Day 01: Arrive Paro
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular in entire Himalayas. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over the foothills from Kolkatta, the journey offers fascinating views and an exciting descent into the Kingdom. Bhutan’s first gift, as you disembark from the aircraft will be cool, clean fresh mountain air. After immigration formalities and baggage collection, you will be met by our representative, and afterwards transfer to the hotel.
Situated in north-western part of the country, the wide and fertile Paro valley has both an ancient and modern face. It is home to some of the most revered temples in the Kingdom and at the same time also boasts Bhutan’s only international airport. With its annual bounties of paddy, Paro is justly considered to be the rice bowl of the country.
Afternoon visit to Rinpung Dzong, meaning (‘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. Part of Bernardo Bertolucci's movie, ‘Little Buddha,’ was filmed inside this dzong.
Then drive to pay respect to 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang. It is said to be one of the 108 temples built by Buddhist King of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo, to subdue a demoness who sprawled across the entire Himalayan region and prevented the spread of Buddhism. The temple complex has a magical orange tree that bear fruits all year round.
Evening an exploratory walk around main street and market area.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)
Day 02: Paro
After breakfast, embark on a walking excursion to Taktshang Monastery (approx. 5 hours, round trip walk), a cluster of temples clinging to the edge of an impossibly steep and rocky cliff, seeming to hang in space some 900 metres above the valley. The sites owes its sanctity to the belief that Guru Padmasambhava came here in the eight century flying on a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is also called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. This site has been recognised as a most sacred place and visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.
Later in the afternoon, visit Ta Dzong, a 17th century watchtower above the Paro Dzong that now houses the National Museum. It features an excellent collection of Bhutanese antiquities and treasures (including the King's famous 'dragon hat), an interesting assortment of costumes from the different regions of Bhutan, and a wonderful collection of painted and embroidered Thangkhas (religious pictures).
Then visit to Dungtse Lhakhang, built–unusually for a temple-in the shape of a chorten. Inside Dungtse Lhakhang are the most remarkable collection of mural paintings, representing the deities of the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism, the official religion of Bhutan. These murals and their colours perfectly preserved because the interior is always dark, are believed to be the finest in Bhutan.
Then continue towards north-western end of the Paro valley which is dominated by views of Mt. Chomolhari (7314m) and picturesque ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, destroyed in devastating fire of 1951. Built to commemorate a famous victory over the Tibetans in 1644, the ruins are now an idyllic spot, shaded by ancient cypress trees. Besides it is a giant water-driven prayer wheel, making the route of the old mule track to Tibet.
Nearby we will also see the beautiful typical farm house. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colorful, decorative and traditionally built without the use of single nail. The majority of the population of Bhutan continues to live as it has for centuries – in small isolated farms and hamlets, surrounded by terraced fields of rice, maize and buckwheat.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)
Day 03: Paro-Haa valley (70km, approx 3 hours drive)
After breakfast, a short walking excursion to Dzongdrakha Goemba. Often called mini – Taktsang, Dzongdrakha temples are built on the cliffs above Bondey village.
Then continue on to Haa valley, one of the most remote and sacred valleys in Bhutan. This area only opened to tourism in 2002 and has one of the strongest auras of stepping into the past, in a country that already feels lost in time. The surroundings mountains push up against the northern Indian state of Sikkim and the south of Tibet, and they are as wild, uninhabited, and unexplored as anywhere in the world.
En route take a short stop at Chelela pass. Locatedat an elevation of 3,988 meters, Chelela is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. This pass through dense spruce and larch forests has incredible mountain views as it zigzags down into the valley. Look out for the surrounding peaks and views of the Haa and Paro valleys.
After picnic lunch, continue down into the attractive little town of Haa, with traditional two storey wooden shops and a sprawling collection of buildings around a central dzong used by the Indian army. When you arrive, relax and take a walk around the town to meet the friendly local people.
Overnight at the hotel in Haa valley. (Altitude 2,670m)
Day 04: Haa valley-Thimphu (115km, approx 4 hours drive)
After breakfast visit, Lhakhang Karpo (White temple), established in the 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gempo. According to legends, a black and white pigeon were released to select the site for temples and the white pigeon landed on the foothills of the three towering mountains worshipped as ‘Rigsum gonpo’ and is where this temple stands today.
