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Experience the unique festivals and culture of Bhutan
Hidden away in a corner of the Himalaya, the secretive kingdom of Bhutan is an unforgettable destination with ancient traditions, spectacular mountain scenery and vibrant festivals. At these hundreds of people gather to see the monks, dressed in brightly coloured robes, perform ritual dances. For several days there are masked dances and prayer meetings, and a general carnival atmosphere prevails. The spring departures visit Paro Festival, whilst the autumn departures take in Thimpu Festival. The December departure visits the lesser-known Trongsa festival, which is smaller and offers a more intimate experience.
NOTE:- All the itineraries can be customized to suit your own special interests, preferences, abilities, extension and reduction of numbers of days.
Start in Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel. The evening is free to relax.
Today we fly to Paro. The flight is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world and takes us over the eastern Himalayas. If the weather is clear, we should get a fantastic view of much of the eastern half of the Himalaya, including Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga.
If there is time in the afternoon there will be a visit to visit the museum or the Kyichu Lakang; one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.
We spend the whole day experiencing the vibrant Paro Festival. Hundreds gather to see the monks dressed in colourful brocade, silk costumes and wearing painted masks re-enacting the story of the gompa’s divinity through music and dance. For several days there are masked dances and prayer meetings, and a general carnival atmosphere prevails as many villagers arrive to meet old friends.
Please note for the Thimphu/Trongsa Festival departures, a different itinerary will apply; please refer to ‘Is this trip for you?’ section for more details.
Today we have an hour’s drive to Thimphu, stopping at the Zilukha Nunnery and Kyichu Lakang en route. The Kyichu Lakhang was one of a series of temples built by the 7th century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. After being lost for a few centuries the temple was rediscovered in the 17th century and additions followed in the late 19th century and in the 1960s, following the same style as the original temple. The Paro Valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan, with blue pine-covered hills and attractive solidly built houses among the paddy fields. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and there are many things to see including the memorial chorten, Buddha Point, Tashichho Dzong, plus the market is interesting to explore. If we do not see everything today we have more time in Thimpu on our return.
We leave Thimphu in the morning and drive east to Punakha. The route climbs its way steadily on a good road to the Dochula Pass. At 3050m (10,000ft) the views over the eastern Himalaya are magnificent although this is most definitely weather dependent! We then descend to the valley floor and continue to sub-tropical Punakha. At an altitude of 1350m the difference in temperature and flora is apparent. Punakha is the winter capital of Bhutan and the dzong was the second one in the country to be built. This remarkable fortress is situated between two rivers and it has survived many fires, an earthquake and a glacial flood. Over the years it has been repaired and added to and has several interesting features to protect it against invasion. Overnight in Punakha or Wangdi Phodrang. Today’s drive is 130kms and takes about 3 hours 30 minutes.
This morning we take a gentle hike (approx. 1.5km/120m ascent, less than an hour each way) up to the Chime Lakhang (monastery), a 15th-century monastery built to honour one of the more folkloric saints of Bhutanese tradition, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. The lama was known for his foul-mouth, alcohol-smelling breath and insatiable lust towards women, yet he is revered as a great saint by most Bhutanese. Women who cannot conceive believe that if they get blessed by the wooden phallus they will get pregnant.
From here we continue across the Lawala Pass towards the Gangtey Valley, visiting the ruins of Wangdue Dzong, en route. Arriving at the Gangtey Valley, we will visit Gangtey monastery, the largest private monastery in Bhutan. Today’s drive is approximately 84km and will take 2.5 to 3 hours, although variable road conditions may mean we spend longer on the road.
This morning we will go on a hike through the Gangtey Valley. This glacial valley is made up of farmlands, pastures and blue-pine forests. We will encounter herders caring for their herds, which graze on the dwarf bamboo of the area. Gangtey is famous for sightings of the rare Black-necked cranes, which fly from Tibet in late October and spend the winter here before returning to Tibet in spring. It may be possible to see this beautiful bird on the December departure (Trongsa Festival).
In the afternoon we drive for about 2 hours back to Wangdue Phodrang.
In the morning we drive for a couple of hours back to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, where we will have a chance to visit the Tashichho Dzong, one of Bhutan’s most stately and impressive buildings. It has been the seat of the government of Bhutan since 1952 and houses the throne room and offices of the king. We will also visit the impressive golden-spired Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 by the Royal Grandmother in memory of the Third King, H M Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. In the evening there will be time to explore the market.
This morning we drive back to Paro (approx. 1 hours’ drive) and further up the valley to the car park below Taktsang. We then hike (approx. 9km) to the monastery, also known as ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery. This spectacular building is perched on the ledge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley. Partly destroyed by fire in 1998, it has now been completely restored to its former magnificence. From the car park to the viewpoint is about 2 hours uphill walk through the forest. From here we have incredible views of the monastic buildings which cling impossibly to the cliff wall. For the energetic there is the chance to walk even higher to the actual monastery. This will take another 2 hours. There are horses available for those who do not want to do the hike but please note that this is an unregulated activity and helmets are not available.
