Best of Bengal & Sikkim

India

Culture

Colonial Kolkata, Darjeeling toy train & Buddhism

14 days £2,795 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Intro, Dates & Prices

Intro

Unravel the colonial history of Bengal on a walking tour of Kolkata and watch tea trading at an auction house. Travel north and take the ‘toy train’ in Darjeeling gazing out at its cliff-hanging tea estates. Cross the border into the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim and wander through its alpine forests, catching a glimpse of Kanchenjunga, India’s highest peak. Witness monks pouring over ancient Buddhist scripts in monasteries, before returning to Bengal and end your trip cruising the waterways of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangroves.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Discover the rich history of Kolkata
  • Grand, marble memorial to Queen Victoria
  • Toy train ride in Darjeeling
  • Stunning Himalayan scenery
  • Buddhist culture in Sikkim
  • Visit the fascinating Rumtek Monastery

Places Visited

Kolkata - Victoria Memorial - Darjeeling - Pelling - Pemayangtse Monastery - Khecheopalri Lake - Gangtok - Rumtek Monastery - Sunderbans

What's Included

Airport transfers
Domestic flights
Ground transport
Accommodation
Drivers and guides
Some meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
Entrance fees to sites & parks (one-time entry)

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Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival

Arrive in Kolkata, where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. After check in, the rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Kolkata.

Overnight in Astor Hotel, Kolkata

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Kolkata

Enjoy a full day sightseeing tour of Kolkata, visiting many of the city's most impressive temples and churches. Start your day with a walking tour of Dalhousie Square. Later visit the Kalighat Kali Temple, St, Andrews Church, St Paul's Church and end at the Victoria Memorial (closed on Mondays).  Overnight in Kolkata.

Overnight in Astor Hotel, Kolkata

Meal plan: Breakfast

Col. Mark Wood's Map: Dalhousie Square Walk
Retrace the steps of Lt. Col. Mark Wood's detailed map of European settlement in Kolkata, made in 1784. Explore streets and buildings while learning about Kolkata's history between 1757 to 1807, when it emerged as the 'Second City of the British Empire'. Beginning at the General Post Office, the 2.5 hours walk will end at popular food joint, Kaka Tea, where you can enjoy tea and snacks.


The Victoria Memorial is possibly the most grand reminder of the British Raj in Kolkata. A large marble building, made from Makrana  marbles  from  Rajasthan, it holds 25 galleries, including rare collections of antiquarian books from the likes of William Shakespeare. The architectural design of the memorial is also of particular interest. Comprised of a great dome, clustered with four subsidiary octagonal domed chhatris, high portals, terraces and domed corner towers, it eminates a splendid, rich design fit to commemorate a queen.

Often labelled the  "Cultural City of India", Kolkata is India's second biggest city and one of its major ports, located on the east bank  of the Hooghly River. Previously named 'Calcutta', it was the former capital of the British Indian Empire until 1911 and originally designed in the style of a grand European capital. As a result, Western influences can be seen throughout the city within its colonial-era architecture: Raj Bhavan, the state governor's residence, imitates Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the Indian Museum is built in the Italian style, while the Victoria Memorial Hall attempts to combine classical Western and Mughal architecture. Kolkata was also the centre of the Indian independence movement, and to this day still plays an important role in contemporary state politics.

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Day 3 : Kolkata

After breakfast, explore the 'Black Town' in the north of Kolkata. Visit the Jain Temple Complex, Marble Palace (closed on Mondays & Thursdays), Kumartuli, College Street book market and Tagore Museum (closed on Mondays). Overnight in Kolkata.
 

Overnight in Astor Hotel, Kolkata

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 4 : Kolkata - Bagdogra - Darjeeling

Enjoy some free time before being transferred to the airport to connect with your flight to Bagdogra. On arrival you will be transferred to Darjeeling. Overnight in Darjeeling.

Overnight in Windamere Hotel , Darjeeling

Meal plan: Breakfast

Now a town in the state of West Bengal, Darjeeling was once part of Nepal but was annexed to India by the British. It is most famous for its tea industry, especially its delicious black tea. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects the town with the plantations and has one of the few steam trains still operating in India. Full of beautiful colonial architecture, the town’s British-style public schools attract students from all over India and neighbouring countries. It is also regarded as a centre for music and playing instruments is a popular pastime amongst residents.

