The ultimate Himalayan experience combining three of the worlds most spectacular countries, the Kingdom of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. Focusing on the more traditional and local side of these destinations, this itinerary is perfect for those wanting to completely immersive themselves into timeless traditions and uncover hidden gems that only the locals know about.
From staying in a monastery guest house, to hiking through remote chilli fields to reach lesser known temples. Be dragged by your feet by a monk through a small opening into a hidden rock monastery and sip tea with Tibetan nuns. This journey is truly for those travellers who seek something more rewarding in discovering the lesser known on their travels.
Day 1 - Arrive Paro & transfer to Thimphu
Welcome to Bhutan! The flight into Paro is one of the most spectacular in the entire Himalayas. Flying along the Himalayan ranges, the journey offers fascinating views and an exciting descent into the Kingdom. Bhutan’s first gift to you as you disembark from the aircraft will be cool, clean fresh mountain air. After immigration formalities and baggage collection, you will be met by our representative, and afterwards drive to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhutan.
On arrival, in Thimphu check-in to your hotel. The capital town of Bhutan and the centre of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. With the population of about 90,000 it is perhaps still the world’s only capital city without a traffic light.
Enjoy an evening exploratory walk around Thimphu main street and market area. (D)
Overnight at Hotel Kisa or similar
Day 2 - Thimphu
After breakfast, depart for a guided tour of the city’s main attractions which include the Textile Museum. This is worth a visit to get to know the living national art of weaving. Exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men.
The National Library: The history of Bhutan lies imprinted in archaic texts, which are preserved at the National Library. Besides thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts, the library also has modern academic books and printing blocks for prayer flags.
Institute for Zorig Chusum: Commonly known as Arts & Crafts School or Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. On your visit, you can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.
(Zorig Chusum is an art school and are periodically closed for exams, summer and winter holidays, if closed we will replace the visit with Zangthopelri Lhakhang)
Zangthopelri Lhakhang: The present structure was built in 1960s and although lacking the charm of many of the older temples, Zangthoopelri still possesses some impressive murals and art treasures and is worthy of a visit. The site of the temple was a former battle ground, and the temple was constructed there in order to pacify energies.
Simply Bhutan Museum: The newly commissioned museum depicts the ancient Bhutanese architecture which is being lost to modernisation. The uniqueness of the structure is in its composition of the materials used. The structure is built reusing old timber, window and door frames and other items from traditional and old demolished houses. The best part is the portrayal of the age-old life styles of the Bhutanese people.
Enjoy lunch before continuing on to visit the Memorial Chorten. This stupa built in the memory of Bhutan’s third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Continue on to visit Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang). Located a short drive from Thimphu city centre, you can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley from the Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang). You can pay your obeisance and offer prayers to the Buddha, the largest statue in the country and then walk around for panoramic views of the valley below.
Your last visit of the day is a visit of Trashichhoedzong, “fortress of the glorious religion”. This is the centre of government and religion, site of monarch’s throne room and seat of Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Kisa Hotel or similar
Day 3 - Thimpu – Punakha
After breakfast at your hotel, drive to Punakha across Dochula pass (3,080m). In Bhutan, the passes are marked by a large Bhutanese Chorten and prayer flag. Dochula pass offers the most spectacular view over the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas on a clear day.
After checking into your hotel, proceed to visit Punakha Dzong, built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King. The Dzong is open for visitors during the Punakha festival and in summer months when the monk body moves to Thimphu.
Enjoy an afternoon hike up through fields of chillies, cabbages to Kham sum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
This evening can be spent exploring Punakha village located right on the bank of the river. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Hotel Drubchhu or similar
Day 4 - Punakha
After breakfast, visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang nunnery. Perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and wangduephodrang, gleams the magnificent structures of Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang (Temple). The temple houses a 14-foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrigzig chagtong chentong). Other statues include those of Guru Padmasambawa, Gautama Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of longevity). The Avalokiteshvara statue, one of the biggest in the country, was the handiwork of entirely local Bhutanese artisans. The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious trainings, it provides life skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting.
