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Land of the Thunder Dragon

 

A stunning trekking experience, with all the cultural highlights of Bhutan
Visit Bhutan, with its vibrant cultural heritage; a place seldom-explored by outsiders. This itinerary will provide you with an insight into life in Bhutan, allowing you to visit attractive towns resplendent with splendid dzongs (monasteries or forts) and easy trekking along a characteristic Himalayan route. This four day trek will follow an ancient high-level route between Paro and Thimpu. We trek through rhododendron forests, crossing several passes including the Phume La. En route, you will pass yak herders’ settlements before camping alongside clear blue mountain lakes and vistas of the peaks on the borderline with Tibet, including Gangar Punsum and Jichudrake. In Paro you will visit Takstang Monastery, and in Thimpu you’ll see the impressive Tashichodzong. The spring and autumn departures will take in the Paro or Thimpu festivals respectively.

Day 1 Arrive Kathmandu
Arrive in Kathmandu and transfer to the hotel. The evening is free for you to relax.

 

Day 2 Paro
You will fly to Paro on Day 2. If the weather is clear, you should get a fantastic view of much of the eastern half of the Himalaya, including Everest, Kanchenjunga and Chomolhari (Jhomolhari). After completing visa formalities in Paro, you transfer to the hotel. The Paro valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Bhutan. Its blue pine-covered hills and attractive, solidly built farmhouses among the paddy fields are dominated by the massive dzong, or fort. This afternoon you will visit the Paro Dzong and the National Museum located above it. Paro Dzong is one of Bhutan's most impressive, and the finest example of Bhutanese architecture you will see. The inward sloping walls form a massive structure that towers over the town. Built in the 17th century it was one of Bhutan's strongest and most important fortresses and it was used on several occasions to defend the Paro Valley from invasions by Tibet. Formally the meeting hall for the National Assembly, the dzong now houses a monastic school and district government offices. Scenes from the 1995 film 'Little Buddha' were filmed in the dzong. West of the dzong a traditional wooden covered bridge called Nyamal Zam, a reconstruction of the original bridge, which was washed away in a flood in 1969. The most famous pictures of Paro Dzong are taken from the west bank of the river, just downstream from the bridge. At the top of the hill above the dzong is the old watch tower known locally as Ta Dzong. Originally built in 1656, it was renovated in 1968 by King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk to house the National Museum. This round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell, and there is a specific route to follow throughout the entire building, which ensures that you walk clockwise around important images. Inside the museum there is a spectacular collection of thangkas, an extensive philatelic collection, a temple, which depicts the history of Buddhism, ancient bronze and stone objects and displays of weapons captured during the Tibetan invasions.

 

Day 3 Takstang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)
Today you will have the chance to hike to the Takstang Monastery. The Takstang, or 'Tiger's Nest ' monastery  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. You will hike to a viewpoint where there is a small cafe for classic views of the monastic buildings which cling almost impossibly to the cliff wall opposite. For the energetic there is the chance to walk even higher to the actual monastery.

 

Day 4 Paro festival
You will spend all of today at the spectacular Paro festival. This is the most famous festival in Bhutan and thousands of people gather to see the monks dressed in colourful brocade, silk costumes and wearing painted masks re-enact the story of the gompa's particular divinity though music and dance. For several days there are masked dances, prayer meetings and a general carnival atmosphere prevails as many villagers arrive to meet old friends.

 

Day 5 Ta Dzong watchtower (2510m)
Today you will start the trek. After breakfast there will be a short drive to the road head at the ancient Ta Dzong watchtower (2510m). The first day's trekking is quite hard, as we gain quite a lot of height and it's all the way uphill. From Ta Dzong it is a gentle one hour climb to a fork in the trail. The trail then climbs steeply up to our camp just below Jele Dzong (3450m). If the weather is clear, you can see the whole of the Paro Valley below and in the distance is Chomolhari. 4 to 5 hours walking.

 

Day 6 Explore Jele Dzong
After breakfast you wil have time to explore the Jele Dzong and we may be lucky enough to be allowed inside! Our day’s walk begins with a climb through thick rhododendron forest to the Jele La (3490m) and onto a saddle at 3590m. You may see yak herders here and there are great views of Chomolhari. Look out for the colourful Monal Pheasants which inhabit the forests. The camp is located at the yak herders' camp called Jangchu Lakha. Approx 5 to 6 hours walking.

