Best of south asia travel vacation to Bhutan, Nepal & Tibet!
It's tempting to compare the Kingdom of Bhutan to the fabled Shangri-la - that hidden Himalayan kingdom where time stood still. The tiny Buddhist nation has been revered by Westerners for years as a place of mystery and beauty uncorrupted by colonialism, industrial development and modern influences. Despite its complications, Bhutan has a natural beauty and a distinctive culture that make it well worth a visit.
Day 1: Kathmandu, Delhi or Bangko to Paro- Thimphu, Bhutan
Arrive Paro International Airport. Upon clearing Customs and Immigration, you are met by your local representative who will present you with a welcome packet including necessary documentation. From Paro you will be driven to Thimphu (the capital)- about 2 hour drive. One the way, you’ll stop and visit Simtokha Dzong (Dzong means fortress). Simtokha Dzong is one of the oldest Dzongs in Bhutan. It was built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founder of Bhutan, and was the first Dzong he built. The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, bordered by China (Tibet) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim on the east, south and west respectively. With an area of 38,394 square km., Bhutan is comparable to Switzerland both in its size and topography.
The mighty Himalayas protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left it blissfully untouched through the centuries. The kingdom is sparsely populated, with a population approaching 700,000. Four main linguistic groups constitute Bhutan's population: the Sharchopas, who are held to be indigenous inhabitants, the Bumthangpas and the Ngalongpas who originate in neighboring Tibet, and the Lhotshampas, recent immigrants of Nepalese origin. The inhabitants of Bhutan are gracious, gentle and very hospitable. They are peace loving and possess a lively sense of humor. Private transfer to your hotel for check-in and dinner. Peaceful Resort is one of a kind of nature experience and elegance. Located in the serene mountain of Motithang,
it blends perfectly with the green pine trees and the majestic mountains that give you a characteristic feeling untouched nature. Peaceful Resort is designed to suit your needs. Peaceful resort is sure to dazzle you with its refinement and sure to give you a great taste of Bhutan Peaceful Resort provides an excellent opportunity to experience the real heart of Bhutan. Contact with people of different taste and friendly welcome. The Resort provides an excellent opportunity to get insight into the peace and silent space of the kingdom. Located in between the pines of the Himalayan kingdom, it gives the serenity and peace to enjoy some parts of your life surrounded by fresh air and healthy nature. The chirping of different kinds of birds, sound of the domestic animals must bring you the heavenly stay in our resort. It will provide you with immense joy and pleasure with different taste of staff with warm heart and kind in nature. The hotel is set in its own acre of well kept grounds with plenty of car parking space and a peaceful sun patio for those drinks before dinner on a warm summer evening and everything is complemented by a warm and friendly bar for the cold winter nights
Day 2: Thimphu- Punakha (77kms/3 hours)
After breakfast, you’ll head for Punakha via Do Chula Pass (3,150m). On a clear day you can see breathtaking views of the whole range of the Eastern Himalayan Mountain ranges. Upon arrival in Punakha check into your hotel and enjoy lunch before driving to Karbisa to begin a hike in the Khamsung Yuelley Namgyal Stupa. The round trip hike will take 2-3 hours and offers great views of the Punakha Valley.
Day 3: Punakha- Paro (138kms/5 hours)
After breakfast, enjoy a tour of the old town of Punakha and visit the recently renovated Punakha Dzong, with its beautiful woodworks and paintings and then continue to Wangdi and visit the Wangdi Dzong and the village. After lunch in Wangdi, we’ll drive to the Do Chula Pass for evening tea and on to Paro for overnight. This morning we visit Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers.
Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until 1955, and Punakha Dzong still serves as the winter residence of the central monk body. Bhutan’s first king, Ugyen Wanhchuck, was crowned here in 1907. The fortress has withstood damage from fire, earthquake and floods over the centuries. The latest flood, in October 1994, caused great damage to the fortress, but miraculously spared most of the holy statue. The Wangdue Phodrang Dzong lies at the confluence of the Puna Chu and the Dang Chu. It is said that Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came across a small boy named Wangdue who was playing on the riverbank. The Shabdrung was so touched by his innocence that he named the Dzong in the valley Wangdue Phodrang (meaning Wangdue’s palace.). This Dzong was established in 1638 by the Shabdrung and completed in 1683 by Tenzin Rabgye. The location of this Dzong was determined as it was the site at which four ravens were seen flying in four different directions. This was considered an auspicious omen, as it indicated the spread of Buddhism in these four directions.
Day 4: Paro
After breakfast, you’ll be driven to the Drukgyel Dzong to see the ruins of the Dzong that defended the valley in the 17th century from Tibetan invasion. Then, drive back to Satsam Chorten and hike to the Taktshang Monastery. The round trip hike will take about 4 hours and you will be served lunch at the cafeteria at the viewpoint. On the way back to the hotel you’ll stop and visit the 7th century Kichu Temple. Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 in a location chosen for its control of the route to Tibet. The Dzong was named ‘Druk’ (Bhutan) ‘gyel’ (victory) to commemorate the victory of Bhutan over Tibetan invaders in 1644. One of the features of the Dzong was a false entrance that was designed to lure invaders into an enclosed courtyard. This was said to have worked successfully during the second attack by Tibetan invaders in 1648.
