One of the least spoilt countries in the mighty Himalayan range, Bhutan boasts incredible mountain scenery and endless verdant forests, whilst shrouded in Buddhist myth and legend and replete with a plethora of incredible and beautiful birds!
On a typical day’s birding with us in this avian wonderland, you will find yourself in breathtaking surroundings searching for legendary birds in pristine forests, with mighty Himalayan peaks towering in the distance – all in all, Bhutan is a destination like no other! As we journey through this fabled land we will regularly cross dramatic mountain passes, that are adorned with brightly coloured prayer flags and chortens/stupas (temples), and these give way to vast countrysides often dominated by impressive dzongs (temple-fortresses) that so characterise this unique country. We look forward to having you aboard this adventure through a paradise of culture, birds and scenic vistas as we explore the heavenly riches of Bhutan!
Bhutan, a jewel between India and China, is about the size of Switzerland. Through centuries of self-imposed isolation, Bhutan has been able to preserve its spectacular environment and nurture in its unique culture. Drawing inspiration from its neighbour, Tibet, Tantric Buddhism has flourished and influenced art, crafts, and architecture for hundreds of years, and has shaped the Bhutanese way of life. During your adventure, you’ll get to know your expert Bhutanese guide who offers insight into the country’s long history and spiritual focus and show you the birds as you explore it’s elegant forests on hikes and sightseeing.
Today we fly to Paro, a historic town located in western Bhutan with tiny streets and brightly painted wooden shops. If skies are clear en route, we’ll be treated to views of the massive eastern Himalaya peaks, including Kanchenjunga, which at 28,169 feet is the world’s third-highest mountain, and 24,035-foot Chomolhari, Bhutan’s holy mountain. Once on the ground, you meet your Bhutanese guide and driver, who will greet you with a BIG Kuzu Zangpola (Welcome).
There’s a time to freshen up and have lunch before setting out to explore the Paro town. We will start off with the visit to the National Museum of Bhutan with excellent displays of all facets of the country’s rich cultural history; old costumes and battle dress, together with priceless jewelry and specimens of the kingdom’s unique flora and fauna. The winding road that leads up to the museum offers a good view of the Paro valley below.
And then drive down to visit the fortress on the heap of jewels, Paro Rinpung Dzong. In the past, Dzongs acted as strongholds, protecting the vale’s inhabitants in times of war against Tibetans and internal rebellions. Today, it serves as the center for administrative and monastic life and they also houses the offices of the local government and the resident monk body. Below the dzong, a traditional wooden- cantilevered bridge spans the Paro Chhu. Our car will pick us up and check us into the hotel. Trip Orientation by your Bhutan Trip leader over dinner.
Today you will fly out to the only remote Yonphula Domestic Airport in the Eastern districts – 45 minutes flight (The timing of the flight can be changed due to weather patterns). We’ll pass through small towns and villages giving us our first real glimpse of traditional Bhutanese life, and architecture. At the relatively low altitude of 1,400 m Tashigang has a mild climate and a relaxed atmosphere and an intriguing mix of people.
Enroute there’s a Sherubtse College, the premiere learning institute in Eastern Bhutan. We will check into one of the classes and take a chance to interact and throw some questions and learn their aspirations in life. Most of the political leaders in the country have undergone their education from this college.
Also nearby is the Kanglung Buddhist College.Buddhist monks in Bhutan follow the teachings of the Kagyu school of Mahayana Buddhism where meditation and praying for the liberation from suffering of all beings, with or without form, is considered the highest form of practice.
We continue driving down and have a chance to encounter farming activities and fields aplenty with oranges, beans, maize, mustard, pumpkins and marijuana aplenty for the pigs to be fed, although not legal for consumption by humans. The setting is a typical vibrant thriving community dependent on farming and rural activities. The forests still remains intact and pristine and you will be submerging in the depths of rural Bhutan. We will stretch our legs walking by the side of the road in Rongthong and look out for few birds native to the region like the black tailed crake, crested bunting, rufous chin laughing thrush, striated prinia, mountain bulbuls.
