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Explore Bhutan from east to west in 16 Days and experience the untouched diverse culture and tradition of this tiny Kingdom from subtropical south to the remotest alpine village. Discover a place so incredible, guarded by the mighty Himalayan Mountains, crystal-clear rivers meandering through mountain gorges sustaining the lives of rich flora and fauna, a place where its inhabitants and nature coexist in complete harmony and so close to heaven.
On this trip you will travel to pristine villages in eastern, central and western regions of Bhutan giving you an insights into food, cultural and linguistic diversity of a small Kingdom with a population of less than 800,000. There are around 20 dialects spoken across the country and on this trip, you will come across communities speaking 7 different dialects.
You will also travel to Merak, one of the remotest alpine villages in Trashigang, eastern Bhutan and spend a day mingling among the local people to understand their unique customs and culture. Given its unique lifestyle, culture and vernacular, Merak and its neighbouring village Sakteng was opened to tourism only in 2010 with great caution to safeguard its uniqueness. The village is home to semi-nomadic Yak herders and gives the visitors once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Guwahati International Airport, North-East Indian State of Assam, India.
Paro International Airport, Bhutan
March to June & September to November. This trip crosses 3,800m/12,465ft mountain pass and includes a full day halt at semi-nomadic Yak herders’ village at an altitude over 3,500m/11,485ft above sea level which often becomes inaccessible from December to February due to snowfall. Heavy rains causes regular road blocks during the summer months of July & August.
Easy but it is always good to have some basic level of fitness as this is a 16-Day journey often requiring walk through rough terrains albeit relatively short. Day 8 requires (optional) 2 hours of walk through the gentle slopes, on Day 12 easy gentle hike for 2.5 hours in the pristine valley and Day 15 requires 2 hours of steep uphill hike to the famous 17th century temple perched on the face of a sheer rock cliff.
During the month of June.
US$3120 – for single person traveller
US$2970 per person – for a couple or group of 2 people
US$2520 per person – for a group of 3 people or more
During the months of March, April, May, September, October & November.
US$3870 – for single person traveller
US$3720 per person – for a couple or group of 2 people
US$3270 per person – for a group of 3 people or more
|Time||Approx. 3 hours|
On your arrival at the Guwahati Airport in the Indian state of Assam, you will be received by our representative. Drive to the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar which is about 110km away and takes approximately 3 hours on normal traffic condition. On arrival at Samdrup Jongkhar, your visa till be stamped on your passport at the border immigration check post. Check into the hotel and rest for a while before setting out to explore the oldest town in Bhutan.
The gateway and commercial hub of five eastern Dzongkhags, Samdrup Jongkhar lies in the south-eastern part of Bhutan sharing its border with the Indian states of Assam to the south and Arunachal Pradesh to the west. The Samdrup Jongkhar town is the oldest town in Bhutan. It also boasts of having the first cinema hall in the country built in the late 1950s. This border town is a bustling little settlement with shopkeepers and hawkers coming from across the border to sell their goods.
Overnight at the hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar. (Lunch, Dinner)
|Time||6.5 – 7 hours|
After early breakfast, begin the 180km road journey towards Trashigang which will take approximately 7 hours including stopovers at a few places of interests. Trashigang was once the largest and bustling trade center for merchants in the east. It is one of the largest Dzonghag (district) in the country. Although new development is taking place as time changes, we still see the quaint old-fashioned town of 80s due to its location in the gorge with very limited space for expansion.
Enroute, stop briefly at Mithun Breeding Farm in Orong village. Mithuns are considered to be the best breed of cattle in Bhutan and this farm benefits farmers of the six eastern Dzongkhags (Dzongkhag means “district”). Also worth the visit is National Handloom Development Project in the village of Khaling which has a Weaving Center where young women are trained in the art of weaving. In Bhutan, weaving is a family tradition especially in the rural communities. However, the weaving culture have changed in recent years. With better income and access to imported textiles, the culture of traditional weaving is dwindling. This handloom project was established in the 1990s to promote traditional weaving practices and also to provide income for rural women.
Continue driving past Sherubtse College, the first college in the country established in 1968 as a Higher Secondary School and became full-fledged college in 1983 offering undergraduate courses. It remained as the only college in the country until recently. Just few kilometers before reaching Trashigang town, visit Rangzhikhar Goenpa, a Buddhist Center located on a secluded and peaceful mountain ridge about11km away from the main highway.
