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Botanical & Cultural tour in Bhutan

Bhutan Botanical & Cultural Tour

Nestled deep in eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a treasure trove of biological diversity with an unparalleled richness of flora and fauna due to the varied altitudinal and climatic conditions present in the country. Bhutan’s forest are divided into the Alpine Zone (4000m and above) where there is no forest cover, the Temperate Zone falling between 2000 to 4000m with conifer or broadleaf forests, botanical-cultural-bhutanand the Subtropical Zone with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation from an elevation of 200m to 2000m. This rich & diverse ecosystem has remained intact due to the conservation efforts of the Bhutanese people and the Government. In historical records, Bhutan has also been addressed as Lho Mon Jong (Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs) and more than 5500 plant species identified in the country including 300 species of medicinal plants, 46 species of rhododendrons and 600 species of orchids. It is indeed paradise for nature lovers and botanical enthusiasts. 

Day 01: Arrive Paro (Bhutan) by Flight & transfer to Thimphu (55km, approx. 1.1/2-hour drive)
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular in entire Himalayas. Flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over Himalayan foothills if flying from Kolkatta, the journey offers fascinating views and an exciting descent into the Kingdom. Bhutan’s first gift to you as you disembark from the aircraft will be cool, clean fresh mountain air.

After immigration formalities and baggage clearance, you will be welcomed by our representatives and drive to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhutan. The road leads through the Paro valley to the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers at Chuzom (confluence).
On arrival, in Thimphu check-into the hotel. The capital town of Bhutan and the centre of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. With the population of about 1,00,000 it is perhaps still the world’s only capital city without a traffic light.

Later in afternoon visit Trashichhoedzong, ‘fortress of the glorious religion’. This is the center of government and religion, site of monarch’s throne room and seat of Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans.

Before returning to the hotel, take leisurely walk to local craft Bazar established under patronage of Department of cottage & small industry and in collaboration with the department of culture, tourism council and the department of agriculture marketing and cooperatives.

Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2,320m)

Day 02: Thimphu
Morning after breakfast, visit to The Royal Botanical Garden at Serbithang established in 1999 under National Biodiversity Centre, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests as an ex-situ conservation area and to commemorate the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the 4th King of Bhutan. The primary functions of the Royal Botanical Garden are; to serve as the living repository of plant genetic diversity for ex situ conservation and research, to serve as a rescue centre for rare and threatened native floral species, to promote propagation of prioritized native plant species and to provide technical services and training in plant propagation techniques to community based groups and other stake holders.  botanical-cultural-bhutan

Then visit Traditional Medicine Institute.  Historically, Bhutan used to be called Men Jong, Land of Medicinal Plants, because of the fertility of its valleys and the luxury of its forest flora. Above the Indian plain, the country gradually rises, stage after stage, hill after hill, from the luxurious jungle of the foothills, about 200 meters above sea level to the solitude of the snow-capped peaks culminating at more than 7500 meters. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants are prepared and dispensed at this institute. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners.

Later embark on a walking excursion to Tango Goemba, the monastery founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century while its present structure was built in 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. Situated north of Thimphu, one way it takes about 30-minute drive and one hour walk through shaded rhododendron forests to reach the monastery.

After lunch drive to Motithang to see Takin Preserve. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and looks like cross between a cow and goat. Legends say that animal was created by great Buddhist yogi, Drukpa Kuenley and it can be found only in Bhutan and nearby areas. Taxonomists place the animal in a category of its own as it is not identical enough to any other animal to fit established categories.

Then visit Buddha Dordenma, located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfils an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. This massive statue of Shakyamuni made of bronze and is gilded in gold, measures 51.5 meters in height, making it one of the largest statues, in Bhutan. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, each of these also have been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.

Afterwards take a stroll through Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, located beneath Buddha Dordenma. The concept behind development of this park is to protect the forest area surrounding the mega Bronnze Buddha statue while at the same time offer recreational facilities for the locals.

This is followed by visit of National Memorial Chorten, a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monuments. This is an ideal spot to interact with locals who throng in large numbers to circumambulate the chorten, whirl the large red prayer wheels and pray at a small shrine inside the gate. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy. botanical-cultural-bhutan

Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2,320m)

Day 03: Thimphu – Gangtey (Phobjikha) (150km, approx. 5-hour drive)
After breakfast, drive up to 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 7,570m.

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.

Dochula is home to 16 species of Bhutanese Rhododendrons. It also harbors different species of Primula, Lauraceae such as Litsea, Cinnamomum, Neolitsea etc., oaks, Virburnum, Magnolia, Daphne, Arisaema spp. Gentian, Himalayan Acer, and several others.

Drive further en route exploring Royal Botanical Park at Lamperi. This is country’s first nature recreational park, established in 2004 to preserve rich natural biodiversity of the area. This area of 47sq. km in the Dochula Conservation area has been delineated for protection and development into a site for ecotourism and nature education. A unique attraction of the Park is the rhododendrons and out of the total 46 species that grow in Bhutan, 40 species are found here including the 29 species that grow naturally in the area while others are planted in the park Garden. The Park also has 114 species of ferns, as well as numerous wild orchids.

Picnic lunch will be served by the lakeside within the park.

Then we head to east to Gangtey through splendid landscape of alpine forests, meadows, including different species of Rhododendrons, Legumes, Magnolia, weeping Cypress (national tree of Bhutan), etc.

Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Phobjikha). (Altitude 3,000m)

Day 04: Gangtey (Phobjikha)
Early morning visit Monastic School to witness prayer ceremony.
Later after breakfast 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.botanical-cultural-bhutan

Then a walking excursion to Gangtey Nature Trail. This pleasurable walk will give you a nice feel of Phobjikha valley. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goemba, 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).

Post lunch explore Phobjikha valley. This Valley, situated on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, is one of the largest high-altitude wetlands of Bhutan and an important wintering habitat for the endangered Black-necked cranes. The vegetation in the valley includes broadleaf forest, mixed broadleaf forest, juniper forest, blue pine forest, mixed conifer forest, marsh, and open fields. The central valley, mostly inhabited by the Black-necked crane, features dwarf bamboo Other common herbs in the Yushania dominated marshland include species of Caltha, Aster, Euphorbia, Pedicularis, Primula, Swertia, Arisaema, Carex, and Juncus. The lower slope adjacent to the wetlands in the northern valley is dominated by coniferous forest consisting mainly of blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), birch (Betula utilis), and several species of rhododendron, wild rose, and maple in the understorey. Other common herbaceous species include ferns; species of Arisaema, Carex, Cyperus; and ground orchids. The forest composition changes to spruce-fir towards the upper ridges, with suppressed hemlock (Tsuga dumosa) and rhododendron in the midstory.

Evening visit a traditional farmhouse for an insight into lifestyle of village folks, their culture & traditions.

Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Phobjikha). (Altitude 3,000m)

Day 05: Gangtey – Punakha (85km, approx. 3-hour drive)
After a leisurely breakfast, drive to Punakha.
Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and seat of government until 1955 and it is the place where the first hereditary King of Bhutan was unanimously elected in 1907.  The first session of Kingdom’s National Assembly was also held in the Punakha Dzong. Blessed with temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the fertile Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits.
Picnic lunch by riverside enjoying the magnificent views and absorbing the peace & serenity of the valley.

Visit Punakha Dzong or (Palace of Great Happiness), built at the junction of the Phochu and Mochu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This majestic dzong served as both the religious and the administrative centre of Bhutan in the past. It measures some 600 by 240 feet and has a six-story, gold-domed tower. Inside are courtyards and religious statuary that hint at the depth of history and spiritual tradition embodied here. Your guide will illuminate your understanding of this intricate culture that is exotic to us, though long established here.

Later in the day a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang.botanical-cultural-bhutan
The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, 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. A walk through the village near the temple will give you rare glimpses into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers.

Overnight at the hotel n Punakha. (Altitude 1,300m)

Day 06: Punakha
The day to explore, Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), one of the oldest protected area in the country, gazetted as Wildlife sanctuary in 1974 and subsequently on revision of protected area nationwide, upgraded as national park in 1993. The Park is treasure trove of medicinal plants, natural hot springs and awe-inspiring scenery. JDNP is the only park in the country that houses all four national symbols: blue poppy (national flower), takin (national animal), raven (national bird) & cypress (national tree). Some common sights for the visitors are magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal platns, daphne, giant rhubarb and tropical trees such as pine and oaks.

After the day of exploration, evening return to the hotel for overnight stay. (Altitude 1,300m)

Day 07: Punakha – Paro (125 km, approx. 5-hour drive)
Morning after breakfast, proceed to Paro. On the way, from Dochula, embark on a fascinating walking excursion to Lungchuzekha Goemba. It is an interesting three-hour round-trip walk, offering fascinating view of Bhutan Himalayas. From 108 chortens and mani wall at Dochula pass, the route ascends gradually into white, red and pink rhododendron forests for about one and a half hour with some steep sections before branching left to Lungchuzekha Goemba. The highlight of this excursion is beautiful forest, spectacular mountain views and monastery.

After hearty lunch at Dochula cafeteria, drive onwards to Paro.

Just before entering Paro town, on the way visit Tamchog lhakhang, built in the 13th century by Thangthong Gyalpo, also known as the Iron bridge builder. Situated on a hilltop, we have to cross an ancient style bridge to reach the temple which is now owned by the descendants of Thangthong Gyalpo.

Evening at leisure in Paro city centre.

Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)

Day 08: Paro – Chele la pass - Paro (70 km, approx. 2-hour drive)
After breakfast drive to Chelela pass.  Located at an elevation of 3,888 meters, Chelela is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour's drive along a thickly forested road with temperate conifer forests of blue pine, spruce, hemlock, fir, juniper, this Pass is a botanical paradise, providing stunning views of the sacred mountain Jumolhari and Jichu Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind.botanical-cultural-bhutan

From Chelela, embark on a fascinating 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 in a forested area return to Paro and 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.

Then walk down the trail to visit 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 cosmic Mandala. Part of Bernardo Bertolucci's movie, ‘Little Buddha,’ was filmed inside this dzong.

Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2,280m)

Day 09: Paro
After breakfast, embark on a walking excursion to Taktshang Monastery (approx. 5 hours, round trip walk):  It is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of 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 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. On 19 April 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.

Late afternoon, drive end of the Valley to the base of Drukgyel Dzong, a 17th century fortress burned down in the early 50s. Here we will also see the beautiful typical farmhouse. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colorful, decorative and traditionally built botanical-cultural-bhutan 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.

While driving to Paro town, stop en route at the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan.

Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2280m)

Day 10: Depart Paro
After breakfast at the hotel, drive to the airport for the flight to your onward destination. Our representative will help you with exit formalities and then bid you farewell.





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