The Bhutan Himalayas differ from the rest of the Himalayas in two major ways: (i) low-grade sedimentary rocks lie above the Greater Himalayan Sequence as klippen (i.e. erosional remains of the South Tibetan Detachment); and (ii) an out-of-sequence thrust, the Kakhtang thrust, lies structurally above the klippen, and it doubles the exposed thickness of the Greater Himalayan Sequence. Our field observations and geochronological data constrain the main kinematic events in the Bhutan Himalayas. Crystallisation ages of leucogranite dykes deformed by the Main Central Thrust and the South Tibetan Detachment indicate that these two structures operated together between 16 and 22 Ma. The out-of-sequence Kakhtang thrust was active at 10–14 Ma and was concurrent with reactivation of the South Tibetan Detachment. Restoration of the Bhutan Himalayas prior to the out-of-sequence thrusting shows that the Greater Himalayan Sequence was the core of a long, low-viscosity crustal channel extending under the Tibetan plateau. We propose that the gravity-driven southward extrusion of the channel material from underneath the Tibetan plateau caused the inverted metamorphic sequence in the Lesser Himalayan Sequence and in the Greater Himalayan Sequence. This process also led to occurrences of present-day surface rocks that were derived from variable distances down dip, but from similar crustal depths. Such an exhumation pattern can explain the similar peak pressures for the Greater Himalayan Sequence along the length of the Himalayas.