Discovering the hidden gem of South Asia: Nepal, Tibet (overland), and Bhutan with Asia Experiences
19 Jul 2019 Asia Experiences
After planning and postponing the trip to the Himalayas multiple times in the past 18 months, my friend Masako and I thought that our next vacation would be the one. On doing some research, we were delighted to know that the conditions would be perfect for visiting in late June. After exploring the reviews and services of many websites, and tour, we narrowed down our result to two companies. We chose AsiaExperiences as for the entire time their customer care service was fluent, and we couldn’t have asked for more. The decision of discovering the hidden gem of South Asia with Asia Experiences proved to be the best as for the next few weeks. We were to witness some of the best bits of Himalayan culture and traditions with their outright assistance.
* Kathmandu, the Zion of culture in Asia
Our vacation started after landing at Kathmandu airport. Throughout the flight, the excitement and a hint of happiness never left our side. We’ve both heard a lot about these countries. I was surprised to find so many unique components to relish during that time. The visa process was smooth and surprisingly fast as well at the Airport. All thanks to the earlier suggestion of Netra for keeping the essential documents and other requirements in a separate bag. After some introduction with the happy staff of Asia Experiences, we headed towards our hotel.
The next day started early, and we were excited to get the first glimpse of Kathmandu. We headed towards the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath with our guide. He explained to us some of the legends about this major Hindu shrine in Asia. The divine energy and devotional visitors made the temple complex lively and positive. The stupa of Boudhanath (Masako’s favorite site in Kathmandu) and Swoyambhunath temple followed in quick succession with vibrant prayer flags and circumambulating Buddhist devotees. Later in the day, we visited Patan, where we saw some of the most beautiful paintings and monuments.
* Bhaktapur: Art and food and just more art
Day 3 was all about being lost in the artistic streets of Bhaktapur. The durbar square here was certainly the most amazing place to learn about Nepali art. Passing by numerous decorated windows and detailed carvings in the supporting woodworks, we were just amazed at all these unique sightings. Our guide proposed us some local snacks, and we really enjoyed that. We took a short and scenic ride to Nagarkot village, and the cool breeze welcomed us there with some local hospitality.
The sunrise over the Himalayas couldn’t get better to start the day 4 of our tour. We had to head for Tibet today, so we went to Kathmandu airport and left for Lhasa. The tip of taking the window seat was something I thanked Umesh many times. The views just made me realize how far we have reached with a major spoiler of the breathtaking sightings waiting for us in Tibet. Our Tibetan guide received us at the airport and took us to the Hotel here. His friendly smile with additional tips of Do’s and Don’ts here made us more comfortable in Lhasa.
* Altitude Sickness? No chance!!! with all these breathtaking landscapes everywhere surrounding us
Well, to be honest, we were absolutely worried about the high altitude as we were above 3,650 meters in Lhasa despite the assurance from Netra. Once there we didn’t actually felt of being in that height and the warm Tibetan tea every now and then also helped a lot. Visiting Tibet had a lot of good and bad reactions all over the internet, but with our wonderful guide, everything went perfect.
We headed to the Potala palace today, and the architecture and design that this palace stored were mesmerizing to experience. I loved every bit of it from the vibrant gardens, vast prayer rooms, and the decorations which made most of the walls. Our guide also explained in brief about Dalai Lamas and the overall history of Tibet. Next, we visited Jokhang Temple and tried some local foods in Barkhor streets. The evenings were a bit chilly but always came with the best of the Sunset views.
* Seeking for Inner peace: a visionary tour into Tibetan Buddhism
The sixth day started with the clearest of weather treating us some great Landscape views here. We headed towards Drepung Monastery. Looking at the simple yet inspiring lifestyle of the monks and watching them pray rinses your soul here. I was also looking forward to learning more about the Tibetan medicine and art of healing, which we actually did in Men-Tsee-Khang here. The Norbulingka Palace we visited next had one of the most beautiful gardens of our whole trip. This concluded the UNESCO heritage sites visit in Tibet, but deep down we both knew the trip have a lot more to offer.
