Bhutan and Nepal

Visiting: Kathmandu, Thimphu, Phobjikha Valley, Punakha


Duration: 13 Nights

Physical rating: Challenging

Special diets catered: Vegetarians, Vegans, Meat, Please contact Brightwater with any specific dietary requirements

Tour code: BBHU

Tour operator: Brightwater Holidays

Group size: 6 - 25

Age range: 1-99

Tour operated in: English


Prices From: $7218

Tour Overview

Cradled in the folds of the Himalayas, Bhutan is an isolated kingdom with a unique cultural heritage which dates directly back to the mid-17th century, closely bound with the Buddhist religion. It is only in the last few decades that foreigners have been allowed to visit and the country remains unspoilt by commercial tourism. The scenery is spell-binding, with deep, wooded valleys rising to towering snow-capped peaks and villages and monasteries that cling precariously to the hillsides. Our tour is centred around the Jambay Lhakhang Festival, a remarkable event with colourful ritual dances. In addition to this our itinerary includes excursions and gentle hikes which take us to the most scenic areas and the best of the attractions, including the remarkable Tiger’s Nest Monastery. We also take the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Kathmandu in Nepal on the outward journey, a chance to become acclimatized to the altitude here in the Himalayas. The tour will be led by Julia Corden of the Explorer’s Garden in Pitlochry, an experienced traveller in this region.

Highlights

  • iconExploring Thimphu, one of the world’s most unusual capital cities
  • iconClick here to see route map
  • iconEnjoy the sights of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu as we acclimatize to life at altitude
  • iconAll the sights and sounds of the Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival
  • iconPeace and meditation at the incomparable Tiger’s Nest
  • iconStunning views of the Himalayas (weather permitting) as we fly into Nepal

Itinerary

icon Day 1

We depart from London on an overnight flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. (Regional flight connections, flight upgrades and overnight accommodation before or after the tour available on request – please ask for a quotation).

icon Day 2

Meals: Dinner

On arrival in Kathmandu we will be met by our local coach and transfer to our hotel. Overnight in Kathmandu – Hotel Aloft (or similar). Altitude: 1400m.

icon Day 3

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

After breakfast this morning we depart on a guided tour of some of the principal sights of Kathmandu. We will visit Durbar Square and the Basantpur Tower, Kasthmandap, a building made from a single tree, the house of the living goddess Kumari, the Ganesh shrine, Kalo Bhairawa and Shiva Parbati temple. We will also see the well known popular ‘stupa’ (a Buddhist reliquary) called Soyambhunath, also known as Monkey Temple, one of the holiest and largest ancient stupa in the Buddhist world, and visit the Godavari Botanic Garden, home to a wider variety of birds as well as flora. After the tour we will be dropped back at our hotel with the rest of the day free to shop and sightsee at leisure in Kathmandu. Overnight in Kathmandu – Hotel Aloft (or similar).

icon Day 4

Meals: All Meals

After breakfast we check out of the hotel and transfer by coach to the airport for our Druk Air flight to Paro in Bhutan, which (if the skies are clear) should offer stunning views of the Himalayan peaks. On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and custom formalities, our local guide will meet us and escort us to our coach. We then drive to Thimphu, with a stop en route at Chuzom, the confluence of the Thimphu and Paro rivers. Three different style of stupas; Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese adorn this confluence. Shortly before reaching Chuzom, we will see on our left Tamchog Lhakhang, the temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, a pioneering engineer who introduced the construction of suspension bridges into Bhutan and Tibet (several of which are still in use today). Later we arrive in Thimphu which is perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, the seat of government and home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects. In the afternoon we will visit National Memorial Chorten. The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace. Overnight in Thimphu – Hotel Druk (or similar). Altitude: 2320m.

icon Day 5

Meals: All Meals

After breakfast, we drive to visit Buddha Dordenma. This massive statue of Shakyamuni, made of bronze and gilded in gold, measures 51.5 meters in height, making it one of the largest statues in Bhutan. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, each of these also have been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall. Nearby we visit the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. The park is located beneath Buddha Dordenma covering an area of 493 acres. The idea behind the park is to protect the forest area surrounding the mega Bronze Buddha statue while at the same time offering recreational facilities for Thimphu’s population. The Textile Museum is worth a visit to experience the living national art of weaving. Exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men. After lunch we take a scenic walking excursion to Tango monastery (approx. 2 hours round trip walk). This picturesque three-storey tower monastery was founded in 12th century and reconstructed in the 15th century by the fabled ‘Divine Madman’, an eccentric monk who meditated in a cave near the monastery. We conclude with a visit to Trashichhoe Dzong, the “fortress of the glorious religion”. This is the centre of government and religion, the site of the monarch’s throne room and seat of Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in the 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. Overnight in Thimphu – Hotel Druk (or similar).

