Tea plantations, Tibetan monasteries, sacred lakes – the hills of West Bengal and Sikkim have a lot to offer the curious traveller. Use this itinerary to spend a leisurely 11 days finding your feet in the area.
Begin your trip by flying into West Bengal’s Bagdogra Airport or taking a train to New Jalpaiguri. Then drive to Kurseong. It’s a long journey – keep at it, it’s best to relax only when you arrive.
Start the day with a tea-plantation tour. Drive to Darjeeling in the afternoon, with breathtaking views of forested hills and terraced tea gardens along the way.
There’s more to Darjeeling than tea gardens. It has a British colonial influence, but it’s also a mountain town, with an interesting mix of Nepali and Tibetan houses sitting next to colonial Victorian mansions. Head to Tiger Hill to catch the sun rising over Kanchendzonga, and the monastery in Ghoom, the Himalayan Mountain Institute and the Tibetan Refugee Centre.
DAYS 4 & 5
Make an early start to get to Pelling. The drive is quite pretty, with forests and deep valleys and the Teesta River to accompany you. Look out for Pemayangtse Monastery – it’s one of the most important in Sikkim.
Drive on to Khecheopalri Lake, considered sacred by Hindus and Buddhists. From there, you can trek up to the tiny hill town of Yuksom, which is also a good base from which to explore the surrounding jungles.
Wake up early to trek to Tashiding and its gold-topped monastery. The views are spectacular from up there, because the monastery’s at quite a height. Then drive to Ravangla Village for the night.
DAYS 8 & 9
Set out early for the drive to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. If you’re inclined towards shopping, head to the central Mall road (it also works if you just want to be surrounded by people again after the relative quiet of the previous few days). Spend your time unwinding and resting. Gangtok Zoo is worth visiting, if you’re travelling with kids. If you want to fit in some more sightseeing, visit the Phodang and Labrang monasteries – they’re relatively unexplored and offer great views.
Head to Kalimpong with a stop at Rumtek Monastery – it’s a good place at which to try a cup of salted butter tea, which you’ll be offered by the monks. Kalimpong is known for flower nurseries.
Make the drive to Bagdogra or New Jalpaiguri in time to catch your flight or train home. The roads may not be in great condition so plan accordingly.