To some, a visit to this area of the world means days of tough trekking, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. Take a scenic flight to Everest, embark on a more sedate walking trip through the Tibetan countryside or stay at a tea estate in India's northeast.
Audley's country specialists will be happy to create a combined itinerary that incorporates the highlights of the Himalaya region, along with some of the lesser-known places to visit. This means that you can experience the very best of the Himalaya safe in the knowledge that your journey has been designed with you in mind.
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Highlights of the region
The Himalaya dominate the landscape, shaping the lives of the local people and influencing the development of their societies. With so much history, culture and many different landscapes to explore, we've picked out the highlights of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and northern India.
Nepal is home to some of the world’s highest peaks, and the country is renowned for its beautiful scenery of snow-capped mountains, along with the welcome and warmth of its people. The capital Kathmandu has been attracting visitors for many years and, while well worth visiting, comes a distant second to the surrounding mountain range. The Annapurna region, northwest of Kathmandu, is dominated by several peaks, including Annapurna I, which, at an altitude of 8,091 metres, is the tenth highest mountain in the world.
The lakeside town of Pokhara, with its fantastic views of the mountains, is the main hub in this region. It is accessible by either road or plane but once here progress can only be made on foot. Longer treks are available but we specialise in shorter trekking trips, staying in comfortable lodges and local tea houses in the Modi Khola valley. In general the trekking is less strenuous than in the Everest region, with lower altitude treks generally between one to two thousand metres. The scenery at this altitude is a lush green and you will find yourself passing through terraced fields and bustling hill villages as the Annapurna Mountains tower over you.
Bhutan is a small gem hidden deep in the rugged peaks of the Himalaya. This unique society, whose barometer of progress is based on Gross National Happiness, is best explored by venturing into the countryside. It is only here that you will appreciate just how ingrained the culture and religion are. The landscape is dotted with chortens (monuments to distinguished Buddhists), fluttering prayer flags on the hill tops and prayer wheels set into the streams so that the water turns them and sends prayers into the breeze.
For those with limited time, a short trek into the unspoilt countryside is a must. The best time to visit is during the spring, when the weather is more settled and the blossoming flowers bring the valleys to life. The Druk Path, between Paro and Thimpu, is an old trading route that winds through quiet forestry trails and yak pastures. On route you will discover some beautiful lakes and from the tree line you can admire stunning views into the high Himalaya.
The more intrepid can venture east to discover the less-visited but the most densely populated region of the country. Settlements are hidden in the remote and isolated valleys, local dialects become more prevalent and the religion continues to run deep through everyday life whether it is out in the fields or in the monastery.
Tibetan with yak
Mention Tibet today and images of a mysterious land, an isolated and unique people and mountain vistas of outrageous beauty come to mind, just as they did when the first travellers returned with their stories from this ancient kingdom.
While Tibet today is a disputed province of China, rather than a kingdom, the culture is still overwhelmingly Tibetan, and Buddhist practices go on as they have done for centuries. Improved roads and infrastructure allow for exploration of this dramatic Himalayan region as never before. Tibet’s religious heart and a place of pilgrimage for all Tibetans is the capital, Lhasa, home to the majestic Potala Palace. The grandeur of this imposing structure is staggering, with its countless rooms and shrines, and its imposing mountainside position overlooking the city.
Most of Tibet’s towns are located at or around 3,500 metres and are found interspersed along the Friendship Highway. As you move along this road, passing the second largest city of Shigatse, the Himalaya really come into view. When Everest finally appears ahead of you there is no mistaking it, triangular and dominating the horizon. At just over 5,000 metres, a stay at base camp is breathtaking and the accommodation simple, but the reward reveals itself in the early morning light as you wake in the shadow of this great mountain. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle as the sun rises and the snows gradually shift colour.
Darjeeling, the old colonial summer retreat during the Raj era and home to a large exiled Tibetan community, is set to a backdrop of lush green hills and the famous mosaic tea plantations. For many the town itself is far removed from their perception of colonial splendour, and a visit to this region focuses on the Tibetan influence (large numbers of which fled here in 1959), the wildlife, the tea plantations and the inescapable scenery.
The first visit should be to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, set up by Tenzing Norgay. It houses a small museum dedicated to mountain climbing and the enduring challenge posed by Everest. The neighbouring conservation centre points to the wildlife that still clings to life in the region. This particular project aims to breed the endangered snow leopard and red panda, with the ultimate aim of releasing them back into the wild.
A great day trip from Darjeeling is a visit to Tiger Hill, from which you can see the sun’s first rays spreading over mighty Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak. From here a short walk takes you to the Ghoom Monastery, where you can return to Darjeeling on foot or board the toy train, which received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.
A visit to Darjeeling would not be complete without a visit to a tea plantation or, if you have time, a stay at Glenburn Tea Estate. Here you will see how the tea introduced in the mid 1800's by the British dominates the landscape and you will be able to sample a fresh cup of Darjeeling tea, one that has a justified reputation as the ‘Champagne of Teas’. Even if you’re not a fan of a ‘cuppa’, the sight of rolling tea plantations framed by the snow-capped Himalaya will surely suffice.