27 September 2016
Bhutan is no ordinary place. It is a Himalayan kingdom with a reputation for mystery and magic, with a traditional Buddhist culture. It is one of the most beautiful and unique countries on the planet where the over used term Shangri-La really does apply. The size of Switzerland and with a population of only 700,000 people, Bhutan sits below the huge mountains of the Great Himalayan Range, nestled between Tibet and India and most of the land is still covered by dense and diverse forests. And on this superb 13 day tour, which begins and ends in Calcutta, you will get a real in depth insight into the country seeing all the highlights.
Your adventure begins when you arrive at Kolkata and are met by one of our tour representatives who will help with your check-in at the hotel. Then spend the rest of the day at leisure. The city of Calcutta, now called Kolkata, was established by the British in 1690 and was the capital until 1911. Today it is the proud intellectual capital of India, with a rich contemporary cultural life. The city retains some of India’s most striking colonial buildings, and is also home to the country’s first underground railway.
After breakfast take a tour of the city visiting the Jain temple richly decorated with mirrors and Venetian glass mosaics, the Kali temple, and the white marble Victoria Memorial designed in Italian Renaissance-Mughal style. Planned by Viceroy Curzon and referred to both as Curzon’s Folly and the British Taj Mahal it is a museum housing Imperial memorabilia. Drive past the Howrah Bridge, one of the largest cantilever bridges in the world, the Dalhousie Square, Fort Williams, and the Old Court House Street. Also visit the 16 hectare Zoological gardens. Evening is at leisure.
This morning you will be met and taken to the airport for your flight to Paro. On a clear day the flight is breathtaking, with views of major Himalayan peaks including Everest, and on the final approach Bhutan’s own snowy peaks. On arrival at Paro airport you will be met by your guide and driven to Thimphu, the modern capital of Bhutan and an exciting blend of the traditional and modern. After checking in to your hotel the afternoon is free or you could take an organised tour. In the evening drive to Kuensel Phodrang, (Buddha Point) for a great view of the town.
Thimphu, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government. This bustling town is 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. Today’s full day of sightseeing in Thimphu valley includes visits to: *National Memorial Chorten, Folk Heritage Museums, Handicrafts Emporium, National Library, Institute for Zorig Chusum: Commonly known as the Painting School and Tashichho Dzong. In the evening, take a stroll along the town’s main street (Overnight at Hotel in Thimphu) The above sightseeing does not have much walking as all the sights can visit by car. So they will have a normal walk like 2 – 3 mins.
After breakfast set off for Phobjikha, driving up to Dochu-la pass and stopping to take in the view and admire the chortens, Mani walls, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road where the high Himalayan peaks are revealed in all their glory. Then continue to Wangduephodrang town in time for lunch. From here, it is a long, winding descent into the valley, climbing through forests of bamboo and oak before crossing the Pele La pass and seeing the Radak Shang Temple before arriving in the hidden Phobjikha Valley. Then have a walk through the quaint Gangtey village where you stay tonight.
Today’s journey to Bumthang is long, but memorable with dramatic landscapes, deep river valleys and precariously perched farmhouses viewed from the only east west highway that has been ingeniously carved out of the mountain faces. On reaching Trongsa you can visit the Trongsa Dzong, ancestral home to Bhutan’s monarch, where you find novice monks reciting mantras or playing musical instruments. The drive to Bumthang takes you over the picturesque Yotong La and down into the Chhume Valley, home of Bhutan’s famous Yatra weaving where you see craftsmen create their intricate handiwork. Then check in to your hotel in Bumthang.
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. This area is home to many ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries. You start at nearby Choekhor valley where you find the grand Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the river to Jambey Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. After lunch visit Tamshing Lhakhang, which has interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings then stop at Jakar Dzong, 'the castle of the white bird', before strolling through Bumthang’s market and before returning to the lodge.
A morning visit to Trongsa Museum today before the long drive back through the mountains and down to Punakha. Check-in at the hotel on arrival and later there's an evening visit to Punakha Dzong, which serves as the religious and administrative centre of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch. It is placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers and this ancient fortress is the winter residence of the monastic order’s head. Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Today you hike up through fields of rice along the banks of the Mo Chhu to the upper end of the valley to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a stunning monument recently built by the queens. Then drive back up the valley towards Khuruthang passing Punthsho Pelri Palace and several other winter homes of the royal family before reaching the impressive Punakha Dzong. A picnic lunch is then served on the banks of the Punak Chhu river and later walk to a temple dedicated to the 'Divine Madman', an eccentric monk from the 16th century famous for his many amusing folklore stories. In the evening take a stroll along the town’s main street.
This morning set off for Paro after an early breakfast. Check-in at your hotel there and after Lunch drive towards the north end of the valley to see the Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower and now the National Museum with collections including ancient Bhutanese art and artifacts, weapons, coins and stamps. Then walk down a hillside trail to visit Rinpung Dzong overlooking Paro valley stopping at the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. Later visit a traditional farmhouse and meet a local family then take am evening walk along the main street and shop for handicrafts.
A morning trip to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, founding father of the Bhutanese form of Buddhism, arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery. The main structure was severely damaged by fire in 1998, but after many years of painstaking restoration work, the complex has now been fully restored to its former glory. Then visit Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where warriors fought off Tibetan invaders centuries ago. The snowy dome of sacred Chomolhari, 'mountain goddess' can be seen from the approach road. Later enjoy a drink at a local cafe or bar.
Get up early today and take in the wonderful views before you are picked up at your hotel and driven to the airport to catch your short flight back to Kolkata. On arrival at Kolkata airport you will be met by one of our tour representatives and taken to your hotel in the city for check-in. Spend the rest of the day at leisure and see more of the sights in this great Indian city which is steeped in history.
Today your wonderful Bhutan in Depth tour comes to an end. Possibly time for some more sightseeing or last minute souvenir shopping before you are picked up from your hotel and taken to the airport to catch an onward flight or begin your journey home. This tour makes a great add on to any longer holiday in India and is a great opportunity to explore one of the world's truly remote and mystical countries.
Standard fr £2757pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated