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Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Our tour starts today in Kolkata (Calcutta). Once the capital of British India, Kolkata has had a turbulent past. It was central to the struggle for Indian independence and thousands of Bengali refugees came here at the start of the 1900s. Kolkata is a city of striking contrasts and can be overwhelming initially, but the sights, smells and chaotic sounds offer a unique introduction to life in the bustling state.
For those arriving in time today, our tour leader will meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for a welcome meeting followed by the option to go out for dinner. If you arrive later, our tour leader will catch you up as soon as possible.
If you'd like an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Kolkata Airport (CCU), around a one-hour drive from the hotel.
If arrive earlier in the day, you might like to stroll around the Kalighat area. One of the oldest parts of the city, it's densely populated and busy with a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali.
Peerless Inn (or similar)
Today we'll begin to explore Kolkata with a tour of some of its major sites. We'll visit St John's Church and the historic Raj buildings around Dalhousie Square, the Jain and Kali temples and the magnificent marble dome of the Victoria Memorial, where the grandeur of European and Mughal influences come together.
We'll also visit the clay modeller's village of Kumartuli. The potters here spend all year creating images and idols that fill the streets with colour during the annual festivals.
We'll pay an early morning visit to the flower market where tons of brightly coloured marigolds are sold by traders, before driving to Belur Math on the banks of the sacred Ganges. A place of pilgrimage for people all over the world, the site is famous for its tranquil setting and the architecture of its buildings. Most interesting, is the Ramakrishna temple which is designed to celebrate the diversity of Indian religions and resembles a temple, a mosque and a church when viewed from different vantage points.
After exploring Belur Math, we'll take a short boat ride across the river to the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The temple was constructed in the 19th century by wealthy widow Rani Rasmani after the goddess Kali appeared to her in a dream, promising to manifest herself at the site if a temple was constructed in her honour.
After breakfast this morning, we'll leave Kolkata for the unique landscapes of the Sundarbans. Translating as the 'beautiful jungle', this UNESCO World Heritage site is home to one of the largest mangrove forests on the planet. Set amongst a vast delta that's fed by the waters of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers, the area is a haven for Bengal tigers, crocodiles, and a remarkable diversity of birds.
A short cruise will take us to the Sundarban Tiger Camp, our base for the next two nights. We'll have lunch before heading out by boat again to the Sajnekhali Tiger project area. There's a small museum and a watch tower for spotting tigers and other wildlife. The nearby heron sanctuary is a beautiful spot, and Egrets are common visitors to this part of the jungle.
Sunderban Tiger Camp (or similar)
Starting early, we'll continue our exploration of the Sundarbans, cruising along winding creeks and through dense mangrove forest in search of wildlife. If we're in luck, we might spot Royal Bengal tigers relaxing on the mudflats next to the rivers and creeks. Other wildlife we might spot includes fishing cats, leopard cats, macaques, wild boar, Indian grey mongoose, pangolin, and chital, as well as an abundance of birdlife.
We'll make a stop at the Dobanke Watch Tower where we'll enjoy a canopy walk to view the animals and bird life in the treetops and visit the spotted deer rehabilitation centre. In the afternoon, we'll pay a visit to some of the local villages where we'll get an insight into local culture and life, including the challenges of living with Bengal Tigers as neighbours.
After a final cruise in the Sundarbans, a visit to Sudhanyakhali Watch tower and lunch at the Tiger Camp, we'll head back to Kolkata. There'll be time for an evening meal in the city before boarding the Darjeeling Mail overnight sleeper train.
Sleeper trains are a rite of passage on any journey through India and are a great way to meet locals as we travel. Please note, we try our best to book second class carriages and keep the group together, however due to demand and the train booking system, our group might be split, with some passengers in third class. If this happens, our tour leader will make sure everyone finds their seat and is comfortable.
Second class sleeper carriages have four beds per compartment, separated by curtains. They're air conditioned and bedding is provided, however, you might want to bring a sleeping bag liner for added comfort.
Overnight Train Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri
Simple Overnight Train
Our train is scheduled to arrive at New Jalpaiguri station at 8am and we'll stop for breakfast before continuing by road to the hill station of Darjeeling.
In the days of the Raj, the Bengal government escaped from the Calcutta heat to take up its official summer residence here and today's city dwellers do just the same, making Darjeeling a popular holiday spot. At 2134m, the town is beautifully situated on a mountain ridge; the near vertical streets are crowded with a colourful mixture of Hindus and hill tribes - Lepchas, Bhutias and Tibetans among them. On a clear day, the views over the mountains to the snowy Himalayan peaks are magnificent.
There'll be time to relax after the train journey before enjoying an afternoon orientation walk around the town and a chance to see some tea plantations. The town's high altitude, cool climate and fertile soils are great for the cultivation of tea and the town is dotted with estates producing world-class tea.
