Bhutan Eastern Dragon Fest 2012 in Bhutan
BANGKOK- PARO /OR KATHMANDU - PARO
Flying into the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression. On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and custom formalities, your guide from Bhutan Excursions for the trip will receive you and transfer you to the hotel. This beautiful valley encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s only airport, and the National Museum. Mt. Jomolhari (7,300m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley, its glacial waters plunging through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro River). The Paro valley is one of the kingdom’s most fertile, producing the bulk of Bhutan’s famous red rice from its terraced fields. After having a bit of relaxation in the hotel, we will visit the following places in Paro; Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong. (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a Dzong is always called a “Ta Dzong”). On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection. Rinpung Dzong: Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the “fortress of the heap of jewels” stands on a hill above Paro Township. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. The valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the Dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.
- Accommodation: Altitude at Paro: 2300m // Overnight – Tandinling Resort or similar in Paro
HIKE TO TIGER'S NEST MONASTERY
Today, we hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. 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 above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful 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 the rest of their lives! Coming back, we are following a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 05 hours. Altitude at Paro: 2300m // Overnight- Tandinling Resort or similar in Paro
PARO - THIMPU
Our journey to east begins today as we take a drive to Thimphu which is perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government, home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects. The sightseeing in Thimphu includes visit to the following places; Motithang Takin Preserve: A short distance up the road to the telecom tower is a trail leading to a large fenced area that was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bhutan’s environmental and religious convictions, and it was disbanded some time ago. The animals were released into the wild but the takins, Bhutan’s national animal, were so tame that they wandered around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity. It’s worthwhile taking the time to see these oddball mammals. The best time to see them is early morning when they gather near the fence to feed. It’s a five-minute walk from the road to a viewing area where you can take advantage of a few holes in the fence to take photographs. Weaving Centre: In Bhutan, textiles are considered the highest form of art and spiritual expression. Our handlooms have evolved over centuries and reflect the country’s distinctive identity. Most of the designs and patterns of weave are unique to the country. Bhutanese weavers have been very innovative in their designs while maintaining the traditional character of the art. By utilizing primarily the simple back strap loom, the Thunder Dragon People have crafted one of the most advanced and sophisticated weaving cultures in the history of civilization. Weaving Centre produces hand-woven textiles on site and has a selection of cloth and ready-made garments for sale. This is one of the few places where you can watch weavers at work. Archery ground beside the national stadium: Archery is Bhutan’s National Sport. Archery matches are among the most picturesque and colorful events you will find here and well worth a visit. There are formal competitions on many weekends, and archers practice most afternoons and weekends when there is no competition. It’s easy to find a session to watch. There are several customs and practices attached to the activity that we wouldn’t see in any other country! Tashichhodzong: The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in the 1960s. While other governments around the world ensconce themselves in fortresses of stone and steel, the seat of Bhutan’s Royal Government is in a building that mirrors the country’s culture and its people. The building we see today is largely a modern affair, built in 1962 when His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk moved the government to Thimphu after a fire at its original location. The complex’s central tower is original. Tashichhodzong houses the main secretariat building, throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan. During the warmer summer months the monk body headed by His Holiness, the Je Khenpo, makes its home in the Dzong.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 01 hour. Altitude at Thimphu: 2400m // Overnight – Peaceful Resort or similar in Thimphu
THIMPU - PUNAKHA
Today, we will take a drive to Punakha across Dochu La (3050m) from where one can have a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear. The pass is marked by 108 chortens (Stupa) which are Buddhist reliquaries, memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. It’s then about one hour drive down to sub-tropical Punakha Valley. In Punakha, we will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987. Later, we will take a drive to Talo, the native home of the Queen. From Talo, we walk down along the beautiful track to Nobgang village, thus gaining insight into the agricultural lifestyle that is common to the majority of Bhutanese.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 03 hours. Altitude at Punakha: 1300m // Overnight – Zangthopelri Hotel or similar in Punakha
PUNAKHA - JAKAR
Drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest over Pele La Pass (3300m). This pass is traditionally known as the boundary between Western and Eastern Bhutan and the landscape which spreads out on the pass is different to that of the western side. After crossing a bridge at Nika Chu, we enter Tongsa district and follow a dramatic section of the road, carved into the side of a cliff, high above the Mangde Chu. The scenery is beautiful – forests as far as the eye can see, and with Tongsa Dzong visible 20 kilometers away, at the end of the valley. Tongsa means “New Village” as Tongsa was founded in the 17th century, which is relatively recent for Bhutan! We will have the opportunity to visit Tongsa Dzong, which is a masterpiece of architecture with a maze of courtyards, passageways and 23 temples. Continuing our journey eastwards, we re-enter the forest and climb to cross the Yutong La (3425m). Descending to the village of Chumey, the scenery is once again totally different as we enter the wide open Bumthang valleys. After a short climb to Kiki La, we turn a corner to begin the descent to Jakar. From some distance away, we can see Jakar Dzong, perched high above the village.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 08 hours. Altitude at Jakar: 2600m // Overnight – Mountain Lodge or similar in Jakar
SIGHTSEEING IN JAKAR
Bumthang valley is the religious heartland of Bhutan and home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and his reincarnates still linger around Bumthang. Today’s sightseeing includes: Jambey Lhakhang: This monastery was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of 108 monasteries which he built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century. Kurje Lhakhang: Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises of three temples. The one on the right or the oldest of these temples, was built in 1652 on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru’s body, and is therefore considered to be the most holy. Tamshing Lhakhan: Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple, which was restored at the end of the 19th century. Jakar Dzong: Constructed in 1549 by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. It was upgraded in 1646, after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power. Legend has it that when the Lamas assembled to decide on a site for Jakar Dzong, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of the hill and it was here that `Castle of the white bird` was built. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative center for Bumthang valley, and also houses the regional monk body.
