Nesting Tiger, Thunder Dragon

The Grand Tour of Bhutan

What makes Bhutan special is intangible and undefinable, yet will hit you fully on your eastbound journey across this incredibly diverse, scenic and joyful country.

Temples? It has many, each with architectural detail and spiritual history more intricate than the last. We’ll visit many of them, including of course the iconic Tigers Nest monastery in its lofty eyrie in the mountains outside of Paro. The journey to it is a hike like no other, and an essential pilgrimage for travellers to Bhutan.

Scenery? In droves. Or perhaps, flocks, as this trip affords a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the rare and endangered Black-Necked Crane during its winter migration. You’ll be heralded by quirky wildlife and awe-inspiring vistas; your trek across the country will be wreathed by the snow-capped Himalayas as you travel through mountain passes, lush fields, alpine forests and sweeping valleys. And you won’t be limited to the bus either – you’ll hike, ride and even raft your way through the best landscapes the country has to offer.

Culture? And then some! The last Himalayan kingdom offers a rich tapestry of vibrant art, folklore, steeped traditions and food, glorious food. You’ll marvel at the sheer breadth of Bhutanese culture as you undertake a cooking class; take a lesson in the national sport, archery, from a local expert and spend a day at Trashigang Festival and get caught up in the spirit of celebration.

What will strike you most, however, is the true essence of Bhutanese magic – the people. This trip has been designed to immerse you in local custom and maximise the time you’ll spend with these wonderfully welcoming people, who occupy a country where Eastern tradition and Buddhist heritage meet Western innovation, and where the country’s Gross National Happiness Index is its most important measurement of success. Stay in homestays, guesthouses and farms in historic cities and tiny villages, brew beer with monks and weave tapestries with artisans who have perfected their craft over generations. Break bread with Bhutan, a country that can teach us so much about the richness of shared experience.


GRAND TOUR OF BHUTAN HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery and Dochu La Pass, and take a white-water rafting trip in Punakha
  • Spend a day at the Trashigang Festival and encounter the diverse peoples of eastern Bhutan who travel from their villages to share in this special day
  • Visit the smaller villages of Bhutan and encounter indigenous groups and artisans practicing traditional crafts handed down through generations
  • Travel through the vast Himalayas and be awed by sweeping mountain scenery
  • Take the chance to encounter Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin, and visit the nesting ground of the Black-Necked Crane during its winter migration window
  • Stay in guesthouses and homestays throughout the trip, and take a cooking class and archery lesson on this grand tour of Bhutan.

The Basics

Start: Paro (Bhutan)

Finish: Guwahati (India)

Trip style: Unique

Max group size: 15

18 Days

PARO – GUWAHATI

$14 560 AUD*

REDUCED

$11 510 AUD*

Departure date: 8 November 2023

OR CONTACT US for more information

Trip code: NDPG *from

ITINERARY

Arrive in Bhutan at Paro international airport. High in the reaches of the mighty Himalayas, the runway at Paro airport is famous for being one of the most technically difficult in the world, so only the few pilots who are able to make the narrow landing and execute a tight turn at incredibly high altitude can fly this route. This is one flight where you might want to clap the landing!

After a walk around town, get to know your companions properly with a welcome dinner (and introduction to your tour of Bhutan) at a local restaurant which specialises in fine dining using fresh, organic local produce from the mountains and valleys surrounding the town.

Get a true insight into the Bhutanese culture and landscapes today as we explore the many facets of Paro. We begin our day with a visit to the National Museum, located in the Ta Zhong. Then hike through the fresh Himalayan air to Zuri Dzong and Paro Dzong, the second of which is headquarters of the district’s Monastic body as well as the administrative offices. The line between governmental and religious organisations in Bhutan is often blurred, with the country’s emphasis on spiritual wellbeing at the forefront of its administration.

Explore Bhutan’s spiritual core with a visit to Kyichu Lhakang, a temple which is considered to be the heart of Himalayan Buddhism in the country and one of the most important pilgrimage sites for followers of this peaceful religion.