icon Day 6

Meals: All Meals

We leave Thimphu and drive to the pass at Dochu La (3050m) where again we can expect to see spectacular views of the Himalayas to the north if the weather is fine. The pass is marked by 108 chortens (stupa), Buddhist reliquaries and memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. After a visit to the Royal Botanical Park, the first of its kind in Bhutan, we continue to to Gangtey, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. In the afternoon we explore Phobjikha, one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and the chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. An Information Centre provides the opportunity to observe the birds. We stay overnight in Gangtey – Hotel Dewachen (or similar). Altitude: 3000m

icon Day 7

Meals: All Meals

We drive to Bumthang, stopping on the way for a visit to Tongsa Dzong, typical of the distinctive type of Bhutanese fortress or watchtower, which is a masterpiece of architecture with a maze of courtyards, passageways and 23 temples. We continue to Bumthang which is a combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2600m to 4000m. It is home to many of the prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries. We visit Kurje Lhakhang, where the saint Padmasambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock; the Jambey Lhakhang, a 7th century temple; Tamshing Lhakhang, which houses some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan, and Jakar Dzong, the administrative centre of the region. Overnight stay in Bumthang – Jakar Village Lodge (or similar). Altitude 2800m.

icon Day 8

Meals: All Meals

This is the second day of the Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival and we will spend the whole day at this remarkable event. We will be able to watch many ritual dances, which are performed beside the monastery. There are a number of different dances, subdivided into three categories: those that are intended to give moral instruction; those that are designed to drive away evil spirits and those that celebrate the Buddhist faith in its many guises. As fascinating as the dances themselves will be the activities of the local people who flock to the festival from far and wide, dressed in their finest clothes. There will also be a number of stalls selling craftwork, jewellery, religious artefacts if you are looking for a souvenir. Overnight stay in Bumthang – Jakar Village Lodge (or similar).

icon Day 9

Meals: All Meals

From Bumthang we drive down to Punakha in the sub-tropical Punakha Valley. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and seat of government until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (the chief abbot). Blessed with a temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from the Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the fertile valley produces abundant crops and fruit. We stay overnight here in Punakha – RKPO Green Resort (or similar). Altitude 1300m.

icon Day 10

Meals: All Meals

We spend the day exploring the city of Punakha, beginning with a visit to Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. After lunch we will visit the Dzong which was built by Shabdrung in 1637 on a strategic site at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987. We conclude today at Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that if couples wanting to have children pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field’. A walk through the village near the temple will give us a rare glimpse into the daily lives of the villagers. Overnight in Punakha – RKPO Green Resort (or similar).

icon Day 11

Meals: All Meals

Following breakfast this morning we depart for the valley of Paro, which contains a wealth of attractions and many of Bhutan’s oldest fortresses and temples. En route to the town of Paro we will visit Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in the country (1627), which now houses the School for Buddhist studies. After checking into our hotel and having lunch we visit Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect nearby Rinpung Dzong. (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a Dzong is always called a “Ta Dzong”).  On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection. We continue to Rinpung Dzong itself.  Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the “fortress of the heap of jewels“ stands on a hill above Paro Township.  The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls.  The valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the Dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above. Overnight in Paro - the Haven Resort (or similar). Altitude at Paro: 2300m

icon Day 12

Meals: All Meals

After breakfast today, we will hike from Paro up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest”. This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. After visiting what is known as one of the most venerated pilgrimage sites in the country, we will go off the beaten track further up to the temples that are on the hill tops above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. No wonder that some monks have chosen this place to meditate for the rest of their lives! Coming back, we follow a different path that takes us through the thick, pristine forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses. Please note: at this stage in the tour you should be acclimatized to the altitude and the hike (of around six hours) will be taken at a gentle pace! If, however, you would like to opt out, please let your guide know and you may stay in Paro for the day. On the way back to Paro town, if time (and energy!) allows, we will visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan. Overnight in Paro - the Haven Resort (or similar).

icon Day 13

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

After breakfast in the hotel, we drive to the airport in time to check-in for our return flight. Our local guide will bid us farewell and as our plane takes off the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom will disappear again behind its guardian mountains. Our flight takes us back to Kathmandu, where on arrival we will be met by our local coach and transfer to our hotel. Overnight in Kathmandu – Hotel Aloft (or similar)

icon Day 14

Meals: Breakfast

Following breakfast we transfer to the airport in time for our return flight to London, where on arrival later today the group will disperse or make onward connections.

What's Included

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    Travel visa

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    All Domestic Transportation (including internal flights)

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    Meals - as per the itinerary

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    Drinks with Meals

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    Services of a professional tour manager

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    Comfortable coach travel throughout

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    Entrance Fees

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    Accommodation

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    Low Deposit

    Brightwater Holidays requires a deposit of 15% to secure a place on this tour, and the final balance is not due till 70 days before departure..

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    Transfer as credit to Future Tours

    Brightwater Holidays allows you to transfer existing payments to a future tour to avoid cancellation fees if you can't travel and inform Brightwater Holidays, 25 days before departure.

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    Secure payments

    All payments to TourHub are deposited into an externally regulated Trust account.


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Dates & Availability

Instant Booking Available

Friday Oct 15, 2021

Nights

13

Available

25

$7496.34

Instant Booking Available

Thursday Nov 03, 2022

Nights

13

Available

25

$7218.44