Explore northern India over two weeks with this itinerary. You'll start in bustling Delhi before you retreat to mountain serenity in Darjeeling, then continue to historic monasteries and their sacred texts, artifacts, and stories throughout the state of Sikkim. Encounter sacred lakes, hilltop temples, colorful markets, and more before you return to Delhi.

Highlights

  • Tour the landmarks of Old Delhi on a rickshaw
  • Watch the sunrise over the Himalayas
  • Visit Khecheopalri Lake, one of the sacred lakes of Sikkim
  • Stroll through ancient Buddhist and Hindu monasteries
  • Explore Tibetan artifacts at Namgyal Institute

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Delhi Delhi
Day 2 Old Delhi Sightseeing & Rickshaw Ride Delhi
Day 3 Delhi to Darjeeling Darjeeling
Day 4 Sunrise & Sightseeing in Darjeeling Darjeeling
Day 5 Toy Train & Darjeeling Monasteries Darjeeling
Day 6 Darjeeling - Namchi - Pelling Pelling
Day 7 Pelling - Khecheopalri Lake & Dubdi Monastery - Yuksom Yuksom
Day 8 Yuksom - Tashiding Monastery - Gangtok Gangtok
Day 9 Gangtok Sightseeing Gangtok
Day 10 Phodong & Labrang Monasteries Gangtok
Day 11 Gangtok - Rumtek - Kalimpong Gangtok
Day 12 Kalimpong Sightseeing Kalimpong
Day 13 Kalimpong - Bagdogra - Delhi Delhi
Day 14 Depart from Delhi Delhi

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi

Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft market
Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft market

Welcome to India! Your trip starts in bustling Delhi, home to the capital of India and more than 21 million people. Think of this sprawling city as divided into two parts: Old Delhi, founded in the 17th century, and New Delhi, established in 1911. Through most of its history, Delhi has served as a capital of various kingdoms and empires, most notably the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. The city has been captured, ransacked and rebuilt several times, particularly during the medieval period. Modern Delhi, for its part, is a cluster of areas spread across the metropolitan region.

You'll meet your guide at the airport for a traditional swagat (welcome), followed by a transfer to your hotel. Check-in, then take some time to relax after your travels. If you're feeling ready to explore, take a trip to Dilli Haat, an outdoor craft bazaar selling handmade souvenirs.

Day 2: Old Delhi Sightseeing & Rickshaw Ride

Rickshaws in Old Delhi
Rickshaws in Old Delhi

Take a tour of the ancient monuments of "Old Delhi," traveling through narrow streets and bustling bazaars. You'll start by passing by the dramatic exterior of the Red Fort, followed by a stop at the Jama Masjid. Built by Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal,  in 1658, this is one of India's largest mosques.

Continue to Chandni Chowk, one of the area's most famous markets and home to saris, silver jewelry, spices, and more. You'll ride through the market in a rickshaw to explore the streets of what was, in Mughal times, the center of the city of Shah Jehanabad. End with a visit to Raj Ghat, a solemn memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

Day 3: Delhi to Darjeeling

Darjeeling
Darjeeling

Transfer to the airport this morning to board a flight to Bagdogra, your hop-off point to continue to Darjeeling. Once you land, you'll drive through jungles, tea estates, and hillside villages as you leave behind the heat of Delhi. You'll get a sneak preview of the tea scene with at the Sonada Monastery and tea garden.

The road winds through the hills to the village of Kurseong, whose name comes from the Lepcha word for a small white orchid that grows prolifically in the area. It's also the southern terminus for the steam-powered of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, and surrounded by scenic tea estates. Keep going along the tracks of the Toy Train, once the primary mode of transit to the hill station.

After you arrive in Darjeeling, the rest of the day is yours to explore. Once known as the "queen of hill stations," now better known for its tea, the station was first established by the British in 1835. They negotiated with the Raja of Sikkim for the land, called Dorje Ling, meaning the place (ling) of the Dorje (the mystic thunderbolt of the lamas). It was soon anglicized to Darjeeling, and now draws tourists from around the globe to its Himalayan-crowned landscapes.

