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Druk-yul, the 'Land of the Dragon', asBhutan is known to its inhabitants,has always been the most fiercelyindependent of the Himalayan kingdoms.Its formidable southern border, where thefoothills of the great Himalaya rise moresteeply from the Indian plains thananywhere else, imposed a limit on theBritish Empire. Even today it is difficult tovisit; tourists may have been acceptedsince 1974 but the high prices demandedby the government of Bhutan have ensuredthat their numbers have been low!Bhutan is as individual as a country canbe; it is a land of boundless and beautifulforests, of enormous dzongs (remarkablebuildings peculiar to Bhutan thatincorporate fort, monastery and village inone!), and a proud and elegant peoplewith a culture, architecture and dress thatare quite unique and that they do not wishto change. If the natural history of thissmall mountain kingdom is as yet littleknown, we do know that its unspoiledforests and valleys hold the best of thegreat variety of birds and flowers for whichthe eastern Himalayaisfamous.Asoneofthelast strongholds of Tibetan Buddhism,its religious monuments are numerous and quite outstanding. Temples, shrines,monasteries and dzongs litter the highvalleys of Bhutan, and the grandest ofthem are in the beautiful Paro andBumthang Valleys. This holiday focuses onBhutan's fabulous flora, particularly theflowering rhododendrons, magnolias, andother spring flowers and shrubs. Ourchosen itinerary (and trek) is ideal forbotanists because it covers as muchground as possible, ranges inaltitude from1,300to4,160 metres,and takes us to awide variety of habitats, particularly forestones. As well as visiting the monumentsmentioned in the rest of this passage,particular emphasis will be on exploringthese fabulous forests, and the meadowsand river valleys of the country's limitedinhabited regions.We fly to Paro from London viaKathmandu, the last sector of the flight aspectacular one (weather permitting). Wewill then spend two days exploring thehistoric Paro Valley which sits belowChomolhari, one of the highest of Bhutan'sHimalayan peaks. We will visit the hugeRimpung Dzong, climb to the spectacularTaktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery andexplore the rich diversity of forests up tothe Chele La, a high pass to the westwhere we will encounter countlessprimulas, an exciting range ofrhododendrons and other shrubs, as wellas a variety of birds which may includeKalij and Blood Pheasant. An early morning drive then takes us to theDochu La, a high pass clothed in virginoak and hemlock forest, where we willenjoy a peaceful morning's botanisingbefore descending to the old capital,Punakha, where we will spend the night,and visit the splendid riverside dzong. A long, but scenic, day's drive takes useastwards to Tongsa in the heart ofBhutan. We break our journey frequentlyfor plant-hunting stops on the high passesand in the wonderful roadside forest. InTongsa we see the great dzong that is theancestral home of Bhutan's royal family,before moving to Jakar in the wide valleyof Bumthang, the cultural heartland of thekingdom and the starting point for our trek.Our trek lasts for six days. It is notparticularly strenuous, averaging six to 10kilometres a day on good trails, but it doesinvolve two forested passes, at 3,350 and3,650 metres. Fortunately though, theforest as we cross them is so rewarding tothe naturalist that our pace should drop tothat of a snail! Between these high points,ancient trails lead us from dzong to palaceto temple, along clear trout streams andthrough magnificent forests. We take a restdaytoenableustoexplorethebest of theforest, and our schedule is sufficientlyrelaxed to allow diversions and excursionsto look at the area's culture and naturalhistory in more detail.Completing the circuit, we return throughJakar and drive on to Gangtey Gompa tospend the night in a comfortable hoteloverlooking a beautifully secluded uplandmire. We have two remaining days to makethe return journey to Paro, with time toexplore the best of the forests en route.Our final full day takes us via the capital,Thimpu, with time for lunch and a littleexploration before we must return to Parofor our last night in Bhutan and the trulyspectacular flight along the Himalayanchain to Kathmandu and London.Bhutan's Bumthang ValleyA comprehensive 18-day botanical holiday to this last Shangri-la, including a 6-day trek through the beautiful forests of central Bhutan.Tuesday 23rd April - Friday 10th May Cost: £4,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationTIBETINDIALAYAGASATHE GREAT HIMALAYALINGSHITASHITANGTIGER'SNESTDRUGYELDZONGPAROFROM/TO KATHMANDUPHUNTSHOLINGTHIMPUPUNAKHAWANGDISANKOSHRIVERGANGTEYGOMPAHONEY ROCKSGEYLEGPHUGSHEMGANGTONGSAMESITHANGRUDONG LA(PASS)BHUTANJAKAROutline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Kathmandu.Day 3/4Paro.Day 5Punakha.Day 6Tongsa.Day 7Jakar, Bumthang Valley.Day 8/13Trekking.Day 14Gangtey Gompa.Day 15Wangdiphodrang.Day 16Paro.Day 17Kathmandu.Day 18Fly London.AccommodationA selection of hotels and lodges (allwith private facilities); fully servicedcamping whilst on trek.FoodIncluded in the price, except formain meals in Kathmandu. Allow£35.TrekkingGrade B. Moderate. Between 2,160and 4,160 metres.FocusPlants, birds and Bhutaneseculture.LeaderDavid Tattersfield or SujanChatterjee, plus local guide. Single room supplement£285. Single tent supplement£110.ExtensionsAvailable on request to India, Sikkim,Nepal or the United Arab Emirates.Web quick search: BTN01215Rhododendron cinnabarinumRhododendron kesangiaePunakha Dzong