Summit Swiss Heritage Hotel (or similar)
Tiger Hill is the area's highest viewpoint (2590m), eight miles from Darjeeling and, weather permitting, we'll make a dawn excursion here to contemplate the sunrise and the beauty of the eastern Himalayan peaks. On a clear morning, you can even spot Mount Everest (8848m).
Please note, due to local restrictions on the number of vehicles, the sunrise visit to Tiger Hill cannot be guaranteed; should this be the case, we'll reschedule our visit for later in the day.
There's plenty to see in the town including the Mountaineering Institute with its Everest Museum or you might like to visit the Tibetan Refugee centre where Tibetan craftworks are on sale. This afternoon will be free for you to explore Darjeeling and take some of the other smaller walks around town.
Today, we'll take the Toy Train to Ghoom Gompa (monastery), eight kilometres south of Darjeeling. The Toy Train line is a narrow-gauge railway running between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling.
Note, while we try to book the traditional steam trains, many of the trains servicing this route are now diesel.
There'll be an option to take a two-hour walk back to Darjeeling along the scenic ridge track via Allobari village (weather permitting).
Today we have a long drive to Pelling (around eight hours) and this afternoon we'll cross into the former Kingdom of Sikkim, annexed by India in 1975 to become the 22nd Indian state.
On arrival in the town, there'll be the opportunity to take an optional walk to the Sanga Choling monastery, approximately one hour each way.
Summit Newa Regency (or similar)
Today we'll visit Kecheopelri, also known as the Wishing Lake, considered to be the holiest lake in Sikkim. It's a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike. We'll have a picnic lunch at the lake and then return to Pelling.
This afternoon, we'll visit Pemayangste Monastery, the second oldest of its kind and one of only 60 that are still active. Established in the 8th century by the famous Indian teacher Padmasambhava, its members are devotees of a mystical type of Tantric Buddhism, characterised by the red caps they wear. Their religion is derived from Tibetan Lamaism, a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, mythology, and magic.
We have another long drive ahead today - around eight hours along mountain roads. Along the way, we'll visit Rabdentse, the former capital of Sikkim, before continuing through semi-tropical forests, cardamom plantations and small villages to Gangtok, the present-day capital of Sikkim.
Gangtok is a picturesque town set on a long ridge flanking the Ranipul River and offers vistas of the entire Kanchenjunga range.
Summit Golden Crescent Resort & Spa (or similar)
Today we'll explore Gangtok, including the Drodul Chorten. Built to commemorate the victory of good over evil, it contains a complete set of holy books and is surrounded by 108 prayer wheels.
We'll also pay a visit to the Institute of Tibetology whose collection of rare books and manuscripts will interest students of Buddhism.
Finally, we'll spend some time at the Tashi Handicraft Centre, a small centre established to help Tibetan refugee women find work. There are many items of tapestry, knitting and embroidery in traditional ornate designs. The rest of the day is free to relax and soak up Gangtok's relaxed atmosphere.
This morning, we'll set out on a drive to the Gompa at Rumtek on the other side of the Ranipul Valley. Here, we'll find the headquarters of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which was built in the 1960s as a replica of the Tsurpu's monastery in Tibet. The religious murals are still being added to today.
After our visit, we'll continue to the little bazaar town of Kalimpong. The town was once an important trading post for wool merchants coming from Tibet and, today, you'll still find people from a multitude of cultures and religions visiting the local market.
Summit Barsana Resort and Spa (or similar)
Departing for the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing, today we'll drive for around seven hours through the vast tea estates of the Gangetic plains of Bengal. Approximately one-quarter of India's tea is grown in West Bengal state. On arrival in Phuentsholing, we'll meet our Bhutanese local guide and have time for a wander in the town.
Lhaki Hotel (or similar)
Today, we'll drive towards Thimpu along winding roads, passing paddy fields, apple orchards, pine forests and small hamlets, protected by sculptures of the eight auspicious signs of the Tashi Tagye. The Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, lies in a fertile valley formed by the Wang Chu River. On arrival into the city, we'll have a sightseeing tour to see the Tashichho Dzong - the religious and political centre of Bhutan.
Bhutan Peaceful Residency & Spa (or similar)
On the road to Punakha, we'll climb up through oak, pine and rhododendron forest to reach Dochu La Pass (3050m). If the weather permits, magnificent views pan out across the mountains towards Gangar Pensum at 7541m, the tallest mountain in Bhutan. Dropping down into the valley, Punakha's benign climate allows orange and banana groves to flourish within sight of the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains.
