Bhutan: The Dragon Kingdom10 days & 9 nights, Escorted Discovery Group
Escorted Discovery Group
Kathmandu, Thimphu, Punakha & Paro
The remote Kingdom of Bhutan, with its fascinating cultural heritage and beautiful mountain scenery, was off limits to tourists until 1974. Today, the country continues to preserve its customs and age-old traditions, as revealed in this comprehensive tour which travels through western and central Bhutan visiting the forts, monasteries and markets of the 'Dragon Kingdom'.
Day 1Arrive Kathmandu
You will be met and taken to your hotel.Hotel Himalaya - 2 nights
Today you will take a tour encompassing the main highlights of Kathmandu including the many temples and interesting sites of the city. Durbar Square, the religious and social point of the capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to between the 12th and 18th centuries. Visit Kumari chowk, the temple of the living goddess 'Kumari' and the Itumbahal courtyard; amongst a number of other temples and shrines. The courtyard is an old Newari settlement and is well known for its traders in herbal spices and medicines. From Durbar Square you will proceed to visit Indra chowk, one of Kathmandu's most colorful local markets. Finish the tour with a walk to Ason chowk and the Annapurna temple, dedicated to the goddess of grains.Hotel Himalaya (B)
Pashupatinath is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal and one of the most important Shiva temples in the Subcontinent. The area is alive with color and activity. While non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the main temple, it is possible to visit a vantage point from where there are good views of the temple and the ghats. Continue to Bodhnath, the largest stupa in Nepal and the religious center for Nepal's considerable population of Tibetans.
Day 3Fly to Paro - Thimphu
You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.Hotel Kisa - 2 Nights (B, L, D)
Drive from Paro airport to Thimphu, a distance of 40 miles and journey time of approximately 2 hours.
Today's sightseeing includes a visit to the arts and crafts school (more commonly known as the painting school), the institute of traditional medicine, a traditional papermaking factory, the textile museum, the museum of folk heritage and the national library. All visits are subject to opening times.
Note: The National Library is closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The Folk Heritage Museum and the Textile Museum are closed for public holidays and have restricted viewing hours over the weekend. The Arts & Crafts school is closed on Sundays and public holidays, and has restricted viewing hours on Saturdays.
Your sightseeing will include a visit to National Memorial Chorten: The building of this chorten was originally the idea of Bhutan's third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ('the father of modern Bhutan'), who wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. After the king's untimely death in 1972, the royal family and cabinet resolved to fulfil his wishes and erect a memorial that would perpetuate his memory and serve as a monument to peace. The National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974. The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.Hotel Kisa (B, L, D)
Next, you will visit Tashichho Dzong, the 'fortress of the glorious religion'. This was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichho Dzong houses some ministries, His Majesty's secretariat, and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu (a festival held in autumn) and while the monk body is resident in its winter quarters in Punakha.
The last stop of the afternoon will be to some handicraft shops where a wide assortment of colorful, hand-woven textiles and other craft products are available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller craft shops around the town.
The Folk Heritage Museum and the Textile Museum are closed for public holidays and have restricted viewing hours over the weekend.
Dine with a local Bhutanese family who will prepare local delicacies and exchange views on Bhutan's unique cultural and traditional values.
Day 5To Punakha
Drive from Thimphu to Punakha, a journey of 48 miles and approximately 3.5 hours. On a clear day, you can see the highest peaks in Bhutan.Meri Puensum - 2 Nights (B, L, D)
Visit a Bhutanese farmhouse, which are very colorful, decorative and traditionally built with mud and stones, and with all houses following the same architectural pattern.
Punakha dzong or Pungtang Dechen Photrang dzong (meaning 'the palace of great happiness or bliss') is located strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. It was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years and is particularly inviting when the colors of the jacaranda trees surrounding it blossom during spring. The Punakha dzong is famous for housing a temple where the sacred remains of the Terton Pema Lingpa (a saint in Tibetan Buddhism) and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (a Tibetan Buddhist lama) are preserved.Meri Puensum (B, L, D)
Meet and interact with Buddhist monks at this monastic college while enjoying fantastic views of the surrounding mountains.
Day 7To Paro
Drive from Punakha to Paro, a distance of 77 miles and journey time of approximately 5 hours.The Village Lodge - 2 Nights (B, L, D)
Ta Dzong was originally the watchtower of Paro Dzong and was renovated in 1968 to house the National Museum of Bhutan. Today, it has more than 3,000 works of art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan's cultural heritage. The seven-storey structure, with 8-feet-thick walls, is carefully divided into several galleries and the visitor is required to walk in a specific clockwise route that goes up and then down the building.
The Ta Dzong is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Prepare local Bhutanese delicacies such as the fiery 'Emma Datshi' made with red chillies and cheese and heavily seasoned. The class is held in a local restaurant with a team of chefs helping you prepare the food while explaining the history and development of the cuisine.
Hike up to the Taktshang monastery (Tiger's Nest), a trip of around 5 hours. En route enjoy stunning views of the monastery, where it is believed Guru Padmasambava landed on the back of a tiger in the eighth century and meditated for three months. The monastery was built on this sacred site in 1684. A good level of fitness is needed for this excursion, walking sticks are provided and there is a tea-house rest stop en route that offers good views of the monastery.The Village Lodge (B, L, D)
Today you will take a tour of Paro's dzong, known as Rinpung dzong. On a knoll that rises in a sheer climb from the river, Rinpung dzong has a commanding view of the Paro valley and is a true testament to Bhutanese architecture. Centuries ago it was an impregnable fortress that repulsed successive invasions from Tibet and has since also survived the 1897 earthquake. Today it houses the Paro monastic body and the office of dzongda (district commissioner) and the thrimpon (district judge). A guided walk around the many quarters and chambers offers an insight into the traditions and secrets of this impressive dzong.
Try your hand at Bhutan's national sport using traditional bamboo bows.
Day 9Fly to Kathmandu
You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.Hotel Himalaya (B)
Day 10Depart Kathmandu
You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.(B)