October 24 – November 4, 2018
$7,840 (including local flights)
Guided by Kathleen Morgan
Only recently have travelers been able to move between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan in a single trip! Peace and prosperity has settled onto this deeply ancient and mysterious region, which is also one of the most beautiful mountain regions of the world. Join Kathleen Morgan for this remarkable and comfortable adventure!
Kathmandu has always been the royal Buddhist kingdom which flirted most with change. This was especially true when western adventurers like mountain climbers came in droves almost a century ago. But even earlier when Tibet and Bhutan were sealed from the outer world, Nepal was open. That hasn’t saved it, though, from the travails of its neighbors. Political strife and then a devastating earthquake greatly increased the growing pains such an ancient society was feeling as it emerged into the modern age. Enough time has passed now that the mysteries and charms of this ancient kingdom have reasserted themselves: it’s time again to visit this open air museum where there are more colorful temples and pagodas than houses, and more celebrated idols and deities than citizens!
Contained by the Chinese on the outside, but with a powerful inner soul, Tibet is much bigger than you probably think: larger than Texas and Alaska combined, a dozen times the size of all the other Buddhist kingdoms. Smack dab between the Orient and Asia, its importance has never diminished throughout all of human history. China restricts travel to just the capital city of Lhasa that we visit, but you’ll still experience the palpable, enduring spirit of this ancient empire’s independence.
So reluctantly and hesitatingly, Bhutan has slowly revealed itself. It started in 1999 with a young, western-educated leader, but even today, a generation later, not everyone is on board, especially the powerful monks. So even after the planned twists and turns through mountain chasms to finally land here, it takes a while to sneak through the towering, thick mountains to get into its capital and only real city. Entering Thimphu is like discovering Shangri-la!
If Thimphu is Bhutan’s fairy kingdom capital, the Paro valley is what you’ll likely remember most, because this is where the trip’s most spectacular scenery is found. Bhutan’s landmark, the phenomenally constructed Takstsang Monastery (“Tiger’s Nest”), is found here ready as it has been for hundreds of years to fall off its cliff! Surrounded by some of the starkest mountains on earth with brutal weather, the valley itself has a mild climate and is laced with rice paddies and sleepy towns whose only sounds usually are the tinkles of the prayer wheels.
The tour ends with one night in New Dehli, India, which is where most international return flights will originate. However, you are encouraged to join Kathleen as she continues with a short, classic trip of the Taj Mahal and other famous attractions of India with her Spotlight on India tour. Click here for more information on the India tour.reserve now
|Price||Single Supplement||under 12||12-16||local air|
The prices include:
** Kathleen Morgan guiding the tour from start to finish;
** Meals as detailed in brackets following each day's description below;
** All park entrance fees, VAT and other government taxes;
** Comprehensive pre-trip material with discount coupons for travel gear and equipment.
Additional expenses not included:
- Meals not included;
- Some beverages;
- All international, regional and local scheduled flights;
- Requisite visas and other travel preparations like inoculations;
- Tipping (Kathleen Morgan does not accept tips).
It is essential that you arrive in Kathmandu before 9 a.m. (If you must arrive a day early, we’ll easily make those arrangements for you.) You’ll be personally met and privately transferred to the city’s best hotel, Dwarikas Hotel. The morning is dedicated to obtaining a Chinese visa to Tibet.
In the afternoon we visit the Buddhist Stupa Swayambhunath, a Unesco Heritage Site overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. While the first written reference dates from the 5th century, it’s thought to be over 2000 years old, and a legend claims that it was created spontaneously when the Kathmandu Valley was created. It’s commonly known as the “Monkey Temple” because of the many monkeys in the areas.
