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Himalayan Escapes Holiday Package

For mountain lovers and the vertically inclined, the Himalayas represent nothing less than the crowning apex of nature’s grandeur. Here dramatic forested gorges rise to skylines of snow-capped glaciated peaks through a landscape that ranges from high-altitude desert to dripping rhododendron forests. Home to millions of people, this is no alpine wilderness, but rather a vibrant mosaic of peoples, cultures and communities, criss-crossed by ancient trading and pilgrimage routes that offer their own unique inspiration. Test your mettle against some of the world’s most audacious and dangerous roads, or set a more measured pace on a trek through yak pastures to prayer flag-strewn passes haunted by snow leopards and red pandas. Stretching in a 2500km-long stretch across Asia, from, Lhasa to Ladakh, Kathmandu to Bhutan, the Himalayan range is a big place. Focus your escape on one or some or all of the following dream trips, the options depending on the time available and your financial strategy.  Get on to the `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!

Tourist Attractions:

Your first destination! Hidden over high passes in an arid, largely treeless rain shadow, Ladakh, also known as India’s Little Tibet, is a classic trans- Himalayan scene hosting huge khaki-coloured valleys and rugged rock walls brought alive by the occasional splash of irrigated green. Traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture remains intact here, with spectacularly located monasteries that burst into life during medieval masked dance festivals that have changed very little in the past five hundred years. For traveler, there is a bit of everything from epic treks to sparkling high-altitude mountain lakes and a well-developed backpacker infrastructure based around the capital, Leh. Hire a jeep or an enfield motorbike and drive out to the ancient Hemis, Lamayuru and Thikse monasteries, taking a side trip to the turquoise lake of Pangong Tso bordering Tibet. This lake seems an unending expanse of blue, and having got used to the dry moonscape of Ladakh, the sight of the electric blue lake takes you by surprise. Stroll around the area to dwell in its enchanting avenues and then commence a slow and periodically breathtaking ascent to the Chang La Pass. This is a huge water body, though even in summer, parts of the mountains are gloriously swathed in snow so  as the drive becomes slow, the first glimpse of the lake projects itself as a metallic blue strip in the distance, tucked in between barren mountains, though when  you approach it more closely, the water reveals more and More shades of blue and green. The shores are strewn with magnetic shells of freshwater species. Panoramic and colourful, remote and mystical, the three great high altitude lakes of Ladakh are an unmatched experience of beauty, geography, ecology and culture, after which you may do a five-day homestay trek through the Markha Valley, a journey through the cold desert region. Homestay would mean staying in an inhabitants house with boarding and lodging and thence interacting with the denizens of the region, understanding their culture and traditions and admiring their hospitality and warmth at the same time! You may then visit the Stok Palace Museum which is now like a large Himalayan Haveli with the museum wing open to the tourists, and containing swords, shields, quivers, bows and arrows, matchlock guns, old coins and seals, old photographs and fine old thangkas. Off the beaten track, an addition or alternative is to visit Spiti in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, which has the same dramatic mountain picture-postcard aroma and monasteries, but without the crowds. Trek from village to village with local NGO Ecosphere and stay overnight at the incredible monasteries of Dhankar and Tabo.

Move along towards the high Tibetan plateau, sometimes described as the rooftop of Asia, hidden from the Indian subcontinent behind the ramparts of the Great Himalaya. Despite Chinese-led modernization, Tibet’s great monasteries still hum with murmured mantras and the flicker of yak butter lamps. Sublime landscapes, ranging from rolling grasslands to high-altitude turquoise lakes, a vibrant Buddhist culture and the friendly and resilient Tibetan people are the highlights here, as are the views of Everest’s North Face – miles better than anything you would see in Nepal. Lhasa is Tibet's traditional capital and the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. It contains two world heritage sites – the Potala Palace and Norbulinga which was the former residences of the Dalai Lama The city contains a number of significant temples and monasteries, including Jokhang and Ramoche Temple. You could breeze around the Tibetan representations of art which are intrinsically bound with Tibetan Buddhism and commonly depict deities or variations of Buddha in different forms, from bronze Buddhist statues and shrines, to highly colorful thangka paintings and mandalas. Tibetan architecture contains Chinese and Indian influences, and reflects a deeply Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel along with two dragons can be seen on nearly every Gompa here and the design of the Tibetan chortens can vary, from roundish walls in Kham to squarish, four-sided walls in Ladakh.  The most distinctive feature of Tibetan architecture is that many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south, and are often made out of a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth.