Then visit, Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple), also built in 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gempo and situated towards the north of Lhakhang Karpo. Lhakhang Nagpo serves as the seat for the guardian deity ‘Da Do Chen’. The principal relic of the monastery is the Choe-Lung-Truel Sum. Both these temples stand as the guardian sentinels keeping watch at the south entrance of Haa valley.
There after hike the lower road along first the Haa Chhu and after the confluence with the Wang Chhu, along the latter towards the capital at Thimphu. En route stop at Dogar Dobji Dzong, a 16th century structure, built by the brother of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kinley. This dzong became Bhutan’s first jail in 1976 but has since returned to its monastic origins.
On arrival in Thimphu, check into the hotel. Sprawled across the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu (river), Thimphu has been the capital of Bhutan since 1955. Besides its position as the seat of government, religion and commerce, its many glittering monuments, temples, monasteries and dzong as well as premier museums, the National Library, Arts & Crafts School and various other key attractions make an important centre for tourists.
Afternoon visit of Buddha Dordenma Statue. You can pay your obeisance and offer prayers to the Buddha, the largest statue in the country and then walk around and take a glimpse of the valley.
Then visit, King's Memorial Chorten continuously circumambulated by people, murmuring mantras and spinning their prayer wheels. Construction of this landmark was the idea of Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (‘the father of modern Bhutan’) who has wished to erect monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it serves both as a memorial to the Late King and as a monument to peace.
Conclude the day with visit of Trashichhoedzong.
This impressive fortress/monastery houses Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2320m)
Day 05: Thimphu
After breakfast at hotel, a pleasant excursion to Tango Monastery, built in 1688 and perched on the edge of a thickly forested hill at the northern end of Thimphu valley. It looks like a fortress of the gods, soaring towards the skies, with its great white semi circular wall gleaming amidst the lush greenery of the trees surrounding it. Enormous windows, framed in intricately carved and painted wood, break the starkness of its façade, which encloses a large stone-flagged courtyard. Covered arcades surround the courtyard, their walls painted with beautiful frescos depicting deities, great saints and lamas.
On way back, take a short hike around the small enclosure in the pine trees to spot Takin, the national animal of Bhutan – a unique goat-antelope creature. The next stop is the Zilukha Nunnery in Drubthob Goemba. It is home to between 40-65 nuns and also provides shelter for aging women and orphaned girls.
Afternoon, further sightseeing in Thimphu valley including visit to the following : the National Library, housing an extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts; the Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undergo a 6-year training course in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts, Textile Museum; established in 2001 and showcases range of beautiful Bhutanese textiles, Simply Bhutan; a living museum and studio encapsulating rich cultural heritage of Bhutanese people.
Later, visit to Changangkha Lhakhang. It is a fortress like temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu, south of Motithang. The temple was established in 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo, who came from Tibet. The central statue here is Chenrezig in a manifestation with 11 heads. From temple courtyard, there is fascinating view of Thimphu valley.
Evening explore the Local Crafts Bazaar, to browse through example of Bhutan's fine traditional arts. Here you can buy hand-woven textiles, thangkha paintings, masks, ceramics, slate and wood carvings, jewellery, interesting items made from local materials.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2320m)
Day 06: Thimphu-Punakha & Wangdue (75km, approx 2.1/2 hours drive)
After breakfastdrive to Punakha is spectacular, winding snake-like up the Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft) and stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chorten, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the following peaks can be seen from this pass (left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana - finally Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
At Dochula Pass, 108 chortens or stupas known as Druk Wangyal Chortens have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. These chortens are built in three layers, the first lowest level layer has forty five chortens, the second has thirty six and the top layer has twenty seven, built around the main chorten.
After exploration of Dochula pass and nearby Royal Botanical Park, drive onwards to Punakha.
Punakha at an altitude of 1300m/4265ft, is blessed with a temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. Until 1955 Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan, and still today serves as the winter residence of the monk body.
Later exploration through the lush Punakha valley. Visit the Punakha Dzong, built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the Fourth King.