On arrival at Trashigang town, check into hotel. Leisure time exploring the town.
Overnight at the hotel in Trashigang. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Trashi Yangtse Altitude||1,800m/5,900ft|
Today, you will visit the newest Dzongkhag in the country, Trashi Yangtse which was bifurcated from Trashigang Dzongkhag in 1992 and shares its western border with Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The District of Trashi Yangtse is ethnically and culturally diverse and has some of the revered historical and cultural sites. Enroute, visit the Gom Kora or Gomphu Kora (Gomphu means “Meditation Cave”) Lhakhang which is 23km from Trashigang and located just below the road amidst terraced rice fields and overlooking Dangme Chhu, one of the largest rivers in Bhutan. The temple was built in the 17th century on a sacred site blessed by Guru Rinpoche in the mid-eighth century AD who left body imprint on the huge rock just outside of the temple after subduing a demon. A dazzling annual religious festival is hosted here sometime between March and April attracting lots of spectators not only from the neighbouring districts but also from Arunachal Pradesh.
Continue driving for another hour and then enter the picturesque town of Trashi Yangtse set amidst the fertile paddy fields and Kholong Chhu river cutting through the gorge below. One of the well known landmark in this region is Choeten Kora (Choeten means ‘Buddist Stupa’ and Kora means ‘circumambulation’) built in 1740 AD over the span of 12 years. Though smaller in size, Choeten Kora is believed to be the replica of the Boudanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Two annual festivals are hosted here during Spring attracting hundreds of spectators from other parts of the country as well. The people of Trashi Yangtse are well known for their incredible skills at woodwork and paper making. The items they produce such as traditional wooden cups and bowls known as Dhapa are prized throughout the country. Also located in this town is the School of Traditional Arts where the six forms of traditional arts are taught – Painting, Pottery, Wood Sculpture, Wood Turning, Lacquer work and applique embroidery.
After visiting the local attractions, drive back to Trashigang.
Overnight at the hotel in Trashigang. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Distance||Approx. 66km of which
30km is a dirt road
|Driving Time||Approx. 3.5 hours|
|Transportation||Sturdy Outback 4×4 vehicle|
Today we will drive to the alpine village of Merak which was opened to tourism only in 2010 with great care to safeguard the unique customs and lifestyle of this small community. We may have to change vehicle to a sturdy Indian Bolero 4×4 SUV as the road is unpaved. The road cannot be used during rainy season (July & August).
In the morning, we begin our exciting journey along the Gamri Chhu River for 16km until we reach Rangjung, a small commercial hub of the several villages in the area. Continue driving through Radhi, a village known as ‘Rice Bowl of the East’ for being the largest producer of rice in the east. The village of Radhi is also known for producing naturally dyed raw silk textiles in the country. If interested, we can visit one of the fine monastery located in the upper part of Radhi. The road takes you through the picturesque terraced rice fields and beautiful traditional rural houses. Continue driving for the next 2.5 hours or so till we reach our destination.
Overnight at the Village Guest House. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Today’s excursion around the village is one of the main highlights of the trip. The community of Merak and its neighbouring village of Sakteng which is a day’s walk away from Merak are popularly known as Brokpas (highlander). They speak vernacular dialect called Mira Saktengpa or Brokpa Kha. They live a semi-nomadic lifestyle herding yaks and sheeps. So their primary economy is based on livestock. With development taking place, the lives of Brokpas have improved and their lifestyles evolving. One prominent changes brought by modernisation to their lifestyle is the way they conduct their trading. In the olden days, they travelled from village to village even across the border to Arunachal Pradesh, India carrying dairy products like meat, cheese, butter, wool, leather etc. and barter it for essential food grains, oil, sugar, salt, chilies etc.
With road infrastructure right up to their village and easy access to market at Rangjung and Trashigang, the barter system is almost nonexistent. They sell their dairy and animal products for cash. However, their tradition and culture, mainly involving affairs within the village, passed down from generation to generation still remain undiluted and play an important part in the social life of the Brokpas.
You will visit some of the places of interest within the village that has historical and religious significance, visit family home and observe their daily life and of course delight your taste buds with exotic local cuisine. You may also want to try on their unique traditional costumes which totally stands out from the national dress Gho (men’s dress) and Kira (women’s dress). Perhaps you can also visit the school where you can interact with weather-beaten but inquisitive and cheerful students. The whole village of Merak is a cluster of houses on a beautiful meadow surrounded by scattered dwarf rhododendrons.
