Springtime Splendor in the Himalayas

Bhutan

March 12 - April 2, 2018
Cost: $7,990
Leader: Hishey Tshering + 1
Group Size: 10
Days: 22

Safari Overview

Experience Himalayan wildlife, mountain scenery, and Buddhist culture as you explore beautiful Bhutan. Bhutan is a birder’s paradise during the spring courting season, with up to 400 bird species possible. The mountains are covered with blooming rhododendrons and spring is the best time to find the rare Satyr Tragopan. Travelling through this mountainous gem between India and China, you are engulfed in Bhutan’s strong culture, not only in its unique architecture and abundant prayer flags, but also in its adoration and respect for nature. Visit dzongs and monasteries, including a hike to the famous, cliff-side Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Guided throughout by our Bhutanese leader, Hishey Tshering, you will experience the wonder and beauty of Bhutan.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Spend 18 days and 17 nights in Bhutan for vibrant bird life and plant life alive with springtime brilliance.
• Search for the rare White-bellied Heron and Satyr Tragopan and intriguing mammals like endemic Golden Langur.
• Witness a Buddhist festival with colorful costumes, brightly painted masks, and traditional folk music.
• Visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and other temples to experience Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

Itinerary Updated: February 2017



FAQ Print Trip
Date Description Lodge Meals
Mar 12-14 Fly to Bangkok. Lose a day if crossing west over the International Date Line.
Mar 15 Fly from Bangkok to Paro, sightseeing in Paro. Hotel in Paro L, D
Mar 16-31 Explore the natural and cultural wonders of Bhutan. Various lodges in Bhutan B, L, D
Apr 1 Fly from Paro to Bangkok for overnight. B
Apr 2 Fly home. Gain back a day if crossing east over the International Date Line.

Our Trip Leaders

Hishey Tshering

Hishey spent his lifetime promoting and preserving nature in Bhutan through many guiding and conservation efforts. He worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature and the International Crane Foundation on bird issues. His belief in "Gross National Happiness" and extensive knowledge of culture, birds, and wildlife make him one of the most sought-after guides in Bhutan for over 15 years. Hishey will be helped by an assistant guide.

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Travel to Bangkok, Thailand

Mar 12-14

Fly to Bangkok, Thailand for an overnight. Lose a day if crossing west over the International Date Line.

Fly from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan

Mar 15

View of Himalaya Mountains from Pelela Pass in Bhutan

Fly from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan with views of Himalayan peaks towering through the clouds. Hishey will meet you in Paro to start your journey through Bhutan.

Explore the natural and cultural wonders of Bhutan

Mar 16-31

Tiger's Nest Monastery by Debbie Thompson

Bhutan is a country and culture that embodies in living in the moment. It is a nation experiencing rapid growth and a newly emerging tourist industry, so our itinerary too must be flexible to take advantage of the best Bhutan has to offer each year. The safari will start and end in Paro, driving through seven districts (or dzongkhag) to visit the best regions for bird watching, acrobatic langurs, beautiful spring blossoms, and unique cultural experiences. Hike to Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery and see many other unforgettable sites. Read on for highlights of each district we visit.

Paro ~ Chele La Pass, Paro Valley, Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Scenic Chele La Pass is the highest road in Bhutan (close to 13,000 feet or 3,900 meters) with excellent views when skies are clear. A pre-dawn departure could uncover nocturnal species such as Gray Nightjar or Leopard Cat. Explore different habitats as you climb to the pass and search for three different species of pheasants. Explore beautiful Paro Valley and the ruins of the Drukgyel Dzong. The valley’s Blue Pine forest is home to Black-faced Laughingthrush, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla, and Ibisbill may be seen patrolling the Paro River.

Bhutan’s most famous site is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, impressively built on the side of a cliff just west of Paro. The hike to this architectural masterpiece is typically offered on the last full day in Bhutan. Halfway up there is a cafe and viewpoint to relax and view the monastery located on the cliff across a gorge. Those who continue will discover increasingly dramatic views leading to a picturesque waterfall and bridge just below the monastery. You may tour the inside and see the rocks protruding from within, however photography is not permitted inside. Keep an eye out for monkeys playing in the trees near the trail.

