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Festival of Bhutan

Overview

Hidden away by the mighty Himalaya, the isolated kingdom of Bhutan is an unforgettable place to visit. The landscape is stunning, with steep forested hills and misty mountains rising from fast flowing rivers. However, it's the spellbinding culture that makes this country truly unique, boasting several colourful annual festivals. At these festivals, hundreds gather to see monks, dressed in brightly coloured robes, perform ritual dances. For several days there are masked dances and prayer meetings, and a wonderful carnival atmosphere prevails. Those embarking upon spring departures will visit the Paro Festival, which culminates with the unfurling of a giant Thanka, whilst in June you will visit the lesser known Nimalung and Kurjey festivals. You will also have time to see all the main sights in and around Paro and Thimpu, as well as the superb Dzongs (fortresses) that dot the valleys and hilltops.

 

Day 1
Arrive in Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel. The evening is free to relax.


Day 2
Today you will 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 good, you will be rewarded with a fantastic view of much of the eastern half of the Himalaya, including Everest, Kanchenjunga and Chomolhari (Jhomolhari). From Paro we drive to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. Thimpu is a fairly small town, with a population of approximately 90,000, and is very easy to get around. Thimpu is quiet and quaint, and all the houses and shops are painted in traditional Buddhist styles. (Depending on the flight timings from Kathmandu to Paro it may be late when we arrive in Thimpu).


Day 3
You will spend the day in Thimpu visiting the main sites. You will 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 who died in 1972. You will also be able to see the magnificent Tashichoe Dzong (fort), visit the National Library and the newly built Textile museum. You will also be given time to visit some of the shops selling Bhutanese souvenirs, and the Post Office has a collection of Bhutan's famous stamps.


Day 4
You will leave Thimpu in the morning and drive east to Punakha. The route climbs steeply to the Dochula Pass. At 3050m (10,000ft) the views over the eastern Himalaya are magnificent, but unfortunately the clouds might obscure this spectacle. You will then descend to the valley floor and continue to sub-tropical Punakha. At an altitude of 1350m the difference in temperature and flora is unmistakeable. Punakha is the former capital of Bhutan, and the dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan. This fortress is built between two rivers and it has a colourful history, having survived many fires, an earthquake and a glacial flood. It has had several repairs and features added, and it has several interesting features designed to protect it from invaders. From here it is a short drive to Wangdi Phodrang, where you will spend the night.


Day 5
You will drive to the beautiful valley of Gangtey, situated at 2800mrtres. You will visit the only Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. This beautiful valley is also home to some rare Black Necked cranes which migrate from the harsh climate of the Tibetan plateau to Bhutan each year. You will explore this glaciated valley before returning to Wangdi Phodrang.


Day 6
In the morning you will drive back to the beautiful Paro Valley, with its famous dzong which overlooks the rice fields and scattered houses. The Paro Valley is widely regarded ase one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan, with blue pine-covered hills and attractive houses among the paddy fields. After lunch, you will spend the afternoon taking in the Paro Festival. Hundreds of people will gather to see the monks dressed in colourful brocade, silk costumes and painted masks. They will re-enact the story of the gompa's divinity though music and dance. For several days there are masked dances, prayer meetings and a general carnival atmosphere as many villagers arrive to meet old friends and catch up with the mountain gossip. The festival culminates with the unfurling of a giant Thangka, three stories high, which has to be carefully folded away before the rays of the morning sun catch it.


Day 7
You will spend today at the festival, but there will also be time to look around the outside of the Kyichu Lhakhang, and to visit the National Museum. This is housed in an ancient watchtower with a superb view over the valley and contains many interesting historic and religious objects, as well as a fine collection of Bhutanese stamps. A little below the museum is the Rimpung, or Paro Dzong, the political and religious centre for the Paro district, which you should be able to visit.


Day 8
First you will visit Dzongdrakha and the ruined Drukyel Dzong, commanding the route to Tibet, which was destroyed by fire in the 1950s. You will then drive to the car park below Taktsang monastery, from where you will begin your ascent. It will take between two and three hours to reach the viewpoint cafe and the walk will be steep in places. The famous monastery, whose name means 'Tiger's Nest', is only accessible on foot but is well worth the effort. The monastery clings to a huge granite cliff 800 meters from the Paro valley. It is said that the great saint Padmasambhava arrived here in the 7th century on a flying tigress, and meditated in a cave for 3 months. The demons who were trying to stop the spread of Buddhism were subdued and he successfully converted the Paro valley to Buddhism. At the tail end of the 17th century, a monastery was built on the spot where the saint mediated and it is a pilgrimage site which every Bhutanese person should visit once in their lifetime.


