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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled
Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

New! 2018 India's Sikkim & Bhutan: Hidden Kingdoms of the Himalayas

India: Delhi • Martam • Darjeeling • Bhutan: Thimphu • Gangtey • Punakha • Paro

19 Days from only $5195 including international airfare

Activity Level:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Courtesy Clemens Purner
Bhutan

Meet the stylish locals and cheeky wildlife of Bhutan as you steal a glimpse at its temples, landscapes, and villages.

©2014 The New York Times
India's Jewish Food

Delve into Cochin's thriving Jewish culture, where spice markets lead to synagogues and there's a local twist on Jewish foods.

Courtesy of Dave Fanner
Incredible Bhutan - Paro Tsechu

Become a fly on the wall at Bhutan's Paro Tshechu Festival, where gazing at a colorful mural is said to cleanse one of sin.

Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova
Travelogue: Kalimpong, India 1957

Travel back in time, to Kalimpong in 1957, where an American traveler explored the Himalayan crossroads between India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Courtesy of Anika Pilnei, Ian Sciacaluga, and Ian Cross
Planet Food: Delhi, India

Chef Bobby Chin takes you on a whirlwind tour of Delhi’s spicy cuisine from city to countryside.

FROM
$5195
19 DAYS
$274/DAY
including international airfare
17 DAYS FROM $3995 Small Group Adventure Only
  • 3 nights from only $595
    Single Supplement: $295
 
 

CRITICAL AIR INFORMATION
The air routing for this trip is very demanding. Learn More »

 

See how you can create your own unique travel experience
Learn more »

Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5

Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

Itinerary Overview

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

This spiritual journey of discovery  begins in Delhi, where you’ll witness the many facets of India’s sprawling capital—from the Mughal glory of Old Delhi to the Raj-era splendor of New Delhi. Then, journey to Bhutan, a spiritual oasis nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Himalayas. Embark on a life-changing journey to Bhutan, home to serene landscapes hidden in the clouds where happiness is woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Make It Your Adventure

Personalize your trip to meet your individual needs, from preferred flights and air routing, to “breaking away” to spend more time in a destination.

  • O.A.T’s team of Adventure Specialists makes every effort to provide you with non-stop flights and acceptable connection times to and from your destination. You also have several other options for personalizing your air itinerary, which include:

    • Choose your departure city and airline: We list the most popular gateway cities on our website, but not all of them. If you don’t see yours listed, or there’s one that better suits your needs, let us know. You can also tell us if you have an airline preference and we will try to accommodation your request.
    • Depart from one city and return from another: Just because your flight leaves from one city doesn’t mean you have to return there. Maybe you flew out of Boston and wish to visit friends in Los Angeles after your trip is over. Tell us where you want to go and we’ll do our best to get you there.
    • Fly the way you want to: We’ll gladly arrange a flight upgrade to business or premium economy class if it’s available. And when you fly economy class, we’ll do our best to see that you get your choice of seating preference or even add a special meal request if you have dietary restrictions or needs.
  • You can break up your lengthy flight to Delhi, India, and take time to relax, refresh, and add another stamp to your passport with a visit to Dubai before your main adventure—or before your pre-trip extension. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport in Dubai and assist with your transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you!

    From soaring to the top of the world’s tallest building, to shopping in the souks of the old city, to leaving footprints in the sand of the surrounding desert, an adventure in Dubai offers surprises at every turn. However you spend your time, you’re sure to leave energized and ready to begin your journey in northern India and Bhutan. This Stopover includes three nights at the Raviz Centre Point Hotel (or similar), daily breakfasts, and roundtrip airport transfers. Single Supplement is $295.

    Suggested Activities in Dubai

    • After perusing the bright and shiny wares of the Deira Gold Souq, stroll over to the bank of Dubai Creek, where you can admire the brightly-colored dhow boats that ply the Indian Ocean—or hop aboard a smaller abra boat to see the cityscape from the water
    • Spend a day in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, where you can admire one of the world’s largest religious buildings, the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, or stroll along the beaches and gardens of the Corniche
    • Soar to the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, where you’ll look out on the surrounding city and desert from a vantage point that bests the Empire State Building by 46 stories
    • Discover Islam and Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can converse with local people and all questions, no matter how controversial, are encouraged
    • See how lights, water, and music combine to form a piece of art at the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain performance, where water shoots up to 500 feet into the air.