Thimphu ~ Dochu La Pass, Capital city of Thimphu
Dochu La, at 10,000 feet (3,050 meters), is one of the most scenic passes in Bhutan. On a clear day, Dochu La affords superb views of the Himalayan range to the north. Colorful birds such as Fire-tailed Myzornis, Red-tailed Minla, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, and Green-tailed Sunbird complement the vivid blossoms of rhododendrons and magnolias that dot the hillside. In addition to the natural scenery, visitors to the Dochu La are drawn to the 108 Buddhist stupas (a place for meditation) built on a hill decorated by colorful prayer flags. In Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, we have an opportunity to explore more natural and cultural attractions. Visit a weaving shop and traditional paper making workshop to witness students learning these respected crafts. See the national mammal, the Takin, protected in an extensive nature reserve on the edge of town or take an optional hike up to the Cheri Monastery.

Jigme Dorji National Park
Explore Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest national park in Bhutan, covering parts of five districts (Gasa, Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, and Wangdue Phodrang). We may encounter Assamese Macaques, Common Grey Langurs, and Goral (a native goat), as well as many birds, such as the Crested Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, and Oriental and Large Hawk cuckoos. With luck we’ll watch the rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide feeding on the honeycomb of rock-bee hives.

Punakha ~ Punakha Dzong, search for White-bellied Heron
Travel alongside the mighty Puna Tsang Chu River to the town of Punakha, home to the majestic Punakha Dzong, the winter residence of the central monastic body. Search along the river for Pallas’s Fish Eagle and the White-bellied Heron, the world’s rarest heron. In the semi-tropical zone of this district, look for Mountain Hawk Eagle, Great Barbet, and the rare Ward’s Trogon.

Wangdue Phodrang ~ Pele La Pass, Phobjikha Valley
Take in spectacular views over Pele La Pass between the districts of Trongsa and Wangdue Phodrang. Monal Pheasants, Satyr Tragopan, and the Great Parrotbill are possibilities here. We also hope to encounter mammals, Goral and Serow, wild herbivores that do well in these habitats around Pela La. Decend into the glacial valley of Phobjikha, known as the “Valley of the Cranes.” Phobjikha Valley has the largest wetland in Bhutan and is one of the winter homes of about 350 rare and endangered Black-necked Cranes in the world. These cranes typically start to arrive here in the end of October and migrate back to Tibet in early March. Though unlikely, it is possible that we may see a crane or two still lingering. Because of the annual presence of the cranes, Phobjikha is one of the most important wildlife preserves in the kingdom. Brilliant sunbirds may be found feeding on insects in the rhododendron blossoms among unique larches endemic to the Himalayas. Look for species of parrotbills, bullfinch, pheasants, and many other birds.

Trongsa ~ Trongsa Dzong, Golden Langurs
Trongsa is best known for the Trongsa Dzong, the largest dzong in Bhutan. Take in the beautiful surroundings and impressive architecture, learn about the dzong’s historical importance, and perhaps see Assam Macaques climbing the walls. If open, we’ll also visit the Tower of Trongsa Museum in the watch tower up the hill for great views and interesting cultural and historical artifacts. The district is also a good place to find rare Golden Langurs, a primate found only in Bhutan and parts of India.

Bumthang ~ Orgyencholing Palace, Chumey Valley
In addition to spectacular landscapes covered in rhododendron blooms, a highlight of our exploration of Bumthang will be visiting the Orgyencholing Palace that has been converted into a fabulous museum providing an insight into the times prior to the establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907. Search for new bird species in the Blue Pine forests of Chumey Valley including the stunning, iridescent Himalayan Monal pheasants that frequent the Tharpaling Monastery. Beautiful Rosefinch and Rufous-breasted Accentor may be seen foraging in the open fields with the Himalayan Griffon soaring above.

