1st OCT, Day 01: Arrival in Paro –Transfer to Thimphu
After clearing immigration at the airport in Paro, Meet with your guide and driver outside the terminal. Please look for your ‘Placard’ by the name.
Paro is the third largest district of Bhutan with a population estimated to 40,000 residents approximately. In olden days Paro offers several trade routes with its neighbour Tibet. In the olden days, after completing a 12hr strenuous hike uphill the Northern Mountains of Paro, you will reach Tibet. The distance is even shortened by a couple of hours less if you choose to ride a pony.
Sightseeing in valley includes: Paro National Museum, it originally was the watch tower for the fortress (below), but now serves as a history Museum. Later, take 1hr drive to Thimphu-the capital city of Bhutan. Bhutan has a population of approximately 700,000 people out of which 100,000 lives in or around the capital alone. The Color Weekend Market (open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) is fun place to discover the organic fresh farm produce. The farmers market is divided into two floors, the ground floor vegetable are mostly imported from Indian while the the local organic fruits, vegetables etc. are locally grown in Bhutan.
Overnight at Namgay Heritage hotel, Kang residency or similar
2nd OCT, Day 02: HALF DAY THIMPHU TSHECHU AND AFTERNOON SIGHTSEEING
One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. This festival is held in the capital city for three days beginning on 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. This Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighbouring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods. Thimphu Tshechu which is held at the majestic TashichoeDzong where the mask dances and folk dances are performed to bless onlookers, to teach them the Buddhist dharma, to protect them from misfortune and to exorcise all evil. It is believed that merit is gained by attending these festivals. The dances invoke the deities to wipe out misfortunes, increase good luck and grant personal wishes.
The sacred Thongdrol(large scroll painting) of Guru Rinphoche is unfurled early in the morning on the last day of Thimphu Tshechu. It is believed that the Thongdroel is unveiled at dawn to bring blessings to all who view it.
To many Bhutanese, the Tshechu (festival) is also seen as a break from daily life but an occasion to celebrate, receive blessings and pray for health and happiness. At the annual gathering, locals wear the finest of textile all hand woven with jewelleries and ornaments of all kinds. One of the best way of knowing Bhutanese cultural and traditions are showcased by people as it gives you an insight into the authentic lifestyle preserved for ages.
Afternoon, tour starts from the National Memorial Stupa built in memory of the third king. Normally, stupa is a structure containing relics (typically the remains of Buddhist monks or eminence), but this particular stupa only have a portrait of the late third king as memory. Here, you will find many people from all walks of life spend the entire day circling the stupa in meditation. Our next site to visit is
Kuensel Phodrang the 51m/163ft gigantic statue of Buddha Dordenma. While the Buddha is complete the park is not entirely complete but the construction will not have an impact on your visit. When complete this will be a place for national celebrations / festivals. From this vantage point we could see the entire Thimphu Valley both north and south.
Next on our tour of Thimphu is the Motithang Takin Preserve where Takin, the national animals are kept! These unique animals are thought to come from the body of a cow and a head of a goat. The preserve houses Takins that have been rescued, once healthy they will be return to the wild in the high altitude mountain area. Very unique animals. Drubthob Nunnery, was built in an honour of the Leo Nardo Di Vinci of the Himalayas, the Thangtong Gyelpo. There are about 60 womens who have become Anims (nuns) at some point in their life. Starting from a 6yr old to 60yrs old nun reside here, some of those who have come as far as Tibet in search of liberation from samsara.
Continue walking through Craft Bazaar but also lookout if you can find a local archery tournament to watch. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. Be amazed at the precision of these archers. They were aiming at a target the size of a basketball 145 meters away. One could hardly see the target. After Pyongyang, Thimphu is the only country in the world that does not use any traffic lights. At one point in Bhutan’s history there was one traffic light. No one paid any attention to this traffic light, so that one light has been replaced by a live policemen. They take two 4 hour shifts and direct traffic about 8 hours a day. Now Bhutan has “NO” traffic lights.
Overnight at Namgay heritage hotel, Kang residency or similar
3rd OCT, Day 03: DRIVE TO PUNAKHA/ WANGDUE PHODRANG
Until 1955 Punakha use to be the old capital of Bhutan until later it was shifted to Thimphu. It’s about 2hrs drive, en route stop over at Dochula Pass at an elevation of 3150m/10080ft. here you will find the pass been heavily decorated with 108 stupas built in late 2003 for the world peace and to commemorate the victory over the heavily armed militants hiding along the southern foothills who were found to be a major threat to sovereignty and tranquil atmosphere of the Bhutanese territory. Lam Peri Botanical Park is yet another splendid spot for a 10mins walk around. The park falls under the Jigme Dorji Natioal Park, which is one of the eleven Reserve Parks in Bhutan. Check in, and continue with sightseeing to 15mins hike to the stone masons’ village of Rinchengang. The incense factory at Bajo town is a family business which is also a good friend of mine. 30mins hike to the Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the fertility temple. The hike trails begins from below the main highway pass the rice paddy fields and the village of Sopsokha.
Overnight at Drubchhu resort, Zhingkham resort or similar
4th OCT, Day 04: DRIVE TO PHOBJIKHA (2-3hrs drive, Distance 64km/43miles)
Early morning, visit the Punakha Dzong. The Dzong is the most beautiful structure ever to be erected in Bhutan cleverly built surrounded by the male and female. At the time of the building, not even a single nails were used and not a single line was drawn but the Zao Balip built it exactly the same following the dream he saw the night before.
Today you head out early for our 2-3 hour 43 miles drive, you are heading for the isolated Phobjikha Valley, also known as Gangtey.
