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Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Oman Air flight WY102 departing London Heathrow at 20.50 hrs.
Arrive Muscat at 07.15 hrs and connect to flight WY337 departing Muscat at 08.20 hrs arriving Kathmandu at 13.45 hrs. Transfer to the charming Dwarikas, a comfortable hotel with beautiful gardens and an outdoor swimming pool, and where one night is spent. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure or optional orientation walk. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning transfer to Kathmandu airport for a Druk Air flight to Paro, Bhutan.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to Thimphu with a brief stop en route to visit the chain iron bridge built by the great master architect Thangtong Gyalpo. Check into the Norkhil Hotel (or similar), located in the heart of Thimphu city, surrounded by rolling hills, where two nights are spent. Evening walking tour of Thimphu. Dinner at the hotel.
Visit the Tibetan-style National Memorial Chorten which houses religious paintings and tantric statues, as well as the splendid gold Buddha Dordenma, the largest sitting Buddha in the world which sits on top of a hill protectively overlooking the valley below. Continue to the 12th century Changangka Monastery, perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu and where parents traditionally come to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their young children from the protector deity Tamdrin. Visit the weekend market.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Visit the National Library founded in 1967 to preserve many of the ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts. Continue to the School for Traditional Bhutanese Arts and Crafts where students learn 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 Simply Bhutan Museum which gives a good introduction to various aspects of Bhutanese traditional life. Finally 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. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 5: Morning visit to the Textile Museum which shows the living national art of weaving including weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles. Continue to the Craft Bazaar where you can purchase different types of handicrafts from across Bhutan. 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.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue towards Punakha stopping for a short hike 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 Dhensa Hotel (or similar), overlooking the Punakha River, where two nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 6: Morning walk through the rice terraces to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, built by the Queen Mother and dedicated to her son, the current King. The temple has commanding views of the valley up to the high mountains of Gasa and houses hundreds of images of various protector deities. Visit 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 storeys 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 visit to the Shangchhen Dorji Lhengdrup Nunnery, made up of a collection of brass roofed buildings and brilliant white chorten that gleam high above the pine covered ridge of the Punakha valley. Dinner at the hotel.
Drive (with luggage) to Phobjikha Valley, considered one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan and a designated conservation area. Visit the black-necked crane information centre and see the documentary about the cranes which have a special place in Bhutanese folklore and roost here in the winter. Continue to Gangtey and check into Dewachen Lodge (or similar) where one night is spent.
Lunch at the lodge. Afternoon visit to 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 storeys and a spire encompassing 14 chapels and halls within. Afternoon walk through the woods and down into the glacial valley, which lies on the edge of the Black Mountain National Park and is one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan. Dinner at the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. 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. Continue to Bumthang, a spectacular region which is home to some of Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist sites. Check into the Swiss Guest House, a traditional farmhouse formerly owned by the famous ‘Karsumphe Angye’, the older sister of the first King of Bhutan, (or similar) where three nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 9: Visit Ogyen Choling Heritage House and meet the owners. The original manor dates to the 14th century which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1897 and was rebuilt in 1898 with a central tower, surrounding residential building and main temple building. The central tower now houses a museum featuring various aspects of Bhutanese history and culture.
Lunch at Ogyen Choling. Afternoon lecture by Ashi Kunzang (subject to confirmation), a direct descendant of the original owners and related to the Royal family. Drive to the Burning Lake at Membartsho which is renowned for its beauty, serenity and spiritual significance. Continue to the Swiss Cheese and beer factory where they make the local Panda beer. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 10: This morning drive to the picturesque village of Ura to enjoy the Ura Yakchoe Festival which runs 4 – 8 May during which various Mask dances are performed by monks wearing the Mask of the Yak in the courtyard of the Ura Lhakhang (temple). A sacred and an important relic is put on display for the people to receive blessings. According to the local myth, an old woman had a visit from a lama who asked her for a glass of water. While she went into her house to get this, the lama vanished leaving behind a sack. Inside was a statue, the same that is now displayed annually, which has been passed down from generation to generation of the woman’s family.
Lunch at the festival. Afternoon visit to Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in Bhutan and where the patron saint, Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), meditated. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 11: Depart (with luggage) for Bumthang airport for a domestic Druk Airways flight to Paro. On arrival visit Dungtse Lhakhang which was constructed by the great bridge-builder Thangtong Gyelpo in 1433. It is said to have been built on the head of a demoness, who was causing illness to the inhabitants. The building was restored in 1841 and is a unique repository of Kagyu lineage arts. Pass the Ugyen Pelri, a small jewel like palace belonging to the Royal Family, en route to the Gangtey Palace Hotel (or similar), where two 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. 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. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 12: 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. Lunch at the café en route back down.
Afternoon visit to Kichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful temples. Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the valley. Dinner at the hotel with an evening cultural show with masked and traditional dances.
Day 13: Morning transfer to Paro airport for a Druk Airways flight to Kathmandu. On arrival drive to Bhaktapur, the ancient capital of Nepal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to traditional art and architecture, historical monuments and craft work, magnificent windows, pottery and weaving industries, impressive temples and beautiful ponds.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to the Dwarikas Hotel where one night is spent. Afternoon tour by rickshaw through the shopping district of Thamel, where markets and stores sell metal handicrafts and colourful jewellery, to the stately Garden of Dreams, designed in 1920, and dotted with pavilions, fountains, and urns. Traditional Tibetan dinner at the home of long-term local resident Lisa Choegyal.
Day 14: Morning visit to Durbar Square in Patan, city of arts and architecture, founded in 250 AD, also known as Lalitpur. It is renowned for its fine works in bronze, silver and copper. Visit Patan Museum which faces Durbar Square and is housed in a beautifully restored and renovated former Malla palace. The collection spans much of Nepal’s cultural history and consists primarily of metalwork sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities, typical of the Patan tradition of craftsmanship.
Lunch at the Inn at Patan. Return to Kathmandu for the remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Transfer to Kathmandu airport. Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Oman Air flight WY332 departing Kathmandu at 06.15 hrs arriving Muscat at 12.50 hrs. Connect to Oman Air flight WY101 departing Muscat at 14.30 hrs arriving London Heathrow at 19.10 hrs.
Jo was extremely helpful and gave us very good advice. We could not have had better service.- Fiske, Italy