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Day 5 : Darjeeling

 Early morning visit Tiger Hill – 11 kms from Darjeeling. Witness the magnificent sunrise, it also offers panoramic views of Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga (subject to clear weather) and Ghoom Monastery. The 19th century Goempa, one of the oldest in the area, enshrines an enormous gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha and also houses valuable Tibetan manuscripts.
 
After breakfast enjoy a ride on the Heritage Toy Train, from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back.
 
Afternoon visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (closed on Thursdays) - the Institute was started in Darjeeling by Tenzing Norgay following his ascent of Everest to impart training in mountaineering and other adventure sports related to mountaineering. and Tibetan Refugee Centre (closed on Sundays) - established in 1959, it comprises a home for the elderly, an orphanage, school, clinic and craft workshops. Overnight in Darjeeling.

Overnight in Windamere Hotel , Darjeeling

Meal plan: Breakfast

Kangchenjunga, located on the boundary of Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, is the third highest mountain in the world, reaching an elevation of 8,586m. Originally thought to be the world’s highest mountain, it was first climbed in 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band, as part of a British expedition. Following a promise they had given to the Maharaja of Sikkim, they stopped just short of the summit itself. This tradition has been continued by every climber or climbing group since.

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Day 6 : Darjeeling

Today you will visit the Tukvar Tea Estate, the very first tea estate in Darjeeling. Observatory Hill - Like most other hill stations in India, Darjeeling also has a Mall Road and atop the Mall is the Observatory hill. The hill hosts the famous Mahakal temple and the original shrine of Bhutia Basti monastery, making it a place of religious significance for Hindus and Buddhists alike. Overnight in Darjeeling.

Overnight in Windamere Hotel , Darjeeling

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 7 : Darjeeling - Pelling

After breakfast, drive to Pelling. The evening is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Pelling.

Overnight in Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel, Pelling

Meal plan: Breakfast

With stunning landscapes, Pelling is known for its perfect views over the Himalayas and the Kangchenjunga, the third tallest mountain in the world. The town is surrounded by untouched alpine vegetation and waterfalls, including the majestic double-pronged Kanchenjunga falls and the Khechuperi Lake, which is sacred to Buddhists.

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Day 8 : Pelling

After breakfast you will spend the day visiting Khangchendzonga waterfalls, Rimbi waterfalls and Khachoedpalri lake. Later, explore Pemayangtse monastery, one of the oldest and most important monasteries in Sikkim. Overnight in Pelling.

Overnight in Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel, Pelling

Meal plan: Breakfast

Perched on a wooded hilltop and standing at 2085m, Pemayangtse Monastery offers the most sublime view of Kangchendzonga. Built during the late 17th century, Pemayangtse is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of the Nyingmapa order of Buddhism in Sikkim. To the present day, it is only the monks of this monastery who enjoy the title of ‘Tasang’ or pure monks. With time, the importance of this monastery grew and reached its peak when only monks from this Pemayangtse could anoint the reigning sovereign of the land with holy water. The annual chaam (monk dance) is held here on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.

Past the ruins of ancient towns in Sikkim lie the crystalline wish fulfilling waters of Khecheopalri Lake. The sacred lake lies in a depression which is surrounded by prayer flags and lush forested hills. 

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Day 9 : Pelling - Gangtok

You will be transferred to Gangtok. Upon arrival, the rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Gangtok. 

Overnight in Elgin Nor Khill Hotel , Gangtok

Meal plan: Breakfast

Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok has been a centre of pilgrimage since the Enchey Monastery was built in 1840. Built in the Baroque style, the 200 year old monastery houses images of gods and goddesses and is the oldest monastery in the city. Rumtek Monastery is considered to be one of Buddhism’s most sacred buildings because it holds some of the world’s most rare Tibetan Buddhist scriptures and religious artefacts in its reliquary.

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Day 10 : Gangtok

After breakfast enjoy a guided tour of Gangtok. Sites include Ranka Monastery, Enchey Monastery, Rumtek Monastery, Ban Jhakri Falls and Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Overnight in Gangtok.

Overnight in Elgin Nor Khill Hotel , Gangtok

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Rumtek Monastery is bursting with a fascinating history. The monastery was originally built by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in 16th century, at the same time as Phodong Monastery and Ralang Monastery, Rumtek served as the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Sikkim for some time. But when the 16th Karmapa arrived in Sikkim in 1959, after fleeing Tibet, the monastery was in ruins. Despite being offered other sites, the Karmapa decided to rebuild Rumtek. To him, the site possessed many auspicious qualities and was surrounded by the most favourable attributes.