Later in the day visit Chimi Lakhang (a 15 min drive from your hotel followed by a walk through paddy fields and villages. The total walk is around 1.1/2-hours). The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field’. A walk through the village near the temple will give you rare glimpses into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Hotel Drubchhu or similar
Day 5 - Punakha – Paro
After breakfast, drive back to Paro descending back down from the Dochula Pass, following the way back up the dramatic Wang Chhu and Paro Chhu river valleys, before crossing through Paro Town towards the north end of the valley.
En route visit Simtokha Dzong, the place of profound tantric teaching, this dzong now houses a school for the study of the Dzongkha language.
Later in the day after checking into your hotel, visit Ta Dzong, originally built as Watchtower, which now houses the National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armour, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artefacts.
Your Ta Dzong visit is followed by a short walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, meaning (“fortress of the heap of jewels”), which has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the inner courtyard are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore such as four friends, the old man of long life, the wheel of life, scenes from the life of Milarepa, Mount. Sumeru and other cosmic Mandala. You will also have the chance to visit a traditional farm house. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Hotel Drukchen or similar
Day 6 - Paro
After breakfast, it is time to hike to Taktsang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest (5hr hike). It is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. This site has been recognised as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.
On the way back to town stop at Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought Tibetan invaders centuries ago. The snowy dome of sacred Chomolhari, “mountain of goddess” can be seen in all her glory from the approach road to the Dzong.
Along the way, visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan. You will also have time to play the countries local sport today, Archery, with the locals.
Evening an exploratory walk around main street and market area. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Hotel Drukchen or similar
Day 7 - Paro – Kathmandu
After breakfast at your hotel, drive to the airport for your flight to Kathmandu.
Upon arrival at Kathmandu’s International Airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel in Patan. Nepal – officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is a mystical country nestled in the folds of the magnificent Himalaya mountain ranges. The people of Nepal can always be seen to be smiling. Nepal is a deeply religious country, as you will see in their temples, Monasteries and buildings. The fertile, mountain-sheltered Kathmandu Valley is the historic heart of Nepal, where the Himalaya’s most sophisticated kingdoms rose and fell and where Nepali art and culture were developed and refined. In many ways the Kathmandu Valley is Nepal. The rest of the day is free for independent activities. (B)
Overnight at Patan Inn
Day 8 - Kathmandu Valley
After breakfast, it is time to explore Kathmandu city & Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Kathmandu City: Known as Kantipur, the capital of the Kingdom of Nepal. Here you will visit the temple of the Living Goddess who acknowledges the greetings of the devotees from the balcony of her temple residence. Kashtamandap – the source of the name Kathmandu and supposed to be made from the timber of a single tree and the Durbar Square are with its array of temples overlooked by the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the ancient place of the Nepalese Royalty.
This afternoon, visit Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Bhaktapur City (Bhadgaon): Also, known as city of devotees, this place is the home of medieval art and architecture. Lying 14 kms east of Kathmandu City, this place was founded in the 9th Century and is shaped like a conch shell. The city is at the height of 4600 ft. above sea level. In Bhadgaon, you will visit the Durbar Square with its array of temples overlooked by the Palace of 55 windows built by King Bupatindra Malla. The Nyatapola Temple, also built by King Bhupatindra Malla, is the best example of Pagoda style and stands on five terraces on each of which stands a pair of figures – two famous strong men, two elephants, two lions, two griffins and two goddesses. (B)
Overnight at Patan Inn
Day 9 - Patan – Neydo
After breakfast, visit the quaint and ancient villages of Bungmati and Khokana. Within the Kathmandu Valley lays Bungmati, a small Newari village still abiding its tradition. Little influenced by the modern world, Bungmati exemplifies true beauty of the still living age old culture and civilisation. Your journey to Bungmati starts with a vantage point where one can behold the entire village of Bungmati and Khokana. Walking down the lanes of Bungmati, you will pass through local Newari people busy working on intricate designs in wood or stone on their way to creating many more beautiful artefacts keeping their talents running for the future generations to enjoy. Though, small in size, at least 100 people from the village earn their living through wood carving. The village is the origin of the procession of the chariot of Machhindranath, one of the most important festivals of the Newari community. Not far from the village of Bungmati, is another interesting Newari village called Khokana, where an important temple of Lord Ganesha is situated.
