Day 1 – Arrival in Bhutan, Paro International Airport
Elevation 2,280m / Drive time to Thimphu 50 Mins
Welcome to the Land of the Thunder Dragon-Bhutan! On arrival at Paro International Airport you will be greeted by your guide and head of field operations. Today, to acclimatize you to the altitude we will leisurely drive to Thimphu, check you in to your hotel where you will have your first taste of Bhutanese cuisine and then a little sight-seeing in Thimphu if you are up for it.
Here begins your Holiday of 8 days, the auspicious number of the 4TH King of Bhutan.
Take a short drive up the mountain to the Takin enclosure to be welcomed by the national animal of Bhutan or a leisurely drive up to Kuenselphodrang (the Buddha statue).
Thimphu Dzong (Tashichho Dzong)– the largest Dzong in Bhutan, is also the seat of the offices of the King of Bhutan and the Monk body.
Day 2 – Tour of Thimphu
Places that may be visited in Thimphu;
The Heritage Museum– Dedicated to connecting people with past Bhutan through an exhibition of artefacts used in rural households and our way of life years ago.
The Textile Museum– Fantastically preserved textiles and traditional weaving at your viewing pleasure.
The National Memorial Chorten – a serene monument built in honour of our Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
Paper making factory – on the other side of the valley across the river find out all about the art of traditional Bhutanese rice paper making.
Simtokha Dzong – Take a 3 mile drive South of Thimphu, to Semtokha Dzong the oldest fortress in the Kingdom.
Centenary Farmers’ Market – Fridays through Sundays most of the Capital’s population congregate on the banks of the Thimphu Chhu (river) where the weekend market is held. Here villagers from the valley and other nearby places come to sell a wide variety of exotic vegetables and ware.
Day 3 – Thimphu to Punakha
Elevation 1,300m / Drive time two and a half hours
Dochula Pass – The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang and the 108 chortens was built by the present Queen Mother of Bhutan Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to pay tribute to the selfless service and visionary leadership of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck and to liberate the souls of the soldiers lost in the great victory over foreign militants.
Chhimi Lhakhang- Take a 20 minute stroll across terraced fields through the village of Sopsokha from the roadside to the small temple located on a hillock in the centre of the valley below Metshina. Ngawang Chogyel built the temple in 15th century after the ‘divine Madman’ Lama Drukpa Kuenlay built a small chorten there. It is a revered pilgrim site for women who seek blessings in order to be able to have children.
Punakha Dzong – Built in 1637, the Punakha Dzong is the winter home of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan)and the monk body of Thimphu. It is a splendid example of Bhutanese architecture, sitting at the confluence of the male (Pho) and female (Mho) rivers, portraying a medieval image from a distance. The dzong was partially destroyed by fire and glacial floods over the years but has been carefully restored and is, today, a fine example of Bhutanese craftsmanship.
Day 4 – Punakha to Gangtey
Elevation 3,000m / Drive time two and a half hours
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – a wonderful hour long trek up to a monastery built by the third Queen Mother Gyalyum Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck this Chorten is a slpendid example of of the Bhutanese architecture and art and is the only one of its kind in the world. It took nine years to build and its details have been drawn from religious scripture.
Passing Wangduephodrang, you will drive through one of the major towns and capitals of Western Bhutan. Located south of Punakha, Wangdue is the last town before central Bhutan. The district is famous for its fine bamboo work and its slate and stone carving.
Pause to pay homage to Wangdue Phodrang Dzong that was burnt down in a tragic fire on the 24th of June, 2012. Built in 1638, Wangdue Dzong is dramatically perched on a ridge and overlooks the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers.
Phobjikha Valley- The valley of Phobjikha or Gangtey Goempa is well known as the winter abode of the endangered black necked crane (Grus Nigricollis). Bhutan is home to a dwindling number of around six hundred black necked cranes with Phobjikha being one of the popular places that the birds migrate to in the winter months from the Tibetan plateau. These shy, elegant birds can be seen from early November until the end of March. Overlooking the Phobjikha valley is the Gangtey Goempa. This is an old Nyingmapa monastery that dates back to 17th century.
Day 5 – In and around Gangtey Goempa
Black-Necked Crane Information Centre – the centre has informative displays about the cranes and the valley environment. Here you can use powerful spotting scopes to see what the pamphlet on ‘Field Guide to Crane Behaviour’ tells you. The weather is sometimes misty in which case you could always browse the library and handicraft shop, and watch videos at 10am and 3pm. There is also a centre for the valley’s fledgling ecotourism initiative and mountain-bikes or lectures on the local ecosystem can be arranged (additional costs apply).
Today we will do some short hikes around the valley of Phobjikha.
Day 6 – Gangtey to Paro
Elevation 2,280m / Drive time about seven hours
ParoValley-The beautiful valley where it all began for you is home to many of Bhutan’s old monasteries and temples. The valley is also home to mount Chomolhari (7,300 meters) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu river that flows through the valley. Some of the important places to visit in Paro are as follow;
Paro Dzong- also known as Rinpung Dzong, this 15th century fortress is also the administrative center of the Dzonkhag (district).
Ta Dzong- Built as a watch tower, it was converted into the National Museumin 1968. The museum boasts antique thangkas, textiles, weapons and armour, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Day 7 – In and around Paro
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) – A one hour hike to the cafeteria which is also a vantage viewpoint whereby you can capture a stunning view of the monastery. Prayer flags adorn the cliffs and this is the site where Guru Padmasambhava arrived on the back of a tigress in the 8th century.
Drukgyal Dzong- A morning drive to the north of Paro valley brings us to the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong that was built in 1647 by the great Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, father and unifier of Bhutan. The Dzong was almost completely destroyed by an accidental fire in the early 1950s and left in ruins as an reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. Explore its ramparts and relive the memories of its glorious past.
Kyichu Lhakhang- After a scrumptious lunch, we will retrace our steps to visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, built in the 7th Century.
Day 8 – Depart Paro