Arrive in Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel. The evening is free to relax.
Today we fly to Paro. The flight is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world and takes us over the Eastern Himalayas. If the weather is clear, we should get a fantastic view of much of the eastern half of the Himalaya, including Everest, Kanchenjunga and Chomolhari (Jhomolhari). Depending on the arrival time of our flight from Kathmandu we should be able to visit Kyichu Lakhang (also known as Kyerchu Lakhang) and Satsom Chorten. Kyichu Lakhang was one of a series of temples built by the 7th Century Tibeten king Songtsen Gampo. After being lost for a few centuries the temple was rediscovered in the 17th Century and additions followed in the late 19th Century and in the 1960s following the same style as the original temple. A little further along is Satsom Chorten from where we have nice views of the Taktsang, Tiger Nest, Monastery. In Paro itself we should get our first taste of the festival.
We spend the whole day experiencing the vibrant Paro Festival. Hundreds gather to see the monks dressed in colourful brocade, silk costumes and wearing painted masks re-enacting the story of the gompa's particular divinity though music and dance. For several days there are masked dances, prayer meetings and a general carnival atmosphere as many villagers arrive to meet old friends and catch up with the mountain gossip.
We leave Paro in the morning and drive east to Punakha. The route climbs steeply in places to the Dochula Pass. At 3050m (10,000ft) the views over the eastern Himalaya are magnificent although the clouds may obscure this spectacle. We descend to the valley floor and continue to sub-tropical Punakha. At an altitude of 1350m the difference in temperature and flora is apparent. Punakha was the old capital of Bhutan and the dzong was the second one to be built in Bhutan. This remarkable fortress is built between two rivers and it has survived many fires, an earthquake and a glacial flood. Along the way it has been repaired and added to and it has several interesting features to protect it against invasion. Overnight in Punakha. Today's drive takes about 3 hours 30 minutes.
This morning we hike up to the Chime Lakhang (monastery), a 15th Century monastery built to honour one of the more folkloric saints of Bhutanese tradition, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. The Lama was known for his foul-mouth, alcohol-smelling breath and insatiable lust towards women. Yet he is revered as a great saint by most Bhutanese and women who cannot conceive believe that if they get blessed by the wooden phallus they will get pregnant. From here we continue across the Lawala Pass towards the Gangtey Valley, visiting the ruins of Wangdue Dzong, en route. Arriving at the Gangtey Valley, we will visit Gangtey monastery, the largest private monastery in Bhutan. Today's drive is approximately 84km and will take 2 and a half to 3 hours.
This morning we will go on a hike through the Gangtey Valley. This glacial valley is made up of farmlands, pastures and Blue-pine forests. We will cross herders lazily caring for their herds, which graze on the dwarf bamboo which grow in the area. Gangtey is famous for sightings of the rare Black necked cranes, who arrive here from Tibet in late October and spend the winter here before returning to Tibet in spring. In the afternoon we drive for about 2 hours back to Wangdue.
In the morning we drive for a couple of hours back to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. We can see an archery game. Archery is the traditional sport of the Bhutanese and it is played with much enthusiasm. We also visit the Tashichho Dzong, one of Bhutan's most stately and impressive buildings. It has been the seat of the government of Bhutan since 1952 and houses the throne room and offices of the king. There will be time today to explore the markets or maybe visit the zoo to see the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan.
We spend the day in Thimpu visiting the main sites. We will visit the impressive golden-spired Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 by the Royal Grandmother in memory of the Third King, H M Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who died in 1972. We also visit the National Library, Zilukha Nunnery and a handicraft and painting school.
We leave Thimpu in the afternoon for the hour's drive to Paro and visit Simthoka Dzong en route. The Paro Valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan, with blue pine-covered hills and attractive solidly built houses among the paddy fields
Today we will have a warm up hike to Takstang Monastery. Takstang, or 'Tigers Nest' Monastery, is perched on the ledge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley. Partly destroyed by fire in 1998, it has now been completely restored to its former magnificence. Drive a short distance from the hotel and then we hike to a viewpoint where there is a small cafe for the classic views of the monastic buildings which cling almost impossibly to the cliff wall opposite. For the energetic there is the chance to walk even higher to the actual monastery. Returning to the hotel we have time in the afternoon to explore Paro town.
We transfer to the airport to check in for our flight back to Kathmandu. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing or shopping. You may want to visit the famous Durbar Square in the heart of the old city. Here is the old royal palace, with its intricate woodcarving and four fine towers. Or you may wish to visit the monkey temple at Swayambhunath or take an optional trip to Bhaktapur, the medieval city a few miles east of the capital. Bhaktapur has its own Durbar Square with many temples and statues and a maze of narrow streets, which are generally quieter than the capital.
Fly back to London Please note that sometimes due to opening times, holidays or festivals we have to change the timings of the sightseeing around. We will endeavor to show you all the sights in the time available. In case it is not possible to visit any of the sights described in the notes above an alternative will be provided.