01Fly Kathmandu (or Delhi or Bangkok) to Bhutan.
Fly to Paro with Druk Air (either from Delhi, Kathmandu or Bangkok). During your flight to Paro, you will experience breathtaking views of the Himalayan Peaks including sacred Chomolhari and Mt. Jichu Drake in Bhutan. On arrival at Paro International Airport you will be met by our representative. After lunch, we head out through idyllic countryside of terraced rice fields interspersed with rhododendron and pine forests as we make a 1.3-hour drive to Thimphu, the tiny capital at 7,600 feet. En route, we see our first examples of Bhutan’s remarkable traditional architecture, one of the country’s unique cultural treasures. Even the most remote village farmhouses are hand-crafted using the same ancient methods used to create Bhutan’s religious fortress-dzongs. Afternoon sightseeing in Thimphu. Overnight at a hotel in Thimpu
Thimphu is a busting town on the bank of the Thimphu Chu(river) and set gloriously in the hills of the Thimphu valley. It became Bhutan’s official national capital in the year 1961. It is home to the Bhutanese Royal Family, the Royal Government and to several foreign missions and development projects. Bhutan’s only golf course, a nine – hole circuit, is situated next to the magnificent Tashichodzong. The capital city still has only few streets and no traffic lights.
02Excursions from Thimpu
13 KM north of Thimphu to Dodena. A one-hour hike this morning brings us up to Tango Monastery, a monastic school and retreat built in the 15th century. The monastery is the residence of the Druk Desi Gyaltsen Tenzin Rabgye, a lama who is a reincarnation of the 16th century monk who founded Tango (tango means horse’s head; the monastery is named for a rock formation on the mountain it is built on). Tango’s inner courtyard is beautifully painted in bright colors, with lovely views stretching across the Thimphu Valley. We descend and head by road to the Bagana bridge for a two-hour hike on a fairly level trail through beautiful riverside village of Kabesa. Enroute we stop to visit the Choki Traditoinal Art School (CTAS), the only charitable art school in the Kingdom which gives opportunity to the economically disadvantaged students from different parts of Bhutan. Students of Choki Traditional Art School graduate with traditional arts and crafts skills which they can put to use to earn good living back in their home village. A presentation by the principal will be organized followed by lunch at the school. After lunch there will be a campus tour and visit to the classrooms where the guest can interact with the students. Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.
Total Hiking Time: About 3 Hours.
03Drive Thimphu - Dochu La - Punakha
We head out of town on a spectacular 3 Hrs drive to Punakha crossing the Dochu La Pass at 3100mtrs from where you can see the 108 beautiful chortens built by Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. From this pass, on a clear day, you can have a superb view of the highest peaks in Bhutan. After a hot lunch at a café atop the pass and time to savor the mountain views, we continue our drive to the Punakha Valley via the tiny village of Thinleygang (6,000'), the starting point for our afternoon hike of about 2.5 hours to Lobsakha village.
Our hike brings us into a serene region of small villages interspersed with rice and wheat fields, and we may see farmers plowing fields with oxen as we hike along the trail. The forests on the mountainsides are home to barking deer, Himalayan black bear, and wonderful birdlife, from Himalayan barbets to cuckoos. Overnight at Hotel in Punakha.
Total Hiking Time: About 2.5 Hours.
Punakha: Punakha is located in the low sub tropical valley about 4100 feet and was the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It is still the winter home of the Chief Abbot today. The warmer climate in Punakha allows for the production of two rice crops each year, along with oranges, mangos, and bananas. In Punakha, we may see people from the remote village of Laya. The Layap, as they are known, are yak herders who make the three- or four-day walk to Punakha from their high-altitude villages in northwest Bhutan. Women of Laya wear conical bamboo hats with a center spike of bamboo, and Laya’s men wear black woolen coats.
04Drive and hike Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten
Drive 7KM from Punakha to Nezigang village and hike to Khamsum yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a shrine built by Her Majesty the Queen, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck in 1999. The shrine is perched high on a hill on the opposite bank of the Mo chu river offering superb views of the Punakha valley. The hike is a gradual ascent through cultivated rice fields and little hamlets. We hike back down and follow ancient riverside trails amid whitewashed farmhouses, with a picnic lunch en route. In the afternoon, we visit the Punakha Dzong, built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It stands majestically at the junction of the two rivers – Pho Chu and Mo Chu(the Male and Female rivers). The Punakha Dzong is an architectural wonder and it has played a prominent role in the civil and religious life of the Kingdom. The Dzong had been destroyed four times by fire, earthquake and flood. The Dzong has been now fully restored to its original splendor. The official name of Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang translates as "the palace of great happiness." Overnight at Hotel.
