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Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

BHUTAN: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM

An exclusive Bryn Mawr only departure
April 13-25, 2014

Travel to a distant and devout land, where Buddhism and culture abide; where Gross National Happiness measures the wealth of the nation. We will travel high in the Himalayas to encounter the peaceful kingdom that has long drawn mystics and seekers – and that rewards modern-day visitors with a tast of tradition undisturbed.

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Preliminary Itinerary
(please click on location to reveal details)

FULL ITINERARY

DAY 1: Depart U.S. for Delhi, India

You'll depart on your flight to Delhi, India

DAY 2: Arrive Delhi

We reach the Indian capital mid-afternoon and transfer to our hotel, where the remainder of the day is at leisure. Dinner tonight is on our own.

Accommodations: Crowne Plaza Gurgaon

DAY 3: Delhi/Thimphu, Bhutan

Either early this morning or mid-morning we return to the Delhi airport for the 1½-hour flight to Paro, Bhutan. En route, we see breathtaking views of the Himalayas rising from the lush green valleys of Bhutan. Upon arrival in Paro at Bhutan's only international airport, we board a coach for the approximately 1½ hour drive to Thimphu, the Himalayan country's capital and largest city – which was just a series of small hamlets until it became the capital in 1961. Known as the world's only capital city without traffic lights, Thimphu uses policemen to direct traffic by day; at night, drivers fend for themselves.

After checking in at our hotel, we enjoy lunch together then embark on a walking tour to Memorial Chorten (or "Thimphu Chorten"), one of Bhutan's best-loved religious landmarks. Located in the heart of the city, Memorial Chorten is dedicated to the country's third king, who died in 1972. While chortens (or stupas) traditionally house the remains of an esteemed leader, scholar, or religious figure, only the king's photograph is on display here. We continue on to Thimphu's colorful weekend market, permanent stalls occupied from Friday through Sunday by vendors from the region selling fruit and vegetables of all types, as well as locally produced religious items, textiles, wood carvings, baskets, and other handicrafts. This is a great opportunity to interact with local people as they meet up with their neighbors, make purchases, and catch up on the week's news. Late this afternoon we return to our hotel, where we dine together tonight.

Accommodations: Namgay Heritage
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 4: Thimphu

Today we immerse ourselves in Bhutanese culture, beginning with a tour of the National Library and Archives, which seeks to preserve and promote Bhutan's rich cultural and religious heritage. The traditional four-storey, eight-cornered building houses an immense collection of sacred religious books and manuscripts, including one of the world's largest treasuries of Mahayana Buddhist literature (Mahayana Buddhism is Bhutan's state religion). The library also displays a copy of the world's largest book (Guinness-certified), Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the World's Last Himalayan Kingdom, produced in 2003 by Michael Hawley, formerly of MIT's Media Lab. Weighing in at 133 pounds and at five-by-seven feet the approximate size of a ping-pong table, the book is printed individually on demand for up to 500 patrons who each make a contribution of $10,000 or more to a charity benefitting Bhutanese schools and educational programs. From here we continue on to the Painting School, where Bhutanese students keep alive the traditional art of painting sacred religious scrolls; and the Folk Heritage Museum, which celebrates the country's rural life in a restored mid 19th-century traditional house of rammed mud and timber. Here the household items and décor typical of the time let us glimpse how rural life was lived – and how it is still lived today in remote parts of the country.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we visit the National Textile Museum, with stunning displays of textiles dating from the 1600s to modern times and where see a demonstration of traditional weaving techniques. Our next stop is Tashicho Dzong, a traditional Buddhist fortress monastery that today houses government offices, as well as temples and the royal throne room. The building also is the summer home of Bhutan's central monastic community. While a monastery has existed here since medieval times, Tashicho Dzong was rebuilt in 1962 according to traditional precepts: with no nails and without plans.

Tonight we enjoy a small group highlight as we dine with a Bhutanese family then attend a cultural performance.

Accommodations: Namgay Heritage
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 5: Thimphu/Punakha

After visits this morning to Thimphu's post office and bank, we stop at Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory to see paper being made from the bark of mulberry and Daphne plants using traditional Bhutanese methods. Then we embark on the three-hour drive to the former capital of Punakha via the Dochula pass (alt. 10,000 feet), which affords stunning views of the Himalayas. We stop to follow the sacred tradition of raising prayer flags for peace and wisdom at Dochula, where the bracing winds will help spread the prayers' spiritual power to all sentient beings. Continuing on towards central Bhutan, passing through groves of fruit trees and forests of rhododendron, we visit a local rice farming village and also stop for tea. Mid-day we reach Punakha, which sits at the confluence of the Mo Chu "Mother" River and the Pho Chu "Father" River in a sub-tropical valley where the farming of red and white rice is a principal occupation. Upon arrival we take an orientation walking tour of this town that served as the country's capital from 1637 to 1907 and that remains its religious capital today. We dine tonight at our hotel.