Behind the main monastery is the lavishly decorated Karmae Nalanda Institute of Buddhist Studies, which attracts students from the world over. Opposite the entrance to the Institute is a small hall featuring a beautiful jewel studded Chorten - the Golden Stupa, which contains the ashes and remains of His Holiness the xvi Gyalwa Karmapa. According to legend, it is believed that after years of meditation, the first Karmapa was said to have been visited by ten thousand fairies who came to congratulate him, each of whom offered a strand of her hair as a gift. These were said to have been woven into a black hat, which was passed down and is still at the Rumtek Monastery today. It is said that unless held on to by the wearer (who of course, cannot be anyone else but the Karmapa) or kept in a box, the hat would fly away.


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Day 11 : Gangtok - Bagdogra - Kolkata

Drive to Bagdogra and transfer to the airport to connect with your flight to Kolkata. The rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Kolkata.

Overnight in Astor Hotel, Kolkata

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 12 : Kolkata - Sunderbans

In the morning you will be transferred to Sunderbans. The rest of the day is free to relax and enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Sunderbans. 

Overnight in Sunderban Tiger Camp, Sunderbans

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sunderbans is a National Park, a Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve. It is home to one of the world's largest areas of halophytic mangroves and is also a hotspot for Royal Bengal tigers, boasting one of the highest Bengal tiger populations in India. Situated in Bangledesh, two-thirds of the park fall into the district of West Bengal. The name 'Sunderbans' literally means 'beautiful forest', and the reserve is very scenic, intersected by a series of waterways, tidal islands and mudflats, and boasting a diverse range of endemic plant species. There is also a significant Watch Tower which offers panoramic views of the area.

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Day 13 : Sunderbans

Board a cruise boat towards the Dobanke Watch Tower, passing through creeks and dense forests. Breakfast will be served on board. Experience the thrill of the Canopy Walk, which provides 360 degree views of the forest. Visit the spotted deer rehabilitation centre before returning to Sunderbans Tiger Camp for lunch. In the afternoon, walk through the village of Dayapur, observing local life. End the day with dinner at the reserve. Overnight in Sunderbans.

Overnight in Sunderban Tiger Camp, Sunderbans

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

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Day 14 : Sunderbans - Kolkata - Departure

Morning cruise through the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve in search of the elusive tiger. Breakfast will be served on board. After an early lunch you will be transferred to Kolkata to connect to your onward flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Astor Hotel

Kolkata (4 nights)

A newly-refurbished heritage house just a short walk away from Victoria Memorial, Astor Hotel is a blend of old-world charm and boutique luxury, showcasing traditional colonial architecture from 1900. Rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, free WiFi and modern amenities, and guests are welcome to enjoy the range of Indian and continental cuisine served in the onsite restaurant, Kebab-e-Que.

Visit hotel's site
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Windamere Hotel

Darjeeling (3 nights)

Windamere Hotel was established in the 19th century as a boarding house for British tea planters - it has since become a comfortable, colonial-styled hotel for visitors exploring the Darjeeling region. The hotel is located on 'Observatory Hill', which provides it with spectacular views across the Himalayas. The hotel bar and restaurant serves both continental and Indian cuisine to guests, who can also relax in the communal lounge spaces several lounge areas, or choose to browse in the hotel's boutique store.

Visit hotel's site
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Elgin Mount Pandim Hotel

Pelling (2 nights)

Mount Pandim is a peaceful mountain retreat, set in 8 acres of stunning gardens and lush forest. It is a great location for rare bird watching and has mountain bikes available to rent. All rooms have stunning views over the Singalila range and modern facilities including wireless internet access, LCD televisions and an electronic safety deposit box. 

Visit hotel's site
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Elgin Nor Khill Hotel

Gangtok (2 nights)

The Elgin Nor Khill Hotel is situated amongst the beautiful mountainous scenery of the Himalayas in Gangtok. Surrounded by gardens and valleys, the hotel is the perfect spot to relax after a day of exploring. Its elegant decor and furnishings are influenced by the region's rich heritage. The bedrooms are decorated in a typical Sikkimese style, providing guests with modern comforts, along with scenic views across the Himalayas. The hotel restaurant serves a variety of local, Indian or Continental dishes - also offering the chance to enjoy high tea in the gardens.