Khokana is also a small Newari village on the southern flank of Kathmandu valley and about 11 km from Kathmandu city established in the 7th century AD by the mighty Licchhavi rulers of Nepal. It is a unique village because of its detachment from modern civilisation.
Later in the afternoon, drive to Pherping, Neydo Monastery. Spend the night amidst the most scenic area in the Kathmandu Valley, in a Buddhist Monastery Guest-house, located in the most peaceful location alongside Neydo Tashi Choeling Monastery. Here you will learn the life of a monk.
At 5pm, witness the debating session of the monks, which happens outside behind the monastery. It’s an interesting activity to watch and looks almost like a great challenge with an opponent. This activity helps monks understand and internalise the teachings of the day. Following the debating, experience the daily protection puja, with the constant beating of drums, blowing of the conch shell and long traditional horns etc. This is a traditional ritual, which propitiates mainly the Mahakala and his retinue and other hosts of Dharmapalas or Protectors of the Buddha Dharma to seek protection of the Dharma and its lineage as well as protection to all the true practitioners of the Dharma. Dinner is from 7pm in the dining room. (B,D)
Overnight at Neydo Monastery
Day 10 - Kathmandu – Lhasa
After breakfast at your hotel, you will be transferred to the airport in time for your next flight to Lhasa. During the flight, you will get to enjoy an hour long trans-Himalayan flight, considered to be one of the most beautiful air routes in the world. It takes you over Everest (8,848m), Kanchenjunga (8,536m) and other Himalayan peaks and glaciers.
Upon your arrival in Lhasa, a representative from our office will pick you up from the airport and drive you to your hotel in Tsedang where you are advised to take plenty of rest for proper acclimatisation and the next day’s activities. (B)
Overnight at Tsedang Hotel
Tips: The altitude in Tsedang is about 3,550m/11,646ft above sea level. Take time out to relax and acclimatise to the high altitude after arrival at your hotel. We recommend that you avoid strenuous activity for the first few days. It is advisable that you not take showers. For first time visitors, it is common to have different degrees of high altitude sickness symptoms. Drink lots of water, have fresh fruit and plenty of rest which will help to prevent the sickness. Have a good rest tonight, and get ready for tomorrow’s journey.
Day 11 - Tsedang to Samye
This morning after breakfast at the hotel, you leave for a day excursion to Drak Yangzom & Dzong Kumbum. The cave complex of Drak Yangdzom has long been a favourite among the traveller because there’s just nothing else like it in Tibet. Getting into the caves involves climbing a wood and yak hide ladder high up into the mouth of a cliff and then hauling yourself up a narrow, slippery shute into a sacred cave complex before a nun finally drags you by the feet through a tiny opening in the rock wall into the inner sanctum, the sacred cave of a Himalayan saint. It’s the craziest excursion in Tibet.
On the other side of the valley is Dzong Kumbum, a less narrow but much longer cave complex of several branches. You will be joined a group of Tibetan pilgrims for a tour of the sacred marks, stalactites and pools.
Samye Monastery is laid out on the shape of a giant mandala, with the main temple representing the legendary Mount Meru in the centre. Other buildings stand at the corners and cardinal points of the main temple, representing continents and other features of tantric Buddhist cosmology. The main temple is full of Tibetan religious art in mural and statue forms, as well as some important relics. Many Tibetan Buddhists come on pilgrimage to Samye, some taking weeks to make the journey.
