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HM7 KINGDOMS OF THE HIMALAYA TOUR

SEARCH TOUR

Bhutan, Sikkim & Darjeeling

Punakha Dzong (also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong)
TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Cultivated slopes, thick forests, tea plantations; Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok; Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital; Himalayan peaks, high plateaux; Punakha: deep in the heart of Bhutan; Spectacular 'Teschus' - annual festivals

  • DATES & PRICES
  • FULL ITINERARY
  • MAP & HOTELS
  • TRIP INFORMATION

Dates & Prices

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Prices are in US Dollars (USD), before taxes (if applicable) - All pricing reflects per-person Land Only expenses, however, we can book flights from virtually every city. Please call us for an air quote.


Start DateEnd DatePriceMore Info
Wed 23 Sep 2015Tue 06 Oct 2015 $3790
Mon 11 Apr 2016Sun 24 Apr 2016 $3790
Thu 13 Oct 2016Wed 26 Oct 2016 $3790

Optional Single Supplement: $720 (number of singles limited).


Tour Overview


Regions visited: South Asia
Countries visited: Nepal; Bhutan and India


Testimonials


Excursions I enjoyed were craft manufacturing, Dzongs, zoos, Produce market in Kalimpong, markets in towns with overnight stays, Tibetan market, Flag lowering ceremony in Thimphu. Our local guide Ugen was great. Always pleasant and helpful. Knowledge of buddist religion very good and explanations of picture on walls of monasteries were very informative. Vans and SUVs were good. Drivers were amazing. Good variety of food and no one went hungry. Our tour leader Subash Tamang was courteous and enthusiastic throughout. Great choice for this and any future tours for Himalayas. A great tour.

Full Itinerary

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Day 1 Arrive in Kathmandu
Today we arrive in Nepal, a country with spectacular geography and a rich cultural diversity. Within its narrow borders we will find a complete climatic range, from tropical to temperate, alpine to arctic. As many as 30 different languages and dialects are spoken among the many ethnic groups.

NOTE: Due to variables such as festival dates, internal flights, and ever-changing entry (visa) requirements, our published tour dates and / or itinerary can shift right up to departure. As such, we will not accept any LAND ONLY bookings for this tour. Booking your air with Adventures Abroad offers you protection from the possible costs and complications associated with tour changes. Exceptions to this rule will only be granted to those passengers who are willing to fully accept the risks of booking their own air tickets given the above circumstances.

Overnight in Kathmandu.

Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Kathmandu, Nepal - Paro, Bhutan - Thimphu
Today we fly to Paro and continue by road (65 km / 40 miles) to Thimphu. The drive takes 2 hours and en route we pass Tamchog Lhakhang, a bridge built by Thangtong Gyalpo, an iron bridge builder and saint from the 14th /15th century who introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains.

Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital (2320 m / 7,609 feet), is situated on a broad green valley surrounded by terraced rice fields. This town of about 40,000 people built along traditional lines is the administrative centre of Bhutan and was only established in the 1950s. The main street of Thimphu, Norzim Lam, is lined with shops of all descriptions mainly stocking goods imported from India and China. This is the only capital in the world where there are no traffic lights, only three roundabouts, and police boxes decorated with dragons!

Bhutan's official name, 'Druk Yul', means the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon', which is officially portrayed on the country's flag. Bhutan is perhaps the least modernised and most mysterious country in South Asia and remains very cautious in its contact with the outside world. The flow of tourists into the country is regulated and the government makes great efforts to preserve and strengthen the country's religious and cultural traditions.

Overnight in Thimphu.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Thimphu (Thimphu / OR Bumthang Festival, Fall Departure)
Today we drive to the impressive Tashicho Dzong (which we may be allowed to enter), the traditional summer capital of Bhutan and now the seat of the Bhutanese government. The present building is a rebuilt version of a dzong or monastery-fortress that was erected here by Nawang Namgyal in 1641 and it retains many of the features of the old dzong. It is now an impressive sight and it houses all the government deparments and ministries, the throne room of the King, the National Assembly chambers and the nation's largest monastery with over 2000 monks in residence.

