The making of Himalaya:
A geological traverse across Bhutan
A small group tour led by Professor Nigel Harris & Dr. Tom Argles
Thursday 08 November to Wednesday 21 November 2018
Professor Nigel Harris & Dr. Tom Argles
The tour is led by Nigel Harris, Professor of Tectonics at the Open University, who has published extensively on the geology of the Himalaya since 1985 when he crossed Tibet with Professor Augusto Gansser, the grandfather of Himalayan geology. He is accompanied by Dr Tom Argles, Senior Lecturer at the Open University, a specialist on Himalayan structures and metamorphism, and an experienced Himalayan field scientist.
This unique tour will traverse the Kingdom of Bhutan, entering at Paro in the west, and departing from the south-east along the land border to Assam, India. During this journey you will explore the major building blocks of the Himalayan Mountains, discuss their role in throwing up the highest mountain range on earth, and their impact on the Bhutanese who live amongst them.
London • Delhi • Paro • Punakha • Gasa • Punakha • Jakar • Dimapur • Mongar • Trashigang • Samdrup Jongkhar • Delhi • London
(Meals: B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner)
Departure from London Heathrow* at 11.20 onboard British Airways flight BA143 to Delhi.
*Flights from regional UK airports are available on request.
Arrival in Delhi at 01.20 and connect with Druk Air’s 05.00 flight to Paro. You will arrive in Paro at 07.50 and clear customs and immigration in Bhutan.
The tour leaders and English speaking driver will meet you on arrival in Paro. You will transfer to Hotel Namsay Choling Resort or similar to check in and will have the day to catch up on sleep and adjust to Paro’s altitude (2,195m). Alternatively, the Paro River offers some gentle birding for species such as water redstarts, lapwings and potentially rarer birds like Ibisbill. (L,D)
Your first full day in Bhutan will be spent exploring Paro and its environs with a local English speaking guide. The two highlights of the day’s sightseeing programme are Rinpung Dzong, the fortified Buddhist monastery which dominates the town’s skyline; and the Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest), an exceptionally sacred (and photogenic) cliff monastery a short drive outside Paro. Reaching the monastery involves a steep uphill walk of about 1 hour duration. The monastery’s position on vertiginous cliffs is a spectacular example of the deformed rocks that make up the core formations of the Himalayas. On our ascent your tour scholars will demonstrate the minerals and the deformation that can be seen in many of these rocks. They will alsodiscuss layers of granite, evidence that the rocks melted while they were deep beneath the surface, which lubricated the upward movement of these core formations. The path winds through forests alive with the calls of reepies and laughing-thrushes. (B,L,D)
Leaving Paro behind on Sunday morning, you will drive approximately four hours through Bhutan’s mountain valleys to Punakha. During this drive you will cross the Dochu La (3100 m) which provides the first glimpse of the High Himalayan mountains to the north including several over 7000 m that lie on the border with Tibet. The scenery and rock formations you will see along the way give your tour scholars the perfect opportunity to talk about the structure of the Himalaya and the timing of the events that have formed these mountains. The Dochu La nestles among beautiful fir forests with a variety of woodland birds: yuhinas, flycatchers, nuthatches, barbets and minivets
We will stay at Meri Phuensum or similar meals included (B,L,D)
On today’s day trip you will travel out towards Gasa, one of the largest, least populated, and least developed districts in Bhutan. It’s a place of pristine forests, naturally occurring hot springs, and herds of yak, dzo, and takin. Your trip scholars will speak about Himalayan glaciers and examine evidence of climate change from accelerated glacial melting, which is causing major flood events in the Himalayan valleys.
Depending on the state of the road we hope to view the Gasa Dzong, the fortified Buddhist monastery which has been a place of meditation since the 13th century. (B,L,D)
You will spend the morning of Day 06 in Punakha, first of all visiting Punakha Dzong. The dzong’s full name is Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, which means "the palace of great happiness or bliss”. It is the second oldest and the second largest dzong in Bhutan and it is on the tentative list for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your local guide will talk about the dzong’s historical and religious significance, whilst your tour scholars will discuss how the morphology and active tectonics of the Himalaya has determined the location and security of settlements such as Punakha. The dzong overlooks the Mo Chu river where kingfishers are commonly seen.
After lunch your tour scholars will talk about the thick sediments of the Tethyan Ocean, preserved as sandstones and slates, which provide the key building stones for Bhutanese construction, forming the upper part of the Himalayan sandwich. The sedimentary rocks can be seen during a visit to the local slate factory. There will be the opportunity to discuss in greater depth the geology of this important building material, and also to see the processing techniques used across Bhutan. (B,L,D)
Today you will have a long but beautiful drive in a comfortable vehicle through the mountains from Punakha to Jakar. Depending on the road and weather conditions, and other traffic on the road, the journey could take anywhere between six and nine hours. You will, however, have stunning views from the high passes including the Pele La (3420 m) and the Yotang La (3425 m). There will be several stops at dramatic viewpoints so you can stretch your legs and take photos of the landscape and of Trongsa Dzong, perhaps the finest example of Bhutanese architecture. As for each of our travel days your tour scholars will demonstrate the rocks and minerals as .we pass along the route. These include strongly deformed schists and granite lenses from the Himalayan core and conglomerates from the margins of the Tethyan Ocean. The minerals we shall demonstrate include garnets, sillimanite, micas and feldspars each of which tells a story about how the Himalaya has formed. On the high passes, we may catch glimpses of colourful Himalayan pheasants (Monal, tragopan), as well as raptors, rosefinches and grosbeaks.
