The eastern end of the Himalayas and their neighboring foothills is one of the least-visited sections of the mountain range, but other travelers' loss is your gain as you explore this corner of India over the course of eight days. You'll experience a mix of Buddhist, Hindu, and Tibetan culture as you visit tea terraces, monasteries, mountain viewpoints, and more.

Highlights

  • Sip tea amidst the terraces in Darjeeling
  • Watch the sunrise over the Himalayas
  • Stroll through ancient Buddhist and Hindu monasteries
  • Explore Tibetan artifacts at Namgyal Institute

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bagdogra, Drive to Darjeeling Darjeeling
Day 2 Darjeeling Sunrise & Toy Train Trip Darjeeling
Day 3 Darjeeling - Rabdentse - Pelling Pelling
Day 4 Pelling - Tashiding Monastery - Gangtok Gangtok
Day 5 Gangtok Sightseeing Gangtok
Day 6 Gangtok - Rumtek - Kalimpong Kalimpong
Day 7 Kalimpong Sightseeing Kalimpong
Day 8 Depart Kalimpong  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bagdogra, Drive to Darjeeling

Darjeeling town
Darjeeling town

Welcome to India! You'll start your northern journey with a landing at the Bagdogra airport, where you'll meet your guide for a transfer to Darjeeling. Once you land, you'll drive through jungles, tea estates, and hillside villages. 

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. You'll get a sneak preview of the tea scene with at the Sonada Monastery and tea garden. 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 2: Darjeeling Sunrise & Toy Train Trip

View of Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling
View of Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

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.

Hop onboard the Toy Train afterward for a two-hour round trip rail ride to Ghum and back, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the ride and take in the surrounding landscape. You'll also visit the large gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha in Ghum.

Once you return to Darjeeling, you'll top off the tour with 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.

Day 3: Darjeeling - Rabdentse - Pelling

Pelling town
Pelling town

Travel through the Rangeet River Valley to Pelling, a journey of roughly 3 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 stop at the Rubdentse ruins just a short walk away from the monastery, with a view from the top of the ruins that scans across a  deep valley up to the heights of Khangchendzonga. 

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

Day 4: Pelling - Tashiding Monastery - Gangtok

A monastery in Gangtok
A monastery in Gangtok

Start your day with an excursion up to the Sanga-Choling Monastery, seated on a ridge above Pelling and the famous Pemayangtse Monastery. It's one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim, built in 1697, and to reach it you'll trek for about 40 minutes up a steep, hilly slope through lush forests.

Return to your lodging to pick up your belongings, then set out for 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.

Day 5: 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.

Day 6: 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 7: 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 8: Depart Kalimpong

Prayer wheels at Zang Dhok Palri Phodang monastery
Prayer wheels at Zang Dhok Palri Phodang monastery

Depart Kalimpong today with a transfer to the Bagdogra airport to catch your flight home or on to your next adventure.

Map

Map of Cultural Northwest India: Darjeeling & Sikkim - 8 Days
Map of Cultural Northwest India: Darjeeling & Sikkim - 8 Days