Day 1: Singapore to Paro/Travel to Thimphu (altitude: 7,700 feet). Early morning 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 meet with our local guide and the Driver. We’ll then drive (1 and half hours) through the beautiful agricultural valley of Paro and winding road following the Pa Chu (Paro River) downstream to its confluence with the Wang Chu (Thimphu River), then up-valley to Thimphu, the capital. Upon arrival in Thimphu (the only capital city no traffic light!), we'll explore Bhutan's exotic capital city—a fascinating combination of traditional and contemporary life.
There are numerous things to do here. A visit to Memorial Chorten, a sacred shrine built in honor of the late 3rd King. 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). Many visitors visit the gigantic statue of Buddha Dodrema, 169ft tall, overlooking the beautiful Thimphu valley. Later we visit Zantopelri Lhakhang, the replica of Guru Rinpoche’s celestial abode and explore vegetable market, where you get an opportunity to mingle with locals. Evening at leisure. Overnight in Thimphu.
Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: L, D
Day 2: Thimphu/Drive to Trongsa via Punakha (altitude: 7,200 feet). This early morning, we will head eastward to Trongsa valley for about 3 hours via Punakha and Wangdiphodrang valley; we will pass by Simtokha Dzong built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the man who unified Bhutan). Simtokha is the oldest of the Dzongs, originally serving as a fortress to protect the region, an administrative center and the center for the monk’s religious activity.
The road winds through pine forests and small villages, 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. At the pass, we'll see 108 newly built chortens (stupas) dedicated to Bhutan's continued peace and happiness.
As we descend from the Pass and continue our drive to the lowlands of Punakha Valley, we will notice the dramatic change in vegetation. At the lower elevation of the valley floor, cactus, banana plants, poinsettia and other semi-tropical plants dominate the landscape. After a few hours, we will come to the green terraced fields of Punakha Valley, where red rice and winter wheat are the staple crops.
In the village of Lobesa, we will enjoy a nice short hike to visit Chime Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who as a favourite 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 (learn more about Drukpa Kuenley from "The Blessings of Bhutan" by Russ and Blyth Carpenter and "The Divine Madman" by Keith Dowman). Later we'll visit the Punakha Dzong, the "Palace of Great Happiness" built in 1647 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the one who unified Bhutan. The Dzong lies between the Pho Chu (male river) and the Mo Chu (female river), and is the winter home of the central monk body.
After the Dzong, we'll drive about 4 hours to Trongsa enjoying magnificent views of small villages, terraced fields, diverse forests of exotic Himalayan plants, trees and wildflowers. As we climb higher up and above the cloud the forest gets more beautiful with big 30-40 feet rhododendron trees, and massive hemlock and fir trees. Near the Pelela Pass (10,825 feet), we'll enjoy a nice walk through a beautiful forest of rhodendron and fields of dwarf bamboo in a good high altitude birding area. This is a likely time to see yaks, as they live only in high altitudes.
Before reaching Trongsa, 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! Overnight in Trongsa.
Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 3: Trongsa to Jakar, Bumthang (altitude: 8,500 feet). This morning, we will visit Trongsa Dzong and explore the surrounding area. 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 Trongsa. 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 Wangchuk became the first king of Bhutan. To this day, the Crown Prince of Bhutan becomes the Penlop of Trongsa before ascending the throne, signifying its historical importance.
After visiting the Dzong, we’ll continue our drive for about 3 hours east to Jakar (Bumthang), crossing the Yutong La Pass (11,200 feet). We may visit "Sangna Thig Chog Lhakhang", the temple of prophecy on the way into Bumthang. This is a very special temple, newly built as per the predictions and prophesies of the oracle of Damchen Dorji Lekpa, one of the most important protective deities of the Nyingma School of Buddhism founded by Guru Rinpoche. As we near the first of the four beautiful valleys of Bumthang, Himalayan blue pine dominates the landscape. In the village of Chumey, we’ll stop at a special wool shops. This place is famous for Yathra weaving, colorful hand-woven woollen textiles.
