Bhutan Cultural Expedition Itinerary
Duration: 10 Nights, 11 Days
Location: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Phobjikha, Trongsa, Bumthang
Day 1 : Arrive at Paro Airport
Flying into Paro, Bhutan is a unique experience altogether. The flight offers views of the majestic eastern Himalayas, and the arrival into a solitary runway at the country’s only airport is a mind-boggling event with the landscape and weather conditions dictating a steep descent into a narrow valley. You will be received by our representative & your guide and driven to hotel for refreshment and a brief discussion on your tour program.
Sightseeing includes, The National Museum ( Ta-Dzong).Once the watch tower for the Rinpung Dzong ( Fortress), it was converted into the national Museum in 1968 (one of the best museums of Asia). The museum stands on a promontory overlooking the Paro valley in all its glory. Visit the Rinpung Dzong. A flagstone path rises gradually from a beautiful wooden bridge with shingle roofing and abutted by two guard houses to the Dzong. Today, this massive fortress built in 1645 AD is the seat of the district administration as well as the home for the monastic school. The central tower( Utse) of the Dzong, with its superb woodwork, is one of the most beautiful in the nation.
Take a leisurely drive to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong. This point offers bird eye view of the Mt. Chomolhari (7329m). On the way back visit the oldest temple of the kingdom, Kichu Lhakhangt. This temple was built in 7th century by a Tibetan King to pin down a giant demon. In the evening walk around Paro town and interact with the people. Overnight Paro. (Alt; 2280m)
Day 2 : Exploring Punakha & Wangdue Region (128km/ 4hr)
After breakfast, drive to Punakha via the winding river of Paro Chu & Wangchu. Stop for a hot cup of coffee at Dochu La pass ( 3150m) where you can get spectacular views of the Eastern Himalayan Mountains on a clear day. Walk around the 108 stupas which decorates the pass and enter the Drukwangyel temple built by the four Queens and the general public as a tribute to the beloved fourth King of Bhutan.
Stop by the Royal Botanical Garden for bird watching. Bhutan have more than 700 species of birds. This 47 sq. km forested park is a home to more than 200 species of mountain birds.
After lunch. Visit the Punakha Dzong, “Palace of Great Happiness”. Punakha Dzong is the former winter Capital and at present day hosts the administrative seat of the district. Also the winter residence of the central monastic body and its Chief Abbot. The Dzong lies between two rivers, the Pochu and Mochu, male and female river.
Evening, take a hike to Chimi Lhakhang to visit the temple of the Bhutan’s foremost saint, Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known as the “Divine Madman”. This temple is called the Temple of Fertility as it is believed that childless couples who come here to pray for a child is usually blessed with a child. Overnight Punakha/ Wangdue. (Alt; 1240m)
Day 3 : Trongsa Expedition (129km/ 5.5hr)
On rise visit Wangdue’s weekend market, town and the Dzong. This classic fortress has many sacred temples hidden in it. The journey will take you across Pele La pass (3,300m), which is marked by a chorten and an array of prayer flags. On a clear day, you can get spectacular views of the highest peaks of the kingdom and its quite common to spot some yaks and yak herders on this pass. This point marks the boundary between western and central Bhutan as well as the western border of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. You will spot few animals & birds along the journey. Stop as and when you want to take pictures.
Beyond Pele La is Longte Valley where people raise sheep and yaks. You’ll come to the village of Rukubji Valley, with its big school and Gompa. The houses here are clustered amid extensive fields of mustard, potatoes, barley, and wheat. As you drive down through rhododendron trees and ferns, you’ll reach Chendebji village. This was a night halt for mule caravans traveling from Trongsa during the reign of the 2nd King of Bhutan. Just below Chendebji village is the Chendebji chorten, a large white structure beside a stream. This chorten is modeled after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu.
The last village before you reach Trongsa is Tangsibji, which provides full view of Trongsa Dzong and its distinctive red roof. Trongsa Dzong, built in 1645, is a vast, white fortress that appears to grow directly up from the narrow green ridge on which it is constructed. It is one of the most powerful Dzongs and even today the crown prince of Bhutan must first become its Trongsa Penlop (governor) before he can become Bhutan’s King. On arrival visit Trongsa Dzong and walk around the Trongsa’s sloppy town. Overnight Trongsa. (Alt; 2180m)
Day 4 : Landscape Tour to Bumthang (68km/ 3hr)
After breakfast visit the ancient Watch Tower which has been now turned into a historical museum. Drive to Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. This journey will take you over one of the most scenically beautiful routes in Bhutan via the Yotong La pass (3425m), which is also the habitat for the Satyr peasant. Good for photography.