Visit a farmhouse and enjoy the simplicity of the agricultural lifestyle before sharing dinner with a local family. You’ll find Bhutanese people not only live up to their reputation of happiness and wholesomeness, but also eager to share their culture and their table over a traditional meal. Be warned, however, that while the people are peaceful and friendly, the country’s cuisine can be surprisingly spicy!

This morning complete the essential traveller’s pilgrimage in Paro and hike to the awe-inspiring Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Seemingly floating on the side of the valley this incredible temple is a feat of architecture and art alike, and the meandering walk, while challenging, is a rewarding trek along cliffside paths with peeks at stunning countryside and sheer cliff faces around every corner.

Rest your feet with a picnic in the forest, and then reward yourself with a taste of some of the local grain at Namgay Artisanal Brewery, one of the few producers of alcoholic drinks in the country, and run by monks to boot!

Head out into Bhutan’s countryside today to the hidden, out-of-the-way town of Haa, the capital of the Haa province which is Bhutan’s second-least populated. Bordered by Tibet, Haa is a herding province and almost every family in the district owns livestock of some sort – you are all but guaranteed to be introduced to somebody’s pet yak today!

Visit Kila Nunnery en route and learn about the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants, before taking a stroll around Haa town and admiring its perch in one of the country’s most fertile valleys.

Travel via the tiny Dawakha province today to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. Count the cows as the countryside passes.

Stop in the afternoon to partake in a cooking class and try your hand at making some Bhutanese delicacies and staple dishes – perhaps go a little more slightly on the chilli, nobody will judge you! Bhutanese cuisine is also largely vegetarian and comprised of produce which survives the country’s high altitude, so you’ll probably take some recipes with you that you’ll be using for years to come.

Take a chance on spotting Bhutan’s national animal this afternoon, the takin, at Takin Reserve just outside of Thimphu. It’s said to have the face of a goat and the body of a cow, but however you perceive its appearance, this quirky animal is best spotted at this wildlife conservation zone that was converted from a zoo.

Our day in Thimphu is an in-depth dive into Bhutanese culture. Delve into the monastic tradition at the Pangri Zampa Monastery and mingle with local artisans as we visit an art school and the Folk Heritage Museum, which was established by Bhutan’s Queen Mother to provide an insight into lifestyle and heritage in the country.

This afternoon, travel out to the hills beyond Thimphu and join the locals in a favourite local pastime, archery. Try your hand at hitting the target and learn about the history and influence of Bhutan’s national sport.

Dine tonight in a heritage listed building whose walls are almost as steeped in history as the dishes.

Head to Punakha today via Dochu La pass, a high mountain pass that has borne the footsteps of travellers for many years. The pass is also dotted with 108 memorial chortens commemorating the Bhutanese lives lost in a 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

We’ll spend the day hiking (mid-range difficulty) up to the snow-covered pass before sipping on hot tea and continuing on our journey to Chimi Lhakang which marks our arrival into Punakha.

Live in the spirit of adventure today as we explore Punakha’s great outdoors.

Hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgay Chorten, a stupa which is dedicated to cleansing the spirit, warding off evil and embracing positivity.

Spirit and soul refreshed, get your heart pumping too with an exhilarating yet gentle white water rafting experience on Punakha River.

Travel eastward to Gangtey, a monastery with a surrounding settlement in the glacial valley of Phobjikha, and settle into our warm lodgings for the night in Gangtey town, for tomorrow we rise early to try and spot the valley’s winter visitors: the rare Black-Necked Crane.

Rise with the birds this morning, and hopefully spy the ones with the black necks. The Black-Necked cranes migrate to this remote spot for just a few weeks each winter, and this trip arrives right in the middle of this narrow window of opportunity. With an estimated total population of just 11,000 birds, the crane is critically endangered, and the elusive species is harder to track down in its preferred roost high in the mountains. A visit to Phobjikha is your best opportunity to see them in the wild, so don’t hit snooze!