Bumthang is one of the most beautiful and sacred areas of Bhutan, known for the visits of Guru Rinpoche, when he was bringing Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century. Guru Rinpoche is considered the second Buddha and the founder of Tantric Buddhism. The open and wide valleys filled with fields and farmers, and the gentle slopes of beautiful mountains dotted with many sacred temples and monasteries, make for an unforgettable experience.
Later afternoon, we’ll visit Jambay Lhakhang (one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in 7th century) and visit Kurjey Lhakhang (where the Guru Rinpoche subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock). Hike to visit the Tamshing Monastery (one of the oldest monastic schools built by Terton Pema Lingpa), on the way back visit Jakar Dzong, (seat of the district administration). Evening stroll in Chamkhar Town. Overnight in Jakar.
Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 4: Jakar, Bumthang to Lhuntse via Mongar (Altitude: 4,100 feet). After breakfast, drive to Ura village and visit Ura Lhakhang and then continue drive for about 6-7 hours to Lhuntse via Mongar through Thrumshingla Pass (3750 mts highest pass on this east -west highway). The drive is through the dense forest of rhododendrons and mixed forests. Picnic lunch will be served En-route. You will begin your journey to eastern Bhutan, which is different from western and central Bhutan in term of development and lifestyle. The steepness of the region lends itself to some spectacular views, with rushing waterfalls and sheer drops. The drive on this is an exhilarating 8 hours from Thrumshing La once again you will see the spectacular views of the Himalayan range on the clear day.
Before reaching Mongar town, we drive towards Lhuentse (Kurtoe), one of the isolated districts in Bhutan, but this region is famed for its weavers and special textiles with intricate designs in the country. Guru Rinpoche has visited many times and blessed this isolated mountain valley as Baeyul (The valley of Hidden Treasures). Many great Buddhist philosopher and masters had visited and constructed several Buddhist center and temples for the benefit of local communities. Overnight in Lhuntse.
Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 5: Lhuntse valley. After breakfast we drive about 1 hour and half towards Dungkhar village, the ancestor home of the Royal Dynasty and we may drive further to visit Kuenzangling temple, been blessed by Kuenkhen Longchen Ramjampa. We drive the same way back to Lhuntse visiting the home of the weavers as there are no factories for weaving but only at the homes of the villager and then we’ll drive to Takila through Tangmachu village to visit huge statue of Guru Nangsey Zilnon, constructed recently by Khenpo Karpo, prophesied by Meme Lama Sonam Zangpo for the wellbeing of the people and the country. Overnight at Lhuntse. Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 6: Lhuntse to Trongsa. After breakfast we drive same way back to Bumthang crossing Trumshing la and Yotongla passes. Overnight at Trongsa. Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 7: Trongsa to Paro via Thimphu (altitude - 7,400 feet). After breakfast we drive to Paro valley via Thimphu crossing Pelela and Dochula pasess. Overnight in Paro. Accommodation: 3 star hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 8: Paro (Taktshang Hike). After an early breakfast, you will drive to Paro and drop us at the starting point of the hike to Taktshang. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the tress festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. You stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike (if not tired) for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the imposing Taktshang monastery. Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of the sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rinpoche is supposed to have meditated here for 3 months and it is considered one of the most sacred places for Buddhists.
After the hike, we’ll visit Kichu Lhakhang/Temple, built in 7th century by Tibetan Buddhist King Songtsen Gonpo in order to pin down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet and then 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. Evening take leisure walks along the 200 meters stretch of Paro town for last minute shopping and also packing. Overnight at Hotel in Paro. Accommodation: 3 star Hotel Meals: B, L, D
Day 9: Departure from Paro International Airport. After a early breakfast at our hotel, we'll drive to the airport to depart from the Land of the Thunder Dragon and return to your home.
*** Photography is restricted inside the shrine of the Dzongs and temples. However, it is allowed in the courtyard of the Dzongs. Formal attire (long pants and long sleeve) is required and shoes need to be removed when we entire the shrine/temples as a mark of respect***
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