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Bhutan: the Hidden Kingdom Tour
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Bhutan: the Hidden Kingdom Tour

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 15 - 20 day(s)
Group Size: 2 - 10 people
Destination(s): Bhutan  
Specialty Categories: Walking Tours   Festival Tours  
Season: January - December
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: No
Minimum Per Person Price: 4000 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 4500 US Dollar (USD)

There is no better time to visit Bhutan than during the Tsechu Festivals. The annual celebrations around Bhutan are marked by incredible colors and exhilarating festivity. The adventure begins before your plane even touches down as you will be treated to breathtaking views of the Himalayas on your descent into Paro.

Explore some of the memorable sites, such as the Taktsang Monastery built into a sheer mountain face 3000 feet above Paro, before heading towards Thimphu for one of the largest Tsechu festivals in the land. Savor the incredible spiritual energy of the traditional dances and other celebrations, as you immerse yourself in the unique and inspiring local custom.

Carry-on to Bumthang for a similar, yet distinctly different, experience, and enjoy many other classic Bhutanese sites along the way. Don’t pass up this opportunity to experience one of the most spectacular religious festivals anywhere on earth. Note that festival dates sometimes vary on short notice. Ask about other temple festivals held throughout the year and available on a private departure basis.

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive to Paro. Arrive to Paro. During this journey, you will experience breathtaking views of the Himalayan ranges including Mt. Jichu Drak and Chomolhari. After your arrival in Paro, you will be welcomed by your guide at the airport and then transferred to your hotel, where you will have a briefing by your guide. You will have the afternoon and evening free to rest or walk around Paro (7380 feet) and savor the feeling of a country that seems to be existing in an earlier century. From the dress of the people to the traditional architecture, you know you are in a different kind of place than exists anywhere else on earth. You will be amazed at the fresh, clean air and peaceful environment.

Day 2: Full day guided tour around Paro. Spend a full day on a guided tour of Paro including the Drugyel Dzong, now in ruins, built to commemorate the victory of war against the Tibetan invasion. Afterward, visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the holiest and oldest temples in Bhutan. This temple, built in the seventh century AD, dates back to the time of the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. You also visit the National Museum and the Paro Rimpung Dzong, both very unique and beautiful structures. The museum houses an exceptional collection of art and ceremonial objects. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight.

Day 3: Paro/Thimphu. Enjoy a morning hike to Taktsang, the famous "Tiger's Nest" Monastery, a very sacred monastery built in the 17th century in memory of Guru Rimpoche. The monastery is now rebuilt after a disastrous fire in April 1998. This is a fairly vigorous hike and the trail may be a bit muddy. If you are unable to make the hike, we can hire a pony for you to ride, or you can view the monastery from the road below. After lunch, drive about two hours to Thimphu (7710 feet) for your overnight. Thimphu is a charming town that sits in the heart of the Himalays. Thimphus development is strictly monitored and buildings cannot exceed a certain high nor can they be designed in anything but the traditional Bhutanese style.

Day 4: Thimphu Festival. Enjoy the colorful dances of the Thimphu Tsechu Festival. This is a festival in honor of Guru Rimpoche and is highlighted by 12 events of the Buddha Sakyamuni's life. The dances are performed by monks as well as lay people taking on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes, demons, and animals.

Day 5: Thimphu/Punakha. In the morning, visit Thimphu's local sights such as the National Library, established in 1967 to preserve many ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts, Tashicho Dzong, the main Secretariat building, and Zelukha Nunnery. Afterwards, you make the three hour drive (about 50 miles) to Punakha. Blessed with temperate climate and fed by the Pho-chu (male) and Mo-chu (female) Rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Until 1955, Punakha served as the capital and is even today the winter seat of Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and central monk body. The Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of the Pho-chu and Mo-chu Rivers in 1638 by Shabdrung and renovated from 1994-2003 with detailed arts and crafts. Punakha is also home to many different types of Himalayan birds including the heron, kingfisher, lapwing, ibis bill, shell duck, and cormorant, which all migrate in the winter.

Day 6: Punakha/Trongsa. In the morning, visit Punakha Dzong, the second of Bhutan's dzongs, which served as the seat of the government for many years. Today's drive will be about five hours (85 miles) across the Pele La region. Along the way you can see many different species of rhododendrons in bloom (April and May only) and many other plants. Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. It is from here the first monarchy was elected and the crown prince still traditionally has to take the position of governor before he takes the seat of the throne. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular for miles on end. This afternoon, visit the Kuenga Rabten village where you can visit the waterfall. Just above the king's second palace, there is a nunnery where hundreds of nuns practice Buddhism. Overnight at a hotel in Trongsa.