This afternoon, explore the local town and a short walk to Hipuri Hill. From the Hipuri Hill you have a beautiful view of the Samye monastery. (B)
Overnight at Samye Guest House
Day 12 - Samye to Samding
After breakfast, continue your scenic road trip today, coming to one of Tibet’s most incredible landscapes – Yamdrok Lake and its surrounding snow-capped mountains. The lake is one of Tibet’s three holy lakes, and it’s believed to be the lifeblood of the country.
Yamdrok Lake or Yamdrok Tso is also known as the Scorpion Lake for its unique shape. One of the three holy lakes of Tibet, Yamdrok Tso covers a staggering 230 square miles and lies at nearly 15,000 feet above sea level. Rife with aquatic life, dotted with islets, and surrounded by fields of wildflowers, Yamdrok Tso is not only naturally stunning but an important place of pilgrimage; its waters are believed to hold powers of rejuvenation and longevity, and to bless children with intelligence. Its small islands are home to roosting birds and, during the herding season, to flocks of sheep, ferried there by herders who leave them in peace and safety until the onset of winter. Pilgrims often wander the lake’s shores, making their way along kora paths, many of which take a week to complete.
After finishing with Yamdrok Lake, Ani Sangkhung Nunnery is a convent where the females study Buddhism. Its history can be traced back to 7th century. Ani Sangkhung emphasise the beliefs of Guanyin Bodhisattva – the Goddess of Mercy. Hundreds of flowers surround the house and there is a tea house located in the yard. It is a nice place for a cup of tea after a long day of sightseeing. (B)
Overnight at local guest house
Day 13 - Samding to Lhasa
After breakfast, drive to Lhasa. Lhasa is rightly one of the most featured and dreamt-about cities in the world. This is not only because of its remoteness, its high altitude at 3,650 metres means limited accessibility, but also because of its impressive heritage of over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history that has helped to create the romantic and mysterious Tibetan religion.
Differing from the inland cities and other places in Tibet, Lhasa is unique with an allure all of its own. In the Tibetan language, Lhasa means the Holy Land or the Buddha Land. It is the centre of Tibet’s politics, economy and culture. The splendour and grandeur of the Potala Palace in Lhasa remains a world-famous symbol of the enigmatic power of politics and religion in this region.
Later on visit Ani Tsankhung Monastery. Ani Tsankhung Monastery is a Buddhist nunnery in Lhasa, the administrative centre of Tibet. It was built in the 7th century by Songsten Gampo who used its meditation chamber. The monastery is a yellow building which lies on the street parallel and north of Chingdol Dong Lu in Lhasa. Since the 12th century the monastery has been used chiefly by Buddhist nuns. The nunnery’s main hall contains a beautiful image of Chenrezi, the multi-armed bodhisattva of Compassion. The sacred meditation chamber lies behind it. An air of quiet serenity pervades the ancient place with its flower bushes and spotless compound and is one of the quieter tourist locations in the Tibetan capital. (B)
Overnight at Gyanggye Hotel
Day 14 - Departure
After breakfast, you’ll take a scheduled flight back to Kathmandu and this flight surely will be one of the highlights of your tour, with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. On arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport, you will connect the next flight to your onward destination. (B)
- Return airport transfers
- All 13 nights’ accommodation
- Meals as per the itinerary
- Private English speaking local guides in each region
- All transfers mentioned in the program with private air-conditioned vehicle
- Entrance fee for all sights mentioned in the program
- Govt. royalty and taxes
- Bhutan Visa fee
- Tibet Travel permits
- Flights Kathmandu/Lhasa/Kathmandu
- International and domestic flights (supplement quoted above)
- Visas (excl Bhutan)
- Travel and medical insurance
- All services, meals other than those indicated above
- Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
- All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips etc
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place plus flights. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.