Places: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Gangtey, Trongsa, Bumthang
Duration: 9 Nights/10 Days
Day 01: Arrive Paro – Thimphu
The flight into Bhutan takes you over the great Himalayas, offering a scintillating scenery of the world’s highest peaks. As you enter Paro valley, you will see the Pa Chhu (Paro River) meandering down the valley, the Paro Dzong (a fortress) and Ta Dzong (a watchtower). On arrival to Paro National Airport by Druk Air, a representative from BHUTAN BY EXPERTS will meet and greet you, and then, will transfer you to Thimphu, the modern capital of Bhutan.
After checking into the hotel, we take you to the National Memorial Chorten. The chorten (stupa) is a monument dedicated to world peace and prosperity, and it is also a memorial in honour of the late third King, HRH Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The paintings and statues inside the chorten provide a deep insight into the Bhutanese Buddhist philosophy. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 02: Thimphu
After breakfast at hotel, we proceed to a guided tour of Thimphu. We will bring you to the National Library. The library holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years. It also has a collection of modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion.
We will also visit a nearby institute for traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts, Zorig Chusum. This school is commonly known as the “Painting School.” The institute offers a four to six year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. During the visit, you are welcome to enter the classrooms where you can see students learn the various skills taught to hone their craft. We then drive towards the city centre to visit the Textile Museum and the Folk Heritage Museum. These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese culture and way of life.
We conclude the city sightseeing tour with a visit of Tashichhoe Dzong. This impressive and beautiful fortress houses the secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of the Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Day 03: Thimphu – Punakha (75km, 3 hours approx.)
After breakfast, we drive up to Dochu La pass (3,088m/10,130ft) stopping briefly here to take in the view and to admire the 108 chortens, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, a breathtaking panoramic view of the Himalayan range can be seen from this pass. The following peaks are (from left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m), Jejegangphugang (7,158m), Kangphugang (7,170m), Zongphugang (7,060m) a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana, and finally Gangkar Puensum (7,497m) the highest peak in Bhutan.
After checking into the hotel, we proceed to visit Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers, the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955, and the fort still serves as the winter residence of the Chief Abbot and monk body. In the afternoon, we drive along the banks of the Mo Chhu to the upper Punakha valley, and we hike up through fields of chilies, cabbages and rice to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a stunning monument recently built by the Queens and consecrated in 1999.
Later in the day, we take an excursion to Chimi Lakhang. From the hotel it is about a 15 minutes drive to where the vehicle is parked, and then we walk a gentle hike through paddy fields and village to reach the temple. Chimi Lhakhang, known also as the “Temple of Fertility,” is situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley.
Day 04: Punakha – Gangtey (150km, 4 hours)
We enjoy a dramatic drive to Phobjikha valley passing through dense forests of oak and Rhododendron trees before reaching Gangtey. En route, however, we stop to visit Wangduephodrang Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view over both the north-south direction and east-west direction. Wangdue district is also famous for its bamboo work, slate & stone carvings.
After checking into the hotel in Gangtey, we take a walk around Gangtey village and visit Gangtey Goemba, the only Nyingmapa monastery in this region. The village of Phobjikha lies a few kilometers down from the monastery on the valley floor. This quiet and remote valley is the winter home of the Black Necked Cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north to pass the winter months in a milder climate.
Day 05: Gangtey
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we begin today’s tour with an excursion to Tangjey Lhakhang (3,050m Distance 10-12km Duration 4-5hrs). We set out on a day’s hike toward the southeast direction through a vegetation of dwarf bamboos that adorns the Phobjikha valley. This valley is where the rare Black Necked Cranes reside during the winter season, beginning November until mid March. After an hour of easy hike, we reach the small settlement of Kilkhorthang village. We take a short rest to enjoy the dramatic landscape of the valley before continuing towards Tangjey, passing through vegetable fields and orchards. Tangjey Lhakhang (temple) is dedicated to Lord Buddha and its local protective deity Yeshi Gempo. The original foundation of the temple dates back to 1517–1554. After an enjoyable visit at the temple, we head back to the hotel crossing a wooden bride over a crystal clear river. Our day can be ended, if you wsh, with a little celebration of locally distilled traditional drink.
Day 06: Gantey – Trongsa – Bumthang (218km, 6-7 hours)
After breakfast, we take a short nature walk in the vicinity of the hotel, and then after, we drive to Bumthang, crossing Pele La pass (3,300m/10,830ft) via Trongsa. Pela La is marked by a large white chorten with prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, where the mountain forest trees are replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboos. We stop, en route, at Chendbji Chorten which is patterned on the Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet. The stupa’s purpose was to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.
Also En route to Bumthang, we visit Trongsa Dzong. The fort was built in 1648, and it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan at that time. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient dzong. All four Kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (‘governer’) prior to ascending the throne, and the present Crown Prince now holds the post. The dzong is a massive structure with many floor levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it was built. We also visit Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone watchtower rising five stories. It was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected to become an impressive museum that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. The Ta Dzong is the only structure in the entire country that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan celebrates the centenary of the Monarchy. Further 68km drive across the Yutong La pass (3,400m/11,155ft) will finally bring us to the wide open cultivated Bumthang valley.
Day 07: Bumthang
After breakfast, we proceed on our tour of the Bumthang valley. Bumthang is the general name given to the combination of four valleys (Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m). There are many prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Bumthang valleys.
We visit Kurje Lhakhang. It is a temple where the saint Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock. We aso visit the Jambey Lhakhang (a 7th century temple), Tamshing Lhakhang (a temple that holds some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan) and Jakar Dzong (an administrative center of the region). We then stroll in a village, visiting a little handicraft shop at the entrance to the town and perhaps stopping to take refreshments at a local restaurant. Later in the afternoon, if time permits, we visit Wangdicholing Palace (visitors allowed from outside only).
Day 08: Bumthang – Punakha (200km, 7 hours)
After a short stroll around the town, we depart for the lengthy drive back to Punakha along the scenic mountain highway.
Day 09: Punakha – Paro (125km, 4 hours)
After breakfast, we drive back to Paro. Descending back down from Dochu La and following the way back through the dramatic Wang Chhu and Paro Chhu river valleys, we cross the distance to reach Paro. However, en route to Paro, we visit Semtokha Dzong, a place of profound tantric teaching. This dzong now houses a school for the study of the Dzongkha language.
After checking into the hotel in Paro, we proceed with our tour to Ta Dzong, originally built as watchtower. It now houses the National Museum of Bhutan, and it features antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armour, traditional household objects, and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts. Then, we walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, meaning “The Fortress on the Heap of Jewels.” Along the wooden galleries lining the courtyard of the Rinpung Dzong, you can see fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore. The dzong has a picturesque traditional covered cantilever bridge, locally known as Nemi Zam.
Day 10: Paro
After a leisurely breakfast, we go for an excursion to Taktshang Monastery (5 hours hike approx). It is one of the most famous and revered monasteries in Bhutan. It is dramatically perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery; hence, it is also known as “The Tiger’s Nest.” Visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and recognized as one of the most sacred places in Bhutan, Taktshang is now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. On the 19th of April 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building, but now, this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.
Afterwards, we drive just a little ways down the valley to visit Kyichu Lhakhang. It is one of the oldest temples in the Kingdom, and it holds one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan, dating back to 7th century (the other revered temple is Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). The lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, and the second temple was built in 1968 (using the same original pattern) by HRH Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan.
Day 11: Depart Paro
After breakfast, we transfer you to the airport for flight to onward destination.