OUR FALL 2015 DEPARTURE coincides with the Thimphu Tsechu, an annual festival held at the Tashichho Dzong. The Tsechu reflects the deeply rooted religious sentiments of the people. For three days various types of masked dances are performed. Many depict the story of good triumphing over evil, the day of judgment, matrimonial fidelity etc. NOTE: It is likely that we will re-write this itinerary in advance of this departure, to change the order of overnight points such that we are in Thimphu on the correct dates. If you are researching your chosen date well in advance, please bear in mind that these date may shift upon the setting of the festival dates.

OUR FALL 2016 DEPARTURE will coincide with the Bumthang Festival in Bumthang. The itinerary for this date will run thus: Kathmandu, Nepal - Paro, Bhutan; Paro - Punakha; Punakha - Bumthang (long drive); Bumthang Festival - Trongsa; Trongsa - Thimphu; Thimphu - Phuntsholing. Once 2015 tours conclude, this itinerary will be updated with further details. This itinerary option is particularly attractive as it allows us to go deeper into Bhutan and see more of the country.

Overnight in Thimphu.

Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 4 Thimphu - Punakha
This morning we depart Thimphu via the spectacular Dochula Pass 3031 m (10,004 feet). We pass steeply through a forest of pine and cedar with panoramic views of the Himalaya (Thimphu - Punkaha 77 km / 48 miles, 3 hours).

Today's journey takes us deep into the heart of Bhutan. The drive will give you an insight into a medieval way of life that has changed little over the centuries. Modern development has brought better education, health care and electricity to these remote areas but the local small farm-based economy that has kept the local people self sufficient over the years is largely unchanged.

Located at a relatively low altitude of 1300 m (4,265 feet) in a rainshadow, the Punakha Valley produces most of the oranges and fruits grown commercially in Bhutan. Despite the warmer climate and the possibility of growing an endless variety of produce, the population of the valley remains remarkably low. Until very recently, Punakha remained the winter capital of Bhutan (there is only one capital now, Thimphu), and it is still the winter headquarters of the Head
Abbott (Je Khempo) and his monks who move here every winter.

On arrival we will visit Punakha Dzong. This Dzong was built strategically at the junction of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in 1637 to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. It was damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, however it has been fully restored by the present King (please note that the Dzong is frequently closed without notice).

Overnight Punakha.

Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 5 Punakha - Paro
Today we travel by road back to Paro, set in what is considered to be the most beautiful of the main valleys (2280 m / 7,500 feet). The dominant feature of Paro is undoubtedly the Paro Dzong set above the glacial Paro Chu River. It is a particularly important and historic dzong having played a part in Bhutan's history since it was first constructed. On arrival we will check into our hotel.

Overnight in Paro.

Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 6 Paro Area
The charming town of Paro lies on the banks of the Paro (or Pa) Chhu, just a short distance northwest of the imposing Paro Dzong. The main street, only built in 1985, is lined with colourfully painted wooden shop fronts and restaurants, though these appear under threat as the town grows and multistorey concrete buildings continue to propagate. For now Paro remains one of the best Bhutanese towns to explore on foot and is worth an hour or two's stroll at the end of a day of sightseeing.

During our time in Paro we will visit the National Museum of Bhutan which displays thangkas, artifacts, costumes, stamps (even 'talking stamps'), and objects from archaeological excavations. Located further up the valley is the famed Takstang or 'Tiger's Nest' monastery which burned down in 1998. The monastery has been rebuilt and you will have the option today to drive to a viewpoint in the valley from where you can see Takstang high up on the cliff opposite.

Overnight in Paro.

Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 7 Paro - Phuntsholing
Today we travel by road southward to the roadside village of Bunakha where we stop for lunch. The road continues to wind south over the southern foothills, through lush forested valleys and around the rugged north-south ridges of the inner Himalaya. It is a scenic journey; forests festooned with orchids cover the mountains on either side and exciting hairpin curves greet us with colourful sculptures of Tashi Tagye (eight special Tibetan symbols that reflect the
teachings of the Buddha).

