Himalayas: These fabled mountains have profoundly shaped the cultures of South Asia and Central. The mountain range reaches across 2,736 kilometers/1,700 miles and into six countries: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The incomparable landscapes of these towering mountains are accented by tea plantations, traditional rural villages and historic Buddhist monasteries. They encompass three quarters of Nepal, which is home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the world, including Mount Everest. These fabled mountains are on nearly every serious trekker’s bucket list.
Himalaya 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 and trek through these mountains. In Bhutan, a six-day journey begins at Jele Dzong, at an altitude of 2,591 meters/8,500 feet, and climbs up to about 3,353 meters/11,000 feet at Lake Jimilangtso. The terrain is varied and breathtaking. Walks average four to seven miles a day.
Bumthang: Bumthang’s temples such as the seventh-century Jampa Lhakhang temple and historic monasteries seemed to have slipped through time untouched. The valley is home to some unique cottage industries such as Red Panda Brewery and Bumthang Cheese/Dairy Facility. Wangdichhoeling Palace is the home of the second king of Bhutan. Kurjey Lhakhang is considered one of Bhutan’s most auspicious monuments and is where early winter festivals are held, drawing thousands of Bhutanese to receive blessings.
Central Bhutan: Bhutan’s splendid Himalayan landscape is a magical setting for this once-isolated Buddhist kingdom that is gently trying to move into the 21th century. It has a lengthy menu of historic monasteries, fortresses and dzongs sprinkled throughout the mountains. The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. The village of Phobjikha on the valley floor is home to Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves for the endangered black-neck cranes. Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the largest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. It is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery. The Black Necked Crane Information Centre, situated along the main road through Phobjikha Valley, has an observation room equipped with high-power spotting scopes for the best views of the cranes. The area is also prime for nature lovers and trekkers.
Paro: Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries and the country’s national 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 a stone imprint of his body. Later, a temple was carved into the cliff about 800 meters/2,624 feet above the valley in his honor. Those who hike up to the café opposite the monastery are rewarded with breathtaking views. On the north end of the valley stands the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (Victorious Fortress), where Bhutanese repelled invading Tibetan armies in the 17th century. The National Museum, housed in the Ta Dzong, offers a wonderful introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the kingdom. Just a short walk downhill lays the dominating Paro Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese architecture.
Punakha: Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until the seat of government was moved to Thimphu. The valley is famous for farming along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of 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. At 1,350 meters/4,430 feet, Punakha, which dates from 1637, is still the winter home to Bhutan’s spiritual leader and the monks of Thimphu and Paro.
Thimphu: Thimphu Valley has supported small settlements for centuries and a dzong has existed there since 1216; however, not until the king made the city Bhutan’s new capital in the 1960s did Thimphu begin to develop. Today, it remains the political and economic center of Bhutan. The town’s School of Thangka painting, National Library, and Traditional Medicine Institute all offer fascinating insights into Bhutan and its Buddhist philosophies. Thimphu reflects the culture of Bhutan through its literature, religion, customs, monasteries, music, and dance and in the media. Tshechu is an important fall festival when masked dances – popularly known as Cham dances – are performed in the courtyards of the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu.
Trongsa: Trongsa is one of Bhutan’s most historic towns. The first monastery was built here in 1543. The town’s dzong was constructed in 1644, and served as the original seat of power of the House of Wangchuck before it became the ruling dynasty of Bhutan in 1907. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels which slope down the contours of the ridge on which it was built. Due to its highly strategic position on the only connecting route between east and west, the governor of the region was able to control the entire central and eastern sections of the country.
Chitwan National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site shelters Nepal’s endangered royal Bengal tiger, rare one-horned rhinoceros and golden monitor lizard. This unique ecosystem comprised mainly of subtropical lowlands, forest and hills, is significantly valuable to the world. Only a small portion of the park is open to tourism.
Kathmandu: Nepal’s capital city is known for its central Durbar Square which is packed with extraordinary temples and monuments. Outdoor enthusiasts come to Nepal seeking to explore isolated settlements, Buddhist stupas and ageless monasteries, and to encounter established societies still relatively unaffected by outside influences. This is also a paradise for mountain climbers, who come to hike highest mountains in the world.
