Day 1: Arrive at Paro Airport. (Altitude: 2,320 m./ 7,656 ft above sea level).
The flight into Paro brings breathtaking views of the Himalayan Mountains. If the weather permits you will be able to see Mt Everest (8,848 m., 29,198 ft) and other Himalayan mountains. The landing, flying through the Paro valley between the 4,000 metre high mountains, starts your day in an unforgettable way. Your Bhutanese representative will greet you on arrival and drive you through the beautiful valley of Paro to the capital city Thimphu (1 hours 30 minutes drive)
Thimphu is a bustling town on the banks of the Thimphu Chhu and set gloriously in the hills of the Thimphu valley. It is home to the Bhutanese Royal Family, the Royal Government to several foreign missions and development projects. Bhutan’s only golf course, a nine-hole circuit, is situated next to the magnificent Tashichoo Dzong. The following are some of the prominent places you will visit in Thimphu.
On the way to Thimphu visit, Tamchhog Lhakhang which is located on the opposite side of the river. This is a temple built by Thang Thong Gyalpo of Tibet, who was responsible for building numerous iron bridges throughout Bhutan such as Duksum Bridge in the East(The bridge is not obsolete). You will cross the river and a short hike through the iron bridge which was built by him and now it is renovated.
Later visit the weekend market: The days are absolutely central to the lives of the Bhutanese, but there are many reasons to visit other than the delicious fresh food on offer every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.There are regular competitions centered on the national sport of Bhutan - archery - as well as the opportunities to buy beautifully handcrafted items such as yak tail dusters and butter tea cups. The people crowd the stalls every day, dressed in full colour and gathered to meet and to barter, much like the street markets in London!
Paper factory: The handmade paper making in Bhutan stemmed from the age old tradition originated in 8th century of Bhutanese history. It began as domestic ancient activity which is still in practice in remote areas. The handmade paper constitutes as valuable National heritage of Bhutanese cultural identity and is preserved through all the ages. The Traditional paper is recognized and held high esteem both in home and outside world. Jungshi Paper Factory was established in November 1990 as an undertaking of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The unit now boasts as a major and sole dealer in handmade paper and its products.
Mini zoo: Here you can see just one animal - Bhutan’s national - the Takin. This is an extremely rare member of the goat family. Found in herds in the very high altitudes (13,125 ft and over). They live on a diet of grass and bamboo. It can weigh as much as 550 pounds. The zoo was emptied in accordance with Buddhist principles, but the Takin came back so the keepers decided to look after them, also in accordance with Buddhist principles!
Sangaygang View Point: As well as being the location of the transmitter tower of the only national television tower in the country (BBS), the view point is also the perfect place to take in some truly breathtaking views of the entire city of Thimpu. On a clear day you can see the ubiquitous prayer flags fluttering on the hills in the distance as well as the whole of the Thimpu valley - needless to say, this is THE place to take your camera and capture the essence of a remarkable country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is also known as the Lover’s Point! And also later visit Kuenselcholing hilltop where the largest Buddha in the world is being built.
Tashichho Dzong: The names means Fortress of Glorious Religion. It was built in 1641 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and was reconstructed into present structure by the late King, His majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the year 1962 - 1969. It houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the office of the king, and the central monk body. Overnight in Thimphu
Day 2: In Thimphu
Morning take a hike to Cheri Monastery (Includes Dodina and Jigme Dorji Wild life Sanctuary): Hike about 1 hour(to and fro) leads to Cheri Goemba (Cheri Dorji Dhen). The trail starts by crossing a lovely covered bridge that spans the Wang Chu, and then climbs to the monastery. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620 and established the first monk body here. Silver Chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of Shabdrung father.(Option for meditation). A chance to spot birds such as Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Yellow-browed Tit, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Long-billed Thrush, Ultramarine Flycatcher. After that we follow riverside trail via Begana to Cabesa, home to the Choki School of Arts. The Choki School is private and provides free skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan to Bhutanese children who are unable to attend or complete their formal education. After visiting the school we continue along the riverside trail and pass through small rural villages before returning to Thimphu.
Zorig Chusum Institute (Thirteen Crafts): It was established in 1971 by the Royal Government in order to preserve the invaluable heritage and promote the arts of Bhutan. The two main objectives of the institute are (a to preserve and promote the traditional arts and crafts and b) to create job opportunities for the underpriviledged group of the society, school dropouts and unemployed youths.
Folk Heritage museum: It was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, who is the founder and patron of the Museum, on 28th July 2001. It is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through exhibition of its items and artifacts used in rural households,demonstrations of rural customs, traditions, habits and skills; educational programmes for children about rural lifein Butan, and research and proper documentation of rural life.
Thangtong Dewachen(Nunnery): It was founded in 1976 by Rikey Jadrel, who is considered as emanation of Thangthong Gyalpo(1363 – 1485), the builder of numerous iron chain bridges across the Himalayas. It first started with forty five nuns but it today houses more then sixty nuns engaged in Buddhist study and practice. In spite of the great number of applicants, the nunnery is forced to keep the intake low due to limitation of space and infrastructure.
