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Nepal & the Mystical Himalayas 2014

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Trip Extensions

Pre-trip: Bhutan: The Last Shangri-La

Few travelers have ever heard of Bhutan—much less passed through its majestic (but remote) borders. The kingdom cautiously controls tourism to protect its legacy as one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. Before your Nepal travel, here is a unique opportunity to experience a magical, mystical world of elaborate temple-fortresses, ancient customs, and mind-boggling Himalayan scenery.

It's Included:
Airfare from Delhi to Paro, and from Paro to Kathmandu
Accommodations for 1 night in Delhi, 2 nights in Thimphu, 2 nights in Punakha, and 2 nights in Paro
18 meals—6 breakfasts, 6 lunches, and 6 dinners
9 small group activities
Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader, who speaks English and the native language
All transfers
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    Depart the U.S. on your flight to Delhi.

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    • Accommodations:

    Arrive in Delhi today. You will be met and transferred to your hotel where you can relax after your journey.

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    Early this morning, fly to Paro (elevation 7,300 feet). In clear weather, the flight to Bhutan provides a wonderful view of Himalayan scenery. It is a fascinating journey, culminating in an exciting descent past forested hills into the kingdom.

    Your Bhutanese Trip Leader will meet you on arrival at Paro airport. Then we’ll take an interesting drive of about 2.5 hours’ duration to Thimphu (7,600 feet), the modern capital town of Bhutan. Throughout our drive, we will have the opportunity to see, firsthand, the road building program currently underway. We’ll have lunch at our hotel in Thimphu.

    Before dinner you’ll have a briefing with your Trip Leader on what you can expect to discover over the next few days of your adventure. This evening dinner will be in the hotel.

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    Exquisitely beautiful and brimming with traditional Bhutanese art, architecture, and culture, this tiny capital of Bhutan is nothing less than Shangri-La. As we spend the day exploring, notice the touches of modernity, each one introduced thoughtfully and gradually to protect the environment.

    This morning’s tour is sure to provide insight into Bhutan’s unique culture. We begin with a visit to the National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts as well as the world’s largest book, followed by a stop at the Arts and Crafts School, also known as “Zorig Chusum,” the traditional school of the 13 arts and crafts. Next, the Textile Museum offers us rare glimpses into Bhutan’s finest textiles through demonstrations of production techniques such as weaving, dyeing, and spinning. We then enjoy a visit to a factory that produces handmade paper before lunch at a local restaurant.

    This afternoon we’ll visit the Handcrafts Emporium to see the exquisite artistry of traditional crafts and textiles. Then we’ll drive to the Memorial Chorten. Built in 1974 in memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the “Father of Modern Bhutan,” this multi-storied monument displays numerous paintings and statues that provide a rare insight into Buddhist philosophy.

    We will also visit the Takin Reserve, where we will see the national animal of Bhutan—an odd beast that confounds the experts, who have managed to relate it only to sheep. A Bhutanese myth suggests that the takin is a cow-goat hybrid, but its strong resemblance to the North American moose is difficult to ignore. We’ll continue on for a bird's-eye view of Thimphu and take a brief hike beyond to enjoy a stunning view of the valley.

    Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we’ll depart for Punakha. We drive over the stunning 10,000-feet Dochula Pass, one of Bhutan’s most enchanting views. Weather permitting, we can see the craggy peaks of Bhutan’s northern Himalayan border with Tibet. After a short stop at the pass we continue to Punakha, where we'll check into our hotel and enjoy an included lunch.

    The fertile valley of Punakha is drained by the Phochu and Mochu rivers and blessed with a temperate climate. Before Thimphu was made the capital of Bhutan, Punakha held the title as the winter capital because of its more temperate climate. Today it is the winter seat of the Je-Khenpo (the Chief Abbot) and the Central Monk Body.

    Later in the afternoon we’ll visit the Punakha Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness), built at the junction of the Phochu and Mochu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This majestic dzong served as both the religious and the administrative center of Bhutan in the past. It measures some 600 by 240 feet and has a six-story, gold-domed tower. Inside are courtyards and religious statuary that hint at the depth of history and spiritual tradition embodied here. Your guide will illuminate your understanding of this long-established, intricate culture.

    After dinner at the hotel, our evening is free.

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    After breakfast, we start the day with a nature drive of the surrounding valleys and learn more about the abundant regional flora and fauna en route.  We’ll also visit the vibrant Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang nunnery and learn about their daily life.

    After lunch at our hotel, you’ll hike to Chhimi Lhakhang Monastery, a 30-40 minute gradual hike. Situated on a hillock below the village of Metshina, the temple was built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the Divine Madman) and is believed to enable conception to childless women who visit it and receive a blessing.

    Dinner is at our hotel this evening.

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    • Meals included:
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    After breakfast, we depart for Paro, driving over the Dochula Pass. Later in the afternoon, we visit the ancient Paro Rinpung Dzong, and explore the town on foot—including a walk over a traditional covered bridge.

    This evening, we'll enjoy dinner at our hotel.

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    In the morning, we’ll hike (approximately 90 minutes) to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Monastery viewpoint. Perched seemingly impossibly on a cliff 3,000 feet above the valley floor, Taktsang is a place of pilgrimage for locals—and for visitors like us, a hike to the viewpoint opposite the monastery is thrilling and mystical. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to the site of the monastery on the back of a tigress from Tibet, and meditated there for three months—thus bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The main building of the temple was destroyed by fire in April 1998 but has now been restored to its original splendor and glory. It is possible to take the ride up by horseback—but only for the brave!

    We return to our hotel for an included lunch. This afternoon we visit the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, previously a fortress and Buddhist monastery. Then we explore sacred Kyichu Lhakhang. The temple was reportedly built in AD 659 by King Sontsen Gampo of Tibet. According to legend, it pins the left foot of an ogress so large that she covers Bhutan and most of eastern Tibet.

    Tonight you’ll enjoy a Farewell Dinner at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:

    Today we rise early and transfer to the airport in Paro, where you'll have breakfast before boarding a flight to Kathmandu. Your Nepali Trip Leader will meet you at the airport to assist with your transfer to your hotel to begin your discovery of Nepal & the Mystical Himalayas.