As you enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bumthang Valley) you can visit a center of Yathra weaving. Yathra is the name for the locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth. Distinctive patterns and bright, earthy colors enliven the fabric, which is used for a wide variety of purposes and sought after throughout the country.
On arrival check in resort and get some rest. Visit the historical Jakar Dzong. It is probably one of the biggest Dzongs in Bhutan with the surrounding walls about 1 km in circumference. Evening, explore Bumthang’s local town and experience their peaceful lifestyle. Overnight Bumthang. (Alt; 2580m)
Day 5 : Bumthang Spiritual Experience
Early rise and take a easy hike through few ancient and important pilgrims such as, Kurjey Lhakhang, Tamshing & Pema Samba Lhakhangs. (These temple have many mythical stories linked to its origin and some of them dates back as early as 7th century. Your guide will unfold its mystery as you visit these holy sites).
Visit Kherchu Draktsang, a monastery on the northern slope of Bumthang valley. This monastery is one of the biggest Buddhist college of the kingdom and a home to the reincarnation himself.
Drive to Menbar Tsho (the burning lake). This holy lake is located about 20km from the town. When the locals visit this lake they tie a coin inside a white scarf, make a wish and offer it to the lake. It is believed someday your wish will be fulfilled. Evening, take a walk in the remote valley of Bumthang and interact with the villagers. Overnight Bumthang. (Alt; 2580m)
Day 6 : Phobjikha Rural Excursion (148km/ 5.5hr)
On rise, drive to Phobjikha through different vegetation of alpine, subtropical and glacial. Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the north western tip of the Black Mountain National Park. The valley is a conservatoin area and lies on the northern boundary of the Jowo Durshing range. People sometimes refer to the entire region as Gangtey after the name of the Gangtey Goenpa that is situated on a ridge overlooking the Phobjikha valley. According to legend that the Gangtey Goenpa was founded by the grandson ( the mind incarnation) of Pema Lingpa in 1613. The Phobjikha valley is also one of the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes that migrate each year in winter from its nothern habitats in Tibet and Siberia to these grounds.
Visit Information Centre for the cranes. Evening, take a hike through the Blue Pine forest to the village farmhouse. Try traditional Bhutanese snacks made from corn and rice with a home made wine. Overnight Phobjikha. (Alt;2900m)
Day 7 : Thimphu Lifestyle Tour (142km/ 5hr)
Morning visit Gangtey Goenpa while the monks will be sitting for their morning prayers. This is biggest Nyingma temple of the kingdom. Drive back to Thimphu via Dochula pass. Picnic lunch will be arranged along the journey. Thimphu is a small, charming capital city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. It is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. Most of the houses and buildings are painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style. En route visit Simtokha Dzong, one of the oldest fortress of Bhutan built in 1629 and it houses the largest monastic schools in the country.
After check in and refreshment in the resort, take a drive to Buddha Gang which offers a beautiful view of the valley of Thimphu city. Astrologers & locals believe this spot is one of the central meeting point of the sacred energy vibe of the country hence the massive statue of Buddha facing the sun. On the way back go on a walking tour which includes; The National Stadium/ General Post Office/ Hongkong Market/ Norzin Lam/ Clock Tower and more…(Night Club Optional) Overnight Thimphu. (Alt; 2320m)
Day 8 : The Grand & Lively “Thimphu Festival”
In morning, drive to the animal sanctuary where the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, is found in captivity. Walk around the BBS tower which is also known as the “romantic point” and lovers often come here to look at the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley. On the way down, attend the colourful festival (tsechu) of Thimphu which is held at the massive courtyard of Tashichhoe Dzong. the main secretariat building, the office of the King and Throne room and also the house of the State Monastic Body.
Thousand of locals gather at the courtyard in their finest traditional dress to witness the religious mask dance and spiritual drama. This is one of the most promoted and thus popular festivals in the kingdom in terms of tourist arrival. It’s also an event where you meet your old friends and at times even your would be life partners.