Day 9
You will 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 wish to visit the famous Durbar Square in the heart of old Kathmandu. Located within is the old royal palace, with its intricate woodcarving and four fine towers. Or you may wish to visit the monkey temple at Swayambunath or take an optional trip to Bhaktapur, the medieval city a few miles 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.


Day 10
Depart Kathmandu after breakfast.

 

Profile
Travel is by private bus and 2 internal flights.

 


Accommodation
9 nights tourist class hotels.

 


Food
All breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners included.

 


What to Expect
This is a busy itinerary, but Bhutan is a generally relaxed place so the tour should not feel too hectic. Road conditions are generally quite good but some sections can be bumpy, and as with all mountain roads the occasional delay can occur due to landslides or adverse weather conditions. The roads are also quite twisty on mountain sections; if you suffer from travel sickness you should bring your usual medication.
There is plenty of time to enjoy the features of each centre whilst travelling through the magnificent countryside. There is time to study the monasteries, browse in the bazaars or just relax with a cup of local tea in incredible surroundings. This trip is varied, but not demanding, and should appeal to those who like to see something a little different.

 


Group size and age
Normally min. 4, max. 16, plus local Bhutanese guide, drivers and local staff. Minimum age 18.

How do I obtain a Bhutanese tourist visa?
We will organise this for you. The cost is payable on entry to Bhuta,n and is currently US$20 in cash. You will need to send us a clear copy of your passport when you book, so that we can organise the Bhutan visa. Please ensure sure that we have this at least 4 weeks before departure. In addition, you will also be required to take 2 passport photos with you, as these will be required locally when processing your visa.

 


What can I do in the free time I’ll have in Bhutan?
Should you be in Thimpu during the weekend, it is definitely worth visiting the local weekend market at the end of town, beside the National Stadium. This is where residents come to buy their week’s supply of fresh food and vegetables from farmers. This is a great place for people-watching and souvenir shopping, as there are stalls selling a vast array of Bhutanese and Tibetan products. It’s also a great place to hone your bargaining skills, as there is no fixed price for any of the products on sale!
Any good local restaurants I should try in Bhutan?
Plums Café on the second floor of a building near the Clock Tower in Thimpu offers Continental, Chinese and Bhutanese food during its lunchtime buffet. Cheese momos (dumplings) and Keewa datsi (a cheese and chilli dish) with red rice are Bhutanese dishes that you must not miss out on. If you have a sweet tooth, you should try the Swiss Bakery over the road from this restaurant for delicious muffins and pastries.

 


What is the standard of hotels in Bhutan?
The hotels we use are good, reliable tourist class hotels, with twin rooms and en suite facilities, reliable electricity and water supply, good service and a variety of other amenities. Sometimes, depending on the location, the standard of hotels may be slightly lower, but we always do our best to find the most suitable option.

 


What is the weather like in Bhutan?
Bhutan has a varied climate. The south has mild, dry winters and hot, wet summers; here, the monsoon starts a little earlier and continues a little longer than further west in the Himalayas. Paro, Thimpu, and other temperate areas of Bhutan experience cold winters with sunny skies. Please note that while our departure dates do not fall within the normal monsoon season, there is always a chance of rain in Bhutan, and you should come prepared.
You will experience a range of temperatures during the trip, depending on the altitude. During the day temperatures will be approx 10°C-20°C. At night it may drop to single figures, but the temperature will normally stay above 10°C.

A BRIEF PROFILE of your needs and expectations should ensure a personalised, detailed, yet concise email reply from us. Information such as the following is helpful:
  • Primary purpose(s) and highlights of visit, including regions of interest.
  • Duration of stay
  • Probable number of people and short profile and level of physical challenge sought
  • Any specific queries or concerns

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Exodus Treks & Expeditions Nepal Pvt.Ltd.
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Address: Dhumbarahi, Kathmandu, Nepal
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