From the lowlands of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang the road gradually climbs up through to dense oak, magnolia and rhododendron forests up to the most revered Black Mountain Range that once stood as a barrier separating the Eastern and Western regions of Bhutan in ancient times. You may take a short time-out with some tea and snacks at Nubding while appreciating the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains including Mount Jhomolhari, on a clear sky. Onwards, continue 45mins drive to Phobjikha Valley from here.
Welcome to the Wet-lands which is a natural habitat of the endangered species of Black-Necked Cranes that fly all the way from Tibetan plateau during winter in search of their roosting grounds. It’s only been a couple of years since the first electricity arrived here and the only reason being it could be vulnerable to reducing the no. of cranes arriving into the valley. Depending on time you may want to explore some villages around but make sure you have some small gift packs for the family while you enjoy a nice exchange of a good conversation over a hot cup of Suja (salty butter tea). Once in the year during winter, the valley is also home to the Yak herder’s who come down to the valley in order to barter milk, butter and other livestock products with rice, cereals, wheat etc. while their Yaks graze the dwarf bamboos shoots which grow in plenty and is considered the favourite food. Up until 10 years ago only 3 families lived in the entire valley.
Sights to be visit; the Sarus Crane Information Center which has informative displays about the cranes and the local environment. Phobjikha Valley which is known as a sacred valley. One of the reason for this designation is, before arriving and leaving each year the Black Neck Cranes circle the local monastery three times.
Gangtey Goemba (monastery) enjoys the valley’s prime real estate, on a forested hill overlooking the green expanse of the entire Phobjikha valley. The extensive complex consists of the central goemba, monks’ quarters, a small guesthouse and outlying meditation centres. Much of the interior and exterior woodwork of the 450-year-old goemba was replaced between 2001 and 2008 due to a beetle-larvae infestation.
Overnight at Gakiling hotel, Dewachen hotel (or) similar
5th OCT, Day 5: Drive to Paro (177km/ 118miles, 4-5hrs)
Following breakfast, take a 45mins hike around the Nature Trails of the valley. The trails starts from Khewa Lhakhang and finishes in front of the Gantey Monastery. The hike will lead you around the roosting grounds of the cranes. From here you will be picked up by your driver and then headed to Paro via Thimphu. Paro-the third biggest city of Bhutan. Bhutan has a population of about 700,000 people with 40,000 living in or around the Paro. You may want to stop in Thimphu and sight visit just in case if you have missed any sightseeing in Thimphu.
En route, stop for photo shoot at Iron Bridge below the 14th century Buddhist Temple –Tamchog Lakhang this temple lies across the river we had been driving along. The temple was built by the famous Tibetan Iron Bridge Builder-Drubtob Thangtong Gyalpo who was a renowned Buddhist saint, yogi, physician, architect, engineer and what not! The temple is still owned and maintained by his descendants. We took a walk to visit the Temple, which meant we had to cross the original iron bridge. We had confidence this bridge was safe as many before us had crossed over the last several centuries.
The 7th century old Kichu Lhakhang is located at the end of a 500m stretch of road surrounded by red rice paddy fields. Here you will find elderly man and women circumambulating the temple each carrying a miniature prayer wheels in their hands while some seated on the courtyards chewing doma (beetle nut) and reciting the mantras of the compassionate Buddha.
Overnight at Tashi Namgay resort, Hotel Drukchen or similar
6th OCT, Day 6: Day Excursion to Haa Valley
Haa is a distant valley in western Bhutan recently open to tourism in early 2005. Most of the people living here are semi-nomadic and raise both Yaks and Cattles depending on the different seasons of the year. It’s about 3hrs drive from Paro across Cheli La (3850m/12320ft), the highest motor able roads in the country. One could view Mt. Jomulhari, the second highest unclimbed snow-capped mountain in the world. After the pass you will soon descend down to Haa valley at an elevation of 2,670 m, 8,758ft. Haa Dzongkhag (district) is a picturesque remote valley and consists of five Geogs (sub districts). Enjoy your organic lunch at Ugyen Farmhouse and meet with his family.
Later, take a D-tour via Chenzom to Paro (2hrs drive), a hub of road network which give access to small vendors selling Momo’s (cheese dumplings), season fruits and vegetable on the roadside.
Overnight at Tashi Namgay resort, Hotel Drukchen or similar
7th OCT, Day 7: Hike to Tiger’s Nest
Early morning drive to the base point (15hrs drive or less) from your hotel.
You will proceed hiking to hike about an hour to the tea house and another of about an hour and half. Visit the five different shrines including the Eight manifestation shrines, the Vajrakilaya shrine, the original cave of the tigress, etc. placed inside the Taktshang (tigers nest) monastery built during the 17 century. The temple was burnt down to its foundation but the government took the initiative to rebuild to its present form by the command of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It takes another hour on your return back to the base. You may want decide with your guide whether to break for lunch at the tea-house (on the way down) or if early you may want to drive town for lunch. Porter ponies are available (for hire $15 dollars) to ride till the tea house but further beyond and on you the way down you are restricted by the government to ride any ponies.
Evening dinner with Aum Dechen’s local Farmhouse and (optional) herbal stone-bath will be arranged (at a supplement of $25.00 per person). Leisure walk around one of the oldest town with traditional second generation Bhutanese architecture for souvenirs and photo shoot.
Overnight at Tashi Namgay resort, Hotel Drukchen or similar
8th OCT, Day 8: Departure
After breakfast, your guide and driver will drop at the airport for your flight 2hrs prior to flight departure.
Note: The above itinerary is customized based on the tentative festival dates. As a result, the dates might change without any prior information.