East India - Excitement and Tranquillity

In no time at all the stimulating bustle and heat of Calcutta is left far behind, opening out to the cool and luscious mountains of refreshing Darjeeling. Encounter the mighty range of the Himalayas in Sikkim, the one-horned rhinoceros in wonderful wildlife reserves, then dream of a forgotten age in the ancient holy towns on the plains of rural India.

Discover the Soul of Calcutta

Calcutta is the largest city in India, indeed one of the largest in the world. Established as a British trading post in the 17th century, the city rapidly grew, acquiring a life and vibrancy of its own. Its glory is still reflected in the buildings of Chowringhee and Clive Street, know as Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Netaji Subhash Road respectively. It is a city which leaves no-one indifferent-fascinating, effervescent, teeming with life, peoples, cultures. The impact can be a shock at first; the rickshaws, cars, brightly painted lorries, trolley buses, the cries of the street vendors, labourers hard at work on the construction of the vast underground railway, the noise and colour of the huge New Market, the bustle of the crowds...but soon the jumbled impressions will sort themselves out. Central Calcutta is best viewed in perspective around the rolling green of the Maidan, 3 square kilometres of parkland where the early-morning yoga sessions provide for the city dwellers a relaxation from the stresses of urban life. For relaxation of another kind, visit the Indian Museum, one of the finest in Asia. Other attractions include the huge white marble Victoria Memorial, the Octherlony Monument and the headquarters of the Rama Krishna mission. To the north of the city is the silent beauty of the Belur Math and, across the river, the Botanical gardens (with a 200 years old Banyan tree, reputedly the largest in the world)and the Kali temple of Dakshineshwar. Calcutta has a soul. The Bengalis are poets and artists of India and this has affected their city. Calcutta will certainly grow on you. For a complete change, take a plane or boat from Calcutta to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the peaceful sun-soaked paradise in the Bay of Bengal.

The Magic of the Toy Train

For those who don't wish to fly, try taking a train to Darjeeling from Calcutta. The last leg of the journey from New Jalpaiguri takes place on a miniature railway which winds through deep jungles, tea gardens and pine forests. It is one of the great journeys of the world. Darjeeling is an unspoilt, English-style hill station straddling a mountain slope and surrounded with high green hills covered with coniferous trees, with massive drops into the enchanting valley below. It commands a stunning view of Kanchenjunga (8586 metres), particularly from nearby Tiger Hill, and the sunrise which breaks over the mountains is one of the most beautiful on earth. Many Tibetan refugees live here, and it is also the home of the celebrated Sherpa Tenzing, as well as being the headquarters of the India Mountaineering Institute. The tea to which the town gives its name is the finest in the world; where better to sample it than here.

Invigorated by the fresh mountain air, stroll along the winding paths, marvelling at the views of the massive range of snowcapped peaks which appear in all their glory as the swirling mists clear. See the Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the breeze; it is possible to visit one of the Buddhist Monastaries, such as Ghoom which enshrines an image of the Maitreyee Buddha. Only two and a half hours away by bus or taxi is Kalimpong, a quaint bazaar town set in rolling foothills and deep valleys at the foot of the mighty Himalayas. There are several excursions from here to places which offer some of the finest panoramas in the world. To the north, the mountain state of Sikkim is a land of peace and tranquillity high up in the mountains. The capital Gangtok, on a ridge flanking the Ranipool River, is overshadowed by the Kanchenjunga, a truly spectacular sight that will imbue you with awe and wonder. Discover the ancient beautiful Royal Chapel of Tsuk-La Khana, or enjoy the profusion of wild flowers in bloom throughout the year. Here in orchid-strewn Sikkim the visitor becomes like an explorer who has found a forgotten land. Even further east are the states of 'Assam and Meghalaya. The state of Assam is famous for its tea, and also for its wildlife reserves which can be reached via the ancient and graceful state capital of Gauhati, situated on the river Brahmaputra. The tiger reserve of Manas is also rich in other varieties of wildlife, while in Kaziranga it is often possible to see one of India's one-horned rhinoceros. Bordering Assam to the north is the beautiful mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is the home of the colourful Khasi people. The breathtaking views, the waterfalls, brooks and pine groves have all led to the state being popularly described as "The Scotland of the East"; Shillong also has one of the best golf courses in India. The landscape, the people and the climate all combine to make it an ideal holiday resort throughout the year.

