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Bhutan Cultural Tours & Treks
Tour Dates: Jan-May & Sept-Dec

Located high in the majestic Himalayas and nestled between Tibet and India is the small Kingdom of Bhutan. The local inhabitants call this Druk Yul, the “land of the peaceful dragon.” Our Bhutan Trek takes place in this magical region where prayer flags decorate breathtaking mountain landscapes and impressive monasteries cling to sheer cliff walls. Bhutan’s peaceful folk and tradition-steeped way of life combined with its pristine forests and picturesque valleys makes this one of the Earth’s most spectacular destinations for trekking.

2016 Price: $250 per person /per day (groups of 4 or more)

2016 Price: $280 per person /per day (fewer than 4 people)

Tours of any length may be arranged. We can also include treks of 3 – 8 days. Cultural treks at lower elevations may also be arranged. We can also arrange tours that do not include a trek.

Price Includes:

  • hotel and guesthouse accommodations and 4 nights camping on trek
  • all meals beginning lunch on day1 through breakfast on the final day
  • sightseeing
  • all ground transportation in Bhutan
  • entrance fees
  • English-speaking local guide and driver
  • cook
  • pack animals and animal drivers for the trek
  • tent for the trek
Price Does Not Include:

International flight to Asia, round trip flight Bangkok, New Delhi or Calcutta to Bhutan (approx. $800), travel Insurance, excess baggage charges, beverages (alcoholic, soft drinks, bottled water), optional gratuities for guide, driver and trekking crew, Bhutan visa fee – $20, Paro airport tax – $20

A non-refundable $500 USD per person deposit is required to book this tour.

“After only a few days I felt as if I were being shown Bhutan by friends.” ~ Kate C.

Tour Difficulty

This is a moderately strenuous trek. Pack animals will carry all of our gear and camping equipment allowing us to hike with just a daypack. On the trek you will be hiking 4 – 6 hours and covering 5 – 7 miles per day. Most days we will be hiking on undulating terrain, and the altitude gain will be 1,000 – 2,800 feet. The highest elevation will be 13,812 ft.

Tour Highlights

  • Ancient walled cities
  • Hillsides covered with olive trees
  • Etruscan tombs and Renaissance art
  • renowned wine regions
  • interesting hill top towns

Tour Overview

For years Bhutan deliberately isolated itself from the outside world and has only recently opened its borders to visitors. In Bhutan the Buddhist culture is integrated into every aspect of daily life, and those fortunate enough to visit describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. Here, success is measured by “Gross National Happiness”, an extraordinary concept that seeks to improve the quality of life by promoting economic self-reliance, preservation of the environment and maintaining Bhutan’s unique culture.

The first part of our Bhutan Cultural Tour and Druk Path Trek will be an immersion into Bhutan’s history, culture and lifestyle. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, we will do several day hikes and visit a number of Bhutan’s most important sights. Overnight lodging will be in comfortable hotels and guest houses. Then we begin a 5 day camping trek on the spectacular Druk Path. This moderately strenuous trek is supported by pack animals and takes us through thick alpine forests and groves of dwarf rhododendrons. There is a good chance we will see yaks and yak herders along the way. At the highest point of the trek, 13,800 ft. Phume La Pass, we will be greeted by an array of colorful prayer flags along with amazing views of Bhutan’s highest mountain, Gangkhar Puensum, and several other Himalayan peaks. On the trek our camps are in picturesque areas and there is trout fishing available in the lakes.

Bhutan is a trekker’s paradise and this time of year gives us the best chance to see the high Himalayan peaks. Our Bhutan Tour is the perfect blend of cultural visits and mountain trekking!

Tour Map

Tour Video

We will provide an itinerary for the exact number of days that you choose to be in Bhutan. Below is a sample itinerary to check out. Shorter itineraries can easily be arranged.

Day 1: Morning flight – (flights can be arranged from Bangkok, New Delhi and Calcutta to Paro, Bhutan)

Our early morning flight to Bhutan crosses the Himalayas and has spectacular views of Bhutan’s awesome peaks. Upon arrival in Paro, you will be greeted by our guide and transferred to our hotel. In the afternoon you’ll visit the Dzong in Paro. Overnight in Paro, (7,600 ft.)

Day 2: Paro

After breakfast you’ll hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous monastery. Guru Rinpoche was said to have flown on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. This picturesque monastery is perched on the edge of a steep cliff 3000 ft. above the Paro Valley. Overnight in Paro, (7,600 ft.)