We transfer to the airport to check in for our flight back to Kathmandu. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing or shopping. You may want to visit the famous Durbar Square in the heart of the old city, the monkey temple at Swayambhunath, the largest Buddhist stupa on earth at Boudhanath or the Hindu temple at Pashupathinath. Another option is to take a taxi to Bhaktapur, the mediaeval city 17km east of the capital. Bhaktapur has its own Durbar Square with many temples and statues and a maze of narrow streets, which are generally quieter than the capital. Please be aware that due to the 2015 earthquake some of these places have still not been fully rebuilt. The Exodus representative in Kathmandu will be able to give you more information on what there is to see.
End Kathmandu after breakfast. For those on group flights, these depart in the morning and will arrive in the UK the same day.
You will need a visa for Bhutan, which we will organise for you. The cost of the visa is included in the price of the trip (USD40). You will need to send us a clear copy of your passport on booking. We need this in order to organise your Bhutan visa in advance of your arrival. Please make sure that we have a copy no later than 8 weeks before departure. The passport copy can either be sent by post or scanned, in which case it has to be very clear and in colour. If you need to get a new passport for the journey, please apply for this immediately, and send us the copy/scan as soon as you receive your new passport. It is VERY important that the information you give us is 100% correct, and that the copy of the passport you send us is the one on which you will be travelling to Bhutan. Visa regulations can change without notice: please check the current regulations in good time to obtain a visa if one is required.
Most nationalities require a visa for Nepal, which can be obtained in advance or on entry. If you wish to apply before departure the current visa cost is £20 for a 15-day visa and £35 for a 30-day visa for UK passport holders. The current cost of a visa on arrival is US$25 for 15 days, US$40 for 30 days or if extending your stay $100 for 90 days. All are multiple entry. The visa on arrival fee can be paid for in cash in US Dollars, Pounds Sterling or Euros. Application forms are available in the immigration hall (or for electronic passports, there are visa registration machines which, after inserting your passport, automatically fill out a form for you. If you use the machine you will not need a passport photo). You must first join the queue to pay the visa fee and then go to the relevant immigration desk to obtain your 15, 30 or 90-day visa stamp. If you use the paper form to obtain a visa on arrival then you will also need one passport photo (a photo is not required if you use the electronic registration machines but we recommend you bring one with you anyway in case, for any reason, the machines cannot read your passport). There can be long queues for visas on arrival.
Non UK nationals should check requirements with their nearest embassy (a few nationalities are not permitted visas on arrival).
There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice.
There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A.
There is low to no risk of malaria throughout Nepal and antimalarial tablets are not usually advised although may be considered for certain higher risk groups; you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice. The risk is highest in the low lying southern ‘terai’ districts bordering India.
A yellow fever certificate is only required if travelling from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission or for travellers having transited for more than 12 hours through a country with risk of transmission.
Dengue fever is a known risk in Nepal. It is a tropical viral disease spread by daytime biting mosquitoes. There is currently no vaccine or prophylaxis available for Dengue, and therefore the best form of prevention is to avoid being bitten. We recommend you take the usual precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Most of our trips to Nepal go to high altitudes where there is a risk of being affected by Acute Mountain Sickness. Our itineraries are designed to enable everyone to acclimatise to these altitudes, but you should be aware that it is still possible for you to be affected. Please refer to the Altitude Warning within the Trip Notes for further advice on AMS.
Breakfast is included throughout the trip plus 8 lunches and 8 dinners whilst in Bhutan.
The meals in Bhutan are usually buffet style and include Bhutanese and Western food. Bhutanese food can sometimes be considered a little bland – this is generally because chillies are frequently used in traditional dishes, and these are often omitted to adapt to foreigners’ tastes. We will find an assortment of meat, vegetable, rice and potato dishes and many examples of the infamous ‘Ema Datshi’ (chillies and cheese).
Breakfasts are an assortment of cereals, eggs, toast, fruit and often some Bhutanese dishes. Lunches will be taken in a restaurant and dinners are either taken in the hotel or at a local restaurant.
Please allow approximately £20-30 ($30-40) per day for other main meals in Kathmandu.
We will experience a range of temperatures during the trip depending on the altitude. On spring and autumn departures, during the day temperatures will be approx 10ºC-20ºC. At night temperatures will drop in autumn to about 3ºC-4ºC. Although these departures do not fall inside the normal monsoon season there is always a chance of rain in Bhutan and you should be prepared for this.
For the December departure the night-time temperatures can be significantly colder (sometimes below zero) and it is important to be prepared for this; please bring suitable clothing.