About Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet
Himalayas: The fabled mountains have profoundly shaped the cultures of South and Central Asia. The mountain range reaches across 2,736 km/1,700 mi. and into six countries: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The incomparable landscapes of these giants are accented by tea plantations, traditional rural villages and notable Buddhist monasteries. They encompass three quarters of Nepal with some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest. In Bhutan, a six-day journey begins at Jele Dzong, at an altitude of 2,591 m/8,500 ft., and climbs to about 3,353 m/11,000 ft. at Lake Jimilangtso. Walks average four to seven miles a day. A range of trekking adventures can be arranged for the experienced and most physically fit enthusiasts. A trek into these awesome mountains can be an intensely personal challenge and a phenomenal experience.
Bumthang: Bumthang temples, such as the seventh-century Jampa Lhakhang Temple, seemed to have slipped through time little altered. The valley supports cottage industries such as Red Panda Brewery and Bumthang Cheese & Dairy Facility. The second king of Bhutan lives here in elegant Wangdichholing Palace. This is the final resting place of the remains of the first three Kings of Bhutan. Early winter festivals draw thousands of Bhutanese to Kurjey Lhakhang, considered one of the country’s most auspicious monasteries.
Central Bhutan: Bhutan’s splendid Himalayan landscapes are magical settings for this once-isolated Buddhist kingdom that is gently moving into the 21st century. Age-old monasteries, fortresses and dzongs are sprinkled throughout the mountains. The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. Phobjikha village on the valley floor is the setting for Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves for the endangered black-necked cranes. Black Necked Crane Information Centre on the main road has an observation room equipped with high-power spotting scopes for viewing the cranes. Perched on a small hill rising from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the largest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. It is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens, who take care of the monastery. The annual Black Necked Crane Festival is celebrated in the courtyard here.
Paro: Many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries as well as the country’s national airport are located here. The cliff-hugging Kurjey Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) is a place of pilgrimage for Bhutanese. Legend claims that Guru Padmasambhava, the wizard-saint of Himalayan Buddhism, came here in the eighth century, riding upon his flying tiger to a cave to meditate. There, he left a stone imprint of his body. Later, a temple was carved into the cliff about 800 m/2,624 ft. above the valley in his honor. Those who hike up to the cafe opposite the monastery are rewarded with breathtaking views. On the north end of the valley stands the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (Victorious Fortress), where Bhutanese repelled invading Tibetan armies in the 17th century. The National Museum, housed in the Ta Dzong, offers a wonderful introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the kingdom. Just a short walk downhill is the dominating Paro Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese architecture.
Punakha: Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until the seat of government was relocated to Thimphu. Farming is done along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. Built in 1637-38, the striking red and white Punakha Dzong was the site of the coronation of the first king of Bhutan. Since the 1680s, a special chamber in the dzong has been the site of a continuous vigil over the earthly body of the founder of Bhutan. At 1,350 m/4,430 ft., Punakha, which dates from 1637, remains the winter home to Bhutan’s spiritual leader and the monks of Thimphu and Paro.
Thimphu: Thimphu Valley has supported small settlements for centuries and a dzong has existed there since 1216; however, not until the king made this the new capital in the 1960s did Thimphu begin to develop. It remains Bhutan’s political and economic center, and hosts the National Textile Museum, National Library, Folk Heritage Museum and Traditional Medicine Institute, all of which offer fascinating insights into the country and its people. Thimphu reflects the culture of Bhutan through its literature, religion, customs, monasteries, music and dance. Tshechu is an important fall festival when masked dances – popularly known as Cham dances – are performed in the courtyards of the Tashichho Dzong. The National Institute of Zorig Chusum deals with exquisite handicrafts, traditional arts and jewelry; and Gho and Kira, the national dress of Bhutanese men and women.
