The specific dates for the journey will be announced soon, but will be on our about December 9-21st.
Not many people have actually heard about Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon, or even know where it is located. For many years this little country about the size of Switzerland has been off limits of foreigners. If you look at a map you will find Bhutan to be east of Nepal at the same latitude, with a tiny piece of India separating the two countries – and the northern edge touching the Himalayas. You must realize that Bhutan is not like any place you are likely to travel to.
The people are Tantric Buddhists who also have a Shamanistic background called Bon – and a fantastic history filled with legends and mythology. In fact, one of the highlights of our journey is hiking to Tiger’s Nest where Guru Rinpoche flew to on the back of a flaming tigress! Indeed, the monasteries are magical and beautiful in ways that I cannot begin to describe.
Everyone who visits is touched in the most astonishing ways, by the landscape, the heart of the people, and their philosophies. By the time we leave, the experience will have opened your heart in a manner that that is totally unexpected. Through meditation, chanting, prayer and ceremony – we will expand our consciousness and cultivate the compassion of Buddha within us.
Thankfully we will have the opportunity to spend a day at Tongsa Tsechu, one of the annual religious dance festivals, to immerse ourselves in ancient tradition. Elaborate, spellbinding masked dances at the festival are performed by specially trained monks. We’ll also spend time visiting the very rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes in Phobjikha. And as a special gift, a Lama will be preparing a special prayer and blessing ceremony for us. As service is an important part of our spiritual experience we’ll be giving of ourselves and helping the Bhutanese people during our visit.
On our last two nights we’ll be staying at the incredible Hotel Zhiwaling which is beautiful and restful – a proper end to our journey. You can have spa services here to relax from our journey and prepare for the long trip home. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime journeys, and you will not come back the same person you were when you arrived. If there is any way that you can get way for this mystical journey, I encourage you to come!
Itinerary for Bhutan
Blessings of the Heart, December
Day 0-2 Dec. 6-8th
Most folks will be leaving December 6th or 7th and will meet in Bangkok December 7th or 8th in the evening. Depending on where you live, you may need to leave on December 6th to make the flight to Bangkok. When you take the transpacific flight from the west coast of the U.S. to Bangkok, you lose a day when you cross the international dateline. Don’t worry. You’ll get the day back when you fly home! We will stay overnight at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel (approximately $160.00 USD for a double room) near the new Bangkok airport (BKK) and wake up early for our flight on Druk airlines to Paro, Bhutan at ~7:00am.
Day 3 Dec. 9 (l, d) Bangkok to Paro (altitude: 7,400 feet)
We’ll gather in the hotel lobby in the early morning and, as a group, proceed to the airport to check in with Druk Air. If we are lucky, we’ll have glorious views of the snow capped Himalayas. On its way to Paro, Druk Air flies over eight of the ten tallest peaks of the world including Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga. The remarkable and steep descent into the Paro Valley is an awe-inspiring beginning to our adventure. Already you can feel the pace of life slow down.
After visa formalities and collection of baggage, we’ll check into our nearby hotel in Paro where we will spend the first night. In the afternoon, visit the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong (the fortress of Victorious Bhutanese), built in 1647 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetan invaders led by Mongolian warlord, Gushri Khan in 1644. On a clear day, Mt. Jumolhari (24,000 ft), Bhutan’s most sacred mountain peaks that marks the border between Bhutan and Tibet, can be seen from here.
We’ll have the rest of the afternoon free while our bodies get acclimated to the 7400’ elevation. Accommodation: Kichu Resort, Gangtey Palace or similar
Day 4 & 5 Dec. 10-11 (b,l,d) Thimphu (altitude: 7,700 feet)
After breakfast, the short drive to Thimphu takes us past traditional farmhouses, small villages and terraced field. We have one and half days to explore Thimphu, Bhutan’s exotic capital city—a fascinating combination of traditional and contemporary life. We’ll attend a special prayer ceremony with red-robed monks and a Lama (Buddhist Teacher). Together with the monks we’ll participate in a butter lamp and rice Mandala offering. We may also receive an introductory talk on Buddhism and an empowerment or initiation of one of the important Buddhist prayer mantras from the Lama.
