Bhutan and Nepal may be neighbours, but the Himalayan countries maintain quite separate identities. Throughout its history Bhutan came under British and Indian influence, and in 1949 the country regained its independence. Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world to measure Gross National Happiness and was one of the last to receive the internet and television, which occurred in 1999. Today the country is ruled by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as part of a constitutional monarchy. Nepal on the other hand is part of a democratize republic, the result of a decade-long civil war by the Communist Party of Nepal during the 2000s. The country contains eight of the world’s highest peaks and is incredibly fertile with agriculture making up for 40% of Nepal’s economy.
Bhutan’s weather varies from subtropical to alpine depending on the elevation zone. In spite of its broad terrain, the country experiences four distinct seasons, with spring from March to May presenting the most ideal travel weather. From June to September Bhutan experiences the monsoon season where rainfall is constant. Nepal experiences a very similar monsoon season with 80% of the country’s rainfall occurring between June to September. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for travel as the weather is moderate. Nepal’s summer months can reach up to 40 degrees, while in winter, temperatures range from 12 degrees to below freezing in the central valley regions.
As a Buddhist nation, the majority of Bhutan’s events and festivals have religious significance. One of the country’s most important celebrations is the Tsechu Festival. Taking place on the tenth day of a month in the lunar Tibetan calendar (usually in October), the festival’s primary focus is on the sacred Cham Dances which are performed in costumes and masks. Gai Jatra is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal. Celebrated on the 14th of August, the festival commemorates the death of people from the previous year, with families marching cows down streets. Despite the sombre subject, Gai Jatra is a colourful and joyous festival where, after the march of the cows, participants dress up in masks, sing songs and tell jokes.
Flights from Australia reach Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. There are no direct flights to Bhutan from Australia, however travel to Bhutan via air can be done so from New Delhi or Bangkok. Airlines that fly from Australia to Nepal include:
Flights from Australia to Kathmandu normally depart Sydney and make a stopover in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Depending on the stopover destination, flights can take around 13 to 17 hours.
There are six main entry points into Nepal. Five lie along the border shared with India and the other is found along the Tibetan border. Travel by land into Bhutan is possible only for Indian nationals.
It’s common knowledge that the best way to experience Bhutan and Nepal’s infinite beauty is on a trekking holiday. Explore the national parks of Nepal, hike to Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery and scale great heights to reach Everest’s base camp on a trekking tour. Travel Associates has a range of treks available that include lodge style accommodation as well as meals and trek packs.
To find out more about the range of holiday accommodation available with Travel Associates call 1800 017 849 or enquire online.
Sights to See
There is much to see and explore when you first land in Kathmandu. The large city is home to one of the world’s largest ancient royal palaces. Located in Durban Square in central Kathmandu, the Hanuman Dhoka palace spans a total of five acres and dates back to the 16th century. Another highlight in Kathmandu is the picturesque Garden of Dreams, a neoclassical historical garden featuring fountains, pavilions, decorative garden furniture and European inspired features.
West of Kathmandu lays Nepal’s adventure capital, Pokhara. The starting point for most treks, Polhara Valley is shadowed by the Himalayas and surrounded by picturesque lakes, high peaks, lush forests and caves. While here, trek or take a taxi up to the World Peace Pagoda. The Pagoda sits up high overlooking the mountains and Phewa Tal Lake, and is an ideal spot to see the sun rise or set.
In Bhutan, travellers continue to make the journey to Taktsang Palphug Monastery and for good reason. Famously known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, this spectacular structure is built around the Taktsand Senge Samdup cave and stands 3,120 metres high on the edge of a steep cliff face. The path to the monastery features 700 steps in total and passes a magnificent 100 metre high waterfall.
Don't leave home without...
Even if you don’t plan on taking part in any major treks, the best way to explore Bhutan and Nepal is on foot. Don’t leave home without a good pair of comfortable shoes and a back pack to ensure you get the most out of your adventure.
Not all places in Bhutan and Nepal have electricity, let alone a TV. Bring a music player or a good book to keep you entertained at night.
Bhutan has a national dress which is compulsory by law for citizens to wear when at school or when working in government. The traditional clothes are made from Bhutanese textiles and feature vibrant colours. The men wear robes called gho which commonly feature stripes or plaid. Women wear a colourful floor length dress called the Kira and accessorise with ornate brooches.
The cow is the national animal of Nepal and is considered to be sacred. As such the Nepalis do not eat beef and treat cows with great respect. It is very common to see cows wandering through the streets in Nepal, even in the main cities.
Things to be careful of…
Photography is not allowed inside most of Bhutan and Nepal’s temples.
Err on the side of caution and opt for bottled water over tap water.
Bhutan and Nepal are traditional societies. Always dress modestly, particularly when visiting places of worship.