Enchanting Holy Cities

Orissa, the eastern state of the Bay of Bengal, has a rich tradition of classical dance, music, silverware, handicrafts and sculpture. The three great temple towns of Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark constitute, like Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, a "Golden Triangle", but here with the emphasis strongly on tempels – temples of the most glorious and stunning kind. Bhubaneswar is the capital of Orissa and the Temple City of India. Seven thousand temples once ranged around the sacred Bindusagar Lake in Old Bhubaneswar; about five hundred of them are still standing. The great Lingaraja Temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva is the largest of these, and is the site of a major Shivartri festival in February-March, on the night of the new moon. On the coast, south of Bhubaneswar, lies Puri, one of the four holiest Hindu cities in India and now also being developed as a beach resort; relax in the refreshing sea after wondering at the famous 12th century Jagannath Temple, the home of Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the World, "the Formless God". Many travellers try to be in Puri around June or July, when it is possible to join in one of India's greatest festivals the spectacular Rath Yatra or "Car" Festival, when a concourse of pilgrims gather to pay homage to the images of the deity drawn on their massive wooden chariots. Splendidly alone amidst the sand dunes which rise from the blue waters of the bay, the Sun Temple of Konark marks the pinnacle of a great Kalinga achievement in temple architecture. It was built as a chariot for the Sun God, complete with wheels and horses. The sculpture is among the most stupendous in India. After seeing these, and so many other, remarkable sights, relax with the friendly people by the flat and beautiful Chilka Lake, or in the little beach resort of Gopalpur-on-Sea. The excitement and stimulation of busy Calcutta, the tranquillity and ecstatic beauty of the Himalayas, the dream-like quality of the ancient holy cities - what spectacular and varied offerings eastern India has to give.

Suggested Itineraries

Program 1: Orissa & Sunderbans

Program 2: Darjeeling, Sikkim & Kalimpong


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ANDAMAN & NICOBAR

India's capital city, Delhi is the second most widely used entry point into the country, being on the route of most major airlines. It is well linked by rail, air and road to all parts of the country. The remains of seven distinctive capital cities – among them Shahjahanabad and QutabMinar – can be seen. Here, museums, art galleries and cultural centers attract the finest exhibitions and performances from India and abroad. Shopping encompasses virtually everything that can be bought in the country; hotels range from the deluxe to the more modest. Most fascinating of all is the character of Delhi which varies from the 13th century mausoleum of the Lodi kings set in a sprawling park to ultra modern chrome and glass skyscrapers; and from imperial India's Parliament House and the President's Palace to the never ending bustle of the walled city surrounding Jama Masjid. Delhi also makes the ideal base for a series of short excursions to neighbouring places, all connected by road.

A short flight from Calcutta by air (it is also connected by flights from Delhi and Madras) is Port Blair, capital of the Andaman Islands. Though travel is restricted here, those islands open to tourism, with their lovely beaches and coral beds, are a traveller's delight. On Port Blair, the Cellular Jail and Anthropological Museum merit a visit. Excursions can be taken by motor launch to the islands of Wandoor and Jolly Buoy and to the bird sanctuary at Chiriyatapoo.

The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands consisting of about 293 islands (39 of which are inhabited) is situated in the Bay of Bengal. Andaman roup of islands consists of North Andaman, Middle Andaman. South Andaman and Little Andaman besides many smaller islands.Nicobargroup of islands comprises Great Nicobar, Car Nicobar, Nancowry, Katchal and Chowra. The headquarters of this Union Territory is at Port Blair, situated in South Andaman Island.The topography of the islands is hilly & they abound in evergreen forests.Timber is plentiful and of a vast variety. The white sandy beaches have a back drop of luxuriant greenery & in the clear blue waters of the lagoons enclosed by coral reefs is an underwater world full of fish of every possible variety.

BIHAR

Of all India's states, Bihar is the one most intimately linked to the Buddha's life, resulting in a trail of pilgrimages which have come to be known as the Buddhist circuit. The very name Bihar is derived from the world 'vihara', which means Buddhist monastery. The Buddhist trail begins at the capital city, Patna, where a noteworthy museum contains a collection of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. The KhudaBaksh Oriental Library has rare Muslim manuscripts including some from the University of Cordoba in Spain. 40 km away, Vaishali was the site for the second Buddhist Council as the presence of ruins testify. 90 km south of Patna is Nalandawhich translates as 'the place that confers the lotus' (of spiritual knowledge). A monastic university flourished here from the 5th to the 11th century. It is said to have contained nine million books, with 2,000 teachers to impart knowledge to 10,000 students who came from all over the Buddhist world. Lord Buddha himself taught here and Hieun Tsang, the 7th century Chinese traveller, was a student. Ongoing excavations have uncovered temples, monasteries and lecture halls.

Rajgir, 'the royal palace', 12 km south, was the venue for the first Buddhist Council. The Buddha spent five years at Rajgir after having attained enlightenment, and many of the remains at Rajgir commemorate various incidents, the hill of Gridhrakuta being perhaps the most important, as this is where the Buddha delivered most of his sermons. Bodhgaya is the spot where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, with the Mahabodhi Temple marking the precise location. Bihar's Buddhist circuit has modest back-up facilities by way of accommodation, international dining and surface transport. (For those interested in the Buddhist circuit, it may be worthwhile to note that Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, close to Varanasi, is an important part of the circuit, and has been beautifully developed. Besides the excavated sites, a museum here houses several Buddhist icons, among them the Ashoka Lion, India's national emblem).

JHARKHAND

The hype, the glitter, the urban settings and even five star hospitality are conspicuous by its absence in this state. Not with standing all these, the ripple of the falls as they cascade down steep mountain slopes seem as mighty as Lord Shiva's Tandav. History stands still amidst the serenity of hundreds of years old rich teak forests of Saranda that have witnessed the rise and fall of the British Empire.

Jharkhand, formerly a part of United Bihar became the 28th State of India on 15th November 2000. The capital of Jharkhand is Ranchi.

Jharkhand is a mineral rich state, having most of big industries of United Bihar. There are two major steel plants- Tata Steel at Jamshedpur and SAIL at Bokaro, several coal mines fields, Heavy Engineering plant at Ranchi, a big fertilizer plant at Sindri and several industrial establishment based on minerals in this state.

Jharkhand state is full of evergreen forests, wild life sanctuaries, lakes, waterfalls, health and holiday resorts and a wide range of scenic beauty for tourists. The State's Chota Nagpur plateau presents a rolling hills area, dense forests, several waterfalls and many springs with mineral waters.

Jharkhand state is not only a state of abundant evergreen forests or wildlife or waterfalls but also a state of important pilgrimage destinations. The famous places of pilgrimage are Rajrappa, Parasnath, Sun Temple, Baidyanathdham (Deoghar), Jagannathpur Temple and Hill, Anjangram and many more.

Jharkhand also is developing Ecotourism and Organic Farming destinations, where quite a few villages are turning as eco tourism destinations, and farms being converted to Organic Farming.