We continue descending the lower Himalayan hills to the border town of Phuntsholing, a fascinating mixture of Bhutanese and Indian and a lively centre for mingling peoples, languages, costumes and goods (150 km / 94 miles, +/-6 hours).

Overnight in Phuntsholing.

Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 8 Phuntsholing, Bhutan - Dooars - Darjeeling, India
Today we complete border formalities en route to the Dooars Valley (400 m / 1,312 feet), the 'Gateway to the Himalaya' (border post 'Jaigaon'.

Here an unending stretch of virgin forests is crisscrossed by the River Teesta and its innumerable tributaries. Roads cut through deep forests, rich with wildlife. Mauve hills host wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, tribal settlements and valleys carpeted with tea gardens.Today we travel to Darjeeling, surrounded by tea plantations on the lower hills.

Driving close beside the narrow gauge Darjeeling Hill Railway drawn by century old steam engines, we reach the halfway point of Kurseong where we stop for a tea break before driving to Ghoom at about 2400 m (8,000 feet). There is a descent into the busy town of Darjeeling (2134 m / 7,000 feet).

Darjeeling or 'the place of the thunderbolt' and the surrounding area once belonged to the rulers of Sikkim. In 1833 the British gained control of the hill on which Darjeeling stands after considerable political manoeuvring in return for a small annual payment to the King of Sikkim. It soon grew to a popular health resort after a pony road and some houses were built and tea growing introduced. Later in the 19th century, the remarkable mountain railway from the plains was built and Darjeeling boomed as a resort and holiday destination for the British bureaucracy wanting an escape to cooler climates. Built on a crescent shaped ridge, Darjeeling faces the Himalayan peaks and is surrounded by cultivated slopes, thick forests and tea plantations.

Overnight in Darjeeling.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Darjeeling Area
Today we tour the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute; the small zoo beside it has several interesting Himalayan species including snow leopards and red pandas. The institute itself houses a considerable collection of items used by the early Everest explorers and also has a fine topographical model of the Eastern Himalaya. Later we drive to a nearby tea plantation for which this region is famous and see the picking and processing of tea leaves.

We will also visit the Tibetan Refugee and Handicraft Centre where Tibetan refugees live cooperatively and their children attend school while their parents work on wool making, carpet weaving, and handicraft production.

The rest of the day is free to browse the 'Chowrasta' or town square and explore the well-known Oxford Book Shop with its excellent collection of books on the history and cultures of the Himalaya. You could also walk down to the Lower Bazaar where the local residents shop for produce, fabrics and spices.

Overnight in Darjeeling.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Darjeeling - Gangtok (Sikkim)
We have an early departure for our steep descent through a series of tea plantations to the tropical Teesta Valley. Passing through sal forests and cinchona (quinine bark) plantations, we stop briefly at the Teesta Bridge checkpoint to show our Sikkim entry documents before continuing onwards to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.

Located in the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim forms a natural border between Nepal to the west and Bhutan to the east. To the north lies Tibet and to the south the Teesta and Ringgit rivers form a natural boundary with the Indian state of West Bengal; to the east lies the Kingdom of Bhutan separated by a tongue of Chinese controlled Tibet.

The climate is subtropical in the lower valleys, but changing fast to temperate and alpine with increase in elevation. Mixed forests of bamboo and dozens of orchid species are common between 1500-3000 m (5,000-9,850 feet) -- 660 varieties of orchids are known to grow in Sikkim. The cardamom spice is a cash crop that grows wild extensively around Yuksum and Phodang.

Later today we will visit the Institute of Cottage Industries where young Sikkimese people are taught traditional crafts. There is a sales centre attached for a number of local handicrafts, most with a strong Tibetan look to them. Woollen carpets, shawls and traditionally painted tables are good buys, all at government regulated prices.

Overnight in Gangtok (1700 m / 5,600 ft).

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 Gangtok Area - Martam
This morning we will visit the Enchey Monastery, located on the ridge top above the town; the present building dates from 1909 though the monastery itself is over 200 years old. Also visited is the Institute of Tibetology which was established in 1958 as a major centre for research on Tibet and Tibetan Lamaistic Buddhism. It houses many rare books, thangkas, statues and manuscripts smuggled out of Tibet after the Chinese occupation. We will also visit the permanent 'Flower Show' that exhibits a number of native Sikkimese orchid and flower species.