Afterwards embark on a short interesting walking excursion to Chimi Lhakhang. Situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, this temple is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behaviour to dramatise his teachings and due to this also known as ‘Divine Madman’. This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon.
Evening take a stroll around newly developed Wangdue town and its local market.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha / Wangdue. (Altitude 1300m)
Day 07: Punakha & Wangdue - Gangtey (85km, approx 3 hours drive)
Morning after breakfast, drive onto Gangtey, passing through dense forests of oak and rhododendron tress.
The valley of Gangtey, is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in Bhutan. The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the hard climb through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, and is an extremely rare experience in Bhutan where most of the valleys are tightly enclosed. A few kilometers beyond the Gangtey Monastery, on the valley floor lies the fascinating valley of Phobjikha.
Afternoon visit Gangtey Goempa (monastery), perched on a ridge overlooking the valley.It is directed by Gangtey Tulku, the ninth reincarnation (a ‘Tulku’ is a reincarnate) of Pema Lingpa - a famous Buddhist saint and teacher.
Then a walking excursion to Gangtey Nature Trail. This pleasurable walk provides you a nice feel of Phobjikha valley. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goempa, you head downhill through flower meadows to Semchubara village and from here through beautiful forests and into the open valley. The trail ends at local community school after passing a chorten and Khewa Lhakhang (approx. 5.5km, 2 hours walk).
Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Altitude 3000m).
Day 08: Gangtey - Trongsa (85km, approx 3.1/2 hours drive)
After breakfast and short stroll around Phobjikha valley drive to Trongsa crossing Pele-la pass (3300m/10830 ft) via Trongsa,. The Pela La (pass) is marked by a large white chorten prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo. Stop en route at Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes panted at four cardinal points.
After checking into hotel, 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.
Later visit to Ta Dzong. Ta means ‘to watch’ in Dzongkha and this dzong was built in 1652 to watch over the massive Trongsa Dzong. After more than 350 years, Ta Dzong has been resurrected into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.
Overnight at the hotel in Trongsa. (Altitude 2310m).
Day 09: Trongsa - Bumthang (68 km, approx 2 hours & 30 minutes drive)
After breakfast, a short driving excursion to Kuenga Rabten Palace, located 23 km from Trongsa. The road passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. Enjoy the drive as the terrain slopes quite gently opening opportunities for bird watching and cultural sights. Kuenga Rabten Palace functioned as winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs.
After lunch, drive to Bumthang, over the Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 feet). The road winds steeply up to the pass, 28 km from Trongsa, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley.
Take a short stop at Chumey, a wide fertile valley where wheat, barley, potatoes and buckwheat are cultivated. Chumey is particularly known for its famous wool weaving called ‘Bumthang Yathra’. Visit Yathra weaving centre, enjoying tea / coffee with weaving family.
Bumthang is the general name given to combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m.
Overnight at hotel in Bumthang. (Altitude 2600m)
Day 10: Bumthang
Bumthang is often described as the spiritual heartland of the Kingdom. There are numerous monasteries and spiritual sites in this charming valley where history and mythology help to bring alive much of Bhutan’s culture and traditions. It is picturesque valley of beautiful houses and fields of buckwheat, barley and apples.
After breakfast visit to 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. Second temple is 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.
Then a walk of about 30 minutes takes you to Thangbi Gompa, founded in 1470 by H.H Shamar Rinpoche of Buddhsit lineage called Karma Kagyu.
Then visit Jambey Lhakhang. This monastery was built in the 7th century by 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.
Post lunch visit to Jakar Dzong (‘Castle of the white bird’). Founded by great grand-father of the first Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as administrative centre for Bumthang valley, and houses the regional monk body.
Afterwards drive to Tamshing Lhakhang, the temple founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padsambhava. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.
Later in the evening visit to Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery. Located above the main town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama. The monastery has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture.
Overnight at hotel in Bumthang. (Altitude 2600m)
Day 11: Bumthang -Mongar (198 km, approx. 7 hours drive)
The journey continues eastwards,winding through more rugged terrain. The drive to Mongar takes about7 hours with spectacular view en route. We will drive up into the hills above the valley and then reach Ura village. Ura is, one of the highest inhabited valleys in Bhutan, located at 3100m. The cobbled streets of the traditional village of Ura give a medieval feel. People in this valley mostly live out of potato farming, mushroom business and dairy farming. Before reaching Ura, en route visit Membartsho (‘burning lake’). This gorge is the holy site and pilgrimage place where Guru Rimpoche had hidden religious treasures later discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa.