In the evening if you wish we can make arrangements to take you to enjoy the recent trends of the younger Bhutanese, who spend their evenings in the discotheques, or in the entertaining hubs where there are live performances of Bhutanese songs and dances (traditional and modern) by the best Bhutanese bands. If you wish you can even test your singing talents in the bars that offer Karaoke. Later stroll around the city. Overnight in Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu to Trongsa. Altitude: 2,200 m./7,260 ft above sea level.
Trongsa forms the central hub of the kingdom and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country where launched.
Morning visit the, Memorial Chorten: Chorten are memorial structures designed to evoke the same perfect symmetry and elegance of the Buddha himself, and it is traditionally good luck to pass them on the left. This particular chorten was constructed in 1974 as a memorial for the third King of the country, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Bhutan. The chorten is just another example of how seriously the Bhutanese consider, and how perfectly they realize, their unique architectural style. Later driving towards Trongsa( 6 hrs drive), we come across a pass known as Dochula (3,140 m., 10,362 ft from where a beautiful panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range can be seen, especially in clear winter days. The beauty of this place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyal Chortens - a 108 stupas built by the eldest Queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. Overnight in Trongsa.
Day 4: Trongsa to Bumthang. Altitude: 2,600 m./ 8,580 ft above sea level.
This fascinating valley is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Its gentle sloping hills offer plenty of walking opportunities to the many temples that dot this valley. The valley is also famous for its production of honey, cheese, apples and the yathra- a woolen material that has multiple uses. The following are some of the prominent places to visit in Bumthang.
Morning visit, Trongsa Dzong: It was built by Chhogyel Mingyur Tempa (sent by Zhabdrung to unify Eastern Bhutan to bring under the rule of the Desi) in the year 1644 and was enlarged in 17th century by the Desi (secular ruler) Tenzin Rabgye. The dzong dominates the horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Both the First and the Second King ruled the country from this Dzong. It is an impregnable fortress. Later drive to Bumthang( 2 hours 30 minutes drive), On the way to Bumthang visit hand loom shop which is a small cottage industry.
Jakar Dzong: The Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549 by the great grand father of the Zhabdrung. It is now used as the administrative center for the Bumthang district. The Bumthang Tshechu(festival) is one of the most popular. It is held mostly at night and is said to bring fertility to any woman wanting a child. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 5: In Bumthang
Morning visit, Jambay Lhakhang: It is one of the 108 monasteries built by King Songtsen Goenpo in the 8th century to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region.
Kurjey Lhakhang: Means body print. It dates back to 8th century when Guru Rimpoche first visited Bhutan. It is after his visit to the Monyul (country in the darkness); Buddhism was introduced in the country. He is said to have meditated in a cave after which it is believed that he had left his body print where the old temple stands today.
Then hike across to Tamzhing Lhakhang: “Temple of good message”. It was built by Terton Pema Lingpa (Treasure Discoverer) in 1501 AD. We can see the paintings done by him on the wall and an iron jacket which was also made by him. It’s believed that if we wear that jacket and circumambulate the temple three times we will be able to cleanse some of the sins that we had committed or you can visit next day.
Mebar Tsho(Lake of Burning Fire):This is a sacred lake for Bhutanese who believe that Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures from this lake in the 12th century. On auspicious days many Bhutanese go and offer butter lamps on this fresh water lake. Later stroll around the ton and see how locals live. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 6: Trek Begins
Season: November, December, March, April, May & June
Duration: 3 days and 2 nights
Start at Manchugang and visit the biggest village in Bumthang, called Dhur at an elevation of 2,900 meters above sea level. The village consists of about 75 households with a recorded population of around 800 people. The single village has three types of inhabitants the Kheps (tax payers) having cattle and farmland, Brokpas (nomads) having Yaks and a third group having either. This village has two different dialects, the usual Bumthang Kha and the Brokke (nomadic dialects). A walk above the village to get the overall view of the village is interesting. Climb down to the river where the traditional water-driven flour mill can be visited. This traditional water driven flour mill used to be a source of livelihood for the people of Dhur village. It has been abandoned after the intake channel was washed away by flashflood. The programme has been rehabilitated as it symbolizes an authentic Bhutanese tradition. Continue the trek uphill through the blue pine forest and reach the camp at Schonath (3,450 m.) in hemlock and juniper forest. The hauling of owls through the night is quite common, hence the name the Owl Trek.
Day 7: Trekking through the virgin forest of huge temperate trees like spruce, hemlock, fir, birch and many species of rhododendron makes you breathe the real wilderness of Bhutan. Bamboos are the main undergrowth of this wild forest. During the months of April and May the rhododendrons are in full bloom. In about two hours, you will arrive at the Drangela Pass (3,600m). Ascending the Kitiphu ridge brings you to an altitude of 3,870 m. for the night camp. If weather favors you, have a wonderful view of the valley and the panoramic snow caped Himalayan Mountains. The highest mountain of Bhutan Gangkarpunsum (7,541 m.) stands right in front of you when you are on the peak of Kitiphu (4,000m).
