Hidden in the Eastern Himalayas between India and China (Tibet), this kingdom, practically unknown to the outside world, presents a most fascinating yet an untouched natural beauty, unique culture and ancient traditions. Bhutan is truly a SHANGRILA, a mythical country hidden deep in the mountains. For centuries isolated, inaccessible and forbidden, this Himalayan Kingdom cautiously opened its borders to visitors. Travellers to Bhutan will experience the enchantment of a pure and exotic land, through its ancient fortresses, monasteries and temples, with their imposing architecture and superb art.
Bhutan is endowed with breathtaking natural beauty, surrounded by sacred mountains, virgin peaks and holy lakes. Bhutan is definitely one of the world’s most exclusive tourist destinations.
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, you will be met by our Himalayan Hikers representative and transfer you to the hotel. The drive from the airport to the hotel is around 20 minutes.After your checkin the group leader will set a time for your trek briefing to discuss in regards to the trek. The evening is free but your trek leader will organise a welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant.
Today, you will visit BodhnathStupa, one of the biggest Buddhist shrines in the world and Pashupatinath ,the main temple for the hindus. Here you will see Hindu holy men (sadhus) meditating, pilgrims bathing, and occasionally funeral pyres burning on the ghats. The rest of your afternoon is free. In the late afternoon you will be briefed with your tour briefing Departure information for the next morning will also be given.
Today you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Paro. On arrival in Paro you will be met at the airport and transferred to Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan (53 km, approx 1 hour 15 min driving time). The snaking road follows the Pa Chu as it winds downstream to its confluence with the Wang Chu, then up the valley to Thimphu. After settling in, there will be a briefing given by the tour leader in the late afternoon and any last-minute arrangements will be coordinated. Thimphu is a sprawling town that occupies both sides of the Thimphu Valley, bisected in the middle by the Thimphu Chu River.The evening is free and dinner is included at the hotel.
After breakfast you will venture out to explore Thimphu, first driving to a view from Buddha point and enjoying an excellent panoramic view of the city.On your way back you will take a short ten-minute hike around the small enclosure in the pine trees to spot some takins-the national animal of Bhutan.The next stop is the Zilukha Nunnery in Drubthob Goemba. It is home to between 40-65 nuns and also provides shelter for aging women and orphaned girls. The temple here is dedicated to the famous saint, Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo, the man who first introduced and built the chain of iron bridges in Bhutan. You will then pass Tashicho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion), the administrative and religious centre of Bhutan located on the right bank of Thimphu Chhu.
Please note we are not permitted to visit the Dzong before 5pm Monday – Friday; during holidays and weekends visits are permitted between 9am to 5pm. You can then enjoy some free time in town to do your own exploration. Other sites in the capital include the National Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum, and the Voluntary Artists Studio Thimphu – an institution where children receive formal education in the art of traditional painting, sculpture, and woodcarving. Thimphu has an excellent range of handicrafts, most notably woven cloth, wooden masks, thangkas, silverware, jewellery, and bamboo craft that come from all over Bhutan. The Changangkha Lhakhang is a temple that sits majestically on a ridge above the city.
We retrace just around 5kms till Simtokha Dzong (the oldest Dzong Built by Zhabdrung in 1629AD which is now Institute for language and cultural studies). Then we steadily climb up to the Dochula pass (3100M) through beautiful tropical forest and few villages. The pass is marked by 108 chortens or stupas in 2003 to mark the victory over Indian terrorist and gardens of colorful prayer flags. On the clear day one enjoy the magnificent view of eastern Himalaya. The decent from Dochula to Punakha, it’s another two hours drive on switch back road. The scenic Punakha Valley is drained by the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu (meaning ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’ Rivers) which enjoys a temperate climate which is ideal for farming, Lunch in Punakha town.
We visit Punakha Dzong which is flanked by Father and Mother Rivers of the valley, the administrative and religious centre and also the winter retreat of His Holiness, the Je Khenpo – the chief abbot of Bhutan. This six-storey high monastery is one of the largest dzongs in Bhutan. Construction began in 1637, although sections of it have been restored after a recent flood in 1994. The dzong boasts intricately carved woodwork, prayer halls and beautiful religious paintings on walls and doorways. This huge fortress-monastery complex was also the capital of Bhutan until 1966. The reason the Je Khenpo and most of the monks from Thimphu occupy this dzong in winter is because the lower elevation of Punakha Valley provides for milder temperatures. In 1651 the former supreme leader, Zhabdrung, went into retreat and passed away soon after. For fear of civil unrest his death was kept a secret for over 50 years, whereby the court ruled on his behalf. To this day, Punakha Dzong remains the final resting place of Zhabdrung.
Today we drive to Gangtey the hidden valley of Phobjikha (2850m). En route we climb steadily, passing through semi-tropical vegetation with banana plantations, poinsettias, bottle brush and cactus and then on to pine forests before arriving at an alpine environment, which is home to rhododendrons and dwarf bamboos. As we near the Pele La (Pass 3300M), we take a right road which leads to Phobjikha Valley over Lawala pass (3200M). Considered one of the most beautiful valleys and one of the valleys formed by glaciers in Bhutan, it is encircled by pine-covered forests. In the centre of the valley and rising on a small ridge stands one of the oldest private monasteries in Bhutan – Gangtey Goemba with 60 novice monks.