Day 3: Paro – Wangduephodrang

After breakfast we drive to Wangduephodrang, (5 hour drive) with a stop en route for lunch at Dochu La where we can get spectacular views of the Himalayas. After lunch we drive to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan and visit Punakha Dzong, one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan. Wangduephodrang is known for its slate and stone carvings and bamboo work. Overnight in Wangduephodrang, (5,900 ft.)

Day 4: Wangduephodrang – Thimphu

After breakfast, we take an interesting hike through the tiny villages and rice fields to the Fertility Temple. Then we drive to Thimpu, the capital city of Bhutan. Hotel in Thimpu (7,600 ft.)

Day 5: Thimphu sightseeing

Grab your camera and get ready for a smorgasbord of Bhutan’s sights and culture. The day’s possibilities are many and your wishes will dictate the itinerary from a grand list of cultural, religious and governmental sights as well as a zoo! You can visit the Textile Museum, the Folk Heritage Museum and the weaving center in Changzamtok. You will also take time to finalize your preparations for the trek that starts the next morning. Overnight in Thimphu, (7,600 ft.)

Day 6: Trekking, Motithang – Phajoding (distance 5 mi., time 4-5 hours)

After a short transfer to Motithang (8,400 ft.) we begin the trek with a scenic uphill hike through a blue pine forest to our camp at Phajoding Monastery. In the afternoon we can walk around the area and visit the monastery. Overnight camp at Phajoding Monastery, (12,000 ft.)

Day 7: Phajoding – Simkota Tsho (distance 5.2 mi., time 5-6 hours)

The trail climbs for about an hour until we reach Phume La (pass) at 13,812 ft. From here we will have a grand view of Gangkhar Puensum, the highest mountain in Bhutan, as well as a number of other Himalayan peaks. We descend to our camp at Simkota Tsho Lake where it is possible to go trout fishing. Overnight camp at Simkota Tsho Lake, (13,254 ft.)

Day 8: Simkota Tsho – Jimilang Tsho (distance 5 mi., time 5 hours)

The trail will take us on short ups and downs, then through a yak herder camp and then it descends through dwarf rhododendrons before arriving at our overnight camp at Jimilang Tsho (Overnight camp at 11,650 ft.)

Day 9: Jimilang Tsho – Jangchu Lakha (distance 7 mi., time 5 hours)

The trek begins with an hour-long ascent, and then after a couple hours of nearly level hiking you will reach camp by lunch. In the afternoon you can take an hour hike to a ridge above the camp where there are spectacular views of Jumolhari Mountain. Overnight camp near Jangchu Lakha, (12,400 ft.)

Day 10: Jangchu Lakha – Paro (distance 9 mi., time 6.5 hours)

There are many ups and downs above the tree line during the first half of the trail. The trail then descends through rhododendrons and a thick alpine forest to Jili Dzong before crossing Jili La Pass at 11,450 ft. You can visit the dzong before your final downhill hike to Paro.

After passing through several villages, the trail ends near the Ta Dzong in Paro. You will be met by your driver and driven to our hotel in Paro. Overnight in Paro, (7,600 ft.)

Day 11

Depart Paro to Bangkok, or other destinations if you have made prior arrangements with us Hotel lodging is not included.

Day 12: (Optional)

Some people feel too rushed departing the morning after the trek and choose to extend the tour by spending an additional day in Paro. This would give you time for last minute shopping, a visit to the museum and the possibility to see an archery tournament.

If you are interested in visiting the Bumthang region, you will want to time your visit during the festivals and add 4 more days to your trip. We can suggest dates that will incorporate the festivals.

Who comes on a Nichols Expeditions Tour?

You can expect a spirited mix of singles and couples in their 20′s to 80′s from all corners of the US and a few international locations as well. Many have accompanied us on numerous tours in the past. Most folks all seem to share the common bond of an active lifestyle, an appreciation for the outdoors and a love for fun. We will gladly supply references and the make-up of any trip that you are interested in joining.

Cultural considerations for clothing in Bhutan

In general, the Bhutanese dress modestly, so anything revealing is discouraged and men should not go shirtless. On the bike ride and while hiking, it is OK for men and women to wear shorts and T-shirts, but while walking around in the towns you should wear long pants or a skirt. In the dzongs and temples, the legs and arms must be covered, and even three-quarter-length capri pants are not acceptable.

