A Plant Hunters Trail
Friday 23 April – Sunday 09 May 2021
A small group tour to Kolkata, Darjeeling & Sikkim
Led by Perveen Nicoll (Nicky) BA
A Plant Hunters Trail
Friday 23 April – Sunday 09 May 2021
Come with us on a botanical trail in West Bengal and Sikkim, India. This is neither a trekking, field nor plant collecting trip. Instead, experience what it must have been like for plant hunters in the Victorian Era who dared the wilderness and dangers in search of new and exotic plants, now enjoyed in our gardens the world over. Sir Joseph Hooker was the first European to produce a comprehensive map and sketch these unknown territories in search of plants new to science. Unlike the plant hunters we will not be travelling on foot, but in comfortable air-conditioned vehicles on tar and dirt roads offering spectacular views of the mountains. Gentle walking with some steep inclines will be inevitable due to increase in altitude.
We will start our botanical trail in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) which is the capital of West Bengal state. Founded as an East India trading post, it was India’s capital under the British Raj from 1773-1911. An afternoon sightseeing tour and a full day to see the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Gardens which is among the oldest and largest in South-east Asia. We will hear about the botanists and the plants they collected, who served as Superintendents during the pre-independent period.
An hour’s flight takes us to stay on a magnificent tea estate, then onto Darjeeling, famous for its tea industry. Ride on the Toy Train, a UNESCO World Heritage site and at Tiger Hill (hopefully) view Mt Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.
As our trail winds further north into the foothills of the Himalayas, it includes visits to garden nurseries and National Parks in Kalimpong, Gangtok, Lachung and to our most northly point Yumthang with breath-taking scenery. We will also see that most temples, towns and villages sacred trees and plants are part of the ecological life and plant worship is probably the oldest form of religion.
Trip Leader Perveen Nicoll BA (Honours)
Perveen Nicoll (Nicky) is leading her second tour to India who has also travelled to Nepal and Bhutan. Nicky was born in London with a degree in Art History. She has also studied Ecology and Conservation at Birkbeck University of London and has an RHS Certificate in Horticulture.
A passion for plants, Nicky has worked at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research institution on the farm and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the herbarium. She now works part-time within museums mounting and repairing often historical dried pressed plants as well as data-basing the specimens. These are used to help understand the world’s flora and help preserve plant biodiversity for the future, safeguarding them against extinction.
Nicky also helps to look after a local Physic Garden in Hertfordshire and is a co-author of a book, The Physic Garden in Hitchin, An illustrated Guide, on the garden’s plants.
As a South London Botanical Institute member for many years, Nicky has led workshops teaching herbarium techniques of plant mounting. Last year Nicky also led a tour to Shimla visiting Rothney Castle the home of Allan Octavian Hume.
£80.00 from each booking will go to The South London Botanical Institute to support their important work in botanical education. For more information please see www.slbi.org.uk
17 days from £3,795.00 per person
Day 1: To Kolkata
Fly London to Kolkata on the overnight flight with Emirates Airlines via Dubai (EK 002; 14:20-00:20)) (EK 570; 02:05-08:15). Departures from other regional UK airports i.e. Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Gatwick are available on request. D
Day 2: Kolkata
Arrive in Kolkata in the morning and we will transfer you to Lalit Grand Eastern to rest.
Afternoon sightseeing tour of Kolkata city.
Mr G.M. Kapoor of INTACH will give a talk on history of Kolkata.
Dinner at Palladium Lounge D
Day 3: Kolkata
A full day visit to the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanic Garden*, previously known as Calcutta Botanic Garden, Howrah, the largest Botanic Garden in India and third oldest in the world. Founded in 1787, the gardens are home to more than 12,000 plant species.
We will also visit the Herbarium which is home to more than 2 million herbarium specimens.
