Journeys across the Kingdom of Bhutan – 13 days
Experience Bhutan through its whole length as you drive from west to central valleys and to the far remote East. The trip includes varieties of experiences, starting out by car from Paro your journey east through the Bhutanese Capital of Thimphu and then the picturesque valleys of Punakha, Phob jikha and Trongsa. You will spend a couple of days in the spectacular valley of Bumthang, hiking around the valley visiting the sacred and ancient old temples that dot the valley, and take excursions to villages. We continue another day of driving to Mongar through the lush pristine forest, spectacu- lar waterfalls and medieval villages. From Mongar, we will have a day excursion to Lhuntse, the an cestral home of Bhutan’s Royal Family, and then to Trashigang and finally to the plains of Bhutan and to Gauhati in India to catch up your onward flight to Delhi or Kolkata.
ARRIVAL DAY IN 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 Excursion for the trip will receive you and transfer you to the hotel in Paro. In the evening, you can stroll along Paro downtown to see the people and the local stores.
- Accommodation: Overnight- hotel in Paro
HIKE TO TAKTSANG 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 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.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Paro
Paro is a most picturesque valley, with quaint hamlets clustered amidst terraced paddy fields. The town still maintains tradition by way of its architecture and simple way of life and your sightseeing includes; visit to The National Museum, formerly a watchtower holds unique and varied collections, ranging from ancient armor to textiles, thangkha paintings, stamps, coins, and natural history. Visit the Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) built in 1646 during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It now houses Paro’s monk body and the offices of the civil administration. Rinpung Dzong is the venue for the famous Paro Tsechu, held annually in the spring.
In the afternoon, take a drive to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, passing through idyllic countryside, with villages and paddy fields on either side of the road. Thimphu has a special charm and it is fascinating to sit and watch a gathering of local people in the town square, wearing their traditional dress and going about their business in a typically unhurried Bhutanese way.
- Accommodation: Overnight: hotel in Thimphu
THIMPHU - PUNAKHA
The morning sightseeing in Thimphu includes; Visit to the Institute of Traditional Medicine; Bhutan has long and rich tradition of medicine based on natural remedies derived mainly from plants and earth, and some animals. This institute has facility for out patients, training, research and production of traditional medicine. The courses to become traditional doctors entail six to eight years of strenuous study after high school. The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.
Visit to the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the school offers a six-year course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarving, and clay sculpture and traditional mask making. One can see students working through progressive levels practicing precise rules of Bhutanese art. The school also has a showroom from where student works are sold at very reasonable price compared to town for same quality of work.
Visit to the Folk Heritage Museum; established in 2001, this is an interesting museum housed in a very old traditional house. The museum is a walk through the fast changing rural tradition, habits and skills, and those of the past. They organize special exhibitions annually on select subject pertaining to Bhutanese heritage.
In the afternoon, we will take a drive to Punakha (02 hours) 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. From here, it’s about a little more than hour’s 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.
- Accommodation: Overnight- hotel in Punakha
PUNAKHA - GANGTEY
After breakfast, drive to Wangduephodrang and visit the Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of the Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view both up and down the valley. Wangdue district is famous for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, and slate which is mined up a valley a few kilometers from the town. Then drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Explore Phobjikha valley and also visit Gangtey Gonpa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Gangtey
GANGTEY - TRONGSA
In the morning explore Phobjikha valley, hopefully sighting some black necked cranes, if you are there at the right time of year. Later, drive to Trongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m/10,830ft). This pass is traditionally considered the boundary between western and central Bhutan. Further down the road, stop to visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style, with painted eyes at the four cardinal points.
The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and its impressive Dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Trongsa
TRONGSA - JAKAR
This morning, visit and experience the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture at Tongsa Dzong. It was Shabdrung’s great – grandfather who founded the first temple at Tongsa in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Tongsa’s position; he constructed the first Dzong at the place where his ancestors had erected the temple. The Dzong was called Choekor Rabtentse. In 1652, Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Tongsa, had the Dzong enlarged. The Dzong is built in such a way that in the old days, no matter what direction a traveler comes from, he was obliged to pass through the courtyard of the Dzong. This helped to make the Penlop of this Dzong as powerful as it had a complete control over the east – west traffic. The watch tower above the Dzong further strengthened its defense. The father of the first king known as the black regent and the first king served as the Governor of Tongsa before the emergence of the Bhutanese Monarchy, since then it has become a tradition for the young crown prince to serve as the Governor of this place before he is crowned.
