Welcome to Nepal. On arrival in Kathmandu, you’ll be met at the airport by our representative and transferred to your hotel. After you settle in there will be a group briefing with your tour leader in the late afternoon. They’ll discuss the trip details and co-ordinate any last-minute arrangements. The evening is free to explore the streets of Kathmandu, whose mixture of ancient architecture and modern development, and rich artistic and cultural heritage means it remains the legendary destination it has been for decades. Crowded markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life and the narrow streets are home to holy men, monks, bicycles, incense, goats, and sacred cows. Your leader will usually organise an optional dinner at one of Kathmandu’s fine Nepali restaurants.
Weather permitting, take a Mount Everest scenic flight this morning. 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. Perhaps head out into Durbar Square, in front of the old royal palace and home to numerous beautiful temples, and browse the stalls of merchant’s wares.
Today you will have an early departure from the hotel for your transfer to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport. From here you will fly to Pokhara, with a flight time of about 30 minutes. There are often spectacular views of the main Himalayan chain to the north on this flight. On arrival, you will take a boat ride across the lake (Phewa Tal), which is the second largest in Nepal. Visit the Peace Pagoda, where spectacular views of the mountains await. You can see the Annapurnas from here, and the famous fishtail peak, Machhapuchhare, and back across to Pokhara. You will also visit the fascinating International Mountain Museum to learn some amazing tales of past climbing expeditions – some ending in triumph, some ending in tragedy.
Enjoy a free day for further exploration in the peaceful surroundings of Pokhara. Your leader can advise you of sightseeing opportunities. It is worth taking a boat for a row out on the lake, especially if the weather’s fine. The lakeside area has great shopping opportunities and internet cafes. Pokhara has an interesting old area as well as an elaborate Hindu temple and a Buddhist monastery.
In the morning you will drive to beautiful Bandipur (approximately 2 hours). You will fully explore this incredible settlement and take the many opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture of Nepal as it once was. Enjoy the spectacular views, the incredibly maintained architecture and nice walking trails. This traditional Nepalese settlement is a natural treasure and one of the country’s true hidden gems.
Enjoy a day of free time to further explore Bandipur. The surrounding hills are ideal for hiking along trails that will take you through tribal villages, verdant forests, ‘power places’, and hilltop shrines that once doubled as fortresses. As you explore the area you may feel as though you’re stepping back in time; though development increases, the aura of this place has been beautifully preserved. As tourism in Nepal developed along the main roads and airports, for over 30 years there simply was no road linking Bandipur to the main infrastructure, leaving it almost untouched by touristic influence. The village is saddled on a high ridge above Dumre, 700 metres beyond the Marsyangdi River Valley, making for an exceptional view of the Himalayan panorama.
Chitwan National Park
After breakfast, you will be picked up and driven to Chitwan National Park (approximately 4 hours). After arriving and settling in, you will be introduced to the camp staff and resident naturalists who will discuss the program. There is some flexibility, and activities may vary depending on the time of the year, and on wildlife movements. A late-afternoon safari will take you through forests and across grasslands to observe the varied and exciting wildlife in the park. In the early evening, the local Tharu dance troupe may perform a cultural program. You will then enjoy dinner and afterward, you will be free to relax in the bar and discuss the day’s sightings or listen to the exotic sounds of the jungle at night.
Chitwan National Park
Embark on an early-morning excursion. This could include either another safari to different parts of the park (in search of the great Indian rhino, deer, and exotic birdlife) or joining one of the other activities available in the park. Tiger sightings are rare these days, but these magnificent animals do inhabit the park. After breakfast, you will leave the lodge and go on a dugout canoe adventure on the Rapti River. This is an exciting trip with chances to view marsh mugger crocodiles and various birds that inhabit the riverbanks. A program will be organised for the rest of the day and may include further excursions by jeep or a visit to one of the nearby villages.
Chitwan National Park – Bhaktapur
If you are an avid wildlife lover, there is an optional early-morning birdwatching safari available today – a worthwhile addition to your trip. After breakfast fly to Kathmandu and drive to Bhaktapur – once the capital of Nepal and the Great Malla Kingdom during the 15th century. Its rich heritage, inspiring temples, and artisanal history played a big part in Bhaktapur being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy an evening of exploration on your own, soak up the lovely atmosphere in one of the local cafes, or simply relax in your hotel.