The hike to Taktshang provides a close up view of the monastery. This hike is a major part of any tourist itinerary and is very worthwhile for the spectacular view and historical interest. Taktshang Monastery (or Goemba) is the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900 meters above the floor of the Paro Valley, where the only sounds are the murmurs of wind and water and the chanting of monks. The name means “tigers nest; the Guru is said to have flown to the site of the monastery on the back of a tigress. Kichu Temple is said to have been built in 659 by King Songsten Gampo of Tibet. It holds the left foot of an ogress whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan and most of Tibet
Day 5: Paro- Kathmandu, Nepal
After breakfast today you will be transferred to the airport to board the flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. In the afternoon you will visit Swayambhunath & Kathmandu Durbar Square. Atop a green hillock on the western edge of Kathmandu stands the great stupa of Swayambhunath, a site more than 2,500 years old marking the point where the legendary patriarch Manjushri discovered the lotus of the ancient valley lake. For centuries an important center of Buddhist learning, the painted eyes of the Buddha gaze out from all four sides of this monument. Constructed to specific rules, each with a symbolic meaning, the stupa is a model of its kind.
Its dazzling white hemispherical mound represents creation, inset by statues of mediating Buddhas representing the four elements of earth, fire air and water. The 13 gilded rings of the spire are the 13 degrees of knowledge required to ascend the path to enlightenment and nirvana, itself symbolized by the umbrella on top. The whole is hung with multi-colored prayer flags whose every flutter releases holy prayers. Old Kathmandu City: here you will visit the temple of the Living Goddess, who acknowledges the greetings of the devotees from the balcony of her temple residence. The center of Kathmandu’s old city and the structure from which it derives its name, is the Kasthamandap or “House of Wood”. This impressively large pavilion was built in the 12th century at the crossroads of two important trade routes and was originally used as a community center for trade and barter. The city developed from this hub, the old Royal Palace and Durbar Square being constructed soon afterwards.
Day 6: Kathmandu
Today enjoy a full day of sightseeing of Bhaktapur, Pashuptai & Boudhanath. Bhaktapur meaning the city of devotes, this place is the home of medieval art and architecture. Lying 14 km / 9 miles east of Kathmandu City, this place was founded in the 9th century and is shaped like conch shell. The city is at the height of 4600ft. above see level. In Bhadgaon you will visit the Durbar Square with its array of temples overlooked by the Palace of 55 windows built by King Bhupatindra Malla. The Nyatapola Temple also built by King Bhupatindra Malla, is the best example of Pagoda style and stands of five Terrance on each of which stands a pair of figures two famous strong men, two elephants, two lions, two griffins and two goddesses.
Time permitting, a visit to the museum of Thanka painting can also be considered. Pashupatinath: Situated 5 Kilometers east of Kathmandu city, Pashupatinath temple is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Situated amidst a lush green natural setting on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River, the temple built in pagoda style has gilded roof and richly carved silver doors. Visitors will be permitted to view the temple from the east bank of Rivers Bagmati, entrance in the temple being strictly forbidden to all non-Hindus. Pashupatinath is the center of annual pilgrimage on the day of Shivaratri which falls in the month of February / March. Behind the temples are the cremation grounds. Boudhanath: This stupa, eight kilometers east of Kathmandu City is one of the biggest in the world of its kind. It stands with four pairs of eyes in the four cardinal direction keeping watch for righteous behavior and human prosperity. This Buddhist stupa was built by King Man Dev at the advice of Goddess Mani Jjogini. It is built on an octagonal base inset with prayer wheels. The shrine is ringed by houses of Lamas or Buddhist priests.
Day 7: Kathmandu- Lhasa, Tibet
Today you will be transferred to the airport for a flight to Lhasa, Tibet. Today when you arrive at Gonggar Airport, you will be met at the airport by our local representative and driven to your hotel. The transfer time from the airport to the hotel is about 90 minutes. The remainder of the day is at leisure to rest and acclimatize.
You will be confirmed for 3 nights at the Kyichu Hotel. The hotel is conveniently situated between the sacred Jokhang Temple in Barkhor Square, and the World Heritage famed Potala Palace - and just a few minutes walk from both - in the ancient, traditional quarter of Lhasa. The Kyichu Hotel, like its namesake river, will also bring you happiness and an unforgettable stay while in Tibet.
Day 8: Lhasa
Today you have a full day sightseeing tour of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor market. Potala, the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas, is one of the most famous architectural works of Tibet and the cream of Tibetan culture. Built in the colossal monastic style of central Tibet by Gyelwa Ngapa the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century, it stands 300 meters above the valley atop the hill called Marpo Ri. This thousand room Potala dates from 1645 when the fifth Dalai Lama erected a palace that would serve as a sacred and administrative center. It served many succeeding Dalai Lamas and is one of Tibet’s most impressive and enduring monuments. The Chinese Army of Red Guards protected it during the Cultural Revolution and as a result many of its chapels and treasures are intact, virtually unchanged since the 17th century.