Later visit Ta Dzong on the hillside above the town built as a watchtower to guard Trongsa but recently converted into museum in 2008.
After lunch proceed to Bumthang, one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism. The 68 km. journey takes about 3 hours. The road winds steeply up to Yutong La (3,400m/11,155ft), and then run down through dense coniferous forest to enter a wide, open, cultivated valley, known as Chumey
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Jakar
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m/8,530 to 13,125ft.
In the morning we will visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom as Bhutan’s patron saint, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated here. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the right bank of the river to Jambey Lhakhang. This temple, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other being Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro).
After lunch, we will visit Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later on we will visit Jakar Dzong, the castle of the white bird, and then take a stroll through Bumthang’s market area before returning to the lodge.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Jakar
The journey continues eastwards, winding through more rugged terrain. The drive to Mongar takes about 6 hours, with spectacular views en route. We will drive up into the hills above the valley and then past Ura village, before climbing sharply to the highest point on Bhutan’s motor able road network, Thrumsing La (3760m).
From here, the road gradually descends to the alpine valley of Sengor, with wonderful views of cascading waterfalls and the hills of eastern Bhutan along the way. Vegetation changes from alpine to subtropical with the loss of height, and bamboos and luxuriant ferns overhang the road as we drop down to the valley floor. The descent stops at 700m/2,300ft, where we cross the Kuri Chu (river). We ascend again through pine forests, maize fields and eastern hamlets to reach Mongar town, high on a gentle slope above the valley. Picnic lunch at a scenic spot en route to Mongar.
We visit Mongar Dzong, built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs, but constructed in the same way as all previous dzongs, without either plans or the use of nails.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Mongar
EXCURSION TO LHUNTSE
Today, we will take a drive to Lhuntse which is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The 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. The Kurtoe region of Lhuentse is the ancestral home of the monarchy.
In the morning, we will visit the Dzong which sits high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Kurichu valley. Lhuntse Dzong is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan. After lunch, we will take a short drive to explore Menji village for its distinctive textiles before we start heading back to Mongar.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Mongar
MONGAR / TASHIGANG
This trip of about 96 km. takes only 3 hours. The first part of journey is through leafy forest filled with ferns. After driving through the Kori-la pass (2,450m/8,040ft), marked by a pretty Chorten and a Mani wall, we descend rapidly through corn fields and banana groves to reach the famous road zigzags just below Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast-growing settlement.
After zigzagging down the hillside, the road east runs along the Gamri River. A turnoff on the left leads up to Drametse. The temple, perched on top of a steep hill above the village, was founded by Choeden Zangmo and is the most important monastery of eastern Bhutan. This is the place of origin of the famous Drametse Nga Chham, a masked dance with drums. About 30 km. onwards lies Trashigang (1,100m/3,610ft), which clings to a steep hillside above the Gamri river. Trashigang is the principal township of the biggest and most populated district in the country.
After lunch, we will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. It serves as the administrative seat for the district and part of the Dzong is occupied by the local monastic community.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Trashigang
TRASHIGANG - SAMDRUP JONGKHAR
The Trashigang – Samdrup Jongkhar road was completed in 1965, and the journey down to the Indian border takes about 6 hours. Along the way, we pass by Sherubtse College in Kanglung, which was founded in 1978 and is a degree-granting institution affiliated to the University of Delhi. We also visit the nearby Zangtho Pelri temple representing Guru Rinpoche’s paradise, built in 1978 by the late Minister of Home Affairs. We then drive on to Khaling, home of the National Institute for the Disabled and the Weaving Centre. From here, it is a further 80 km. to Deothang, which is remembered in history as the site of a famous 19th century battle fought during the Duar Wars, in which the forces of Jigme Namgyal defeated the British. The road then descends fairly rapidly to the plains through dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns.
- Accommodation: Overnight - hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar
After breakfast, drive to Gauwahati which is about 02 hours, the capital town of the Indian north-eastern state of Assam, for flight to Delhi/Kolkata or onward program in that region.13TH DAY