|Arrival, drive to Thimphu
Arrival by plane to Paro airport and drive to Thimphu. In case of arrival by land, cross border from India in Phuntsholing/Jaigon and ~5 hours drive to Thimphu. ➜ Stop at Tachog lhakhang to see traditional bridge made using ancient iron chains. ➜ After reaching Thimphu, drive to Changlimithang stadium to see the archery, traditional sport of Bhutan. Matches are going on from the morning to the evening! ➜ Then walk to relaxing Coronation park with walking Buddha statue and visit Zangto Pelri lhakhang, one of the major temples local Bhutanese like to frequent. Roll the prayer wheels for the sake of all sentient beings! ➜ Take a rest after the journey. Optionally celebrate arrival to Bhutan in famous Mojo Park music club or other Thimphu's popular venues.
|Thimphu – Wangdue / Punakha
|Morning drive to Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic statue of Buddha overlooking the valley and walk to striking city viewpoint. ➜ Continue to wild animal sanctuary, where you can see the takin, famous national animal of Bhutan and other dwellers of Bhutanese forests. ➜ Drop to central Clock Tower square and walk in Norzin lam street and see the traffic police signaling in junctions. Thimphu is only capital in the world without the traffic lights. ➜ Finish walk at handicraft market where many interesting Bhutanese souvenirs can be seen and bought for reasonable price. ➜ Continue with visit to Folk Heritage Museum with the exhibition on traditional village life in Bhutan (closed on Sunday, alternatively visit Simply Bhutan museum). ➜ Visit of historical Dechen Phodrang monastery, overlooking the Thimphu valley. From here you can also see monumental Tashichho dzong and other landmarks. ➜ Afternoon transfer to Wangdue or Punakha over Dochu-la pass (3010 m). Stop for walk over large stupa consisting of 108 small stupas and enjoy the mountain panorama in clear weather!
|Wangdue / Punakha – Gangtey (Phobjikha)
|Early morning short hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten with wonderful views of the valley and it’s terraced paddy fields. ➜ Optionally you can consider rafting on the Mo Chhu (easy) or Pho Chhu (thrilling) river. ➜ Continue with visit of Punakha dzong, dubbed as “Palace of the Great Happinnes” which counts as the most intricately decorated castle in the kingdom and used to be winter seat of the Bhutanese rulers. ➜ Short walk to Chhimmy lhakhang temple, devoted to the 15th century saint Drukpa Kunley, known as “Divine madman”, who allegedly taught Buddhism by singing, drinking and scandalous sexual exploits. Way to temple is perched by houses decorated with phallic symbols, as commemoration of the saint's antics. Temple is also known as fertility booster, attracting childless couples from all over the Bhutan and foreign countries as well. ➜ If time permits, also visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang nunnery with Bhutanese and Nepali style stupa, overlooking the valley from the high hill. ➜ Drive to Gangtey and pristine Phobjika valley. ➜ Optionally you can attend lesson on Buddhism led by accomplished master with translation to English in Gangtey monastery shedra (buddhist college).
|In the morning drive to Gangtey gompa located at the top of the hill with commanding view of the valley. The historically important monastery belongs to Niyngma school of Buddhism. ➜ Walk through village with lots of interesting handicraft shop. From here you will start 2.5 hour walk, one of the most beautiful and easy hikes in Bhutan. You will go around the buckwheat and potato fields to the mixed pine forest with trees decorated with old men's beard lichen, and finally you will reach to a view of marshland. Here, in the late autumn and winter, rare Black Neck Cranes can be seen. ➜ Descend to valley bottom and visit Kewa lhakhang, the newly established monastery on the place where the demoness was subdued in the past. ➜ Drive to local farmhouse to taste local kitchen and other delicacies like the salty suja tea and ara spirit. ➜ Then visit to Black Neck Crane center. The birds come for roosting to the valley in great numbers from November to the end of February. See interesting documentary on bird conservation efforts and related exposition. ➜ Rest day in leisure or optionally visit very scenic Ngelung Drechagling Lhakhang nunnery. You might like to try the hot stone bath, traditional Bhutanese treat (on extra payment, need to be ordered in the morning).
|Gangtey (Phobjikha) – Jakar
|Drive to Trongsa over Pele-la pass (3500 m). ➜ Stop here to see the shops run by local herders. You can get a lot of interesting things here, including the yak wool textiles, dust brush made of yak tail, medicinal plants like puttising root, potent cure for cough and fever or cordyceps dubbed as "himalayan viagra" and energy booster. ➜ Continue drive on scenic road with stop at Chendebji chorten which was built to resemble Boudhanath stupa of Kathmandu. ➜ Another important stop would be Trongsa viewpoint to see the full extent of the Trongsa castle, which you will visit some more drive afterward. This is the place from where the royal dynasty of Bhutan had risen. ➜ Also visit intricate museum in watchtower Ta Dzong. It hosts number of interesting artifacts related to royal dynasty, history of Bhutan and many religious statues and temples. ➜ Finally drive to Jakar over Yotong-la pass (3550 m), reaching in the evening.