On our way to Bumthang we’ll visit the impressive temple fortress of Trongsa Dzong, perched on a narrow spur overlooking the Mangde river; Ta Dzong, the National Museum, and the small village of Zungney which has a long history with beautifully handwoven textiles.

We’ll overnight in a local farm and enjoy the warm hospitality of our hosts.

Across Bhutan and the other Himalayan kingdoms, there lies a series of more than 100 temples said to be built in a single day in order to ward off an evil ogress that was threatening the population.

The feat must have worked, because we can all but guarantee that your visit to one of these temples, Jamba Lhakhang, won’t be marred by any mythological monsters, so you can relax and enjoy the stunning hand-painted architecture which perhaps belies the legend of its quick construction.

We’ll also check out Kurjey Lhakhang, a working temple where you’ll find the oldest part of the complex protected from the elements deep within a cave. Look out for the heads of snow lions which adorn parts of the walls, a tribute to Guru Rinpoche’s defeat of a ferocious demon which took on the form of the lion.

After lunch, get your curd on with a visit to a local dairy farm which specialises in Swiss-style cheese, reflecting a little piece of Europe which shares so much of its stunning alpine scenery with today’s backdrop.

Get your snacks out and cameras ready today as we head cross-country to Lhuntshe, a small village where a local guesthouse will be our home for the evening.

Marvel in awe at the 154-foot tall statue of Guru Padma Sambhava, Takila Guru, on our travels today, and gain a better understanding at the huge variety and regional specialties of weaving today with a stop in the village of Khoma. Textiles and fabric play a huge role in Bhutanese culture, whose history has literally ben woven by artisans like those you’ll encounter today.

This evening our accommodation is located in Mongar. Our way will be paved with evergreen fir forests and green pastures and will pass by dramatic cliffs, offering one of the most scenic drives in our trip so far (and trust us when we say there is stiff competition!).

In contrast to the smaller villages through which we will drive, Mongar offers a glimpse of modern Bhutan. While you might not see high rises, this regional centre is home to one of the fastest growing populations in the country, attracted by its newly-built regional hospital. Healthcare in Bhutan embraces both traditional Eastern medicine and western medicine, with many health centres offering either option.

The towns and sites we visit today weave a rich cultural tapestry of Bhutan, finishing in Trashi Yangtse, one of the country’s newest dzongkhags, or districts. This remote region is hugely diverse, with many of the smaller villages home to various indigenous groups including angtseps, Tshanglas, Bramis from Tawang, Khengpas from Zhemgang and Kurtoeps from Lhuentse. Accordingly, there are also a plethora of languages, dialects and customs that one day’s visit will barely scrape the surface of.

We’ll also sight the unique yellow-roofed temple of Gom Kora, and visit the white-peaked stupa of Chorten Kora which resembles an alpine snow fall, before arriving in time to explore Trashi Yangtse town.

Few Western Bhutanese have visited Trashi Yangtse as it is so far east and certainly even fewer Western travellers make it this far either!

Explore more of Bhutan’s indigenous and handicraft cultures today as we spend the day hiking through the hills to the villages of Bimkhar and Pangngarteng, whose residents will embrace their rare vistors and share with us their hospitality and unique lifestyles.

We’ll stop at a wood turning workshop and view a demonstration of the craft which is exemplified in the intricate carvings we have seen at the many architectural wonders visited in our journey.

Bhutan is a country which wholeheartedly embraces festivals – you can find a religious, spiritual or cultural festival happening somewhere in the country almost every day. Festival culture is truly a demonstration of Bhutan’s heritage and the joy of its inhabitants –  the excited crowds, the jewel-toned costumes, magnificent adornments, sumptuous food and the splendour of music and folk dances.

We’ll spend today at the Trashigang festival, one of the largest festivals in Eastern Bhutan which draws people from all over this part of the country to revel in the festivities and demonstrate their unique dress and customs.