Our accommodation tonight is set eight kilometres from the centre of Punakha on the banks of the Mo Chu River. We'll camp in two-man walk-in tents with thick mattresses and bedding and towels provided. There will be toilet tents with flush toilets and shower tents with hot water, as well as the chance to try out a traditional hot stone bath. There's also a central area with space to relax around a campfire and the cook team will create traditional Bhutanese meals to be served in the dining tent. Electricity is supplied in the dining and toilet tents and the walkways are lit by small lamps but you will find a torch useful.
Punakha Camp (or similar)
This morning, we'll pay a visit to Punakha Dzong. Built in 1637 on a sand bank at the confluence of the rivers Mochu and Phochu, this sacred dzong was the seat of the Bhutanese government until 1960 and is a fine example of Bhutanese monastic architecture with squat rectangular buildings made up of two or more tiered levels crowned by a tower and small golden spire above. Returning westwards this afternoon, we'll take a drive to Paro - a journey of around five hours.
Metta Resort (or similar)
Today we'll spend the full day at the famous Paro Festival. This annual festival draws crowds from all across Bhutan to witness the monks depicting teachings through dance. Their brightly coloured costumes and sometimes terrifying masks are a truly unique sight to see.
As the festival draws to a close, a huge Thangka painting is displayed, said to cleanse the sins of everyone who sees it. Although this doesn't happen every year, it's a spectacular sight and well worth the early start. The festival also gives us the chance to speak with locals and learn a little more about why these annual monastery festivals are so important.
This morning, we'll have the opportunity to climb up to the Taktsang, also known as the Tiger's Nest Monastery. The monastery clings to a cliff face, and local legend recounts that Guru Rinpoche, who founded the Drukpa Sect and brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a tigress to start the first monastery.
In the afternoon, we'll visit a local farm and have the chance to sample yak butter tea. We'll also have a group talk with the farm host.
Today we'll fly the short distance to Kathmandu, the bustling Nepalese capital. On arrival, we'll take a walking tour to visit the bazaar and the Durbar Square area, the centre of old Kathmandu. Much of the day-to-day life in Kathmandu takes place in the bazaar. It's a fascinating mixture of sellers offering fruit, vegetables and spices, and potters making household bowls and containers for temple offerings. Amongst the winding alleyways, you can spot small shrines and, of course, the ever-present sacred cow wandering in the hubbub.
Note, our flight between Bhutan and Nepal is with Druk Air who can sometimes changes their flight schedule at short notice. If this happens, we'll inform you of any itinerary change as soon as possible.
Hotel Ambassador (or similar)
Our tour ends at our hotel in Kathmandu.
There are no activities planned today, so you're free to depart at any time. If your flight leaves later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you'd like a hotel transfer, you'll need to depart from Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM).
The best weather lasts from September (after the monsoon) through to Jun and the mountains are best admired, with greater air clarity in the autumn. Spring (mid Mar-May) is cool & often stormy. Autumn is from Oct to mid Nov with clear skies, warm days & cool (sometimes cold) nights. As in any high mountain area it can rain, hail or snow at any time of year.
2 Pin Round
Lamaistic Buddhist, Indian/Nepalese Hinduism.
Dzongkha, plus various Nepalese and Tibetan dialects.
There is considerable variation between the different regions of India but, in general, the climate is tropical. Summer temperatures on the plains are very hot, but cooled by the South-West Monsoon, which lasts from June- September. During these months it can be very wet and therefore very humid. At altitude, temperatures can become quite cool at night even in the summer and may drop below freezing between December and February so warm clothing is necessary. In the winter, northern and mid India can be very cool, with cold evenings, so warm clothing, including plenty of layers, are essential. The south of India remains warm and sunny during the winter months.
3 Pin Round
Catholicism, Hindu, Islam and Sikhism
Hindi and English.
Temperatures in the lower altitude regions are extremely pleasant. At Pokhara variations in temperature are very limited: from the coldest recorded of 8°C (46°F) to the highest of 31°C (88°F). The mountains are best admired, with greater air clarity, from October to January, while from February to May the skies may be hazy. Monsoon rains are strongest in June, July and August. The coldest months are December and January.
Some free time has been allowed for you to explore on your own or with your travelling companions.
High altitude night temperatures in the Himalaya are cold so make allowance for warmer clothing, including jumpers, warm pyjamas, and socks, and a waterproof accordingly. On the Gangetic plains, only lightweight clothing is needed from March to November. If travelling from December through February you will need at least some warmer clothing for evenings. Local people may be offended by western styles of dress. Brief shorts, tight fitting clothing etc. should be avoided by both men and woman. When visiting the Dzongs in Bhutan you will need to make sure legs and arms are fully covered so wear long-sleeved shirts/ t-shirts, trousers as well as closed shoes.
Comfortable closed shoes suitable for walking and sandals. Good walking shoes are needed to walk to the Tigers Nest monastery.
