ONIB Overland Nepal, India and Bhutan

We begin our journey in Kathmandu; a vibrant metropolis with nearly two thousand years of history, ancient architecture and strong Buddhist and Hindu influences with a fascinating city tour. After leaving the Kathmandu Valley, we enjoy game viewing riding atop Asian Elephants in Chitwan National Park in search of rhinos and the ever-elusive tigers.

Enter India and explore a Kurseong tea plantation in the Darjeeling district where we enjoy the warm hospitality of an Indian family home stay before riding the Toy Train to Darjeeling. In Darjeeling we stay at the very Colonial Windamere Hotel, which dates back to the times of the British Raj.

Four nights in the affluent state of Sikkim staying in the very relaxed and hip capital Gangtok for two nights and then two nights in Lachen… often referred to as the Tibetan Plateau. Lachen is the gateway to Chopta Valley, Kanchenchunga National Park, Guru Dongmar Lake and Green Lake.

Twelve days are spent roaming in the absolutely delightful Royal Kingdom of Bhutan. Whilst in Bhutan, we even stay at a dzong for one night at a place called Endochholing, rated as Bhutan’s newest and best discovery where few tourists have ventured.

Once leaving Bhutan, we enter India again and drive back to Siliguri in West Bengal where we board the Kanchenchunga Express and twelve hours later alight at Howrah Station in Kolkata. Alternatively, one may return to Paro in a chartered vehicle and fly back to Kathmandu and finish the trip there.

We finish this amazingly unique and diverse trip (unless you decide to continue with BOA into the very un-touristy and undiscovered Bangladesh) with yet another fascinating city tour of Kolkata (or Kathmandu if you decide to fly back there from Bhutan).

Itinerary

Our scheduled drive times include lunch, photo and toilet stops but please remember that this is genuine adventure travel, so while we endeavour to follow the itinerary, it will not always be possible and it should be used as a guide only. You will need to remain open-minded and flexible in order to get the most out of your trip.

Day 01: Namaste. Arrive in Kathmandu to be greeted by our staff at the Tribhuvan Airport, from here you will be driven to the Kathmandu Guesthouse, which is our joining hotel ideally located to use as a base, as it is in the heart of Thamel. Often the Kathmandu Guesthouse has been (and still is) described as an iconic institution of not only Kathmandu, but Nepal. Altitude 1,300m. Overnight Kathmandu.

Day 02: Members of the group who would like to participate in an optional Mount Everest scenic mountain flight will kick off the day with an early start! You will be picked up around 05:45hrs and whisked off to the airport for a scenic Everest mountain flight. Flying close to the mountains you are rewarded with awe-inspiring views of 14 mountains over 6,000m, culminating in Everest, which gleams in the rising sun. Much has been written about Everest, but to witness it from a sightseeing flight is absolutely amazing, it remains an enigma - the highest spot on Earth! Return to the hotel later for breakfast before taking in the sites of Kathmandu. Our city tour includes a visit to Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), Pashpathinath, Durbar Square (Kathmandu) and Bodhnath. Overnight Kathmandu.

Day 03: We depart Kathmandu for Chitwan National Park around 08:00 hours. After climbing out of the Kathmandu Valley, we drive through huge and hills and ranges (which are the foot hills of the Himalayas) until we reach the flat lands, the ‘Terai’. This is where the Great Indian Plains finish… or start. Drive time six to eight hours. Overnight just out of Sauraha.

Day 04: We spend two nights and one full day at Chitwan National Park and participate in a canoe ride on the Rapti River, jungle walk, actively participate in elephant washing and an elephant jungle safari (game viewing from the back of an elephant). There are opportunities to spot wildlife from the many species of deer to the one horned Indian rhino. There are also many types of birds including kingfishers to hornbills. However, you will need a lot of jungle magic to spot the elusive tiger, so if you do, consider yourself as being very fortunate!! Overnight just out of Sauraha.