You may take a unique trip on this tiny, one-road settlement called Tagong on the northern route of the Sichuan-Tibet highway is the centre of local nomadic culture and offers travellers coming from the east their first chance to encounter yaks, the Tibetan herders’ most important livestock on the `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!

In this cool climate at an elevation of 3700m, the furry beasts graze comfortably on the grassy slopes when they’re not wandering around town. During the short summer season, they produce copious amounts of milk used to make Tibetan staples like rich, sour yogurt (sho) and savoury yak butter tea (bo-cha).

Again there is an off the beaten track alternative or addition as you may  complete a rugged three-day trek around Asia’s most sacred peak, Mount Kailash, in remote Western Tibet, and then visit the incredible Kashmiri-influenced art of Tsaparang and the Guge Kingdom, hidden deep in the weirdly eroded desert gorges of the Sutlej Valley. Freshly paved roads and a new airport outside Ali make the trip much less arduous and more enthralling, though you still have to hire transport and a guide through an agency in Lhasa or Kathmandu.

Join another requisite tour or a trekker’s paradise for another overland trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu, stopping at the incredible multistorey stupa structure containing Buddhist relics, at Gyantse and the spectacular medieval monastery at Sakya.

The best way to experience the mountains is on foot, and Himalayan treks just don’t get any more stunning or convenient than in Nepal. Pokhara is the launch pad for treks in the Annapurna region. Travel from the plains to the mountains by bus. Nestled in a tranquil valley at a high altitude is Pokhara, a place of natural beauty. The serenity of Phewa Lake and the magnificence of the fish-tailed summit of Machhapuchhre rising behind it create an ambience of peace and tranquility. This resort lies on a once vibrant trade route extending between India and Tibet. The enchanting city has several beautiful lakes and offers stunning panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks, creating the essence that has made it such a popular place to relax and enjoy the charisma of nature. Relax in a café, hire a boat and float around the lake, or shop for Nepali and Tibetan souvenirs in the endless stalls and shops. Clearly the most stunning of Pokhara's sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range. Opt to travel out to Sarangkot, north east of Pokhara, for a spectacular sunrise of the surrounding mountains. The walk back through farms and forest is wonderful.  Paragliding is another adventurous option during your stay on this `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!

Follow mountain paths, past lines of spinning prayer wheels and charming stone Sherpa or Tamang villages to the foot of jaw-dropping 8000m peaks like Annapurna or Everest, safe in the knowledge that at the end of the day you are guaranteed a cosy bed and hot dinner. Add on a visit to the medieval cities of the Kathmandu Valley, once a Himalayan artistic powerhouse. You would finally be travelling the last leg of the trip through the wild, rugged Himalayan landscape to Nepal’s magical capital and largest city, Kathmandu. For many, simply the name alone is sufficient to conjure up images of temple pagodas, long-haired saddhus in mystical clouds of spirituality and the ever-present Himalayas. A sightseeing tour takes you to the key attractions in and around Kathmandu and you wouldl visit Pashupatinath and Boudhanath, returning  and also have time to explore Swayambhunath, Durbar Square, Patan or Bhaktapur, and the lesser-known towns that dot the valley on foot, by bicycle or trishaw. The area has an amazing range of fascinating highlights, whatever your interest. Excellent bookshops, extensive markets, and novelty and handicraft shops contrast with fantastic centres of cultural and spiritual significance; Kathmandu has more World Heritage sites than any other city in the world!

To trek to the Everest Base Camp, you need a minimum of a fortnight, but it is recommended that you add a side visit to the stunning mountain lakes of the Gokyo Valley. Figure in ample time for acclimatisation.

Qn an off-the-beaten short or long walk around Manaslu is Nepal’s latest and greatest teahouse trek as you stay in lodges along the way, or go camping expedition-style on an epic trip to the Dolpo or Kangchenjunga regions.

As the last surviving great Himalayan kingdom or the Last Shangri-La, Bhutan has an other-worldly air that seems rooted in another age. Traditional dress is the norm everywhere, old-growth forests carpet most of the countryside and remote Himalayan people like the Layaps and Brokpas live a life largely untouched by the modern age. Simply put, Bhutan would appear to be like nowhere on earth, to the travelers, on the `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!