Day 7: Trongsa/Bumthang (Jakar). After breakfast, visit Ta-Dzong, the most impressive dzong in the kingdom and possibly one of the most aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture. Afterwards, you will drive to Jakar, the major trading center of this region. If you have time, you may wish to walk along the road in the beautiful surroundings for part of the way. This two and a half hour drive (about 40 miles) will be across the Yotong-La Pass at an altitude of 11685 feet and down the Chumey valley until you finally arrive in Jakar. In the afternoon, visit the Jakar Dzong built in 1667. The dzong itself may not be as impressive as other dzongs throughout Bhutan as there are few carvings or paintings, but the views overlooking the Chokhor Valley are spectacular. There are plenty of hiking opportunities while in Bumthang. Overnight at a Bhutanese-style lodge.

Day 8: Bumthang. After breakfast you will visit the sites around Bumthang including the Namkhe Nyingpo Goemba Monastery, built in the 1970's with over 300 monks residing. In the Chokhor Valley there are opportunities for hiking and visits to interesting sites and monasteries including the monastic school of Sey Lhakhang, which holds about 25 students, Jampey Lhakhang, though to have been built in 659 by the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo in order to subdue a Tibetan demoness. Charkhar Lhakang (Iron Castle), originally made of iron.

Kurjey Lhakhang, a large and important temple complex containing the preserved body of Guru Rinpoche, the yellow-roofed Thangbi Goemba, founded in 1470, Ngang Lhakhang, which is several hours walk up the Chokhor Chhu and contains some impressive statues and paintings, Tamshing Goemba, the most important Nyingma goemba in the country, and Konchogsum Lhakhang, built in the sixth or seventh century but renovated in 1995, making it appear new. At Tang Valley, the most remote valley in the Bumthang region where sheep and yaks are raised, you can visit Membartsho (Burning Lake), a picturesque pool and a relaxing place to spend some time meditating.

There is also Kunzangdrak Goemba, which is a difficult, one hour hike uphill if you enjoy the challenge. The Ogyen Chholing Palace is another 45 minute climb uphill, but has an interesting collection of studies and research offering insight into the lifestyle of a Bhutanese noble family. Alternatively, you can make the one and a half hour drive to Ura, the highest valley in Bumthang, and probably one of the most interesting villages in Bhutan. Here you will enjoy seeing the closely packed houses along cobblestone streets, which give this town its medieval atmosphere.

Day 9: Bumthang Festival. You spend the day witnessing the Bumthang Festival at Tamshing Monastery. The festival is celebrated in honor of Pema Lingpa and you will have the rare opportunity to watch the mask dances performed by the monks of the monastery. This is a much smaller monastery and festival than the one you saw in Thimphu, but the monk-dancers are spirited and the setting is wonderful. During your stay, you may also be able to see a thangkha unveiling at another monastery.

Day 10: Bumthang/Wangdue. In the morning you depart for Wangdue (about 120 miles/7 hours drive), a small town where the houses have roofs made of slate mined at Tashi Chholing and Tseshinang on the hills overlooking Wangdue. Here you visit Wangdue Dzong, which sits high on a ridge between Punak Tsang Chhu and Dang Chhu. The dzong was founded in 1638 by the Zhabdrung.

Day 11: Wangdue/Paro. Return to Paro for your overnight (about 80 miles/5 hours drive). The rest of the day is free to do some last minute shopping or exploring places you want to see again.

Day 12: Paro/Onward. Transfer for your flight back home or continue travel.

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

Price Includes:
- All airport transfers
- Standard government approved accommodation (in twin share rooms)
- English speaking Bhutanese tour guides
- All sightseeing tours, monument/museum entrance fees as per itinerary
- All meals fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner with tea and coffee
- Cultural afternoon/evening consisting of traditional mask dances and folk dances (with beverages)
- For group tours mineral water supply for the trek or tour
- Government royalty (which is 35 per cent of USD 200) this goes to the country's health and education projects
- Private transport and driver within Bhutan
- Government taxes
- Bhutan visa fees.

Price Excludes:
- Bottled/alcoholic/cold drinks, room service and "a la carte" meals
- Your travel insurance (compulsory)
- International airfares and airport departure tax
- Photography charges (if and when applicable)
- Items of a personal nature such as laundry
- Personal equipment
- Tips.

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