Travel Tips 101: West Bengal, Sikkim & NE India Itinerary and POV

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whokay
Seriously under pressure now. How time flies!!!
Just as I was writing Travel 101: Sikkim ‘the Bhutan alternative’ Itinerary {read: HERE} and my POV of the trip HERETravel 101: Sikkim – Facts, Tips and Places, I had thought:

‘what the heck! I’ve got an entire YEAR before he jets off.’.
Sure. ONE year later … well, almost one year later I have still not written up the whole itinerary of West Bengal – Sikkim – North East India for him, let alone a compressed version.
So very quickly, I’m doing a quick and dirty version below with some brief tips on what worked and what didn’t.
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the ITINERARY
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WEST BENGAL, SIKKIM and NORTH EAST INDIA
a 15D/14N trip
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12 Dec (Saturday)
KUALA LUMPUR – KOLKATA – NEW JALPAIGURI (NJP)
Flight
 KUL (ETD 1430) – CCU (ETA 1550)
Train
 CCU Seladah (ETD 2205) – NJP (ETA 0800 +1)
13 Dec (Sunday)
NJP – GANGTOK (114 km 4-4.5hrs drive)
Drive to Gangtok.
Option: Stop at Siliguri town for refreshment and breakfast or drive directly to Rangpo for brunch and border pass, then proceed to Gangtok.
Lunch at Gangtok.
Drive to Rumtek Monastery (24km, 1- 1.5hr)
Overnight at Homestay / Hotel Tibet, Gangtok
Border pass:
Standard permit for foreigners – valid 15 days. 2 passport sized photos and photocopy of passport pages with personal details and Visa. The permit is free and takes about 1-2 hours.
Foreigners’ Regional Registration Offices 
    Kolkata
Sikkim Tourism Information Centres                 
    SNT Colony Hill Cart Rd, Siliguri 
    4/1 Middleton Street, Kolkata
    Rangpo
14 Dec (Monday)
GANGTOK – ENCHEY – LINDGUM – GANGTOK
After breakfast drive to Enchey Monastery to witness the Chaam.
Lunch
Visit Namgyal Insitutite of Tibetology & Govt Institute of Handicrafts (if time permits).
Drive to Lingdum Monastery after lunch.
Explore MG Marg.* Gangtok at night.
Overnight at Homestay/Hotel Tibet, Gangtok
* make arrangements with reputable trek and tour companies if intending to go Tsomgo Lake and/or other treks. Permits and guide needed.
15 Dec (Tuesday)
GANGTOK – PHODONG – GANGTOK
After breakfast drive to Phodong Monastery to witness the Kagyat Chaam.
Lunch @ Phodong Village Fair
Continuation of Kagyat Chaam …
Overnight at Homestay/Hotel Tibet, Gangtok
16 Dec (Wednesday)
GANGTOK – TSOMGO LAKE – GANGTOK
After breakfast drive to Tsomgo Lake (12,000 ft 35 km 2 – 2.5hrs drive). Make prior arrangements with tour/trek agency as pass/permit needs to be arranged. Minimum 2 foreigners with a guide.
17 Dec (Thursday)
GANGTOK – KALIMPONG
After breakfast transfer to Kalimpong (90km, 3 – 3.5hrs drive).
Half-day sight seeing around Kalimpong. It’s a rather haphazard town – fails miserable on the architecture, town planning and building front. It amazes me how the shacks are still piled up against another, surviving the monsoons and floods. It amazes me further as to why no one (dogs included) have been electrocuted, when wires (some naked) are running along the roads and sitting in puddles/drains etc. Despite being the centre that produces 80% of gladioli and is reputed to have a lot of nursery, the place is a drably slum with a few homes-cum-nursery open for visitors.
Having said that however, it has NGOs and a strong Catholic community that provides for Eurasian children that are abandoned by their parents and are considered outcast by the local community.
Overnight in Park Hotel – lovely heritage hotel.
18 Dec (Thursday)
KALIMPONG – DARJEELING
After breakfast transfer to Darjeeling (75km, 2.5 – 3hrs drive).
Explore Darjeeling town. Rather touristy with lots of ‘antique’ and bric-a-brac shops. Thermal wear and scarves are sold everywhere – cheaply.
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Drop by the large photo shop along the main mall – he has an impressive collection of photos and postcards of Mt. Khangchendzonga as well as old photos of Darjeeling etc. Quintessential!
Overnight in Hotel Deekiling – crap hotel. No heating (charcoal to be bought) and water heater was down. Owner is worse than a Gujarati, according to my mother. He refused to give me a one-page 2007 calendar spotting the picture of Ganesha! So, please find another hotel and do not ever order tomato soup – it a bad job of heating up a can soup at American prices. Diluted can soup too!
19 Dec (Friday)
DARJEELING
Early morning (around 4am) drive to Tiger Hill (15km, 1hr drive) to witness the sunrise over the Himalayas. On the way back, visit Ghoom monastery.
After breakfast, take joy ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Train up to Ghoom and back.
After lunch visit Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the Zoo and Tibetan Self Help Refugee Centre (this is rather far off and a rather big hill to hike up).
Overnight in Hotel Deekiling.
20 Dec (Saturday)
DARJEELING – BAGDOGRA – GUWAHATI (ASSAM)
After breakfast drive to Bagdogra Airport
Flight
 BAGDODRA (ETD 1405) – GUWAHATI (ETA 1500) Spicejet
Make arrangements to visit Pobitora National Forest for the following morning.
Overnight in Hotel Brahmaputra – only decent hotel in Guwahati, by my standards.
21 Dec (Sunday)
GUWAHATI (ASSAM) – POBITORA NATIONAL FOREST
5am – Drive to Pobitora National Forest (3 hrs) to see the rhinos. Option to take the Ranger’s jeep or the Elephant ride.
Back to Guwahati by mid-morning. Stroll along the local market square (Uzan Bazaar – opposite the ferry terminals to Peacock Island) and have breakfast.
Take local ferry to Peacock Island – a small temple (Umananda Mandir) on an Island – nothing much but take the local boat to experience crossing the Brahmaputra river and witness local livelihood around the Brahmaputra. Stroll along the cliff edges – be careful of the golden langur monkeys.
Lunch in town, then visit the Assam State Museum. Great archaeological, ethnographic and natural museum. Covers all the tribal clans and has a large and interesting collection of tribal artifacts, religious sculptures and WWII relics. My favourite are the larger than man masks from Majuli Island.
If you’re into Indian temples, the most famous is Kamakhya Mandir – 8km west of the city on a hilltop.  Whilst its interesting to know that it’s Shakti’s yoni and the temple dates back to 1655, I was not big on the fact that buffaloes and goats are sacrificed daily in a pavilion in front of the temple, leaving the place with a hot, dark, crowded and sticky with sacrificial blood. Coupled with the fact that one needs to be bare footed …. uurrgggh
           
