Bhutan is a land of many treasures. Not only is wealth measured by Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of traditional economic viability, but there is an unwavering connection between environmental sustainability and cultural preservation - at least 60% of the country must remain forested for future generations.
The majority of the Bhutanese population continues to live as it has for centuries, in small isolated farms and hamlets, surrounded by terraced fields of rice, maize, and buckwheat. On this comprehensive tour, explore the mountains, monasteries, and magic of a Himalayan Kingdom.
On a clear day, the flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular of all mountain flights. You will see major Himalayan peaks such as Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu, and on the final approach to Paro, Bhutan’s own snowy peaks of Chomolhari, Jichu Drake, and Tserimgang.
Upon arrival in Paro, meet your guide and drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. En-route stop at Chuzom, the confluence of Thimphu and Paro rivers. Three different styles of stupas adorn this confluence - Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese. Shortly before reaching Chuzom, you will see Tschogang Lhakhang, the Temple of the Excellent Horse. It is a private temple built in the 15th century as the result of visitation from Balaha, the excellent horse and a manifestation of Chenrezig, the compassionate Buddha. Overnight in Thimphu.
After breakfast, visit the following: The National Library, with its extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts; the Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undergo a six-year training course in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts; and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine where Bhutan’s famed traditional herbal medicines are compounded and dispensed. Continue to the Memorial Chorten, continuously circumambulated by people murmuring mantras and spinning the prayer wheels.
Later, explore Simply Bhutan, an exclusive project under the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF). It is a living museum and studio encapsulating the cultural heritage of the Bhutanese people. A distinctive feature of Simply Bhutan is that it is fully operated by young people and job seekers who receive on the job training in basic business and management skills, customer care, and other spheres of life. The fund generated through Simply Bhutan is utilized to run many of the youth development programs for vulnerable and disadvantaged youth under YDF.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
In the morning, drive to Gangtey (5 hours). En-route visit Dochula Pass and admire the chortens, Mani walls, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the high Himalayan peaks towards the northeast will be revealed in all their glory.
In the afternoon take a walk around Gangtey Village and visit Gangtey Gonpa, the only Nyingmapa monastery in the region. The village of Phobjikha neighbors the monastery on the valley floor. The quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, explore Gangtey (Phobjikha Valley) leisurely on foot. Walk to Kilkhorthang located between the upper and lower valleys of Phobjikha and extends from Kilkorthang on the eastern side and crosses the main river to the other side of the valley.
From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Monastery, head downhill through flower meadows to Semchubara Village and continue through beautiful forests and into the open valley.
Late evening walk to the nearby village for a traditional farm house dinner. Bhutanese farm houses are very colorful, decorative, and traditionally built without the use of nails. The majority of the population continues to live as it has for centuries – in small isolated farms and hamlets, surrounded by terraced fields of rice, maize and buckwheat.
Optional evening hot stone bath, historically believed to have medicinal benefits in healing joint pain, hypertension, arthritis, and stomach disorders. Overnight in Gangtey.
After breakfast, drive to Trongsa crosses Pelela pass (3,300 m), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large prayer flag and the ground is covered with high altitude dwarf bamboo. Stop en route at Chendbji Chorten, which was built in 18th century by a Lama named Shida, it is Nepalese in style with eyes painted at four cardinal points.
After lunch in Trongsa, proceed to visit Trongsa Dzong, built in 1648 it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat.
After sightseeing at Tronga, continue drive to Bumthang across Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass from Trongsa, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open cultivated valley known as the Chumey Valley. Chumey is particularly known for its famous wool weaving called Bumthang Yathra. Arrive in Bumthang and overnight.
Bumthang is the general name given to combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang, and Ura. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries.
After breakfast, visit Jambey Lhakhang. This monastery was built in the 7th century by a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
Then visit Kurje Lhakhang, consisting of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. The second temple was built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Today is an extensive yet spectacular drive across the country. En-route visit Ta Dzong, a recently opened fort in Trongsa. The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five stories, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.
Punakha Valley is famous for rice farming where both red and white rice are grown along the river valleys of Pho and Mo Chhu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. ‘Ritsha’ meaning ‘at the base of a hill’ is a typical village in Punakha. The village houses are made of pounded mud with stone foundations. The gardens also usually have fruit bearing plants like oranges and papaya among the organic vegetables. In the recent years, the farming work is mechanized and power-tillers instead of bullocks are used to plough the fields and villagers have become relatively prosperous.
Your evening can be spent exploring Punakha Village on the riverbank where the villagers may invite you for yak-butter tea or chili pancakes. Overnight.
After breakfast, a beautiful hike takes you to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability, and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. Visit Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers. It was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still serves as the winter residence of the monk body.
You may also take a short excursion to Chimi Lakhang: The Chimi Lakhang, situated on a hillock in the center of the valley, is known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children are blessed with fertility after a temple prayer.
If available, visit Nalanda Buddhist Institute and enjoy your evening tea with local monks. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Haa Valley descending back down from Dochu La before crossing through Paro Town towards the north end of the valley. En-route visit Kila Gompa Monastery. Established as a meditation site in the 9th century, it is considered the oldest nunnery in Bhutan. Approximately 50 nuns pursue a higher Buddhist college studies in buildings pressed dramatically against the cliffs. This is combined with a scenic hike from Cheli La, the highest drivable road in Bhutan, passing numerous chortens and prayer flags. You will also have the option to purchase prayer flags and place them on the hillside.
The Haa Valley was opened for the first time to foreign tourists in 2002. Adjoining the districts of Paro, Chhukha and Samtse, Haa Valley is one of the most picturesque places in the Kingdom. During the pre-Buddhist era, Haa Valley was known for its animist tradition. Inhabitants then were enthused in offering animal blood to their local deities. The tantric master, Guru Padma Sambhava, subdued the local deities like Ap Chundu and made the guardians of the Buddhist tradition. However, the traces of this belief system are still noticed in the form of festivals and rituals. Overnight.
After breakfast, visit Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo. It is a culturally rich valley and some of famous sites in this region are: 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum. The grand annual Haa Tshechu is also performed here at Lhakhang Karpo on the 8th-10th day of the 8th Bhutanese month.
Return to Paro for an evening stroll in the community market. Overnight.
In the morning, hike to Taktsang Monastery. Taktsang Monastery is also known as Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, founding father of the Bhutanese form of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery. The main structure was severely damaged by fire in 1998, but after many years of painstaking restoration work, the complex has now been fully restored to its former glory. Trek back to the vehicle and drive to Paro.
*Please allow a minimum of five hours for the roundtrip hike. Horses are available until the halfway point only.
Enjoy your final afternoon at leisure for relaxation, exploration, or contemplation. We find that our travelers often enjoy this time of reflection with no planned activities. Overnight in Paro
Today, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!