Day 8: The magnificent sun rise in the morning is a new experience in Bhutan. Climb down to the monasteries of Zambhalha, Chuedak and Tharpaling which brings you to the religious life of monkhood, the historical Buddhist learning centre. Chuedak monastery has 100 Avoloketeshvaras in the form of Chukchizhey (eleven heads) that you will see nowhere else in the country. Afternoon, walk along the ridge of Kikila and finally follow the traditional trek route between Trongsa and Bumthang (the Royal Heritage Trail). The best view of Jakar Dzong will end your three day trek with many interesting and unforgettable memories.
Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 9: Bumthang to Gangtey Goenpa/Phobjikha: Altitude: 2,800 m/ 9,240 ft above sea level
The valley of Phobjikha is well known as the winter home of the black necked cranes. Bhutan is home to around six hundred black necked cranes with Phobjikha being one of the popular places that the birds migrate to in the winter months from Tibetan plateau. These elegant and shy birds can be observed from early November to end of March. Overlooking the Phobjikha valley is the Gangtey Goenpa. This is an old monastery that dates back to the 17th century. Morning drive to Gangtey which is around 5 hours drive from Bumthang.
On the way visit, Trongsa Dzong: It was built by Chhogyel Mingyur Tempa (sent by Zhabdrung to unify Eastern Bhutan to bring under the rule of the Desi) in the year 1644 and was enlarged in 17th century by the Desi (secular ruler) Tenzin Rabgye. The dzong dominates the horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Both the First and the Second King ruled the country from this Dzong. It is an impregnable fortress. Overnight in Gangtey.
Day 10: Gangtey to Thimphu
Morning visit the Phobjikha Visitor Centre which is the crane information centre. Stopping here first also ensures that visitors become aware of the codes of conducts for the conservation area.
Later we will go for a Gangtey Nature Trail (Duration: Half day: two hours at a quicker pace): This is one of the most beautiful and shortest of the existing nature trail. In this trail you have the opportunity to visit the magnificent Goemba(Monastery), it also leads to sloping area of green grass, flanked by pine trees on either side. You will even come across some villages, rivers, crane roosting grouond. Later drive to the capital city Thimphu(4 hours 30 minutes drive).
Once we reach Dochula on the way to Thimphu, If interested we will take rest and sip a cup of in the cafeteria and then we will hike to the 18th century Lungchotse Lhakhang. For those who do not fancy walking for hours seeking solitude and peace of mind yet would like to have that, this is the place to go. It is a perfect place to enjoy the bounties of nature. On a clear sunny day one can see the entire Bhutan Himalaya with its snow covered peaks. The sunset from Lungchotse with different colors playing against the sky is a splendid spectacle. The view from the ridge as the sun sets over the rolling hills remains etched in mind for a long time. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 11: Thimphu to Paro. Altitude: 2,280m/7,524ft above sea level
This beautiful valley is home to many Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and temples. The country’s only airport is in Paro. The valley is also home to Mount Chomolhari(7,300 meters) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu flowing through the valley.
Later take a hike to the famous Taktshang Monastery (Tiger’s nest): This is Bhutan’s most recognizable cultural icon perched 800m/2,640 ft 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 from Kurtoe (eastern Bhutan) on the back of a tigress to the site where the monastery now stands. The hike takes between one to two hours there and slightly less on the way back. Most of the route is through wonderfully cool and sheltered oak forests. Although the paths are worn they are easily walked. There is a tea house half way for a break. After the tea house the path is slightly steeper and more open with one area of exposed steps. It is a route that anybody of reasonable fitness can make but those who suffer from vertigo might prefer to wait at the tea house.( Here those who prefer to do meditation they can proceed on)
Those who are interested, after visiting what is known as one of the most venerated pilgrimage sites in the country, we will go off the beaten track further up to the temples that are on the hill tops which is known as Ugyen Tshomo Lhakhang, above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. No wonder that some monks have chosen this place to meditate for their life! To go down, we are following a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
Then later visit the Farm House: Bhutan is justly NOT famous for its cuisine, which is somewhat predictable. Eating at a local farmhouse at least gives a slightly different variation, and a chance to see the inside of such a home, rather than just the brightly decorated exteriors.(Please note that if you take hot stone bath or eat in the traditional farm house then you need to pay extra)
Ta Dzong: This means watch tower, which it served as during the 17th century to guard the region from the Tibetan invasion. It was converted to the National Museum in 1968. It houses a fine collection of Bhutanese art, relics, religious thankas (used to bolster the visualization generated during meditation and were made from Himalayan animal fibers), paintings, animals found in Bhutan, arms and ammunitions and the country’s exquisite stamp collections. Overnight in Paro.
Day 12: Depart from Paro
Early breakfast at the hotel and your escort will assist you with exit formalities and bid you farewell.