Enjoy two intimate Tsechu experiences in the Bumthang Valley, the Nimalung and Kurjey festivals Bhutan’s spiritual heartland. Villagers gather to witness colourful and unique masked dances and sacred rituals celebrating Bhutan’s unique cultural heritage. Also visit sacred sites in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Phobjikha Valley, winter home to the endangered Black-Necked Cranes.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO – THIMPHU
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Our Bhutan Travel Bureau representative will meet you at Paro airport exit doors following customs formalities.
After lunch enjoy afternoon sightseeing around Paro, including a visit to the Ta Dzong Museum housing many religious relics, works of art and handicrafts offering a great orientation into Bhutan’s historical, cultural, and religious past. Next, visit the Rimpong Dzong to see the painting of the great saint Milarepa, considered as the master of meditation by the Bhutanese and believed to have attained enlightenment in a lifetime. Dzong’s are large monasteries and district administrative centres, which were once strategic forts. Afterwards, drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. Before dinner at the hotel there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 02: THIMPHU
Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation’s bustling capital. Enjoy a full day of sightseeing, including a visit to stunning Buddha Dordenma Statue, made of bronze and gilded in gold, and the National Memorial Chorten, completed by the Royal Queen Mother as a memorial stupa for the Third King who passed away in 1972. Continue on to 12th century Changangkha Temple and the Zilukha Nunnery.
If there is time, you may visit the nursing pen for the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, and Tashichhodzong, ‘the fortress of the glorious religion’ housing some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 03: THIMPHU – GANGTEY/PHOBJIKHA VALLEY
Depart for Gangtey/Phobjikha. The road takes us over Dochu-La pass (3,100m) where we can circumambulate the 108 stupas and, if the weather is clear, enjoy an incredible view of Himalayan peaks. On our descent after crossing Dochu-La pass, we can choose to walk down ancient paths and visit Royal Botanical Garden in Lamperi.
We cross the Punatsangchhu river and climb past the ruins of Wangduephodrang Dzong. Phobjikha valley is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys and the chosen home of the endangered bird species – black necked crane or grus nigricollis (Nov to Mar) migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Overnight at your hotel in Phobjikha.
DAY 04: GANGTEY / PHOBJIKHA – CHUMEY
Following breakfast, visit Gangtey Gompa (monastery), which dates back to 16th C. Enjoy a last view of this beautiful valley before departing over the Pele la pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range towards Trongsa. Enroute, we pass the charming villages and hamlets and visit the beautiful Chendebji chorten. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. Visit Trongsa Dzong, a masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. Trongsa is the largest Dzong in Bhutan and the location of where the institution of monarchy in Bhutan began. The foundations of Trongsa Dzong were laid in the 16th Century and there are now 22 temples in the complex. The view from the Dzong is spectacular and one can see across the impressive landscape for many miles. Also visit the Ta Dzong museum housing an incredible collection of historical artefacts of the Royal Family and a range of traditional armour.
Continue our drive to Bumthang, the spiritual heart of the country. Bumthang is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest palaces, Buddhist temples and monasteries. We halt for today at Chumey, the first valley of Bumthang at the Chumey Nature Resort. Overnight at resort in Chumey.
DAY 05: CHUMEY – BUMTHANG (Nimalung Festival)
After breakfast, drive to Nimalung monastery to witness its annual festival. The festival is celebrated with mask dances and historical folk dances in colorful costumes, and is celebrated to bring happiness, a better harvest and prosperity to the village and the country as a whole. We spend most of the day at the festival and walking around nearby villages in this beautiful valley before proceeding to Jakar (Bumthang) over the gentlest of passes – Kiki-La, which connects Chumey to Jakar.
Bumthang is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest Palaces, Buddhist temples and monasteries. The valley’s barley fields, apple groves and meadows lay below huge hills which climb up towards the Himalayan mountain wall separating Bhutan from Tibet. The beautiful architecture unique to Bhutan is evident in the many large farmhouses and temples. Bumthang is associated with Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) and with Terton Pemalingpa. Overnight at your lodge in Bumthang.
DAY 06: BUMTHANG (Kurjey Festival)
Drive upstream of the Chamkhar Chhu river to enjoy the festival at Kurjey Lhakhang. Historically, Guru Rinpoche was invited here to subdue evil spirits plaguing the land. Tsechu viewers dressed in their finest traditional clothes flock to the temple to witness the tsechu, with monks and laymen in masks and colourful costumes performing historical folk dances.
Later, visit Jambay Lhakhang, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. It dates back to the origins of Buddhism in Bhutan and is one of the Kingdoms oldest temples. Other places of interest are Jakar Dzong (Dzong of the white Bird) and Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Terton Pemalingpa (founder of the Nyingmapa sect) and containing interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Pemalingpa’s heavy coat of nails is kept in the Vestibule and people are permitted to try it on. It is said that if they can walk around the inner sanctuary three times while wearing it, some of their sins will be forgiven. Overnight at hotel/lodge in Bumthang.
DAY 07: BUMTHANG – PUNAKHA
After breakfast drive to Punakha crossing over Kiki La Pass & Yo-Tong La Pass. After a short break in Trongsa continue your drive to Punakha and en-route stop at Chendibji Chorten for lunch. After lunch drive across Pele la pass. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha.
DAY 08: PUNAKHA
Visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers) and is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned.
After lunch, enjoy a short walk to Chimi Lhakhang, temple of the Drukpa Kuenly who is also known as the Divine Madman. He inherited the Divine Madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time. He taught the people that religion is an inner feeling and it’s not necessary that one should be an ordained monk. He is also considered a symbol of fertility and most childless couples go to his temple for blessing. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 09: PUNAKHA – THIMPHU – PARO
In the morning drive to Yabesa village and hike to through ricefields and up to Khamsum Yueley Namgyal Chorten, built by her majesty the queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. Perched high on a hill on the bank of the river, the Chorten houses paintings belonging to Nyingmapa Traditions.
Drive back to Thimphu where you will have an opportunity to visit handicraft and souvenir stores. Afterwards proceed to Paro. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 10: PARO
After breakfast hike to Taktsang Monastery. The trail is broad and the walk of approximately 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro valley floor (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to the viewing point). The view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the valley floor is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. He then mediated in a cave there for three months where the monastery was later built. Nearby there is a teahouse where you can stop for refreshments.
In the afternoon drive to the ruins of the 17th Century Drukgyel Dzong, an historic monument built by the Shabdrung to commemorate his victory against invading Tibetans in 1644. In fine weather the towering peak of the sacred Mount Jomolhari (7314m) appears as a stunning backdrop. On the return drive to Paro, visit 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo.
Alternatively, day 6 could be spent on a day trip to the Haa Valley, one of the most picturesque districts in Bhutan. Reached via the beautiful Chelila Pass, Haa Valley is characterised by its surrounding rugged and mountainous terrain. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 11: DEPART PARO
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.