This fascinating tour visits the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, which for centuries was closed to western visitors and remained hidden behind the peaks of the Himalayas – thankfully no longer the case today.
After a night in Kathmandu in Nepal, a fascinating and exotic city of ancient temples, palaces, stupas and traditional houses, we then fly to Bhutan to explore this very special country. Described so aptly by the present Queen Mother of Bhutan as ‘a natural environment of beauty, peace and tranquillity, where cultural and spiritual values have been allowed to grow and flourish’.
Our journey encompasses splendid monasteries and dzong along with the country’s spectacular landscape of fertile valleys, lush forests and snow-capped peaks, its delightful people and its unique culture. Our visit also coincides with the festival of Nalakhar Tshechu in Bumthang, which we shall attend. People from all over the villages come here to witness the festival dressing in their finest clothes. The festival is being celebrated to bring happiness, better harvest and prosperity to the villages and country as a whole.
The tour ends returning to Kathmandu to explore some of the important sites it has to offer.
N.B Please note that this trip does involve a substantial amount of walking and a certain level of fitness is required.
London / Delhi
Depart London Heathrow on a Jet Airways overnight flight to Delhi.
Delhi / Kathmandu
On arrival in Delhi connect onto a Jet Airways flight to Kathmandu arriving in the afternoon. Transfer to the charming Dwarikas, a comfortable hotel with beautiful gardens and an outdoor swimming pool, and where one night is spent. Rest of the afternoon at leisure or optional orientation walk. Dinner at the hotel.
Kathmandu / Paro / Thimphu
Morning transfer to Kathmandu airport for a Druk Air flight to Paro, Bhutan. Transfer to Thimphu and check into the Druk Hotel (or similar), located in the heart of the city centre, surrounded by rolling hills it is one of Thimphu’s oldest hotels, and where two nights are spent. Rest of the afternoon at leisure. Evening walking tour of Thimphu. Return to the hotel for dinner.
This morning depart (with luggage) to see the splendid gold Buddha Dordenma, the largest sitting Buddha in the world which sits on top of a hill protectively overlooking the valley below. Visit the Simply Bhutan Museum which is an interactive ‘living’ museum that gives a good introduction to various aspects of Bhutanese traditional life.
Lunch at a local restaurant. This afternoon visit the Zilukha Nunnery, the National Handicraft Emporium and the Craft Bazaar which is a line of makeshift shops where you can purchase different types of handicrafts from across Bhutan. Visit Tashichho Dzong, a Buddhist monastery and fortress, which has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the King, the secretariat and ministries of home affairs and finance. Return to the hotel. Dinner at the hotel.
Thimphu / Punakha
Morning sightseeing beginning with the National Library which was founded in 1967 to preserve many of the ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts. Continue to the School for Traditional Bhutanese Arts where young students and adults are trained to continue Bhutan’s artistic traditions of mask making for religious dances or the ancient art of thangka painting – religious paintings typically depicting Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or aspects of the Buddhist wheel of life. Visit the Textile Museum which shows the living national art of weaving including weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men. Continue to the Tibetan-style National Memorial Chorten which houses religious paintings and tantric statues.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Drive to Punakha, set in a fertile valley where rice and fruit are cultivated, which was once the capital of Bhutan (until 1955) and seat of government, stopping en route at the Dochula Pass. Marking the height of the pass are 108 stupas built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother to honour the victory of the Bhutanese army in the 2003 war of Southern Bhutan. Continue towards Punakha stopping again for a short hike (duration: 45 mins. For those that would like a shorter walk there is a road which will take you closer to the monastery) to Chimi Lhakhang (the fertility temple) built in memory of the great saint Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as “The Divine Madman”. The monastery is highly believed to bless women with fertility. Continue to Punakha and check into the Damchen Hotel (or similar) where two nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to Punakha Dzong built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyall in the 17th century and situated at the junction of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. Inside, the utse is six stories high and topped with a golden roof, whilst the fortress is divided by three courtyards housing administrative, monastic and religious buildings respectively. It also houses a set of 108 volumes of the Kanjur (a holy book) written in gold. The dzong is now the winter home of the chief abbot and hundreds of monks and serves as administrative headquarters of the district.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon walk (45 minutes) through terraces of rice, chillies and cabbage to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a monument built by the Queen Mother dedicated to her son, the current King. The temple offers commanding views of the valley up to the high mountains of Gasa. The chorten, or shrine, houses hundreds of images of various protector deities. Dinner at the hotel.