*Cyclone Amphan in May 2020 has caused considerable damage to the Garden. Restoration work is in progress. If for any reason we are unable to visit the garden an alternative tour of Kolkata city will be provided to visit Queen Victoria Memorial, Mother Teresa House, or a heritage walk of the city or a tram ride to see the artists at work at Kumartuli. B, D
Day 4: To Souranee Tea Estate Mirik Valley
Morning flight to Bagdogra (Indigo, 6E 797; 10:45-11:55) meeting, assistance and transfer to Souranee Tea Estate in the Mirik Valley, a scenic drive of about 4 hours stopping en-route for lunch. Mirik is blessed with a pleasant climate, landscapes gardens, tea estates, orange, and cardamom plantations.
The rest of the day to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the beautiful surroundings. The tea estate is said to have around ninety-nine hectares under tea plantation. B, L, D
Day 5: To Souranee Tea Estate
Morning guided tour of the Tea Estate and tea processing.
In the afternoon, go for a leisurely walk in the tea gardens, surrounded by the majestic mountain scenery. Dinner and overnight. B, D
Day 6: To Darjeeling - Queen of the Hills (2,000m)
After an early breakfast we travel to Darjeeling, a three-hour drive and check into The New Elgin Hotel.
After early lunch , a botanical tour with a local guide, visiting different areas of the history of Darjeeling and its association with Tea (Camellia sinensis) We will learn about Brian Houghton Hodgson and his bungalow where he hosted Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (who was to become second Director of Kew Gardens) and with Superintendent Archibald Campbell in 1848 -1851 explored, mapped and sketched unknown territories of Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet in search of plants new to science. Hooker returned to Britain with around 7,000 plant species, including 25 new species of rhododendrons, which was to start a rhododendron craze amongst British gardeners. We may see where Hodgson’s and Campbell’s homes were in Darjeeling. B, D
Day 7: Darjeeling - Botanical History Day
After early breakfast we will drive to Tiger Hill (2,573m) to view (hopefully letting the early morning mist clear) Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.
Toy Train of the Himalayan Railway, the highest UNESCO World Heritage railway in the world. (Subject to operation of this train) We will visit the Ghoom Monastery, where the 15-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha is enshrined.
After lunch, we will visit the Himalayan Zoological Park (the animals here are well cared for and have conservation breeding programs such as the red panda, snow leopard and Tibetan wolf) and see the animals up close in enclosures resembling their natural habitat. Nearby, we will also visit the famous Himalayan Mountain Institute. B, D
Day 8: Darjeeling - Himalayan mountains
After breakfast, drive to Maney Bhanjyang (2,150m) which is a border town between India and Nepal (about 2 hour’s drive) to Tonglu through temperate vegetation. It was at Mount Tonglu one of the highest peaks, inside the Singhalila National Park that Hooker stayed at and encountered Rhododendron falconeri and R. setosum.
We will stop at Tumling a small hamlet for lunch. Afterward we can explore the plants on the way back downhill. B, D
Day 9: To Kalimpong
After breakfast, a 3-hour scenic drive to Kalimpong, staying at Windsongs.
Kalimpong has a relaxing charm of its own, which sets it apart from other, more well-known hill stations.
After lunch, we will visit a couple of nurseries famed for their orchids and specialising in many other Himalayan plants too.
Evening stroll around the town which has excellent and perhaps the most reasonable Buddhist artifacts for sale. Evening dinner at the hotel. B, D
Day 10: To Gangtok, Capital of Sikkim – (1650m)
Check out after breakfast. Scenic mountainous drive of about 4 hours to Gangtok, including immigration at Rangpo check post for issuing our permits.
Check-in and stay at The Hidden Forest Retreat.
Evening stroll at the MG Marg (or the Mahatma Gandhi Road) Gangtok downtown.
Evening dinner at the hotel. B, D
Day 11: Gangtok
After breakfast, visit to the flower show to see many of the orchid species in bloom and many other plants as well to keep us all enthralled. Dendrobium nobile is the state flower of Sikkim, and R. niveum the state tree.
Afterwards, a walk around the surrounding area with a lunch at a restaurant downtown. After lunch, a visit to see Wayside Nurseries and see their various collection of orchids species, hybrids, and various other plants.
Afternoon tea served in the garden of the nursery. B, L, D
Day 12: To Lachung
Check out after breakfast and drive towards the immense natural beauty of Lachung. This is about a 6-hour drive.
