Impenetrable jungles to the south and daunting ranges of snow-capped mountains to the north have always barred access to the remote valleys of the kingdom. In spite of many incursions by both Tibeto-Mongol troops and the armies of the British Empire stationed in India, the country has not been colonized since the 8th century. Thus, Bhutan’s unique traditions have remained unique. Today it actively maintains this extremely rich heritage, stubbornly maintaining its distance from the modern world, proud of its own values and traditions. Buddhism is everywhere, determining attitudes, and moulding thoughts. This isolation has also ensured the preservation of the country’s incredible natural beauty. This is truly a magical kingdom.
Arrive in Paro (2195m) – transfer to Thimphu (2350m) – afternoon sightseeing
The Druk Air flight into Paro is a befitting introduction to the spectacular beauty of the country. In clear weather, magnificent views of the world’s highest peaks give way to the lush green Paro Valley as you land. Bhutan’s first gift to you will be the cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the plane. After immigration you will be greeted by your guide and set out on the short (71km) drive to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. Thimphu lies in a wooded valley, sprawling up a hillside on the west bank of the Thimphu River.
Your explorations start at the National Memorial Chorten with its tinkling bells and golden spines shining in the sun; built in honour of third King of Bhutan. Later visit Tashichhoe Dzong, seat of the Royal Government of Bhutan and summer residence of the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (chief abbot). After the visit take an evening stroll around Thimphu.
Hike to Tango monastery – Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast we drive towards the north of Thimphu valley to hike to Tango Monastery. The drive takes around 45 minutes to cover the 25kms paved road. Once at the end of the motor able road hike for an hour to Tango Monastery situated on a spur overlooking the valley below. Tango monastery dates back to 16th century and it houses more than 150 monks who are pursuing in higher studies such as meditation and Buddhist Philosophy. After the visit the trail descends gradually until the motor-able road and then drive to Thimphu for lunch. After lunch, visit Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts School (Painting School) and the Textile Museum, where the art of traditional weaving is still kept alive and preserved through exhibition and has a good collection of old textiles which are rich in its color and design, then visit the Simply Bhutan where visitors learn about Bhutanese traditions, get to dress up in traditional clothes and be photographed in front of painted backdrops. There are also craft displays and a souvenir shop.
Drive from Thimphu to Gangtey (2900m)
Leaving Thimphu, the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near the Dochula pass (3,050m). This pass often offers panoramic views of the eastern Himalayan range. After stopping for tea and the view, descend via a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Wangdue.
From here a gradual climb takes you into the Gangtey (Phobjika) Valley, on the flanks of the Black Mountains. (142km).
Phobjikha has been described as the most beautiful valley in the Himalaya and is well known as a winter home of the Black Necked Crane (Grus Nigricollis). Bhutan is home to around six hundred of the cranes with Phobjikha one of the most popular places that the birds spend the winter. The elegant and shy birds can be observed from early November through late March.
Gangtey Gompa is an old monastery dating back to the C16th, situated picturesquely on a hilltop overlooking the green expanse of the Phobjikha Valley. Then set out on the Gangtey Nature Trail, a gentle, pleasurable walk which gives a good feeling for the valley. It is the most beautiful and shortest of the nature trails in Bhutan. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Gompa head downhill through flower meadows to Semchubara village and from here through beautiful forests and into the open valley. After passing a chorten and Khewa Lhakhang, the trail ends at the local community school.
Drive from Gangtey to Bumthang (2800m)
Today we start early for the fabulous drive to the central valleys of Bhutan. The central road, across the Black Mountains bought about great changes to the people in central Bhutan.
Climbing steadily through semi-tropical vegetation we reach the Pele la Pass (3,390m) with an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo. This pass is traditionally considered the boundary between west and east Bhutan. If the weather is clear, the Himalayan range can be seen, particularly the peak of Jhomulhari (7314 m) to the west. Enroute, we pass Chendebji Chorten, built many centuries ago to suppress a demon. Passing through Trongsa climb again for magnificent views from the the Yotongla Pass (3,425m) before reaching Bumthang, considered one of the most beautiful spots in the Himalayas with popular trekking routes in the area.
Bumthang – Jambay Lhakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang, Tamshing, Thangbi Lhakhang
Bumthang is one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and the heartland of Bhutanese Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche and his lineage of Tertons (treasure finders) led to the sprouting of many temples in the valley. In the morning we visit Jambay Lhakhang (one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in the C7th) and Kurjey Lhakhang (where Guru Rinpoche subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock).
Hike to visit the Tamshing Monastery (one of the oldest monastic schools built by Terton Pema Lingpa), then, after lunch, hike to the Thangbi valley across the suspension bridge and visit the Thangbi Lhakhang built in the C14th, stopping at Jakar Dzong, (seat of the district administration) on the way back. Evening stroll in Chamkhar Town and, perhaps, across the bridge to Nyingkhe Ningpo Lhakhang where you will see the small monks playing and studying in the courtyard.
Drive to Trongsa (2170) – Visit Taa Dzong
Retrace you route back as far as Trongsa. Taa Dzong, an ancient watch tower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It was built by the first Governor of Trongsa in 1652 and has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon. Climb up the path to visit Taa Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. The tower has been converted into a state-of-the-art museum.
Trongsa Dzong is the largest fortress in Bhutan and the ancestral home of the ruling dynasty. It stands on a spur overlooking the gorge of the Mangdi Chu river. This strategically placed structure is visible long before reaching Trongsa and guards the only connecting route between east and west. Due to this strategic position the Trongsa Penlop was able to control the whole eastern region effectively.
Drive to Punakha (1242m) – sightseeing
Following your outward route back as far as Lobeysa, turn north into the Punakha Valley. From the north of the Punakha Valley hike for 50 minutes to see the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a temple built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the ever-changing world. The temple dominates the upper Punakha valley with commanding views across the Mo Chu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. After the visit to the monastery walk back to the road to return to Punakha town and the magnificent riverside Punakha Dzong.
Drive to Paro (2195m) – visit Ta Dzong and archery grounds
This morning it is 125kms drive back to Paro. After dropping luggage at the hotel set off to visit Ta Dzong, (the National Museum) built in the C7th as a watch tower for Paro Dzong. This Dzong was converted into the National Museum in 1967. Below the museum is the Rinpung Dzong, built to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. The Dzong is now used as an administration centre and school for monks. A short walk below the Dzong takes you across a traditional cantilevered to one of the innumerable archery grounds (Archery is the National sport of Bhutan) where you can have an archery lesson.
Paro – Hike to Taktsang (3180m) – visit Kyichu Lhakhang
Start early to drive to Ramthangkha for the hike up to Taktsang monastery. The hike up takes 2-3 hours depending on your fitness, with a break at the viewpoint (and cafeteria) to enjoy stunning views of the monastery, where Guru Padmasambhava landed, riding on the back of a tigress in the C8th. Hence the name ‘Tiger’s Nest’. The interior design of the temple impresses with its luxurious beauty: a gold-plated dome and flickering lights that illuminate golden idols. In the hall of Thousand Buddhas, which is carved into the rock, a large statue of a tiger is located. There are 8 meditation caves, including those where Padmasambhava arrived and the one where he meditated.
After the hike back down visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in the C7th, is said to be one of the 13 great geomantic temples ordered built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. It holds down the left foot of an ogress whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan and most of central Tibet.
You will be transferred to the airport where your guide will assist with formalities and bid you farewell.