 

Day 7 Camp at Janya Tsho (3780m)
After breakfast you will descend for a couple of hours to the Jimilang Tsho stream - look out for blood pheasants. Crossing the stream the trail zig zags to Janye Tsho from where you start to climb again all the way to our camp at Janya Tsho (3780m). There are many different paths today - some only suitable for trekkers and not for pack animals. We leave the main trail and take a shorter route to Janya Tsho, where there are several yak herders huts. From camp you should have wonderful views back to Jel dzong and the mountains ahead. Look out for Blue Sheep at the campsite. Approx 4-5 hours walking.

 

Day 8 Camp at Labana (4130m)
A fairly easy day to day with great mountain views. The trail undulates all day through the forest and past Simtoka Lake to our camp at Labana (4130m). Far below us is the Thimpu Valley. Approx 4-5hours walking.

 

Day 9 Labana Pass at 4210m
The trail today climbs gradually up to the Labana Pass at 4210m (the highest point of this trek) from where we traverse the hillside with great mountain views. On a clear day we should see Gangar Punsum, the highest mountain in Bhutan and Kanchenjunga. A long descent through forests of blue pine brings past Phajoding monastery to the end of our trek at Motithang, just above Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. You should reach the hotel by mid-afternoon. The evening is free to explore Thimpu. Approx 4–5 hours walking.

 

Day 10 Sightseeing Tashichodzong, drive to Paro
You spend most of today visiting the main sights of the town including the Tashichodzong, which is the centre of the Bhutanese Governement, the Memorial Chorten, which was built in 1974 to honour the memory of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, Simtokha dzong and a painting school. In the late afternoon there will be a short drive back to Paro.

 

Day 11 Fly back to Kathmandu
Today you will fly back to Kathmandu. The rest of the day is free to explore the temples and markets of Kathmandu or go shopping.

 

Day 12 Free day at Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for sightseeing or shopping. There are several sightseeing tours on offer (see the notice board in the hotel in Kathmandu), or you may want to explore Kathmandu on your own. The Kathmandu Durbar Square is full of ancient temples and palaces. You may want to visit the monkey temple at Swayambhunath or the largest Hindu temple in Nepal at Pashupatinath or the one of the largest Buddhist stupas in Asia at Bodnath. Once you have had your fill of culture, the colourful markets of Thamel are great for souvenir hunting.

 

Day 13 Depart Kathmandu
Final Departure. Transfer to airport.

Profile
5 full days walking with full porterage. Altitude maximum 4210m, average 3654m.

 

Accommodation
8 nights hotels, 4 nights camping.

 

Meals
All breakfasts, 9 lunches and 9 dinners included.

 

What to Expect
This trip covers all the essential sights of Bhutan. You will visit the idyllic Paro valley, with its impressive dzong, unique Bhutanese architecture and sleepy town centre. You’ll also be able to visit Thimpu, the capital, and there will be time to take in the imposing government buildings and the souvenir shops located within the town centre.
The trek is a typical Himalayan trekking route, and we can assure you of good service during the trek. This trip is ideal for those who wish to combine the cultural highlights of Bhutan with scenic Himalayan walking. In Paro and Thimpu you will stay at good hotels with private facilities. For 4 nights, you will be camping (while trekking), and we will provide spacious two-person tents, dining and toilet tents, stools, tables, cooking and kitchen equipment and a team of support staff. All groups will of course be accompanied by a local Bhutanese guide, who will be supported by a cook, assistant guides and yakmen. Whilst trekking, we will wake you with a cup of hot tea, and will also provide a small bowl of warm washing water in the mornings.

 

Conditions
Trekking conditions on this short trek are at no point difficult, because you will be following a route which was formerly a key trade link between Paro and Thimpu and has been used for generations by pack-animals. The altitude you will reach during the trip is not extreme, and the passes that we cross are not usually snow-covered at the times of our departures. This route will provide you with a huge variety of landscapes; from terraced farmland, through mixed forest, to open, alpine pastureland and scenic mountain passes. This is a short trek, and you will remain at a relatively low altitude throughout. It is not particularly sustained. Grade B; 5 days walking; maximum altitude 4210m, average 3654m.

 

Group sizes and age
Min. 4, max. 16, plus leader and appropriate local staff. Minimum age 16.