The head lama of Gangtey Goemba is the ninth body reincarnation of Pema Lingpa – the famous 14th century blacksmith from Bumthang who became one of Bhutan’s most famous Buddhist saints and teaser discoverer in 1500s. The monastery was founded in 1613 by Pema Thinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa. After visiting the Monastery, the leisure hike starts towards valley floor which will take you about 1hour 30mis and meet by your driver to drive to the hotel. A walk in the area also give us an insight into the rural lifestyle of Bhutan and we see the farmhouses, which are a typical traditional wooden houses surrounded by fields growing potato, buckwheat and rye. The area is also the winter home (late October to early March) of the rare and endangered black-necked cranes that come here from the highlands of Tibet. Experts estimate that fewer than 800 of these cranes still exist in the wild. So to know more about these birds you can make a visit to the Crane Information Centre in the evening and have optional free time to walk back the hotel.
We depart early this morning for our longest drive of the trip, crossing three Himalayan passes before reaching the sacred Bumthang Valley (2650m). We begin our journey by climbing to Lawala pass (3200M) and then Pele La (Pass) at 3300 metres, where we stop to stretch our legs and if lucky you will see some yaks grazing around. We also stop at Chendebji Chorten, a shrine of ancient lineage built on the old walking path across the country, for a tea break.
After travelling for around five hours we stop for lunch at Trongsa (2120m) – an ancient trading centre for merchants coming from India in the south as well as other traders from the east and west of the country and because of that reason who ever becomes the governor of the Trongsa Dzong has right to collect the tolls from the East-West traders in ancient times. Tongsa Dzong dominates the centre like a ‘giant dragon’ resting on the ridge. After lunch we will make a brief stop to visit the Tadzong (watch tower) Museum, dedicated to the monarchs of Bhutan in 2008.
After Museum our journey continues for a further two-and-a-half hours to Bumthang, over Yontong La (Pass) (3400m) and Kiki La (Pass) (2900m). The route traverses highland pastures, full of yaks, near the passes with rolling hills and forests of pine and oak trees. The scenic drive takes us through the fertile Chumney Valley (the first of the four valleys which comprise the Bumthang Valley), which is famous for its yak wool fabric known as ‘yathra’, and we also stop to see some of the intricate handicrafts that are available in places where vendors lay out their colourful fabrics for sale. Produced by the local women, no two pieces of ‘yathra’ are the same. Distinctive patterns and bright, earthy colours enliven the fabric, which is used for a wide variety of purposes and widely sought after throughout Bhutan.
This morning we start with a walking tour in the Bumthang Valley, noted as one of the most beautiful and sacred in Bhutan. This valley has a special history because of the frequent visits by Padmasambhawa (the saint who brought the Buddhism as a religion to Bhutan in 8th century) when he was bringing the Buddha’s message to Bhutan. The valley is wide and resplendent with fields of crops. Village folks can often be seen busy with at their day’s work.Jambay Lhakhang (Jambay Temple), along with Kyichu Lhakhang in the Paro Valley, is one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan. It was built around 750 AD by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet as a part of his pledge to build 108 temples dedicated to the Buddha during his lifetime. This is one of the most holy of Bhutan’s religious sites and we will apply for the special permission necessary to visit this sacred place.
We then continue to Kurje, a 17th century temple next to a spectacular new monastery that is being built in traditional style. From Kurje we begin our walk through the countryside, crossing a bridge over the rushing Chamkhar Chu (Chamkhar River) and through farm land to the Tamshing temple complex. Tamshing was founded in 1501 by one of Bhutan’s most famous saints, Pema Lingpa – the treasure discoverer. It is a monastery with many young monks in training. We continue on and end our walk back at our hotel. Drive to lunch place. In the afternoon you will have free time in Bumthang town and optional walk back to hotel.
An early morning flight to Paro allows some time for sightseeing. Once in Paro we visit the impressive Ta Dzong, a 17th century watchtower above the Paro Dzong that now houses the National Museum – an excellent collection of Bhutanese antiquities. The museum has an interesting assortment of costumes from the different regions of Bhutan along with a wonderful collection of painted and embroidered thangkas (religious pictures).
If you feel like to see more for the day, the ruin Dzong located 18 kilometers from the city; this is also a spot where Bhutanese forces once overcame Tibetan invaders. The Dzong was burnt down by fire in 1950s and never rebuilt and now this has become one of popular site that is visited by many young and adult Bhutanese to have some ancient atmosphere. We also have the opportunity to take stroll in downtown Paro this afternoon before returning to our hotel.
After an early breakfast we drive up to the starting point and prepare for our hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – a magnificent monastery, clinging on a rock cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. The legend dating back to 747 AD has it that the Great Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhawa) flew here from northeast Bhutan on the back of a tigress to subdue the demons of Paro Valley. 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, Singey Samdrup, is recognised 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.
Taktsang was severely damaged by fire on Sunday 19th April 1998. The king commanded its immediate restoration soon after the fire. The royal command dictated that the original aura, authenticity and architectural splendor must be preserved at all costs. This project has been widely seen as an act of devotion involving all sections of Bhutanese society and as homage to the nation’s cultural heritage.
It also proved to be an opportunity for Bhutan’s traditional artists and craftsmen to hone the skills inherited from their forefathers down the ages. In order to facilitate the restoration work, a road was built to the base of the mountain facing the temple. We drive to the end of this road and begin our hike up the mountain for a closer view of the temple. After approximately an hour walking, we reach a small teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple with refreshments available and our lunch stop will be taken here.
After breakfast your driver and tour leader will transfer you to the airport for your onward flight. (Please note that your departure flight is not included as part of the trip and must be booked separately.)
SUGGESTED CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT LIST
Swimming costume (for Kathmandu & Pokhara)