There are surely fewmore endearingcreatures in theworld than that gentlerainforest giant, the Orang-utan. A close affinity with Homo sapiensisobvious, and gazing into the solemninscrutable features of an old male, orobserving the impish behaviour ofyoungsters at play, it is easy to appreciatetheir evolutionary links with mankind.Sadly, in its native Sumatra and Borneo,the 'old man of the forest' has beensubjected to relentless pressures whichhave reduced its world population by asmuch as 50% during the last 10 years to a meagre 25,000 animals. Hunting for meatand the demands of the pet trade havebeen contributory factors, but moresignificant has been the large-scaleclearance of forest throughout the region,leaving dwindling habitats for the apes.The principal focus of our holiday will beOrang-utans but, as we visit some of themost magnificent rainforests on Earth, wewill also be entering the domain of manywonderful birds, mammals and insects,including another threatened primate, thebizarre Proboscis Monkey. Our tour beginswith a flight to Kuala Lumpur, the moderncapital of Malaysia. From here we quicklyprogress by air to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah,and thence to Sandakan where we drive ashort distance to the Sepilok Orang-utanRehabilitation Centre. This extraordinaryplace was established in 1964 to helponce captive or displaced Orang-utans learn to fend for themselvesback in the wild and, during ourtime at Sepilok, we will see everyfacet of the work carried out there.Everyone will undoubtedly fall inlove with the wide-eyed andbewildered little orphan Orangs, which areregularly taken into care and exemplify thescale of the problem faced by the Centre,as adult apes are ruthlessly slain tofacilitate the felling of more trees. Returning to Sandakan we take a boatalong the Kinabatangan River to spendtwo nights at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge.As we explore the river tributaries andhidden oxbow lakes we will be hoping toencounter our first wild Orang-utansforaging in the riverine forest. We will alsono doubt be observed by troupes of pot-bellied and comic-looking ProboscisMonkeys, another animal threatened byforest clearances. After making the initialacquaintance of Sabah's stunning birdlifearound Sepilok, we now have theopportunity to consolidate this experienceas we meet hornbills, pittas, kingfishers,broadbills, woodpeckers and many otherrepresentatives of the very extensiveavifauna. The rare Storm's Stork isoccasionally recorded at Sukau, and wealso have a chance of glimpsing AsianElephants at the river edge. An excursionto the legendary Gomantong Caves willbring alive scenes familiar from TVdocumentaries as numerous swiftlets dashinto these vast cathedral-like cavesystems, their nests forming the unlikelybasis of 'bird's-nest soup', and at duskthere is a spectacular exodus of severalmillion bats which emerge like plumes ofsmoke to fan out over the surroundingocean of trees.We conclude our tour at the Danum ValleyConservation Area, where we spend fournights at the superbly situated BorneoRainforest Lodge. The Danum Valleycontains one of the last remaining tracts ofprimary lowland dipterocarp forest and isrenowned as one of the very best naturalhistory sites in south-east Asia. We have avery good chance of finding more Orang-utans in the forests here, indeed all 10species of primate found in Sabah havebeen recorded in the Danum Valley,together with a quite remarkable selectionof mammals, birds and reptiles. As isusual in such forest habitats, many of theinhabitants are difficult to find or nocturnalin habits but, with several full days toexplore the area, we are assured manyexciting observations. The prolific birdlifeincludes a number of pheasants, eightspecies of hornbill, the endemic BorneanBristlehead and a whole host of otherAsian specialities. Mention should also bemade of the many exotic butterflies whichoccur in a diversity of colour and form toenhance every day in the field.At the end of this memorable tour we willhave learnt much about Orang-utans andhopefully enjoyed the rare privilege ofwatching them in the wild.Borneo's Orang-utansAn 11-day tour to the rainforests of Borneo in search of the endearing Orang-utan and other wildlife. Friday 6th September - Monday 16th September Cost: £3,995Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Kota Kinabaluand fly Sandakan.Overnight Sepilok.Day 3Sepilok Orang-utanRehabilitation Centre.Day 4/5Kinabatangan River.Day 6/9Danum Valley.Day 10Depart Kota Kinabalu.Day 11Arrive London.AccommodationComfortable eco-lodges, allrooms with private facilities.FoodIncluded in the price, except forany meals required in KotaKinabalu. Allow £10.GradingGrade A. Gentle wildlife walks only. FocusOrang-utans and other wildlife.LeaderChris Kehoe or Alan Curry, pluslocal guides.Single room supplement£495.ExtensionsArranged on request.Web quick search: MYS02216Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryMOUNTKINABALUKINABATANGANRIVERSANDAKANSEPILOKSUKAUSEGAMARIVERDANUM VALLEYLAHAD DATUSULU SEACELEBES SEASABAHKOTA KINABALUOrang-utanDanum Valley RhinocerosHornbill