This tour imbues you with a subtle appreciation of the Bhutanese situation and a way of life. Bhutan's character is underpinned by a culture rooted in its traditional past. Monastic-fortress centers epitomize formal authority. Small, secluded, self-sufficient communities are spread thinly over the rugged landscape. Unity is established through an enduring intensity of faith.
You will journey through the cultural heartland of western Bhutan. From the sacred temples of Paro to the erstwhile 17th Century capital at Punakha via beautiful Dochula mountain Pass. We will take you to the seat of a high reincarnate lama at Gangteng and drive back to the modernizing center of Thimphu - the capital of Bhutan. You will experience broader social, cultural and ecological aspects of the landscape: taking invigorating hikes through distant village settlements and the rich untainted surrounding countryside; visiting some of the most venerable Bhutanese monasteries and being treated with the fascinating and unpretentious fusion of high culture and everyday community life.
This very special trip provides an insight into the delicate and charming conditions that for many visitors appear close to being an earthly paradise. As you travel around you will witness Bhutanese daily life proceedings, undistracted by your being there.
Fly into Paro valley. Enroute on your flight, if the weather is clear, you will be treated with the massive views of the eastern Himalayan peaks, including Kanchenjunga (28,169 ft) – World’s third highest mountain and Bhutan’s holy mountain, Jomolhari (24,000 ft).
Land into the enthralling Paro International Airport - the only international airport operational in the country.
We freshen up and have lunch before heading out to the impressive Ta Dzong - the ancient watchtower which now houses the National Museum of Bhutan. The museum has an interesting assortment of costumes from the different regions of Bhutan along with a wonderful collection of painted and appliqued thangkas.You will get a beautiful view of the Paro valley below as you drive along this road.
A few minutes’ drive down and you will be stopping to visit the fortress on the heap of jewels, the Paro Rimpung Dzong. In the past, Dzongs acted as strongholds, protecting the valley’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 house the offices of the local government and the resident monk body. A few scenes from Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha (1995) was filmed here. Additionally, the University of Texas in Elpaso in USA is modelled after this Dzong’s architecture and there are few Bhutanese studying there.
Below the dzong, a traditional wooden- cantilevered bridge spans the Paro Chhu. Your car will pick you up from here and drive you to Uma. Loftily located for spectacular views of the valley town of Paro, the site of Bhutan's only international airport. In the evening a brief Bhutan Trip Orientation will be provided by your Trip Leader and a welcome dinner at the hotel of your choice.
Today morning you will head to the warmer valley of Punakha via the beautiful Dochula Pass (3,100 m / 10,000 ft) – about 3 Hours driving distance.
There are 108 stupas built over the pass with an astounding panoramic views of the eastern Himalayas of Bhutan including the highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (Mountains of three sisters) at 7,564m / 24,840 ft. As you descend down from the pass, the alpine vegetation gives way to the semi tropical greenery and gradually you will reach the valley of Punakha. After Lunch in the village of Sopsokha, start your Hike to Chimi Lhakhang;
Distance: 1.2Miles/2kms Time: 2hours
Elevation gain: 15m/500ft
Chimi Lhakhang was built in dedication to Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman who was famed widely for his irreverent methods of teaching the dharma some 500 years ago. The whole valley is showered with traces of his influence, and villagers still enthusiastically recount the legends of his exploits. The temple is also referred to as the Temple of Fertility. Women having the problem of conceiving comes here to pray and get blessings with a wooden phallus that’s tapped on the head of the women. He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners.
And drive up Wolakha Nunnery. The Nunnery is located on a ridge overlooking Toebesa – Punakha and Wangduephodrang valleys. The main statues of the shrine here is the God of Compassion, Chenrizig bestowing endless love and compassion to sentient beings. The complex also houses a learning and meditation center for nuns where apart from religious training it provides life skill training like tailoring, embroidery, statue making and Thangka painting.
Drive further North - about 45 minutes driving distance to your luxury lodge, located at the far western end of the lush Punakha Valley.
