Bhutan is renowned for the enduring strength and vitality of its traditional Himalayan Buddhist culture and the dominance & purity of its natural environment. This journey through the country’s west encapsulates both these elements. Touring the major historical centers and day hiking to some important sites are combined with stepping off the beaten track, into a world that not long ago existed throughout the country and for many still represents the norm. There is a particular emphasis on traditional arts and crafts, observing the perpetuation of skills that have been carefully maintained through the generations.
Day One: Bangkok to Paro (2,300m)
Today, we depart to Bhutan and as we near Bhutan (and if the weather is clear), we can see the massive peaks of the eastern Himalayas, including Mount Kanchenchunga – 8,585m (third highest mountain in the world) and Bhutan’s own holy mountain, Chomolhari - 7,325m. Upon arrival in Paro, your Bhutan visa will be stamped into your passport. Our guide & driver will receive you at the exit point with your name placard. We will drive you straight to Thimphu & check into your hotel where we will check you in to freshen up and also have lunch in the hotel. Our first stop after lunch will be the Royal Textile Academy & the Museum – The institution is dedicated to preserve and promote the Bhutanese textiles in particular and the thirteen arts in general as well as strive to promote the unique culture and traditions of Bhutan by creating international awareness and encouraging international collaboration to promote mutually beneficial exhibits and educational programs. Watch weavers in action. Next visit the Bhutan’s post office next to the Bhutan National Bank office. A visit to the Bhutan Post Office headquarters is a must if you are a stamp lover. Bhutan is believed to have some of the best postage stamps in the world. You can also get personalized postage stamps made in say 2 - 3 minutes for just US$ 3 to 5. Just take along a Pen Drive with photo/s or the officer there will click your photo and print the stamps for you to mail a postcard to your loved ones at home. You can also buy lovely stamp albums for souvenirs. Our last stop today will be at the Tashichhodzong, which was expanded in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the temporal ruler in Bhutan during the 16th century. To this day the Dzong serves as the seat of the government and the home of about 500 monks during summer. The monks move towards Punakha for three months during the winters. Back to the hotel at Taj Tashi, Thimphu
Day Two: Thimphu excursion:
The capital city Today, we will venture out for some adventure (Hiking & a picnic lunch). We will hike through the village of Kabesa north of Thimphu & end up at the base of Chari Monastery. Enroute, we will visit the privately run Choki Handricrafts school where children are taught about the thirteen arts & crafts of the Kingdom. It will be possible to get some lessons of what they are doing depending on our time. Once in Chari, we will embark on a 2 hour round trip hike to the monastery. The Chari Monastery was among the first monasteries built in Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th Century, and it was from here that he established the Drukpa Monastic order in Bhutan. The Zhabdrung spent several years in retreat at the monastery during his lifetime. Option to try some horse riding through the village of Kabesa or hiking up to Chari if desired. Just recently, His Majesty The King offered 6 sandalwood boxes to the Chari Monastery. The sandalwood boxes will be used to store the precious relics in the monastery, including the treasures of Zhabdrung. His Majesty personally carried one of the 55-kg boxes up to the monastery, which is located on a hill in Dodeyna, about an hour’s walk from the road. It is believed that the act of a King Himself carrying an object, which would be used for such holy purposes, was in itself a most sacred and extraordinary event– one which would accumulate great merit and bring immense benefit to the people and country. After the visit, we hike back to the base where picnic lunch awaits you by the riverside. On the way back to Thimphu, we can visit the Pangrizampa school of astrology where we have an option (depending on interest) to consult an astrologer to undertake some readings of one’s life, business and well being. Once in town & depending on time, we will visit the weekend farmers market and the indigenous Bhutanese craft bazaar & the handicrafts emporium run by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB). Tonight, we will have a dignitary dinner with the local Bhutanese in one of the restaurants for interaction. Taj Tashi Hotel, Thimphu.
