Places: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Gangtey, Trongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, Trashigang
Duration: 14 Nights/15 Days
Day 01: Arrive Paro
By Druk Air flight, you arrive to Paro for a day of spectacular sightseeing. Your guide Tashi Khadar, a representative of BHUTAN BY EXPERTS will receive you at the Paro National Airport and drive you to the hotel. After the welcome tea and coffee, we drive to Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower built in 1656 and renovated in 1968. The dzong now houses the National Museum. This unusual round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell. The centerpiece of the museum is a complex four-sided religious art carving that depicts the history of Buddhism and its propagation. One side of the carving is Sakyamuni and the great teacher Atisha who both represent the Sakya school. On the next side is Geylup, a disciple of the Dalai Lama. On another side is the Nyingma Buddhist lineage which is headed by Guru Rinpoche (who is also called Guru Padmasambhava). The fourth and final side of the carving is Drukpa Kagyu with the figure of Vajra Dhara. Located just below the museum is Paro Dzong, also called Rinpung Dzong, literally meaning “Fortress on the Heap of Jewels.” The fort was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and it is the centre of civil and religious authorities in the Paro valley. The dzong truly is one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture.
We then visit Kyichu Lhakhang, built in 659 AD by the Tibetan King Srongsen Gampo. This venerated temple is one of the 108 religious structures built across the Himalayan region by the Tibetan king to subdue a giant demoness that lay across this great expanse to prevent the growth of Buddhism in the Himalayas. Several of the 108 religious structures are located in Bhutan, said to be pinning down the demoness’ left leg. While the remaining structures lie in other neighboring countries, subduing the rest of her body. In the late afternoon, we drive to the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong. Built in 1647 by the Great Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, father and unifier of medieval Bhutan, the dzong was destroyed by an accidental fire and was left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories Bhutan had over Tibetan invaders. You get to explore the fort’s ramparts, and on a clear day, you fortunately get to experience the unforgettable view of Mt. Jhomolhari (7,314m). Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 02: Paro – Thimphu
After an early breakfast, we have a very special day in store for you with an excursion to view the incredible Taktshang Monastery, famously known as Tiger’s Nest or Tiger’s Lair. We drive to upper Paro valley to Satsam Chorten, where the pilgrimage trail to Taktshang begins. We hike up the trail for approx. 1 to 1.5 hours. The trail climbs through a beautiful pine forest with many trees festooned with Spanish moss and with an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. We stop for a rest and light refreshments at the Taktshang Jakhang (cafeteria). Afterwards, we walk a short distance until you see a clear view of Taktshang, seemingly within reach. The primary lhakhang (temple) of the monastery was built in 1684 around Guru Rinpoche’s meditation cave. The Penlop of Paro, Gyaltse Tenzin Rabgay built this spectacular monastery which clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of a flying tiger, Dorji Drolo, said to be his favorite consort.
After lunch, we drive to Thimphu and visit the National Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in honor of the late HRH King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, “The Father of Modern Bhutan.” Built in the traditional Tibetan style chorten (stupa), inside there are numerous religious paintings and intricate tantric statues that reflect both the peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities. This chorten is also a center of worship for the people living in Thimphu.
We visit Drubthob Goemba, one of the few surviving nunneries in Bhutan. We also visit Changangkha Lhakhang, built in the 15th century by the Lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo. For the people of Thimphu, this is the temple where new born children are taken to receive their first blessing from a high lama. Afterwards, we drive to an animal preserve and see takins, Bhutan’s national animal. Takins are found only in the Himalayan region. The head of a takin looks like that of a goat and its body that of a cow/yak. Before sunset, we drive to Sangaygang viewpoint (2,685m) to have a panoramic view of the whole Thimphu valley and get an opportunity to walk through hundreds of colorful prayer flags the dot this hill. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 03: Thimphu
After breakfast, we visit the National Library, stocked with ancient Buddhist manuscripts, and then we go to the “Painting School” Zorig Chusum. Here, traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting, in particular sacred Buddhist religious scroll paintings called Thangkas. You are able to go inside different classrooms and observe students hone their skills by following a comprehensive course of training that starts with drawing and progressing to painting and wood/slate carving. We also visit the Traditional Medicine Institute where medicines are prepared according to ancient practices, and then go to the Handicraft Emporium for shopping. Here, you can purchase various Bhutanese arts and crafts items and beautiful textiles.
