When most people think of India, they think over-crowded cities, culture shock, ashrams, and the Taj Mahal. But this country has so much more to offer and an abundance of hidden gems to explore! India has always been a special place for me and I believe it’s a destination that has something for everyone. I recently returned from the Destination East event in Kolkata, Darjeeling & Sikkim with hopes of creating some new local partnerships and getting a feel for what this region had to offer.
Staying true to my values I was in search of authentic experiences, volunteer activities, adventure travel, and unique personalized excursions that I can offer to my clients. I’m excited to share some of my experiences and give you a taste of what’s to come for future trip offerings.
Kolkata, also known as ‘The City of Joy’ and the cultural capital of India, has so much to offer from amazing architecture, creative cuisine, a thriving arts and cultural scene, and some amazing stories about its history. Kolkata is a city full of stories and we had a nice experience with the local guides of ‘We Asia’ to get a taste for what the city had to offer. Since we didn’t have that much time we got a chance to learn about the history of the British Influence and the creation of the White, Grey and Black cities, we ventured through the flower market to get a feel for life in the city, and we finished off with a lunch featuring Kathi Rolls, a Kolkata street food special.
This was one of my favourite destinations on the trip. I’ve never experienced the Himalayas before so I was so excited to explore this region. Right away you feel like you’re in a completely different world in Sikkim. It’s a calm, peaceful, and beautiful destination to visit. It’s one of the many off the beaten track destinations in India so right away you get a feeling of warmth from the locals and a desire to showcase what they have to offer. We stayed at the ITC Denzong Regency Hotel in Gangtok where we got a chance to meet and share lunch, an evening bonfire, dinner and breakfast with the owner and key tourism players in the community. The hospitality was incredible and thoroughly enjoyed sharing some laughs and discussing local politics with the locals.
As far as activities went, Sikkim is home to some amazing monasteries and we visited the Rumtek Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Sikkim. It was so interesting to learn the history of that site, some of the controversies, and to get a feel for the peaceful environment. It was also very interesting to learn more about some of the incredible off the beaten track trekking adventures that you can do in this region. It’s such an intriguing destination that has so much to offer and I’m looking forward to sending more people to this unique destination.
Darjeeling is one of the more well known destinations in India due to it’s claim to fame as one of the main producers of tea in the world, and of course it becoming famous in the Hollywood scene with movies such as “Darjeeling Limited” and “The Way Back”. You instantly felt the difference from Sikkim and Darjeeling. Darjeeling was more developed and busy than Gangtok and had a lot more going on with trains travelling throughout the city and more touristy sites to see. It was still an interesting destination to explore and we got a chance to experience some great activities such as the sunrise at Tiger Hill, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre and the Ghoom Monastery.
The Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre was one of my favourite activities since we had a chance to interact and meet some of the Tibetans that sought refuge in India. The Centre was started on October 2, 1959 following the dramatic escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama during that period of mayhem, thousands of Tibetans fled into neighboring countries so they could live as free human beings. The majority of the refugees had brought nothing with them apart from the clothes they wore and what little provisions they could carry with them as they began the long and difficult trek over the Himalayas. The Centre provides a refuge where Tibetans can continue to practice their culture and traditions, speak their language, and live freely.
We had an amazing discussion with one of the refugees who was sharing his story and how he arrived into India when he was only 8 years old. I can’t even imagine what they had to go through just to be able to live freely and practice their way of life. Meeting and interacting with the Tibetan refugees was a special moment and I hope to go back and spend more time learning at the Centre. The Centre is open to volunteers so if you are interested in giving back you can offer teaching English, Healthcare Programs, and educational programs with the Youth. More details on the centre is found at http://www.tibetancentredarjeeling.com/History.html.
All in all, the Destination East event allowed me to make some incredible local connections and get a taste for what Kolkata, Darjeeling and Sikkim has to offer. So excited to work more in this region!
What’s on the Horizon
After experiencing some new sites in Eastern India, I’m excited to continue to promote this incredible region and will be offering some future group tours. The following trips will be on the horizon:
- Meghalaya Living Root Bridges & Indigenous Festivals – Fall 2017
- Sikkim Trekking Adventure – November 2017
- Eastern India – Spiritual Art Tour – January 2018