Day 05: Depart Chitwan National Park for Dharan, which we use only as an en route stopover, being accommodated in a country club which has even been frequented by British Royalty! Today we drive east, still in the Terai. We have a quick stop at the Koshi Barrage where we are almost guaranteed sighting Gangetic Dolphins which are an endangered species. Drive time seven to nine hours. Overnight Dharan.

Day 06: Early start today, we continue travelling in the Terai until we reach the Nepali/Indian (Kakarbhitta/Panitanki) border. We enter India around midday. The change from laid back Nepal to the hustle and bustle of India is just incredible. Upon reaching Siliguri we transfer into jeeps before continuing into the hills of Darjeeling where we enjoy a home stay at the Makaibari Tea Estate. We leave our BOA vehicle for around seven days and transfer to jeeps because the drive time in our big vehicle is very slow as the road becomes very steep, narrow and windy with many switchbacks all the way to Darjeeling and throughout Sikkim, we cut hours off the trip when we go by smaller vehicle, in fact if we used our BOA vehicle, we would need to have another two days on the itinerary. Arrival time at the Makaibari Tea Estate is late afternoon; here we are accommodated in separate homes in the village around Makaibari. Altitude 1,460m. Drive time, seven to nine hours. Overnight homestay, Makaibari village.

Day 07: Makaibari is located just out of Kurseong and claims to be the world's first tea factory, established in 1859. Here we will be guided around the estate where we can see tea still being picked the way it has been for centuries and learn how the tea is processed in the factory. We also get to taste the very best tea produced on the estate… in fact Makaibari holds the world record for highest price tea sales in several classes! Mid-afternoon we board the famous Toy Train for Darjeeling.

A highlight for us in Darjeeling is our hotel. The Windamere Hotel is an old Colonial Hotel dating back to the 1800’s and the times of the British Raj Tea Planters. Its main house is ‘Ada Villa’, formerly a British Raj boarding house for bachelor planters away from home. The rooms are exactly the same as they were back then, with roaring coal fires, hot water bottles in the beds, huge closets and, best of all, a personal and warm service from the staff that is second to none. The rest of the hotel is made up of various “heritage houses”, nestled in wonderfully blooming gardens and peeking out from behind picket fences and climbing roses. It is the only building that is situated on ‘Observatory Hill’ with phenomenal views of the surrounding valleys. The food is legendary with both Continental and Indian menus. Altitude 2,130m. Toy train to Darjeeling is approximately three hours. Overnight Darjeeling.

Day 08: The name Darjeeling is synonymous with tea...  and quite rightly so as tea from this district is found all over the world. Many Tibetans reside here and a large proportion of the population have Nepali, Bhutanese and Sikkim origins. Free day today, there is plenty to do! If the weather is fine it’s definitely worth getting up before sunrise for a breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain. After breakfast visit the Himalayan Zoological Park and Snow Leopard Breeding Centre, also the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, enjoy Lloyds Botanical Garden, shop at the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, wander through the shops and cafes of Darjeeling … or just relax and be pampered at the Windamere, lapping up the views and hospitality. Overnight Darjeeling.

Day 09: After breakfast we will hop aboard jeeps again and head for Gangtok in Sikkim. Sikkim is one of the more affluent states of India and is known as the Himalayan Shangri-La, the locals are regarded as amongst the friendliest in India. The mountainous air is refreshingly clean and no plastic bags are to be found… they have been banned! Altitude 1,430m. Drive time, four to five to hours. Overnight Gangtok.

Day 10: Gangtok is the capital and largest town in Sikkim. Gangtok means ‘hill top’. Today, Gangtok is a centre of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning, with several monasteries, religious educational institutions and centres for Tibetology. In the morning, we will have a tour of Gangtok’s attractions, which will include. Rumtek Gompa. In the afternoon there will be free time to explore this easy going, modern and quite ‘hip’ city. Photos do very little justice to the mountain views from Gangtok! Overnight Gangtok.