International flight from USA to Bangkok, New Delhi or Calcutta

You must arrive in Bangkok, New Delhi or Calcutta by the early evening the day prior to the flight to Bhutan Your lodging on this night will not be included in the trip cost. However, WE STRONGLY SUGGEST arriving a day early. This will give you time to get over jet lag and deal with any flight or baggage delays. PLEASE NOTE: You will be crossing the International Date Line and lose a day on your flight to Asia. Please check with the airlines to make sure that your flight will arrive on time.

Flights to Bhutan

PLEASE NOTE: We will make your airline reservations on Druk Air from Bangkok, New Delhi or Calcutta to Paro and invoice you after the current airfares are announced. Bangkok – Bhutan roundtrip airfare is approximately $800.

Return flights from Bhutan

We will return in the late afternoon of the last day of the tour to Bangkok, New Delhi or Calcutta. We do not include hotels for this night. Do not schedule any afternoon or early evening flights.

Stress free travel

Simply put, arrive at the starting point of your trip a day or two early. Many have told us this was one of the most important things they did to get ready for their trip. They felt rested and over their jet lag.

Passport

U.S. citizens must have a current Passport to enter Italy. Make sure your PASSPORT DOES NOT EXPIRE WITHIN 6 MONTHS OF THE COMPLETION OF YOUR TOUR. These requirements do vary from country to country, but just to be safe, we recommend going by the 6 month standard, because it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry when it comes to international travel!

Make copies of your passport! We recommend making 2 photocopies of your passport’s photo page and any other valuable documents you might carry with you on the tour. Travel with one copy stored separately from your passport. Leave the other copy at home with a relative or friend (ideally the same person you gave as your emergency contact). In the event that any of your documents are lost or stolen, this will greatly assist the process of replacement.

Visas

All travelers to Bhutan must have a Visa. We will provide you with a visa application which you will need to fill out and return to us. Once we receive your final trip payment we will submit your Visa Application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When we arrive in Paro the visa will be stamped in your passport and will be valid for 15 days. PLEASE NOTE: YOU WILL NEED TO PAY $20 US.

Travel Delays

Nichols Expeditions is not responsible for any costs you may incur due to delays with transportation (airline or other), weather, road conditions, government intervention, sickness or other contingencies for which we are unable to control. For international flights, it is necessary to arrive 2-3 hours prior to departure (check with your carrier). If you miss your flight and we need to provide a special shuttle for you to meet up with the group, you will be responsible to pay for all extra costs.

Hotels

Hotels and guest houses in Bhutan are all approved by the Bhutan Department of Tourism. They are comfortable and clean, but not luxurious. Most hotels will have telephones and long distance services.

Electricity

In Bhutan, electricity runs on 220/240 volts, with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. If you bring electrical appliances, also pack appropriate EU-style 2-pin adapter plugs or purchase them in Thimphu.

Food

The hotels and restaurants will serve a variety of dishes (Bhutanese, Indian, Chinese, and Continental). It is no problem if you are a vegetarian or have food allergies. Just let your guide know, and he will instruct the chefs on what type of food to prepare for you.

Weather

In the spring and fall the skies are generally sunny and clear, and you can expect daytime temperatures between 40–80 F. Temperatures drop very quickly when the sun goes down, and nighttime temperatures at high altitudes often drop to around 40 F. Rain is always a possibility, so be sure to bring good raingear (both a jacket and pants).

Government

The government of Bhutan is a Constitutional Monarchy. Bhutan has taken the forward-thinking steps of banning tobacco, plastic shopping bags and billboards.

Language

Dzongkha is the official language and there are a large number of local dialects. English is widely spoken, and our guide is bi-lingual.

Shopping

Markets are a good place to buy local clothing, handcrafts and jewelry. The Handicraft Emporium on the main street in Thimpu is open daily except Sunday.

Money

The traveling money you will need is for beverages, shopping and tipping of the local staff in Bhutan. $250 US should cover these expenses. Bring more if you like to shop.

Currency exchange and travelers checks

US dollars can be exchanged at the airport in Paro and in some of the hotels. Be sure to bring NEW BILLS IN GOOD CONDITION with no rips in the bills. Contact your bank in advance so they will have new bills for you.

Credit / debit cards and ATM's

There are ATM machines in banks in Paro and Thimpu. Very few places will accept credit cards.