The Jokhang Temple is the oldest and most revered religious structure in Tibet, it dates back to 639, and was constructed by King Songtsen Gampo to house a Buddha image Akshobhya, brought to Tibet by his Nepalese wife. But now, the main statue in this temple is of the Sakyamuni, which was a gift from his Chinese wife in 641, the statue of Akshobhya being moved to Romoche. Pilgrims from all over Tibet come to worship here and prostrate themselves in full length in front of the main doors of the temple. It is truly a moving and unrivalled experience to witness such a sight and more so to actually join them in their pilgrimage around the temple.
Day 9: Lhasa
Today you have a full day sightseeing tour of the Drepung Monastery and the Sera Monastery. Today continue sightseeing in Lhasa, visiting the Drepung Monastery and the Sera Monastery. The Drepung Monastery is about 8km west of central Lhasa and is the largest monastery in Tibet and one of the largest in the world. Jamyang Choje built it in 1416. Drepung literally means “heaps of rice” and the fertility of its fields supported a monastic community that before 1959 ranked as Tibet’s largest monastery with 7,700 monks.
For over 500 years Drepung served as the major pillar of the theocratic state, serving as the main political headquarters for the Gelupga sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It also served as the residence of the Dalai Lamas until the Potala Palace was constructed. Suffering only minor damage during the Cultural Revolution, Drepung has plenty of historical relics, Buddhist scriptures and arts. The Sera Monastery, about 5kms north of Lhasa, is located in one of the most beautiful settings in Lhasa, hugging the ridge that forms the northern wall of the Kyi Chu Valley. Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe of the Gelupga sect and is one of the three great monasteries of Tibet, the other two being Drepung and Ganden. In its heyday, Sera hosted a huge monastic population and five colleges. Like Drepung, the colleges in Sera specialized in Sera Me in fundamental precepts of Buddhism, Sera Je in instruction of itinerant monks and Sera Ngagpa in Tantric studies.
Day 10: Lhasa- Gyantse
Drive to Gyantse via the Turquoise Lake. Drive through the Kamba La pass with a good view of the lake. Gyantse: The third most important city Gyantse is one of the least Chinese influenced towns in Tibet and is worth a visit for this reason alone. Kumbum Stupa: It is one of the most revered and unusual architectural masterpieces. It was built in 1440 and is in the shape of a 108-sided mandala. Kumbum means 10,000 images. The Stupa raises over four symmetrical floors and is surmounted by a gold dome. The dome rises like a crown over four sets of eyes that gaze serenely out in the cardinal directions of the compass. Phalkor Monastery: It was founded in 1418.It was designed by Newari architects from Nepal. The former has a special influence over Buddhism owing to its unity of Gelugpa, Sakyapa & Bhuton sect.
Day 11: Gyantse- Shigatse
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before departing with your guide for the drive to Shigatse and a visit to the Tashilunpo Monastery. Shigatse: It is the second largest city in Tibet and the capital of the traditional Tibetan province of Tsang. Tashilunpo Monastery: It was founded in 1447 by the first Dalai Lama. This monastery is one of the few monasteries in Tibet that weathered the stormy seas of the Cultural Revolution. This monastery houses the Maitreya Buddha statue weighing 275 Kg made of gold and 26 meters in height.
Day 12: Shigatse- Lhasa
Drive back to Lhasa (about 4 hours) along the Yarlung Tsangpu River. The rest of the day is free for the independent activities.
Day 13: Lhasa
Following breakfast today, leave with your guide for a visit to the Drak Yerpa Caves. Note: this involves about 2 hours of walking time. Drak Yerpa Cave: Around 30 kms to the North - East of Lhasa, Yerpa is one of the holiest cave retreats ever. At one time the hill at the base of the Cave – dotted cliffs was home to Yerpa Monastery. The Monastery, however, was effectively laid to waste in the Cultural Revolution and there is very little to see nowadays. From the ruins of the monastery, it is possible to see some of the cave retreats a couple of hundred meters away at the foot of the cliffs. The history of Drak Yerpa includes many of the great names responsible for the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. The Emperor Songtsen Gampo meditated in seclusion here: Guru Rinpoche and several of his disciples also meditated here. Although the ancient Kadampa Gompa has been destroyed, the geomantic qualities that made Drak Yerpa a major power place still remain and still attract hermits to its caves.
Day 14: Lhasa - Kathmandu
Today you’ll fly back to Kathmandu and then in the afternoon visit Patan. 5 km / 3 miles away from Kathmandu city. Patan also known as Lalitpur, is the city of fine arts, enclosed within 4 stupas said to be built in 3rd century AD, by Emperor Ashoka. You will see the Durbar square, the Patan Durbar that houses a bronze collection, the Krishna Temple built by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla, Hiranya Varna Mahavihar and Mahaboudha Temple. A trip to The Tibetan Refugee Camp and the Handicraft Center will also be done while visiting Patan, where you will witness the hand weaving of Tibetan carpets and molding of metal statues.
Day 15: Departure
Departure to the airport for onward flight.
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