  • You can extend your time abroad and "break away" anywhere you'd like to do more exploring on your own. Stay for a day, a week, or even a month in a favorite locale. Or consider arriving a few days early for a fresh start or staying overnight in a connecting city before or after your adventure to break up a lengthy flight. Our Adventure Specialists can provide you with information on the accommodations we will use at the beginning of your trip so that you can make your own arrangements. That way, you'll know that you will be exactly where you need to be to meet your group.

  • Many of our travelers choose to take another trip directly after their first one ends. Think about it: If you’re already overseas, why not see more of the region and avoid the expense and length of another international flight? Many of our travelers have taken two or three consecutive trips before returning home. One of the most common adventures combined with this adventure is Nepal & the Mystical Himalayas. And now you’ll save an additional $250-$350 per person when you reserve two trips right after one another.

  • Many O.A.T. travelers simply don’t want their trips to end. With an array of pre- and post-trip extensions to choose from, you have the chance to experience more of the places you’ve traveled so far to see, including India’s Sacred Cities of the North: Amritsar & Dharamsala and Nepal's Modern & Ancient: Kathmandu & Bandipur. Plus, you lower your average per-day costs because you’re taking advantage of your already included international airfare.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 3 nights from only $595

    Break up your lengthy flight to Delhi, India, with a 3-night Stopover in Dubai before your main adventure or before your pre-trip extension. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your included transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you! Take advantage of this opportunity to relax, refresh, and explore the futuristic skyline, timeless desert tableaux, and traditional customs of this ultramodern Emirati city. Breakfasts and roundtrip airport transfer are also included. Single Supplement is $295.

    Looking for ways to fill your free time in Dubai? Check out some of our suggestions.

    Learn More
  • 6 nights from only $1595

    Journey to two of Northern India’s holiest cities and sacred sites—from the fabled Golden Temple and Punjabi culture of Amritsar to the home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the venerated Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, nestled in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas.

    View Extension Itinerary
Delhi Paro Expand All
  • Depart the U.S. for your flight to Delhi, India, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The particulars of your arrival overseas will be detailed with your flight itinerary and airline tickets.

  • Today you’ll arrive in Dubai, where you’ll meet your connecting flight to Delhi. Depending on your flight schedule, you’ll arrive late on Day 2 or very early on Day 3. Travelers who took our pre-trip to Amritsar & Dharamsala will arrive in Delhi this afternoon.

  • After a late breakfast and briefing with our Trip Leader, we’ll begin our India discoveries in style with a rickshaw ride through the historic streets of Old Delhi. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on the site of India’s modern capital by Hindu, Mughal, and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor. After lunch on your own, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi, the section of the sprawling city originally laid out by the British with broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grids. We’ll stop at Qutab Minar, a soaring tower of victory begun in the twelfth century that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    We return to our hotel for time to relax before gathering together this evening for a Welcome Dinner.

  • After an early breakfast, we’ll depart to the airport for our flight to Bagdogra, near India’s hill station town of Darjeeling and gateway to the state of Sikkim. We then begin an overland journey of approximately five hours, passing by deep valleys and terraced rice fields in this rugged Himalayan region, with a stop along the way for an included lunch at a local restaurant. Our final destination is Martam, a remote village about an hour’s drive away from the regional capital of Gangkok and within sight of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain.

    Upon arrival at our lodgings in Martam, we’ll have time to take in the mountain views and tranquil beauty of our surroundings before enjoying a discussion on the history and culture of Sikkim by a local woman writer. Then, we’ll gather for an included dinner at the lodge’s restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we’ll learn about everyday life in this scenic countryside hamlet in the heart of Sikkim bounded by the Himalayan range. Overlooking terraced rice slopes and dense forests, Martam is home to several indigenous Sikkim cultures—Hindus of Nepalese origin and Buddhist-practicing Lepcha and Bhutia people. After a village hike, we'll meet with an elderly resident, explore his organic farm, learn about everyday family life in the village, followed by lunch at the farmhouse. Afterwards, we’ll meet with some children in their village school before returning to our lodge.