Overnight at a Village Guest House. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
After breakfast, bid farewell to the community and drive back to Trashigang. Enroute, visit Rangjung Woesel Choeling Monastery, a Buddhist monastic school built on a mound overlooking the town of Rangjung and surrounding area. The head abbot of this monastery is His Holiness Dungsey Garap Dorji Rinpoche who has followers from all over the world.
Later in the afternoon, visit Trashigang Dzong (The Fortress of the Auspicious Hill) built by the First Trongsa Penlop (governor of Trongsa) Chogyal Minjur Tempa in 1659 AD. The Dzong stands on a ledge with very steep cliffs on three sides, overlooking the Gamri Chhu and one of the largest rivers in Bhutan, Dangme Chhu. The Dzong was expanded in 1680, 1694 and in 1936. The earthquake of 2009 caused a major damage to the Dzong and it is under renovation and is expected to complete by June of 2018. Every year in November, a three-day long festival is hosted at the Dzong with hundreds of people attending the celebrations on each day.
Leisure time to stroll the town and visit a local market.
Overnight at the hotel in Trashigang. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Time||6 – 7 hours|
After early hearty breakfast, drive to Lhuentse via Mongar. The road distance is approximately 165km and the drive should not take more than 6 hours 30 minutes. From Trashigang, we drop down to the gorge through which one of the largest rivers in Bhutan, Dangme Chhu flows and cross the Chazam bridge. Dangme Chhu is joined by Kuri Chhu which flows from Lhuentse and together forms Manas river flowing through the southern part of the district of Zhemgang. Manas is a transboundary river flowing farther across the border into India and finally drains into Brahmaputra river. We follow Dangme Chhu river downstream all the way until we reach Sheri Chhu, one of the many tributaries of Dangme Chhu and then gradually climb up snaking through the picturesque village of Yadhi.
We stop at Mongar town for lunch and then continue our journey for three hours along the Kuri Chhu upstream all the way until we reach the town of Lhuentse. The proper Lhuentse itself is a very small town settled on a slope with few shops and bars on the roadsides.
Overnight at one of the Home stay lodge either at Gangzur village or Khoma village. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Today, you will explore some of the local attractions that define the district of Lhuentse. The district of Lhuentse takes pride in being the ancestral home of the Kings of Bhutan with Dungkar Nagtsang, the home of the father of the First King of Bhutan restored to its original grandeur. Lhuentse is also home to some of the famous religious sites including the one you will visit today, Statue of Guru Padmasambhava at Takila and of course the most coveted Bhutanese Women’s attire known as Kishuthara. Lhuentse is also known for producing fine pottery.
Gangzur village is situated around 2 km from the Dzong. This village is famous for its pottery as its women folk are skilled artisans of this dying art and you will definitely want to witness the women displaying their skills. Earthenware pots were mostly used for cooking in the olden days. One particular pot you would see in every household especially in the east, is the one they use for brewing the local alcohol known as ‘Ara’.
The village of Khoma is located about two hours walk from the Dzong. It is a pleasant journey taking you over gentle slopes amongst pine trees. By car it is only about 20 minutes drive. This village is known throughout the country for its signature handwoven textile, the Kishuthara. Not so long ago, many of the household would have at least one member of the family weaving. With modernisation creeping into even the remotest villages, the art of traditional weaving is dwindling. The government have helped this community to setup a center to promote and preserve traditional weaving. The women weavers sit in a row of makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. If you find any piece of textile you like, this is the best opportunity to pickup one for much cheaper price than buying it from one of the handicraft shops elsewhere in the country.
A 154ft statue of Guru Padmasambhava is located at Takila under Menbi Gewog which is about 1 hour drive from Khoma. The main statue was completed and consecrated in 2015. It was constructed with prophecies from Buddhist luminaries like Terton Lerab Lingpa and Dudjom Jidrel Yeshey Dorji. It is for the peace and prosperity of Bhutan and also as a monument of world peace.
Lunch will be arranged in one of the farmhouses in the neighbourhood of the statue.
After lunch, we drive back to Mongar. Free time to explore Mongar town.