In the morning, drive up to Habisa Bridge from where you will start your beautiful Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten; it was built in dedication to the King, country and for the wellbeing of Bhutanese. It is a fine example of Bhutanese architecture majestically located in idyllic countryside north of Punakha. The temple is a 3 storied structure and is 30-meter (100-feet) tall with all sorts of deities imaginable inside the shrines! It took about eight and a half years to build. Walk back to the bridge and drive down to visit the Punakha Dzong, considered one of the most important and the most beautiful Dzong in the Kingdom. It was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1637, and was the seat of the government every winter until Thimphu was established as the permanent capital in the 1960s. It is still the winter residence of the Dratshang (The Central Monk Body). As you move around you will admire the impressive, 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. The afternoon will be at liesure in your hotel to expereince the spa and other activities.
Distance: 1.8Miles / 3kms
Elevation gain: 200m/660ft
In the morning after leisure, drive to Gangtey – about 3 Hours driving distance. Gangtey is a wide and beautiful valley with open grassland and thickets of dwarf bamboo, designated as conservation zone within the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. It is a natural habitat for wildlife, including nesting grounds for the endangered black-necked cranes that migrate from Central Asia in the winter (late October and stay till March). Farmlands occupy the peripheral slopes where potatoes and turnips are grown. The general vegetation is composed of mainly blue pine, birch, maple and several species of rhododendrons. Reaching Lawala, hoist your prayer flags and stop for photography.
Reach Gangtey and check in to your hotel and have lunch. In the late afternoon, visit the Gangtey Shedra (Buddhist College) located nearby the lodge to offer Morning Prayer service at the Shedra (Monk School). The College is home to approximately 250 monk students attending Buddhist religious studies as well as Basic English courses. The renowned Gangtey Trulku Rimpoche presides over the monastic college and the temple below. Today, it is the largest head quarter of Nyingmapa School in the Kingdom. A butter lamp offering or long life blessing ceremony will be organized if you are interested with a chance to witness the monks chanting prayers with the beating of drums, trumpets and cymbals, making heavenly sound and making you rejoice in the companion of being part of this ritual. After the prayer session, you are invited to accompany one of the monk teachers to converse with him in his journey towards the pursuit of Buddhahood.
Tonights accommodation is the Gangtey Goemba Lodge overlooking the enormous and remote valley but one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Sensitively designed to blend with the surrounding traditional black and white Bhutanese farmhouses, the Lodge features their own fireplaces and standalone bathtubs strategically positioned to deliver breathtaking valley vistas.
Overnight: Gangtey Goenpa Lodge (GGL)
In the morning after breakfast at leisure, we start the Nature Trail Hike from the lodge. The trail hike starts from the Mani (like Chortens) stone wall to the north of the Gangtey Gonpa and ends in Khewa Lhakhang. This hike which takes you 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.
Distance: 2.5Miles/3.5 kms
As we hike further down to the valley where in winter hundreds of black necked cranes flocks around making noises and feeding on the grounds and seen hovering in the air. To learn about the birds and the community, we will visit the Crane information center. On the way there’s the Beta Community School where the children from the villages sprawled around the region flock here for education. Joining them in their class room and interacting with the children will give you an insight about the upbringing and aspirations in each of them and the way they cope up with the change in the age old traditions, culture and modennization.
In the afternoon, as an option, visit one of the oldest farmhouse in the valley where you will be able to explore, experience and partake on the daily chores of the household. This experience will allow immersing us with local community and learning about their culture. You will be able to interact with local family member and experience a typical day with them.
Drive back to your lodge and enjoy Bhutan’s national sport Dha or Archery, which together with Khuru (darts) are the most popular games for the Bhutanese. In the evening, enjoy an outdoor dining experience with the sweeping views the majestic valley. The hot stone bath here is a treat not to be missed.
This morning, we will retrace our journey back over the Dochula pass (Approximately 5 hours) to the capital of Bhutan - Thimphu.
Thimphu is the largest city in Bhutan with a population of about 1,20,000 and the city is without a single traffic lights! It is home to the Government, Royal family, and the head offices of the international aid organizations.