What kind of food should I expect?
There is a real mix available and you won't be disappointed! The local cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, with lots of rice. You can enjoy everything from traditional spicy curries to stalls selling tasty sweets and desserts and even some Western food, if you want some home comforts. Vegetarians and 'non-spicy' food people are easily catered for, and the leader will make sure a wide range of dishes are ordered for each meal.


What is the overnight train like?
The overnight trains in India are nothing if not an experience! You will normally be booked in 2-Tier sleeper A/C, although this can vary depending on business. All seats are pre-allocated at the time the tickets are issued, meaning that we are not able to guarantee the whole group are together on the train but your leader will manage this as best as possible and will always check on you during the journey. You could end up sitting beside a Mumbai businessman or a sadhu on pilgrimage! There is usually a stream of friendly hawkers, chai boys and fascinating faces passing through at all hours, which makes for a memorable experience and one you won't forget!


Will the hotels have towels?
The hotels you stay at will all be good quality, with en suite facilities. As such, towels are usually provided but it's always a good idea to pack an emergency one in the end of your bag as well, just in case. You may have an odd night where the standard is slightly lower but this will usually be due to where you are and, as such, limited by what is available.


Any good shopping tips for India?
Where do you start?! Half the joy of shopping in India is the sheer scale of what's on offer, from upscale boutiques in New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta to the crowded and sweaty markets of pretty much any town or village you come to. Handicrafts, art, leather goods, spices, hand carved statues, silk, the list goes on - all the way to cheap knock offs of western brands!
Remember, outside of the proper shops, haggling is the key but don't waste your time trying to split the difference over a few pence - the best result is when everyone comes away happy!


What is the best way to take money to India?
The India rupee is a closed currency, meaning you can only get it upon arrival in the country. There are exchange facilities at all arrival airports, and ATMs are available pretty much everywhere as well in case you need to top up along the way. You can bring cash from your home country or travellers’ cheques too.


Do you have any advice about malaria and rabies?
We strongly recommend you contact your GP or a Travel Health Clinic at least 8 weeks prior to departure for up-to-date information.


Can I catch a Bollywood movie?
Fancy a night out in India just like the locals? Head to a Bollywood movie and join the local in an evening packed with entertainment. The Bollywood masala movies are a mixture of dance, drama and musical with a break in between as many of these movies run 3 hours movies. This gives you the option to leave the theatre discreetly should you wish. The songs and dances give the films a 60s musical feel, and you may well find the locals singing and dancing to all the songs. Movie theatres that you may want to visit are; Raj Mandir in Jaipur, Odeon in Canaught Place, New Delhi, Filmistan, Karol Bagh in New Delhi - but all cities have theatres. A word of warning--try to avoid the rush when entering and exiting the theatre and the crowded area and keep valuables with close to you zipped at all times and enjoy


I have some free time in Delhi - what should I see?
Akshayadham temple. Situated on the outskirts of New Delhi in the embankment of River Yamuna, this sprawling Swaminarayan Akshardham spreads over 100 acres of land and is renowned for its carved pillars, water fountains and 20,000 statues. Made from white marble and pink stone this new temple was only completed in 2005 which makes it less well known by Western tourists or the guide books. A visit to the temple is the perfect way to explore the amazing world of Indian culture and get a unique view of the Hindu religion.
Another option is the Gandhi Smriti, a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. This building (also known as Birla House) was where Gandhi spent his last days and also the site where he was assassinated on 30 Jan 1948, giving the name of the whole street Tees (30 in Indian language) January Road. The Museum houses pictures and articles associated with the life and death of Gandhi. You can take a tour of the building including the room where he once lived and visit the garden sight where he was shot. This visit can be combined with a visit to Indira Gandhi Museum and the market of Canaught Place which are both about 10 minutes drive away.


Can you recommend a good restaurant in Delhi?
A popular restaurant situated in Old Delhi on the ground floor of Hotel Broadway is the Chor Bizarre Restaurant. It has good selection of North Indian and Kashmiri cuisine. The hotel also regularly has Indian Cultural programme in the evenings that you are recommended to check with the hotel/restaurant beforehand for reservations should you want to watch it. Also being a popular restaurant it is advisable that you make an advance table booking to avoid disappointment.


Is it possible to get visas upon arrival?
No. Indian visas must be pre-arranged in advance. Check the Indian embassy website for details.

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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