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Essence of Nepal & Bhutan


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Day 1: Kathmandu

On arrival in Kathmandu you will be met at the airport by a Peregrine representative who will transfer you to your hotel. There will be a group briefing with your trip leader in the late afternoon. Usually the meeting is followed by an optional group dinner at one of Kathmandu's fine Nepali restaurants.

Day 2: Kathmandu

In the early morning you will make an attempt at the Mount Everest scenic flight. This amazing experience will take you over Sagamartha National Park, through a crescendo of the highest peaks in the world, climaxing by getting up close to Mount Everest. Later in the morning you will explore Kathmandu on an organised sightseeing tour. You will visit Bodhnath Stupa, one of the biggest Buddhist shrines in the world, where you can observe Buddhist monks in prayer in the monasteries surrounding the stupa. You will also visit Pashupatinath, the most famous Hindu temple in the country, located on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Here you will see Hindu holy men (sadhus) meditating, pilgrims bathing, and occasionally funeral pyres burning on the ghats. The rest of your afternoon in Kathmandu is free for further sightseeing and exploration.

Day 3: Nagarkot

Travel to Nagarkot in a private vehicle. On the three hour journey, there's two stops at UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the way, starting with Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is revered as one of the world’s few well preserved ancient cities, playing host to a wondrous range of exotically designed temples and statues. Then wander to the ancient temple of Changu Narayan, erected in dedication to the Lord Vishnu and site of numerous legends. Upon arrival to Nagarkot, prepare for an overnight stay at Club Himalaya, renowned for its 360 degree unrestricted view of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Changu Narayan and the surrounding areas.

Day 4: Pokhara

Wake up and witness an early morning 180-degree sunrise view before travelling to Kathmandu airport by chartered coach. From here, you will fly to Pokhara with an estimated flight time of 30 minutes – if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of the spectacular Himalayan mountain chain to the north. On arrival, take a boat ride across the lake of Phewa Tal, the second largest lake in Nepal. The visit to the Peace Pagoda afterwards grants excellent views of the mountains including the Annapurnas, the famous fishtail peak of Machhapuchhare and a glimpse back across to Pokhara. Next comes a visit to the International Mountain Museum, which is full of fascinating tales and exploits from climing expeditions of the past – some ending in triumph and others in tragedy. After this, you have the day free to explore peaceful Pohkara and its surrounds.

Day 5: Pokhara

Enjoy a free day for further exploration of the peaceful surroundings of Pokhara. Your group leader can advise you of sightseeing opportunities – maybe take a boat for a row out on the lake, explore the Hindu temple or Buddhist monastery, or simply pick up some souvenirs and email your family from a local internet café.

Day 6: Tansen

Travel by private vehicle to Tansen on a five hour drive. Formerly known as the capital of the Magar kingdom Tanahun, Tansen is now known as the home of the United Mission Hospital, a partnership between 20 Christian organisations and Nepal that sees over 100,000 patients per year. During your stay, visit Tansen town, the palace museum, a dhaka topi (traditional hat) and brass bottle workshop and experience an interaction with the locals.

Day 7: Lumbini

An optional hike to the Rani Mahal is available today. Rani Mahal translates to ‘Queens Palace’, as the site was built as a monument of love to the deceased youngest wife of former general Khadga Samsher Rana, Tej Kumari Devi. Your other option is to travel to Tansen Hill station where panoramic views of Annapurna and Tansen valley can be seen, and Tansen town lies nearby should you wish to continue exploring it. A late afternoon drive to Lumbini will take you to for an overnight stay at the Buddha Maya Garden Hotel – expect to be greeted tomorrow morning by the birdsongs stemming from the area of the magnificent Lumbini World Heritage Garden where the hotel is situated.

Day 8: Lumbini

Awake in Lumbini, and prepare to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site where Buddha was born. Lumbini is known as the holiest place of one of the world’s great religions and the area contains important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from as early as third century BC. Witness the serenity of the Maya Devi Temple, the statue of Little Buddha and the Bodhi Tree where Buddha obtained spiritual enlightenment.

Day 9: Chitwan National Park

After breakfast, prepare to be picked up and driven to Chitwan National Park (approx. drive time 4 hours). After arriving and settling in, meet the camp staff and resident naturalists who will discuss the park’s habitat conservation program. There’s some flexibility with activities in this area, which may vary depending on the time of year and known wildlife movements and locations. A late afternoon safari is an experience like none other, showing the varied and exciting flora and fauna of the park. Enjoy a dinner with your group and relax at your accommodation’s bar while discussing the day’s sightings or listening to the song of the jungle.

Day 10: Chitwan

After breakfast, leave the lodge for an early morning trip to begin a dugout canoe adventure on the Rapti River. This exhilarating ride offers chances to spot marsh mugger crocodiles along with the various birds that inhabit the riverbanks. Tiger sightings are rare these days, but the magnificent creatures inhabit the park so it’s not to be ruled out. Upon your return to dry land, an organised program will help fill the rest of the day and may include further excursions by jeep or a visit to one of the nearby villages.

