Welcome to the spree of Paro, known for beautiful wide valleys rich in ancient culture, Thimph, the capital city with just over 100,000 population with not a single traffic light, Puankah, the old capital city with a majestic dzong between the two rivers fed by the glacial lakes of the northern Himalayas, Dochul and Pelela with an elevation over 10,300 ft, rare flora and fauna, crisp air, Phobjikha, the widest glacial valley, a wintering habitat for the endangered black necked cranes and farm houses, where you will get to witness how people live in Bhutan and are happy and contented.
Activity: Cultural tours and natural sightseeing combined with meditation, walking and light hiking.
The package is ALL INCLUSIVE and the cost shall include all meals, accommodation in 3 star hotels on a twin sharing basis, all land transports within Bhutan including airport pick up and drop off, sight-seeing and services of tour guide, monument entry fees and all applicable taxes as well as USD 65 per day/per person as the government royalty, and one time visa fee of $ 40 per person which goes towards meeting free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation.
As compliment, we will arrange a river rafting in Punakha, 2 bottled of mineral water per person/day, a Bhutanese cultural program on one evening, and a farm house visit.
However, the above cost will not include- air fare cost, gratuities, trip insurance, laundry, telephone calls, drinks and beverages and any other costs that is personal in nature.
During the journey to Paro, you will experience breathtaking views of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mt. Jomolhari and Mt. Jichu Drake in Bhutan.
Upon arrival at Paro International Airport and completion of immigration formalities and collection of your baggage, you will be welcomed by our tour representative who will be your tour guide during your entire trip to Bhutan.
As evening falls, we will visit Tashichho Dzong, the beautiful medieval fortress /monastery is Bhutan’s administrative and religious centre which houses most of the Government's office and the King's Throne Room. It is also the summer residence of Je - Khenpo, the Chief Abbot. The National Assembly hall is located in a new building across the river.
This evening, enjoy a walk up and down the high street lined with little shops of all descriptions is fascinating. There is always a colorful gathering passing from ubiquitous monk bodies to Bhutanese businessmen, to nomadic farmers that come to trade supplies.
Overnight stay at a hotel in Thimphu
After breakfast, drive to the base camp of Cheri Monastery and then take a 45mintues hike to the monastery. Cheri Monastery was founded by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the 17th century unifier of the Bhutanese nation state. Initially coming from Tibet, Shabdrung moved to Bhutan and promoted a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity from the dominant Tibetan culture. He established Cheri Monastery at the end of Thimpu Valley in 1620. Cheri, also known as Chagry Dorjeden, had been a sacred place ever since Guru Rinpoche visited it in the 8th century. Shabdrung added to its sacredness, and nowadays, it is a prominent teaching centre of the Drukpa Kagyu order. Like many monasteries, Cheri offers ample opportunities for people to go into retreat, and even in the 20th century, a new meditation centre was opened. Shabdrung himself spent three years in retreat, and later, regularly used it as a residence.
In the afternoon, visit the Memorial Chorten, with its golden spires shining in the sun, its tinkling bells and an endless procession of elderly people circling around it. Erected by the royal grandmother Ashi Phutsho Chodoen in memory of her son the third king Jigme Dorje, it contains a fine collection of Buddhist statues and is a center of tantric buddhism in all its complexity.
Visit the Folk Heritage Museum, founded by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. The museum is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through an exhibition of items and artifacts used in rural households, demonstrating customs, traditions, habits and skills. The principal exhibit is the museum building itself which is a restored three-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house. It contains household objects, typical domestic tools and equipment used by a rural family.
Later, we will visit the Changangkha Lhakhang- It is a fortress like temple perched on a ridge above Thimphu, south of Motithang. The temple was established in 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, who came from Tibet and is dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of compassion. The central statue here is Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) in a manifestation with 11 heads. From the courtyard of the temple, there is fascinating view of the Thimphu valley.
After lunch, we will visit the weekend market where the locals come to do their weekly shopping. This will be one of the highlights of your trip as you observe the Bhutanese people's culture and life styles. Later we will make a stop at the Centenary Park where the walking Buddha resides; the entire statue was built by Thai workers who specifically came to Bhutan to build the statue. It stands at 45 feet tall.