During the rest of our time in Thimphu, we’ll hope to visit some of the following key sights (there will be no time for all):
A visit to Mothithang Takin Preserve for a chance to see the takin, Bhutan’s national animal. Takin resembles a cross between a gnu and a musk deer. It has an immense face and a tremendously thick neck.
The Farmers vegetable market (open Friday through Sunday) where Thimphu residents mingle with villagers in an interesting urban and rural blend. People come from outlying rural villages to this market to sell vegetables and exotic fruits, & other items including dried fish, chili peppers, spices, tea (in bricks), butter (wrapped in leaves), hats, jewelry, and masks. You will also find all kinds of items that the local people use at home, including ritual and religious objects, and wonderful textiles.
A walk to the Memorial Chorten, a sacred shrine built in honor of the current King’s grandfather. The Chorten is an impressive three-story monument with Tantric statues and wall paintings of three different cycles of Nyingma teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. You will find many elderly people making the Kora (pilgrimage circuit).
A beautiful hike to Cheri Gompa Meditation Center. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the man who unified Bhutan, built this gompa (monastery) in 1619 and established the first monk body in Bhutan at this monastery. A silver chorten (stupa) inside the gompa holds the ashes of the Shabdrung’s father. Today, the Gompa is an important place of religious teaching that attracts monks from around the country who come for refresher courses and lo soom chu soom meditation. The one hour hike to Cheri Gompa starts from a picturesque wooden bridge decorated with colorful prayer flags.
Visit a few interesting handicraft shops, where they sell masks, beautiful hand-woven textiles, carpets, and jewelry and Bhutanese wooden products.
A visit to a Bhutanese Handmade Paper Factory. Handmade paper has been a traditional craft in Bhutan going back into the distant past. The paper is made mainly from the Daphne plant with aipin, a gum obtained from the root of a creeper, as the other major ingredient.
A Bhutanese Archery Game – Bhutan’s national sport and an integral part of all festivities. The game is played using two painted wooden targets 12”x47” placed at each end of the range which is 120 meters apart. When an arrow hits the target, the archer’s team mates sing and perform a celebratory dance. During major competitions, women dance and sing, extolling their team while teasing and mocking the adversaries with funny comments to make them lose their concentration. Accommodation: Riverview Hotel or similar
Day 6 Dec. 12 (b,l,d) Paro to Punakha (altitude: 4,500 feet)
After breakfast, we will head eastward to Punakha and Wangdi Valleys. The first hour of our drive takes us past traditional farmhouses, small villages and terraced field. Later the road winds through pine forests and passes by chortens (Stupas) and prayer flags before heading up to Dochula Pass (10,000'). The prayer flags on mountain slopes, bridges and high passes, transmit prayers to the Gods and keep up a constant communication with the heavens.
For the next two hours of drive, the road slowly descends into the lowlands of Punakha Valley. In the village of Lobesa, we’ll enjoy a nice hike to visit Chimmi Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who as a favorite saint of the Bhutanese people is known affectionately as “the Divine Madman”. The temple is on a hillside in the middle of rice fields and has become a pilgrimage site for childless couples.
Day 7 Dec. 13 (b,l,d) Punakha Sightseeing
This morning we will visit the Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the Buddhist Lama who unified Bhutan. The Dzong lies between the Fo Chu (male river) and the Mo Chu (female river), and is the winter home of the Central Monk Body.
When the Shabdrung arrived in Punakha, he set up a camp at the confluence of the two rivers and that very night had a dream in which he heard the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, the second Buddha and the founder of Tantric Buddhism. He then built a Dzong on that spot and placed the Rangjung Kharsapani there, the most sacred relic that he brought with him from his monastery in Tibet.
A devastating flash flood in 1994 washed away a major part of the Dzong. His Majesty the 4th King personally supervised the reconstruction of the Dzong, a project that has occupied thousands of skilled craftsmen and builders for twelve years. The results of the restoration are amazing. You will be seeing the most magnificent architectural and artistic masterpiece in the Kingdom.
