12 days from £4245 per person
Places Visited: Kolkata, Thimphu, Gangteng, Punakha, Paro
Discover the magic and mystery of Bhutan on this short tour of the country’s highlights, covering the sights of Paro and Thimphu, and taking in the astonishing fortified monastic complexes at Punakha. Also included is the beautiful valley of Gangtey, famous for its population of migrant-black-necked cranes, and an excellent base for walks.
The tour is bookended with short stays in the capital city of West Bengal, Kolkata (Calcutta).
Fly from the UK to Kolkata via the Gulf.
On arrival in the morning, you’ll be met by your TransIndus driver and guide, and escorted to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from the journey, perhaps venturing out to the College Street Coffee House as an acclimatiser.
One of our favourite places to get accustomed to the city’s distinctive ambience is the College Street Coffee House on Bankim Chatterjee Street– a favourite hangout for Bengali intellectuals and artists. Grab a table under one of the paddle fans, order a dosa and masala chai from one of the turbaned waiters and you’ll soon be drawn in to the local ‘adda’, or chit-chat.
A full day’s sightseeing today starts with a morning visit to the wholesale flower market at Mallick Ghat. Wind your way through the heaps of marigolds and jasmine blooms, then climb the steps up nearby Howrah Bridge for a great view over the riverfront.
Today’s tour covers most of the city’s must-see sights, including the iconic Victoria Building on Kolkata’s Maidan, the Indian Museum’s famous collection of antiquities, the Writers’ Building and Park Street Cemetery, where an evocative collection of 18th and 19th century Gothic tombs recalls the early days of British rule. In the evening, drive across town to the Kali Ghat temple, dedicated to a black-faced incarnation of the Goddess Durga. The temple is the most important Hindu shrine in the city. Noisy crowds attends rituals here from dawn til dusk, forming snaking queues in the temple precincts as they wait to fling hibiscus flowers at the three-eyed, gold-tongued deity in the main sanctum.
Take a short flight to Paro, and on arrival drive from there to Paro for a two-night stay.
Approached by spectacular flight path, the town’s airport at Paro is the principal arrival point for foreign travellers. A couple of hours’ drive away, Thimpu became the capital of Bhutan in 1961, since when it’s swollen to a town of around 80,000 people – the perfect place to get to grips with life in modern Bhutan.
A full day’s sightseeing in and around Thimphu today starts with a visit to its famous dzongs.
During the fifth day of your trip, you’ll tour the Bhutanese capital’s impressive dzongs (fortress-monasteries), the King’s Memorial Chorten, Buddhist painting school and national folk museum, made of rammed earth to resemble a traditional farmstead. In the city’s market, your guide will point out local delicacies such as jellied cow skin and fried fern and don’t miss the chance to touch a takin, Bhutan’s national animal, which looks like a cross between a cow and a goat and survives in the nearby Mothitang Reserve.
Drive to Gangtey today for a two-night stay.
The 17th century dzong at Gangtey is this awesome valley’s prime religious monument, although most visitors come in search of black-necked cranes. A festival in which local children wear specially made crane masks is held in the monastery each November to welcome their arrival. The other major event here is tsechu, which usually falls in October, when monks perform traditional Cham dances in the monastery courtyard. Preserved in one of Gangteng’s inner shrines is one of the country’s more gruesome relics: the hands of a British army officer killed in a battle with Bhutanese forces in 1864.
Drive to the Phobjikha Valley today to visit the black-neck crane centre.
Surrounded by snow peaks and old-growth forest, the beautiful Phobjikha Valley is home to a unique conservation initiative, where migratory black-neck cranes, which pass through here in the winter months between October and March, are protected by local wardens and volunteers. The centre provides information about the birds and their migration, and if your visit coincides with their stay in the village you’ll be able to observe them grazing on the valley floor through telescopes.
Drive east to Punakha for a two-night stay, visiting the local Dzong (fortified monastery) in the afternoon.
Around 25km east of Thimphu, Punakha is the home of one of the country’s most beautiful monasteries, built around 1638 at the confluence of two rivers. The complex is a showcase of Bhutanese craftsmanship, with a particularly impressive assembly hall featuring fine clay statues and intricate murals. The dzong also hosts a well-known festival, during which an enormous thondrol ‒ an extraordinary appliquéd sacred banner ‒ is unfurled, conferring merit on all who see it.
Drive to Paro for a two-night stay in the town.
Shops, restaurants and offices in richly carved traditional buildings line the main street of Paro, where two of eastern Bhutan’s main rivers meet. The town is best known locally for the splendid Rinpung Dzong, overlooking the river, whose most valuable possession is a giant embroidered tapestry, or thondrol (thangka), depicting the dzong’s founding father, Guru Rincpoche; the treasure is unrolled only once a year on the morning of the annual tsechu (festival). On the hill behind rests the National Museum in a beautifully restored watchtower, the Ta Dzong, built in the 1650s to guard Paro’s dzong.
Sightseeing in and around Paro town today includes a trip out to the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Bhutan’s most photographed monument, the Taktshang Monastery, commonly known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, is wedged into a lofty cliff nearly a vertical kilometre above a forested valley. Rock-cut steps and rickety bridges connect its four wings, whose golden pagoda roofs, fluttering prayer flags and distempered walls are dwarfed by the vista of forested hills and snow-capped mountains unfolding on all sides – a spectacle worth the journey to Bhutan alone!
Fly back to Kolkata today from Paro. Stay one night.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK
12 days from £4245 per person
✓ International flights from the UK
✓ 10 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Kolkata, or ‘Calcutta’ as it was known prior to 2001, is the capital of West Bengal state, and India’s third largest city, with a population of approximately 14.1 million. The tra...
Thimphu became the capital of Bhutan in 1961, since when it has swollen to a town of around 80,000 people. TransIndus tours typically pause a couple of nights here – long enough t...
Around 15.5 miles (25 km) east of Thimphu, Punakha and its gorgeous valley typically offers visitors their first real taste of rural Bhutan. Built in around 1638 and beautifully s...
Shops, restaurants and offices in richly carved traditional buildings line the main street of Paro, a couple of hours’ drive from Thimpu, where two of eastern Bhutan’s main rivers...
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