The Sikkim and Darjeeling Himalayas

Landscapes and Flora

rhododendron_n_primula

 

Travel with PHS to the far north of India where the spectacular scenery and cooler climate of the hill country first beckoned early British travelers. At 6,000 feet Darjeeling and Changtok cling to hilltops with views of the Himalayan Mountains beckoning around every turn of the road.  Sikkim, an Indian state, is bordered by Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. During this 15-day trip you’ll learn more about the people and their culture who call this high area of the world their home.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The Darjeeling countryside, world famous for the tea of the same name, is dotted with tea plantations. A narrow gauge railroad was originally developed as a practical means of transportation to safely traverse steep canyons dividing neighboring communities. Now granted UNESCO World Heritage status, this railway is one of the best ways to explore the region. In addition to tea, orchids abound in the region along with oaks and the sal tree (Shorea robusta) under which tradition tells us the Buddha was born.

From Darjeeling and Changtok you’ll travel further north into Sikkim, higher and closer to the Himalayan range crowned by Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. At around 12,000 feet, the Luchung valley offers once-in-a-lifetime sights such as a red rhododendron in full flower against a snow-clad Himalayan mountain background, or thousands of yellow primroses blooming alongside a stream.

Darjeeling

Darjeeling

Darjeeling and Changtok

Tea so special that the Silver Tip variety—reportedly picked only at midnight on the summer solstice and priced at $840 a pound—is what makes Darjeeling famous today. Throughout our journey you’ll have the opportunity to sample these exquisite teas.

You’ll visit the Makaibari Tea Estates where, exemplifying integrated forest management best practices, tea bushes are grown as part of a multi-tier system of trees and plants typical of a sub-tropical rainforest. The result is a sheltering environment for many species of animals including birds, butterflies, and insects.

Lloyd Botanic Garden Conservatory Photo: Jeabapt/Wikimedia

Lloyd Botanic Garden Conservatory Photo: Jeabapt/Wikimedia

In Darjeeling your stay includes a visit to the Lloyd Botanic Garden that covers 40 acres on one of the city’s hillsides. From the peak at the garden’s entrance you walk down through three different gardens that feature indigenous Himalayan plants, alpine plants and ferns, and plants and trees from China, Japan, and beyond. Traditional British style glass conservatories hold many of the garden’s extensive orchid collections.

A trip on the nearly hundred-year old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway provides a breathtaking view of neighboring cities from the narrow-gauge tracks that cling to the hillsides, and a chance to experience life as it’s been since the 1800s.

Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary

Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary

Luchung

From this base at 9,600 feet you’ll explore Yumthang, the “valley of flowers,” and visit the extensive Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary where you’ll see the purple-flowering Rhododendron nevium, the state tree of Sikkim. Other flowering plants in this valley setting traversed by the Yumthang Chu River include the elusive blue primrose (Meconopsis grandis), primulas, potentillas, gentians, the Himalayan mandrake, plus orchids, lilies, and trilliums. Trees in the area include larch, juniper, silver fir, spruce, and maple festooned with trailing lichens. Traveling even higher into the mountains, you’ll travel to Yumesamdong a valley grazed by yaks and their nomadic shepherds.

Gangtok Handicraft center

Gangtok Handicraft center

Culture

Throughout the trip you’ll learn about the people of this high country and visit cultural, historic, and craft centers in Darjeeling, Changtok, and Kalimpong. Your itinerary includes:

  • The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in Darjeeling, home to one of the largest collections of Tibetan works outside Tibet including iconograpy and religious art.
  • The Rumtek Monastery in Kalimpong which is the World Dharma Chakra Centre and the seat of His Holiness, the Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • A handmade paper factory in Kalimpong and a traditional handicrafts center in Darjeeling.
  • Stops at local nurseries provide the opportunity to learn about the art and craft of orchid propagation.

Alister Adhikari, a botanical specialist in the Darjeeling–Sikkim area of the Indian Himalayas with 15 years of experience in the region, will be leading our expedition. Greg Graves, past president of our board of directors, will represent Pacific Horticulture. Greg, who owns and manages Old Goat Farm garden and specialty nursery in the Seattle area, recently escorted the Pacific Horticulture tour to Tibet.

For more information visit our tour page.