    This evening, we’ll be treated to a cultural show put on by members of the village followed by dinner at our lodge. 

  • We begin today with an early morning meditation session at our lodge led by a local monk, who will then accompany us to Rumtek Monastery after breakfast. Located a short distance from Gangtok, Rumtek is the largest monastery in Sikkim and one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most venerated institutions. We’ll learn about the life of the monks who live in the monastery and enjoy a private discussion on the teachings of Buddha from a local monk before departing for Gangtok, where we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    After lunch, we’ll explore some of the highlights of Sikkim’s capital. Meaning “hilltop,” Gangtok is spread over a forested mountain facing the snow-capped peaks of Kanchenjunga. Our discoveries include a stroll along Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Marg, a pedestrianized district lined with shops and restaurants in the heart of the city; a stop at the local produce bazaar; and a visit to the Institute of Tibetology to view its collections of rare manuscripts and thangkas (scrolls).

    We return to Martam for an evening of cultural discoveries followed by dinner at our resort’s restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we depart Martam for Darjeeling, the thriving tea-growing center—and former British hill station—set in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our overland journey of approximately five hours takes us past rolling emerald tea gardens with views of the Himalayan range in the distance. After checking in to our hotel and lunch on our own, we’ll gather for an orientation walk of Darjeeling. Once part of Sikkim, Darjeeling was developed as a summer retreat by the British during the colonial era and was merged with the state of West Bengal after India’s independence in 1947. Spread out over a steep mountain ridge, Darjeeling acquired a reputation as one of the most glamorous, far-flung outposts of the British Empire—and it remains a lovely Victorian town with colonial-era buildings, Buddhist monasteries, and incomparable views of Kanchenjunga.

    Dinner is at our hotel in Darjeeling this evening.

  • After breakfast, we’ll visit the Tukvar Tea Estate, one of the largest and oldest of Darjeeling’s many tea plantations. We'll tour of the grounds, talk to a tea planter, learn about the tea production process, and sample some of famous tea blends made here before lunch on your own. Then, we’ll hop aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, one of few remaining hill trains still operating in India. Built in 1881, the steam-powered, whistle-tooting railway—better known as “the toy train”—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll ride the chugging train to Ghum, India’s highest railway station. After returning to our hotel, the remainder of the day at leisure and dinner is on your own.

  • Early this morning, we’ll take a short walk to Nehru Park to witness the sunrise at Kanchungunga, the third highest mountain in the world, and participate in an outdoor yoga session amidst the grandeur of the Himalayas before returning to our hotel for breakfast. Then, we’ll head to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a training center for Indian mountaineers established in 1954. At the Institute’s museum, we’ll learn about mountain climbing in the Himalayas as well as the history of Everest expeditions. Afterwards, we’ll take a stroll through one of Darjeeling’s local markets for lunch on your own. The rest of the day is yours to pursue independent discoveries before regrouping this evening for dinner at our hotel.

  • After breakfast, we’ll depart India to begin our Bhutan discoveries. Our overland journey of about six hours includes a lunch stop in Malbazar before arriving in Phuentsholing, a bustling border town and gateway to Bhutan, in mid-afternoon. The transformation upon entering Phuentsholing will be nothing short of dramatic as we note the stark differences in culture, customs, and architecture in Bhutan—the Land of the Thunder Dragon. After meeting our Bhutanese Trip Leader and checking in to our hotel, we’ll visit Kharbandi Gompa, a monastery set within lovely gardens of tropical plants and flowers. From the garden we can take in splendid views of Phuentsholing and the surrounding plains and tea gardens of West Bengal. 

