An introduction to Bhutan. A short, flexible and relatively gentle tour, providing a general impression of the land, the people and the history. One of the most remarkable aspects of the country lies in how completely separated from the outer world it still appears. This trip will introduce many of Bhutan's interesting contrasts and defining characteristics. In a situation that is so completely different from the familiar, tiny spontaneous moments become treasured personal memories.
The trip covers the highlights of western and eastern Bhutan: Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang. The overwhelming natural tranquility is emphasized as the road snakes through valleys and over mountain passes. Fortress-monasteries stand as powerful symbols of the nation's history. You can visit simple village communities and ancient temples, meeting with and taking part in daily lives and traditions. Go to a museum and then watch craftspeople at work - painting, carving and making silver objects. As you travel around you will witness Bhutanese daily life proceeding, undistracted by your being there.
Flight: Bangkok to Paro. (Incoming sector can change based on your preference)
We fly from Bangkok to Bhutan. If the weather is clear, we can see the massive peaks of the eastern Himalayas, including Kanchenjunga (third highest mountain in the world) and Bhutan's holy mountain, Jomolhari. After arriving and completing your visa formalities, you will be met by your guide and driver outside the Airport.
Drive straight to your hotel, check in and rest or free time to familiarize yourself with the premises of the big compound of the hotel and then gather in the evening for a brief orientation on the trip by your guide.
Today, we will spend time exploring the Paro valley. We will first visit the National Museum of Bhutan that houses so many ancient artifacts & religious items. Next visit the Paro Dzong (16th century fort) that is home to about 500 monks and also offices of the governor and the district judge. Next we will walk a gradual downhill for about 15 minutes to the cantilevered bridge where the vehicle awaits you.
We will wind up the day with a visit to the most auspicious 7th century temple near your hotel. Here you will be treated to a ritual of butter lamp ceremony that is to instill peace in one's disturbed mind & ward off evil from harming you. Back to the hotel.
In the morning we follow the course of Pachhu river and reaching the confluence of Chuzomsa divert our way towards left to Simtokha, on the outskirt of Thimphu. We then take right and make our way through winding roads filled with pine forests over the beautiful Dochula pass adorned with 108 stupas against the backdrop of eastern himalayan ranges of Bhutan that spans over 200 miles across, bordered with China.
After spending some time here, we descend down towards the warmer valley of Punakha where we will have an opportunity to visit the Chimi Lhakhang, dedicated to the 15th century figure known as the divine mad monk Lama Drukpa Kuenley. The locals go there to receive blessings of fertility.
We continue to explore the valley of Punakha today. In the morning, we undergo a gentle hike to the Khamsum Yuelley Chorten (Stupa) built by our Queen mother for the wellbeing of sentient beings and world peace. On our way back, we will stop by the village of Hebisa where we may chance to see farmers working on their farmlands and upon permission visit one of the farmhouses to have interaction with the family.
Afternoon, we will visit the Punakha Dzong built in 1637 by Zhabdrung that is situated at the confluence of the `Pho' &`Mo' Chus (Father & Mother rivers) and guards the Southern end of the Punakha valley. This huge fortress was the capital of Bhutan until 1966. The `Je Khenpo' (head religious abbot) of Bhutan and most of the monks in Thimphu occupy this Dzong throughout the winter, since the lower elevation of the Punakha valley provides more comfortable temperatures. In 1651, Zhabdrung went into retreat and passed away soon after. For fear of civil unrest his death was kept a secret for over 50 years, whereby the court ruled on his behalf. The bodily remains of the Zhabdrung are preserved to this day in this Dzong
Evening at the campsite, experience by participating in trying your hand in traditional archery, throwing darts, or traditional and herbal hot stone bath by the river side, followed by a feast on organic food (meals) prepared by our camp crew.
In the morning we drive for 3 hours and upon arrival, you will see one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan - Gangtey Goenpa (Monastery) for a tea ceremony with the monks. Engage in a Q&A with a senior Lama (Monk) about Buddhism and monk life. The head lama of Gangtey Goenpa is the 9th incarnation of Pema Lingpa, a famous 14th-century blacksmith from Bumthang who is one of Bhutan's most famous Buddhist saints and teachers.
This area is famous as the winter home for the very rare black-necked crane which flies from Tibetan plateaus every winter. Experts estimate that fewer than 6000 cranes exist in the wild. Every year, approximately 800-1000 birds arrive in Phobjikha Valley around mid- November and stay through Early March. We will undergo a beautiful nature trail hike through the valley overlooking the plains created by the glacier that some claim is like the setting of a Shangrila. A walk through the village to see villagers in action tending to cows & daily chores.