Lhasa: Lhasa is Tibet’s traditional capital and the Tibet Autonomous Region. At an altitude of 3,490 meters/11,450 feet, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. It has been the religious and administrative capital of Tibet since the mid-17th century and is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Potala Palace and Norbulingka – former residences of the Dalai Lama. It also has a number of significant temples and monasteries, including seventh-century Jokhang Temple in the center of old Lhasa.
Tibet Autonomous Region: Tibet has an average elevation of 4,877 meters/16,000 feet. Its first ruler was Songtsän Gampo, (604–650 BCE), who united and ruled Tibet as a kingdom. The country has preserved its ancient palaces, rich religious history, temples and monasteries. Potala Palace, originally built in the seventh century, was rebuilt in 1645, and is noted for its grand buildings, complex constructions and spiritual atmosphere. Jokhang Temple in the center of old Lhasa, which was built in the mid-seventh century, has a four-story temple with superb golden roofs. Tibet’s mountains, crystal lakes and rivers are ideal for biking, trekking, rafting and mountaineering.
Best Time to Travel to Bhutan
Suggested Bhutan Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Beijing, China
The journey begins in China’s capital city.
Day 2: Beijing / Lhasa, Tibet
Tibet is called the “Roof of the World,” and its principal city the “City of Sun,” as it receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually.
Days 3/5: Lhasa
Fabled Lhasa is home to jewels of Tibetan architecture – Potala Palace, the 15thcentury Drepung Monasteries, the Jokhang Temple, and the nearby Ganden Monastery which rests on the southern bank of the Lhasa River.
Days 6/7: Lhasa / Kathmandu, Nepal
Durbar Square, the ornate multi-tiered pagodas, Nepalese bronzes in the former RoyalPalace, the Temple of the Living Goddess, and the Bazaar are all features of Nepal’s capital city.
Day 8: Kathmandu / Chitwan National Park
The park is noted for Bengal tigers, Asian rhino, sloth bear, gaur, sambar and chital deer, monkeys, and slender-snouted ghar crocodile.
Day 9: Chitwan National Park
Wildlife viewing with a naturalist guide (as well as cultural tours to remote villages) can be enjoyed by vehicle, canoe, on foot.
Day 10: Chitwan National Park / Kathmandu
Katmandu is the cultural and artistic capital of Nepal.
Day 11: Kathmandu / Paro
Paro is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, including the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong.
Day 12: Paro / Thimphu
Stunning high-altitude panoramas vie for attention on the drive to the capital city of Thimphu.
Day 13: Thimphu
Thimphu, the political and economic center of Bhutan, is home to the textile museum, the folk heritage museum, the School of Arts and Crafts and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine.
Day 14: Thimphu / Punakha
Punakha Dzong was the coronation site of the first king of Bhutan (circa 1637), and sits at the junction of two rivers.
Day 15: Punakha
Punakha valley is famous for historic red and white rice farming along the banks of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers.
Day 16: Punakha / Paro
Striking landscapes and panoramas can be found along the route from Punakha to Paro Valley.
Day 17: Paro
Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, including Kurjey Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) – a pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese.
Day 18: Paro / Bangkok / Depart
Custom Bhutan, Nepal & Tibet Travel Options
Himalayas (3-5 days)
Spectacular scenery, traditional villages, tea plantations, monasteries and nature trekking make this region immensely intriguing. Guest houses provide rustic accommodations which allow for authentic interaction and cultural exchange between travelers and local host families.
Trekking (2-4 days)
Trekking through the countryside past villages, local farms, mountain ranges and valleys can be done on foot or bicycle.
Central Bhutan (3 days)
Central Bhutan encompasses historic monasteries, fortresses and dzongs sprinkled throughout the mountains, as well as one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves for the endangered black-neck cranes.
Trongsa (4 days)
This is one of Bhutan’s most historic towns and features Buddhist temples and monasteries that seem to have been overlooked by time.
Pokhara (3 days)
In the Nepalese region around this mostly modern city lay medieval ruins dating from the mid-17th century.
Tibet (5 days)
Tibet offers a wealth of ancient palaces, rich religious history, and ancient temples and monasteries.
Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$400 per person per day