Tonight, wind down with the crowds and listen to the sounds of lingering celebration from our guesthouse in town.

We can truly say that we have explored the very further reaches of Bhutan on this final leg of the trip as we head to Samdrup Jongkhar on the border of Assam, in India.

As we overnight here before crossing over into Assam tomorrow, share a meal with your trip mates and reflect on what you can take away from this curious and joyous country in which you’ve spent the past couple of weeks.

Surely a country whose most important measure of success is the happiness of its citizens has inspired many a smile, laugh and cherished memory (or at the very least, some great handcrafted souvenirs and great photos for the #gram).

We complete our journey through Bhutan today, crossing over the border to Guhuwati, India. From here, you can catch a flight to Delhi or Bangkok to link up with your onward travels tomorrow.

Your tour of Bhutan (and India) comes to an end this morning.

tour of Bhutan
Trip Map – Nesting Tiger, Thunder Dragon

Details

Duration: 18 Days

Trip style: Unique

Group size: Minimum 6 / Maximum 15

Trip code: NDPG

Cost: $14 560.00 AUD $11 510.00 twin share

Single supplement: $1713.00 AUD

Inclusions

  • 17-nights accommodation in traditional hotels, guesthouses and homestays
  • Meals as specified in itinerary (B = Breakfast / L = Lunch / D = Dinner)
  • Return airport transfers
  • Daily compulsory sustainability fee for Bhutan ($1600 USD per person over 16 days). This fee is charged by the Bhutanese government and is not negotiable when visiting Bhutan.
  • Visa for Bhutan
  • Sightseeing as listed in the itinerary.
  • Services of your Inverted Atlas trip leader and local guides

Trip price does not include

  • International or domestic airfares
  • Visa for India
  • Meals not included as per trip itinerary including drinks and mini bar
  • Additional accommodation before or after the tour
  • Items of a personal nature including but not limited to laundry, souvenirs, porterage etc.
  • Travel insurance – please note comprehensive travel insurance is a condition of travel with Inverted Atlas

Journey Rating – Adventure

This is a tour of Bhutan, a country which has only recently re-opened to tourism and which accepts very few travellers each year. People may be curious towards you at times, but are overall very welcoming. This trip visits remote locations and villages where tourists are rare. Bhutan is a Buddhist country, and some temples and sites may require full coverage sleeves. You may be required to remove your shoes to enter certain buildings. Cuisine found in Bhutan is more often than not vegetarian, and can also be spicy. Toilets you encounter in public restrooms or in remote unscheduled stops along the way may be of the eastern ‘squat’ variety. There are some long travel days, but rest assured on arrival we will always be checking in to accommodation that is of a good standard. Bhutan does not have many Western-style chain hotels, but most of the accommodation on this trip consists of traditional guesthouses and home stays. The weather in Bhutan can change rapidly depending on the area we are traveling through; many of the places visited on this trip are at a high altitude and can be cold and windy. This trip visits the Himalayan region in winter – so pack accordingly!  

Facilities such as pharmacies, banks and ATM’s can be found in large cities and towns but will be absent from smaller villages and remote places. Please note that Bhutan for the most part is a cash economy. While the Ngultrum is the main currency, this can be difficult to source outside of Bhutan and most places catering to tourists will also accept Indian Rupees. We suggest arranging cash on arrival at Bhutan airport and carrying a combination of Rupees and Ngultrum. Tipping is not compulsory in Bhutan but is welcomed.

Any dietary requirements should not be an issue while traveling on this Bhutan tour, provided they are disclosed to Inverted Atlas at the time of booking.

A note about fitness

This tour of Bhutan requires a good level of physical fitness. You should be able to walk up to 4km at times and manage uneven surfaces during sightseeing, which will sometimes be at an incline. Altitude is a factor in some places, with this trip visiting sites up to 5000m above sea level. In addition, you should be able to climb up to 200 stairs unassisted and use an eastern style squat toilet (beware if you have knee issues). This trip involves some light to moderate hiking in the mountains, please consider this when making a booking.

