This two country trip is a wonderful mix of fascinating cultures, ancient history lessons, impressive landscapes and exhilarating activities. Exploring Kathmandu, the bustling capitol of Nepal, its Buddhist monuments and local culture is a must for any world traveller. After the buzzing city of Kathmandu, we invite you to a truly special experience that not many travellers get to do every year: exploring Bhutan. While flying to Bhutan from Nepal, expect breathtaking views on the Himalayas and the highest mountain on planet earth, Mt. Everest.
Bhutan is definitely no ordinary place. The country is aware of the downsides of rapid modernisation and has decided to move cautiously without losing its soul. Sustainable socio-economic development, preservation of culture, tradition and nature are at the forefront of government policy. The government’s ‘high value-low volume’ tourism policy is therefore a good example of its efforts to keep foreign influences at bay while nurturing Bhutanese values at home. This gives Bhutan an astonishing different look and feel altogether, a visual and spiritual feast for all visitors!
Did you know that “Gross National Happiness” is Bhutan’s development philosophy based on Buddhist values that measures the quality of life based on the spiritual and mental well-being of its people? Come join us and explore this fascinating gem nestled in the Himalayan mountain range.
Trip Mix: 40% History & Culture | 40% Activity & Sport | 20% Wildlife & Nature
Focus Themes: Hiking, Buddhism, Spa
Physical Rating: Moderate
Accommodation: Authentic, boutique style hotels and lodges, upper scale
Welcome to Kathmandu! We meet, greet and transfer to our hotel and prepare for an evening rickshaw ride: discover the myriad sights, sounds and smells of night-time Kathmandu on a ride through the city as the sun goes down. Sit back and relax as your cycle rickshaw is expertly navigated through the buzzing backstreets and atmospheric laneways of this energetic place.
Start the adventure in the touristic heart of the city, Thamel. The streets here are lined with shops selling everything from pastries to pashminas, and your rickshaw seat is the perfect mean of transportation for window-shopping along the way. Soak up the vibe as you zip through this popular part of the town. Be sure to keep an eye out en route for the bustling local markets including Asan, a vegetable and spice market. We continue to Durbar Square which is filled with age-old temples, palaces and shrines that are bound to enchant. Why not park yourself in one of the temple squares and witness the world go by? A truly special experience. Sip on some local chai, or be bold and taste fiery rakshi (local brew) at one of the local stalls or taverns… It will never be a dull moment here!
After the sights and sounds of this magical place have been absorbed, climb up onto your ‘street helicopter’ (cycle rickshaw) for the return ride back to Thamel. By the end of the tour you’ll agree that getting around the city on a rickshaw is the best way to discover authentic Kathmandu. Come and be entranced!
After breakfast, we drive to Budhanilkantha and visit the site of the sleeping Vishnu (Hindu God of preservation) on our way. We then start our hike through the surrounding farmlands into Kathmandu’s nearest forest reserve – Shivapuri National Park. After registering at the park entry gate, we take a pleasant walk through the woods, to a hidden Buddhist monastery – Nagi Gompa. The monastery is set on top of a hill offering wide angle views of the Kathmandu valley. Avid bird-watchers will have a field day!
Later in the afternoon, we invite you to an optional visit of Boudhanath, possibly the world’s largest Buddhist stupa and a site of great veneration for Buddhists. A number of monasteries have sprung up around the stupa of which most are of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. One of them houses an enormous seated statue of Maitreya Buddha. We finalise today’s program with a Lama blessing…
Today we take a flight to Paro from Kathmandu. The journey offers fascinating views of the eastern Himalayan range, including Mt. Everest. We arrive in Paro and enjoy the Bhutanese local lunch. We drive after lunch to Thimphu where we get a good overview of the breathtaking Thimphu valley from the Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang). Feel free to pay your obeisance and offer prayers to the Buddha.
Later, we visit the National Memorial Chorten, a stupa conceptualised by the Third King to ward off negative influences. It was later built in his memory by the present King and the Queen Mother. In the evening, visit Tashicho Dzong, the centre of government and the monastic order.
