Arrive in Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel. The evening is free to relax.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Depart Kathmandu after breakfast.