Afterwards we visit Kathmandu Durbar Square in the heart of Kathmandu where our introduction to the history and religious traditions of Nepal continues among picturesque temples, courtyards, monuments, and the ancient palaces of the former Nepali Royals. The evening is independent. Overnight at Dwarikas Hotel.[no-meals]
Morning tour into the Kathmandu Valley to visit the Unesco Heritage Site, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the “City of Devotees,” the smallest city community in the area. Its main square or ‘Layaku’ is famous for the 15th century Palace of The 55 Carved Windows. Intricately carved wooden windows frame the richly decorated Golden Gate built as a royal entrance. In front of the palace building are innumerable temples and architectural showpieces including the Lion Gate, the statue of King Bhupatindra Malla, which dates from the 1600's and is mounted on a giant stone pillar. We’ll also visit The Bell of Barking Dogs built in 1737 by King Ranjit Malla to announce the beginning and end of a daily curfew.
Lunch at a local restaurant is included before we continue to Pashupatinath Temple, another Unesco World Heritage Site. Set on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River, it is one of the oldest temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, the superior god of Hindu mythology. Dating back to 400 A.D., it’s built as a two story pagoda with gilded roofs and richly carved silver doors. The temple houses the sacred linga or phallic symbol of Lord Shiva.
Our final stop of the day is at still another Unesco World Heritage Site, the Boudhanath. One of the oldest and biggest Buddhist monuments in Nepal, it towers over Kathmandu. It was one of the first sites to be restored following the earthquake. With a pair of eyes facing each direction, it’s believed to be overseeing righteous behavior. The evening is independent. Overnight at Dwarikas Hotel. Overnight at Dwarikas Hotel.
The day is spent on an excursion outside the city to Patan. Patan Durbar Square, the City of Artisans, was built during the 600 year reign of the Malla Kings. Starting in the 13th century, this was the golden era of ancient Nepal. The opulence of this era is reflected in its former palaces, artistic courtyards, and graceful pagoda temples built in the Newari style, characterized by ornate architecture, wood and stone carvings, and metal statues. After lunch, we return to the hotel where you’ll have some free time before our gala folkloric dinner in the city, where you can enjoy traditional Nepalese cuisine while being entertained by local music and dancing. Overnight at Dwarikas Hotel.
Today we fly to Tibet. The flight is around 1½ hours long but the day must be left free for schedule changes. You’ll likely have a good amount of free time to adjust to Lhasa’s altitude of just under 12,000' – very similar to Cusco, Peru. Lhasa is the administrative capital of the "Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China." As the center of Tibetan Buddhism, it is also known as The Place of the Gods. Lhasa’s elevation and remote location allowed it to develop a culture unique from other Tibetan cities, and many centuries-old monuments remain which we’ll be visiting. Our hotel is Lhasa’s finest, the Shangri-la. The evening is independent.
We start with a morning visit to the Potala Palace, built on top of the Red Hill in the 7th century as a place of worship and meditation for the Royal Court. This was Tibet’s most glorious epoch and represented successful defenses against intruding Chinese and Indians. Through the many centuries of conquests and subsequent liberations, the palace served as the winter retreat of the Dalai Lama, the official spiritual and effective ruler of the region. It was lived in continuously until the 15th Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959.
After lunch in a typical Tibetan restaurant, we continue to Barkhor, the old section of Lhasa, to visit the four storied Jokhang Temple famous for its golden roofs. Built in the mid 7th century, the interior features murals depicting the lives of historic and religious figures.
There will be some time this afternoon to stroll through the market neighborhood in the heart of old Lhasa, a very picturesque area of narrow streets lined with white-washed stone homes decorated by windows framed in black and brightly painted woodwork.
This evening, we enjoy a traditional Tibetan dinner with folkloric entertainment. Overnight at the Shangri-la.[b-l-d]
The heart of Buddhism throughout Tibet is found in its multitude of monasteries. By some counts 20% of all Tibetan men become monks. The unique beauty and style of Tibetan art is manifest in these beautiful monasteries.
We start at the Sera Monastery, one of the great three university monasteries. Not all monasteries include advanced education, but those that do generate the main political and religious leaders. This original monastery was founded in 1419 when it housed more than 5,000 monks at the time of a Chinese invasion. Today it houses far fewer and is considered more a museum than actual university monastery.