The pristine environment of Phobjikha valley has a Crane Center to view some interesting exhibits put together by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) and to watch a brief film about the black-necked cranes. In the afternoon, a number of hiking options are available. The forests surrounding the valley are full of birds and mammals alike, and the nature hike is a wonderful way to experience this pristine ecosystem.
Free time for yourself at the valley or to explore the spa services offered by the Hotel.
Today you drive to Trongsa via Pelela Pass (3, 420m/11, 220ft) and upon reaching Trongsa (about 3 hrs drive), we visit Ta-dzong fort which houses the Monarchy Museum. Here you will learn about how Wangchuck Dynasty came into power following hundreds of years of feudal conflicts amongst regional lords that divided Bhutan and crippled the country.
Drive further down and visit the most impressive Dzong in the country, the Trongsa Dzong in Central Bhutan that has a rich history dating back to the 16th century. The Dzong was built in its present form in the year 1644.
You will continue the journey for about 2 hours drive to Bumthang, the most beautiful valley and cultural heartland in the Kingdom. Bumthang consists of four valleys, namely Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura - with altitude varying from 2,600m/8,530ft to 4,000m/13,123ft. En route we will stop for a quick visit to the Yathra Weaving Centre at Chumey, where they use yak and sheep wools for yathra products with patterns unique to Bumthang. The evening is at leisure to relax, enjoy & explore the delightful surroundings.
You drive straight to Tang- about 2 hrs drive from Chamkhar valley. The Ogyen Choling manor built in 1898, is a historic, cultural site, with its origin going back to the 14th Century. The central tower of the manor was converted to become the first private folk museum in Bhutan. Rest of the afternoon we spend our time discovering rich cultural and heritage of the olden times in Bhutan. Azhi Kezang Choden who is a Historian and a writer owns the museum and if shes available, we can seek an audience with her and hear tales from her. Later you can also explore the surrounding village and observe the daily activities.
Next day, visit Tang Rimochen Lhakhang and Onward drive to Pemacholig Nunnery, where about more than 100 nuns reside and take to complete 12 years of study. Once in the nunnery, you will engage in an impressive & emotional drum ceremony by the nuns performed for the wellbeing of all sentient beings & world peace (NOTE: Additional surcharge applicable for organizing the ceremony). After the ceremony & some interaction with the nuns over lunch.
Afternoon drive down to visit the Membartsho “Burning Lake”. The legendary Pema Lingpa, Bhutan’s popular “treasure discoverer,” is said to have uncovered terma (Buddhist teachings that were hidden for discovery by future generations by Guru Rinpoche, who is the founder of tantric Buddhism. It is here that the Terton proved his destiny to be the Treasure Revealer.
In the evening, we will visit one of the farmhouses and partake in the making of local delicacies lik noodles, pancakes, ema datsi (chili cheese), butter tea. Enjoy leisure time with the hostess and her families, dinner with the local family tonight.
We continue exploring the valley’s temples today on foot; Jambay Lhakhang (Lhakhang means temple), along with Kyichu Lhakhang in the Paro Valley, which is one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan. It was built circa 750 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet as a part of his pledge to build 108 temples to the Buddha during his lifetime. One of the most holy of Bhutan's religious sites, we will have the special permission necessary to visit this sacred temple. We continue to Kurjey, a 17th century temple next to which a spectacular new monastery is being built in traditional style. From Kurjey, we begin our walk through the countryside, crossing a bridge over the rushing Chamkhar Chu (river) and through ripening paddy fields to Tamshing. This temple complex was founded in 1501 by one of Bhutan’s most famous saints, Pema Lingpa - the treasure discoverer. It is a monastery with many young monks in training. We continue past Tamshing and end our walk with a visit to the Swiss Project -- an industrious complex that produces cheese, beer, apple juice and honey! In the evening, leisure around small town of Chamkhar.
Drive to Bathpalathang Airport & board domestic flight to Paro. Upon arrival, drive for an hour to Thimphu, the capital city, upon arrival visit the Memorial Chorten. The Royal Grand Mother Ashi Phuntsho Choden built this Chorten in 1974 in memory of the 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who died in 1972. You will find Bhutanese from all walks of life circumambulating the stupa for merit and for liberating sentient beings from suffering.