Overnight at the hotel in Mongar town. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Time||7 – 8 hours|
|Tang Valley Altitude||2,715m/8,910ft|
After early breakfast, we begin our long but enjoyable journey to Tang Valley passing through several villages. The Kingdom of Bhutan has one of the most rugged mountain terrains in the world and this journey will give you an understanding of the natural geographic features of Bhutan. From Mongar we will drop down to an elevation of 500 meters within less than 40 minutes and cross the bridge over Kuri Chhu river. We drive past Lingmethang, a small bustling settlement where Mountain Hazelnut Venture, one of the very few FDI enterprises in Bhutan, has setup their base. From there the drive will be a gradual ascent through different vegetation and within 3 hours we would be crossing the second highest motorable mountain pass in Bhutan, Thrumshing La Pass at an elevation of 3,780m/12,400ft above sea level. The pass is often closed in winter due to heavy snowfall.
From Thrumshing La Pass we descend gradually and pass through the village of Ura and soon cross Tang Chhu river before reaching our destination, Tang Valley. Just after crossing Tang Chhu river, there is a famous sacred Lake known as Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake). It is believed that Terton Pema Lingpa, the most revered 15th century Saint from Bumthang, went into the lake holding butter lamp (candle like lamp used for ritual offering) and resurfaced holding treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche in the mid-eight century AD with butter lamp still burning brightly held in his hand. Some of the treasures discovered from the lake by Terton Pema Lingpa include Zung (the inner offerings of the statues) and the statue of Guru Rinpoche, can still be seen today at Tamshing Lhakhang which you will visit tomorrow (Day 10). If time permits, we will pay a visit to this holy Burning Lake.
Overnight at Ogyen Choling Guest House OR at one of the Homestays in the valley. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Time||1.5 – 2 hours|
|Bumthang Valley Altitude||2,800m/9,185ft|
After breakfast, before we drive to Bumthang valley, visit Ogyen Choling Museum and Mebar Tso on the way to Bumthang Valley.
Although Ogyen Choling was a palace owned by the ancestors of the Royal family of Bhutan, it was regarded as being a monastery or hermitage because of its past connections with great Buddhist masters like Longhcen Rabjam (1308-63) and Terton Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405). It was turned into museum in 2001 with the aim to share its heritage and also to preserve and maintain its religious and cultural significance.
The curator, Kunzang Choden, is the owner of the museum and the direct descendant of the original family. If Kunzang Choden happens to be at home, she herself will guide you through the museum giving you profound insights not only about the lifestyles and living conditions of households of the religious and nobility during the 19th and 20th century but also on how Bhutan has changed over the years.
After visiting the museum, we drive to Bumthang valley which will take about 1.5 hours. Enroute, visit the Mebar Tso or Burning Lake if you haven’t visited it yesterday.
Check into hotel in Bumthang and rest for a while before lunch is served. After lunch, we will visit some of Bhutan’s most ancient and precious Buddhist sites.
One of the oldest lhakhangs in the Kingdom, Jampa lhakhang was founded by the King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet in the 7th century AD. The King was destined to built 108 lhakhangs to subdue the spirit of the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. Jampa Lhakhang is one of the two which were built in Bhutan. The other one is Kichu Lhakhang in Paro, both believed to have been built on the same day.
There are three lhakhangs at Kurje. The oldest lhakhang was constructed by the Trongsa Governor Chogyel Minjur Tenpa in 1652 on the site where Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) meditated after subduing an evil spirit that was harming the local people and the King Chakhar Gyab popularly known as Sindu Raja. Inside the lhakhang are the statues of the Buddhas and the cave known as Dragmar Dorji Tsegpa, meaning a “red-coloured cave resembling pile of vajras”, in which Guru Rinpoche meditated. The second Lhakhang was constructed in 1900 by the 13th Trongsa Governor, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck who later became the first hereditary King of Bhutan in 1907. The third Lhakhang was built in the 1980s under the patronage of Her Royal Grandmother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck (mother of the fourth King) with guidance from her spiritual root teacher H.H. Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche.
From Kurje, drive a couple of minutes and walk across the suspension bridge over Chamkhar Chhu river and visit Tamshing Lhakhang and Kencho Sum Lhakhang which are located in the same neighbourhood. Tamshing Lhakhang was built by the great treasure discoverer of Bhutan, Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501 AD and became the seat of his successive reincarnations even to this day. Among the many treasures and religious artefacts handcrafted by Terton Pema Lingpa himself, there is an armory which stood the test of time for five centuries bearing no rust or any sign of deterioration. It is believed that you will be cleansed of all your past sins and defilement if you carry this armory and circumambulate the inner sanctum for three rounds. A small statue of Guru Rinpoche and inner offerings of some of the statues are believed to be the treasures discovered by Pema Lingpa from the Mebar Tso (Burning Lake) in Tang Chhu River.