After lunch, we visit the Drepung Monastery, built in 1416 at the foot of Mt. Gambo Utse. It’s considered the most important monastery of Gelukpa in Tibetan Buddhism. Although during the Chinese invasion much of the monastic complex was destroyed, several buildings were preserved, including the four colleges and the Dalai Lamas' residence. The day ends at Norbulingkha, the former Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas, graced by many ancient murals.
The evening is independent. Overnight at the Shangri-La.[b-l]
Today is our second “flight day.” It’s mostly unscheduled to accommodate the often changing schedules of the airline flights. We return to Kathmandu, and it’s likely you’ll have considerable free time. Overnight at Dwarikas Hotel.[b]
Today we fly to Bhutan. The flight takes about an hour and is absolutely one of the most spectacular flights on earth. This betters the so-called day flight seeing over the Himalayas offered out of Kathmandu, and if the weather cooperates, you’ll come home with some spectacular memories if not photos!
Because Bhutan’s geography is so spectacular it’s national airport was built in the agricultural valleys that are flatter, rather than in the mountainous areas of its ancient and modern government. So after clearing customs and immigration formalities at the Paro airport, we have a 1½ hour drive to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. We’ll check-in to the city’s best hotel, the Taj Tashi, with time for your lunch before starting our touring.
In the afternoon, we visit the Memorial Chorten, a stupa built in the memory of Bhutan's third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is considered the Father of modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the illustrate Buddhist philosophy. We’ll then continue to Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang) for a beautiful view of the Thimphu Valley and to visit the largest statue of Buddha in the country.
The day ends at Trashichhoedzong, the Fortress of The Glorious Religion. This is Bhutan’s government and religious center, the monarch’s throne room, and the seat of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot. Built in 1641, it was reconstructed in 1960s in the traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or blueprints. The evening is independent.[b]
In the morning we visit one of the oldest functioning monasteries in the kingdom, the Pangri Zampa. This is also a school for Buddhist Lamaism and astrology based on Buddhist philosophy. We’ll be able to interact with the monks who show us around.
Afterwards we return to the Paro Valley, home to many of Bhutan's oldest temples and monasteries. Paro is especially scenic as this is the breadbasket for the kingdom.
Our last two nights in Bhutan are spent at the Naksel Boutique Resort, a very comfortable “hill resort” which is a community-run tourist hotel.
After lunch at the resort, we’ll visit Ta Dzong, originally a watchtower, and now the home of the National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons and armor, household objects, and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
The day ends at Rinpung Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, it now serves as a monastery.
The evening is independent.[b-l]
Today you have a choice of further cultural sightseeing, or Himalayan hiking! More details will be available to help you gauge your capacity to hike in these high altitudes, but if you find yourself ready to do so, you may indeed believe you’re hiking in heaven! The 5-hour roundtrip guided excursion walks to the Taktsang Monastery. This is similar to a hadj in Buddhism as devout persons are expected to hike up here at least once in their lifetime.
Others of us will visit Dungtse Lhakhang built in 1421 by the Tibetan saint Thangthong Gyelpo. It’s the only Bhutan temple in the form of a chorten, a shape meant to immobilize or subdue the demons who are presumed to be constantly attacking Buddhism. Its paintings show the progressive stages of Tantric Buddhist philosophy as well as its most important deities. We also visit the rural Lango village, including a typical farmhouse built in the colorful Bhatan style, without a single nail. On the return to the hotel we stop at Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought Tibetan invaders centuries ago.
The evening is independent. Overnight at the Naksel Boutique Resort.[b-l]
Our last “flight day” is to New Delhi, India, where most international return flights will originate. If you end up actually beginning your international return home from Kathmandu, then accommodations will be available for you here instead of in Delhi. In Delhi, Kathleen will accompany you to the Oberoi-New Delhi. This evening, Kathleen hosts you at a wonderful, gourmet Indian restaurant, as you recount the splendors of the great mountain kingdoms you’ve just completed![b-d]
Hotel checkout is at 10 a.m. Private transfers are available as needed to the airport.
(Don't go home yet! Kathleen’s extraordinary India trip now starts. Please click here for details on this short, intense classic trip of the Taj Mahal and other famous attractions, staying each and every night at some of the most beautiful hotels in the world!)[no-meals]