Day 11: Morning departure to Lachen. Lachen is a small and still relatively unknown town in North Sikkim. The name Lachen translates to big pass. Lachen stands on a grassy flat which is surrounded by pine clad mountains with their snowy peaks and black cliffs. The village comprises of less than two hundred houses and only until recently, many of the inhabitants spent the summers tending their yak on alpine pastures bordering Tibet. Altitude 2,750m. Drive time six to seven hours. Overnight Lachen.

Day 12: Thirty kilometres beyond Lachen lies Thangu, altitude 3,950m and a further thirty-minute drive is Chopta Valley with an altitude of just over 4,000m. The drive to Thangu is spectacularly windy and scenic and there will most probably be snow on the ground and Chopta Valley may well have iced over rivers that can be crossed over by foot. This part of India isn’t seen by many tourists, as it is such a remote area; hence the area has remained virtually untouched and is still in a pristine condition. We will take a day trip to this area. Alternatively one may spend the day in Lachen, relaxing and exploring the town and local Gompa as well as mingling with the friendly and curious locals. Altitude 2,750m. Overnight Lachen.

Day 13: Today we drive back through Gangtok and exit the state of Sikkim, heading for the plains of India. We follow the Teesta River all the way to Siliguri where we are reunited with the BOA vehicle again. Some of the group may leave us here and continue to Kolkata by train (or Kathmandu by plane) tomorrow on the Kanchenjunga Express, finishing their journey with a city tour in Kolkata. We may also have new people arrive from Kolkata and join us here for our unique and exciting journey into Bhutan. Drive time seven to nine hours. Overnight Siliguri.

Day 14: An early start for Bhutan is scheduled today. We travel along the foothills of the Himalayas all the way to the Bhutan border, through tea plantations, forests and villages before arriving in Jaigaon. We exit India in Jaigaon, completing all customs and immigration formalities before entering Bhutan at Phuentsholing where all Bhutanese entry formalities are carried out. Before entering Bhutan we’ll be met by our Bhutanese guide Bhupen in Jaigaon at Indian immigration, who will accompany us for the duration of our time in this tiny and mystical country.

Even though the drive time from Siliguri to the border is six hours, we need the early departure so all border formalities can be completed in order to get a good start the next day when we leave Phuentsholing for Paro. The transformation when exiting Jaigaon and entering Phuentsholing is nothing short of dramatic, the change of culture, custom and architecture (to name but a few) is astounding! Welcome to the Land of the Thunder Dragon! Altitude 150m. Drive time six to eight hours. Overnight Phuentsholing.

Day 15: The drive from Phuentsholing when we begin to climb off the Indian plains is simply magnificent. In fine weather, we will have incredible views of the vast plains of India spreading out endlessly towards the horizon, which will eventually peter out into the ever-present haze. It is strikingly obvious how the Himalayas form a mighty barrier rising like a wall from the plains. The roads in Bhutan are very steep and windy with many switchbacks, as well as being very narrow, so there is plenty of time to take in the magical scenery. Today we drive approximately 165kms and our drive time from the border to Paro is around eight hours, which gives you an indication as to what the roads are like. As we are the only overland company to drive vehicles in Bhutan we are always the centre of attention with people young and old constantly waving at us, wondering what this strange vehicle is all about! Altitude 2,250m. Drive time seven to nine hours. Overnight Paro.

Day 16: Drive fifteen kilometres to Ramthangkha, where it’s a one to two hour hike to a viewpoint of the Taktshang Goemba (monastery), known as ‘Tiger’s Nest’. If required a pony can be used as transport to the viewpoint but no further. From the viewing point it's another one to two-hour hike to the monastery itself. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900m into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tiger. After ‘Tiger’s Nest’ there is free time to stroll around the very picturesque Paro, perhaps visit Ta Dzong (an ancient watchtower, which now houses the National Museum) or Rinpung Dzong. The country's international airport is located here in Paro, not Thimphu. Drive time one hour. Overnight Paro.

