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Trails of Bhutan

13 days/12 nights

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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 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.

Highlights

National Institute of Traditional Medicine

Evening tea with monks at Nalanda Buddhist Academy

Meet with the weavers of Bumthang Yathra, the renowned wool textile

Haa Valley, considered one of the most picturesque valleys in the Kingdom 

Hike to Taktsang Monastety

 

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Itinerary

Itinerary Details: 13 days/12 nights

Day 1: Bhutan Arrival / Paro - Thimphu

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 our representative 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.

Day 2: 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. Later, visit 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 Thimphu.

Day 3: Thimphu - Gangtey 

After breakfast, enjoy a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La (3,080 m)  and on to the Phobjikha Valley passing through dense forests. The journey continues over the 3,050 m mountain pass where on a clear day, the towering Himalayan peaks are clearly visible. The highway follows the scenic Dang Chhu before climbing through forests of bamboo and oak.

In the afternoon take a walk around Gangtey Village and visit Gangtey Gompa, 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. Explore Gangtey Village and Phobjikha Valley. Evening at leisure and overnight.

Day 4: Gangtey

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 Goemba, 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 excursion. 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. Overnight in Gangtey.

Day 5: Gangtey - Bumthang

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.

Day 6: Bumthang

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.

Day 7: Bumthang - Punakha

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.

Day 9: Punakha

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.

Day 10: Punakha - Haa Valley

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 Simtokha Dzong, the place of profound tantric teaching. The Dzong now houses a school for the study of the Dzongkha language.

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.

Day 11: Haa Valley - Paro

 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.

Continue down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, the fortress of the heap of jewels, which has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the inner courtyard are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore such as four friends, the old man of long life, the wheel of life, scenes from the life of Milarepa, Mount Sumeru, and other cosmic Mandala. Overnight in Paro.

Day 12: Paro

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.

Optional evening hot stone bath, historically believed to have medicinal benefits in healing joint pain, hypertension, arthritis, and stomach disorders. Overnight in Paro.

Day 13: Departure

Today, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!

Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions

  • Hotel accommodations
  • Daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Private vehicle and driver
  • Comprehensive touring with a private guide
  • Entrance fees to the monuments
  • Airport transfers with assistance
  • Bhutan Visa Fee
  • Bhutan Government Royalty and Taxes
  • Road/interstate taxes, fuel surcharges, and parking fees

Exclusions

  • International Airfare
  • Any items of a personal nature
  • Gratuities

Supplemental Information

Supplemental Information

  • A visa is required to visit Bhutan. Sodha Travel will arrange for the clearance, and the final visa will then be sent to you via email.
  • To protect your travel investment, Sodha Travel strongly recommends Travel Insurance.
  • Visit our FAQ page for additional information on traveling to Bhutan.

Please note: Some of the sights/itinerary may change due to road conditions, weather, and special events. We maintain the rights to alter the itinerary since tours are made in advance and unforeseen circumstances may arise. Itinerary revisions are made to improve your overall travel experience in Bhutan.

The tourism infrastructure of Bhutan continues to develop. Therefore, the accommodation and transport standards may be different than what you are accustomed to when traveling to other destinations. With the exception of luxury properties, hotels are standard and comfortable with basic amenities. Flights may be delayed and ground transportation may be limited, thus causing adjustments to your scheduled itinerary. To avoid disappointment, we ask you to consider these factors when traveling to Bhutan.

Map

Trails of Bhutan Map

Trails of Bhutan Map