    More of a frontier town at the foothills of the Himalayas, Phuentsholing is home to a mix of ethnic groups—people of Indian, Bhutanese, and Nepalese origin. We’ll observe the mingling of cultures here during a tour of the bustling city center this afternoon, with a stop at Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang, a small temple representing the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. Then, we’ll return to our hotel for an included dinner this evening.

  • After breakfast, we begin our journey to Thimphu, capital of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. We’ll drive for approximately six hours, stopping for lunch along the way—and during especially scenic stretches to witness misty jungles, mountainous vistas, waterfalls, river gorges, and distant villages. Shortly before our arrival in Thimphu, we’ll stop at Simtokha Dzong, an ancient fortress that is now home to a school for Buddhist studies. Simtokha, whose name means “atop a demon,” was built in 1629 to guard a demon that had vanished into a nearby rock—and also as protection against invaders within and outside Bhutan, which will be apparent when we see its strategic setting on a mountain ridge overlooking the entire Thimphu Valley.

    Upon arriving in Thimphu we’ll quickly check in to our hotel, and then set off on a brief walking tour of the city center. You may notice lots of crimson-robed monks, monasteries, old fortresses, and modern cafés, but what you won’t see are traffic lights, as Thimphu is the only national capital city in the world without a single one. Then, we’ll return to our hotel for a private cultural performance featuring traditional Bhutanese music and dance, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today’s discoveries in Thimphu highlight Bhutan’s artistic and cultural treasures. A deeply Buddhist land, Bhutan places a higher value on its cultural heritage and the well-being of its people than economic progress and material wealth. The first country to embrace a revolutionary philosophy of “Gross National Happiness,” Bhutan also wishes to preserve its natural beauty—a law requires that at least 60% of its land remain forested for future generations. This morning, we’ll visit the National Textile Museum to learn about thagzo, the Bhutanese textile-weaving tradition that has flourished for centuries here; then we’ll spend time at “Simply Bhutan,” a living museum depicting Bhutan’s ancient cultural heritage; and we’ll see the collections of ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts at the National Library—which also houses a 150-pound, 6 1/2-foot-tall tome called Bhutan, the world’s largest published book.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll stop at the National Memorial Chorten, a golden-spiraled shrine built to memorialize Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the monarch who opened the doors of Bhutan to the outside world. The late “third dragon king” remains greatly revered in Bhutan, and locals and pilgrims alike come here daily to pray and whirl red prayer wheels. Then, after a visit to Kuensel Phodrang to see the massive statue of Buddha Dordenma built on a hill overlooking the Thimphu Valley, we’ll spend time at Thimphu’s Craft Bazaar where we can see a wide selection of authentic Bhutanese handicrafts and textiles available to purchase.

    This evening, we’ll witness a demonstration of traditional Bhutanese dress including the men’s gho and women’s kira dresses, followed by dinner at our hotel.

  • After breakfast, we’ll depart Thimphu for Gangtey in the Phobjikha Valley, a vast glacial valley of scenic splendor with a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna—and winter home of globally-threatened black-necked crane. Our 5 1/2-hour drive features several discoveries, including a stop at Dochu La, a mountain pass dotted with more than 100 chortens (Bhutanese temples) and prayer flags with panoramic views of the Himalayas. We’ll also stop at Royal Botanical Park, a beautiful nature preserve with numerous species of rhododendron, along with wildlife such as musk deer, tiger, leopard, red panda, and the leopard cat. After an included lunch at a hotel in Wangdue, we’ll make a brief visit to Rinchengang, a village noted for its stone masonry tradition.

    We’ll arrive in Gangtey in the late afternoon. After some time to relax, we’ll gather together for dinner at our lodge’s restaurant this evening.

  • After breakfast, we’ll head to Gangtey Goenpa, a remote 17th-century Buddhist monastery set on a forested hill overlooking Phobjikha Valley. Here, we’ll get to meet and interact with the local monks and learn about the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. Then, after a visit to the small village at the foot of the monastery, we’ll stop at the Black-Necked Crane Center, where we’ll learn about the winged winter visitors to this scenic valley—who are known to circle the monastery three times when they arrive from the Tibetan plateau and three times when they return again to Tibet.