Day 11: Kathmandu

Drive to Chitwan Airport on an hour drive before flying back to Kathmandu. The afternoon is yours to enjoy, so perhaps engage in some last minute shopping before the tour ends tomorrow. A farewell dinner will be held at the Utsav Restaurant, featuring an authentic night of local cultural food and dance.

Day 12: Paro - Thimphu

This morning board the short flight to Bhutan. Ask to sit on the left hand side of the plane for the best views of the Himalayas. Welcome to Bhutan, the last Shangri-La. Depending on the clarity of the weather and your flight path into Paro (2,280m), you may be met with an awe-inspiring view of the massive eastern Himalayan peaks on your way in, including Kanchenjunga (the world's third highest peak) and Chomolhari (Bhutan's holy mountain). On arrival, you will be met at Paro airport and transferred to Thimphu (2,736m), the capital of Bhutan (65 km, approximately 75 minutes). The snaking road follows the Pa Chu as it winds downstream to its confluence with the Wang Chu, then up the valley to Thimphu. After settling in, there will be a briefing given by the tour leader in the late afternoon and any last-minute arrangements will be coordinated. Thimphu is a compact town that occupies both sides of the Thimphu Valley, bisected in the middle by the Thimphu Chu River. Time permitting, you will visit the King Jigme Dorji Memorial Chorten (built in 1974 in memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk), and take an orientation walk along the main street. If there is not enough time today, you will do this on Day 2.

Day 13: Thimphu

After breakfast you will venture out to explore Thimphu, first driving to Buddha point (where a 51-metre-high gilded statue watches over the city) to enjoy an excellent panoramic view of the city. On your way back you will take a short hike around the small enclosure in the pine trees to spot Takin, the national animal of Bhutan – a unique goat-antelope creature. The next stop is the Zilukha Nunnery in Drubthob Goemba. It is home to between 40-65 nuns and also provides shelter for aging women and orphaned girls. You will then pass the vast white, red and gold Tashicho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion), located on the right bank of Thimphu Chhu. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (Bhutan's supreme leader in the first half of the 17th century) built the current structure in 1641, however the original building dates back to 1216. To this day the Dzong (which means fortress-monastery) serves as the seat of the government and home to about 300 monks during summer. You can then enjoy some free time in town for your own exploration. Sites to uncover in the capital include the National Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum, and the Voluntary Artists Studio Thimphu, an institution where children receive formal education in the art of traditional painting, sculpture, and woodcarving. Thimphu has an excellent range of handicrafts, most notably woven cloth, wooden masks, thangkas, silverware, jewellery, and bamboo crafts that come from all over Bhutan.

Day 14: Punakha

This morning, travel out the castle-monastery of Simtokha Dzong, the first built by Zhabdrung (in 1629AD) and said to guard against a demon that escaped into the nearby rock. Next, climb the winding Dochula pass (3,100m) through beautiful tropical forest and sparse villages. The pass is marked by 108 chortens or stupas – built in memory of Bhutanese soldiers killed fighting Indian insurgents in 2003 – and gardens of colourful prayer flags. On the clear day you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Eastern Himalaya, including Gangkhar Puensum, perhaps the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. The scenic Punakha Valley is drained by the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu (meaning 'Father' and 'Mother' Rivers) which enjoys a temperate climate which is ideal for farming. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1966. Here you’ll visit the white-walled, red-roofed Punakha Dzong, the administrative and religious centre and winter retreat of His Holiness, Je Khenpo – the chief abbot of Bhutan. This six-storey high monastery is one of the largest dzongs in Bhutan. Construction began in 1637, although sections of it have been restored after floods in 1994. The Dzong boasts intricately carved woodwork, prayer halls and beautiful religious paintings on walls and doorways. Notes: Total driving time today is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes.

Day 15: Punakha

Begin the day with a short 30-minute drive from the Punkha Dzong to the base of a hill where a ridge-top monastery sits. In this almost sub-tropical valley, begin a hike at a suspension bridge that crosses the Mo Chu river and cross through paddy fields before starting to climb a moderately inclined trail to the Kahmsum Yulley temple. This temple was built by the Queen Mother, Ashi Tsherin Yangdon Wangchuck, and is dedicated to the well being of Bhutan. It’s a classic example of Bhutan’s fine architectural and artistic traditions, and is the only one its kind in the world. It takes approximately 1 hour from the car park to hike up to the temple, and 30 minutes to descend. From the top you can take in sweeping views across the valley. Today there’s also the option to take a short walk to the Chimi Lhakhang – The Temple of Fertility. People from all corners of the country visit the Lhakhang to seek a blessing from Drukpa Kuenley, also known as the ‘Divine Madman’. A revered womaniser and drinker, this wandering preacher taught that sexual freedom was at the centre of Truth. On a 15-minute walk through the village of Sopsokha to the temple you will notice the phallic symbols painted on walls, a symbol of fertility and protection from evil. You can end the day at the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Temple and nunnery, where you’ll arrive in time for evening prayers at 6pm. The magnificent gleaming structure sits perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooks the valleys of Toebesa, Punakha and Wangduephodrang.

