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Welcome to a city too laid-back to bother being best - Kathmandu, a spicy masala of its mixed reputations. Arrive at the airport to be met by our local representative and taken to your hotel. Later in the evening tour start an interesting ride on a cycle rickshaw, a.k.a. ‘street helicopters’, through the colourful tourist hub of Thamel, then on to the bustling vegetable and spice markets of Asan – the oldest market square of Kathmandu. Continue to take the backstreets into the Durbar Square. Devoid of tour groups and tastefully illuminated at night, you will certainly feel the soulful side of the archaic Kathmandu.
This morning join the pilgrims at Swoyambhunath (Monkey temple). Perched on a pedestal high on the hilltop, the Monkey Temple is acclaimed as the oldest stupa in the world & is influenced by both the Nepalese & Tibetan forms of Buddhism, which attracts constant stream of pilgrims from all around Nepal. We'll also visit Pashupatinath, a holy Hindu temple dedicated to one of the Hindu trinity Gods & God of Destruction - Shiva, and the cremation site. Continue to Bodhnath, a reverred Buddhist pilgirmage site and supposedly the biggest 'stupa' in the world influenced by the Tibetan form of Buddhism).
A visual feast of the Himalayan range, including Everest, beckons you on a flight to Paro (55mins approx). Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan. Airport arrival transfer from Paro airport to Thimphu, the modern capital town of Bhutan. Driving through the Paro valley en route to Thimphu gaze out upon silvery Pa Chu (Paro River) meandering its way through the thick forested ravine, the Paro Dzong (fortress) & Ta Dzong (watch tower).
Today’s full day of sightseeing in Thimphu valley includes the National Library and its vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts, manuscripts & printing blocks for prayer flags, and the Thimpu Painting School famous for traditional thangkha paintings. The Traditional Medicine Institute is where the rich herbal medicines are prepared and Memorial Chorten is the beautiful stupa built in the memory of Bhutan’s third King. The paintings & statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy. Trashichhodzong is a beautiful fortress which houses Secretariate building, King’s Throne room & other government’s offices.
This morning drive to Punakha, an old winter capital of Bhutan. En-route stop at the lofty Dochu La Pass to view the rugged eastern Himalayas. The road drops down through varied forest, finally emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley. This afternoon visit the impressive Punakha Dzong, which is located on the confluence of two rivers. Following the ancient traditions it serves as winter residence for chief abbot and the monks of Central Monastic Body, who return to Thimphu in the summer. Later hike to the Chimi lhakhang – the temple of Divine Madman which was built by lama Drukpa Kunley in 1499. It’s a 20-minute walk across the rice fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple.
Punakha & Wangdue are two separate districts in the same valley, just 20kms apart. Located at a lower elevation, the valley has mild winters, allowing cactuses, oranges, bananas and sub-tropical plants to flourish. Punakha was once the winter capital of Bhutan, the tradition that is still held by the Central Monks and Jekhenpo, who reside here in Punakha Dzong during the winters and return to Thimphu, which is their summer capital. In Wangdue, there is a small town on the ridge and large Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. Enjoy an excursion to Wangdue today and explore the town.
Today we leave Punakha behind and head to the central valley region of Bhutan to soak up the stunning views of forested valleys and mountains. Enjoy lunch at a local farmhouse before enjoying a walk on a nature trail.
Enjoy a visit to the Trongsa Dzong, ancestral abode of Bhutan’s royal family, and Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower which once stood guard over Trongsa Dzong. The road to Bumthang winds steeply up to Yutong-la pass then runs down through dense coniferous forest to enter a wide, open, fertile valley, known as Chumey. An hour or so from Chumey gets us to Bumthang, one of the most spectacular valleys and the spiritual heartland of Buddhism in Bhutan. The 68km journey takes about 3 hours. Later visit the 17th century Jakar Dzong and the Kurje monastery, another 17th century marvel dedicated to Guru Padmasambava who was believed to have meditated here leaving his body imprint on the rock.
This morning visit Jambey Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo (a reincarnation of Jambey or Avalokitesvara - the Bodhisattva of Compassion). This is one of the 108 monasteries built to subdue the evil spirits. Tamshing Lhakhang across the river is also a worthwhile place to visit for its old and interesting religious paintings. After our sightseeing we take a familiar route back to Wangduephodrang (197kms/ 7hrs approx).
Enroute to Paro today we again make a halt at Dochula pass to break our 4hr drive in time for lunch amidst the Himalayan vista. Along the journey we take a glimpse at impressively located Simtokha Dzong. This dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands on a low ridge 8km down the valley from Thimphu. The most noteworthy artistic feature of this dzong is a series of finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard. The lovely valley in which Paro is nestled encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends, and it is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries. Soak up the stunning views as we drive back to Paro.
This morning hike up to the famed Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's nest), an iconic Bhutanese landmark. The upward climb will take around 2 hours and stunning views compensate for the energy expended. Midway on the descent we take lunch at the terraces of a cafeteria facing the Tiger’s Nest. The remainder of the day has in store for you optional visits to: Drukgyel Dzong - this dzong enjoys a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts; Rinpung Dzong - The “fortress of the mountain of jewels“ built on a hill above the township with an approach through a traditional covered bridge; Ta Dzong - on a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect the Dzong.
Leaving Paro we drive through pine and rhododendron forest to begin our climb of the Chele-la pass, the highest mountain pass in Bhutan. From here one has splendid views of the High Himal, including the magnificent peaks of Jhomolari, Bhutan’s most sacred peak. A 22km descent from the top of the pass brings us to the erstwhile restricted zone of Haa. The Haa Dzong is presently occupied by the Bhutanese military, but the views from outside its walls are stunning. After a picnic lunch there are visits to the Monastery of Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) followed by the Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). The central shrine of Lhakhang Nagpo is said to resemble that of the Jowo in Lhasa, Tibet.
After a leisurely breakfast it's time to bid fond farewell to Bhutan as we transfer you to the airport for your return flight back to Kathmandu. Upon arrival in Nepal we will be there to collect you and transfer you to your hotel where the remainder of the day can be spent at leisure.
Today enjoy a guided visit to the medieval town of Bhaktapur and the magnificiently preserved old self of Kathmandu valley. It's old world charm and centuries-old marvel of craftsmanship is evident in its temples and squares, and its people's fierce devotion to its ancestral ways of life & faith. Enjoy an afternoon walking tour of the town.
Today marks the end of your incredible adventure through the Himalayas. After breakfast and hotel check out we will transfer you to the airport in time for your onward international departure flight.