Lunch at Mangan, the capital of the district of north Sikkim. North Sikkim is the largest in terms of area. The town opens to the Tibetan Plateau. Margan nestles on the foothills of the Himalayas and is also an important centre for Buddhism.
Stay at Hotel Etho Metho for 2 nights. B, D
Day 13: Lachung
Lachung Flora and fauna
After breakfast, day trip to Yumthang Valley or Sikkim Valley of Flowers, the most northly point of our trail (1.5 hours approx. drive, 3,575m). Famed for its remoteness and spectacular mountain terrain. Hot springs, yaks and grazing pasture and meadows of beautiful flowers. Picnic Lunch.
The valley has a Rhododendron Sanctuary (Singba) of spectacular variety of plants. Rhododendrons, Magnolia, coniferous and broadleaved trees, and alpine flowers.
Evening meal back at accommodation. B, L, D
Day 14: To Gangtok
After breakfast, another scenic drive of about 4 hours back to Gangtok. Stopping en-route to take in the views. Check-in and stay at the Hidden Forest Hotel.
Free time in the afternoon. Evening meal at hotel. B, D
Day 15: To Kolkata
After breakfast, transfer to Bagdogra airport (5- hour drive) to board Indigo flight to Kolkata. (6E534: - 16.35-17:45.
We will carry a packed lunch from the Hotel.
Check-in at the Viceroy Hotel near International airport for overnight stay. B, L, D
Day 16: To London
Transfer to airport and fly London via Dubai (EK 0571, 09:45-13:10) (EK 0003),14:15-18:40.
For Land only cost or to arrange flights from Regional airports please contact us. B
|Price per person
|Single room supplement|
- International air fare on Emirates Airlines in economy class inclusive all taxes. Business class supplement is available on request.
- Internal flights in economy class inclusive all taxes and 23 Kg checked in baggage allowance.
- Air-conditioned accommodation with private facilities as mentioned in the itinerary.
- 32 meals including afternoon tea on day 11
- Talk on history and heritage of Kolkata by Mr G.M. Kapoor convener of INTACH Kolkata followed by dinner at the Palladian Lounge.
- All transfers and sightseeing arrangements an air-conditioned coach in Kolkata and air-conditioned private cars for the rest of the tour.
- Services of our local representative for all transfers and sightseeing arrangements.
- Services of our local expert guide on Botany from Darjeeling to the end of the tour. Local English-speaking guide in Kolkata.
- Services of Perveen Nicoll (Nicky) as trip Leader.
- 100% protection of your monies by our ATOL and ABTA licences.
- Visa fee for India. Electronic E-tourist visa is now available for India. On confirmation of booking we will send you a step by step guide how to apply for the visa online. We will also provide assistance free of charge (if needed) at the time you apply for the visa so you can make a correct application for the Visa. You do not have to send your passport or visa now an electronic visa will be sent to you by e-mail.
- Travel Insurance. Please ensure you have a comprehensive travel insurance for your travel. You may wish to obtain a quotation here https://www.indusexperiences.co.uk/insurance/
- Any expenses of a personal nature.
- Camera fee at monuments and other places of interest.
- Tips and gratuities
*£80.00 from each booking will go to The South London Botanical Institute to support their important work in botanical education. For more information please see www.slbi.org.uk
Important: Please read before you book
In these unprecedented times you may all wonder if the trip in April 2021 is going to be feasible and if the trip could be cancelled because of low participation, Foreign office advice against travel due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 and any adverse conditions which will force us to cancel the tour. In this scenario we would be looking to move the tour to April 2022 as our “Plan B”.
Your payments will be held for this tour which are 100% protected by our ATOL and ABTA licences.
We will be keeping a close eye on the government instructions in both countries and their guidelines will be in touch regarding these decisions.
We plan to follow this detailed itinerary, but events beyond our control like unpredictable weather, road conditions, cancelled flights, mechanical breakdown, or any other circumstances – may require changes to the itinerary at the last moment.
Accommodation varies between excellent hotels in Kolkata, Darjeeling and Gangtok and Guest House accommodation in Lachung. Guest house accommodation is simple rooms with very basic interiors and facilities.