We also visit Rumtek Monastery, located on the opposite side of the valley from Gangtok. Rumtek is the seat of the Tibetan Kagyugpa sect of monks and a major centre for Tibetan religious studies. The 16th Gwalpa Karmapa, the head of the Kagyugpa sect, took refuge in Rumtek after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950's; he and his followers escaped with whatever statues, 'thangka' paintings and scriptures they could and built Rumtek Monastery as a replica of the Chhofuk Monastery that they had left behind in Tibet.

We continue for a further 10 km (6 miles) to Martam village (1450 m / 4,428 feet) where we stay in comfortable cottages built in the local style with impressive views over a quiet valley of terraced rice paddies. The nearby village and the school offer a glimpse of an idyllic lifestyle in a perfect rural setting.

Overnight in Martam.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Martam - Kalimpong
A scenic drive past forest covered slopes and fast flowing rivers to Kalimpong (1250 m / 4,100 feet), an important market town located strategically at the crossroads of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and Bengal until the 1960s when the Indo-China war put an end to cross border trade. It is now well known for its numerous flower and orchid nurseries.

We stay in the Himalayan Hotel, run by Tim MacDonald, grandson of the Tibetan explorer David MacDonald, who accompanied many of the early British Younghusband expeditions to Tibet around the turn of the century. The MacDonald family home is something of a museum to the early exploration of this part of the Himalaya; its 16 rooms decorated with memorabilia donated by notable Himalayan explorers who have stayed at the hotel over the years. The main house was built in the 1920s and has a mature garden with dozens of varieties of flowering trees and shrubs and views of the Himalaya from the verandahs.

Overnight in Kalimpong.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 Kalimpong Area - Siliguri
Today we visit the historic home of Dr Graham and the extensive boarding and day school facility that was established over a century ago. We will see its classrooms and boarding houses to get an idea how students of both sexes from all over India and neighbouring countries like Bhutan spend their days during the study year. There is an Anglican church with fine stained glass windows nearby, and you can also visit one of the flower nurseries for which Kalimpong is well known across India.

Late afternoon, we descend to the Teesta River Valley and drive to the important market town of Siliguri and onwards to our hotel located on the northern outskirts of town.

Overnight in Siliguri.

Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 14 Siliguri - Bagdogra - Depart
This morning we drive to Bagdogra and connect with homeward flights.

BON VOYAGE!

Meal plan: breakfast

Tour Map

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*The red tour trail on the map does not represent the actual travel path.


Hotel List


The following is a list of sample hotels at some locations included on this tour. The hotels shown here are meant to provide a general sense of the standard of hotel we usually aim for; they are not necessarily confirmed for your chosen departure.


Hotel Shanker

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Kathmandu
Country: Nepal

Hotel Shanker, Kathmandu is a heritage hotel, housed in a 19th-century palace within walking distance to Thamel and Durbar Marg,
... tourist hubs. It was the royal residence of the rulers of Nepal from 1894 until 1964, when it was converted into a luxury hotel. The facade was kept intact but the interiors were redesigned to give travellers the kind of comfort they'd expect of a world class hotel. The hotel is characterised by exquisite and authentic objects d'art. For example, the carved windows displayed in the lobby bar are over 200 years old.
Read More.

Yeedzin Guest House

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Thimphu
Country: Bhutan

Number of rooms: 12 doubles & 7 singles, with attached bath. Restaurant with Bhutanese, Chinese, Indian, Continental. Currency exchange, Internet
... laundry, safe deposit boxes at reception.

Read More.

Namsay Choling Resort

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Paro
Country: Bhutan

The hotel offers 40 comfortable rooms with panoramic view of Paro Valley. Facilities include business centre with internet, restaurant, traditional
... stone bath, garden with bonfire area, lounge area with fire places, handicraft shops. All standard rooms are equipped with phone, attached bath, TV, standard twin beds.