In the immediate neighbourhood is Kencho Sum Lhakhang which dates back to 8th century during the time of Guru Rinpoche. Later it was restored by Terton Pema Lingpa in 1479. In February 2010, the temple was destroyed by a tragic fire sending the whole country into shock and stirred sense of mourning. However, as sacred as it is and to the solace of all the people, the sacred relics and statue of Buddha were saved from the disastrous fire. Today, the temple has been restored by Pema Lingpa’s 11th reincarnation, His Holiness Lhalung Sungtrul Rinpoche.
Leisure time in the town.
Overnight at a hotel in Bumthang. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Driving Time||6.5 – 7 hours|
Following an early breakfast, drive to the valley of Phobjikha. Enroute, stop briefly at Chumey village to see Yathra Weaving Center (Yathra is the colourful textiles hand woven out of sheep and yak hair) and get insights on the traditional attires and the weaving culture of the people of Bumthang. From there continue to drive gaining altitude gradually and reach a serene mountain pass, Yotong La at 3,425m/11,235ft and then descend down to Trongsa. Trongsa holds a significant place in the history of Bhutan as it was from here that the ancestors of Royal family of Bhutan emerged as the most powerful rulers in the 19th and early 20th century. The first and second hereditary Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat of power. There is a tradition that crown prince must be invested as Trongsa Penlop (Governor of Trongsa) here at Trongsa Dzong before he ascends the golden throne of the King. Above the Trongsa Dzong on the promontory is the Trongsa Ta Dzong (watch tower of Trongsa). Built in 1652, this Ta Dzong guarded the Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion. Today, it houses the fascinating museum providing visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history. If you are interested we can visit the museum and spend about 30mins.
Lunch will be served in Trongsa town. After lunch continue the journey passing through Pele La Pass (3,390m/11,120ft) and then make a brief stop at Chendebji, the 18th century stupa built following the same structural pattern as Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa to subdue the malevolent spirit that was said to inhabit the area in the form of giant snake.
Continue towards Phobjikha valley. Phobjikha is a vast U-shaped glacial valley at an elevation of about 3,000m/9,800ft and it is a winter home for endangered Black Necked Crane from November to March and migrates back to Tibet by the beginning of spring season. Researchers have confirmed that the same birds which migrates here in winter goes as far back as Mongolia in summer. Every year on the 11th of November, Black Necked Crane Festival is held to celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part in the lives of the local people during winter months. Black-necked Crane is considered as a sacred bird in Bhutan and there are songs dedicated to this revered bird. One such popular song in Bhutan titled ‘White Crane! Lend me your wings’ was composed by the sixth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tsangyang Gyatso in 17th century. Click Here to listen to the song! The song was sung by Mr. Jigme Drukpa, one of the foremost singers in Bhutan in his Album ‘Endless Songs from Bhutan’.
The famous landmark in this valley is one of the biggest monasteries in Bhutan, Gangtey Monastery popularly know as Gangtey Goenpa (goenpa literally means “high remote place” and is usually a place of religious significance) founded in 1613. The name Gangtey is derived from the fact that the Goenpa is built on a peak (Tey) of a hillock (Gang). The present abbot of this monastery is the ninth Gangtey Trulku His Holiness Kunzang Rigzin Pema Namgyal. The monastery also has a Buddhist college where hundreds of monks study Buddhist philosophy for 9 years. An annual religious festival, Gangtey Tshechu, is held at Gangtey Goenpa during autumn when the harvest season is just over. A series of dazzling sacred mask dances interspersed by Bhutanese folk dances are performed during this festival.
After visiting Gangtey Monastery, you can either relax, take a leisure walk in the valley and visit the Black Necked Crane Information Center which has a lot of information on the migratory bird and about the valley and its role in conservation of Black Necked Crane. Tomorrow after breakfast, we will venture on an exhilarating Gangtey Nature Trail Hike which takes less than 3 hours.
You have a choice to put up yourself in a hotel or grab an unusual opportunity to stay at a farmhouse with a local family and get a glimpse of typical village life in Bhutan. You can soak up in a traditional hot stone bath later in the evening and lighten up with a cup of locally brewed liquor “Ara”. Advance reservation required for hot stone bath and you may have to pay extra for this service.