Trongsa: Trongsa is one of Bhutan’s most historic towns. The first monastery was built here in 1543. The town’s dzong was constructed in 1644 and served as the original seat of power of the House of Wangchuck before it became the ruling dynasty of Bhutan in 1907. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels that slope down the side of the ridge on which it was built. Due to its highly strategic position on the only connecting route between east and west, the governor of the region was able to control the entire central and eastern sections of the country.
Pokhara Lekhnath: In the Nepalese region around this mostly modern city lay medieval ruins dating from the mid-17th century. Pokhara lies on an old trading route between China and India. Until the end of the 1960s, the town was only accessible by foot and it was considered more mystical than Kathmandu. The first road was completed in 1968 after which tourism grew rapidly. Pokhara is the base for adventure activities such as the well-known Annapurna Circuit trek. In 2017, a collective city was created from the merger of two separate cities – Pokhara and Lekhnath. The altitude varies from 827 m/2,713 ft. in the southern part to 1,740 m/5,710 ft. in the north. This area is home to many Nepalese Gurkha soldiers.
Chitwan National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site shelters Nepal’s endangered royal Bengal tiger, rare one-horned rhinoceros and golden monitor lizard. This was the first national park in Nepal, established in 1973. The unique ecosystem is primarily subtropical lowlands, forest and hills. Only a small portion of the park is open to visitors. Its altitude ranges from about 100 m/330 ft. in the river valleys to 815 m/2,674 ft. in the Churia Hills. In the north and west of the protected area, the Narayani-Rapti river system forms a natural boundary to human settlements.
Kathmandu: Kathmandu has been the center of Nepal’s history, art, culture and economy. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of ancient civilizations, with the oldest recovered piece so far discovered in Maligaon, which was dated at 185. Another excavation uncovered a brick with an inscription in Brahmi script, thought to be 2,000 years old. The city is known today for its central Durbar Square packed with temples and monuments. The multiethnic population is set within a Hindu and Buddhist majority. Religious and cultural festivities form a major part of the lives of people in Kathmandu. This is the gateway to the Nepalese Himalayas. Nepali is the most spoken language in the city, while English is understood by the city’s educated residents. Outdoor enthusiasts come to Nepal to trek and climb the amazing peaks, while others explore isolated settlements, Buddhist stupas and ageless monasteries, as well as the established societies still relatively unaffected by the outside.
Lhasa: Lhasa is the traditional capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. At an altitude of 3,490 m/11,450 ft., Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. It has been the religious and administrative capital of Tibet since the mid-17th century and claims two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Potala Palace and Norbulingka, both former residences of the Dalai Lama. It is the site of several significant temples and monasteries, including 17th-century Jokhang Temple in the center of old Lhasa.
Tibet Autonomous Region: The country has preserved its ancient palaces, rich religious history, temples and monasteries. Potala Palace, originally built in the seventh century, was rebuilt in 1645, and is noted for its grand buildings, complex constructions and spiritual atmosphere. Jokhang Temple in the center of old Lhasa was built in the mid-17th century and features a four-story temple with superb golden roofs. At an average elevation of 4,877 m/16,000 ft., Tibet’s stunning mountains and its crystal lakes and rivers are ideal for biking, trekking, rafting and mountaineering.
Best Time to Go
Throughout the region, the climate varies widely depending on the elevation. Higher elevations mean colder temperatures. Always carry some warm clothing regardless of season.
Bhutan: In the northern parts of the country weather conditions are like the arctic; while southern areas are hot and humid in the summer and cool in winter. Spring (March-May) is a favorite time to visit when flowers were in bloom. Autumn (late September – November), too, is a popular time when the weather is warm, dry and sunny.
Nepal: Monsoon season begins around the end of June and lasts until the middle of September. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons. Winter temperatures drop to freezing, with a high level of snowfall in the mountains. Summer and late spring temperatures mildly hot in the hill regions to extremely hot in the southern, outer foothills of the Himalayas. In winter, temperatures in the south can average 7ºC/45ºF and a mild 23ºC/74ºF. The central valleys often are below freezing. The Kathmandu Valley, at an altitude of 1,310m (4,297ft), are relatively mild all year.