|Start day sightseeing with ancient Jambay lhakhang temple, which pins down the knee of the giant demoness. According to legends, this one of the two oldest Buddhist temples built in Bhutan by great Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. ➜ Walk to Kurjey lhakhang temple complex where 7th century saint Guru Rimpoche subdued local demoness. After exploring the place, enjoy the picnic lunch on beautiful riverside. ➜ Then continue walk to Tamshing Gompa, the temple which was allegedly built and marvelously painted by 15th century saint Pema Lingpa with the help of angels. ➜ Finally, visit newly built and finely decorated Kenchosum Lhakhang. ➜ If the production cycle permits, visit the Red Panda brewery. ➜ Explore the town with it’s interesting curio shops and welcoming local restaurants.
|Jakar, excursion to Tang valley
|Drive to Tang valley and hike to Ugyen choling palace which hosts wonderful private museum with carefully selected artifacts used in medieval Bhutan for various activities. ➜ If you feel strong, you can climb to Kundzongdrak gomba overlooking valley from sheer cliff. ➜ Otherwise, you can visit the nunnery, which was established by the reincarnate lama of Gangtey and hosts mostly young nuns. ➜ You should not miss so-called “Burning lake” Membartso where the treasure of scriptures hidden here by magician-saint Guru Rimpoche were discovered by the 15th century saint Pema Lingpa. ➜ Drive to Jakar and relax for the rest of the day of proceed with further sightseeing as suggested by your guide.
|Jakar – Paro (by flight)
|Taking domestic flight to Paro is extraordinary experience. In clear weather, you might spot many of the seven and six thousand meters high mountains on the border with Tibet, including Gangkhar Punesum, the world's highest peak never conquered by man. ➜ After landing in Paro, visit Bondey's village Zangtopelri lhakhang, fabulous new temple with splendid decorations. ➜ Drive to Dzongdrakha lhakhang, the ancient temple perched on the rock cliffs, which is often compared to Tiger's Nest in its beauty and is seldom visited by other tourists. ➜ Time permitting, you can continue to Chele-la pass. In 3850 meters it is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. In clear weather the holy Jomolhari peak (7350 m) and or Kanchenjunga (8586 m) can be seen. ➜ Hiking through the prayer flags further up is also nice experience during which you can experience how your body performs in high altitude. ➜ Drop to Paro town and explore the lively small town with numerous shops, cafés, and bars.
|Hike to Taktsang gomba (The Tiger’s Nest) is the absolute highlight of the tour! While the climb seems to be hard, it’s very rewarding. If you don’t feel so strong, you can cut it short in cafeteria with nice view of the temple. ➜ If you have spare strength, you might hike up to Zangtopelri Lhakhang to get birds-eye view of Tiger's Nest! You can consider hiking in the morning or early afternoon depending on weather, your fitness, and preferences. ➜ Then drive down to Paro town and marvel over the old traditional bridge below the Paro Dzong. Here, you will have opportunity to try Bhutanese dress and take a beautiful photo with castle in the background! ➜ Enjoy the last afternoon and evening in Bhutan on your own with shopping or leisure! ➜ Optionally the mask dance performance along with traditional dinner in the local farmhouse can be arranged.
|If time permits, you can drive to Drukyel dzong to see a freshly reconstructed castle and the summit of holy Jomolhari mountain in clear weather. ➜ After that, you depart from Paro by flight or take ~5 hours drive to land border in Phuntsholing.
Tour variants, extensions and combinations:
- Haa valley homestay (+2 nights): At the end of the tour, you can drive over the Chele-la pass (nearly four thousands meter high) to rarely visited Haa valley. On the way you can do hike to Kila gompa, oldest nunnery in Bhutan from 14th century and also experience high altitude on the ridge of the pass from where Mt. Jomolhari and Kanchenjunga can be seen in clear weather. In Haa you'll stay in three hundred years old farmhouse as a guest of local family. Haa is less visited valley due to the fact, it's home to Indian military base. Anyway the nature is very pristine and so are the villages. You can visit few local temples and also make nice village hike around.
- Tshechu festival (+1 night): With proper planning, we can arrange that you will experience annual tsechu festival in some of the castles or monasteries. There are many festivals in Bhutan, so we can definitely fix your travel dates to match. We just need to start planning well ahead (optimally more then 6 months before) in order to secure flight tickets and hotel reservations.
- Gasa Hot springs (+1 or 2 days): Gasa is highland region north of Punakha, just recently connected by road. Apart from beautiful dzong and vistas of nearby high peaks, you can enjoy the natural hot springs, so called "tsachu". There is number of pools with different temperatures. Water is sulfurous and it's believed it's beneficial for number of skin ailments. It's great relax in luxurious pools anyway. Additional experience can be spending overnight here in local farmhouse to try authentic Bhutanese hospitality.
- Omit Tang valley (-1 day): If you need to save time, omit the excursion to Tang on day 7.