Overnight in Phobjikha valley. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Hike Distance||Approx. 5km|
|Time||2.5 – 3 hours|
|Average Altitude in Phobjikha||3,000m/9,840ft|
Spend whole morning in Phobjikha valley exploring and immersing yourself in the most beautiful valley in Bhutan. After breakfast, begin Gangtey Nature Trail Hike. The trail is about 5km long and takes approximately 3 hours including ample time to take photographs and observe pristine natural surroundings. The nature trail begins from Gangtey Monastery and leads through wonderful meadows, forests, beautiful traditional village houses, farm lands, crystalline streams. This short nature trail gives you a great feeling of the valley and understanding of the community living there. Lunch will be served in one of the farmhouses.
After lunch, dive to Punakha valley.
|Altitude in Punakha||1,200m/3,900ft|
From Phobjikha to Punakha, it is approximately 80km road journey which takes roughly 3 hours under normal road condition. Punakha valley has a pleasant climate with warm winters and hot summers. It is located at an average elevation of 1200 meters above sea level. Owing to the favorable climatic conditions, rice grows very well in this region and is the main cash crop cultivated here. Punakha 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.
Just about 12km before reaching Punakha town, we will stop at the village of Sobsokha and visit the famous Chime Lhakhang (the Temple of Fertility). It is located about 30 minutes walk from the nearest road through beautiful terraced rice fields and farmhouses. Chime Lhakhang was built in 1499 by Lama Ngawang Chogyal on a site blessed by his older brother, Lama Drukpa Kuenley who was known as ‘Divine Madman’ for his obscene behavior and unorthodox ways of propagating Buddhism. He would often express his desire for sex and use phallus as a medium to subdue malevolent spirits. Today, one of the relics of Chime Lhakhang is a phallus. The blessing of the phallus is considered sacred particularly to women who are unable to conceive a child as it brings fertility to women, giving them ability to bear offspring. Because of this belief, people like to call Chhime Lhakhang as “Temple of Fertility”. Married couples who are unable to conceive a child often come to this temple seeking blessings from the Divine Madman. As much as it sounds ‘too good to be true’, there are many stories of happy couples who are blessed with child after visiting the temple.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Today, before we drive Thimphu, we will do 2-hour return hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Choeten a Buddhist temple built on the beautiful mountain ridge overlooking the fertile valley of Punakha. Visit the historic and the most beautiful Punakha Dzong. Enroute to Thimphu, stop at Dochu La mountain pass (3,150m/10,330ft) and enjoy the panoramic views of the Himalayan mountains (weather permitting)
|Total Hike Time||2 hours|
Namgyel Choeten Altitude
After breakfast, hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Choeten. Located on a ridge overlooking the picturesque Punakha valley, this wonderful Buddhist structure is a fine example of Bhutanese architecture used in building temples, monasteries and Zangdogpelri (Zangdogpelri means “copper coloured mountain”, a multi-storeyed temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche). It was built over a period of almost 10 years under the patronage of Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, one of the Royal Queen Mothers of Bhutan and was consecrated in 1999.
It takes only about 20 minutes drive from the main town of Punakha to the nearest road point. From there you cross a suspension bridge over the Punakha Mochu River (female river) and the trail takes you through paddy fields. Normally it takes just under one hour to reach the serene site of the marvelous choeten. The view below is stunning with glacial fed Mochu river snaking through the fertile village of Yoebisa.
The historic Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, meaning the “Palace of Great Bliss” was built in 1637 A.D. by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (Tibetan Buddhist master who came to Bhutan in 1616 and founded nation-state of Bhutan) on a small stretch of land where the rivers Pho Chhu (male river) and Mo Chhu (female river) converge. Punakha Dzong is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. The Dzong served as the administrative centre and the seat of the Government of Bhutan until 1955, when the capital was shifted to Thimphu. Punakha Dzong displays exquisite and intricate Bhutanese architecture and it is the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan.
Today, it serves as the office of the governor and head of the monk body in Punakha district. It is also the winter residence of the Chief Abbot of Bhutan, Je Khenpo. During the winter months from November to April, the Je Khenpo along with the central monk body moves from Thimphu and resides in Punakha Dzong and moves back to Thimphu Tashichho Dzong during the summer. This tradition of maintaining a summer and winter residence was first introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself in the 17th century and the tradition is still practiced to this day.
A great annual festival called Punakha Tsechu dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava (the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century AD) and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is hosted at the Dzong. Punakha Tsechu or religious festival is conducted from the tenth day of the first month of the traditional Bhutanese Lunar calendar which usually falls sometime during the month of February or March on the western calendar. People from far flung villages and other districts come to attend the sacred festival.
