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. Weavers of all ages are at work. 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 300 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
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 on to Chari if desired. After the visit, we hike back to the base where picnic lunch awaits you by the riverside. On the way back, 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 or for anything you need to consult on. Once in Thimphu & 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.
Day Three: Visit Punakha
Today is our trip to the ancient capital of Bhutan – Punakha. Drive over the Dochula Pass at 3300 meters where in good weather the 200 miles of Eastern Himalaya Snow peaks are in view. Nevertheless, the highest point on our drive is gorgeous adorned with 108 stupas & thousands of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. We will also hoist our prayer flags here for the sake fo sentient beings and our own well being. Drive to Chimilakhang – the Divine mad Monk temple dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley who was known as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman” for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour, which amounted to being bizarre, shocking and with sexual overtones. After lunch at Puenzhi restaurant we will drive further on to Punakha Dzong. This Dzong 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. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country. On October 13, 2011, the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Queen Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong is built at the confluence of these two rivers and is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its whitewashed walls. In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. In the evening, drive back to our hotel. Dhensa Resort.
Day Four: Punakha excursion
Today, we will venture out to Hike & visit Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten that stands out on a beautiful ridge above the Punakha valley. Her Majesty built the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck. It took 9 years to build and Holy Scriptures rather than engineering manuals were consulted to construct this 4-storey temple. It is a fine example of Bhutanese architecture and artistic traditions. This temple has been dedicated for the wellbeing of the kingdom, its people, all sentient beings & world peace. It is an hour long leisurely hike from the suspension bridge. The Chorten offers a beautiful view of the Punakha Valley. After a sumptuous picnic lunch by the river - Go white-water rafting on the gentle Punakha female river. Your journey will begin about two miles north of Punakha Dzong, continue past a winter residence of the Queen of Bhutan, and some gorgeous farmland. Rafting time varies from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your interest. We will also visit a farmhouse and engage in some farm activities like ploughing the field or tending to cattle & pounding rice etc. Dhensa Resort
Paro Drive back over the Dochu La & on to PARO. Our first stop in Paro is the Ta Dzong (National Museum), a circular fortress that once protected this valley from Tibetan invasion. The impressive watchtower can be seen above Paro Rimpung Dzong, and it commands sweeping views of the valley below. Dzongs originally served three purposes: as a fortress, an administrative center of local government, and a residence and focus for the monks’ religious activity. The ancient watchtower now houses the National Museum featuring an interesting assortment of costumes from different regions of Bhutan and a wonderful collection of painted and appliqued thangkas (loosely translated as “something that can be rolled up”). Thangkas are religion paintings and typically depict Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or aspects of the Buddhist wheel of life. A short walk takes us to the base of the Paro Dzong and across a traditional cantilevered, covered bridge. We then pass Ugyen Pelri, a small jewel-like palace that belongs to the Royal Family of Bhutan. Designed after the celestial paradise of Padmasambhava, the building was completed in the late 1800s. No alterations have been made to the structure or the beautiful carvings and paintings within the palace. A short distance farther is one of the innumerable archery grounds. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, and most men grow up learning it. We will witness an archery match. There will also be opportunities for the adventurous ones to participate in the demonstration later in the evening t the hotel grounds. We will have lunch in one of the quaint local restaurants in Paro town. In the afternoon, we will undergo a hike (relatively flat walk) from town till the 7 th century Kyichu lakhang (temple). On this hike we will get opportunities to interact with locals besides their homes and on their farm. At the end of our hike, we will visit the very sacred Kyichu temple (special permits will be obtained) where we may catch a ceremony by the monks of the temple. After this gratifying ceremony, we drive back for 10 minutes to the hotel for some down time. ZHIWA LING HOTEL.
Day Six: Excursion to Taktsang (Tigers Nest) -
The wonderland 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 Seven: 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.