Then, visit the Institute of Zorig Chusum (Painting School) where the 13 traditional arts and crafts are still kept alive. Students here receive training for six years on thangka painting, slate curving, tailoring, stone carving, embroidery, etc. Upon completion of the training, they either find employment in the government or the private sector and some even start their own arts and crafts enterprises. If you are interested to avail some students made products, they are available for sale.
Thereafter, visit Textile Museum serves as the living art of Bhutanese weaving culture and to see the intricately designed textile fabrics of Bhutan. The fabrics mostly come from Lhuentse, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family in eastern Bhutan.
Overnight stay at a hotel in Thimphu
Leaving Thimphu, we start our journey into the countryside towards the Punakha valley, the winter capital of Bhutan. The drive ascends gradually to the Dochula pass over 10300 ft, with magnificent vistas of the Himalayan range.
The Dochula Monastery also known as the Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens is a tribute to the service and leadership of His Majesty the king. The design inspired by the Queen is a unique cluster of 108 Chortens seen from all directions. The descent to Punakha is vibrant and colorful, with the fluttering prayer flags adding to a rich topography dotted by terrace farming and rivers flowing through.
En-route, visit the Lamperi Botanical park, which is known for rhododendrons as well for various birds species such as Satyr’s Tragopan and a host of mixed species that dwell in the cool broadleaf forests. Further on the way to Punakha, you can spot the Grey Bushchat and Rufous-breasted Accentor, Red-flanked Bluetail, and Golden Bush-RobinIdentify the Red-tailed and Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Blue-winged, Rufus-winged, White-browed and Nepal Fulvetta and Whiskered, Stripe-throated, Rufus-vented, Black-chinned and White-bellied Yuhinas. You will be able to espy a good number of Laughing Thrushes and Barwings before reaching Punakha.
We will visit the historic Punakha Dzong sprawled at the confluence of the Phochu (male) and Mochu (female) rivers. It was built by Shabdrung Nawang in 1637 and serves as the winter residence of the head abbot, Je Khenpo and headquarters of the district administration. It terms of architecture it is widely believed to be a master piece. People believe that deities of the area helped Zhabdrung in the construction of the fortress during nights. Bhutan’s first king was crowned at the dzong on 17th December 1907. The royal weddings of the fourth and fifth kings were held here in October 1988 and October 2011 respectively. The annual festival dedicated to the protecting deities of Yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala) and Pelden Lhamo (Mahakali) is held within the fortress in March-April.
A glacial lake outburst in the north of Punakha in 1994 heavily destroyed some parts of the structure, but miraculously no sacred relics have been lost during the floods. The structure was rebuilt to its original grandeur now. Overnight stay a hotel in Punakha.
In the morning, take a mini hike/walk uphill (30-40 min) to Khamsum Yuellay Namgyal Chorten (stupa) built by the Queen Mother to bring peace and harmony for Bhutan and the world.
Late morning, enjoy the river rafting along Mochu, the female river of Punakha. It is a 10 km distance and starts from the phase of Khamsum Yuellay Namgyal Chorten and ends near Khurthang town and would take two hours. During the journey, you will be able to enjoy the scenic and secluded blue water, alpine scenery, sighting of rarest birds, amazing rapids on the backdrop of striking 17th Century Punkha Dzong.
Afternoon, take a hike to Chimi Lhakhang (“Temple of Fertility”). The temple was built by a cousin of Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, the Divine Madman who was generally known for his eccentric behavior. The temple is known for its fertility. It is an half an hour walk, one way to the monastery.
We will be passing through the valley of Wangdue Phodrang, which served as the seat of south-central power in the past. Wangdue Dzong has been gutted by fire on 24 October 2012 and it is being rebuilt to its original shape. The road towards Phobjikha would wind gently towards Pele La Pass (11,152ft) and pass through rice fields, beautiful scattered villages houses, thick forest of rhododendron, magnolia and hard oak trees.
Before reaching the Pele La Pass, we will take a right turn through the alpine forest, rich in rhododendrons and magnolia in full blossoms during April/May, and dwarf bamboo and arrive to the glacial valley of Phobjikha/Gangtey. The place is known for the harmonic existence between the Black Necked Crane and the local communities.
The area is the biggest and widest glacial valley in Bhutan and one of the wintering habitats for the endangered Black Necked Cranes that come to roost from the central Asiatic Plateau from October to February annually. People of the area revere the birds and do not disturb them. Even there is a song dedicated to the birds.
Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) has an information centre located at the area. They provide the local people with some conservation funds. RSPN and local people hold a crane festival in November, which is witnessed by local and international guests depending upon the level of funds. It will be good to watch the festival in session and if not, it is a beautiful place to take photographs of the black necked cranes roosting or dancing in the valley. Phobjikha valley also provides a scenic venue for day hikes.
Gangtey Monastery, the only Nyingmapa Monastery in Bhutan is located in the Valley. It is headed by the ninth reincarnate, His Holiness, Gangtey Trulku. Termites affected the wooden structures of the monastery and a major renovation was done to bring back the monastery to its original structure.
Take a walk in and around this beautiful valley and rejoice in peace and tranquility of crisp air and natural environment.
Overnight stay at a farm house in Phobjikha and observe how Bhutanese rural families carry out daily household chores.
We will have early breakfast and then start our journey to Paro. The beautiful Paro valley provides a visitor with all the essential elements of Bhutan, in general ancient temples, massive forts, monasteries, picturesque villages, scenic hikes, and drives.
In the late afternoon, visit the Paro Ta Dzong- built in 1951 as a watch tower overlooking the Paro Rinpung Dzong. Unlike the rectangular shape of the Dzongs, Ta Dzong is round, more like parts of an European castle. From 1967 the Dzong was re-established as the National Museum and holds fascinating collection of arts, relics, religious thangkha, and many others.
Rinpung Dzong -A dzong is a fortress-monastery that serves both as a civil administrative center and as a monastic home for a community of monks. Most dzongs were built in the mid- 1600s to protect the inhabited valleys from invasion by Tibet. The Paro dzong was started in 1644 on the order of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of modern day Bhutan. Unlike most of the other dzongs in Bhutan, it survived the massive 1897 earthquake mostly unscathed, though it was damaged by fire in 1907.
Overnight stay at a hotel in Paro
After early breakfast drive to Haa Valley, located at 9000 ft. Haa was opened to the tourist in 2001 and is rich in traditional culture and served as the trade route between western Bhutan and Chumbi Valley, Tibet in the past. On the way, you will cross over the Chelela Pass, 3900m. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see Mt. Jumolhari, 7,314 m, Bhutan’s highest mountain to the north. The view is amazing and worth the travel from Paro. The uphill drive to Chelela will take two and half hours and goes through pristine forests and pasture land used for grazing yaks.
Upon reaching the Haa Valley, visit the Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) that are located close to each other. Local legend has it that deity helped construct the temple thus giving the name to Haa, meaning ‘surprise’. Haa valley is overlooked by three mountains called ‘Rig Sum Gonpa’ which signify three Buddha deities; Jambayang, Chana Dorji and Chenrizig. In the late afternoon travel back to Paro.
Return to Paro and spent the night at a hotel in Paro.
After breakfast, we drive around 25 minutes to Ramthanka base for a hike to view one of Bhutan’s most revered pilgrimage sites of the Buddhist world, the Taktshang Lhakhang, popularly known as the “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery. The trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched precariously on a sheer rock face 3000 ft above the valley floor. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche, father of Bhutan’s stream of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in the Paro valley more than a millennium ago on a back of a tigress. He meditated for 3 months in a cave which was converted into this monastery. The only sounds heard here are the murmurs of wind, water and the chanting of monks.
We begin our hike from the base to the cafeteria which will take us at least an hour and a half. From here it’s about an hour’s trek through some stunning landscape to reach the monastery. On our return, we stop by once more at the Cafeteria for lunch. Later, we begin our descent to Ramthangka base.
Next, drive to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong: This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan and Mongolian invaders. Historically and strategically this Dzong withstood all its glory and was featured in 1914 vide National Geographic magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mount. Jhomolhari (7314m) from the the Dzong.
En-route, visit the Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s two oldest and most sacred monasteries built by the Buddhist Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century to subdue a demoness lying across the Himalayas.
Overnight stay at a hotel in Paro.
Khenpola will lead a meditation program in the morning. In the late-afternoon, enjoy a Bhutanese cultural program with Bhutanese guests with tea/snacks/drinks followed by a farewell dinner.
After early breakfast, proceed to the airport for your onward journey.