Accommodations: Damchen Resort
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 6: Punakha

This morning's tour of Punakha features Punakha Dzong ("Place of Great Happiness"), winter home of the central monastic community and one of the country's most attractive fortress monasteries. Set on a spit of land where the Mo Chu and Pho Chu rivers meet, and with Himalayan peaks in the background, majestic Punakha Dzong dates to 1637. It was Bhutan's seat of government and the administrative center until the capital moved to Thimpu in the early 1960s. The second oldest and second largest religious building in the country, this is where the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema were married in October 2011. Following our tour of Punakha Dzong we embark on a rafting trip on the Mo Chu River (Bhutan is renowned for its excellent river rafting) then enjoy a picnic lunch by the riverside. We return to our hotel mid-afternoon; the remainder of the day is free to relax or for independent exploration before we dine together tonight.

Accommodations: Damchen Resort
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 7: Punakha/Gangtey

Our day begins with an easy half-hour amble through rice fields to visit Chime Lhakhang, a local temple perched on a hill above a traditional village. Built by Lama Drukpa (the "Divine Madman") in 1499, the temple is a pilgrimage site for couples struggling with problems of fertility. Then we travel by motorcoach to Gangtey village in the quiet, remote, and beautiful bowl-shaped Phobjikha Valley of the Black Mountains. One of Bhutan's only glacial valleys, Gangtey is best known for the rare (and endangered) black-necked cranes that migrate from the Tibetan Plateau to over-winter (typically from late October to late March) in a more temperate climate. With an estimated 9,000 to 11,000 left in the wild, the black-necked crane is a protected species in Bhutan; life in prison is the penalty for killing one. The sacred cranes also have religious significance, as we learn on today's visit to the Black Necked Crane Information Centre. Here we also have the opportunity to view these magnificent birds with the center's high-powered telescope and spotting scopes.

We stop for lunch at a local restaurant then continue on to our hotel, where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. Please note that, in order to protect the cranes from high-tension electric wires and poles, the valley has not been connected to the country's power grid – instead using solar energy to provide electricity. Now, Phobjikha is slowly being electrified, though service can be highly inconsistent. Please be aware that the availability of both electricity and hot water may be limited during our stay. Dinner tonight is at our hotel.

Accommodations: Dewachen Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 8: Gangtey

This morning we visit Gangteng Monastery (also known as Gantey Gonpa), the only monastery in western Bhutan of Buddhism's Nyingmapa sect, the oldest school of Himalayan Buddhism. Dating to the early 17th century, the recently restored monastery sits on a spur of the Black Mountains and affords breathtaking views of the valley below, one of Bhutan's loveliest spots. The wide, flat landscape, intersected by two glacial rivers, is unlike any other in Bhutan, where steep mountainsides typically create tighter, more enclosed spaces. Leaving the monastery, we return to our hotel on foot, walking along a nature trail through the stunning scenery of open grassland and miniature forests of dwarf bamboo. Along the way we stop to visit with a family at their farmhouse; the valley is known for the cultivation of potatoes and turnips. After returning to our hotel, the remainder of the day is at leisure to relax and absorb the beauty and tranquility that surrounds us. We dine tonight at our hotel.

Accommodations: Dewachen Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 9: Gangtey/Paro

We leave Gangtey today for the five-hour drive to charming Paro, stopping en route in Thimpu for lunch and some free time to explore the local markets on our own. Located in the center of a valley at the head of a pass once reached by traders and invading Tibetans, Paro ranks among Bhutan's most historic areas. And the valley itself, a gentle patchwork of rice paddies, wheat fields, and scattered settlements, ranks among Bhutan's most beautiful. Upon arrival, we check in our hotel overlooking Paro town and valley. Then the remainder of the day is at leisure before we dine together tonight.

Accommodations: Gangtey Palace
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 10: Paro

We begin our explorations of this charming town with a morning visit to Ta-Dzong, the national museum showcasing Bhutan's rich cultural heritage from at least 2000 BCE to the present day. Built in 1648 as a watchtower, the cylindrical museum houses a fine collection of Bhutanese art and artifacts, including stamps, textiles, weapons, bronze statues, paintings, and Buddha images. We continue on to Rinpung Dzong, a superb example of Bhutanese architecture. Dating to the 15th century (though rebuilt after a fire in 1907), the dzong is the administrative seat of Paro and houses a 200-member monastic community. Our next stop is Kyichu Lhakhang, an important place of pilgrimage and ceremony for Bhutan's royal family and one of the kingdom's oldest and most sacred temples. Built by a Tibetan emperor in the 7th century, the temple houses sacred relics including the ashes of a revered 20th-century teacher and an early statue of Jowo Sakyamuni, one of Tibet's most revered gurus. It is said that the monastery's two orange trees bear fruit the year ‘round.

