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20 Days in the Himalayan Kingdom

For the traveler looking to get lost in a world unchanged by time, find your next discovery in the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom.

With so much land and twenty days time, our own Jean Pickard has it all mapped out for you. You’ll find yourself wandering in and out of local villages with peaceful monks and tales of  warriors who fought to claim the land and museums that hold their treasures. With accommodations that range from the elegant Aman and Uma resorts in Bhutan to rustic mountain lodges in Nepal and not to mention transportation that includes both private helicopters and Tibetan ponies.

TRIP NOTES:

HIGHLIGHTED ACTIVITIES

  1. Visit Chimi Lhakhang, said to be built by the great lama Drukpa Kinley in 1400 to subdue local demons. This temple, specially revered by women for its fertility powers, is a popular pilgrimage point for Bhutanese
  2. Experience Zungney village, known for its traditional wood carving and `Yatra’, a hand spun, hand woven wool with specific patterns and geometric designs.
  3. See the Buddha Dordenma Statue of Shakyamuni measuring 169 feet, made from bronze and gilded in gold.

Uma by COMO, Punakha, Bhutan

20 Day Itinerary:

Day 1 – Bangkok – Paro – Thimphu

Your trip starts the moment you see striking views of the great Himalayan Range as your flight enters Bhutan. Landing in Paro Valley is the perfect entry into this other world, with its transparent purity of air and absorbent serenity.  From the airport, it’ll be an hour’s drive via a picturesque countryside to the capital, Thimphu, which is situated in a large valley.

Your first check-in is at Amankora. The hotel is elegant and embodies the perfect environment for relaxation after all of your traveling.

Day 2 -Thimphu

You’ll begin your exploration of this Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom you’ve thoughtfully placed yourself in and there’s no better introduction than by first seeing the Memorial Chorten. Erected by the royal grandmother, Ashi Chagrin, in memory of her son.

Next, you’ll stop at the Folk Heritage Museum founded by Her Majesty Queen followed by lunch at Amankora.
After, you’ll  begin your afternoon activity at Changangkha Lhakhang, the fortress like temple credited for introducing the Mask dances of Tibet.

As evening falls you’ll see the Trashichhodzong, the beautiful medieval fortress and summer residence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot.

For dinner, you’ll  get to visit with local Bhutan Aum Yangzom and her family for a traditional Bhutanese meal.

Day 3 – Thimphu & Punakha

Soon after leaving Thimphu, you encounter Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who was responsible for the unification of Bhutan.

Descending into Punakha valley is vibrant and colorful with fluttering prayer flags adding to a rich topography, dotted by terrace farming and rivers flowing through. Here, your stay is at the alluring Uma Punakha lodge, ideal with its  location overlooking a snake-like bend in the Mo Chhu river.

After lunch,  take the rest of the day to absorb some of Punakha’s highlights at your leisure.

(Overnight in Punakha.)

Day 4 – Punakha to Phobjikha (Gangtey) 

After breakfast, leave Punakha on a three hour drive to Phobjikha, the glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains which border a National Park. You should arrive by late afternoon and you’ll stay at the charming Gangtey Goenpa Lodge.

Phobjikha is famous as a winter residence for endangered black-necked cranes that migrate each year between October and February from Tibet.  The valley and surrounding hills are also home to barking deer, wild boar, sambar, Himalayan black bear, leopard and red fox.

The Gangtey Goemba (monastery) overlooking Phobjikha valley was built in 1613. Resident monks in this monastery remain in retreat and meditation isolated from the outside world for a minimum of three years. You’ll have a special arrangement for a brief audience with some senior faculty.

The evening is best well spent with short walks in this picturesque valley.

(Overnight in Phobjikha.)

Day 5 –  Phobjikha to Jakar (Bumthang)  

Early morning, you’ll witness a special ritual performed by monks towards cleansing one’s sins and gaining merit.

After breakfast, depart Gangtey for Trongsa passing  the Black Mountain National Park. Set within the Chendebji village, you’ll stop at the chorten built by Lama Shida from Tibet which was a popular night halt for mule caravans traveling to Tronga.

Visit Trongsa Dzong, most impressive in the kingdom with its aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture. A walk through the Dzong’s rambling collection of buildings  feels like a journey through the medieval era. There are extensive wood carvings, paintings of a medieval court and guardians of the four directions.

For lunch you’ll have a picnic prepared by the Gangtey Lodge.

Once in Jakar, you’ll stay at Amankora lodge, adjacent to the Wangdichholing Palace of the first king of Bhutan, in an area surrounded by apple orchards and pear trees.