The lodge is the nestled serenely in a lushly landscape. It offers a sanctuary for the senses with unparalleled panoramic views of the countryside, elegantly decorated guest rooms, an excellent restaurant serving all Bhutanese, Indian, Chinese and Continental dishes. Relax and enjoy your stay in the lodge
Today morning we will take a drive to Gomphu Kora monastery to attend Gomphu Kora Tshechu there. No single event captures the prevailing Bhutanese culture better than the Buddhist festival. The best known are the Tsechus, occasions honoring the significant accomplishments of Guru Rinpoche, the 8thCentury figure widely revered across the Himalayas as the Second Buddha. Their focal point is a series of prayers and dances inspired by certain religious themes. Dancers in spectacular costumes perform tightly choreographed moves to a cacophony of drums, horns and cymbals. Constant chanting drifts in waves, a solemn base rising to vivid peaks. For Bhutanese, they represent both the opportunity to concentrate on their religion and as major social occasions. People appear in their finery, eating, drinking and making merry. The overall atmosphere is a rarified blend of devotion, conviviality and slight bawdiness. On show is the holistic, integrated and down-to-earth nature of unaffected popular Himalayan Buddhist culture. Enjoy Tshechu and dive yourself into the air of community vitality and observing the lively and vibrant festival.
Later in the afternoon, we drive back to head out to Mongar and to our lodge at Yongkola. Be thrilled on your drive to appreciate firsthand the enormous effort that went into building the highway that links western and eastern Bhutan. The climate will become more temperate as we leave the Far East and head towards central Bhutan, crossing the Korila Pass (2,450 m). Trogon Villa is located in the midst of what is considered one of the best birding locations in not only Bhutan, but also in the Asia-Pacific region. The stretch of road from Limithang to Namling Brag (cliff) is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
About 72 % of Bhutan’s landscape is covered with vegetation. And these rich, diverse forest reservoirs are home to many forms of lives, the one among the many are the avifauna that thrives and pulsates in merrier ways in this ecosystem. No wonder, Bhutan is identified as one of 10th biodiversity hotspot in the world. And also identified as center of 221 endemic bird areas. As many as 770 species of varied avifauna are recorded and many more are yet to be discovered. This makes Birding in Bhutan an exciting prospect.We are likely to spot more birds per hour here in Yongkola than anywhere else.
Target birds in the area include the rare Ward’s Tragopan, the endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill, Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated Fulvettas,Rufus-throated Wren-Babbler, Lesser Yellow nape, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Grey- cheeked Warbler, Greater Rufus-headed and Black-throated Parrot bill, Long-tailed Broadbill , Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Long-billed Wren-babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Grey-bellied Tesia, White-browed Short wing, Pygmy Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, and the highly prized Beautiful Nuthatch.
This morning we set off west for the first time, with our car climbing the 2,450m Kori La (a low pass by Bhutanese standards!) towards Mongar, the district headquarter with its own dzong. There’ll be time to absorb the tranquility of this region, look for some of the dozens of bird species like Satyr Tragopan and blood pheasants and if we are lucky red pandas are seen in and around the Thrumshingla Pass (3,750 M), and simply relax and enjoy the ride taking in the nature around. During all our drives through Bhutan, you will be looking out for flowers and other botanical treasures and making frequent stops to admire and photograph them. By this time you will be enthralled with the scenic landscapes filled with plants and trees blooming flowers and fragrances. Enjoy the ride throughout your journey into Bhutan.
Bumthang is a place of special spiritual significance. Legend has it that throughout the Buddhist Himalayas there exist valleys hidden from the outside world. Sheltered and protected, together these regions could become the last bastions of traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Shangri-La in James Hilton's Lost Horizons is based on this very idea. There remain few places more suited than Bumthang, Bhutan's spiritual heartland, to stand as symbols of such ideals. Check into your hotel and relax.
In the morning our car will drop us to Kurjey Lhakhang. This large, active and important temple complex is named after the body imprint of Guru Rinpoche which was left in a cave when he is said to have meditated here in order to subdue the evil spirit of the valley who had sickened the local king to near-death. The advent of Buddhism in Bhutan is owed to the coming of Guru Rimpoche in the 8thcentury in Bumthang on the invitation by one of the minister to help cure the illness of the local king. There are 108 chortens enclosed to the complex. Kurjey Lhakhang still to this day remains one of the most sought after pilgrimage site in the Kingdom.