After lunch together at a local restaurant, we traverse the valley to visit the ruins of 17th-century Drukguyal Dzong,. Built to commemorate a victory over Tibetan invaders, Drukguayl was consumed by fire in 1951. From here we have the option to return to Paro by coach or by taking a bicycle ride through the picturesque valley, stopping along the way for tea at a local farmhouse. Dinner tonight is at our hotel.

Accommodations: Gangtey Palace
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 11: Paro/Tiger's Nest Monastery

Early today we embark on a highlight of any trip to Bhutan: a visit to Paro Taktsang, the sacred Tiger's Nest monastery and temple complex built into a cliff some 2,000 feet above the upper Paro Valley – itself at an altitude of 10,200 feet. We set out on our scenic two-hour uphill hike (rental horses are available to take visitors about two-thirds of the way up to Tiger's Nest), passing stands of blue pine trees, small temples, and a waterfall. En route we stop for lunch at a way-station cafeteria; if you do not wish to hike all the way to Tiger's Nest, you can remain at the cafeteria, which affords good views (weather permitting) of the monastery. First built in 1692, the Himalayan Buddhist monastery honors Guru Padmasambhava, the "Guru with Eight Names" who first established Buddhism in Bhutan. The complex of four main temples, eight caves, and residential quarters surrounds the cave where the guru is said to have meditated alone for three months at some point during the 8th century. After this exhilarating excursion we return to our hotel, where tonight we celebrate our Bhutan adventure at a farewell dinner.

Accommodations: Gangtey Palace
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 12: Paro/Delhi, India/Depart for U.S.

This morning we fly to Delhi, where we transfer to our hotel day rooms until this evening's departure for the airport and our overnight flight to the U.S.

Accommodations: Crowne Plaza Gurgaon (day room)
Meals: Breakfast

Please note: Guests continuing on to the extension tour will leave the Bhutan tour on Day 12 at the conclusion of the Paro stay.

DAY 13: Arrive U.S.

We arrive in the U.S. this morning and connect with our flights home.

Nepal
OPTIONAL POST-TOUR EXTENSION

Day 12 Paro to Katmandu, Nepal



Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 13 Katmandu, Nepal

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 14 Katmandu, Nepal

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 15 Depart for US

We arrive in the U.S. this morning and connect with our flights home.


Please Note

We will do our best to adhere to our printed itinerary. Occasionally though, unexpected obstacles, or opportunities, may arise that will force us to deviate from the itinerary as written. We would ask you to be open-minded and flexible should we vary the itinerary slightly. In addition, please note that airline schedules are subject to change. We will provide you with updated flight information closer to your departure. Back to the top »



Cost and Program Inclusions

New York* Washington, D.C.* Los Angles/San Francisco* Land Only
Per Person, double occupancy* $5,959 $6,259 $6,495 $4,595
* Includes INERNATIONAL AIR and $864 in airline taxes and departures fees
Single Supplement: $895
Business Class Upgrade: To be announced

PLEASE NOTE

We will do our best to adhere to our printed itinerary. Occasionally, though, unexpected obstacles, and opportunities, may arise that will force us to deviate from the itinerary as written. We would ask you to be open-minded and flexible should we vary the itinerary slightly. Also, please note that airline schedules are subject to change. We will provide you with updated flight information closer to your departure.

An Important Note

This trip involves considerable walking on uphill and uneven terrain as well as some lengthy coach rides on unpaved roads. You should be in good physical condition to enjoy the tour to the fullest. While the elevations on this tour are not severe, the relatively high altitude of Thimphu and Paro (both 7,500 feet) and Gangtey (9,000 feet) could pose problems for travelers with certain health conditions. You should consult your physician if you have concerns. In addition, electricity is limited during the two nights spent in Gangtey and cannot be guaranteed.

A Note about Hotel Accommodations

As a remote and developing nation that slowly is building its tourism industry, Bhutan does not have many of the luxuries to which we are accustomed in the west. Hotels are simple, comfortable, and clean but amenities and services are of a lower standard than in other parts of the world. As with travel anywhere, an open mind and a sense of adventure will help mitigate any inconveniences.

For Land Only Guests

If you choose to purchase Odysseys Unlimited’s Bhutan: The Hidden Kingdom tour as "land only," you will be making your own international air arrangements and will join the tour at the first hotel.