Explore the delightful Paro Valley and its iconic Tiger’s Nest Hermitage.  The charming town of Paro lies on the banks of the Paro (or Pa) Chhu river, just a short distance northwest of the imposing Paro Dzong. The main street is lined with colourfully painted wooden shop fronts and restaurants and the Paro Valley extends west all the way to the peaks on the Tibetan border, though the road only goes as far as Sharna Zampa, near the scenery and some of Bhutan’s sights.The Paro Dzong, originally called the Rinchen Pung Dzong, meaning `Fortress on a Heap of Jewels”, is one of Bhutan's most impressive and well-known dzongs, and perhaps the finest example of Bhutanese architecture to view, after being rebuilt. The massive buttressed walls that tower over the town are visible throughout the valley and housed within its walls is a collection of sacred masks and costumes, from the earlier centuries. On the hill above the Dzong stands an ancient watchtower called Ta Dzong which has been the National Museum of Bhutan and across a medieval bridge below the Dzong stands the Ugyen Pelri Palace, a royal residence constructed by Tshering Penjor. Along the main street there is a complex of traditional architecture with richly decorated buildings housing small shops, institutions and restaurants. The Dungtse Lhakhang is a 15th-century temple situated by the new bridge and a short distance outside Paro is the famous Taktshang or Tiger’s Nest Hermitage on the face of a sheer 1000 m cliff. The place is highly sacred to the residents in that they believe Guru Rinpoche, the father of Bhutanese Buddhism landed here on the back of the tigress. A bumpy road passes up the valley to the ruins of other fortress-monastery Drukyel Dzong, still retaining some remnants of the building.

You may drive to the little-visited Haa Valley, which is the last valley of Bhutan adjoining with autonomous Tibet. From the pass a good view of the Himalayan Ranges and the valley beyond, is possible. Here, tourists hike through the deep forest of pine trees and rhododendron to the Kila Goempa nunnery, clinging on a rocky cliff and a house for around sixty-seventy nuns. After visiting the nunnery the trail descends through the forest of firs and spruce and then you may take a drive to Haa Town, where it would be fascinating to visit the Wangchuck Dzong and Lhakhang Nakpo (Black Temple) which is said to have been built by the pigeon emanation of King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and have a look at the Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple).  Move on for a short trip to the tiny capital of Thimphu and the sensual fortress-monastery of Punakha. The city buzzes with a commercial exuberance that constantly challenges the country's natural conservatism and Shangri La image. Punakha Dzong, a view of the Tashichho Dzong, was the second dzong to be built in Bhutan and is served as the capital and seat of government until Thimphu was promoted to the top.

Schedule your visit around one of Bhutan’s colourful tsechus (monastic festivals), to get a taste of the celebrative spirit of the country on the `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!

There is an off the beaten track alternative to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Mustang in Nepal which comes with a  permit, though you would get a chance to explore the centuries-old Tibetan architecture and may even gain an audience with the king.

Shopping:

For shopping, souvenirs, carpets, jewellery, woolens and handicrafts are distributed throughout the main Leh bazaar and the Tibetan market is set up off the Fort Road area with an array of curios, handicrafts and jewellery, besides high-end gems like turquoise, ruby and lapis lazuli.

You will discover there is plenty of bric-a-brac for shoppers on the Tibet-Sichuan walk, with a profusion of colourful woollen caps, stoles, and shawls, besides a diverse range of beautiful handicrafts and curios that make a good souvenir buy.  Perhaps you could find some Tibetan or Chinese rugs, leather goods, metal-ware products, and artistic thangkas and paintings that attract tourists. There’s plenty of woodcraft, especially walking sticks – ornate and plain, and furniture. Miniature paintings, from Tibet and China, are hot favourites as well as handicrafts, silver jewellery, hand-made footwear, besides excellent honey, jams, and fruit juice, which you would find amongst the mountain tribes craftsmen and women.