After lunch we continue our sightseeing, drive to visit Buddha Point. The Buddha Dordenma is seated amidst the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the thirteenth Desi Druk, overlooking the southern approach to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. It is the largest Buddha stupa in the world, at a height of 169 feet (51.5 meters). The other highlights and based on the timing, visit the textile museum, the indigenous Bhutanese craft bazaar & the handicrafts emporium run by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB). Takin National Animal enclosure, the weekend farmers market and the traditional paper “Desho” making factory.
Free time in the evening to stroll around the town and souvenir shopping.
Morning hours, proceed with the sightseeing which was not covered on the first day in Thimphu; including shopping souvenir from town. After lunch, drive to Paro. Upon arrival at Paro, we visit the Dungtse Lhakhang, one of the sacred temples built in the Himalayan region over the areas of Tibet and Bhutan by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. This temple reflects the introduction of Buddhism in the kingdom. See the ancient murals on the walls still well preserved. Check into your hotel and rejuvenate for tomorrow’s hike to Taktsang!
After early breakfast, drive back to Paro and we embark on our hike to Taktsang-The Tiger's Nest. This serene monastery clings to a steep granite cliff about 800 m/2,624 ft above the valley floor. Legend has it that the Guru Padmasamhava flew to this rocky cave in the 8th century to meditate and introduced Buddhism in the valley and across Bhutan. Being one of the most revered pilgrim sites, many thousands of pilgrims come here every year, some walking for a month to reach here.
The surrounding area has many temples, monasteries and cells where many monks, nuns and lay people can mediate-some even for a lifetime Although we are not allowed inside the monastery we can hike up to the view point, where a cafeteria is situated. From here you can get a most spectacular and breath-taking view of Taktsang. It takes about 2 hours to get there and about 2 hours to return down (approx.).
After the hike, check into your hotel and soak yourself in traditional hot stone bath. In the eve last minute shopping for souvenir followed by Farewell dinner with your guid and driver.
Hike Time: 5-6 Hours Return
Elevation gain: 1,200m/3,960ft
Elevation loss: 1,200m/3,960ft
Flight: Paro to Bangkok (Outgoing sector changes based on your preference)
We will depart this morning to catch your flights home, filled with a lifetime of memories. Your guide and driver ill bid their farewells from here. Wishing you safe flight, Bon voyage. Tashi Delek!
Our clients love us! Here's what a few of them have to say about their visit to Bhutan with Yangphel.
As the sticker on the back of my car says I LOVE BHUTAN so much so that Iʼve been visiting the country and my friends at Yangphel, annually, for the past 9 years. Bhutan has become my 2nd home and the team at Yangphel have become my extended family. I have travelled and trekked the length and breadth of the country either alone (although you never feel alone in Bhutan), with family or with friends and each visit has been as memorable and as wonderful as the last. I feel so reassured that whenever I travel and trek with Yangphel I am being supported by one of the oldest, most respected and professional trekking companies throughout Bhutan. All the Guides at Yangphel are extremely professional, caring and highly trained full of knowledge, enthusiasm and good humour. These guides have taught me more about Bhutan the country and the people than I could ever read from a book. The 3 Guides who have accompanied me during my past visits have all become firm friends and we now share some amazing experiences and happy memories together. It is always a great joy for me to arrive at Paro Airport to see a familiar smiling face waiting to greet me. The Trekking Crews have also become a major part of my visits to Bhutan so much so that I feel I am trekking with a little troupe of friends. They all make sure that camp is always ready after a hard days trek and it always astonishes me how they can cook such amazing meals with such limited resources. As I prefer to plan my trips independently the wonderful team at the Yangphel office work out the logistics of my planned adventures and they organize everything to perfection to make sure that my trips run smoothly. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a few days stay at the Zhiwaling Hotel in Paro. This is Yangphel's very own wonderful luxurious Zhiwaling Heritage hotel the very best place to stay after trekking and camping in the mountains with a guarantee of a warm welcome from old friends in beautiful surroundings and superb facilities. Soon I shall be planning my next trip to Bhutan my 11th and the thought of stepping off the Drukair flight to see my Yangphel friends waiting to greet me with a Kuzuzambo la already fills my heart and my spirit with joy! Thank you all my wonderful friends at Yangphel but Iʼm especially indebted to Karma Choden and Karma Lotey who have made it possible for me to experience some of the best moments of my life in beautiful Bhutan.
Myra Lewis : UNITED KINGDOM