It is not easy to start describing in few notes the fantastic trip we had around the Himalayas covering 4 different countries/territories and which you organised tailor-made impeccably to the last detail!
When we decided to embark on this trip, I searched in the Internet for a good local travel agency to prepare this trip for us. I always organize my trips in this way, on the many journeys we have done so far around the globe and will continue to do so. Local agents are far better in comparison with Western only based agencies, which are mere intermediaries. Local agencies have better knowledge of the situation, give much better on the spot support if needed, and above all we can get a better deal. After some search in early 2011 immediately Himalayans Glaciers appeared the one for sure to choose, and am glad I made this decision!
Thank you Narayan for having put together this journey for us, which I will try to summarize below. Will no doubt recommend your company to my friends who intend to visit this part of the world!
In summary 11nights in Tibet, overland from Lhasa to Kathmandu stopping at Everest base camp at 5200m altitude, 10 nights in Nepal, then flying to Bhutan for 8 nights and overland crossing to West Bengal+Sikkim for the remaining 6 nights.
Excellent Tibetan guide in Tibet, with extensive knowledge of all cultural and religious aspects. Great experience and each day were like an open university of knowledge being given by our guide in all the Monasteries we were. Potala Palace, Sera, Drepung, Sakya, Shalu monasteries were the ones of so many we saw from which we have better memories. Also we were very lucky to be in the Himalayas on a clear day without a single cloud. Even the guide was astonished and he said very seldom this could be witnessed. Lots of pictures were taken of the whole Himalayan range as seen from Tibet as well as at the base camp. Never to be forgotten! Accommodation outside Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse is basic but acceptable for one night stays. We decided not to stay at Namutse lakeside guesthouse as it was already cold and instead we made the trip in one day from Lhasa to Namutso Lake and stayed an extra night in Lhasa. Very good decision from our part. Also we did not stay at Everest View Hotel in Rongbuk and opted to stay in Tingri. The journey from Tingri to dropping from as high as 5000m to close to1500m in Zhangmu is also not to be forgotten! Finally crossing the friendship bridge on foot into Nepal. Saying good-bye to our excellent guide in Tibet and meeting our next crew in Nepal. Best Hotel in Tibet no doubt Kyichu for the location in Lhasa as well as amenities. Worst Hotel, snow leopard guesthouse in Tingri.
Kathmandu, Chitwan Game Park and Pokhara were our stops in Nepal. Never to be forgotten the road conditions in Nepal and the brave drivers they have in the country! For a 180 km journey from the two biggest cities Kathmandu and Pokhara it is needed about 7 hours…along quite dangerous roads flanked by high slopes and precipices…
Kathmandu is Kathmandu the mythic city from the 60s with lots of charm and exquisite places to see such as the “monkey temple”, Swayambu Nath and Budha Nath stupas etc. For us the best site was no doubt Bhaktapur with its palaces, temples, durbar square etc. and we regret we did not stay there at least one night…Chitwan game park has good facilities and it is an adventure to get there on a small boat and muddy roads. Rhinos and elephant ride to watch animals is the highlight of the park. Pokhara is the Anapurna! and a trip to Sarangkot to see the Himalayas at sunrise. We were not so lucky the day we went there, as it was foggy. Phewa Lake and the Peace stupa as well at he many good restaurants, complemented our three-night stay in Pokhara.
Best Hotel no doubt the recently opened Temple Tea resort in Pokhara. In Kathmandu the Hotel Shanker has the charm of an old hotel and good rooms. The support of Himalayan Glacier office in Kathmandu and Narayan was very much appreciated by us!
Flying to Paro from Kathmandu with Drukair and seating on the left side of the plane provided another exciting part of the journey. The Himalayan range with its highest peaks including Everest were clearly on sight and then the landing at Paro well worth an adventure movie, considering the maneuvers the pilot needs to make in order to land at this international airport with no automatic land guidance system. It all depends on the expertise of the piolots, the good weather and then …welcome to the land of the Dragon! Excellent guide and driver waiting for us to escort us for the full trip of 9 days up until the Bhutanese Indian border at Phuentsholing. The only country in the world where cigarettes and tobacco are forbidden to sell, to the despair of my wife…. smoking is strictly forbidden in public places. The country where according to the Gross Happiness Index people are happier in the world! We arrived to Paro on the last day of the royal wedding celebrations. Well worth the shows in Paro! The places we visited in Bhutan are full of ancient history and stunning sceneries! All the Dzongs are worth visiting particularly in Trongsa, Punakha and Rinpung dzong in Paro. We had the chance to seat with the monks in Trongsa Dzong Monastery and witness for a full hour one of the daily prays. To our surprise Bhutan was the place where we had as a whole, the best hotels of the all journey with special mention to Tashi Namgay Resort in Paro, Yangkhil resort in Trongsa (magnificent view over Trongsa Dzong!), and Punakha Meri Puensum resort overlooking immense rice terrace fields and the valleys and river. All Hotels with Free Wi-Fi, in a country where TV did not exist up until1999! The divine Madman Drukpa Kunley is another interesting side of the story of Bhutan, which explains why so many houses and restaurants have phallic symbols at the entrances protecting the premises…
A trip to Bhutan is incomplete without trekking the step hills to the Takstang Tigers nest Monastery situated at 3200m altitude near Paro, meaning a quick and very demanding ascend and descend from 500m below. Well worth going to the top!
As a footnote and being Portuguese I was happy to know that two Portuguese Jesuits in the XVI century were the first European and perhaps foreigners to visit this land! The forgotten story of the Portuguese in India and South East Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia etc and also China and Japan) and the achievements performed by this tiny European Nation five centuries ago needs to be placed in the correct historical perspective and not be eclipsed by the British, Dutch, French and alike, who arrive there much latter…but sometimes have the credit for events and acts not performed!
Sikkim and West Bengal
At the border between Bhutan and India we left our excellent guide and driver from Bhutan and another pair waited for us to escort us on the last 7 days of our journey though the Himalayan Region. Darjeeling, Gangtok and Kalimpong were they’re waiting for us!
Stunning sceneries with high mountains and tea fields. Due to the road conditions and recent earthquake some of the roads we traveled had some problems and perhaps the sequence of places visited was not the best but this needs to be addressed for future trips in this part of the world where things change very quickly. Many things were left for us to see around Darjeeling (the road from Siliguri to Darjeeling for example). In this part a three-night stay is better than two so as to enable ridding for a much longer distance the incredible steam train line along the tea fields. Zoo at Darjeeling and Himalayan mountaineering Institute is a must to see! Rumtek Monastery in the way to Gangtok is better seen either on the way into Gangtok or leaving this Sikkim city. Curious as when one enters Sikkim we need to obtain a special entry permit at the bridge separating from mainland India. Photo is needed as well as filing up a form. Even our passports are stamped with an entry Sikkim stamp even though we are still in India…Kalimpong does not worth a two night stay even though it is understood that this is needed for those like us who needed to get to Bagdogra for flight to Delhi.
The best Hotel of the whole journey was in Sikkim in Gangtok the Denzong Regency. Himalayan Hotel in Kalimpong is a heritage hotel but we have to insist on one of the rehabilitated rooms…