Before we transfer further East to Punakha, we visit further cultural highlights Bhutan has to offer, such as the Motithang Mini Zoo. We spot Takins graze peacefully in a small protected park. We also visit National Institute of Zorig Chusum, where we learn about the art and crafts currently taught in Bhutan. In the afternoon, we transfer to Punakha with a short stop on the way at Dochula Pass (3,050m) where we enjoy spectacular views of the mountains!
We visit the Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers. It was the capital of Bhutan until 1955, and still serves as the winter residence of the monk body.
In the afternoon, we go rafting in Mo Chu river, doing a 10 Km course comprising around 10 rapids with 2 – 2+ rapids. If someone prefers to skip the rafting, it is possible to do a hike instead. We highly recommend the rafting though! Rafting in Bhutan is a superb experience in its own. After, we check into our hotel in Punakha.
We transfer back to Thimphu and take a great bike ride to Paro. Considered moderate in terms of difficulty and traffic, it takes about 3 hours one way through smooth paved roads with slight undulations here and there, and a perfect opportunity to experience Bhutan intimately. Traverse through lush paddy fields, virgin forests, sleepy traditional houses and villages. Stop over at the confluence of the Thimphu and Paro rivers and watch the three different stupas built close-by. We have built in another boutique resort with a Spa facility, in case you feel like a treatment after the bike ride.
After breakfast, drive to the foot of the Taktshang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest cliff before walking uphill for 2 hours to reach this monastery, giddily perched on a sheer 800m rock face. Taktshang means ‘Tiger’s Nest’ as legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on the back of a tigress in the eight century. He meditated here making this temple a sacred pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. The trip to and fro takes 4 hours for which riding ponies can be arranged. After lunch, visit one of the oldest landmarks in Bhutan. The 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang was one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gembo.
Later we take you to experience the Bhutanese Traditional Farm House visit; Agriculture is still one of the major sources of livelihood amongst the Bhutanese people and a Farm-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family. You will get to taste the local tea and the local wine. You’ll be able to observe age old Bhutanese farming traditions as the family goes about its daily tasks. You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host.
All officially sanctioned and listed Farm-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside amidst lush farmland far from the noise and crowds of population centres. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are not available at Farm-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl. In the evening, transfer back to hotel and you all will wear the Bhutanese dress and witness the Bhutanese Cultural Program arranged at the restaurant or at the hotel in Paro.
After breakfast, fly back to Kathmandu and check in the hotel to get ready for a visit at Swayambhunath. This magnificent stupa is perched on a hilltop and an ancient sacred Buddhist shrine that holds utmost importance in the Buddhist community. It is also known as the Monkey Temple and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And after lunch we visit Pashupatinath and watch Aarati (subject to performance timing and weather). The magnificent temple of Pashupatinath with its astonishing architectural beauty is situated on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River. This temple is regarded as the most sacred temple of all Lord Shiva temples and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a look at your future with Palmist!
Today, we visit Seven Women, a social enterprise working to help disadvantaged women in Nepal and cook our own meal. The class will be run at the Seven Women headquarters in Kathmandu, where we will meet some of the women of Seven Women and hear the stories of how this social enterprise has made such a massive difference in Nepal through its literacy classes, skills training, and income generating programs. You’ll learn how Seven Women began and has grown from seven women operating out of a tin shed to now assisting more than 1,000 women.
First up, you’ll be taken on a tour through our local greenhouse, where you’ll learn about Nepalese vegetables and other seasonal products, and the practice of greenhouse farming. Once you have a grasp on the local ingredients, you’ll learn some delicious Nepalese recipes, all of which will be explained by local women who have passed them along through the generations. You will be guided through the recipe preparation and local methods while you learn to cook some of Nepal’s most traditional and tasty dishes. After the meal is made, we’ll all sit down to eat together.
Senses enriched and fascinated, we’ll head back to Kathmandu, which will take us about an hour. You’ll be glad you got out of the capital and explored the Kathmandu Valley with us. We invite you for an optional farewell dinner with your group.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.