- Accommodation: Altitude at Jakar: 2600m // Overnight – Mountain Lodge or similar in Jakar
JAKAR - MONGAR
The drive from Jakar to Mongar will surely enchant you as it offers one of the most spectacular views of the country. Evergreen junipers and colorful rhododendrons cover the hillsides, as fresh new scenery unfolds with every twist and turn of the winding road. Sound of the rushing streams and cascading waterfalls greets you as you look down at the valley looming in the distance below the precipitous rock face. You will be so captivated by its beauty that the eight hours journey will hardly be noticed.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 08 hours. Altitude at Mongar: 1600m // Overnight – Wangchuk Hotel or similar in Mongar
MONGAR - MENJI
Today, we will take a drive to Menji Village in Lhuntse for the festival at Wangshing Lhakhang. Lhuntse is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan, and its landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. We will be received and welcomed to our camp by the village folks in a traditional Bhutanese manner. Soon after getting settled, we will walk down with the locals to the festival ground to see the dances of the first day of the festival which begins at around 3 pm this afternoon and then slowly get immersed into all these unique activities around you throughout your stay in this village. This festival is celebrated annually in the fall in honor of Guru Rinpoche – The saint who is responsible for bringing the doctrine of Buddha to this country in 08th century. The dancers take on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities. The dances known as Cham bring blessings upon onlookers, to instruct them in the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma, to protect them from misfortune, and to exorcise evil influences. Deities are invoked during the dances; through their power and benediction, misfortunes may be annihilated, luck increased and wishes realized. It is also a social gathering where the people rejoice together, dressed in their finest clothing and jewelry.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 03 hours. Altitude at Wangshing: 1700m // Overnight – Camp at Wangshing
FESTIVAL DAY AT WANGSHING RANBA
Enjoy the festival day at Wangshing Ranba.21 SEP
FESTIVAL DAY AT WANGSHING RANBA
Enjoy the festival day at Wangshing Ranba.22 SEP
MENJI - MONGAR
This morning, after saying farewell to our friends from this community, we will take a drive up north to see Lhuntse Dzong which is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan sitting high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley. We will then drive further up the valley to Dungkhar – the ancestral home of the monarchy and visit Dungkhar Palace to have an intimate insight into life in the early days of Bhutan’s monarchy before taking a drive back to Mongar.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 06 hours. Altitude at Mongar: 1600m // Overnight – Wangchuk Hotel or similar in Mongar
MONGAR - TASHIGANG
The first part of the journey to Tashigang is through leafy forest filled with ferns across one low pass known as Kori La (2400m), the place marked by a pretty chorten and a stone wall. The road then descends rapidly through cornfields and banana groves, the famous hairpins at Yadi till you reach Sherichu (river) at 600m. Back in the hot tropical climate, we can enjoy a very pleasant drive along the side of the Dangmechu (Bhutan’s biggest river) to the bridge and check post below Tashigang. A steep but short climb from here finishes off today’s journey. Tashigang sees very few tourists and facilities are limited, but we stay in the best place in the town which is in reality a very basic lodge! In Tashigang, we will visit the Dzong and the rest of the day at leisure to stroll around the downtown.24 SEP
TASHIGANG - SAMDRUP JONGKHAR
We have now reached the most easterly point of our journey as the road now heads south for 180 kilometers to Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan’s eastern road border with Assam. At first we drive uphill for about an hour to the university at Kanglung, and then continue further up for a while to a small pass at 2450m, with views of the peaks of north-eastern Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. From here it’s downhill till the village of Khaling, which is famous for its weaving and handicraft. Unlike western Bhutan, where the road goes over passes between one valley and the next, the road here follows ridges almost the whole way. Eighteen kilometers before Samdrup Jongkhar, there is a small town called Deothang where there is a large memorial chorten dedicated to those who lost their lives building the road across Bhutan. This place is also remembered in our history as the site of a famous 19th century battle fought during the Duar Wars, in which the forces of Jigme Namgyal, the father of the first king defeated British. The road then descends fairly rapidly to the plains through dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving Time: 08 hours. Altitude at Samdrup Jongkhar: 250m // Overnight – Mountain Hotel or similar in Samdrup Jongkhar
SAMDRUP JONGKHAR - GAUGHATI
This morning, we drive for three hours to Gauhati, the capital of Assam in India, where we go straight to the airport to check in for the flight to Bangkok. TASHI DELEK & GOOD LUCK!26 SEP