Bhutan Monastery Tour - 9 days
'Tour of Buddhist monasteries & temples of Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa, Punakha & Bumthang
Situated in north-western part of the country, the enchanting valley of Paro is rich in culture, scenic beauty and abounds in myths & legends. The valley is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s international airport and the national museum.
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.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)
Day 02: Paro
Later in the afternoon, drive end of the Valley to the base of Drukgyel Dzong, a 17th century fortress burned down in the early 1950s. Here 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.
Also visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a watchtower, which now houses the National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)Day 03: Paro - Haa valley (70km, approx 3 hours drive) After breakfast, drive to Haa valley, en route taking a short stop at Chelela pass. Located at an elevation of 3,988 meters, Chelela is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour's drive along a thickly-forested road, this Pass is a botanical paradise, providing stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
From Chelela, embark on an enchanting walking excursion to Kila Gompa, a nunnery perched on a steep cliff face at 3500m. This staggering site manages to house 7 small temples and about 70 nuns. From Chelela pass, the Gompa is about an hour walk amidst magnificent wooded area.
After picnic lunch, drive onwards to Haa valley. The Haa valley was opened to the first time to foreign tourists in 2002. Also known as the ‘Hidden-Land Rice Valley’, Haa is culturally rich valley lying on the western most edge of Bhutan Its northern boundaries with the Chumbi Valley of Tibet, dividing it from the Indian province of Sikkim. Haa is one of the 20 districts or dzongkhags of Bhutan and one of the least populated. Its most of its landmass is covered by dense forest and the remainder under fields of wheat and barley, with a little rice towards its lower reaches and the accessible side valleys. Meadows support the raising of yak, cattle, chicken, pigs and horses.
Evening explore exotic Haa valley and its town.
Overnight at the hotel in Haa valley. (Altitude 2,670m)
Day 04: Haa valley - Punakha & Wangduephodrang (180km, approx 6 hours drive)
Thereafter hike the lower road along first the Haa Chhu and after the confluence with the Wang Chhu, along the latter towards the old capital at Punakha. 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.
Then drive further across Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft), 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.
Afterwards, drive onward to Punakha. Until 1955, Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and even today, it continues to be the winter residence of the central monk body. Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, Punakha is fertile valley with abundant crops from terraced rice fields, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Adjoining to Punakha, Wangduephodrang known as Sha or ‘east’ to the Bhutanese is an important gateway to the far-flung corners of Bhutan. Wangduephodrang played a crucial role in unifying the western, central and southern districts.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha / Wangduephodrang. (Altitude 1300m)
Day 05: Punakha & Wangduephodrang
Then a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang.
Post lunch visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang. Perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and Wangduephodrang, gleams this impressive structures of Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang (temple). The temple houses a 14-foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrigzig chagtong chentong). Other statues include those of Guru Padmasambawa, Gautama Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of longevity). The Avalokiteshvara statue, one of the biggest in the country, was the handiwork of entirely local Bhutanese artisans. The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious trainings, it provides life skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangkha painting.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha / Wangduephodrang. (Altitude 1300m)
Day 06: Punakha & Wangduephodrang - Gangtey (85km, approx 3 hours drive)
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.
Day 07: Gangtey - Thimphu (150km, approx 5 hours & 30 minutes drive)
Day 08: Thimphu
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.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2320m)
Day 09: Thimphu - Paro airport (50km, approx 1 hours & 15 minutes drive) & departure for onward destination