Bhutan - Hero

Bhutan: a Cultural Walking Tour with the Black-necked Crane Festival


Bhutan, ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon’, is the last independent Himalayan kingdom, a stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism, with a unique culture which has been protected over centuries both by the remote mountainous terrain and by a self-imposed policy of isolation from outside influences. The opportunity to travel in Bhutan is undoubtedly a special privilege, restricted to a very small number of visitors annually. A magnificent panorama of Himalayan peaks form the backdrop to vast undisturbed forests of hemlock, rhododendron and magnolia, and traditional wooden and stone-built villages are dominated by strategically-sited dzongs, the great mediaeval monastery/fortresses which safeguard Bhutan’s heritage.

In autumn, clear skies bring superlative views of the Himalayan peaks forming the border with Tibet and we journey to the remote Bumthang and Gangtey provinces to witness the colourful festival celebrating the return of the black-necked cranes. We stay in comfortable, very atmospheric, traditional hotels, enjoy local cuisine (with an emphasis on vegetables, rice and noodles with mildly spicy sauces), and experience Bhutanese life in close-up on a series of forest, paddy field, riverside and mountain walks. 

HIGHLIGHTS of the tour include:

  • Attending the Festival held to celebrate the annual return of rare black-necked cranes from Tibet - traditional dances in costume, music and rice wine!  
  • Walking in the remote Bumthang valley in eastern Bhutan, considered a sacred area & little changed over centuries  
  • Visiting Buddhist monasteries active since the 7C and witnessing the monks chanting, drumming and turning prayer wheels  
  • Observing wildlife - Himalayan red deer, grey langur monkeys, many butterflies, and birds including Himalayan griffons and ibisbill

Guests’ comments on this trip:

‘An amazing experience. It was a privilege to visit Bhutan with its gracious, charming people and the dramatic scenery of the Himalayas.’

‘It was a wonderful experience and we had great fun due to our guides and driver. Coming back to earth has been hard! The Bhutan people are wonderful.’

'I loved the trip - the places we visited, the people we travelled with and the guides who accompanied us. Having been on a trip with Kudu before, I had high expectations and hopes. Not surprisingly, Kudu delivered and then some.'

DAY 1  
L, D included
A spectacular flight over the Himalayas on Druk (Dragon) Air brings us into Paro airport and a step back in time – everyone wears national dress, oxen are working the fields and archery, the national sport, is being practised with bamboo bows on a grassy meadow in the middle of town. After settling into our beautifully decorated hotel, we set off to explore the imposing fortress of Rinpung Dzong, dating from 1645, and walk to the Ta Dzong, a huge mediaeval watchtower which now houses the National Museum of Bhutan.

DAY 2 
B, L, D included 
We walk up the Pa Chhu river valley from Drukyul dzong (a ruined fortress built to guard the western borders from invaders and control the trade route to Tibet), passing through hamlets with richly decorated wooden farmhouses where birds such as red and yellow-billed choughs and blue whistling thrush are common, and following an old trekking trail towards Jomolhari. We retrace our steps and cross the river, passing rice terraces and fields of millet.  After a picnic we visit Kyichu, one of the oldest (7C) and most atmospheric monasteries, where monks can often be seen chanting and drumming.  

DAY 3
B, L, D included
Following the sole, narrow paved road in Bhutan, we gradually ascend through chir pine forest to Dochu La (=pass) at 10,450 ft, with 108 chortens and a breathtaking vista of Himalayan peaks. The forest becomes more luxuriant and the landscape wilder as we descend to Punakha (4,160 ft) on an afternoon walk (4 hours) down to the river, where white-capped and plumbeous water redstarts dart across the clear water. Our modest hotel is set in pretty gardens and enjoys panoramic views.

DAY 4
B, L, D included
We cross a narrow suspension bridge on foot to visit the enormous Pungthang Dechen Dzong, with its golden spires and busy monastic life, then walk through paddyfields up to the 15C temple of Chime Lhakhang, encircled by small prayer wheels and dedicated to the legendary lama Drukpa Kun-le, known as ‘the Divine Madman’. Heading south and east, we pass the strategic junction at Wangdu Phodrang, guarded by an impressive 17C dzong, en route to our charming riverside lodge, set in sub-tropical gardens, where we stay the night. Here we are at lower altitude (around 2,000 m), verging on the tropical zone, and there are many butterflies in the garden. 

DAY 5 
B, L, D included
A dramatic drive takes us up to a high pass where we turn south to drop down into the Phobjika valley (10,000 ft), extensively grazed by yaks and winter home of rare black-necked cranes. We walk on springy turf across a huge glacial moraine to overlook the marshes and pools of the valley floor, then continue on foot up this isolated valley to our simple traditional guesthouse, run in authentic Bhutanese style. After lunch we walk in the higher pastures above the valley, where yaks graze on dwarf bamboo and the nomads live in their black yak-wool tents; have the opportunity to buy locally woven carpets, and visit the recently restored Gangteng monastery with its extensive murals depicting the Thousand Buddhas.

DAY 6
B, L, D included
Colourful local festivals are very much part of life in Bhutan and today we watch the festivities held to celebrate the annual return of the black-necked cranes from their summer breeding grounds high on the Tibetan plateau – traditional dancing in special costumes, music and singing, and drinking butter tea and rice wine. After lunch a spectacularly scenic drive takes us deep into central Bhutan, over the Pele La (11,000 ft) and down into Tongsa which boasts the largest dzong in the kingdom, the ancestral home of the Royal family. Our hotel restaurant is noted for its delicious, authentic Bhutanese dishes, though the national dish, chilli cheese, may be considered an acquired taste!