After lunch, we hike up to Tango Monastery. The trail to Tango is a climb of 280 meters and takes 1 hour to reach the monastery. Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa founded the monastery in the 12th century, but the present building was built in the 15th century by the “Divine Madman.” Tango is one of the best places for meditation.
In the early evening, we visit the Tashichhoe Dzong, “The Fortress of the Glorious Religion.” In 1216, Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa built Dohon Dzong (Blue Stone Fort) on the hill above Thimphu where Dechen Phodrang now stands. A few years later Lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo, who brought the Drukpa Kagyu lineage to Bhutan, took over Dohon Dzong. In 1641, the Shabdrung (the one who unified the country) acquired the dzong from the descendants of Lama Phajo and renamed the fort as Tashichhoe Dzong. He then arranged to house both monks and civil officials in the same dzong, a revolutionary idea at that time. Today, the dzong is the seat to both the national government and monastic body, including the summer residence of the Je-Khenpo (the Chief Abbot of Bhutan). Dinner and overnight at the hotel
Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha
After an early breakfast, we drive to Punakha via Dochu La pass, where 108 Bhutanese stupas were built and where on a clear day, you can see a breathtaking panoramic view of all the Bhutanese Himalayan Ranges. The drive continues to Punakha to where we visit the incomparable Punakha Dzong. The dzong is situated on the confluence of two rivers, the Pho Chhu (Male River) and the Mo Chhu (Female River). You walk through a beautiful cantilever bridge to reach the dzong. The fortress was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and for many years until the time of the second King, it served as the seat of the government. Guru Rinpoche foresaw the construction of Punakha Dzong, and in his prediction, he said, “a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant.” A prior smaller fort was there called Dzong Chu (Small Dzong) that housed an important and valuable statue of Buddha. Legend has it that Shabdrung ordered the architect, Zowe Palep, to sleep in front of this Buddha statue, and while Palep was asleep, the Shabdrung took Palep in his dreams to Zangtopelri, showing the architect the palace of Guru Rinpoche. From his vision, Palep conceived the design for the new fort, and in keeping with the tradition then, he never drew the design on paper. When the fort was completed, the dzong was named Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (The Palace of Great Happiness). War materials captured during battles with Tibetan invaders are preserved in the fort. Punakha Dzong today is still the winter residence of the Je-Khenpo. HRH King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck convened the new National Assembly here in 1952. In the late afternoon passing through lovely paddy fields, we take a gentle hike to Chimi Lhakhang. The temple was built in the 15th century by the Lama Drukpa Kuenley. Lama Kuenley is popularly known as the “Divine Madman” due to his unique philosophy, “salvation through sex.” The lhakhang thus is also known as “The Temple of Fertility.” From far and wide, women who have trouble conceiving come to the temple to get blessings in hopes to becoming fertile to bear children.
Day 05: Punakha – Wangduephodrang – Trongsa
After an early breakfast, we drive to Trongsa. En route, however, we visit Wangduephodrang Dzong, built in 1638. Legend relates that as the people were searching for the site of the dzong, four raven were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign that represents the spread of religion to the four points of a compass. The fort sits at the confluence of Mo Chhu and Tang Chhu rivers.
We drive further and cross over Pele La pass at 3,250 meters. Lunch will be at Chendebji Restuarant, and then visit Chendebji Monastery. This monastery is patterned after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu (Nepal) and was built in the 19th century by Lama Shida who came from Tibet. The monastery was constructed to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was killed at this very spot. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Trongsa.
