Day 1: Participants arrive from around the world to join together at our meeting point in Bangkok, Thailand. We will meet you upon arrival outside the Customs Hall at the Bangkok airport after customs and immigration formalities. Transfer to your nearby hotel for a restful afternoon or evening and a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, we make our early departure to begin our adventure in magical Bhutan!
Day 2: Bangkok to Paro. After an early breakfast, we return to Bangkok's airport to board our spectacular flight destined to the lofty snow–capped Himalayas and to Paro, Bhutan. After custom formalities at the Paro airport you will be welcomed by your Bhutanese guide to the enchanting land of the Thunder Dragon! After a short drive we will reach our comfortable hotel where you can rest or begin to explore locally on your own. There is plenty of time today to stroll through the colorful streets of central Paro and take–in the new sights, sounds and distinct culture of this fabled land. Overnight at our Paro hotel.
Day 3: Paro Valley sightseeing. After breakfast, visit the watchtower Ta Dzong, now the National Museum of Bhutan. Continue down the valley to Rinpung Dzong with its long and fascinating history. After lunch, we visit to Drukgyel Dzong — a fortress ruin where the Bhutanese fought invasions from the Tibetan armies. Later we visit a traditional family farmhouse with a glimpse into the lifestyle of the local people and their rich agricultural heritage. On our return, we visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom. We return to our Paro hotel this evening.
Day 4: Hike to Taktsang Monastary and drive to Thimphu. We hike to the site of Tiger's Nest, the Taktsang Monastery perched some 2,000ft/600m up a sheer cliff overlooking the valley. Legend says that Indian saint, Guru Padmasambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to this spot to defeat five demons who opposed the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. Lunch is served at the tea house with majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro valley below. Later this afternoon we drive east to Thimphu in about two hours to check–in to our hotel.
Day 5: Thimphu sightseeing. Early this morning, take a self–guided 15 minute stroll from our hotel to the Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, where many Bhutanese gather to pray every day. Return for breakfast and to begin exploring with a visit to a nunnery, Changgangkha Lhakhang. We'll visit the School of Arts and Crafts where Bhutanese children follow an eight-year program in traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture. Then it's off to the Folk Heritage Museum and Thimpu's small zoo to discover the national animal (the Takin). We stop to visit the national library and then enjoy a break. Following lunch, we visit an indigenous hospital, hand–made paper makers, gold and silver artisans and finally a fine handicraft emporium. Return to overnight at our Thimphu hotel.
Day 6: Thimphu to Punakha. After breakfast, we drive to Punakha, the old winter capital of Bhutan. Before we arrive, we'll stop at Dochu La Pass (10,000ft/3,048m). Here we view the panorama of the eastern Himalayas — including Bhutan's highest mountain, Gangkar Punsum (24,770ft/7,550m). Our road descends through dense forest, emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha Valley. In Punakha, we visit massive Punakha Dzong. It's a 20-minute gentle walk across the lush rice fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple and on to the tiny settlement of Pana. The temple is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some very beautiful slate carvings. Later this evening we visit Wangduephodrang Dzong fortress which dates to 1639. Overnight at our Punakha hotel.
Day 7: Punakha to Phobjikha. After breakfast we ascend through Black Mountain to remote Gangtey in Phobjikha Valley. Beautiful Gangtey Goenpa Monastery, one of the oldest and the largest Nyingma Schools in western Bhutan, sits atop of the hill overlooking wide Phobjikha Valley - a designated conservation area. Flocks of rare and endangered Black–Necked Cranes migrate annually from Tibet and Siberia from October to March. These cranes (called Thrung Thrung Karmo locally) have inspired many Bhutanese folk songs, dances, myths and legends. Observe unique mating dances and rituals as you amble through the valley. We overnight at our Phobjikha hotel.
Day 8: Phobjikha to Bumthang. Following breakfast we cross the Black Mountains at Pele La Pass and continue through ever–changing lush vegetation and dramatic landscapes, passing many small villages along the way. We arrive in Trongsa in about three hours for lunch. After our rest in town, we continue over Yotong La Pass and then down to Bumthang. We will stop at Zugney Village to see weavers at their craft before we finally arrive at our Bumthang hotel.
Day 9: Exploring Bumthang Valley. Pay a morning visit to Jamba Lhakhang, a temple built in the 7th. century and then approach Jakar Dzong (castle of the white bird) built in 1667, located on picturesque point overlooking the Choskhor Valley. Nearby is Wangdichholing Palace, the first palace not designed as a fortress. It was built in 1857 on the battle camp site of the Penlop of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyal. We continue to Kurjey Lhakhang Temple, named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche (preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings in the temple complex). The oldest temple was built in 1652 by Mingyur Tenpa, when he was Penlop of Trongsa. The next temple was built by Ugyen Wangchuk (the first king of Bhutan) in 1900. The third temple is an elaborate three-storey lhakhang built by Ashi Kesang Wangchuk in 1984, under the guidance of Diglo Khyentse Rimpoche.