Total Hiking Time: About 4 Hours.
05Chimi Lhakhang - Wangde Phodrang - Phobjikha
A half-hour walk through mustard fields brings us to Chimi Lhakhang (lhakhang means temple), a monastery and fertility temple dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as “the divine madman” and considered a folk hero in Bhutan for his unconventional ways. Drukpa Kuenley originally built a chorten on the site in the 14th century. The temple, flanked by nearly 100 tall prayer flags, sits atop a picturesque hill and has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples. Later, we drive to the Phobjikha Valley (9,500'), with a visit en route to remarkable Wangdue Phodrang, a 17th century fortress-dzong perched on a spur. We continue to the Phobjikha Valley for overnight at a lodge.
Total Hiking Time: About 2 Hours.
06Hike in the Phobjikha Valley and then drive to Wangdue
Today we hike in the beautiful environment of the Phobjikha Valley. It is a glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains. The only Nyingmapa monastry, Gangtey goemba sits prominently on a hill top. The valley is a designated conservation area and borders on the Black Mountain National Park. Because of the large flock of black-necked cranes(Grus nigricollis) that winter here, it is one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country. The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN), Crane Observation & Education Center was established in the Phobjikha Valley in 1996 by Bhutan’s government, with assistance from the World Wildlife Fund. The center studies the conservation needs of the valley and holds workshops for farmers and students. Here you can use the centers powerful binoculars to observe the cranes in the valley and also get information about the cranes. The rare and endangered black- necked crane occupies a special place in Bhutanese hearts and folklore. Its arrival every autumn from Tibet inspires songs and dances; it usually heralds the end of the harvesting season and signals the villagers that it’s now time to pack up and go to the warmer lower valleys since Phobjikha valley is snowed-in during the winter months. The world’s entire population of about 5000 black-necked cranes breeds in Tibet and Ladakh. They winter in south-central Tibet and Bhutan. Total Hiking Time: About 3-4 Hours.
After lunch drive to Wangdue and stay in a lovely river-side Lodge.
07Drive to Thimphu
A five-hour drive brings us back to Thimphu, recrossing the magnificent Dochu La Pass at 3100 Mtrs with the 108 stupas. After having lunch at the restaurant on the pass, we continue our drive to Thimphu. In the afternoon we will visit the Takin preserve which is the national animal of Bhutan. Visit the Kuensel phodrang where you will be able to see the biggest Buddha statue standing at 50 meters from the ground and overlooking the Thimphu city. Visit the Choki Handicrafts shop where Bhutanese textiles and other handicrafts are displayed and can be purchased. The shop is closely linked to Choki Traditional Art School – many of the goods are produced in the school itself and all proceeds go towards the upkeep of the school and the provision of tuition for the students. Later, visit the Tashichho Dzong. The ‘Fortress of the glorious religion’ houses the throne room of His Majesty the king, the main secretariat building and the central monk body. Its courtyard is open to visitors during the off-office hours.
Overnight at Hotel.
08Drive to the Haa Valley
Haa Valley is set at an altitude of about 9,000 feet in western Bhutan. Just opened to outsiders in 2001, the Haa region is pristine and holds a wealth of traditional culture. It was for many centuries the centre for trade between western Bhutan and the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. The mountain-ringed valley is dotted with fields of millet, barley, potatoes, and wheat. Its farmhouses are beautiful and richly adorned with traditional painted motifs. Three prominent hills dot the valley and are believed by the locals to be the physical manifestations of three very important Buddhist saints. The left-hand hill represents Manjushri (the god of wisdom who holds the flaming sword that cuts the knot of ignorance), the middle one is Chenrizig (the Buddha of compassion, of which the Dalai Lama is the human incarnation), and the right-hand hill is Chana Dorji (the protector god of Bhutan). Collectively they are known as rigsum (three hills). After lunch at our lodge, we visit Lhakhang Karpo (“temple of the white dove”), a monastery believed to have been built in the 8th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, after he sent two doves (one black and one white) to find a sacred place to build a monastery. Another legend tells how the local nomads erected the temples in a single day—hence the name of the valley, Haa, meaning “sudden.” The Lhakhang Karpo houses around 120 monks and is one of the oldest buildings in Bhutan. Visit the Haa dzong situated in the center of the valley. Overnight at a lovely traditional Lodge in Haa.
