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Rooftop of the World

  • Overview
  • Itinerary
  • Fares
  • Accommodation

A journey overview

  • Kolkata
  • Darjeeling
  • The Himalayas
  • Thimphu
  • Paro
  • Kathmandu
  • Chitwan
  • Pokhara
  • Lhasa

20 Days Explorations Select Season:
  • Departing:
  • 5 Oct 2018

The people of the Himalayas exude a warmth that belies the forbidding peaks their countries are built around. Explore India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. Prepare for immersion into a way of life enthrallingly alien to our own.

Rooftop of the world 2018 map

Chitwan National Park

Explore Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park by canoe and look out for-horned rhinoceroses, deer, monkeys and the occasional leopard and Bengal tiger.

Itinerary

Built in the 1880s, the Oberoi Grand in Kolkata is known for its colonial-era interiors, exquisite handmade wood furniture and exceptional dining, having played host to countless dinner parties since the time of the British Raj. W e check in here for two-night stay.

Today, we dive headlong into Kolkata’s juxtaposition of British colonial buildings and raucous street life. Our guide takes us to the Victoria Memorial, where 25 galleries display portraits and relics of Queen Victoria’s reign. At St Paul’s Cathedral, marvel at its Indo-Gothic architecture. Next, we visit Mother Teresa’s House, the simple home where she lived, and where her tomb is placed. It is an oasis of calm in the otherwise busy city. This evening, we enjoy our hotel’s legendary hospitality at a special welcome feast.

Our flight takes us to Bagdogra, a town in the Darjeeling district. A road journey then brings us to our destination, located in the lesser Himalayas. Darjeeling is incredibly picturesque but, at 2,042 metres in altitude, a mere foothill in the Himalayas. Rolling hills covered in tea plantations extend as far as the eye can see, while the Himalayas form a snowy backdrop. Our hotel tonight is the Windamere Heritage Hotel. Once a boarding house for English and Scottish tea planters, it has been converted into cosy rooms with colonial-era furnishings.

Our full day in Darjeeling begins with a choice of Your World experiences, (Start the day by catching the sunrise at Tiger Hill. Unlike any other sunrise, we are presented with the awe-inspiring view of Kangchenjunga and her sister peaks glowing amber, illuminated before the sun reaches the valleys below. / Those who prefer not to wake so early are treated to a ride on the antiquated ‘toy steam train’ of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. We climb impossible gradients to reach Ghoom). In the afternoon, we call in at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the Himalayan Zoological Park, the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre and a tea plantation to see famed Darjeeling tea being picked and processed.

After an early breakfast at the hotel we leave for Phuntsholing, a border town in Southern Bhutan.  Though India is only a stone's throw away, the mood and vibe of this town is decidedly different. We check in to Hotel Druk before setting off to explore. Our destination, the Kharbandi Monastery. Known for long lines of prayer flags, enormous prayer wheels and clanging bells, the place breathes spirituality. We return to our hotel for dinner. Take the chance to sample all the Bhutanese dishes on offer.

The incredible rugged geography of Bhutan is on show today as we undertake a scenic drive to Thimphu. The mostly uphill journey leaves the tropical lowlands for pine forests and steep slopes with plunging ravines. Thimphu retains a rustic air and the spiritual informs every aspect of life. We visit Kuensel Phodrang, a colossal statue of Buddha that houses within it a hundred thousand smaller statues. From this hilltop, we have breathtaking views of the Thimphu Valley. The Taj Tashi Hotel welcomes us for the next three nights. The hotel specialises in authentic Bhutanese cuisine, as well as exotic Tibetan and European dishes and tonight, a special dinner awaits. 