Visit hotel's site
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Sunderban Tiger Camp

Sunderbans (2 nights)

Sunderban Tiger Camp is a delightful lodge, nestled in stunning surroundings close to the Sunderbans mangroves forest - one of the largest such forests in the world. The interior of the cottages have been delicately hand painted by a local artist, which provides guests with an insight into authentic rural Bengal. The camp is also fitted with modern amenities to provide guests with a comfortable stay. 

Visit hotel's site
Extensions

Kolkata & Sunderbans (6 days)

Discover colonial Kolkata and the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Hill Stations & Mountains

Escape the city and unwind among some of the most breathtaking mountain and hill scapes the world has to offer.

City Extensions (1-4 days)

Visit the must-see sights and the hidden depths of India's most vibrant cities.

Beaches (1-7 days)

After exploring the busy cities, there's no better place to relax than one of India's paradisiacal beaches

Treks & Walks (1-12 days)

Himalayan treks, village walks and more

The Golden Triangle (5 days)

Marvel at India's most incredible forts and palaces

Himalayan Extension: Ladakh to Kashmir (5 days)

Travel across the spectacular Himalayan Highway

Kolkata & Darjeeling Snapshot (7 days)

Ideal extension to Bhutan

Wildlife of Madagascar, India & Borneo (29 days)

Spot lemurs, tigers & orangutans

Indian Odyssey (29 days)

Experience the best of North and South India

Highlights of the Subcontinent (22 days)

Discover iconic sights of India, Nepal & Bhutan

Wildlife of India & Borneo (21 days)

Get under the skin of Asia's two best wildlife spots.

Monks, Tribes & Rhinos (20 days)

Himalayan mountains, unseen tribes & amazing wildlife

Hill stations to the Himalayas (20 days)

Travel through the Himalayan foothills via Shimla & Amritsar to Ladakh

Classic Bhutan & Assam Cruise (18 days)

Experience Bhutan's rich culture, colonial Kolkata and rural life in Assam

Essential India & China (17 days)

Visit the two most populous countries on Earth.

Glimpse of India & Nepal (16 days)

Golden Triangle and the Himalayas

Essential India & Sri Lanka (16 days)

India's Golden Triangle & the best of Sri Lanka.

Textiles & Artisans of Gujarat & Rajasthan (16 days)

Nomadic tribes, traditional textiles, crafts & Mewar Festival

Nagaland: Festival of the Headhunters (15 days)

Aoling Festival, wildlife in Assam & natural beauty of Manipur

Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival (15 days)

Wildlife, tribes & rural life in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur

Taste of South India (15 days)

Experience the flavours and exotic spices of South India

Kerala Calling (15 days)

Tropical mountains, tea & spice plantations, and backwaters

Rajasthan Explorer & Pushkar Camel Fair (15 days)

Fort cities, rural villages & camel fair

Big Six of India (15 days)

Spot tigers, lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino & elephants

Tribal Orissa & Chhattisgarh (14 days)

Distinct tribal cultures, unique temples & traditional textiles

Spirit of South India (14 days)

Temple towns of Tamil Nadu to backwaters of Kerala

Kerala & Karnataka Explorer (14 days)

Idyllic backwaters, tropical forests & ancient temple towns

Taj, Tigers & Temples (14 days)

Perfect mix of classic sights and off-beat places for first-timers to India

Hampi and Beyond (14 days)

Discover Karnataka's stone temples, wildlife and coffee farms

Tribes of North East India (14 days)

Remote tribal cultures in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam & Nagaland

Sacred India (14 days)

Uncover the religious diversity of India

Delicacies of North India (14 days)

Discover the huge diversity of North India's cuisine

Big Cats of India (14 days)

Experience the thrill of the Indian jungle ...