Day 4: Sunrise & Sightseeing in Darjeeling

Darjeeling Peace Pagoda
Darjeeling Peace Pagoda

Get an early start on your sightseeing today with a 4 a.m. drive up to Tiger Hill Sunrise Point. You'll get a panoramic view of the Himalayas, including peaks like Kanchandzonga and Mount Everest, as they change color and turn golden in the morning light.

On your way down, visit the Ghoom Monastery to see its large gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

In the afternoon, you'll pay a visit to Observatory Hill, sitting inside the circle of Mall Road and once home to the oldest monastery in Darjeeling. (The building was moved in the late 1800s.)  After a 15-minute uphill walk, you'll reach the top to scope out the views and then spend your evening strolling the market. You also have the option to spend 2 hours of your evening at the Cultural and Folk Dances, where you can hear the local folk music and watch the accompanying dances.

Day 5: Toy Train & Darjeeling Monasteries

View of Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling
View of Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

All aboard the Toy Train this morning. Your rail ride is a two-hour round trip to Ghum and back, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the ride and take in the surrounding landscape.

Once you return to Darjeeling, you'll head out for more sightseeing, starting at the Darjeeling Peace Pagoda. This is just one of the Peace Pagodas built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk from Japan and founder of the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Order, designed to help unite the people of the world in search of peace. Follow that with a visit to the Druk Thupten Sangag Choling Monastery, also known as the Dali Monastery. Located in the nearby town of Dali, this is one of the most famous monasteries of the Kargyupa sect.

Spend the evening relaxing or strolling through the market.

Day 6: Darjeeling - Namchi - Pelling

Pelling town, Sikkim
Pelling town, Sikkim

Travel through the Rangeet River Valley to Pelling, a journey of roughly 7 hours.

On the way, you'll stop at the Pemayangste Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the state and home to excellent Himalayan views. You'll also visit Namchi, where you'll stop at the Sherdup Choeling Monastery and the Dichen Choeling Monastery, along with spots to take in the views of the Khangchendzonga range and the Rangit valley. The 135-foot-high statue of Guru Padamasambhava is nearby at Samdruptse, just outside Namchi.

You also have the option to add a river-rafting adventure to your day. Rush down the Teesta and Rangit rivers as they come foaming down from the Himalayas, with courses suitable for rafters of all skill levels.

Arrive in Pelling in the foothills of Kanchenjunga and settle in for the evening.

Day 7: Pelling - Khecheopalri Lake & Dubdi Monastery - Yuksom

Khecheopalri Lake
Khecheopalri Lake

Start today's trip with a visit to Khecheopalri Lake, considered one of the sacred lakes of Sikkim by both Buddhists and Hindus. It sits hidden within a vibrant forest cover, and it is believed that birds do not permit even a single leaf to float on the lake surface. 

Continue to Dubdi Monastery, which translates to "the retreat," one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim. You'll set out on a walk of about an hour up the hill to the monastery, surrounded by forests and mountain views. Bird watchers will find an early morning or late afternoon visit particularly rewarding.

 Keep going to Yuksom to visit Norbugang Chorten coronation park. Then check in to your hotel to relax for the rest of the evening.

Day 8: Yuksom - Tashiding Monastery - Gangtok

A monastery in Gangtok
A monastery in Gangtok

Your drive today goes from Yuksom to the town of Gangtok. On the way, you'll visit the Tashiding Monastery, seated atop a heart-shaped hill and a backdrop of sacred Mount Khangchendzonga.  It's famous for the 'Thong-WaRang-Dol' chorten, which translates literally to 'saviors by mere sight' and is believed to cleanse the soul of those who look upon it.

Continue to Gangtok after the monastery to unwind for the evening.

Day 9: Gangtok Sightseeing

Cable car in Gangtok
Cable car in Gangtok

Spend the day exploring Gangtok. You'll start at the Enchey Monastery, also known as the Solitary Temple, an important seat of the Nyingma order. When it was initially built, no other construction would be allowed near it. The site was blessed by Lama Druptob Karpo, a tantric master known for his flying powers, and every year a chaam (masked religious dance) is performed with great fanfare over two days.