Thimphu’s Weekend Market is the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the place to sell their farm products in the market with its wide assortment of fresh, organic produce. It’s a good time to take pictures around here in the market.
Paper making factory - This small factory produces traditional Bhutanese paper handmade from the bark of the Daphne bush. You can see the whole process, from soaking and boiling the bark to sorting, crushing, pulping, layering, pressing and drying. Products for sale here include lovely decorated paper as well as cards, notebooks, lampshades and calendars.
Drive up to check in to your Lodge in Motithang near Kinga Choling Palace. Your lodge is set views across a landscaped courtyard or of a stream and pine forest for two days on the outskirt of the city, beautifully set amidst the serene pine trees, away from the hustle and bustle of the Kingdom’s main commercial center. Enjoy the serenity and the tranquility of the lodging here.
This morning, after breakfast we will drive to visit the world's 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. The Buddha looks best in the morning light & afternoon.
We can also drive up North to Cheri, the first monastery built in the country and start the hike to Cheri Monastery, crossing a beautiful cantilevered bridge spanning over the Thimphu Chhu and a stupa nearby.
Walking Distance: 2.7 km Return
Walking Hours: 2 Hours Return
Ascent: 330 m up
Cheri Monastery was established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (The Unifier of Bhutan) in 1620. The monastery is now a major teaching and retreat center for the Drukpa Kagyud sect of Buddhism, the state religion. The Monastery serves as the monastic school for study of Buddhist Philosophy, metaphysics, mathematics, poetry and many other Buddhist studies. The serene setting and the sanctity of the place here favors one to meditate.
We will cater a Picnic Lunch by the riverside. After lunch drive back to the city for further exploration. Visit the National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Painting School) where students are taught the thirteen traditional arts and crafts. The institute operates four- to six-year courses for the students. Though large groups of visitors can disrupt the classes, the craft demonstrations are a photographers’ dream and it’s hard not to be impressed with the skill and discipline of the young students.
And then the Royal Textile Academy. Weaving is an integral component of the culture and tradition of Bhutan. With the aim to preserve and promote this living art, the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan was instituted in May 2005 under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck as a non-government, non-profit organization. It’s also a chance to see women weaving textiles on the basement floor just below the museum.
Enroute to the hotel, visit the Takin Preserve to have a look at our interesting looking stout animal, the Takin (the national animal of Bhutan) and hear our guide narrate you the stories of it. Check in to the hotel and spend time at liesure. Those interested can opt for souvenir shopping in the city.
Today, we will leave for Paro after finishing the rest of the sightseeing in Thimphu. It is only an hour drive and we will undergo a liesurely moderate hike fro Shaba to Bondey and will visit a 450 year old farm Manor house in Tsendona for lunch. From here, it is only 25 minutes drive to the 7th century wishfulfilling Kyichu Lakhang and offer butter lams while each one of us make a wish for the liberation of all sentient beings, for the well being onf the loved ones and for our own personal fulfillment of the journey we embark on.
Drive just 15 minutes to the Zhiwa Ling Heritage hotel for a good nights rest to be ready in scalling the Tigers Nest the next day.
Early in the morning drive to the base of the Tiger’s Nest temple to embark on the most memorable hike. Guru Rinpoche visited and sanctified Bhutan in the 8th century when evil spirits abounded and harmed people. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to this site on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon residing here. Thereafter, he is believed to have meditated here for four months.
Taktsang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery was blessed and sanctified as one of Bhutan’s most sacred religious sites. It hangs on a cliff and stands above a beautiful forest of blue pine and rhododendrons at 10,000 ft. Today Paro Taktsang is the most sacred site for pilgrimage for Buddhists around the world and a special hiking place.
Return to the hotel in 5 hours round trip hike and spend the afternoon at liesure to prepare for the departure next day.
Distance: 5.3miles / 8.5kms
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Elevation gain: 600m/2,000 ft
Our guide & driver will see you off at the airport and bid their farwells there.
We hope you had a good time with us. Do visit us again !
Tashi Delek & Bon Voyage