Punakha / Gangtey
Drive (with luggage) to Phobjikha Valley, considered one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan and is a designated conservation area. Visit the Gangteng Goempa – one of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan – which stands in the centre of the valley, rising dramatically from a small ridge. Founded in 1613, the monastery has three stories and a spire encompassing 14 chapels and halls within. Continue to Gangte and check into Dewachen Lodge (or similar) where one night is spent.
Lunch at the lodge. Afternoon exploring this glacial valley, which lies on the edge of the Black Mountain National Park and is one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan. We hope to see the black neck cranes which have a special place in Bhutanese folklore and roost here in the winter. In addition, barking deer, wild boar, leopards, Himalayan black bears and red foxes can be seen here. Dinner at the hotel.
Gangtey / Trongsa / Bumthang
Depart (with luggage) for Trongsa.
Lunch at a local restaurant in town. Visit Trongsa Dzong built in 1647 by the Shabdrung which is the most impressive dzong in Bhutan. Visit the Ta Dzong on the hillside above the town which was built as a watchtower to guard Trongsa. Also visit the Tower of Trongsa Museum. Continue to Bumthang, a spectacular region which is home to some of Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist sites, and check into the Mountain Lodge Hotel (or similar) where three nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to a Swiss Farm where Bhutanese cheese and the popular local Panda Beer is manufactured. Visit Tamshing Lhakhang monastery, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon visit to Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in Bhutan and where the patron saint, Guru Rinoche (Padmasambhava) meditated. Also visit the Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” which dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defence for the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first King of Bhutan. Return to the hotel. Dinner at the hotel.
This morning enjoy the Nalakhar Tshechu Festival which runs from 23rd – 25th November. This small, local and intimate festival is held at Nga Lhakhang (Monastery) in Nalakhar village under Chhoekhor Gewog in Bumthang. The three day festival is celebrated to bring happiness and prosperity to the people and the valley. It is also a symbolic prayer for good harvest and well being of everyone who witnesses the festival. People from the village and the surrounding areas come to the festival dressed in their finest attire. The first day of the festival is the rehearsal and on the second day you can enjoy the masked dances.
Packed lunch. Afternoon visit to Mebartso, known as the burning lake, where it is believed that the saint Pema Lingpa dived into the lake with a lit butter lamp. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake). Continue to Pema Choling nunnery which has a residential Buddhist community of 100 women and girls aged between 12 – 60. The centre offers basic education, vocational training and the opportunity to pursue traditional Buddhist studies at the highest academic level. Return to the hotel. Dinner at the hotel.
Bumthang / Paro
Depart (with luggage) for Bumthang airport for a domestic Druk Airways flight to Paro. On arrival transfer to the Gangtey Palace Hotel (or similar) where three nights are spent.
Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon visit to Paro Dzong’s neighbouring watchtower (Ta Dzong) which now houses the National Museum, the only museum in Bhutan which has a spectacular and varied collection giving a fascinating insight into the history and culture of the Kingdom. Return to the hotel passing the Ugyen Pelri, a small jewel like palace belonging to the Royal Family. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery, which perches on the side of a cliff, 900-metres above the valley. It was founded by Guru Rimpoche who, legend has it, flew on the back of a Tigress and meditated in the cave, where the monastery stands, for three months. The monastery itself was built by Desi Tenzin Rabgye in 1646 and is a place of pilgrimage and is a recognised holy place. The hike takes about four to five hours with spectacular views en route.
Packed lunch. Return to the hotel and rest of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful temples. The temple is popularly believed to have been built in 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet, to pin down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the valley. Continue to Rinpung Dzong a large Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist monastery and fortress. It houses the district Monastic Body and government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag. See the Drukyel Dzong ruined fortress from the outside which was almost completely destroyed by a fire in the 1950s.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon cocktail party with local performances by dance troops from Paro (to be confirmed). Dinner at the hotel.
Paro / Kathamandu
Morning transfer to Paro airport for a Druk Airways flight to Kathmandu. Transfer to the Dwarikas Hotel where one night is spent (please note that check in is not guaranteed until 14.00 hrs).
Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon city tour of Kathmandu including the famous UNESCO Pashupatinath Temple which is considered one of the most sacred temples of the Hindu faith and serves as the seat of the national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. Also visit the great white stupa at Boudhanath, one of the world’s largest stupas and is also the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside Tibet. Return to the hotel. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Kathamandu / Delhi / London
Morning transfer to Kathmandu airport for a Jet Airways flight to Delhi and onwards to London Heathrow arriving in the late afternoon.