Tibet: May to October is the best time to travel in Tibet, when temperatures average above 10°C/50°F. This is also the busiest travel time in Tibet. If you plan to visit Mt. Everest, April, May, September, or October are when the peak is most visible.
Note: The ideal time for trekking and for travelling throughout the region is from late September to late November.Spring, from March to May, is the second-best time to visit Bhutan for touring and trekking.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT ELEPHANTS: *Elephant-back safaris:
Please note that Big Five does not participate in any elephant-back safaris. The decision was made due to the abusive way some of animals are trained and treated. Based on our founding principles, our approach to animal welfare issues, and our sustainable principles, we agree with many others who are against any abusive methods of
training or mistreatment. Please note that this decision does not reflect on those properties and parks who do things the right way.
Day 1: Beijing, China
Beijing, China’s remarkable capital city, is where many adventures into Asia begin.
Day 2: Beijing / Lhasa, Tibet
Tibet’s principal city is often called the City of Sun, and rightly so as it receives more than 3,000 hours of sunshine annually.
Days 3/5: Lhasa
Fabled Lhasa is home to jewels of Tibetan architecture: Potala Palace, 15th-century Drepung Monasteries, Jokhang Temple, and nearby Ganden Monastery on the southern bank of the Lhasa River.
Day 6: Lhasa / Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepal’s capital city features the bustling Durbar Square, ornate tiered pagodas, Nepalese bronzes of the former Royal Palace, and Temple of the Living Goddess.
Day 7: Kathmandu / Chitwan National Park
The park is recognized for its wildlife, including Bengal tigers, Asian rhino, sloth bear, gaur, sambar and chital deer and slender-snouted ghar crocodile.
Day 8: Chitwan National Park
Wildlife viewing with a naturalist guide and cultural visits to remote villages are possible by vehicle, canoe and on foot.
Day 9: Chitwan National Park / Kathmandu
Kathmandu is the cultural and artistic capital of Nepal and is a paradise for hikers and climbers who come to challenge the world’s highest peaks.
Day 10: Kathmandu / Paro
Paro is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, including the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong.
Day 11: Paro / Thimphu
Stunning high-altitude panoramas vie for attention on the drive to the capital city of Thimphu.
Day 12: Thimphu
Thimphu, the political and economic center of Bhutan, features a textile museum, a folk heritage museum, the School of Arts and Crafts and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine.
Day 13: Thimphu / Punakha
Punakha Dzong, at the junction of two rivers, was the coronation site of the first king of Bhutan in about 1637.
Day 14: Punakha
Punakha’s valley is famous for generations of red and white rice farming along the banks of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers.
Day 15: Punakha / Paro
Striking landscapes and panoramas can be found along the route from Punakha to Paro Valley.
Day 16: Paro
Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, including Kurjey Monastery (Tiger’s Nest), a pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese people.
Day 17: Paro / Bangkok / Depart
Himalayas (3-5 days)
Unmatched scenery, traditional villages, tea plantations, monasteries and nature trekking make this region immensely intriguing. Rustic guest houses allow for authentic interactions and cultural exchanges between travelers and host families.
Trekking (2-4 days)
Trekking through the countryside past villages, local farms, mountain ranges and valleys can be done on foot or bicycle.
Central Bhutan (3 days)
Central Bhutan encompasses historic monasteries, fortresses and dzongs sprinkled throughout the mountains, as well as one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves for the endangered black-neck cranes.
Trongsa (4 days)
This is one of Bhutan’s most historic towns and features Buddhist temples and monasteries that seem to have slipped past the time barrier.
Pokhara Lekhnath (3 days)
In the Nepalese region around this mostly modern city, medieval ruins from the mid-17th century can still be found.
Tibet (5 days)
Tibet offers a wealth of ancient palaces, rich religious history and venerable temples and monasteries.
$900-$1000 per person per day. Land only, double occupancy.