Today, Thimphu’s main sites draw our attention. The National Memorial Chorten, honouring their third king, is part of many people’s daily worship. We linger for a while, watching its steady stream of visitors come and go. Then it’s on to the National Library and the Institute of Zorig Chusum, which teaches the 13 traditional arts to Bhutan’s next generation. At the Motithang Takin Preserve, we glimpse the rare takin. It is a goat-antelope found only in the eastern Himalayas and also Bhutan’s national animal. Then, at the handicrafts emporium, pick up finely crafted examples of the traditional arts you witnessed earlier - Bhutanese embroidery and fabrics are truly a sight to behold.

This morning, we see more of the country’s spectacular landscapes as we drive from Thimphu to Punakha. We steadily gain altitude towards the Dochula Pass. If the weather is clear, look northeast to see the eastern Himalayas and Gangkhar Puensum mountain. At 7,570 metres, it is Bhutan’s highest mountain. After we go over the pass, the road winds down through conifers and rhododendrons. At the confluence of the Sankosh and Tangmachu rivers, look up to see the white walls of Wangdue Phodrang Dzong watching over the valley below. The dzong is a monastery-fortress, usually built on high ground, and every region has one. We stop for lunch on this beautiful spot, then drive on to Punakha. The dzong here sits on the riverbanks of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers surrounded by jacaranda trees. It is here that the head monk of Bhutan and his retinue spend their summers. This evening, we return to Thimphu, retiring early in anticipation of tomorrow's scenic drive to Paro.

The National Museum of Bhutan, located in Paro’s Ta Dzong watchtower is our first stop of the day. A cultural museum, it houses some of the finest examples of Bhutanese art. After the museum, we move on to our next stop, Rinpung Dzong. Built in 1644, it houses the district’s monks. Kyichu Lhakhang is our next port of call, and one well worth visiting. Built in the 7th century, it is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. It is said that Tibet’s first Buddhist king built the temple over an ogress’ foot to prevent her from creating chaos. After lunch, we test our skills at the country’s national sport of archery, on a sporting ground reserved exclusively for us. Elite archers demonstrate their expertise and give us tutorials, before we are set free for a friendly match with locals. This is a rare opportunity to be a part of Bhutanese culture. We call Zhiwa Ling Hotel home for the next two nights. Built by hand from 450-year-old wood, it combines traditional architecture with modern creature comforts. Tonight we enjoy dinner in the intimate atmosphere of the hotel’s restaurant.

When shrouded in cloud, the sacred Taktsang monastery, or Tiger’s Nest, built into vertical cliffs 900 metres above Paro Valley, paints a beautifully melancholic picture. According to legend, Guru Padmasambhava, the guardian deity of Bhutan, meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. To visit, we must hike up from the valley floor. While slightly strenuous, the walk itself is meditative and offers unmatched views of the valley below. After lunching at our hotel we visit a traditional farmhouse. These pretty houses dot the countryside and are typically built without nails. Striking wooden frames, hand carved and painted with colourful Buddhist motifs, feature. This evening, we dine in our hotel.

We depart Paro and fly to the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. The city is the centre of Nepali history, art and culture, and is a place of riotous colour and sound. Our home for the next two nights is the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In the afternoon, we visit Boudhanath Stupa, a World Heritage-listed Buddhist monument that dominates Kathmandu’s skyline. Spend the rest of afternoon at your leisure, in anticipation of tomorrow’s discoveries.

Start the day spectacularly with a once-in-a-lifetime flight over Mt Everest, the mountain to top all mountains. Soak in views of Lhotse, Makalu and the countless other peaks populating the horizon. Exhilarated by our morning, we now explore Kathmandu’s surroundings, beginning with old Bhaktapur. It was the capital of Nepal until the second half of the 15th century, and has the most exquisitely preserved temples, palace courtyards and statues. While the earthquake in 2015 damaged some of the buildings, most are intact. We drive on to the neighbouring town of Patan, also known as Lalitpur, the city of beauty. Gazing at the Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square, it’s easy to understand why.

