About Bhutan, Nepal & Tibet Travel
Thimphu & Paro: Thimpu is the capital and religious center of Bhutan. It sits in the broad, fertile valley of Wang Chu River. In addition to wonderful scenery, the town’s School of Thangka painting, National Library, and Traditional Medicine Institute all offer fascinating insights into Bhutan and Buddhist philosophies. Dominating the scene is the striking Tashichodzong Fortress palace from which the province is ruled. Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries and the country’s only airport. Kurjey Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) is a place of pilgrimage for Bhutanese. Legend claims that Guru Padmasambava, wizard-saint of Himalayan Buddhism, came here in the eighth century, riding his flying tiger to a cave to meditate. There he left his body imprinted in stone. Later, a temple was carved into the cliff 2,624 feet above the valley in his honor. Those who hike up to the cafe opposite the monastery are rewarded with breathtaking views. On the north end of Paro Valley stands the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (Victorious Fortress), where Bhutanese repelled invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century.
Kathmandu: Kathmandu and its Durbar Square are packed with extraordinary temples and monuments. This is a paradise for mountain climbers, who can hike among some of the highest mountains in the world. Others seek the thrill of exploring isolated settlements, Buddhist stupas and ageless monasteries, to encounter established societies still relatively unaffected by outside influences.
Lhasa: Mythic Tibet – “Roof of the World.” While there are more than 800 settlements in Tibet, Lhasa is the central focus for travel in Tibet. The legendary city is nestled among the world’s highest mountains. It sits in a protected valley with more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. Little wonder that it is called “City of Sun.” The jewels of Tibetan architecture are the 7th-century Potala Palace, former residence of the Dalai Lama, and the 15th-century Sera and Drepung Monasteries. Tibetans rely heavily on customs handed down through generations, such as flying colorful prayer flags from roofs. They still rely on antiquated farming tools. Gandan Monastery, at 12,467 feet, was established in 1409 by the founder of the Gelupka (Yellow Hat) sect. Tibet’s most sacred and celebrated temple is Jokhang, a massive 7th-century building consisting of three floors with an open roof, and filled with chapels and chambers. It has undergone extensive reconstructions and additions, particularly during the 17th century.
Trongsa & Bumthang: The first temple in Trongsa was built in 1543. A hundred years later, Trongsa Dzong was constructed. Traditionally, the king of Bhutan first becomes the governor of Trongsa, then becomes crown prince, and eventually King. Sitting on a mountain above deep gorges, it controlled trade for centuries. A single road passed through the courtyard of the dzong, which had massive doors. These could be closed on command, effectively dividing Bhutan in half. Higher yet on the mountainside, a large watchtower, “Ta Dzong,” stood guard. Bumthang offers travelers a chance to visit temples and monasteries that seemed to have slipped through time untouched. Jampa Lhakhang temple was built in the 7th century.
Punakha: Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until the government moved to Thimphu in 1955. The valley is famous in Bhutan for farming red and white rice along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. Built in 1637-38, the striking red and white Punakha Dzong was the site of the coronation of the first king of Bhutan. Since the 1680s, a special chamber in the dzong has been the site of a continuous vigil over the earthly body of the founder of Bhutan.
Royal Chitwan National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the oldest national park in Nepal. It provides habitat to the endangered royal Bengal tiger, Indian elephants, and one of the last populations of single-horned Indian rhinoceros as well as some 40 other species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and 45 species of amphibians and reptiles. Exploring here can be done by canoe, guided jungle walks and safari by elephant back.
Pokhara: Today, the modern city of Pokhara is the third largest in Nepal. It lies on an important old trading route between Tibet and India. The old city center to the north is most interesting with many old shops and warehouses in the Newari-style, indigenous style of architecture used by the Newari people in the Kathmandu valley in Nepal. It is a style used in buildings ranging from stupas and chaitya monastery buildings to courtyard structures and distinctive houses. The style is marked by striking brick work and a unique style of wood carving rarely seen outside of Nepal. Mule caravans still come here through the Himalayas. Temples worth visiting in the older part of town are Bindhyabasini temple and Bhimsen temple. The elevation in this area can rise from 3,280 feet to over 24,000 feet in the space of about 18 miles. The region is also home to medieval ruins dating from the mid-17th century. The heritage can still be seen in the architecture along the streets in Bhimshen Tol (Old Pokhara).
Trekking: Trekking journeys in the Himalayas are an adventure for the experienced enthusiast. Big Five offers a variety of programs for those who wish to hike these mountains. In Nepal, a four-day Annapurna Villages Trek focuses on friendly Gurung villages and culture while enjoying spectacular views of the Annapurna range. The seven-day Ghorepani “Poon Hill” Trekking journey begins at Naya Pool, 3723 feet in altitude, and climb to heights of more than 13,000 feet, passing through villages, pastures and cultivated fields, and dense forest of oak, rhododendron and fir. The six-day Trekking in Bhutan program begins at Jele Dzong, at an altitude of 8,500 feet, and climbs up to about 11,000 feet at Lake Jimilangtso. The terrain is varied and breathtaking, traveling through thick alpine forest and rhododendrons trees, along ridges with exquisite views. Walks average four to seven miles a day.
Suggested Tour Itineraries
Day 1: Arrive Paro, Bhutan / Thimpu
Day 2: Thimpu
Day 3: Thimphu / Paro
Day 4: Paro
Day 5: Paro / depart
Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu, Nepal
Day 2: Kathmandu
Day 3: Kathmandu / depart
Day 1: Arrive Lhasa, Tibet
Day 2: Lhasa
Day 3: Lhasa
Day 4: Lhasa / depart
Custom Travel Options
Trongsa & Bumthang, Bhutan (4 days)
Buddhist temples and monasteries seem almost to have been cloaked in a time shield, untouched.
Punakha, Bhutan (2 days)
Built in 1637-38, the striking red and white Punakha Dzong was the site of the coronation of the first king of Bhutan.
Chitwan National Park, Nepal (3 days)
One of the last refuges for the rare royal Bengal tiger, and one of the last populations of single-horned Indian rhinoceros.
Pokhara, Nepal (3 days)
In the region around this mostly modern city are medieval ruins dating from the mid-17th century.
Trekking in the Himalayas (4 – 8 days)
Trekking journeys pass through villages, fields and wide-ranging terrain of dense forest of oak, rhododendron and fir.