Day 6 –  Jakar

After an early breakfast, you’ll depart for Ura valley, distinct with its round sweeping slopes, rich pasture and wide fields, with one of the most attractive and interesting villages in Bhutan.

You’ll be back at Amankora around lunch time.

Spend the afternoon further exploring this interesting province, visiting Kurjey Lakhang, Jakar Dzong and Wangdichholing Palace.

Day 7 – Jakar – Paro  

After breakfast, you’ll take a 30 minute Druk Air flight returning to Paro.

Now, you’ll be staying at the Uma Paro resort, formerly the home of a Bhutanese nobleman, overlooking the Paro valley. In the afternoon, you may choose to visit the Paro Dzong or Rinpong Dzong meaning “the Fortress of the Heap of Jewels”.

A little later, take a walk down Paro’s main street, straight and windswept, its occasional idlers leaning against store-fronts. Before returning to your hotel, you have an invitation to visit Paro’s ancient Choeding Temple to witness evening prayer chants of Buddhist Monks.

Day 8 – Paro

Our final day in Bhutan is spent hiking to one of the most revered pilgrimage spots in the Buddhist world, the Taktshang Lhakhang, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest. Accoring to legend,  Bhutan’s patron saint, Guru Rinpoche, arrived here more than a millennium ago on the back of a tigress and meditated for 3 months in a cave, which has been converted into this monastery.

After visiting the monastery, we return halfway to the Cafeteria for a hot lunch before descending back to base. The evening is at leisure with an option to revisit Paro town.

For our final night in Bhutan, we are joined by Mr. Khempo Tashi, Director of the National Museum, Author and authority on Buddhist painting, literature and philosophy.

Day 9 – Paro to Kathmandu

After breakfast, you’ll start your trek towards Kathmandu.

You hotel, The Dwarikas, has  been written about  as “walking  into  a living, breathing museum displaying Nepal’s best craftsmanship from the 13th century”.  Its rooms and  public areas  are  indeed  a  reflection of medieval architectural  traditions.

Later this morning, visit nearby Pashupatinath, one of the holiest Hindu temples, World Heritage and a major pilgrimage place dedicated to the god Shiva.

In the late afternoon, see the amazing Bodhnath Stupa, one of the biggest of its kind in the world.  It stands with four pairs of eyes in the four cardinal directions keeping watch for righteous behavior.

Day  10 –  Kathmandu 

After breakfast in the Dwarikas courtyard, you’ll drive to Patan, one of the three royal cities that existed in the valley. This is a World Heritage township, enclosed within four stupas is popularly referred to as the City of Fine Arts. The temples around the main square are impressive as is the Patan Museum, housed within a picturesque setting of the palace.

Have lunch at the `Traditional Inn’ (a local favorite).

In the afternoon, drive to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square which lies in the heart of the city and is also known as the Hanuman Dhoka Palace square, named after the hindu monkey god Hanuman. There’s a great variety of temples dedicated to different Hindu gods and goddess.

Return to the Dwarikas and later enjoy a traditional nine course Nepali banquet in the fine dining Krishnarpan restaurant.

Day 11 – Kathmandu to Pokhara

Around noon, checkout and take a chartered helicopter flight to Pokhara.

Pokhara valley, surrounded by lofty peaks was once a single large lake, featuring impressive vistas. This hippie hideaway then grew into a launchpad for some of Nepal’s most popular treks and rafting expeditions, bristling with activity in season.

You’ll have lunch at the popular `Moon Dance’ Cafe and visit the impressive Mountaineering museum.

You’ll be at Tiger Mountain Lodge tonight, perched high above Pokhara valley, with an amazing backdrop of the Himalayas.

Spend the rest of the day taking short hikes in the Nepali countryside or go bird-watching or simply relax in this resplendent surrounding.

Day 12 –  Pokhara to Jomsom

After early coffee and rolls, your helicopter picks  you up at the lodge for a half hour flight to Jomsom, the gateway and administrative center in the lower Mustang region.

Check-in to the Mustang Resort located above the  Kali Gandaki river with frontal views of the sacred Nilgiri  Mountain (at 7061 m) and Mt. Tilicho (7134).  Later, explore Jomsom’s surroundings in particular Marpha, a Thakali village with its neatly clustered  stone  homes,  traditional   monastery and elegantly paved  main street.

Day 13  – Lo Manthang & Chhusang Village

Take your helicopter soon after dawn to Lo-Manthang, the capital  of Mustang. The flight is beyond everything you can imagine.