This morning, we board a short flight to Bharatpur. On arrival, we drive to Royal Chitwan National Park, whose name means ‘heart of the jungle’. Within it, you’ll find one-horned rhinoceroses, deer, monkeys and the occasional leopard and Bengal tiger. Explore the area with these Your World experiences,  A canoeing trip allows you to quietly explore the waterways of the park, increasing your chances of spotting wildlife. The gharial, or fish-eating crocodile, is a critically endangered species found here. Visit the conservation centre today).  This evening we see a performance of Tharu dance. The Tharu people call themselves the ‘people of the forest’, and have kept to their agricultural life within Chitwan. Tonight, we stay at Kasara Jungle Resort, surrounded by lush, green trees as far as the eye can see.

Spend the morning in our resort. The day continues with an unbelievably scenic drive to Pokhara. Along the way, we admire the Nepali countryside and pretty villages perched on rolling hillsides. We stop for lunch at an authentically local riverside restaurant. In Pokhara, visit the local market, which stocks incredibly detailed crafts made by locals. Our home for two nights is the Fish Tail Lodge, on the edge of Fewa Lake. The lodge is named after Mt Machapuchare which dominates the view across the water. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.

Start the day with one of these eye-opening Your World experiences, all of which allow you to take in breathtaking views of Pokhara, (Go hang gliding with an experienced practitioner, or fly solo. / Hike to the World Peace Pagoda and stare transfixed at the Himalayan peaks in full view. / Take an ultralight flight. These are fixed wing aircraft where you are seated in an open cockpit together with the pilot). Lunch is at a local restaurant before a visit to the Bindebasini Temple, one of the holiest places for Hindus in Nepal. The afternoon takes us to Gupteswar Cave, a city shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. We finish a full day by relaxing on a boat ride across Fewa Lake before adjourning to the hotel for dinner.

We return to Kathmandu by plane this morning. If the clouds co-operate, we have magnificent views of Annapurna. When we arrive, we check in once again to the Hyatt Regency. In town, we visit Kathmandu Durbar Square. Nearby is the house of the Kumari Devi, a young girl believed to be a living incarnation of the goddess Durga. While she is not guaranteed to appear in the window, the elaborately decorated house façade is a sight in itself. On a rickshaw ride through Thamel, we immerse ourselves in the city’s sights and sounds. Our last stop of the day is the Swayambhunath Temple. Here, ancient carvings and incense permeate every space, and above it all is a stupa painted with the eyes of Buddha. Dinner tonight is at Gokarna House Restaurant. A true cultural experience, it is where we taste beautiful Nepali food while a stage show depicts the country’s culture and traditions.

Lhasa is an otherworldly place. Set in the centre of the Tibetan Plateau, it is surrounded by mountains over 5,000 metres in height. The red and white Potala Palace rises above the old city, where traditional Tibetan life continues as it has for over a thousand years. We arrive here after our flight from Kathmandu, then travel by road past nomadic herders and their yaks. We check into the St Regis Hotel for three nights. Spend the afternoon at leisure to acclimatise to the altitude.

Today we head to the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred in Tibet. The temple is encircled by Barkhor Street, which pilgrims circumambulate in a clockwise direction as part of their worship. The street is a bustling place and incongruously, a major marketplace with traders from all over the country. The Sera Monastery, one of the three most important teaching monasteries in Tibet, used to be home to 5,000 monks, but many fled to India after the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion. The community is now much smaller, but despite that, still holds lively debates, complete with wild gestures and hand slapping, a unique sight to behold.

This morning, Potala Palace’s magnificence demands our immediate attention. Once the residence of the Dalai Lama, it contains over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues. Its interiors are covered in rich, colourful carvings, gilding, sacred paintings and embroidered coverings. In the afternoon, we visit Norbulingka, which was the Dalai Lama’s summer home. The compound holds palaces, chapels and pavilions surrounded by man made lakes and gardens. In the evening we celebrate the end of our journey with a gala dinner accompanied by riveting performances of Tibetan music and dance.

On this journey, we have explored magnificent parts of the world often hidden from outsiders. We wake to one final morning in Lhasa before our trip ends.

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