After lunch, we will enjoy a beautiful optional hike to Khamsum Yuley Lhakhang, through paddy fields and past traditional farmhouses. A visit here is a good introduction to Tantric Buddhism in all its complexities. It contains some of the best Tantric art in Bhutan, and a visit there will serve as a balance to the more traditional Buddhist statuary and wall painting visible at the Punakha Dzong. The shapes and forms of the Tantric statues may surprise most visitors. The terrifying divinities are manifestations of peaceful gods, which assume these forms to subdue evil spirits that are hostile to Buddhist doctrine.
The nudity of most of the deities show that this world’s conventions are of no importance on higher planes, and the persons being crushed by the wrathful deities are either spirits hostile to Buddhism or primordial negative concepts such as ignorance, jealousy and anger. In Tantric Buddhism, numerous statues and paintings are also in the form of sexual union, which represents the union of knowledge and wisdom that permits the attainment of sublime state of enlightenment. Accommodation: Meri Phunsum Resort or similar.
Day 8 Dec. 14 (b,l,d) Punakha to Phobjikha (altitude: 9,800 feet)
After breakfast, we’ll continue our drive eastward to Phobjikha, reached by a side road near Pelela Pass. This hidden valley in the Black Mountains at 9840’, is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. It is surrounded by mountains with rhododendron, pine and dwarf bamboo, which is a favorite food of the Yaks. The famous Gangtey Gompa, the oldest and largest Nyingma Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, is located on a hill overlooking the beautiful valley. This valley is also the chosen winter home of the very rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes. The rare Cranes migrate from Tibet to Bhutan and use the swampy center of this valley as their winter residence from mid November to mid March. Accommodation: Hotel Dewachen
Day 9 Dec. 15 Phobjikha to Tongsa (altitude: 7,300 feet)
This morning, we will enjoy a short walk through this beautiful valley among a clusters of traditional house and see the beautiful Black Neck Cranes in their natural habitat. We’ll also visit the Information Center to watch a short video and to listen to a talk on Black Neck Cranes.
After an early lunch, we’ll drive to Tongsa enjoying magnificent views of small villages, terraced fields, diverse forests of exotic Himalayan plants, and trees. After crossing the Pelela Pass (10,825 feet) the vegetation changes to a beautiful forest of rhododendron and fields of dwarf bamboo.
Before reaching Tongsa, we’ll see the 18th century Chendebji Chorten, a whitewashed stone chorten (or stupa) built in order to nail into the ground a demon who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of the valley. The first sight of the Tongsa Dzong ( a “dzong” is a fortress), the largest in Bhutan, is from across the valley. But the road winds another 12.5 miles before we’ll actually get there. Magnificent views around every turn! Accommodation: Yangkhil Resort or similar.
Day 10 Dec. 16 (b,l,d) Tongsa Festival
We will spend a full day at the Tongsa Tsechu, the annual religious dance festival that takes place in Tongsa Dzong. Built in 1647, it is the largest dzong in the country. It is also the ancestral home of the Royal Family, and both the first and second kings ruled the country from Tongsa. The Dzong sits on a narrow spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde-Chu River and overlooks the routes east, west and south. It was built in such a way that in the olden days, it had complete control over all east-west traffic. This helped to augment the strategic importance of the Dzong which eventually placed its Penlop (regional ruler) at the helm of a united country when His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first king of Bhutan. To this day, the Crown Prince of Bhutan becomes the Penlop of Tongsa before ascending the throne, signifying its historical importance.
Elaborate, spellbinding masked dances at the festival are performed by specially trained monks. From the roof of the temple, monks blow on a pair of long horns, and the sound of cymbals, drums and trumpets fill the air. These dance festivals revive the people spiritually and in many ways refine them culturally because the dances communicate moral lessons, and both the performer and the observer benefit from the exchange. The Bardo dances, the main event of the festival, serve as a reminder to people of their future destiny depending on their past and present deeds. The dance of Noblemen and Ladies tells the story of flirting princesses who are punished for their indiscretions. The dance of the Stag enacts the tale of a hunter who was converted to Buddhism and gave up hunting.
This festival is also an occasion for seeing people and for being seen. In olden times it provided the most important opportunity for unmarried men and women to find their life partners. People dress in their finest clothes and wear their most precious jewels. Men and women joke and flirt.