Read More.

Himalayan Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Darjeeling
Country: India

The Himalayan Hotel is a stone built, two story family hotel located a short distance from the centre of town
... surrounded by spacious gardens. The hotel has excellent views of Kanchenjunga and the surrounding mountain ranges. 16 rooms, most with their own fire-places, attached bathrooms with running hot and cold water, fitted with showers.

Read More.

Mayfair Hotel

Rating: 5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation5 Star Accommodation
Location: Darjeeling
Country: India

The landmark hill resort is nestled on a majestic hill; it presents a breathtaking spectacle with an aristocratic look. Once
... erstwhile summerhouse of Maharaja of Nazargunj, now stands as a modern resort with world class facilities.


Read More.


Trip Information

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Inclusions

Breakfast and dinner are included daily; all meals included in Bhutan. Evening meals on tour will be taken mostly at hotels. In some locales we endeavour to break up the buffet dinners with a meal at a local restaurant but, overall, the imperatives of hygiene and quality dictate hotel meals. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing and entrance fees are included for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary. Gratuities for drivers, restaurant staff, porters, local guides. Airport transfers for land & air customers arriving / departing on tour dates.

Exclusions

Tour Leader gratuities, lunches in India & Thailand, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), domestic and international (if applicable) air taxes, visa fees, and any excursions referenced as 'optional'. Airport transfers for Land Only customers. Optional trip cancellation insurance. Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on shopping, not included meals, visas.

Seasonality and Weather

SIKKIM/DARJEELING: Temperatures may fall as low as 0 C (32 F) at night (particularly in Darjeeling) and reach as high as 25 C (76 F) during the day. You can expect it to be on average 15-20 C during the day in the hills. We travel between Sept and March to avoid the Indian Monsoon though rain is possible at any time.

BHUTAN: The Monsoon occurs between Jun & Aug. Outside that time days are usually very pleasant (10C/50F) with clear skies and sunshine. Nights are cold. Oct/Nov, Mar-mid Jun are the best times to visit - rainfall is at a minimum and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing.

Our FALL trip coincides with the Thimphu or Bumthang Tsechu. The Tsechu reflects the deeply rooted religious sentiments of the people. For three days various types of masked dances are performed. Many depict the story of good triumphing over evil, the day of judgment, matrimonial fidelity etc. Spring festivals tend to fall quite early on the calendar when weather would not be ideal.

Transport and Travel Conditions

Land transportation is via private bus or Land Cruiser type vehicle depending on group size and / or conditions. Air conditioning / heat in vehicles is generally not available in this part of the world. Road conditions are generally quite poor and can be bumpy, and as with all mountain roads the occasional delay can occur due to landslides or adverse weather conditions. The roads are also quite twisty on the mountain sections; if you suffer from travel sickness you should bring your usual remedy.

The tour is not physically strenuous though it is busy; you must be prepared for some early starts, be steady on your feet, and be able to endure some heat and long days at high altitudes. We have numerous walking tours and visit several sites that are LARGE with steps and uneven surfaces.

Internal flights via scheduled carriers. Porters are generally available at hotels but you must be able to manage with your baggage at airports.

ALL PASSENGERS will require a medical questionnaire to be signed by his/her physician indicating that the traveller is fit to travel on such a journey. Those with pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated by travel at high altitude or on poor roads, or persons with compromised immune systems and mobility problems, should carefully consider their participation.

Accommodation

We will be staying in hotels with private bathrooms, and there will be hot water, though in more remote areas this may only be available in the morning and evening. Few of the hotels are centrally heated, although coal fires can sometimes be provided in the bedrooms at a small extra cost. Generally hotels are comfortable and often spectacularly located, though simple with quirks that can range from charming to frustrating. Single rooms are limited and possibly smaller than twins. Porters are generally available (see 'Inclusions').

Staff and Support

Tour Leader throughout, local drivers, local guides at various locations.

Group Size

10-21 (plus Tour Leader)

HM7 TRIP DETAILS

DURATION14 days

TOUR STARTKathmandu

TOUR ENDBagdogra