In Nepal and Kathmandu, there are centres and shops for homeware and furnishings with exquisite carpets from the Nepali origin and plenty of shops supporting the craft of cooperatives and handicapped women, such as handmade paper products, photo albums, paper lamps, batik and woollens.  There is a showhouse with treasures of dhaka weavings, ceramics, block prints, pashminas, woodcrafts, jewellery, knitwear, statues, masks, wood carvings, curios and souvenirs, made of brass and copper with a gold polish or gold plated. The outbuildings surrounding the old Rana complex have been redeveloped to house a warren of chic clothes shops, designer galleries, handicrafts shops, including some restaurants and cafes. Sleeping bags, knitwear and carpets are found in abundance at negotiable prices, a variety of Indian and Internationally branded gear and other innumerable items to motivate the buyer!

For shopping in Bhutan, the best products are   bamboo boxes, carpets, metal ewers, horse saddles,and monastic trumpets, and  archery shops selling hoyt brand bows. Shops are abode with handwoven textiles and cloth and readymade garments as there are places where the tourists can watch the weavers at work. The Bhutanese dress kira and gho is available in a variety of sizes, patterns and quality, along with water bottles, socks and gaiters plus hiking shoes.

Cuisine:

Leh’s rooftop restaurants offer Indian, Italian, Kashmiri, pancakes, sizzlers, burgers, pastas, beer, brownies, apple pie, lemon tarts, cinnamon rolls and a profusion of Continental and Mughlai eateries all over the place.

With tourists coming from all over, the Hills in this region are geared to meet the culinary demands of most visitors, cooking food to their taste as well as the regional and local specialities of Tibet and China.  The cuisine is delicious enough to meet most international demands. There would be eateries serving Tibetan and Chinese food, and fast food snacks as well. The city of Chengdu would, ofcourse, offer more versatility in the delicacies! Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat, or mutton often dried, or cooked into a spicy stew with potatoes.  Yak yogurt butter and cheese are frequently eaten, and well-prepared yogurt is considered something of a prestige item. Buttter tea is very popular to drink.

A large number of restaurants in Kathmandu have since opened, catering Nepali cuisine, Tibetan cuisine, Chinese cuisine, and Indian cuisine, in particular. Many other restaurants have opened to accommodate locals, expatriates, and tourists. Continental cuisine can be found in selected places. International chain restaurants are rare, but some outlets of Pizza Hut and KFC have recently opened. The legally pronounced casinos are there for an exploration and an after-dinner snacks such as momos, sandwiches, burger along with some beverages or perhaps, even an ice-cream! Chhyaang, tongba (fermented millet or barley) and rakshi are alcohols from other parts of Nepal which are found in Kathmandu. The staple food is dal bhat consisting of rice and lentil soup, generally served with vegetable curries, achar and sometimes Chutney.

For food, there are restaurants serving Bhutanese cuisine in a spacious and warm setting that features a traditional seating and standout kitchens, outlets serving American dining with a Bhutanese flavoured twist, and most of the cooking being adapted to foreign taste,  although delicious and reliable, to cater to its prestigious customers.  Cosy cafes  are enclosed with every conceivable version, iced or frapped of good espresso, homemade cakes, pancakes, grilled sandwiches and wraps, with lunch and dinner specials. There are eateries which serve Bhutanese, Chinese, and Italian menu plus juicy barbecued non-vegetarian fare. There are places where you can sit to shoot out the breeze and have a quick snack as well as cafes offering decent espresso coffee with free wi-fi ,  sit-down snacks and substantial meals consisting of pizzas and pastas. There are restaurants serving authentic Indian food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

Climate:

The extreme variation in elevation brings about differences in the climatic conditions in the mountain ranges, mostly in Leh-Ladakh, Tibet and Bhutan, where it can stretch from cold and glacial in the snow-covered winters to sunny and pleasant weather in the summers!  There could be snowslides and road blocks in winters or the rains, though it would be superb to stay indoors and gaze through the thick and thin of nature even in the severest seasons, with piping hot food and beverages! You should be well equipped with woollens in the hilly and snow areas in every season!

The Kathmandu Valley is in the Warm Temperate Zone where the climate is fairly temperate, atypical for the region. The city generally has a climate with warm days followed by cool nights and mornings. Unpredictable weather is expected during the winter when temperatures can drop drastically, especially in the month of January.

With a plethora of destinations mentioned above, you would definitely come back with a satiated appetite for a stupendous vacation on the `Best Himalayan Escapes’ Holiday Package!


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