Southern Bhutan Loop, 8 days

Tour highlights

  • Rarely visited southern Bhutan
  • Classic sights of western Bhutan
  • Rewarding hike from Damphu to Tsolingkhar
  • Ideal for winter due to lower altitudes
  • Circuit trip driving through scenic mountain roads
  • Monumental Trongsa castle in central Bhutan
# Itinerary Program
1 Arrival, drive to Thimphu Arrival by plane to Paro airport and drive to Thimphu or in case of arrival by land, crossing border from India in Phuntsholing/Jaigon and full day drive to Thimphu. Stop at Tachog lhakhang to see traditional bridge made using ancient iron chains. Visit of Tashicho dzong, the castle, which serves as seat of the king and government. Other sightseeing depending on the arrival time.
2 Thimphu – Damphu (Tsirang) Early morning drive to Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic statue of Buddha overlooking the valley and walk to striking city viewpoint. See Memorial Chorten, always busy with devotees. 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. Then transfer to Tsirang over Dochu- la pass (3010 m). In clear weather, you have good chances for panoramic views of mountains, including Gangkhar Phuensum (7570 m), the highest mountain of Bhutan. Descend to tropical valley of Punatsang chu river and continue driving down the valley below the Wangdue Phodrang castle. On the way you pass around cascade of Punatsangchu hydro project, one of the major endeavors of Bhutan government. You will also cross the only road tunnel in Bhutan. Reach to Tsirang in the evening. Optionally, you can spend in Buddhist monastery of Tshorkerling. Rinpoche (reincarnate lama) speaks good English and if available, he will be happy to share his teaching. Donationt to monstery is expected.
3 Dampu (Tsirang) – Gelephu Morning stroll in the sleepy town, botanical park and nearby joint Hindu-Buddhist temple, the unique feature symbolizing unity of local Buddhist and Hindu communities. Then pass around the Tsirang dzong, newly but traditional built administration centre and hike slightly up above the town. Continue with 8 km / 2.5 hours long hike passing through the paddy fields, forest and around the village houses with many beautiful views of the rich Tsirang nature. Finally, reach to Tsolingkhar temple in which along with the statues of the Buddhist saints you can also see corner dedicated to Hindu deities. Finally, descend to the road in lower Tsolingkhar where the car will be waiting. Drive back to Tsirang town and after lunch continue drive to Sarpang district. Stop at main Sarpang town to visit Zangtopelri Lhakhang built by Ap Dorji Wangdi in 1975. Locals say that this temple marks the place where Guru Padmasambhava entered Bhutan while on the way to Bumthang to save ailing king Sinhu Raja. Take on the last stretch along the Indian border to Gelephu town and rest. 
4 Gelephu – Trongsa In the morning come to Gelephu town to see the local variation of famous “flatiron” building of New York. It has only two floors, but who know how the Gelephu town will develop in future? Also, stop at Hindu temple with the shrine of goddess Parvati. There are only few Hindu temples in Bhutan, mostly serving local population of Nepali origin. Continue drive north and make a short stop at Gelephu Tshachu, the local hot springs. Place is very popular as the sulfurous water is considered to have many healing properties. Bathing itself is for daring people only as the pools are small, dark, and congested. Short stroll around the area to the royal guesthouse and quirky suspension bridge is definitely worthy for lush beautiful nature. Then set up for long but scenic drive to Trongsa through Zhemgang district. While some places are affected by the hydro project construction, there are a lot of opportunities to spot various birds or monkeys on the way. On the way, we will visit Green tea garden in Drakteng. Very good quality green tea is produced here, although just few hundreds of kilograms a year. If time permits, we will stop at Kuenga Rabten, the third king's palace which is the home to monks. In case it's open to visitors, you can peek into the third king's bedroom here. Continue drive to Trongsa, finally reaching in the evening.
5 Trongsa – Wangdue / Punakha In the morning we will pay a visit to Trongsa dzong, the castle 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. Then start drive back to west, stopping at Trongsa viewpoint to see the full extent of the Trongsa castle from the opposite side of the valley. Another stop would be at Chendebji chorten which was built to resemble Boudhanath stupa of Kathmandu. Continue drive up on scenic road, till reaching Pele-la pass (3500m). Stop here to see what the local herders offer in their stalls. Many intriguing local products can be purchased here. Then we will start last stretch of today's journey, descending back to Punatsangchu valley, reaching Wangdue and Punakah districts in the late afternoon or evening.
6 Wangdue / Punakha – Paro Early morning hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten with wonderful view of the valley and it’s terraced paddy fields. Visit of Punakha dzong, which counts as the most intricately decorated castle in the kingdom. Short walk to Chhimmy lhakhang temple, devoted to 15th century saint Drukpa Kunley, known as “Divine madman”, who taught Buddhism by singing, drinking and scandalous sexual exploits. If time permits, also visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang nunnery with Bhutanese and Nepali style stupa, overlooking the valley from the high hill. Evening drive to Paro
7 Paro Hike to Taktsang gomba (Tiger’s Nest), is the highlight of the tour. While the hike seems to be hard, it’s very rewarding. If you don’t feel so strong, you can climb just halfway to cafeteria with nice view of the place. You can consider hiking in the morning or early afternoon depending on weather, your fitness, and preferences. Explore the calm Kyichu lhakhang which also pins down giant demoness body. Visit National Museum and Paro dzong, the castle where famous movie little Buddha was shot. Enjoy the last evening in Bhutan.
8 Departure Depart from Paro airport by flight or drive to land border in Phuntsholing.
Tour variants, extensions and combinations: 
  • Include Phobjikha valley (+1 day): While traveling from Trongsa to Wangdue / Punakha, you might add one more day for stopping in pristine Phobjikha valley (Gangtey). Nature hike there and Gagntey monastery visit are the real highlights.
  • Dagana excursion (+1 day): If you stay one more night in Damphu, you can make full day excurion to Dagana, formerly one of the most prosperous districts of Bhutan. Apart from beautiful hill nature, there is large and interesting castle to see. Really few tourists visit this place.
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