And then we begin our day’s hike from here towards Zhabjithang in Chokortey, one of the four beautiful valleys of Bumthang. "Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development" but Bhutan, however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. The walk today will take us through some of the remotest villages connected with farm roads and some important temples found in the valley, one notably the Thangbi Lhakhang (temple) where every year there is a Fire ceremony and the sacred naked dance taking place with thousands of spectators joining the occasion to get blessings and safe from harm and misfortunes. Continuing up we will enjoy the scenic hike meeting locales on the way and some busy in their fields. Children and elders alike are keen to step up and talk to outsiders and welcoming to invite us over tea.
We will visit a local farmhouse to get an insight into how Bhutanese families are living off in the far away countryside. More than 80 % of the populace are still dependent on Agriculture and rearing cattle and yaks. This would be a chance for you to interact with a Bhutanese family in a traditional Bhutanese Farmhouse and hear them share their tales of countryside and their lifestyles and about how they are coping up with the trends of modernization elsewhere. Further up we will reach Zhabjithang Lhakhang where the site is blessed by Guru Rinpoche. Buddhist scholars say that the site has been blessed with indefinite virtues and prayers: a mere visit cleanses one of sins, fulfill wishes and guides the path to Nirvana (liberation from the cycle of existence).
Enjoy your picnic lunch nearby and afternoon we drive back to Chamkhar town. Enroute visit Wangdicholing Palace built in 1857 on the site of the battle camp of the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, father of the first King of Bhutan. The palace served as the principal summer residence of the first and second kings of Bhutan. What is rather appealing to see is five giants water driven prayer wheels which is to the north. Presently the palace is undergoing renovation and will be converted into a museum which aims to promote sustainable tourism that will increase financial opportunities within the locality. Additionally, this museum will become a gateway into Bhutan’s cultural heartland, the Bumthang valley, providing opportunities for local Bhutanese to learn their own history as well as for tourists.
This morning we will head out to the ancestral home of the royal families to Trongsa. We will cross over the Kikila Pass (3,200 m /10,600 ft) and descend down in the village of Zungney in Chumey and check out the Yathra Factory where ladies weave Yathra, the specialty of the region. The brightly colored wool fabrics are displayed outside the houses. Quality, patterns and color vary widely.
We will drive westwards through the forest of magnolias and rhododendrons and the dead dwarf bamboo plants as we ascend to Yutongla (3,425 m / 11,300 ft) on the Black Mountain range towards Trongsa – 2 Hours driving distance. Today we have birding opportunities on the way towards Chumey area and the Yutongla pass. We will look out for Brown Parrot bill, Himalayan Beautiful Rose finch, Slender billed Scimitar Babbler, Brown Parrot bill, great parrot bill, fire-tailed myzornis, fire-tailed sun bird, Mrs. Gould's sunbird, green tail sunbird, White-browed Fulvetta, chestnut tail Bar-throated minla, Rufous-vented yuhina and gross beaks.
Late afternoon we will visit the Ta Museum housed in the watch tower of Trongsa Dzong that has been dedicated to the kings and their legacies and some of the precious artefacts in Bhutan. Below the museum is the commanding dzong of Trongsa below with the sweeping views of Mangde Chu. We will meet few monks and interact with them and hear them share their stories of monastic life and their pursuit of Buddhahood and nirvana. Some people have also encountered red pandas in the area.
Back on the road again we’ll wind our way through forest-covered hills and past tiny villages and Chendebji Chorten, believed to be holding the evil spirit who haunted people in the days of yore in the region. Then it’s high into the rhododendron and dwarf bamboo forests of Pele La (3,420 M)and Lawala Pass (3,200 m) into the serenely beautiful and expansive valley of Phobjikha. This valley is famed for its winter visitors, the rare black-necked crane. If we are lucky we may chance to see last few cranes taking off for summer to the plateaus of Tibet in the North. In addition to the cranes, this wildlife preserve is also home to the red foxes, leopards, wild boars, Himalayan black bears. Look out for Himalayan griffons on the passes.