Mongar ~ Bird diversity in lowland forests, Thrumsingla National Park
Mongar is the easternmost and lowest elevation of the districts on our safari and is one of the best places for birding in Asia with its rich, subtropical, broadleaf forests. Look for Blood Pheasants and flocks of Snow Pigeons flying across the valley or foraging in the farmlands. Travel through Thrumsingla National Park and a variety of ecological zones between Bumthang and Mongar, stopping for a hike through rhododendron forest at Thrumsing La Pass. Search for Satyr Tragopan and Rufous-necked Hornbill and other birds that flourish in the lowlands of Bhutan. Hishey loves birding in this area so much, he built Trogon Villa so his tour groups would have a comfortable base from which to explore this wildlife-rich region of Bhutan. In addition to abundant bird life, search for Capped Langurs swinging playfully in the trees. A night drive offers us the opportunity to see nocturnal species.

Bhutan’s festivals and Buddhist culture
Bhutan is a country of festivals. The most important are the religious dance festivals, known as Tshechus, which are held in different districts throughout the year. In a swirl of color and noise, the gods and demons of Buddhist mythology come to life. Masked and sword dances and other rituals are performed by monks and villagers. The performances have deep religious significance but are not somber affairs. The atsaras (traditional clowns of the Tshechu) add color and merriment to the festival with their bawdy antics.

The Buddhist culture of Bhutan is visible throughout the country, with prayer flags and stupas adorning hillsides and mountain passes. Hishey will enlighten you with stories of his country’s history, including the arrival of Buddhism and Bhutan’s peaceful transition from monarchy to democracy. He’ll interpret tales depicted in the brightly painted murals covering walls in monasteries and dzongs. Because of the strong connection to nature, the country’s cultural history is strongly tied to its natural history.

Fly from Paro to Bangkok

Apr 1

Blue-throated Barbet

Hishey will transfer you to the airport for your group flight from Paro back to Bangkok. Overnight in Bangkok or connect with a late-night flight homeward.

Fly home from Bangkok

Apr 2

Arrive home, depending on your flight schedule. Gain a day if crossing east over the International Date Line.

Bhutan

Travel over scenic Himalayan passes surrounded by courting birds amid springtime flowers, and experience a colorful Buddhist festival.

27.403794, 89.423971

Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Cost Per Person
Trip cost, double occupancy $7,990
Single supplement $910

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement fee. Single rooms are subject to availability.


Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second May 1, 2017 $2,000
Final October 2, 2017 Remaining balance

Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.


Cancellations

Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. No refunds are given after the Final Payment due date.

Included

  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, and permits for all activities in Bhutan during safari.
  • Internal flight between Bumthang and Paro.
  • Airport transfers in Bhutan.
  • Accommodations for 17 nights in Bhutan.
  • All meals in Bhutan during safari dates.
  • Bhutan visa fee.
  • Drinking water in the bus and during all included meals.
  • Gratuities to airport and hotel porters in Bhutan.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • Airfare (except flight listed as included), airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees. Airfare for the round-trip between Bangkok and Paro is estimated to be $995 (subject to change), plus your international flights to/from Bangkok (approximately $800–$1,500 between the US and Bangkok, depending on origin).
  • Accommodations, transportation, and meals in Bangkok.
  • Gratuities: tipping is, of course, discretionary, however we suggest budgeting about $15 to $20 per participant per day for 17 days with Hishey’s staff (about $260 to $340 total per participant).
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance, and trip cancellation insurance. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, beverages other than water, and items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.

Climate

Temperatures vary greatly from near freezing conditions in the morning to very warm under the direct high-altitude sunlight. Layered clothing is essential. Daytime temperatures are typically around 45-55°F and nighttime and early-morning temperatures may drop to 30–35°F at higher altitudes. March is in the “dry season,” but some rain is likely and cloudy or overcast skies are common.

Fitness Level

You will visit high elevations; our overnights are at elevations ranging from about 4,500 feet at Punakha and Yongkhola to about 9,500 feet at Phobjikha (1,400 to 2,900 meters). Most walks are under a mile with some 1-2 miles and at a slow pace with stops to observe wildlife. The most strenuous activity is the optional hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (at 10,240 feet, 3,240 meters). Most of the trail is steep with switchbacks or stairs, but you can stop halfway at a viewpoint and decide if you want to continue or just enjoy the view from there. The hike up and back can take about 3-4 hours depending on your pace and how much time you spend at the monastery.