You will need to be able to carry your own luggage to and from the coach and into the accommodation. (Due to OH&S regulations our trip leaders are not able to assist with luggage.)

In addition, you should be in good health, with no major chronic conditions requiring frequent medical attention. This trip often travels through remote locations where the availability of a hospital or even phone reception to call an ambulance is limited. While all our trip leaders are required to have a valid first aid certificate, they are far from doctors and any assistance they are able to provide will be limited to basic first aid. For more information please see our booking conditions.

Single supplement

Traveling by yourself? No problem, we love single travellers and don’t believe in penalising them by charging half the trip price again for our single supplement. With us you are only paying the actual cost to have a room all to yourself. If you’re up for making a new friend, you can elect to share with another single traveller of the same sex and only pay the twin-share price. The choice is yours!

Trip leader description

Accompanying you on your tour of Bhutan will be your Inverted Atlas trip leader. Your trip leader is a logistics extraordinaire, keeps the trip running smoothly and ensures you have the best time possible on your trip. It is important to know that while your trip leader has the best job in the world, they aren’t actually on holidays, but rather they are there to make sure you have the best time while you are on your holiday! Your trip leader may at times need some time out so that they can complete back of house tasks that ensure everyone continues to enjoy the trip. It is also your trip leaders’ job to handle any issues (heaven forbid!) that come up while you’re on your trip like:

  • If you lose your passport or other travel documents
  • If there is a problem with your room at the booked accommodation – seriously please tell your trip leader don’t wait until you leave
  • If you become unwell and need to find a pharmacy
  • Assisting with restaurant recommendations or additional sightseeing during free time
  • Questions regarding the itinerary

Your trip leader will have some good local knowledge about the destination in which you are traveling, however they are not a ‘local guide’. You’re welcome to ask your trip leader anything about the trip and if they don’t know they will find out and get back to you. Other people you will meet along the way are ‘local guides’ who are generally available to the group in specific towns or at specific sites like national parks, temples or archaeological sites. These people are the local experts and will be able to answer any questions you may have about the history and culture of a specific site.

Itinerary disclaimer

The itinerary for this tour of Bhutan is correct at the time of upload to our website and we have composed it in good faith. Please note that this trip does involve a border crossing on the second last day. Border crossings are subject to local Government laws, which we will adhere to strictly. From time to time we may elect to make changes before departure, if we are making a big change we will of course notify you, however if it is a small change this will be reflected in the final trip notes. So, make sure you download these prior to departure. Small changes prior to departure are usually made with the groups best interests in mind and come about due to liaising with our best resources – our past travellers and of course our trip leaders! The ability to change and evolve depending on what our travellers enjoy is what makes us such a great trip operator.

While we strive to operate our trips exactly to the letter of the itinerary, sometimes we may need to make changes on the ground while the group is on the road. This is all part of the adventure of traveling and we would ask that you come on your trip with an open mind and a good sense of humour because as much as we want it to, everything doesn’t always go to plan. In fact, these impromptu situations often make the best stories that you can have a laugh with your friends about later.

Age requirements

Minimum Age: 16 years

There is no shared accommodation on this tour of Bhutan, and in this instance we would welcome everyone above the age of 16 years. Should you wish to bring younger children, please give us a call.

There is no upper age limit for this trip, but you should consider the above fitness requirements prior to booking. If you are 65 years or over, you will be asked to complete our Health Check Form and have your medical practitioner sign it to confirm you are in good health and able to participate safely on this trip.

Travel insurance

Please note that comprehensive travel insurance is a condition of travel with Inverted Atlas. Insurance must include provision for medical situations, emergency medical repatriation to your home country and personal liability at a minimum. Proof of valid travel insurance will be requested by your trip leader on arrival at the pre-departure meeting. Please have this paperwork available for them. If you are unable to provide proof of comprehensive travel insurance, you may not be allowed to join the trip and no refund will be payable.

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