Then drive onwards climbing sharply to the highest point on Bhutan’s motorable road network, Thrumshing-la pass (4,000m/13,125 ft).
From here, the road gradually descends to the alpine valley of Sengor, with wonderful views of cascading waterfalls and the hills of eastern Bhutan along the way. Vegetation changes from alpine to subtropical with the loss of height, and bamboos and luxuriant ferns overhang the road as we drop down to the valley floor. The descent stops at 700m/2,300ft, where we cross the Kurichu river. We ascend again through pine forests, maize fields and eastern hamlets to reach Mongar town, high on a gentle slope above the valley.
Picnic lunch at a scenic spot en route to Mongar.
Mongar, one of the fastest growing town in eastern Bhutan, is situated on a hill overlooking the Kurichu valley and surrounding villages.
We visit Mongar Dzong, built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs, but constructed in the same way as all previous dzongs, without either plans or the use of nails. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
Overnight at the hotel in Mongar. (Altitude 1620m)
Day 12: Mongar -Trashigang (96 km, approx. 4hours drive)
This trip of about 96 km takes only 3 hours. The first part of the journey is through leafy forest filled with ferns. After driving through the Kori-la pass (2,450m/8,040ft), marked by a pretty chorten and a mani wall, we descend rapidly through corn fields and banana groves to reach the famous road zigzags just below Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast growing settlement.
After zigzagging down the hillside, the road east along the Gamri river. A turnoff on the left side up to Drametse. The temple, perched on top of a steep hill above the village, was founded by Choeden Zangmo and is the most important monastery of eastern Bhutan. This is the place of origin of the famous Drametse Nga Chham, a masked dance with druns. About 30km. Onwards lies Trashigang (1,100m/3,610ft), which clings to a steep hillside above the Gamri river.
Trashigang lies in the far east of Bhutan, and is the country’s largest district. Trashigang town, on the hillside above the Gamri Chhu (river), was once the centre for a busy trade with Tibet. Today it is the junction of east-west highway, with road connection to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into Indian state of Assam. This town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan.
Afternoon, we will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. The Dzong was founded according to the prophecies of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in order to consolidate indomitable power and unparallel reign over the whole of the eastern regions. It was built in 1659 and named Trashigang Dzong (fortress on the auspicious hill) also it withstood several invasion from Tibetan troops.It now serves as the administrativeseat for the district and part of the dzong is occupied by the local Drukpa monastic community.
Overnight at the hotel in Trashigang. (Altitude 1150m)
Day 13: Trashigang - Samdrup Jongkhar (180 km, approx. 6 hours drive)
Trashigang — Samdrup Jongkhar road completed in 1965 and the journey takes about 6 hours. Along the way, pass by Sherubtse College at Kanglung, the only college in country founded in 1978. Then the road climbs and crosses Yonphu la (2190m), cuts across the ridge into another valley, winds down slowly to Gumchu and then around the corner arriving to Khaling. At Khaling visit the National Institute for the Visually Impaired (NIVI). This institute was started in 1973 and today it produces a number of intelligent, talented, hardworking and dedicated citizens every year, who serve the nation in different capacities.Also visit Textile Weaving Centre, operated by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan. After Khaling, the road traverses above the small villages, fields and crosses Kharungla pass (2350m) and later cross another pass at 2430m. Curling around the ridge and narrow valleys, arrive at charming town of Wamrong (2130m) which is also your picnic lunch stop.From Wamrong, it is around 20km to Pemagatshel town junction, descending through small villages en route. Deothang town is your next stop, which is centre of Technical training college and road maintenance head quarters for the east. From here the road descends fairly rapidly to the plain through a dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns.
Overnight at the lodge in Samdrup Jongkhar. (Altitude 220m)
Day 14: Samdrup Jongkhar - Guwahati (Assam, India) (110km, approx. 3 hours drive)
After breakfast transfer to Bhutan border where you will be picked up by Indian transport for onward drive to Guwahati.