BHUTAN

Classic Bhutan

14 days

This 14-day trip gives you a fascinating overview of all that the Kingdom of Bhutan has to offer the visitor. Explore ancient dzongs (fortresses), monasteries, temples, palaces, and museums. Experience the local way of life through culture, performances, sports, and arts and crafts. Stroll through colourful weekend markets and remote rural villages. Take in the Kingdoms environmental beauty by walking its nature trails, rich in birds, plants and wildlife. This is an excellent introduction to small country with an abundance of riches.

Day 1: Paro - Thimpu

On the flight into Bhutan's Paro airport, you will have breathtaking views of the Himalayan Mountains, and if the weather permits, of Mt Everest (8848m). On arrival, your guide will meet you and escort you through the beautiful Paro Valley to the bustling capital, Thimphu, home to the Bhutanese Royal Family. (About a one and a half hour drive).  Check in to your hotel on arrival and spend this afternoon sightseeing.

 

There is much to do in Thimphu. Visit the Memorial Chorten, dedicated to the father of modern Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Tamchhog Lhakhang temple and the Zorig Chusum Institute (Thirteen Crafts), a significant cultural organization. Other sites of interest include Simtokha Dzong, built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, one of the greatest builders of dzongs in Bhutan and the Tashichho Dzong or Fortress of Glorious Religion. Built in 1641 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, it now houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the office of the king, and the central monk body. Complete your day with a visit to the Sangaygang lookout, which takes in the whole, spectacular Thimphu Valley, before returning to your hotel via Kuenselcholing hilltop, where the largest Buddha in the world is being constructed.

 

In the evening, stroll around the city or check out its live music, nightspots and karaoke.

Day 2: Thimpu

 Begin your day with an early morning visit to the bustling weekend market, which is central to the lives of the locals. People crowd the stalls dressed in full colour and gathered to meet and to barter. Held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, this is a must.

Following this, take a hike to Cheri Monastery, built in 1620, and the Dodina and Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuaries. The 1-hour return hike begins with a crossing over a lovely covered bridge spanning the Wang Chu (river), and then climbs to the monastery. There are many species of birds to be seen here; look out for Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Yellow-Browed Tit, Yellow-Rumped Honeyguide, Long-Billed Thrush and the Ultramarine Flycatcher. Continue along a riverside trail from Begana to Cabesa, which is home to the Choki School of Arts, passing through small rural villages, before returning to Thimphu.

 

In the afternoon visit the Folk Heritage Museum and the Thangtong Dewachen (Nunnery) with more than sixty nuns engaged in Buddhist study and practice.
 

Day 3: Thimpu - Gangtey

 Depart Thimpu today forthe 5-hour drive to Gangtey. Along the way make a stop at Dochula pass (3140m, 10362ft) from where you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range great for photos. The beauty of this place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyal Chortens, 108 stupas built by the eldest Queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.
 

Later, you can visit the Botanical Garden just below Dochula Pass, where there is a significant collection of rhododendrons.

Day 4: Gangtey - Trongsa

 After breakfast begin the 5-hour drive to Trongsa, which forms the central hub of the kingdom and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country where launched.

 

Make a stop along the way to visit the Gangtey Monastery, superbly situated on a forested hill overlooking the green expanse of the entire Phobjika Valley. An important monastery associated with the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism, it was established in 1613 by Peling Gyalse Rinpoche, the grandson of Trenton Pema Lingpa. The monastery is an extensive complex of five temples that surround a central tower. The main hall is built in the Tibetan style of architecture and is constructed completely of timber.

Day 5: Trongsa

 Start your morning by visiting Trongsa Dzong, built by in 1644 by Chhogyel Mingyur Tempa. The dzong dominates the horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Both the First and the Second King ruled the country from this Dzong. Trongsa Museum is situated strategically above the Trongsa Dzong, and served as the watch tower for centuries. The museum is equipped with state of the art technology and includes a media room where visitors can watch a documentary program on the history of the monarchy.

Day 6: Trongsa - Bumthang

 Depart Trongsa this morning for the 3 hour drive to the Bumthang Valley, along the way visiting hand loom shops and villages; keep your camera handy for photo opportunities. The Bumthang region is known as the spiritual heart of the kingdom, as it was here in the 8th century, that Guru Rinpoche cured a local king of a spirit-induced ailment, an event that resulted in the king, and finally the whole country, embracing Buddhism. The Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa was born in the region and many other famous Buddhist yogis lived and practiced here. Consequently, the area is a repository of sacred artefacts and Buddhist temples and monasteries.

 

There is much to see in Bumthang. After settling into your accommodation, take a hike across to Tamzhing Lhakhang, or the 'Temple of Good Message', built by Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501. Later, stroll around the town and see how locals live.

