Essential Bhutan    *alt*

10 days, from £2595
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Visit the highlights of Bhutan on this Group Tour
Discover the magic and mystery of Bhutan on this short tour of the country's highlights, covering the sights of Paro and Thimphu, and taking in the astonishing fortified monastic complexes at Punakha. Also included is the beautiful valley of Gangtey, famous for its population of migrant black-necked cranes, and an excellent base for walks. The tour is bookended with short stays in the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, where you'll have the opportunity to do some sightseeing and souvenir shopping between flights.

Holidays types: Group Tours, Cultural Holidays


 Day 1 Kathmandu

On arrival in Kathmandu, the group will be met by the TransIndus tour team and accompanied to the Malla hotel or similar. We'll spend the remainder of the day recovering from our journey, perhaps venturing out for a stroll to Durbar Square in the evening. Dinner will be at Bhojan Griha.
A sprawling modern city of nearly a million inhabitants, the Nepali capital can feel overwhelmingly crowded and chaotic on first impressions. But head for its ancient core and things improve dramatically. Durbar Square forms the epicentre of the old quarter. More than fifty temples, 106 monastery courtyards (bahals) and countless shrines line its narrow, cobbled backstreets and stone-paved piazzas. Settle on to one of the terraced platforms of the Manju Devul tower to watch exotic bustle of marigold sellers, saffron-clad sadhus, stray cows and pigeons. In the evening, the group will convene for a seven-course Nepali banquet at the famous Bhojan Griha restaurant in Dillibazaar.

 Day 2 Thimpu

After breakfast, we'll transfer to the airport to catch the short flight with Druk Air (the national airline of Bhutan) to Paro, for a two-night stay at the simple Kisa Hotel or similar.
Approached by spectacular flight path, the town's airport at Paro is the principal arrival point for foreign travellers. A couple of hours' drive away, Thimpu became the capital of Bhutan in 1961, since when it's swollen to a town of around 80,000 people - the perfect place to get to grips with life in modern Bhutan.

 Day 3 Thimpu

A full day's sightseeing in and around Thimphu today starts with a visit to its famous dzongs.
During theA thirdA day of your trip you'll tour the Bhutanese capital's impressive dzongs (fortress-monasteries), the King's Memorial chorten, Buddhist painting school and national folk museum, made of rammed earth to resemble a traditional farmstead. In the city's market, your guide will point out local delicacies such as jellied cow skin and fried fern, and don't miss the chance to touch a taking, Bhutan's national animal, which looks like a cross between a cow and a goat and survives in the nearby Mothitang Reserve. We'll also pause at the Textile Museum, the city's craft bazaar and Buddha point.

 Day 4 Gangtey

Drive to Gangtey today via the formidable Dochu La pass (3,088m). Two nights are spent at the simple Dewachen Resort or similar.
The 17th century dzong at Gangtey is this awesome valley's prime religious monument. The major event in its festival calendar is tsechu, which usually falls in October, when monks perform traditional Cham dances in the monastery courtyard. Preserved in one of Gangtey's inner shrines is one of the country's more gruesome relics: the hands of a British army officer killed in a battle with Bhutanese forces in 1864.

 Day 5 Gangtey

Visit the black-necked crane sanctuary in the Phobjikha today to learn more about these rare and beautiful migratory birds.
Surrounded by snow peaks and old-growth forest, the beautiful Phobjikha Valley is home to a unique conservation initiative, where migratory black-neck cranes, which pass through here in the winter months between October and March, are protected by local wardens and volunteers. The centre provides information about the birds and their migration, and if your tour coincides with their stay in the village you'll be able to observe them grazing on the valley floor through telescopes.

 Day 6 Punaka

Drive east to Punakha for a one night stay at the Damchen Resort or similar. Visit the local Dzong (fortified monastery) in the afternoon and later take a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang also known as 'Fertility Temple'.
Around 25km east of Thimphu, Punakha is the home of one of the country's most beautiful monasteries, built around 1638 at the confluence of two rivers. The complex is a showcase of Bhutanese craftsmanship, with a particularly impressive assembly hall featuring fine clay statues and intricate murals. The dzong also hosts a well-known festival, during which an enormous thondrol '' an extraordinary appliqued sacred banner '' is unfurled, conferring merit on all who see it.

 Day 7 Paro

Drive to Paro for a two-night stay at the Gangtey Palace hotel, in the town, visiting Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan's oldest fortress, en route.
Shops, restaurants and offices in richly carved traditional buildings line the main street of Paro, where two of eastern Bhutan's main rivers meet. The town is best known locally for the splendid Rinpung Dzong, overlooking the river, whose most valuable possession is a giant embroidered tapestry, or thondrol (thangka), depicting the dzong's founding father, Guru Rincpoche. The treasure is unrolled only once a year on the morning of the annual tsechu (festival). On the hill behind rests the National Museum in a beautifully restored watchtower, the Ta Dzong, built in the 1650s to guard Paro's dzong.
The afternoon will be at leisure. Group members will be invited to experience a traditional Bhutanese 'stone bath' (optional - additional costs may apply), in which river water mixed with local Artemisia leaves is heated by river stones roasted in a wood fire - a delightful pick-me-up.

 Day 8 Paro

Sightseeing in and around Paro town today includes visits to the National Museum, Rinpung Dzong and the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery.
Bhutan's most photographed monument, the Taktsang Monastery, commonly known as the 'Tiger's Nest', is wedged into a lofty cliff nearly a vertical kilometre above a forested valley. Rock-cut steps and rickety bridges connect its four wings, whose golden pagoda roofs, fluttering prayer flags and distempered walls are dwarfed by the vista of forested hills and snow-capped mountains unfolding on all sides - a spectacle worth the journey to Bhutan alone!

 Day 9 Kathmandu

Return to the airport to catch your flight back to Kathmandu, where you'll spend the night at the Malla Hotel.

 Day 10 Kathmandu

Transfer to Kathmandu airport for your return journey back to the UK.