While airport transfers and luggage handling at the arrival and departure airports are not included when you purchase a tour as land only, you are welcome to join our motorcoach transfer to the hotel. This service will be provided to you on a complimentary basis.

To join in the transfer, you must be at the Delhi airport concurrent with the group of arriving Odysseys Unlimited guests. Look for our representative holding an Odysseys Unlimited sign and you will be directed to the motorcoach. Please note that you must be present when the coach is preparing to leave.

For Bhutan: The Hidden Kingdom, the currently scheduled flight is as follows:

Day 1Depart New York 11:20 a.m. Emirates flight # 204
Day 2Arrive Delhi2:40 p.m.

Please remember that all flights and schedules are subject to change.

Upon the tour's completion, you are also welcome to join the group transfer to the airport for your flight home.

It is important to note, however, that a motorcoach may not be used for transfers in all cases. Depending upon the number of guests arriving or departing, we may utilize taxis or smaller vans. At such times, space restrictions will preclude your joining the group transfer and you will be responsible for your own transportation to or from the airport.

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BHUTAN: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM Accommodations

Please note: Hairdryers are available at Reception at our hotels in Bhutan.

Crowne Plaza Gurgaon

Site 2 Sector 29
Opposite Signature Tower
Gurgaon 12001, India
Phone: 011-91-124-453-4000
Fax: 011-91-124-430-4800
www.ichotelsgroup.com

The 234-room Crowne Plaza Hotel Gurgaon is conveniently located near the airport and the local business district. Hotel amenities include two restaurants and a bar, internet access, laundry and dry cleaning services, fitness center with spa, and outdoor swimming pool. Air-conditioned guest rooms have private bath with hair dryer, in-room safe, tea- and coffee-making facilities, mini-bar, TV, and phone.

Namgay Heritage Hotel

Thimphu Bhutan
Phone: 011-975-2-337113/ 4 / 5
Fax: 011-975-2-337112
www.nhh.bt

Just a five-minute walk from Thimphu’s main street, the Namgay Heritage Hotel combines the culture and traditions of Bhutan (including a traditional altar) with more up-to-date amenities and service. Hotel facilities include two restaurants and a bar; a spa with sauna, steam room, and massage and body treatments; and gym. Guest rooms have private bath, Wi-Fi internet access, tea- and coffee-making facilities, TV, and phone.

Damchen Resort

Khuruthang
PO Box 120
Punakha, Bhutan
Phone: 011-975-2-584367 / +975-2-584368
Fax: 011-975-2-584375

Nestled in the scenic Punakha Valley, this traditional Bhutanese-style hotel overlooks the river and is close to town. The 35-room hotel has a lovely garden, restaurant, bar, and laundry service; guest rooms have private bath, TV, and phone.

Dewachen Hotel

Phobjika,
Wangdue Phodrang,Bhutan
Phone: 011-975-2-442550
www.dewachenhotel.com

Surrounded by pine forests, this 16-room lodging overlooks the beautiful Phobjika Valley. This traditional Bhutanese hotel offers a restaurant, lounge, and horse-riding facilities. Guest rooms have private bath and are heated with old-fashioned wood stoves. Please note that while the hotel recently has been connected to the country’s power grid, the availability of electricity can be limited.

Gangtey Palace

Gangtey
Paro, Bhutan
Phone: 011-975-8-271301
Fax: 011-975-8-271452
www.gangteypalace.net

A grand Bhutanese residence overlooking the town of Paro, 100-year-old Gangtey Palace belonged to the country’s royal family until 1930, when it was given to an aristocratic family. In 1995, the grandson of that family converted the home into a hotel. Retaining the intimacy of a private residence, Gangtey Palace sits on 20 acres of gardens and apple orchards, with stunning views of the Himalayas in the distance. Hotel facilities include a bar/lounge and dining room; international phone and internet access are available at reception. Also gracing Gangtey Palace is a stunning traditional altar that has been shown in museums and galleries across Europe; and a private collection of rare religious clay statues. Individually decorated guest rooms have private bath (and purposefully no TV or phone to enhance the quiet nature of the hotel and the destination).

Crowne Plaza Gurgaon

Site 2 Sector 29
Opposite Signature Tower
Gurgaon 12001, India
Phone: 011-91-124-453-4000
Fax: 011-91-124-430-4800
www.ichotelsgroup.com

The 234-room Crowne Plaza Hotel Gurgaon is conveniently located near the airport and the local business district. Hotel amenities include two restaurants and a bar, Internet access, laundry and dry cleaning services, fitness center with spa, and outdoor swimming pool. Air-conditioned guest rooms have private bath with hair dryer, in-room safe, tea- and coffee-making facilities, mini-bar, TV, and phone.

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