Crossing the suspension bridge to Tamshing , we arrive at Tamshing Goemba Monastery, established in 1501 — the most important in the kingdom. Pema Lingpa built the Monastery with the help of Khandroms (female celestial beings) who made many of his statues. For more modern and earthly detours in Jakar, we should also make essential stops at the local cheese factory and brewery before we return to our Bumthang hotel for the night.
Day 10: Tang Valley. It's a day to investigate Tang, the third valley of Bumthang, to visit the Tang Ugen Choling Palace built in 1825 by Trongsa Governor, Deb Tshokey Dorji. We hike only one hour from the road. As incentive, your lunch is arranged in the palace! On our return, we'll stop at Taag Rimochen Lhakhang (Tiger Stripe Temple) before we return to our Bumthang hotel for a relaxing evening in town.
Day 11: To Mongar. From Bumthang, it's about an eight hour scenic drive to Mongar. Along the way we cross two passes (Sherthang La at 3573m and Thrumshing La at 3800m) as we follow several breathtaking roads which cling to the hillsides. These are the most spectacular roads in Bhutan, descending 3200m in only 84km distance. We journey through wide pasturelands and lush fields into to the Ura Valley (3000m). If our weather is good, just before the pass we find magnificient views to the north of Bhutan's highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (7540m).
Before Mongar, we pass through Sengor and Namling — the most hair–raising section of road in Bhutan. Hold tight! From Lingmithang (650m), our route climbs through corn and potato fields for about half an hour to the small town of Mongar at 1600m. This is the first town built on a mountainous slope instead of a valley. Valleys in Eastern Bhutan are usually little more than riverbeds with mountain slopes rising abruptly to their summits. We've made an amazing journey today so we're ready for a comfortable rest at our hotel in Mongar.
Day 12: Mongar to Lhuentse. After a restful night and breakfast we head to Mongaar Dzong, constructed in 1950. We'll take the road heading to Lhuntse, descending to follow Kurichu Stream — the biggest river in Bhutan. In about two hours, we reach Tsa Zam. Here we stop for a worthwhile stretch and hike about one hour to Khoma, a remote village renowned for its unique Kishu Thara textiles. After a leisurely visit to the village and its craftspeople, we make our return walk to the road to continue to to Lhuentse where we'll check–in to our hotel for a relaxing evening in this quaint village.
Day 13: Lhuentse to Trashigang. After our morning visit to Lhuentse Dzong, we head back to Mongar for lunch and continue to reach Tashigang. Leaving Mongar, our road ascends through green fields of corn and then to the Kori La Pass (2400m). After crossing the pass, our road drops through more lush corn fields and enters the upper Manas Chu drainage. Passing Ngatshang Lhakhang, a small private goemba, the road reaches the village of Yadi. Following the Gamri Chu, we arrive at Cha Zam and then a short–but–gradual uphill climb for 20 minutes to the village of Tashigang at 1100m where we will arrive at our hotel for tonight.
Day 14: Day trip to Trashi Yangtse. Following breakfast today, we take a day trip to visit Trashi Yangtse. Here we'll see Gom Kora and Chorten Kora stupas, built in traditional Nepali architecture. You'll find village craftspeople whose functional and artistic creations in woodworking and weaving are well–regarded. We'll return to Tashigang and our hotel after a an eye–opening and rewarding visit to this remote village and its people.
Day 15: Day trip to Ranjung and Radhi. Today we visit the small town of Ranjung. Before we reach town, we encounter the largest monastery in eastern Bhutan. After our visit, we travel onward for thirty minutes to Ranjung Village — famous for weavers of raw silk (Bura). We'll take along a full picnic lunch to enjoy while we visit. We'll return for a final night in our Tashigang hotel after another incredible day.
Day 16: Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar. After breakfast leave Trashigang for the southeast of Bhutan and Samdrup Jongkhar, near the India border. Along the way, we stop at the Handloom Weaving Center where many young girls learn to weave traditional patterns for textiles made in in the ancient way. We make many short stops to enjoy and photograph the wonderful views along the way. Our hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar will give us a good rest for our last night in magical Bhutan.
Day 17: Departure day. After our final Bhutanese breakfast, we'll cross the Bhutan border into India. Here we will drive about two and half hours to arrive at the Guwahati Airport of Assam for your return flight to Bangkok, Thailand and home. Trashi Delek!
Scheduled 2013 Dates: Bhutan East To West Tour March 31 – April 16, 2013 — From Guwahati City, Assam State, India
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