Day 17: Thimphu is the modern capital of Bhutan. We will arrive here from Paro mid-morning taking in a city tour… including the absolutely fascinating Textile Museum, cultural museum and Motithang Takin Preserve. The town is made up of just three lines of shops and is the only capital in the world without traffic lights. There is also a wonderful outdoor market in Thimphu, the stalls offer many colourful local items such as yak tail dusters, butter teacups, turquoise from Nepal and Tibet as well as musical instruments.

Bhutan now has a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy and Thimphu is the headquarters for the government. "Gross National Happiness" is one of the defined objectives the government is aiming to achieve in Bhutan! Altitude 2,350m. Drive time two to three hours. Overnight Thimphu.

Day 18: After leaving Thimphu, the road climbs steeply to Dochula pass (3050m). There are 108 Buddhist Stupas overlooking the Himalaya at the pass. Here we stop and take in the views before heading down the valley for Punakha (district). After lunch, it takes around fifteen minutes to walk to Chimi Lhakhang, the temple of the Divine Madman located near a small village between Wangdue and Punakha. We then continue to the Punakha River Camp where one may relax in a hot stone bath. A hot stone bath is a very traditional Bhutanese custom, a centuries old local delight which is exactly as it is named… a hot stone bath! Altitude 1,310m. Drive time four to five hours. Overnight Punakha River Camp.

Day 19: After a hearty breakfast, for those with an adventurous streak, white water raft about fifteen kilometres to the Punakha Dzong! Once changing into dry clothes we’ll visit the imposing dzong, winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and ancient capital of Bhutan. For those who aren’t interested in rafting to the dzong, we will also drive our vehicle into Punakha! Overnight Punakha River Camp.

Day 20: Our next destination is Trongsa which is the capital of the Trongsa District in Central Bhutan. The first temple was built in 1543 by the Drukpa Kagyu Lama Ngagi Wangchuk who was the great grandfather of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the person who unified Bhutan. Trongsa Dzong (Chokhor Raptentse Dzong) is the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan and used to be the seat of power for the Wangchuck Dynasty before they became rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Traditionally the King of Bhutan first becomes the Penlop (governor) of Trongsa before becoming King. Built on a mountain spur, the Dzong controlled east-west trade for centuries. The only road connecting eastern and western Bhutan passed through the courtyard of the dzong, at the command of the Penlop the massive doors could be shut, dividing the country in two. The dzong is also a major monastic complex with two hundred or so monks. Altitude 2,200m. Drive time four to six hours. Overnight Trongsa.

Day 21: The morning will give us enough time to thoroughly explore the Museum Of Monarchy in the Tower of Trongsa perched high above the dzong. The museum is home to the royal collection, and tells the history of Trongsa as the seat of the royal families. The museum is also unique in the fact that even those who don’t usually make a habit of visiting museums leave this one enthralled and buzzing with chatter at the sights and sounds they have just spent at least a couple of hours walking through. The museum is well planned, informative, and above all interesting enough to keep just about everybody’s attention. We leave Trongsa after lunch for Bumthang. Drive time three to four hours. Overnight Bumthang.

Day 22: A visit to Bhutan isn’t complete without a visit to the Bumthang District. Bumthang is described by many as the Switzerland of Bhutan and referred to as the religious and cultural heartland of the country. It is also home to some of the oldest monasteries and Buddhist temples in Bhutan. We will visit Jambay, Tamshing and Kurjey Lhakangs, as well as Jakar Dzong. Jakar is the administrative capital of Bumthang. We spend two nights in Bumthang. Altitude 2,600m. Overnight Bumthang.

Day 23: Drive day to Enduchholing. This community is well off the tourist path and only a handful of visitors have been there. We are presented with a cultural night with mask dances performed by the monks, cultural folk dances performed by local women and even masked clowns armed with large wooden phalluses! We will not be the only spectators; scores of children, parents and grandparents will be there for the event… even the village dogs.

Endochhuling Dzong is perched on a hillside overlooking the Mangde Chhu River 50 km south of Trongsa. It was the winter palace for Sir Ugen Wangchuk. The dzong still houses a small monastic school that teaches its students Buddhism and the art of local mask dances. We camp in the palace grounds for the night because there are no hotels in the area. Altitude 1,300m. Drive time seven to nine hours. Overnight Enduchholing.