After lunch at Lobesa drive to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan.
|Altitude in Thimphu||2,334m/7,600ft|
Drive to Thimphu from Lobesa will be a gradual ascent through the pine and fir trees and within 2 hours, you will be on the beautiful mountain pass, Dochu La at an elevation of 3,150m/10,330ft. On a clear day, you can see spectacular views of the distant Himalayan mountain ranges. Before 108 choetens were built, Dochu La Pass remained only as a sacred place blessed by a famous Buddhist saint, Lama Drukpa Kuenley in the late 15th century. Today, it is one of the popular site to visit.
From Dochu La, we descend gradually into Thimphu valley. Check into hotel and relax for a while.
Leisure time to explore the Thimphu city. Gather at 5PM sharp and visit Trashichho Dzong.
Tashichho Dzong, which means “Fortress of the Glorious Religion” is opened to visitors only after 5PM during working days and from 9AM to 5PM on weekends. The original Dzong, known as Dho Ngon Dzong was built in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa on a location where Dechen Phodrang monastery stands today. It was acquired by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1641 and renamed it as Trashichho Dzong. The original Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and then relocated to the present location. The Dzong suffered several earthquakes and fires and was subsequently renovated and new structures added by successive rulers.
It was His Late Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who renovated and enlarged the entire Dzong to its present form in 1962 over the period of six years. The magnificent architectural feat was achieved using traditional method without any blueprint plans or nails. It houses the Secretariat and offices of the King, the Throne Room, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Central Monastic Body.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Today before driving to Paro in the afternoon, we will visit couple of popular sites in Thimphu. The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country. Thimphu is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights and commercial billboards.
Visit Buddha Point – Buddha Dordhenma Statue
The marvelous 169ft/51.5m tall bronze statue of Lord Buddha is located on a hilltop, Kuensel Phodrang, overlooking the Thimphu valley. From here you can see a nice view of Thimphu city. It was built to celebrate the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth King His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck and also as a monument for world peace. The giant Buddha statue houses more than 100,000 8-inch tall Buddha statues of same type. The construction began in 2006 and was completed in 2015 after almost 10 years. The total cost of the entire project is well over US$100 million. We then start our journey toward Punakha.
Changangkha Lhakhang is located on a hilltop above the main town overlooking the valley below. It was built in 13th century by Lama Drugom Zhigpo who played an important role in early spread of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to Bhutan. His son, Nyima, extended and built many of the statues inside the temple which are invaluable national treasures of Bhutan. Apart from the magnificent statues and other holy scriptures, the temple also has Bum Gye Dring Due Sum (sixteen volumes of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita) which is the original copy handwritten by Nyima himself.
Handicraft Emporium is located in the main town which is run by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan. It is a one-stop souvenir shop where you will find wide range of Bhutanese Handicrafts and handwoven Bhutanese attires. This souvenir emporium is one of the few shops accepting major credit cards.
Bhutan Postal Museum is located in the heart of the town. Postal service in Bhutan was launched only in 1962 until which time communications and delivery of mails were done by messengers on foot (building of roads started from 1961). The museum was established in 2015. Philatelic enthusiasts can find rich collection of stamps, stamp albums and First Day Covers. A bank is also located in the same complex so you can exchange your money into local currency Ngultrum (Nu.) if you want.
Lunch in Thimphu and then drive to Paro.
|Altitude in Paro||2,195m/7,200ft|
Drive from Thimphu to Paro takes less than 2 hours including stops on the way. We drive along the Thim Chhu downstream until Chhuzom (confluence) where Thim Chhu and Paro Chhu joins to form Wang Chhu which powers two major hydroelectric plant in the country. From Chhuzom, drive along Paro Chhu all the way to Paro town.
Check into hotel in Paro and if time permits, visit one of the oldest temple in the country.
Paro Kichu Lhakhang is located just a few minutes drive from the main town of Paro and is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. It is believed to have been built in 659 A.D. by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo.
According to the legend, spirit of a giant demoness lay spread across Tibet and Bhutan causing obstruction to the propagation of Buddhism. In order to subdue this demoness, King Songtsen Gampo was required to built 108 temples across the affected region. Kichu Lhakhang, built to pin down the left foot of the giant demoness, is one of the two temples that were built in Bhutan. The other is called Jambay Lhakhang located in the district of Bumthang in central Bhutan and was built to pin down the left knee. Both the temples were believed to have been built overnight.