Flights

Airfare is not included in trip costs (except flight listed as included). Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) in time for an overnight on March 14 to connect with our early-morning group flight to Bhutan on March 15. Depart Bangkok (BKK) anytime on April 2 or after 10:00pm on April 1.

Flights we book for you: There is one domestic flight during the safari between Bumthang and Paro (included in the trip cost) and we will also book the round-trip flights between Bangkok, Thailand and Bhutan. The cost of this round-trip booking ($995, subject to change) will be added to your invoice.

FAQ

Where is Bhutan?

The Kingdom of Bhutan is the size of Switzerland, nestled between Tibet and India, and is truly one of Earth’s most remote countries. Over 60% of the country is still forested with farms dotting the countryside. Bhutan has 20 peaks over 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), a wonderful place to photograph stunning mountain scenery, while also seeing spectacular birds and charming mammals. The Buddhist philosophy of respect for all living things alongside a progressive governmental approach to environmental preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions have maintained an environment where wildlife flourishes.

What wildlife can you expect to see?

Bhutan lies in an area designated as one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. Over 600 species of birds live in Bhutan, including some of the most exotic and rare species in the eastern Himalayas. Because of their abundance, birds are the large majority of wildlife encountered on our safaris. Bhutan is also home to at least 165 species of mammals, including langurs, macaques, Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear, Alpine Musk Deer, and in the alpine meadows, Takin (endangered) and Yaks, grazing on grasses along mountainsides. Tiger tracks might be found along the bases of the foothills to above the tree line, although this predator is seldom seen.

When is the best time to visit Bhutan?

Generally October-December and March-May are the best times to visit Bhutan – rainfall is at a minimum and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing. (The Monsoon season occurs between June and August.) Choosing spring or fall will depend on your priorities. In the fall, days are usually very pleasant with clear skies and sunshine, making fall the best time for views of Himalayan peaks. November-December is the best time to see Black-necked Cranes. In the spring, the mountains will be covered with blooming rhododendrons and the bird life is more numerous and more active, although the skies tend to be more overcast and wind is more common, especially at passes. Spring safaris tend to yield about double the number of bird species compared to fall. While the cranes can be seen in the fall, the chances of spotting a Satyr Tragopan are higher in the spring.

What is a dzong?

A dzong is a fortress, which continues to serve as Bhutan’s administrative and religious center. You’ll also see monasteries, including the famous Tiger’s Nest, and smaller chortens (stupas), all of which are important features of Bhutan’s religion and culture. You will have opportunities to examine traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts, which represent a vital aspect of Bhutan’s living heritage as well as its spiritual and intellectual life.

Why is visiting Bhutan so special?

Until recently, Bhutan’s remoteness, steep terrain, and tightly controlled tourism ensured that its incredible beauty and fascinating people remained known only to a few. Bhutan was closed to outsiders until 1960; its first roads were built in 1961 and no tourists were officially permitted until 1974. Bhutan is a developing country, yet its unique agrarian Buddhist culture is still intact. You will encounter red-robed monks and herders with their cows or yaks on the road along with vehicles.

Accommodations

All lodges and hotels have electricity and private bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. Lodging throughout the safari is comfortable and ranges from deluxe hotels to simple and rustic lodges in remote locations. All have the architectural style characteristic of Bhutan and many have beautiful grounds and/or views to take in.

Seasickness

Transportation

You will drive across Bhutan in Hishey’s “Crane Mobile,” a roomy, 20-seat bus with windows that open (though most photography will be done outside the vehicle). Expect winding mountain roads and sometimes slow, bumpy drives, depending on road conditions. Road work is wide-spread in developing Bhutan.

Conditions

  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in the field: We try to spend as much time in the field as possible, sometimes resulting in long days but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather, wildlife sightings, or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Medical conditions and travel risks: Travel to remote places is exciting, but understanding and accepting the risks, both medical and logistical, are important. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but due to the fact that we often travel to locations far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this trip. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs, since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your tour deposit and signed reservation form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.