Day 24: In the morning take a village walk through the local Enduchholing community, visiting the school, farms and the local co-operative weaving centre where the local women turn stinging nettle into beautiful floor rugs, table clothes and place mats. After lunch our overnight destination is Zhemgang, a small village overlooking a beautiful and picturesque valley with views for literally miles and miles. Accommodation in Zhemgang is quite basic as the only foreigners who travel through here are usually NGOs. We have one night in Zhemgang to allow for an easy driving day to Gelephu the following day. Drive time four to five hours. Overnight Zhemgang

Day 25: Our last drive day in Bhutan is 130kms of the usual winding roads with spectacular views and typical Bhutanese life unfolding around us, similar to when we entered Bhutan, but this time we are slowly making our way down to the Indian Plains to the border at Gelephu. At Gelephu, Bhupen will complete our exit formalities, though we spend one more night in Bhutan before exiting back into India, into the state of Assam. Gelephu is located on the edge of the plains of India. Drive time six to eight hours. Overnight Gelephu.

Day 26: At Gelephu we have two options available, both options are full drive days.

Option A - Continue on to Kolkata with BOA. Enter India from Bhutan travelling south for 40Kms to the NH31C, then turning right and heading west, journeying through Assam and West Bengal before arriving in Siliguri late afternoon. Drive time eight to ten hours. Overnight Siliguri.

Option B - Drive back to Paro with Bhupen (our local Bhutanese guide). From Gelephu hop aboard chartered vehicles and take a shorter route back to Paro via Wangdue. Drive time eight to nine hours. Overnight Paro.

Day 27: Option A - It’s a long drive from Siliguri to Kolkata (three days actually) with a lot of traffic and other Indian stresses competing with our vehicle, the train is much less chaotic as well as being a fun experience! The Kanchenchunga Express departs Siliguri at 06:30 hours and arrives in Kolkata at Howrah Station at approximately 18:30 hours. You will be welcomed and checked in at the larger than life Fairlawn Hotel in Sudder Street, just down the road from the Indian Museum. Sudder Street is a melting pot of beggars, travellers, shops, restaurants, rickshaw wallahs, taxis and hotels. Kolkata has long been recognised as the cultural capital of India and the countries friendliest urban centre. Train time twelve hours. Overnight Kolkata.

Option B – Flights from Paro to Kathmandu are either early AM or midday, the flight is only one hour. Bhupen will see you off at the airport. After being picked up from the airport in Kathmandu and dropped off at your hotel, the rest of the day is free. Overnight Kathmandu. 

Day 28: Option A - Sometime during the course of the day the BOA vehicle will arrive in Kolkata. Meanwhile an easy paced city tour is scheduled for today, taking in such attractions as Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu), the Mother Teresa Calcutta Centre, the flower market, Kali Temple and St Paul’s Cathedral. Overnight Kolkata.

Option B - We also offer a second tour of Kathmandu, this time we check out Patan and Bhaktapur. Patan used to be a separate city but is now part of Kathmandu; Bhaktapur was also a separate city and still is, but is only a short drive from Kathmandu. Overnight Kathmandu. 

Day 29: Option A - If you aren’t continuing on with us into Bangladesh, this will be the end of trip. We personally bid you farewell and arrange transport to get you safely to the airport. 
We thank you for choosing to travel with us. Best Of Asia Overland, the specialists in ‘Adventure in Comfort’, welcome you anytime.

Option B - We personally bid you farewell and arrange transport to get you safely to the airport. 
We thank you for choosing to travel with us. Best Of Asia Overland, the specialists in ‘Adventure in Comfort’, welcome you anytime.

Crew: One permanent western leader/driver plus local guides for our time spent in India and Bhutan.

To find out what is included on our trips, please go to the 'TRAVEL THE BOA WAY' tab and click on 'what is provided'.

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