The old temple is known as Jowo Lhakhang and holds the original 7th century Jowo Jampa Statue in its inner chapel. Jowo Jampa is a Tibetan term for Buddha Maitreya, the Future Buddha. The outer hall of the Jowo Lhakhang houses the statue of Chenrizig, the God of Compassion Avalokiteshara.
Next to the Jowo Lhakhang is Guru Lhakhang which was built by Her Royal Grandmother Ashi Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck in 1971 and houses the statue of Guru Padmasambhava. Inside this temple is also a statue of her spiritual root teacher His Holiness Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, a highly accomplished Buddhist master who passed away in 1992. Many important religious annual rites are conducted here at Kichu Lhakhang under the patronage of Her Royal Grandmother.
Leisure time in town.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
|Total Hike Time||4 hours|
|Taktsang Altitude||3,120m/10, 236ft|
Today, on the last day of your trip, you will be going on an excursion to the famed Taktsang Monastery and in the afternoon visit the the National Museum of Bhutan (Paro Ta Dzong).
Taktsang monastery is located on a sheer 800-meter rocky cliff in Paro. It normally takes about 2 hours to reach the monastery from the nearest road point. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Bhutan.
Taktsang, or the Tiger’s Lair (people prefer to call Tiger’s Nest), is regarded as one of the most important monasteries in Bhutan. Its history is associated with the visit of Guru Padmasambhava (known as Guru Rinpoche), the Indian saint who came to Bhutan and introduced Tantric Buddhism in the 8th century A.D. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava flew into the cave from Kurtoe Singye Dzong in eastern Bhutan, riding on a tigress.
Taktsang is not only a sacred site visited by Guru Rinpoche but was also visited and blessed by many other renowned Buddhist masters; Langchen Pelgi Singye – one of the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, Jitsun Milarepa – famous 11th century yogi, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo – 13th century saint who brought Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddism to Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel – the founder of nation-state of Bhutan in the 17th century, Desi Tenzin Rabgay – the fourth administrative ruler of unified Bhutan in the 17th century.
It was fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgay who built the Taktsang monastery in 1692. However, the monastery you see today is not the original structure. It was destroyed by fire in 1998. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King initiated and personally supervised the reconstruction of Taktsang monastery to its former glory. It was completed and consecrated in 2005.
Inside on of the temple is a Choeten, a Buddhist stupa built in memory of Langchen Pelgi Singye and holds his sacred body relic. It is believed that the Choeten fulfill wishes if you pray with pure devotion.
Lunch at Taksang Cafeteria
After visiting Taktsang monastery and a sumptuous lunch at Taktsang cafeteria, hike downhill to the road point where your driver will be waiting. From there we will drive to the National Museum of Bhutan which is located in Paro just above the Rinpung Dzong (administrative headquarter of Paro district). It is housed in an ancient watch tower called Paro Ta Dzong (Ta Dzong means “watch tower fortress”) built in 1649. It displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artifacts and artworks including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snap-shot of the rich cultural traditions of the country. This unique ancient watch tower was converted into the National Museum in 1968.
Free time to explore Paro town.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the Paro Internatioal Airport for your onward journey. Your guide will assist you to complete all exit formalities before you check-in.
All tour services we provide are independent with flexible itineraries which can be customized to suit your interest and requirement. You can form a group to get discounts. Apart from the predesigned packages which have proven successful, Bhutan Acorn Tours & Travel can also arrange the following add-on activities to enrich your experiences in Bhutan. These activities can be fitted into any tour itineraries.
Please note that some of the activities may involve extra fees.
All your deposits and any payment less administrative fees of US$100 per person will be refunded if you notify us at least 30 days prior to your arrival date. Refer the cancellation fee schedule below to determine the applicable charges:
|DAYS TO ARRIVAL||CANCELLATION CHARGES PER PERSON|
|30+||US$100 administrative fee per person|
|16-29||20% of the total cost|
|8-15||50% of the total cost|
|0-7 days||No refund is available|
In case the trip is cut short or duration lost due to unforeseen reasons after arrival in Bhutan, no refund is available as the payment would have been already made to hotels and other logistics.
There shall be no charges for the number of days of delay either during arrivals or departures or both, due to weather conditions, communication problems, cancellation or delay in Bhutanese airline flights, sickness or any other legitimate reason as Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) may deem reasonable. However, the Tourist will be charged on the actual expenses on accommodation, food, transport and any other services provided.