion to Glenburn Tea Estate (tea process from field to cup) including tea tasting.
Day 8 Depart for the hill station of Kalimpong for two nights stay at Silver Oaks Hotel. Walking tour of Kalimpong markets and Dr Graham’s Homes (children’s charity and boarding school).
Day 9Kalimpong: Tharpa Choling Gompa (monastery belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism), Durpin Gompa perched on Derpin Dara Hill (excellent views over the Chola range in Sikkim), Orchid Nurseries and Mangal Dham Temple.
Day 10Depart for Pelling in Sikkim via Tashiding Gompa (3-4 hours drive). Afternoon: Pemayangtse Gompa (surrounded by gardens and traditional monks’ cottages). Two nights stay at Hotel Mount Pandim.
Day 11Walk to Dubdi Gompa (approximately one hour each way with some steep sections), Tashi Tenka (ruins of the royal palace complex, created when Yuksom acted as the capital of Sikkim), Norbugang Park with the Coronation Stone throne, Kathok Wodsallin Gompa.
Day 13Morning: Enchey Gompa and the wonderful exterior of Raj Bhawan. Afternoon: Nangyal Institute of Tibetology (promoting the research of Mahayan Buddhism).
Day 14Whole-day excursion to Rumtek Gompa (Sikkim’s largest monastery).
Day 15Coach journey to Bagdogra (3-4 hours) for flight to Calcutta. Transfer to the Oberoi Grand Hotel for overnight stay.
Day 16Depart Calcutta 0855, arriving Heathrow 1430.