Gangtey is a natural habitat for wildlife, including nesting grounds for endangered black-necked cranes that migrate from the Tibetan Plateaus in the winter (late October and stay till March). There are farmlands where potatoes and turnips are grown for income. The general vegetation is composed of mainly blue pine, birch, maple and several species of rhododendrons.
After lunch in Gangteyif you are interested visit the Gangtey Monastery on a forested hill overlooking the green expanse of the entire Phobjikha valley. During a visit to the Phobjikha valley, the 15th century treasure-founder Terton Pema Lingpa prophesied that a Goemba named gang-teng (hilltop) would be built on this site and that his teachings would spread from here.
The trail hike starts from the Mani (like Chortens) stone wall to the north of the Gangtey Gonpa and ends in Khewa Lhakhang. The hike will takeus through the pine forest and small bamboo plants secured with lichens, offering you a spectacular view of the Phobjikha Valley and the wetlands here with Black Necked cranes flocking over and around in the months of November till end of February. The walk is easy climb down and then we walk on the pathway leading us along the ridge of the Phobjikha valley with the wetlands on our right side. There is a pavilion midway where one can view the wetland valley below closer. Our car will be awaiting us at the end of the valley to pick us up and check us into the hotel. Relax and enjoy your stay in the hotel.
Start the Nature Trail Hike from Gangtey monastery;
Distance: 2.1Miles/3.5Kms Time: 2hours
Elevation loss: 400m/1,320ft
Today we will ride our bicycles around the serene valley of Phobjikha. We can start from our hotel and ride down towards Khewang Lhakhang Junction and keeping to the right we head out to the village of Kilkhorthang Lhakhang where there’s a nunnery lonely located on a mound. We keep bicycling further south from Kingathang into the lovely Taphu side valley and explore, climbing up one side of the valley and descending down the other. The farm roads connects villages in the south of the valley and remains one of the remotest villages in the country. It is quiet and peaceful and don’t be surprised if you meet some children bow their heads out to you and greet you with their big smiles.
The valley and the stream meanders down forever. The houses are typically built and adorns the valley with it’s pristine character merged to craft a classical Bhutanese countryside setting. We will take our own time to ride our bicycles and take in the magical experience of the countryside today meeting the locales along the way or maybe check into some of the farmhouses or witness peasants at work in their fields. Our guide will find a place somewhere nicer with the views to have our lunch and free time on your own to explore around.
We have the option to ride back or our car will pick us up and drop us to the Crane Center to learn more about the impressive black necked cranes and how the people in the valley are coping up to live in harmony with these revered birds.
We will drive further west today to the warmer valleys of Punakha via the same Lawala Pass where we will take our chance to hang our prayer flags on this sacred and scenic spot. And then going down we will take the road that takes us to Punakha. Enjoy the ride through magnolias, rhododendrons and juniper trees and gradually descending down towards the warmer valley of Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan.
Punakha has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. The valley hosts one of the most majestic structures in the country, the magnificent Punakha Dzong which is its masterpiece. The recent Royal Wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and Azhi Jitsun Pema took place inside of this Dzong.
The Punakha Dzong is considered one of the most important and also one of the most impressive Dzongs in the Kingdom built on a confluence of two rivers. It was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1637, and was the seat of the government until 1960s. It is still the winter residence of the Dratshang (The Central Monk Body). As you move around you will admire the imposing, colorful and detailed artistry of the surroundings, including huge statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung, as well as paintings of one thousand Buddhas in one of the shrine you will visit. It’s a beautiful moment to spend around here taking your own time exploring around.
Today early morning we will drive to the village of Khawadara by the side of Pho Chhu river, diverting our way from Khuruthang and keeping to the right bank – 30 minutes driving distance to look out for the rare white bellied heron. Bhutan has the highest population of the White-bellied Heron (ardeainsignis) globally. “Of the 60 individuals, 28 are found in Bhutan, 23 in Myanmar and 7-8 in India, making the bird even more critically endangered than previously thought,” RSPN senior ecologist, Rebecca Pradhan said.Bhutan now has 47 percent of the White bellied Heron global population up from only 14 percent prior.