One main piece of baggage and daypack. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself.
Bring a personal water bottle, sunhat, sunscreen, torch and mosquito repellent. You may also like to bring walking poles for our walk to the Tigers Nest Monastery.
Bus, Boat, Flight
Accommodation in India is as varied as the country itself and standards might not always meet those back home. Service can be slow, especially when travelling with a group and a number of hotels in India don't serve alcohol due to complicated licencing laws or for religious reasons. Hot water is not always available at small properties and with a group staying, you might find the water is cooler if you're showering last. Hotels also don't usually have heating, so it can become chilly in the winter months, however, blankets will always be provided. Due to the growth in tourism in India, it's not always possible to stay at our listed accommodation and an alternative will be found.
Bhutan Food in Bhutan whilst delicious can be a little on the repetitive side. Most meals consist of fresh vegetables, locally grown red rice and often a meat dish. Vegetarians will eat well as many Bhutanese are totally vegetarian in accordance with their Buddhist faith. Every meal comes with Bhutan's national dish, chilli's with cheese! It might sound a little odd, and perhaps concerning for those not comfortable with spices but it's very tasty and a great accompaniment to a meal. The chillis vary in heat and are smothered in a cheese sauce made from nak cheese. It is usually served as a side dish so you can be as brave as you like!
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
India: Holders of passports endorsed 'British citizen ', as well as Australian, New Zealand and US passport holders may be eligible for the e-Tourist Visa to enter India. The visa can be applied for through the official Indian government visa website only - https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html . Please check all eligibility criteria that can be found on the website but important points are listed below - You must be arriving into one of 29 selected entry points which can be found via the official Indian Government website link above. However, you can exit from any of the authorised immigration check posts in India. Passports must have at least 6 months validity from the date of arrival in India and at least two blank pages for stamping. Visa applications will take approximately 4 days to process. There are different validity visas and the costs are as follows: 30-day validity (travelling between April and June) - $10 30-day validity (travelling between July and March) - $25 1-year validity - $40 5-year validity- $80 Those applying for a 30 day electronic visa can only apply within 30 days of arrival for your visa to be valid. Furthermore double entry is permitted and you can only obtain two 30-day visas in a calendar year. Please note these costs are subject to frequent change so you should check on the official Indian government visa website mentioned above. Biometric data will be collected on arrival in India. If you are not eligible for the e-Tourist Visa, please refer to VFS Global to apply for your Indian visa - https://www.vfsglobal.com/india/uk/how_to_apply.html Whilst the online form offers a relatively quick way to apply for a visa, some applicants have reported difficulty in completing the form. If you do require assistance, then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. They can complete the online visa on your behalf for a service fee + the visa cost. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. Sikkim: Please do not apply for a Sikkim permit, this will be organised locally for you by our local agent. Bhutan: A visa for Bhutan will be arranged by our local agent and is included in the tour cost. In order to facilitate this please forward the following 3 necessary supporting documents by email to Explore at least 8 weeks before your departure:- A scanned colour copy of the details page of your passport A scanned colour copy of a recent passport photo (photo must conform to passport photo requirements) Proof of valid insurance for the duration of the trip such as a Schedule of Insurance Cover In addition, on entry into Bhutan please ensure that you carry proof of Covid vaccination status (For UK travellers this can be a digital or hard copy of your NHS Covid 19 Pass) as this will be inspected by immigration officials. Nepal: An entry visa is required by UK, New Zealand, Australian, US & Canadian citizens and can be obtained on arrival at Kathmandu Airport and various international border crossings between Nepal and its neighbouring countries. This currently costs 30USD for a 15 day visa, 50USD for a 30 day visa and 125USD for a 90 day visa. All visas are issued as multiple entry visas and are valid from the date they are issued. There have been reports of lengthy delays when completing the form to obtain the visa at the airport, especially during peak times. We therefore recommend that you fill in the visa information prior to arrival using the following link: http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/. This will produce a receipt with a barcode, which you will need to print off and produce on arrival to obtain the visa. Please note if you are filling in the form before you arrive, please do so only within 15 days of arrival as application forms are only stored for a maximum of 15 days. Whether you are filling in the form on arrival or before, a passport-sized photograph for immigration is required along with the exact cash. Payment must be made in cash, UK sterling and US dollars are both accepted. If you are ineligible for the visa on arrival or wish to obtain a visa before you travel, please refer to your nearest Nepal embassy.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, tetanus, infectious hepatitis, typhoid and polio. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria (eg. Paludrine, Chloroquine, Mefloquine etc.) Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against malaria, infectious hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio and Japanese encephalitis. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on different prophylaxis available against malaria. Although not compulsory, travellers may wish to take immunisation against meningococcal meningitis. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.