22 Dec (Monday)
SHILLONG
4 hour drive to Shillong. Small town with Christianity being the main religion.
Explore Shillong, an idyllic and laid back town.
Overnight in Pinewood Hotel
23 Dec (Tuesday)
SHILLONG – GUWAHATI (ASSAM) – KOLKATA
After breakfast, drive back to Guwahati… and I’m off to Kolkata for Christmas!
GUWAHATI (ETA 1430) – CCU (ETA 1530hrs) Spicejet
Visit New Market Tower and continue down Free School (Mirza Ghalib) Street towards Park Street. 
Dinner at Bar B-Qs is not too bad – wide choices of Chinese, yes, Chinese!, Indian and Western. for Christ’s sake, take the Indian – you are in India!

24 Dec (Wednesday)

KOLKATA
Indian Museum – start early, especially if it’s a public holiday.The queue can snake way pass two blocks. Kolkatans take pride in being ‘cultured’ and ‘learned’. I have my own opinion to this one. Perhaps they think my similarity to being Northeastern Indian attracted very bad behaviour and ill treatment by Kolkatans – ‘culture’? ‘Learned’? {smirk}

Remember, this place adopts the ‘NO BAG’ policy. Unless you have zilt valuables and don’t mind it being chuck alongside possibly one thousand other bags … by all means carry one with you. And if I may suggest, get a fuchsia coloured one or a gaudy floral Hawaiian pattern you can’t missed a mile away.

Personally, had some unpleasant exchange with the guards and abandoned the visit; hence giving up unique fossils, Buddhist Gandharan art and an Egyptian mummy. Thank god for having visited British Museum in London – I don’t think I missed very much.

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So, (weird but true) I decided to stroll down the block and spend my time in Oxford Bookshop while waiting for the breakfast crowd at Flurry’s to thin. Denied entrance into Oxford Bookshop – same confrontation as the Indian Museum – I joined the queue at Flurry’s.
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Flurry’s turned out to be a massive disappointment, other than its saving grace of having executed 70% of the ambiance of a western café – I suppose I’ve been spoiled by real pastries and café in Paris. Then again, the PJ Old Town Portuguese egg tart is heaps better.
Do NOT do this, but frankly I decided to sulk in my hotel room until hunger pangs attacked and I ventured out again …

Take Metro to Victoria Memorial and St. Paul’s Cathedral.The latter observes some opening hours, but if you persist and insist, you should be fine. I didn’t bother after being told, “Can’t you read? There’s an opening hours sign on the gate.” but seriously saw some Kolkatans entering after I walked off the grounds just fine – perhaps they can’t read!