After that we will drive back to Khuruthang and head out further north of Punakha to Tashithang which falls under Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National, Biggest in the country. Which covers western and northern part of Bhutan – 1 ½ Hours hour’s driving distance one way.
There are possibilities of seeing Kalij Pheasants, bar wing cuckoo dove, small naltava, red headed trogon, serpent eagle, rusky cheeked scimitar babbler, ashy drongo and maroon oriole, spotted wren babbler, fire breastfed flower peckers, scarlet minivets, short billed minivets, orange bellied leaf bird, grey headed woodpecker. We will be coming across clustered village homes and you will see farmers getting ready for the rice plantation, one of the income for the villagers beside chillies.
Evening we take a walk towards our lodge.
Today morning we will drive to Paro. The sub-tropical forests will give way to alpine forest as we make our way past Royal Botanical Park at Lampelri spread across 60 acres.Springtime is the best for flowers here with its splendor charms and colors. For those who want a sense of Himalayan plant life, this is a good place to visit. A visitor's center has an exhibit and an informational movie. There are woodpeckers and yuhinnas at sight and many other mammal including the red pandas which many have seen around.
Continue driving up to the beautiful Dochula Pass (3,000 m / 10,000 ft) marked by many prayer flags. There are 108 stupas built over the pass with an astounding panoramic views of the eastern Himalayas of Bhutan including the largest peak, Gangkar Puensum (Mountains of three sisters) at 7,564 m. Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. It is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.
We will then drive down bypassing the Simtokha Dzong on our left and visit the capital of Bhutan for Lunch. Thimphu is the largest city in Bhutan with a population of about 1, 20,000 and the city without traffic lights! It is home to the Government, royal families and the head offices of international aid organizations. There are restaurants and discotheque abound! But the city still preserves its traditional character in fusion with modernity. Time stands still in Bhutan and you will know why.
After lunch we will drive up to visit the popular Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Memorial Stupa nestled in the heart of the city. It is one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu designed in a Tibetan style. Today people from all walks of life flocks here in the evening to circumambulate the stupa. Older generation folks are seen chit chatting and chanting prayers and getting together around the prayer wheels in the vicinity.
We then drive further up to see the tallest sitting statue of Buddha Dordenma (52 m / 169 ft). The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. The massive three-storied base houses a large chapel, while the body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha. It’s a winding drive up with the 180 degree views of the Thimphu valley below with it’s city.
Drive to Paro – an hour driving distance. The winding road through one of the best highways in the Kingdom follows the course of Wangchu till the Chuzomsa and taking right turn, following the course of Pa Chhu which flows from Mount Jomolhari, the second largest peak in Bhutan.
Perched on a sheer rock cliff face above sea above the valley of Paro, Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan's most famous attraction for locales, tourists and religious pilgrims. Known as the Tiger's Nest, its primary access is a well-marked but demanding path that climbs through a forest of oak rhododendron and pine trees. The occasional clearings among the trees present breathtaking vistas of the monastery and offer visitors the opportunity to catch their breath.
It's a special place. Many Tibetan saints and yogis including Milarepa came to meditate here after the Great Guru Padmasambhava meditated here for four months, taming the local spirit here and introducing Buddhism in the valley and across. Today's travelers appreciate its intense spirituality, and the physical effort required to reach it. The complex consists of four main temples and several smaller buildings, all interconnected by staircases with steps carved into the rock. The balconies from each building provide spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
We will take our pace and climb the mountain to reach up and enjoy the whole experience that lies ahead of us this day.
In the evening we will drive to Paro town from our hotel. The main street, only built in 1985, is lined with colorfully painted wooden shop fronts and restaurants and handicrafts for souvenirs. Paro remains one of the best Bhutanese towns to explore on foot and is worth an hour or two's stroll at the end of a day of sightseeing. Free time and souvenir. Option to walk back to the hotel.
Time: 5 - 6hours
Elevation gain: 600m/1,980ft
Elevation loss: 600m/1,980ft
Our representatives will check you into the airport today and bid their farewells from there. We hope you had a memorable stay in Bhutan with us. TASHI DELEK & BON VOYAGE