Day 11 Dec. 17 (b,l,d) Tongsa to Wangdi (altitude: 4,500 feet)
After breakfast, we’ll drive back westward to Wangdi Valley, crossing once more the Pelela Pass and spend the night in a small resort by the beautiful river. Upon arrival in Wangdi, we’ll have the rest of the afternoon free. Accommodation: Kichu Resort or similar.
Day 12 Dec. 18 (b,l,d) Wangdi to Thimphu (altitude: 7,700 feet)
After a leisurely morning, we will return to Thimphu, crossing the Dochula Pass.
This evening, we will have a farewell dinner of home cooked traditional Bhutanese food together with a special cultural program of mask dances, folk songs and dances.
We may also have a chance to experience Bhutan’s fascinating weaving culture directly by visiting the home of an expert Bhutanese traditional weaver and designer. You will have the rare opportunity to see some of the best weavers in the country at work and discover how Bhutanese have developed a textile art that is unmatched by anywhere else in the world. In Bhutanese culture and every day life, weaving is so important that practically every home has a loom for weaving. Learn the distinction between “Tsongtham”, pieces woven to be sold commercially, and “Hingtham” or literally “Heart-Woven”, the pieces that are woven by the artisans for their lords or most loved ones. You may also find some young village girls getting trained. In remote villages, young girls begin learning how to weave from their mothers at an early age and become expert weavers at 18 or 19 years of age. You may also have a chance to buy some beautiful pieces of their weaving directly from the weavers. Accommodation: Riverview Hotel or similar.
Day 13 Dec. 19 (b,l,d) Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Hike (altitude: 7,400 feet)
After breakfast, we will return to Paro for our last two nights in the Dragon Kingdom. Upon arrival in Paro, we’ll hike to the magical monastery known as Taktsang (the “Tiger’s Nest”). Taktsang is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World. The monastery itself is perched on a granite cliff that drops 2,000 feet to the valley floor. The name is derived from a legend that Guru Rinpoche flew across the mountains to this spot on the back of a tigress, reaching a cave in which he meditated for three months, converting the people of Paro Valley to Buddhism during his stay.
The path takes us through a forest of oak, blue pine and rhododendron, arriving at a small Chorten surrounded by prayer flags. With a little more effort, we will reach a teahouse and a spectacular view of the Taktsang temples. That will be our lunch stop and then onto the amazing temple. Accommodation: Hotel Zhiwaling.
Day 14 Dec. 20 (b,l,d) Paro
Today you may decide to spend time at this luxury hotel to relax, rewind, pack and rest. Or you may go for last minute shopping, and sightseeing.
The hotel’s spa offers all the amenities of a modern fitness center: sauna, steam room, gym, and a traditional Bhutanese stone bath. There is a business center, tea house, conference room, and a meditation house. One of the restaurants offers contemporary international cuisine and the other, classic Bhutanese dishes. For after-hours fun, everyone gathers at the Mad Monk Bar.
Visit to the Ta Dzong, the watchtower of the Paro Dzong which now houses the National Museum. The museum is an important center for the preservation of Bhutanese artifacts, culture and history. It contains collections of traditional handicrafts, ancient weapons, religious costumes, Thangkhas, stamps, and even a gallery of stuffed animals.
After the Museum, we will visit the Rinpung Dzong (the full name of the Paro Dzong), which means “the fortress of the heap of jewels.” This complex houses the administrative and religious headquarters for the Paro district. A part of Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie, “Little Buddha,” was filmed inside this dzong. Accommodation: Hotel Zhiwaling.
Day 15 Dec. 21 (b,l,d) Paro to Bangkok
Back to the airport to depart from the Land of the Thunder Dragon and return to Bangkok. Today we leave our hosts and make our way back to the airport and get ready for our flights home. We say our last goodbyes, hugs and kisses as we prepare to take our new dream of heaven back to our lives.
Day 16 Dec 22 (-) Bangkok to Home
You will cross the dateline again, arriving home on the same day that you leave Bangkok.
Bhutan cannot be described in any way – you simply must visit and experience the beauty of the both the landscapes and the amazing people!
The trip cost is: Coming soon – USD per person double occupancy, all meals and roundtrip airfare from Bangkok to Bhutan included. Last year cost was $5195.00 USD per person double occupancy, pricing will change for next year.
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