Wasn’t impressed with either … let’s just say if you’ve seen the assortment of ‘royal icing wedding cakes’ in Europe, both the Victoria Memorial and St. Paul Cathedral is a poor cousin by comparison. Without proper signage, I approached the Victoria Memorial through 2 wrong gates on its grounds, and decided to let up. I was told however the interior of the Victoria Memorial is where the hidden beauty and treasures of this place is, not so much the grounds or the structure in itself.

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There’s apparently the best and most famous Bengali fried fish around the Victoria Memorial and St. Paul Cathedral. I ended up wandering around the area for 1 hour searching to no avail. Returned to Park Street area and had lunch at some random restaurant that left no lasting impression; granted I was in a foul mood more so when the taxi driver did not know the hotel I was heading to for the second best Bengali fried fish despite showing him the map and having him communicate in Bengali with a Bengali friend! To rub salt to wound, I paid the full fare after being dropped off in the middle of a main road/’highway’ in search of a Metro! 

Thereafter, it was Metro for me … the challenge of figuring and guessing which writer/novelist/poet would best represent which suburb in Kolkata proved to be easier than ‘fighting’ off Kolkotans.

North Kolkata is a must. This is the older area of the city which is a fascinating district dominated by narrow little lanes and hundreds of century-old buildings. This place sprawls across Chitpur, Bagbazar, Belgachhia, Shyam Bazaar, Shobha Bazaar, Maniktala, Jora Sanko and the famous College Street area, which was probably my favourite place/experience in Kolkata, with quaint bookstores!
Second best experience was probably Christmas eve dinner at Oberoi.
25 Dec (Thursday)
KOLKATA
Howrah Bridge – start at 5:30 a.m. The idea is to see Kolkata and the Howrah Bridge when it’s all foggy. Be careful where you place your feet though – the pavements are full of homeless people bundled up and huddled together …fast asleep.

As the sun begins to rise, make your way to Mullik Ghat Flower Market which is below the Howrah Bridge. Observe this flower market stirs up from its sleep and stay for some time to mingle with the flower sellers who drapes thousands of marigolds around their necks. Rather a sight to see men covered with a sea of flowers.

Since nothing else seems to be up and going – this is a city that wakes up late – you might as well return to the hotel and catch some extra winks.I too had a lazy morning – with no Christmas tree and gifts under it, might as well curl up under the duvets and pray that Kolkata would be a nicer city to me on Christmas day.

Met my girl friend and went to Zarang for lunch at Sudder Street – a little pricey, but el cheapo by ‘Bombay Palace’ and ‘Passage to India’ standards with food that’s way better than either ‘Bombay Palace’ or ‘Passage to India’. Simply scrumptious – worth the splurge.

Visited New Market Tower area again and a car ramped into me … I HATE KOLKATA!!!
Nonetheless, hitting the patella back into place and drowning some extra little soldiers of mine, I was good. Nothing Vicodine could not handle. So I strolled around in search of the best Bengali sweets and had two earthen cups of chai on the street.

Bengali sweets are just heavenly. 
Since you are not a Bengali, I doubt you’d be able to tell which is better. So, just chomp whichever and whatever you can get. Remember you are walking a lot and besides calories do not count on holidays.

Interesting (but irrelevant to a travel itinerary) fact: 
Decided girl friend was obviously in love with other friend.
Can’t help wondering why … he’s truly the most annoying (and self centered) person I’ve ever met …  yes, I am still wondering why.
26 Dec (Friday)
KOLKATA
With a flight leaving at mid-afternoon and the fact that it takes 2 hours to do the short drive between central Kolkata and the airport, spend the last morning visiting some last minute shopping areas or somewhere close. After all the incidences, I was glad to take it slow and easy …and gladly headed to the airport .

Kolkata has firmly place itself as one of the places I would not forget.
{read HERE} for the full account of “I am serious, a city HATES me … Kolkata”

Flight
 CCU (ETD 1635) – KUL (ETA 2305)

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psst... {you know who you are}
If time permits I’ll draw up a short do-able itinerary for you – I believe you’re planning to do this in half the time. 
{gawd}
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8 thoughts on “Travel Tips 101: West Bengal, Sikkim & NE India Itinerary and POV

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  2. easy lah khor khor.for a holistic visit, take the cliff hanging-hugging roller coaster without the bars down and that could lead you to 2 days of exploration of totally off-the beaten track!always wondered where the hospital in Genting is – haven't you?BTW, check your email.gave you a compressed west bengal-sikkim itinerary. as promised!:*have fun with mary – damn cold. damn cold. damn cold.check the dates – u may just be able to catch the tibetan new year celebration in the monastery. i'll do a quick search for ya and let you know – i could be working for sikkim tourism!don't forget to go to my photoblog here to check out the brahmaputra photo and the chaams/sikkim photos.

  3. wow, as i grow older i love this kinda 'skeletal spoon feed' itinerary!!!1 sighhh, too bad u do this for HIM and not ME…sigh…..lolz.hey, can u do me an itinerary….a 3days2nites genting Highland breakaway??? and and and also…

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