Bhaktapur – Kathmandu
Spend the day exploring Bhaktapur’s famous temples, starting at Durbar Square, which is reputed to be the most beautiful piece of art in Nepal. Durbar Square is home to the majestic Lion Gate and Golden Gate. You will also visit the Pashupati Temple, a replica of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. This will be an enlightening morning of discovery and enrichment, as you delve into all Bhaktapur has to offer. In the afternoon, drive to Kathmandu (approximately 2 hours). The evening will then be free, however, the group leader will usually organise an optional evening meal at another of Kathmandu’s great restaurants.
Your trip officially comes to an end after breakfast today. Your tour leader will be on hand to advise and assist with your onward travel arrangements.
Kathmandu – Paro – Thimphu
This morning board a short flight to Bhutan. Please note that you will be unescorted on this flight. Ask to sit on the left-hand side of the plane for the best views of the Himalayas. After arrival at Paro Airport and sailing through immigration and customs formalities, you will be greeted by your guide and driver and warmly welcomed to the enchanting Land of the Thunder Dragon. Drive for two hours alongside mountains, rivers, and fields of red rice to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city. After lunch, we may visit Nado Poizokhang Incense Factory, Bhutan’s famous traditional incense maker, and the colorful Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre. Once everyone has arrived, we’ll have a joining meeting and dinner before we wander and explore the fascinating streets of Thimphu, the world’s only capital city without a traffic light!
Today begins with a pleasant walk that meanders gently up the valley through paddy fields, pristine woodlands, and a Tibetan village, a trail that continues uphill (1 hour) to the Cheri Dorji Dhen monastery – built in 1620 by Shabdrung, the first ruler of Bhutan. Enjoy a picnic lunch before returning to Thimpu for an afternoon of sightseeing. Begin by visiting the National Memorial Chorten – many Thimphu residents consider this to be the heart and soul of Thimphu and gather here every day to pray and walk clockwise around the chorten. Afterward, visit Drubthob Nunnery, the Choki Traditional Art School, and the incredible National Textile Museum. If you’re in the mood for a spot of shopping, the National Handicrafts Emporium offers high-quality traditional goods and a small family-run enterprise that manufactures paper and paper products using traditional methods.
This morning, drive to Punakha – the ancient winter capital of Bhutan. Stop at Dochu-La pass for a breathtaking view of the eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s highest mountain, the majestic Gangkhar Puensum. Continue the journey before taking another break. Enjoy a short walk to visit Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley. With its three towers, and wonderful location at the confluence of two rivers, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Bhutan’s 21 Dzongs. Arrive in Punakha for a good night’s rest before another day of exploration tomorrow.
Head down to the convergence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu Rivers, two of the main rivers of Bhutan, and admire breathtaking views of the majestic Punakha Dzong, the second oldest and second-largest Dzong in the country, as well as the cantilever bridge that spans across the river. Afterward, you might like to join your leader for an optional hike to Khamsum Yulley Monastery – an elaborately decorated chorten, built to ward off evil spirits and bring peace and harmony to all living things. As with many monasteries in Bhutan, your leader will need to hunt around for the caretaker with the keys to have a look inside!
Thimpu – Paro
This morning head back over the Dochu-La and continue to Thimphu (approximately 4 hours) The roads in Bhutan are narrow, and while the distances don’t appear to be very far, due to the nature of the roads and the many valleys they pass through, travelling can take some time – so this is a good chance to relax and refresh. After lunch in Thimpu, continue by vehicle into the Paro Valley. This evening, experience Bhutanese hospitality and a taste of tradition with a home-cooked meal at the rustic Tshering Farm House. Soak up the friendly atmosphere and try your hand at Bhutan’s national sport, archery, with an introductory lesson.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery
After an early breakfast followed by a short drive, prepare for your hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – a magnificent monastery, clinging on a rock cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. After approximately 1 hour ascending the mountainside, reach a small teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple and the ideal place to enjoy lunch. For those interested, it’s possible to get a closer view by hiking another 45 minutes to 1 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.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel before a departure transfer to Paro airport for your flight out of Bhutan.