Best of Bengal & Sikkim (14 days)

Colonial Kolkata, Darjeeling toy train & Buddhism

Wildlife of North East India (14 days)

Diverse wildlife in Assam and the Sunderbans

Heart of India (14 days)

Lucknow, Varanasi & the wonders of Madhya Pradesh

Kashmir, Ladakh & The Hemis Festival (14 days)

Experience dramatic Himalayan scenery, Islamic & Buddhist cultures

Kerala - Trekking the Western Ghats (13 days)

Explore this UNESCO biodiversity hotspot on foot

Glimpse of India (12 days)

Golden Triangle, tigers & exotic Kerala

Markha Valley Trek (12 days)

Set foot in Ladakh's hidden Himalayan valleys

Treasures of Gujarat (12 days)

Villages, temples, salt flats & the world's last Asiatic lions

Classic Kerala (10 days)

Tea, spices, backwaters & beaches

Essential Rajasthan (10 days)

Discover the forts, palaces, villages and desert of Rajasthan

Living Bridges of Meghalaya (7 days)

Waterfalls, hills and living bridges in North East India

Reviews

I have been on 3 tailor made trips with Travel The Unknown and have found them to be knowledgeable and reliable. We`ve stayed in some wonderful places and have had some unusual and satisfying experiences that go beyond the standard tours.

Joan Edmunds (USA) , Tailormade India

I would highly recommend Travel the Unknown to anyone visiting India. The service we received both prior to, during and following our travels was always timely and excellent. We were able to customize our trip to our liking and to enjoy a wide variety of activities. The guides in every location were outstanding! Honestly. Having travelled through much of the world I can truly say that we have never been more impressed with the quality of the guides arranged for us in each location, as well as the service we received. Similarly, the hotels were excellent and allowed us to live very comfortably while, at the same time, enjoy an authentic Indian experience. If you haven`t already booked your trip with Travel the Unknown, then either do so now....or at least give them a chance to show you what they can offer.

Tracey & Gary , Tailormade India

A really well planned trip. We experienced life in Northeast India in just the way we wanted to. We loved the game reserves and saw a rock python which thrilled our guides as it is even rarer than the tiger! We visited villages and were able to interact with local people and loved the busy markets in Delhi and Calcutta. A special highlight was the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland; shown to us by our very own Naga guide Kezo. Kezo accompanied us for 15 days of our trip and ensured that we had many very special experiences - even taking us to the home of one of his Aunts where we spent a couple of hours sitting by the bonfire chatting.

Ann Holgate , Tailormade India

Thank you for organising our holiday in Kerala. I certainly wouldn`t have had the time or the knowledge to put together such a trip. Munnar was my favourite and the accommodation throughout was excellent.

Vik , Kerala Calling, India

What an excellent service! Rahul adapted, extended and improved our trip so many times without a qualm and we ended up with the trip of a lifetime. The destinations are unusual and interesting but everything has been checked out by the team and works brilliantly. I can`t wait to do another trip.

Penelope Smith , Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival, India

The tour was an amazing experience for our first visit to India. The country, its people and its cuisine were friendly,delightful, colourful and exceeded all our expectations. Travel the Unknown have put together a superb unique package that we have no hesitation in recommending to anyone with an interest in food and culture.

Elaine & Neil Smith , Delicacies of North India, India

I`m sure I could not have found a better operator for the type of complicated Indian tour I wanted to undertake on a limited budget. India is an intimidating country to visit, and I suspect that some operators look down on the first time visitor, or disparage their requirements. Travel the Unknown, by contrast, helped me all the way, and their local guides were superb.

Andrew Martin , Tailormade North East India

This was a very varied and interesting trip to a forgotten part of India. If you like off the beaten track travel it is definitely worth the effort but go with an open mind and keep a smile on your face.

Richard Williams , Monks, Tribes & Rhinos, India

This was my first experience of using Travel the Unknown having enjoyed small group adventure holidays for many years. I was attracted to the company because it seeks out the more unusual and lesser known areas of a country and I was not disappointed by my visit to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. There is a clear contrast between the people and the scenery of these two regions and we saw very few western tourists particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. The tour was well organised with plenty to see and do.

Keith Lewis , Monks, Tribes & Rhinos, India

This trip was very well put together and ticked all the boxes that we had requested. The accommodation throughout the tour was of a high standard and our experiences in the national parks was wonderful spotting many different animals including tigers, leopards, sloth bears, lions, jungle cat plus countless number of birds. Thank you Rahul for tailoring this trip to our requirements.

Nigel & Margaret Turner , Tailormade India Wildlife & Birding tour

Another great trip from Travel the Unknown. I would recommend this company to anyone who wants to move outside the boundaries of the usual tourist itinerary.

Catherine Crawford , Kashmir & Ladakh Explorer, India

We went on the Spirit of South India Tour and had a great time on our honeymoon. There was a good variety of places visited and the hotels, drivers and guides were all very good. We would definitely recommend this tour.

Rachel , Spirit of South India, India
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