09Trek to Damothang - Riverside Camp
At Wangtse village, we rendezvous with our Bhutanese camp staff and horsemen and set off for our first trekking day. From Wangtse we hike up to a ridge top then descend gradually to Karsha Chorten, ascending again to reach Kartsho Monastery. After exploring this large monastic complex, we continue with a gradual walk to Damothang meadow at 9,550 feet, where we camp for the night. Our staff prepares our dinner. Tonight we will set up a rustic hot- stone bath for those who wish to enjoy a relaxing soak. Overnight at camp.
Total Hiking Time: About 5-6 Hours.
10Trek to Yongto / Riverside Camp
From Damothang, we hike gradually up through beautiful rhododendron and pine forests to Motori Ridge for spectacular views across the Haa Valley. From here a gradual descent brings us to Yongto at 8,760 feet, where we camp in a meadow next to the Haa River. Along the river banks here we see a shrine with a prayer flag flying in honor of Chunfu, the local protector-deity. In the late afternoon, we walk to Yongto village for an opportunity to meet the locals, perhaps sample some butter tea or the local wine, and hike up above the village to Yongto Gompa, one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. This evening, villagers from Yongto visit us at our camp to share their traditional dances. Overnight at camp.
Total Hiking Time: About 3-4 Hours.
11Drive to Paro / Paro Festival
The 2 Hrs winding road from Haa to Paro ascends through pastureland past grazing yaks, before reaching the 3,900m Cheli La Pass. 4KM below the pass towards Paro valley at a turn-off is a hearders’ camp marked by prayer flags. From here hiking trails lead up for 45 minutes to Kila goemba a nunnery, established as a meditation site in the 9th century and reputedly the oldest nunnery in Bhutan. The hike to the nunnery is truly rewarded with a superb view of the Himalayan Mountains and the Paro valley. Driving down into the Paro Valley, the scenery transforms from sub-alpine pasture brilliant with wildflowers, to lush forests of blue pine, cypress, larch, fir and rhododendron.
After freshening up at our hotel, we head out to visit the National Museum, housed in the round, multi-storied Ta Dzong, built in 1775. The museum's collection includes ancient artifacts, weapons, and stamps, and an incredible collection of silver teaware. From Ta Dzong, we drive to the nearby Paro Dzong, the religious and secular center of the Paro Valley where the Paro festival would be taking place. Overnight in Paro at the exquisite Zhiwaling Hotel.
Bhutan’s Festivals: The Tshechu is a festival in honour of Padmasambhava popularly known under the name of “Guru Rinpoche”, the precious teacher. This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffussion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc. around 800 A.D. During the Tshechus (pronounced say-choo), chaams (religious dances) are performed either by monks or by lay people. The dances take place in beautiful monastery courtyards under the brilliant cobalt sky. The Tshechu is a religious festival and it is believed that these dances bring blessings upon the onlookers to instruct them in the teaching of the Buddhist dharma and protect them from evil influences. It is also a yearly social gathering where the people come together to rejoice dressed in all their finery. It is in this way that the festivals become a showcase for Bhutan's highly developed indigenous art of textile weaving.
12Hike to the famous Taktsang Monastery
In the morning we attend the Paro festival and Hike to the famous Tigers lair “Taktshang Lhakhang” Clinging to a black rock face, 900 meters above the valley floor, nestles Taktshang Lhakhang, one of the holiest and the most beautiful site of Bhutan. Taktshang, the tiger's lair, acquires its name from the legend of its foundation, when in the 8th Century Guru Rinpoche, widely revered as the second Buddha, arrived from Tibet flying across the mountains on the back of a tigress. He meditated at the site for three months, from where he used the religious cycle of the Kagye to subjugate the Eight Categories of Evil Spirits, and thus converted the region to Buddhism. The hike to the Monastery is a gradual climb through the quiet approach path winds through lush meadow, oak and rhododendron forest, past quaint hamlets, fluttering prayer flags and rotating prayer wheels. The hike takes you about 4-5 hours from the car park for a round trip.
Total Hiking Time: About 4-5 Hours.
Overnight in Paro at the exquisite Zhiwaling Hotel.
13Fly Paro to onward destination
Transfer to the airport for your onward bound flight to Bangkok, Kathmandu or Delhi.