In a while, the medieval walled city of Lo Manthang looms over the horizon. There are the “kheni” statues at either end of town – a buxom women and a very aroused man.

Although the monarchy ceased to exist since 2008, Mustang residents still revere their King, with whom you’ll have an audience in the Old Palace along with a traditional Lo-Manthang breakfast.

Your helicopter will then take you past the flying Caves of Mustang which are undoubtedly the Himalayas best kept secret.
Along your return flight to Jomsom,  make a stop at Chhusang village for a picnic lunch and walk-about.

Following your high altitude, adrenaline-drenched expedition, you’ll return to Mustang Resort for lunch and some leisure time.

Later in the afternoon, you should avail of a pony trek in the environs of Jomsom with glorious views of Mt. Dhaulagiri, Mt. Nilgiri and Tilocho peak.

Day 14 – Jomsom to Pokhara

At dawn, after tea/coffee and rolls, your helicopter returns you to Pokhara and the Mala Lodge, set in the Annapurna lowlands with the famous Machhapuchhre mountain and surrounding valleys contributing to an incredible setting.

You’ll enjoy breakfast in the gardens with your host and camp boss Phurba Sherpa, who has summited Mt Everest five times.

The morning is at leisure to enjoy this resplendent surrounding. Then after lunch, take a walk to a quaint bee-keeping village and meet the Gurungs who follow an ancestral livelihood collecting honey from wild beehives built upon steep cliff faces.

Enjoy a Gurung inspired dinner tonight.

Day 15 – Pokhara

This morning, meet with your trekking guide and start off with a drive along the scenic Seti river to the trek starting point at Lumle. The hike from Lumle back to your lodge is a gentle uphill and takes around 2 hours through the attractive Nepali countryside and quaint villages.

Day 16 – Pokhara – Lukla

Your helicopter returns this morning to take you to Lukla, gateway to the Everest region and where all expeditions and treks begin. Your flight path is extremely scenic passing the world’s major peaks such as Fish Tail, Annapurnas, Lamjung, Himalchuli, Ganesh, Lantang, Dorjee Lakhpa and the irrepressible Gauri Shankar.

Now you’ll stay at the Yeti Mountain Home…and have the rest of the day to walkabout this renowned world address for international trekkers and mountaineers. Lukla is full of small hotels and lodges, numerous big/small restaurants and curio shops.

Day 17 – Lukla to Namche Bazar

At dawn, your helicopter takes you up to Kongde Ri, regarded as a holy mountain although it is open for climbing. You’ll land at the Kongde Lodge, reportedly the highest in the world at 4,250 m. (13,943 feet)

The views from here are magnificent. As the backdrop of a champagne breakfast, you’ll see the entire glory of the Himalayas: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho-Oyo, Gyajung Khang and Ama Dablam. Way down below is the picturesque Khumbu valley and Kongde lake.

Due to the high altitude you’ll spend around 45 minutes at Kongde Lodge before your helicopter proceeds on a short flight to the mythical Namche Bazar, located within the Khumbu area and a major stop on the trail to Everest Base Camp.

After lunch and settling into the Namche Yeti Mountain Home, take a walk into town, feel its narrow alleyways lined with gear shops and tea houses (cafeterias). Namche is the main cultural and market center of the legendry Sherpa community.

Day 18 – Namche Bazar to Dhulikhel

After breakfast, re-board your helicopter and return towards Kathmandu, landing en route at the Dwarikas Spa in Dhulikhel.

Himalayan sunrises, panoramic mountain views, terraced valleys and immense natural beauty has been the hallmark of Dhulikhel. Its perfect altitude reflects in a rich diversity of birds and plants including rhododendron, chrysanthemums and orchids.

Set in a splendid natural surrounding, Dwarikas Spa is a blend of Vedic philosophy, Buddhist medicine and traditional Himalayan knowledge. During your  two night’s stay  you can sign up for yoga, meditation, pottery sessions, bird-watching and hiking in addition to spa treatments.

Day 19 – Dhulikhel

The morning is for independent activity, treatments etc, your trip is coming to a close, so enjoy your time.

In the late afternoon, visit the World Heritage city of Bhadgaon, also called Bhaktapur. Founded in the 9th century, Bhaktapur, meaning City of Devotees is known as the home of medieval art and architecture. Walk around Durbar Square with its array of temples overlooking the Palace of 55 windows and the Nyatapola temple, considered the finest example of the Pagoda style of architecture.

Day 20 – Kathmandu to Bangkok

After breakfast,  drive an hour to the Kathmandu airport to connect to flights home

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