Day 7: Bumthang

 After breakfast begin a day excursion in and around the Bumthang district. First, visit Ogyen Choling Palace in Tang village, located on a commanding spur at an elevation of 3000 metres, on the east side of the Tang Chu (river). The Palace has been converted in a museum. You will trek 45 minutes up a sometimes gentle, sometimes steep incline and cross the Tang Chu suspension bridge to reach the village by foot. Later visit, Jambay Lhakhang, one of the 108 monasteries built by King Songtsen Goenpo in the 8th century to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Continue on to Kurjey Lhakhang monastery that also dates back to the 8th century when Guru Rimpoche first visited Bhutan.

 

End your day at the Mebar Tsho (Lake of Burning Fire), a sacred lake for Bhutanese who believe that Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures here in the 12th century. On auspicious days many Bhutanese offer butter lamps on this fresh water lake.

Day 8: Bumthang

 Today is a day of cultural exploration of the Bumthang valley - visit temples, monasteries and also visit local farmers homes to experience the traditional way of life in the countryside.

Day 9: Bumthang - Gangtey

 Morning drive (6 hours) to Gangtey. This area is best known for the rare Black-necked Crane which migrates from the Tibetan Plateau in order to avoid its extremely cold winters. These elegant and shy birds can be seen from the end of October to the end of March. The famous Black-necked Crane Festival is held here each November. Monks pray for the safe return of the birds, considered Boddhisatvas or 'agents of God'. After the cranes' long journey south from Tibet, local villagers gather at the Gangtey Monastery for a colourful festival celebrating their safe arrival. The monks adapt their traditional temple dances to themes related to the cranes, and children wearing crane costumes perform choreographed crane dances.

Day 10: Gangtey - Punakha

  This morning visit the valley of Phobjikha - a beautiful glacial valley bowl of villages, hiking trails, potato fields and Buddhist temples. The valley is rich in faunal biodiversity and has, apart from the globally threatened Black-necked Cranes, thirteen other globally threatened species. Also home to barking deer, wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes - it is one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country. Begin the morning at the Black-necked Crane Observation Centre at Phobjikha - important preparation for your walk along the Gangtey Nature Trail. This trek, which takes approximately half a day or 2 hours at a quicker pace, is one of the shortest, but most beautiful of Bhutan's nature trails; it leads through green grass valleys, flanked by pine trees on either side, and winds through some villages, rivers and Crane roosting grounds.  Afterwards make the 2 hour drive to the Punakha Valley.

Day 11: Punakha

 Take a morning hike to Bhutan's most elaborate temple, Khamsum Yuley. This fascinating temple was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King, with the aim of bringing universal peace to the world. The best of its spiritual art works are painted on the inner walls. There are also paintings of Buddhist teachers and tutelary deities of the country, making this a great temple in which to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures. Also visit the Punakha Dzong (fortress), built in 1637 by Zhabdrung, remarkably located between the rivers of Mo Chu and Pho Chu the female and male rivers.
 

This afternoon hike 30 minutes across valleys and through villages to the Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility), built in 1499. Notice the wooden phalluses hanging from the four corners of the houses along the way, plus phalluses painted on the walls, to drive away evil spirits.

Day 12: Punakha - Paro

 After breakfast begin the 4 hour drive to Paro. Check in to your hotel on arrival and spend this afternoon sightseeing. Begin with a visit to Ta Dzong which is now the National Museum; this will allow you to really see and understand Bhutanese art, important relics, religious thankas (used to bolster the visualisation generated during meditation and made from Himalayan animal fibres), paintings, arms and ammunitions and the country's exquisite stamp collections.

 

Later, visit Rimpung Dzong, one of the many Bhutanese Dzongs constructed as administrative buildings, monasteries and temples. They are carefully and thoughtfully designed, and strikingly beautiful. Rimpung Dzong, known as the 'fortress of the heap of jewels' is located in the picturesque setting of the Paro valley and was built in the time of the dynamic spiritual and political leader Zhabdrung in 1644. Once a year, as part of the Tsechu festival, one of the oldest Thongdol (gigantic scroll paintings) is ceremonially unfurled here. Also visit Kichu Lhakhang Monastery, one of the two most sacred and oldest temples in Bhutan. Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built it in the 7th century.

Day 13: Paro

 In the morning, take the three hour return hike to Taktshang Monastery (Tiger's Nest), Bhutan's most recognisable cultural icon perched 800m (2640ft) up a seemingly sheer cliff. Although it was tragically and mysteriously consumed by fire in April 1998 it has now been restored to its former glory. It is believed that in the 8th century, the great tantric master Guru Rimopche Padmasambhava (2nd Buddha) flew on the back of a tigress to the site where the monastery now stands. The hike takes in gentle and steep slopes, and some made and unmade stone. For a small fee per person, you can elect to ride a horse to the top.
 

Later, take a stroll around town to see how locals live. There is the option to stay overnight, bathe and eat at a local farmhouse. Otherwise, overnight in Paro hotel.

Day 14: depart Paro

 After an early breakfast at your hotel drive to the airport. Your guide will assist you with exit formalities and bid you farewell.

 

 

 

(All images are copyright Tourism Council of Bhutan)

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