    After an included lunch, we’ll make further discoveries in the Phobjikha Valley, including a late-afternoon visit to a local farm to witness some of the rural traditions of a Bhutanese farm family. Dinner is included this evening back at our lodge.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we’ll journey for about 3 1/2 hours to Punakha, which served as Bhutan’s capital for more than three centuries. Punakha is also a center of the huge phalluses that are sure to be seen painted throughout homes in Bhutan—which may cause giggles but are taken seriously by Bhutanese as a sign of good fortune by warding off bad spirits.

    After lunch at our hotel, we’ll visit Punakha Dzong, widely hailed as the most splendid examples of the fortress-like monasteries that dot Bhutan’s landscapes. Impressively situated at the confluence of the Mo and Pho (Mother and Father) rivers, Punakha Dzong is filled with ornate murals and serene courtyards—and where all of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned. Later this afternoon, we’ll set off on a walking excursion at Chimi Lhakhang. Also called the “Fertility Temple,” Chimi Lhakhang was built in 1499 to honor Drukpa Kunley, a rogue Buddhist known as the Divine Madman who is still considered one of Bhutan’s favorite saints. Kunley, who is also credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan, spread enlightenment through an active sex life and is responsible for the phallic imagery found here and throughout the country.

    Later this evening, we’ll be treated to a cooking demonstration featuring some of Bhutan’s traditional cuisine before dinner at our hotel.

  • After breakfast, we’ll depart Punakha and travel approximately 4 1/2 hours to Paro. Our journey takes us back through the Dochu La mountain pass, and we’ll stop once again to enjoy the sweeping views before arriving in the charming town of Paro in time for lunch at a local restaurant.

    This afternoon, we’ll visit ta dzong, an ancient hilltop watchtower that is now home to the National Museum. After viewing the eclectic collections of Bhutanese arts, artifacts, and weapons, we’ll walk down to Rinpung Dzong. Often referred to as the “fortress on a heap of jewels,” the 17th-century structure features towering buttressed walls. Considered one of the most striking examples of Bhutanese architecture, Rinpung (or Paro) Dzong was also the setting for Bertolucci’s 1995 film Little Buddha.

    This evening, some of our travelers may wish to alleviate any aches of the day with a relaxing traditional Bhutan hot stone bath, a technique using river rocks placed in water where they crack and steam, releasing minerals and soothing pain. Then, we’ll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant in Paro.

  • After breakfast, we’ll journey outside Paro for a true “high” point of your Bhutan adventure—Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Perched on the face of a sheer cliff some 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley, Tiger’s Nest Monastery (also known as Taktsang) is considered the holiest site in Bhutan. It’s a rather steep climb of more than two hours to reach the world-renowned shrine recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, but we’ll be well rewarded for our efforts. When visitors hear the 1,300-year-old legend of Guru Rinpoche flying here on a tigress, listen to monks chanting from sacred texts, or simply stand in silence among the clouds on the side of a mountain deep in the Himalayas—it is not uncommon to have a deeply moving spiritual experience.

    After an included lunch, we’ll then visit another of Bhutan’s revered sacred temples called Kyichu Lhakhang. This ancient shrine said to have been built by a Tibetan King in the 7th century in order to subdue a demon who was attempting to prevent the spread of Buddhism. Then, we’ll visit one of Paro’s bustling local markets for a chance to pick up some Thangka paintings, Bhutanese stamps, or any number of last-minute keepsakes of your journey. Later this evening, we’ll gather together to celebrate our time in Bhutan during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Delhi, India, where you’ll have the day at leisure. Or, fly to Kathmandu to begin post-trip extension to Kathmandu & Bandipur

  • Very early this morning, depart on your flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where you’ll join your connecting flight back to the U.S.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Nepal's Modern & Ancient: Kathmandu & Bandipur

    5 nights from only $1395

    Extend your Himalayan discoveries by experiencing two sides of Nepal on a journey from the modern capital of Kathmandu to the unspoiled hill-top village of Bandipur, historic homeland of the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley.

    View Extension Itinerary

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