Continue to the corner towers, colorful murals, and forest-glade setting of the Namgyal Institute. The main hall houses a priceless and well-explained collection of culturally Tibetan/Buddhist iconography and artifacts, ranging from thangkas (cloth paintings), coins, and amulets to tantric skull-cap bowls and trumpets made from human thigh bones.  Buddhist statuary includes an eight-armed bronze image of victory goddess Namgyalama, who appears to be texting on an invisible phone.

On your way back to Gangtok, stop at the Handloom and Handicrafts Center to view and potentially purchase traditional handicrafts, furniture, handloom carpets, and more.

If you'd like to add some adrenaline to your day, you can also opt to go paragliding in Gangtok, taking in the town from a true bird's-eye view as you glide over it.

Day 10: Phodong & Labrang Monasteries

Chorten at a monastery
Chorten at a monastery

Spend a morning amongst the monasteries, starting with Phodong Monastery, one of the six most important Buddhist monasteries in Sikkim. It's affiliated with the Kargyupa sect (Karmapa) of Buddhism and sits at an altitude of 4,500 feet (1,372 m).

Your second stop is the nearby Labrang Monastery. The large stretch of land that this monastery occupies makes it ideal for mass congregations, and it's enclosed within dense forests on the south, west, and north sides.

Drive back to your hotel to spend the afternoon strolling the market in Gangtok.

Day 11: Gangtok - Rumtek - Kalimpong

Kalimpong
Kalimpong

Set out for Kalimpong this morning, with a stop in Rumtek along the way. Rumtek Monastery is the seat of the Karmapa Lama, the third highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. The beautiful monastery enshrines a golden stupa, which contains relics like statues and paintings that belong to the 16th Karmapa, along with religious art objects and some of the world’s most unique religious scriptures. 

After you arrive in Kalimpong and settle into your lodging, you'll head out for a visit to Crookety House. This is where Helena Roerich, a Russian herbologist and healer, came to live with her son Yuri, the director of the Uruswati Research Institute. Helena was the wife of Nicholas Roerich, a celebrated Russian artist, philosopher, and writer, and wrote many books of her own, including Agni-Yoga. She lived in the home from 1947 until her death in 1955.

Day 12: Kalimpong Sightseeing

Phelri Nyingmapa Monastery, Kalimpong
Phelri Nyingmapa Monastery, Kalimpong

Explore  Kalimpong over the day, starting at Tharpa Choling Gompa. Founded in 1937, this monastery belongs to the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect of Tibetan Buddhism and is a repository of old scriptures and documents. 

Your next stop is Thongsa Gumpa, the oldest monastery in Kalimpong. It was built of Bhutanese origin in 1692, though the original structure was destroyed in the inter-clan wars before the British arrived. End your tour at Macforlane Memorial Church, an imposing hilltop Gothic edifice visible from many parts of Kalimpong town. Its foundation stone was laid in 1890.

The evening is yours to explore the local markets or relax at your lodging.

Day 13: Kalimpong - Bagdogra - Delhi

Red Fort in Delhi
Red Fort in Delhi

Drive back to Bagdogra in the morning to board your flight back to Delhi. Once you arrive back in the capital, you'll be transferred to your hotel to store your luggage and settle in.

In the afternoon, get out into the city with a drive down the Rajpath, following the Lutyens-designed buildings used by the government during the British era. You'll see the Presidential Palace and the India Gate, also known as the Door of India, a stone arch built as a memorial to the Indian soldiers killed in World War I with the names of more than 90,000 soldiers and an eternal flame.

You'll also visit the Humayun Tomb, built during the Mughal era and predecessor to the famous Taj Mahal. If time is in your favor, you can also visit the minaret of Qutub Minar.

Day 14: Depart from Delhi

India Gate, Delhi
India Gate, Delhi

Time to say farewell to India. You'll be transferred from your hotel to Indira Gandhi International Airport to catch your flight home or on to your next adventure.

Map

Map of Cultural Northwest India: Darjeeling & Sikkim - 14 Days
Map of Cultural Northwest India: Darjeeling & Sikkim - 14 Days