You will stay at Hotel Ugyenling or similar in Jakar. (B,L,D)
You will have a full day of sightseeing in Jakar, focused on the town’s cultural sites. Legend has it that a white bird (jakar in the local language) roosted here, signalling that it was an auspicious location in which to found the monastery in 1549. Jakar’s dzong is the largest in Bhutan, and there are a number of other important sites nearby, including Jambey Lhakhang, one of 108 monasteries said to have been miraculously constructed in a single night; the monastic college of Lhodrak Kharchhu; and the bazaar. Jakar is a good place to buy local crafts, and brightly coloured woollen items in particular. (B,L,D)
Another day of driving (six to nine hours) will bring you from Jakar to Mongar. We cross the Thrumshing La, the highest pass of the trip (3750 m), where abundant white leucogranite sheets and partially molten rocks (migmatites) can be observed along the road. On a previous trip this pass afforded close views of several types of pheasant, as well as some examples of extremely deformed sedimentary rocks such as conglomerates. You will stop on the way at Ura, an attractive little village famed for its summer mushroom festival. Between Ura and Mongar, we cross one of the major thrust faults, the Main Central Thrust, passing from the core gneisses into even more ancient quartzites and other sediments that lie beneath the thrust fault. The rich forests along this stretch of road are fabled among birders for their diversity.
Stay in Monar will be at Hotel Druk Zhongar or similar. (B,L,D)
After breakfast it is a pleasant morning drive (three to four hours) to Trashigang in eastern Bhutan, crossing the Main Central Thrust on the road back into schists with garnet and kyanite, and sillimanite gneisses. Your visit is timed to coincide with Trashigang Tshechu, an important annual festival centred on the monastery. Semi-nomadic people descend on the town for three days to watch the ceremonial ablutions, masked dances, and unfurling of the sacred Thongdrol (appliqué silk work with Buddhist images).
In Trashigang we will stay at Lingkhar Lodge or at Druk Deothing Resort. (B,L,D)
Today you can choose to spend the day exploring Trashigang, or to take an excursion east of the town to view some spectacular mineral sites. Trashigang Dzong is under ongoing renovation — a necessity due to its age and earthquake damage — but it is still possible to visit. Wandering the streets you are likely to meet local students Sherubtse College, the first accredited college in Bhutan, which was founded by Jesuits in 1966. The college is now part of the Royal University of Bhutan. (B,L,D)
On Day 12 you will drive six to eight hours from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar. Today the route descends from the Himalayan mountains to the plains of northern India, crossing the Main Central Thrust into the ancient quartzites and limestones of the Lesser Himalaya, before reaching the mountain front at the end of the day. The major thrust faults at the northern edge of the Indian plains are responsible for most of the major earthquakes in this region. Samdrup Jongkhar is a small town (elevation only 220 m) close to the border with the Indian state of Assam, and as such it has a mixed population of Bhutanese and Indians, some of whom are refugees from the insurgency in Assam. After your last dinner in Bhutan, you will want to get an early night. (B,L,D)
You will cross the border from Samdrup Jongkhar to Guwahati in Assam. This journey across the plains of north-east India provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the links between the Himalayan mountains and the monsoon and how our changing climate is affecting the populations that inhabit the region. Guwahati lies across the Brahmaputra river which rises in Tibet and carries the eroded rocks from the eastern Himalaya to the Bay of Bengal. From Guwahati you will take a three-hour flight to Delhi, arriving mid afternoon. You will check in to the Radisson Blu hotel at Delhi Airport, conveniently situated for your morning departure. (B,D)
Transfer to the airport to catch British Airways flight BA256 to London at 11.05. You will reach London at 15.15.
- How to Book this Tour
- Travel Insurance
*The US Dollar price is based on the exchange rate in April 2017. Contact us for the most up-to-date price for this tour.
- International flights on scheduled British Airways in economy class inclusive all taxes.
- International flights from Delhi to Paro and Internal flights from Guwahati to Delhi in economy class inclusive all taxes.
- Accommodation with private facilities as mentioned in the itinerary.
- Meal Plan: All meals in Bhutan. Dinner and Breakfast in Delhi.
- All transfers and sightseeing arrangements by private coach/vehicles as per itinerary.
- Entry fee to some museum and places of interest
- Services of a local English speaking guide.
- Services of Prof. Nigel Haris and Dr Tom Argles as trip scholars.
- Full ATOL and ABTA bonding.
- Bhutan visa fee
Cost does not include:
- Visa fee for India. We will send relevant information how to obtain an electronic E-Toursit visa.
- Travel Insurance. You can obtain a comprehensive travel insurance from Travel & General click here
- Any expense of a personal nature
- Tips and Gratuities
- To book this tour , please compete the booking form, sign and e-mail it to us. A non-refundable deposit of £500.00 per person is needed at the time of booking. Balance payments will be due 8 weeks before departure. You can make the deposit payment by debit card or electronic transfers to our bank. Our Bank details are on the booking form. Bookings are confirmed on first come first served basis. When the tour is full we will take about 5 additional names on the waiting list to replace their booking with any cancellations etc.
- If you wish to join the tour and fly from any country other than United Kingdom please contact us for land only arrangements.
It is essential to have adequate insurance in place before your departure. This should be appropriate for your age, health and destination you are visiting.
- It includes comprehensive medical and repatriation cover.
- It provides cover for your whole trip (whether one day or over a year).
- It covers you for all activities.
- Disclose pre-existing medical conditions.
- Take your policy number and the 24-hour emergency contact numbers with you.
- If you are making multiple trips we recommend that you take a yearly travel insurance policy.
If you have any question about your cover, please check with your insurer.
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