ORISSA

Orissa has a chequered history which has successfully assimilated and synthesised the best of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultures. Orissa or Kalinga as it was then called was a settlement of non-Aryan and Aryan settlers. It was a formidable maritime empire with trading routes stretching up to Bali, Sumatra, Indonesia and Java. The key to international trade and immense wealth, it was coveted by many rulers. In fact, it was here that the famous Battle of Kalinga was fought in 261 BC, which made the great Mauryan Kshatriya (warrior caste) king Ashoka forsake war. He became a follower of Buddhism and spread the spirit of ahimsa and peace, the message of Buddhism, to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and the Far East, Exquisite remains of the Buddhist past still remain in the areas of Udaygiri, Lalitagiri and Ratnagiri. Kharavela, who came to power in Kalinga, around 1st Century BC, was a staunch follower of Jainism. It is to this period that Orissa owes its Jain art and architectural tradition.

The sophisticated architectural style of the Jain Monastic caves at Udaygiri and Khandagiri are a story unto themselves. During the 7th to the 13th Century AD, Orissa flourished. Trade and commerce increased and along with it evolved its art and architecture. The style of Hindu temple construction, so unique to Orissa also developed around this time.

Bhubaneshwar the capital of Orissa (Bhuban being world and Iswar God) is a walk down centuries of temple architecture, With 600 temples still extant, temples are to this ancient city as forts are to Rajasthan. It is probably the only city in the world that enables an authentic over-view of the stages of development of Hindu religious architecture

SIKKIM

Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, Sikkim is a Himalayan wonderland with its lovely views and exotic orchids, and its forest-trails. A virtual Shangrila overlooked by Mt. Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, Sikkim is attractive equally for the sightseer, the adventure sports enthusiast and those interested in Buddhism and Tibetology.

Buddhism is the predominant religion here, with many fine old monasteries rich with frescoes, religious paintings on silk and statues of the Buddha's various incarnations. In Gangtok, the delightfully quaint capital, are pagoda like roofs of many buildings and the presence of crimson robed monks in the bazaars. The Institute of Tibetology, the only one of its kind in the world, was set up by the erstwhile ruler to promote research on Mahayana Buddhism, and on the language and traditions of Tibet. Lower down the hill is the famed orchid sanctuary where 500 species of orchids indigenous to Sikkim are cultivated. Sikkim offers several treks that lead through pine forests, through picturesque valleys, monasteries and to mountain lakes. It is also the base for mountaineering expeditions and the rivers Teesta and Rangeet offer excellent river rafting. Prior permission must be sought from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, by all foreigners wishing to visit Sikkim – though travel formalities are being relaxed gradually. Permission may, therefore, be sought from Indian Missions overseas, or from offices of Sikkim Tourism, A number of good hotels and lodging houses exist in Gangtok.

WEST BENGAL

Calcutta, three hundred years old, traces its history to the landing of Robert Clive on the banks of the Hooghly beside three villages. It was from here the monumental British Raj was launched in India. The capital of West Bengal, Calcutta is the major entry point.

If Delhi is the elegant capital of the nation, and Bombay its major industrial city, then Calcutta ranks as the intellectual capital. Poets, thinkers and film directors of international renown hail from this city where avantgarde plays and art exhibitions go on show practically every day of the year. Calcutta was the first headquarters of the East India Company, and some of its best known monuments were built by this British trading house. However, the city has, within its 300 years' history, hosted other communities both from other parts of India as well as abroad – Chinese, Armenians, Jews – all of whom have left their imprint in pockets of Calcutta. Sightseeing in this fascinating city includes Raj Bhawan, the residence of the Governor of Bengal; Victoria Memorial, the city's landmark; Botanical Gardens, which are notable for the oldest banyan tree, and orchid house; Armenian Church; Marble Palace, one family's collection of memorabilia; and the Birla Planetarium. Darjeeling, the state's most popular hill resort, is a slice of England 2,134 metres above sea level. Surrounded by tea gardens growing the prized leaf known as Darjeeling, the little town faces some of the Himalaya's highest peaks. Darjeeling is an abrupt variation from the lowlands of West Bengal. Buddhism, being a major faith here, Darjeeling and the nearby town of Kalimponghave, between them, several Buddhist monasteries, chiefly of the Yellow Hat sect