* Taking the road to glory: the best overland trip in Asia
In the alternative itinerary of the tour, we had a direct flight from Lhasa to Kathmandu and Bhutan. However, we just couldn’t say no after researching how close we were going to be from the northern face (Everest Base camp, Tibet), there was absolutely no way we were going to miss that opportunity. As per the additional days and cost, it was actually not so more compared to the flight route.
We started our scenic drive along the Friendship Highway connecting Nepal to China and reached Gyantse. The views of Yamdrok – Tso, and Nazin Kang Sa (7252 m) on the very first segment of the drive also made us realize that this is worth every second we will spend on the road. We stopped and explored Gyanste and pushed further to Shigatse. In the late afternoon, we visited the majestic Tashilupo Monastery here. The Tibetan evening rituals by the monks was also uniquely amazing. Although I didn’t understand a word, the feeling of being touched by the prayers remained with me.
* A place where the time stops: Sensational views of the Everest from Rongbuk Monastery
Our highly anticipated day was today, and I couldn’t explain to you the excitement and sensation of the feeling of being so close to the Everest. We started early with full of energy and rush to reach Rongbuk. After hitting the friendship highway, we drove to the Rongbuk monastery and just soaked in the absolutely majestic scenery that surrounded us there. I had a feeling there and then that if I had missed these, a part of my memory which I will relish forever from that day wouldn’t even have been created. After spending some great time here, we returned to our hotel.
The next couple of days will drove over high passes to Kerung and back to Kathmandu. Before staying at the Nepal- China border, we passed some high passes, and throughout it, the Natural scenery just got better. The Lalung La (5,124 m) and Gyatchu La Passes gifted us with some great 360-degree landscape views too. Our road segment from Kerung to Kathmandu got greener and a lot more adventurous. I really enjoyed every intermediate stop as our guides always suggested the best of the local delicacies here.
* Prosperous with nature: Bhutan a land with a cool breeze and warm hospitality
We flew to Bhutan, and the view from in the plane was amazing. Bhutan was always the place I wanted to visit just to know more about the culture and people there, and our trip didn’t disappoint. After landing our local guide met us in his national dress. A beautiful drive took us to Thimphu. We were lucky as the weekend market was also taking place here that day. Experiencing a bit of a hustle in this peaceful environment was surprisingly interesting too. Waking up the next day with a burst of wonderful sunshine, we dived deep into the beautiful monuments in Thimphu. In the afternoon, we drove to Punakha.
Every short drive in Bhutan just freshens you up, and we had a great time in every one of those. In the way, we stopped at the 108 DrukWangyal Chortens. The garden there was beautiful with some great Himalayan view too. Upon reaching there, we had plenty of time, so we also visited the ancient fortress, Punakha Dzong. Although not in its best shape, the dzong still reflects the Bhutanese art and architecture.
* Paro Taktsang: The cliffside heaven gifted with a landscape view of one
We drove early to Paro valley from Thimphu today. Paro valley was one of our favorite places to enjoy the sunset in Bhutan. Hiking to Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s Nest) was the best way to end our tour. The monastery was also everywhere when we searched about Bhutan, and we were thrilled to reach there. Well, from the pictures, it seemed like a dangerous place to be, but the views one can get from the top is incomparable. We hiked for a couple of hours resting and catching our breath every few minutes. Every step was worth it, as we reached the famous Tigers Lair. Our guide was explaining the historical stories of the palace, but I was just lost in nature and the scenery all around. With a heart full of satisfaction and beautiful views with the fresh breeze, we returned to Paro.
It was surprising to know how time flew over these weeks, but as I recall, we were making delightful memories from the first step in the airport at Kathmandu. With all these great people we have met, the vibrant culture, wide smiles, family-like hospitality, Will to share what’s available, and the Monuments reciting the history aloud, we just had the perfect holiday. The bond with the guides, locals, Netra & Umesh, and the overall team of AsiaExperiences will make me return to these places soon. Having witnessed it all, we left for the airport and returned back to the Japan. Thanks for these fantastic memories, flawless guidance, and a strong friendship.