Day Three: Sightseeing in Paro
We will check out of our hotel and move over to Paro via Haa valley. Before our journey, we will visit the Buddha Doderma, which is the largest sitting Buddha in the world at 170 feet. We will have our prayer flag hoisting ceremony here in the auspicious premises for the blessings of sentient beings and oneself. The view of the Capital city is incredible from here. After that, we will drive to Paro. We will first visit the National Museum of Bhutan that houses so many ancient artifacts & religious items. Next visit the Paro Dzong (16th century fort) that is home to about 500 monks and also offices of the governor and the district judge. Next we will walk a gradual downhill for about 30 minutes to the cantilevered bridge where the vehicle awaits you. Drive to our lunch spot at a farm house where we will have a demonstration of traditional archery & dart games. Those interested can participate & try the game. We will wind up the day with a visit to the most auspicious 7th century Kyichu temple near your hotel. Here you will be treated to a ritual ceremony that is to instill peace in ones disturbed mind & ward off evil from harming you. Back to the hotel for dinner. ZHIWA LING HOTEL Day Four: Excursion to Taktsang (Tigers Nest) After an early breakfast today, we drive to the base of the Tigers Nest & prepare for our hike to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ or the Taktsang Monastery. This magical monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 701m above the valley floor. The legend of Taktsang (Tiger’s lair) dates back to 747 AD when Guru Rinpoche (Padma Sambhava), is believed to have arrived at this site on the back of a tiger and subdued the evil spirits in the region. The Guru then meditated in the holy cave that is the site of the Pelphug Lhakhang today. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singye Samdrup, is recognized today as the guardian deity of Taktsang. Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktsang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters, which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Dharma. In approximately 45 minutes, we will reach a small teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple. For those interested, it is possible to get a closer view by hiking another 45 minutes to an hour (each direction) to reach the small chorten directly across from the temple. Anyone not interested in hiking further can relax at the teahouse and enjoy the view. The whole pilgrimage is estimated to be a 4 hour round trip excursion. On your way down, we will arrive at the Zhiwaling hotel for a tea ceremony, cup of coffee & snack depending on time & interest. We can also stage an hour-long cultural program in the massive atrium of the hotel. This hotel has won the accolade of National Geographic Unique lodge in January 2015. Free time to use spa & dinner will also be served in the hotel. Zhiwa Ling Hotel Day Five: Depart to Bangkok Return to Bangkok aboard Druk Air/Bhutan Airlines. Your guide and driver will accompany you to the airport and bid their farewells there. Your journey to Bhutan ends today.
- Passport (with at least 6 months’ validity from the date of your exit from Bhutan)
- Photocopy of picture page of passport showing number, etc. Keep this in a separate place in your baggage. If for any reason you lose your passport, this will expedite the process of applying for a new passport.
- Print out copy of the visa & International air tickets.
- Temperatures will fluctuate greatly depending on elevation and time of day. You should be prepared for a minimum temperature of 04 degrees and a maximum of 35 degrees. You have to plan for layered clothing to be prepared for such a wide-ranging temperature fluctuations.
- Drink only bottled water, sodas, beer, etc.
- Stay away from any cold salad! These are normally rinsed in tap water before or after being sliced and are a major cause of traveler’s gastro-intestinal distress.
- All tipping is optional and by no means mandatory, however if you feel that your staff and drivers have performed at a good or excellent level, it is a great way to let them know you appreciate their efforts.
A few items to keep in mind:
- Accept or offer items with the right hand or, more politely, with both hands. Using both hands to give or receive signifies that you honor the offering and the recipient or giver.
- When you visit Buddhist shrines or temples, it is appropriate and a sign of respect to walk around the building in a clockwise direction (so that the structure is to your right side). This is also true for mani walls (walls built of stone tablets with Buddhist mantras carved on them) and Chorten (small Buddhist shrines.)
- Your guide will give you additional tips along the way, when in doubt, check in with them. You will be travelling into areas that have had relatively few foreign visitors. Your positive attitude and interaction is needed and welcomed to maximize this adventure.
What should I bring with me for the trip?
- Good walking shoes
- Sunscreen (highest possible)
- Headgear for sunny days
- Bug/Insect repellent
- Cotton clothing for summer days, light woolen clothes for evenings. Heavy woolens for winter.
- Shorts for hiking and walking around town are fine. Out of respect, please don't wear shorts in public buildings or monasteries. Have a pair of long pants or longer skirt for these locations.