DAY 7
B, L, D included
We visit the new Museum of the Royal Family (reached by an optional steep walk or a drive) and meet some very friendly monks before lunch. Crossing a final high pass, the Yotong La, we descend through stunning scenery into the glaciated Bumthang valley (8,450 ft), the cultural heartland of Bhutan, pausing en route to see traditional village weaving and to walk paths through superb stands of hemlock trees. Considered a sacred area, and very little visited by outsiders, life here has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, with agriculture and religious festivals marking the rhythm of each year. In our comfortable lodge each room has its own burkhari – wood burning stove.

DAY 8
B, L, D included
Setting off on foot we search for the elusive ibisbill on the river banks and Himalayan red deer in the meadows, watch sheep’s cheese being made, see traditional watermills in action grinding buckwheat and cross a footbridge bright with prayer flags as we make our way to the magnificently decorated monastery of Kurje Lhakhang. After lunch we also explore the Jakar dzong, ‘The Fortress of the White Bird’ and the most revered and ancient of Bumthang’s temples, the 7C Jampa Lhakhang.

DAY 9
B, L, D included
Returning slowly back over the mountains on a long day’s drive (7.5 hours), we break the journey with pauses to look out for Himalayan griffon vultures and grey langur monkeys, to photograph the many stands of prayer flags and chortens along the route, and to walk especially scenic sections, before reaching our riverside lodge in the valley by late afternoon.

DAY 10
B, L, D included
We return over the high passes to the quiet capital, Thimpu (population approximately 40,000, and the only capital in the world with no traffic lights) where we visit the National Institute of Traditional Arts and Crafts and Tashi Chodzong, the grand seat of the Bhutan government, with a series of ornately carved courtyards decorated with striking murals and relief sculptures. There is time to shop for handicrafts, especially woven silk, tangkha scrolls and masks, before we have an invitation to a private performance of traditional Bhutanese classical music and dance.

DAY 11
B, L, D included
We hike 2,000 ft up the ancient pilgrimage path which zigzags through oak and pine forest to Taktsang monastery, the celebrated Tiger’s Lair. Founded by the legendary Guru Padma Sambhava, who flew from eastern Bhutan on the back of a flaming tigress to subdue demons opposed to the spread of Buddhism, this impressive monastery commands splendid views of the surrounding mountains.

DAY 12
B, L, D included
Travelling west of Paro, we walk high in the yak pastures on the slopes of Chele La, enjoying views across the Haa valley towards the border with Sikkim (weather dependent). Returning to our hotel, we may try a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath before our farewell dinner.

DAY 13
B included
We depart, reluctantly, on the morning Drukair flight, seeing Bhutan’s sacred mountain Jomolhari, and the snow-covered Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu and Mt. Everest on what must be the world’s most spectacular plane journey.

£3,590 per person sharing
£500 deposit per person
£370 
single room supplement

Please note that the single room supplement is imposed by the hotels and not by Kudu Travel. If you are willing to share but no other suitable guest books on the trip, we regret that the supplement will be payable.

N.B. The trip price relates to the Bhutanese Government policy of restricting the annual number of visitors to under 20,000 and charging a high daily minimum (which goes to a government development fund). One has to pay for the privilege of visiting Bhutan, but it is a price infinitely worth paying.  

Price includes

  • All accommodation for Days 1 through 13, on a twin shared basis
  • All meals (with beer/soft drinks at lunches and dinners) as listed in the daily notation
  • All transportation in a private minibus with driver as described
  • All entrance and sightseeing fees except during free periods
  • Special permits to enter restricted areas of monasteries                        
  • Bhutan Visa                                                                           
  • Gratuities for hotel and restaurant staff (appreciation for tour leaders is discretionary)
  • Services of a local specialist guide, plus Kudu tour leader

Price does not include

  • International transportation to and from Paro
  • Trip cancellation, medical or other insurance,
  • Immunisations, prescriptions or other medical requirements
  • Passport and health documentation
  • Personal expenses (laundry, alcohol other than beer with group lunches and dinners, etc.)
  • Transport and transfer of excess baggage
  • Bhutan departure tax (if any)


VALUE FOR MONEY - SO MUCH IS INCLUDED

On Kudu trips you will only need money for postcards, presents to take home, the odd G & T or an irresistible ice cream. Festival and opera tickets, museum and gallery entrances, National Park fees, all meals (with a very few exceptions specified in individual itineraries), wine with lunch and dinner, access to specialist books carried by the guides, gratuities for porters and hotel and restaurant staff, boat rides, train trips, internal flights, wine tastings, 4WDs with drivers, the services of skilled local guides and trackers etc are ALL INCLUDED in the cost of your holiday. 

We are confident that, like previous very satisfied guests, you will discover that our tours give you excellent value for money.

Visa and Health Requirements
All visitors require a valid passport and a Visa for entry to Bhutan - visa support service is organised by Kudu Travel and the cost is included in the price.

At present there are no specific and compulsory health requirements for entry to Bhutan, but we encourage you to consult your doctor in good time (at least 6 weeks before departure) about updating your immunisation against Hepatitis A, polio, tetanus and typhoid, or anything else they consider advisable. We will NOT visit southern low-lying parts of Bhutan where malaria occurs.

In view of the altitude of some of the passes we will cross (above 3,000 metres), you may wish to speak with your doctor about the advisability, or suitability, of prophylaxis against potential altitude sickness.

You may also wish to check the advice given to travellers by the Department of Health and the FCO.

Insurance
It is essential, and a condition of booking, that you protect yourself with a suitable travel insurance policy as soon as you book a trip. Please ensure that you are specifically covered for walking at high altitude and evacuation by helicopter in case of medical emergency.
Follow this link for a quote for a policy available to UK residents. If you are already insured or a non-UK resident, please inform us of your policy at the time of booking

Size of party
This trip will run with a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 16 guests.