Trekking Poles

We have one long day of hiking and several shorter hikes. If you have knee problems, consider bringing the poles.

Footwear

Lightweight hiking shoes or sturdy running shoes will work.

Notes on your personal bicycle equipment

If you want to bring your own bike

You can bring a road, hybrid or mountain bike with new 32-35c road tires, triple front chain rings suggested, 26 x 32 low gear recommended for the mountain passes. There are no bike shops that sell bike parts in the region where we will be riding, so you will need to be sure your bike is in excellent condition and that you bring any spare parts that might be needed.

Bike Helmet

The pros wear them and so should you! A good helmet, along with your own common sense, is your best protection against the lifelong debilitation a head injury can cause. Replace your old helmet with a new one at the first sign of cracks, frayed straps or broken buckles. During the tour, all riders are required to wear a helmet.

Sunglasses

A good pair of sunglasses is all it takes to prevent an eye injury from road debris or an insect. Make sure they fit properly with your helmet. Consider replaceable or photochromatic lenses for different light levels, and bring a spare pair just in case.

Toe Clips and Straps

(optional) Rental bikes come with flat pedals. If you want toe clips and straps, please bring your own pedals with the toe clips and straps. Also, shoes with flat soles are safer than lugged soles for pulling your foot out of the pedal.

Clipless Pedals

(optional) Clipless pedals are great for control and pedal power, but trying them for the first time on a tour may not be the best idea. For your personal safety, you must be comfortable riding, stopping and starting in traffic and on hills. If you bring clipless pedals, make sure to bring bike shoes with the correct cleats. For bike touring, we suggest Shimano SPD pedals. The release is adjustable and the recessed cleat makes walking safer and easier.

Bike Shoes

(optional) Simply put, a properly fit bike shoe will increase your pedaling efficiency and reduce foot fatigue. For bicycle touring, we recommend either a mountain bike or touring style shoe rather than a racing shoe. These styles flex a bit to make walking easier, and if you use clipless pedals, your cleat will be recessed for safer walking. If you have custom footbeds or orthotics, consider trying them in your bike shoes.

Travel Info

Camera Gear

Unless you are a pro photographer, we suggest bringing a small, compact digital camera that fits in the palm of your hand. If you shoot a lot of photos (and you will!), consider bringing extra data cards (1-4gb) or a portable hard drive to download your photos from the day. Other useful items are lens cleaner, lens tissue, soft lens brush, a mini tabletop tripod and a clean toothbrush to remove grit from the body of your camera.

Film warning from the TSA

If you shoot a film camera, the equipment used for screening checked and carry-on baggage will damage undeveloped film. Make sure to REMOVE IT AND HAVE IT HAND INSPECTED. To expedite the screening process, carry all film in clear canisters or take the film out of solid colored canisters and put it in a clear plastic ziploc bag. DIGITAL CAMERAS AND DIGITAL MEDIA ARE NOT AFFECTED. See the TSA website for complete details – http://www.tsa.gov

Cell Phones

Bhutan has GSM 900MHz cell phone service in the urban areas. If you have a multi-band GSM phone from the USA, check with your cell phone provider about using it in Bhutan. If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase a SIM card and phone credit in Paro. There is network available throughout our tour, and we were able to use our Blackberry phone with AT&T service everywhere.

Immunizations

For all travelers, we suggest keeping your tetanus immunization up to date (every 10 years), and we suggest a Hepatitis A immunization, too. You can check your state health department, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the online traveler’s data base http://www.mdtravelhealth.com/destinations/asia/bhutan.html for the most current information.

Colds & Flu

Check with your doctor so see if any of your current medications lower your immunity. Airplane flights, different cities or your neighbor’s kids could all be a source of germs, and no one wants to be sick on vacation! To keep yourself healthy WASH YOUR HANDS. We also recommend carrying a small hand sanitizer gel in your pack and using it.

Colds & Flu

Check with your doctor so see if any of your current medications lower your immunity. Airplane flights, different cities or your neighbor’s kids could all be a source of germs, and no one wants to be sick on vacation! To keep yourself healthy WASH YOUR HANDS. We also recommend carrying a small hand sanitizer gel in your pack and using it.

High Altitude

From our experience leading many high altitude tours and from information gathered from medical experts, we can help you understand more about the affects of traveling at high altitude and how to lessen or prevent AMS (acute mountain sickness). High altitude begins at 8,000 ft. On the first part of the tour we will spend several days acclimatizing at 7-8000 ft. During the trip we will have 5 days that we go over passes above 10,000 ft. The good news is that we never sleep above 8,500 ft.