Day 16: Haa Valley

Today you will travel to one of the most remote and sacred valleys in Bhutan – the Haa Valley. This area only opened to tourism in 2002 and has one of the strongest auras of stepping into the past, in a country that already feels lost in time. The surroundings mountains push up against the northern Indian state of Sikkim and the south of Tibet, and they are as wild, uninhabited, and unexplored as anywhere in the world. You will take a 170km, 5-7 hour drive from Punakha to Haa, travelling down the spectacular Cheli La Pass (3,990m). This pass through dense spruce and larch forests has incredible mountain views as it zigzags down into the valley. Look out for the surrounding peaks and views of the Haa and Paro valleys. Continue down into the attractive little town of Haa, with traditional two storey wooden shops and a sprawling collection of buildings around a central dzong used by the Indian army. When you arrive, relax and take a walk around the town to meet the friendly local people. Tonight there’s the option to taste local dishes with dinner at a nearby farmhouse.

Day 17: Haa Valley

Enjoy a full day of exploration in this culturally rich valley, which is also known for being the ancestral home of the Royal grandmother. The two most important temples here are the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple), which sit at the foothills of a group of hills known as Meri Puensum. Legend has it that King Songtsen Gampo released a black and a white pigeon to select sites to build the temples, which act as guardian sentinels keeping watch over the southern entrance to the valley. Travel back towards the Cheli La Pass, which is decorated with thousands of prayer flags, and have a picnic lunch in the surrounding pine tress. As you climb the hill towards the north of the pass – out of blue pine and rhododendron forest into windswept highlands – the mountain tops will appear one by one, revealing Himalayan peaks such as the Jhomolhari (7,314m), Jichu Drake (6,794m) and world’s third highest mountain Kangchenjunga (8,586m) located in Sikkim. A variety of birds can be also be seen and heard in the mountain landscape. You will then take a 45-minute hike through primeval forest from the road to Kila Goemba, one of the oldest Nunneries in Bhutan. The building almost to seems to suspend in mid air from the rock face, and it’s home to around 60 hardy nuns. If there’s time, perhaps practice some meditation in this place that’s been a spiritual retreat since the 9th century. Return down into the valley and back to Haa for the night.

Day 18: Paro

Retrace the drive up the spectacular Cheli La Pass and return to Paro (approximately 2 hours). Upon arrival in Paro, visit the impressive Ta Dzong, a 17th century watchtower above the Paro Dzong that now houses the National Museum. It features an excellent collection of Bhutanese antiquities and treasures (including the King's famous 'dragon hat), an interesting assortment of costumes from the different regions of Bhutan, and a wonderful collection of painted and embroidered Thangkas (religious pictures). To discover more of the local history then the ruined Drukgyal Dzong, located 18 kilometres from the city, is a great place to explore. Built in the 17th century by the great Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, father and unifier of medieval Bhutan, the Dzong was burnt down by an accidental fire in 1950s. It was never rebuilt, left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. Explore the ramparts and relive the memories of a glorious past. This afternoon there’s also the opportunity to take a stroll in downtown Paro and admire the local architecture of the quiet streets.

Day 19: Tiger's Nest Monastery - Paro

After an early breakfast, prepare to hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger's Nest), a magnificent monastery, clinging on a rock cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. The legend, dating back to 747AD, says that the Great Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhawa) flew here from northeast Bhutan on the back of a tigress to subdue the demons of Paro Valley. The guru then meditated in the holy cave that is the site of the Pelphug Lhakhang today. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singey Samdrup, is recognised today as the guardian deity of Taktsang. Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktsang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters, which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Dharma. Taktsang was severely damaged by fire in 1998 but the King commanded its immediate restoration. The royal command dictated that the original aura, authenticity and architectural splendour must be preserved at all costs. This project has been widely seen as an act of devotion involving all sections of Bhutanese society and as homage to the nation's cultural heritage. It also proved to be an opportunity for Bhutan's traditional artists and craftsmen to hone the skills inherited from their forefathers down the ages. You’ll hike through lush pine forest beneath thousands of brightly coloured prayer flags up into the mountains for a closer view of the temple. After approximately an hour’s walking, you’ll reach a small teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple. You’ll take a refreshments and lunch break here. For those interested, it is possible to get a closer view by hiking another 45 minutes to an hour (each direction) to reach the small chorten directly across from the temple. Anyone not interested in hiking any further can relax at the teahouse and enjoy the view. Back in Paro, celebrate this Bhutan discovery with one final meal together. Notes: In total it will take approximately 5-6 hours to return to the car park, including all stops, if you choose to walk the full way.

Day 20: Paro

After breakfast your driver and tour leader will transfer you to the airport for your onward flight. Please note that your departure flight is not included as part of the trip and must be booked separately.

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