Day 06: Trongsa
After breakfast, we visit Trongsa Dzong, arguably the most impressive dzong in Bhutan. The dzong was built in its present form in 1644 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the offical who was sent by Shabdrung to unify eastern Bhutan. Later towards at the end of 17th century, the fort was enlarged by Desi Tenzin Rabgay. Trongsa Dzong is the ancestral home of the present day Royal Family, and the first two Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this fort. We also visit Ta Dzong, a previous watchtower to the fort, which provides a view of the whole Trongsa valley including Trongsa Dzong. If you wish, we could also go for a short hike to the village and see village life. In the evening, you will also have a leisure time to go a second time to the small Trongsa village for more good photographs. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 07: Trongsa – Bumthang
After breakfast, we drive to Bumthang via Yongtala Pass and Kilakha Pass. In Bumthang, we visit the Bhutanese Carpet Factory, where carpet makers use yak wool, sheep wool and pure silk to weave different carpets and textiles. Lunch will be at Chamkhar valley. Afterwards, we visit Jakar Dzong, literally meaning “The Castle of White bird.” The current structure of the fort was built in 1667. Then, we visit Lamey Goemba. This large monastery with a palace was built in the 18th century by Dasho Phuntsho Wangdi. We also go to Jambay Lhakhang, a temple built by Tibetan King Srongsen Gampo in 659 AD (the same year he built Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro). The temple was renovated by Indian King Sindhu Raja. During his visit to Bumthang, Guru Rinpoche went to Jambay, where the Guru restored his life force. A lake, in which Guru Rinpoche hid several his terma (writings and artifacts), is said to be under Jambay Lhakhang. In October, one of Bhutan’s spectacular festivals, the “Jambay Lhakhang Drup” is celebrated here. In the late afternoon, we visit Bumthang Different Handicrafts and then go to Bumthang Town to see village life. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 08: Bumthang
After breakfast, we visit Chakhar (Iron Castle) Lhakhang. The original palace was made of iron, hence its name. However, the proper name of this temple is Dechen Phodrang, and the current building of the temple was built in the 14th century by the saint Dorji Lingpa. The temple is reputed to be the site of the palace that belonged to the Indian King Sindhu Raja who invited Guru Rinpoche to visit Bumthang.
Next we visit Kurjey Lhakhang, a temple named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche. The lhakhang was built in 1652 by Minjur Tempa. We then go to Tamshing Lhakhang, “The Temple of the Good Message.” This is the most important Nyingmapa temple in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The temple was established in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. In the early evening, we visit Membarstho, literally meaning “The Burning Lake,” a lovely pool in the Tang Chhu. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 09: Bumthang – Mongar
After breakfast, we drive to Mongar. Packed lunch will be served on the way. We pass through beautiful landscapes and diverse vegetations. En route, we see the Ura valley, one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. You will see several traditional Bhutanese farm houses. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Mongar.
Day 10: Mongar – Trashigang ( 3 hours drive)
After breakfast, we visit the quite small Mongar Dzong, which was rebuilt in 1953. There are about 50 to 60 monks living in the dzong, many of them are young boys from ages 8 to 10 years old. The images painted in the walls inside the dzong are of Amitayus (Tshepame) the Buddha of Long Life and of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. We then continue the drive to Trashigang, and while en route we cross the Korila Pass. After lunch, we visit Trashigang Dzong. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 11: Trashigang – Mongar
After breakfast, we drive to a small temple, Gom Kora (or its proper name, Gomphu Kora). Its name “Gomphu” means the sacred meditation site of Guru Rinpoche, and “Kora” means circumambulation. The Guru meditated here and left a body impression on the rock, similar to that in Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang. We then drive to Mongar. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Mongar.
Day 12: Mongar -Trongsa
After breakfast, we drive to Trongsa, and in the evening if you wish, we can take a short hike to the Trongsa village. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 13: Trongsa – Gangtey/Phobjikha – Wangduephodrang
After an early breakfast, we drive to Gangtey where we will have lunch. The Gangtey valley is one of the most beautiful glacial valleys of the Himalayas. We visit and see the outside of architecture of Gangtey Goemba. The monastery’s temple was founded in 1613 by Gyaltse Pema Thinley who is the grandson and reincarnation of Pema Lingpa. Tenzin Legpai Dhendup, the second reincarnation built the temple. The present day abbot, Kunzang Pema Namgyal, is the ninth reincarnation. The monastery follows the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism and is affiliated with Tamshing (another Nyingmapa monastery) in Bumthang. We explore the Phobjikha valley, famous for the Black Necked Cranes that migrate here for the winter season. The Black Necked Cranes are very rare and endangered birds that the Bhutanese government highly protects. When they arrive to Phobjikha, the cranes circle the Gangtey Goemba three times in a clockwise direction as a reverence to the monastery before landing in the valley. They repeat this same practice before flying back to Tibet in early spring. If you travel with us for the months when the Black Necked Cranes are in Bhutan, we will take you to various viewpoints to get good photographs of both this exceptionally beautiful valley and these rare birds. We continue the drive to Wangduephodrang where you will have dinner and spend overnight.
Day 14: Wangduephodrang – Thimphu – Paro
After breakfast, we drive to Thimphu and visit Semtokha Dzong, the first dzong built by the Shabdrung. We also visit a traditional Bhutanese paper making factory. After lunch, we drive to Paro. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 15: Depart Paro
After an early breakfast, we take you to the airport and bid you farewell.