Recognizing AMS

Above 8,000 ft., many people experience some type of mild, short-lived reaction to the altitude. The most common reactions are shortness of breath, a mild headache, fatigue, dizziness, a change in breathing, loss of appetite, nausea and insomnia. These symptoms usually go away within a day or two, and when they do, this is what “being acclimatized” means. However, if after a few days you are still bothered by these symptoms, or if the symptoms become worse (vomiting, a headache that will not go away with Ibuprofen or aspirin, or decreased coordination) you have AMS.

Preventing AMS

To aid in your acclimatization, drink plenty of fluids, eat mostly carbohydrates, limit strenuous exercise the first day, do not smoke, do not use depressant-type prescription sleeping pills (Melatonin is OK) and initially avoid alcoholic beverages. In addition to these precautions, and especially if you are prone to AMS, we suggest bringing Acetazolamide and Dexamethasone so you have the medications if you need them. Both are prescription medications used to prevent and treat AMS.

Treating AMS

Treating AMS starts with recognizing and personally acknowledging the symptoms, and then assessing the severity of the symptoms and acting to reduce the affects. Treatment may require rest, prescription medications, oxygen or descent to a lower altitude.

Medications for Preventing AMS

Acetazolamide (Diamox) - Important Note: People with a Sulfa Allergy should not use Acetazolamide

This prescription medication is the most widely used AMS preventative, and it has been shown to shorten the acclimatization process by increasing the rate and depth of breathing. Acetazolamide is a mild diuretic and common side effects are increased urination and a tingling sensation in the fingers (the tingling can be lessened by taking a potassium supplement). If there is any question about your tolerance for this medication, consider trying it at home before the tour. Suggested dose is 125 mg (cut a 250 mg dose in half) twice per day for persons below 220 lbs., and 250 mg twice per day for persons over 220 lbs. Begin taking the medication the day prior to the trek on Day 6, and continue using it twice per day until reaching the tour’s maximum altitude on Day 8. Keep a few days extra in case you have trouble breathing later in the tour.

Dexamethasone (Decdron) - Important Note: Dexamethasone should not be given to diabetics or anyone fro whom steroids are contraindicated

This prescription medication is a steroidal anti-inflammatory used primarily to treat AMS. The medical community is split on its use as a prophylactic to aid acclimatization, but it may be a reasonable alternative for those with a sulfa allergy who cannot tolerate Acetazolamide. They do agree that Dexamethasone is effective for treating AMS. As a prophylactic, dosage is 4 mg twice per day starting the first day of the trek (Day 7), and continuing for a few days until no symptoms occur, then taper off gradually. As a treatment for AMS, take two 4 mg doses 6 hours apart. Do not ascend until at least 12 hours after the last dose, and then only if there are no symptoms of AMS.

Ginko Biloba Extract

This dietary supplement is available over the counter and it has been shown to be effective in preventing or lessening the symptoms of AMS. It has yet to be determined exactly how Ginkgo Biloba works at altitude, but it may act as an antioxidant, reducing stress on tissues that have been injured by low oxygen levels. The recommended dose of Ginkgo Biloba extract (24% flavonoid glycosides, 6% terpenoids) is 80 – 120 mg twice a day, starting 5 days before the tour and continuing while at altitude.

If you have a Sulfa Allergy

For those who are allergic to Sulfa drugs, here are two other prescription medications to discuss with your doctor: oral NIFEDIPINE and SALMETEROL (SEREVENT).

Web Resources for additional AMS Information

Published Resources for Additional AMS Information

  • Wilderness Medicine: Management of Wilderness and Environmental Emergencies, by Paul S. Auerbach, Mosby – Year Book Publication, 3rd edition, 1995.
  • High Altitude Medicine and Physiology, by John B. West, Robert B. Schoene & James S. Milledge, A Hodder Arnold Publication, 4th edition, 2007.
  • High Altitude Medicine, written & published by Herb Hultgren, 1997.

Travel Insurance

To protect yourself against life’s uncertainties, we highly recommend purchasing a travel insurance policy!

Learn more about the Travel Insurance.

About Bhutan

Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. To the west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Bhutan's capital and largest city is Thimphu. ~ Wikipedia

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