Numerous lively shops & entertainment gets displayed surrounding the fortress hence It’s common to see villagers & children buying many things to gift it to their family members & friends who couldn’t make it to the festival. It is believed by the locals, attending Tshechu brings blessing and purifies your life. The locals don’t go for the festival only to enjoy but also to show respect to all the great seekers of the past who eventually found enlightenment.
After lunch, embark on a cultural sightseeing;
Visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved. They also have on display the largest Picture Book on Bhutan in the world.
Visit the Traditional Medicine Centre which includes hospital and herbal medicine manufacturing unit based on the Tibetan system of medicine. The center also trains indigenous medicine doctors known as “Dungtso”.
Visit the Zorig Chuksum “School for Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts” followed by a visit to Textile Museum, Handicraft Emporium and some local shops for antiques.
Visit the Memorial Chorten, this huge white stupa is the favorite place for the locals to pray and circumambulate.
Evening, take a leisurely stroll to the archery ground and witness an archery match played by the locals with lot of hue & cry. In Bhutan archery is one of the best ways of expanding your public relations. Interact with the friendly Bhutanese people at the archery ground. Overnight Thimphu.
Day 9 : Tango & Chari Hike
Embark on an excursion to Tango & Chari. Tango monastery is situated in solitary hill covered by forest and is one of the best places to study Buddhism. The monks take pride in being a part of this beautiful Draktsang and at present there are also seven reincarnation studying here.
The 12th century Chari goemba is one of the most popular meditational retreat centre for the monks. The meditational sites are glued to the rocky cliff 300m above the river valley. Once the monks graduate from Tango Monastery most of them decides to sit for meditation around the holy temple of Chari from three years to nine years. Tango Chari is located 12km away from Thimphu city .
The hike to Tango monastery takes about 1.5hrs round trip and the Chari goemba takes about 2.5hrs round trip. Picnic lunch will be arranged amidst the nature trail. After visiting the holy shrines, if you are interested, we shall arrange a small meditation session with a Buddhist master who will instruct you on ancient Mahayana meditation on mindfulness, compassion and inner peace. After you have followed the instructions you can spend some time meditating in the temple and the surrounding campus. It is believed, meditation happens own at these serene sites.
On the way back, visit the Farmer’s Fresh Market and talk to the villagers. Try some organic fruits. You can take a leisurely stroll around the town if you wish to. Evening free to shop. Overnight Thimphu.
Day 10 : Excursion to Mystical Taktsang
After a healthy breakfast, drive to Paro (53km/ 1.5hr) and check in resort to prepare for the hike. Spend the day hiking up a forested path to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. The climb is steep and takes about 4 hours round trip. An important place of pilgrimage and refuge for more than 1200 years, Taktsang Monastery clings to sheer cliffs two-thousand feet above Paro Valley, and from your closest vantage point on a rocky ledge directly across from it, you will still need 200-300 mm lenses and a steady tripod to get tight photographs.
This sacred place got its name when Guru Rinpoche rode there on the back of a flying tiger and meditated in a cave behind the present-day monastery. Sadly, in 1998, the central temple was destroyed by fire, leaving the country in mourning for their holiest of spiritual places. But religious leaders and the King quickly developed a plan to rebuild Taktsang and donations started pouring in from Buddhist centers all over the world, and today, the magnificently rebuilt exterior is complete. Tiger’s Nest is once again the subject of cloud-shrouded posters that say, “Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Picnic lunch on the hillside cafeteria. .
Special permit will be arranged for you to enter the Tiger’s Nest monastery but you will not be allowed to take pictures of the inside shrines.
Evening visit a typical village home for a traditional Bhutanese style dinner accompanied by the local liquor called “Ara” (tastes somewhat like the Japanese Sake). Then luxuriate in the Bhutanese equivalent of a Jacuzzi called a “Chu Tsen.” River rocks are heated and dunked into a large wooden tub with herbs. This type of bath is considered to have medicinal properties of healing. Overnight Paro. (Alt; 2280m)
Day 11 : Depart to Bangkok at 07.00 AM/BST
Our representative will bid you farewell at the Airport. Tashi Delek!