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Bhutan Wildlife & Cultural Tour in Bhutan

Bhutan Wildlife & Cultural Tour

Nestling in the heart of the Himalayas and protected by a complex geography of high mountains and deep valleys, Bhutan is rated as one of the ‘top ten global hot spots’ of the world. For centuries, it has treasured the natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered Bhutan into the 21st century with an environment still richly intact. Because of its unique setting and relatively un-exploited environment, Bhutan possesses the greatest biological diversity of any country of its size. This tour provides opportunity to explore Royal Manas National Park, oldest nature reserve of Bhutan and a designated wildlife sanctuary since 1964, along with experiencing country’s rich avifauna and visit to prominent cultural sights. The Royal Manas National Park remains open for visitors throughout the year but the best time to visit park is November to March.

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. wildlife-culture-bhutanFlying 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 – Punakha (75km, approx. 2.1/2-hour drive)
After breakfast, 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.

Then drive to 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. wildlife-culture-bhutan

Afterwards 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.

Later drive to Punakha across Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft) stopping here for lunch and to take in the view and admire the Druk Wangyel 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.

Proceed further and en route explore The Royal Botanical Park, the first botanical park in Bhutan and forms the backdrop of the Dochula Pass.

On arrival in Punakha, before check into the hotel, a short excursion to 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 offers a rare glimpse into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers.

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

Day 03: Punakha
Early morning, excursion to Tashitang valley for birding.

We will spend most of the morning birding along a broad track that follows the thunderous Mo Chu River through delightful tracks of broad-leaved forest. The Mo Chu River and its stony banks and islands often harbour many of the special birds that make Himalayan rivers such a joy for birdwatchers. Plumbeous Redstarts and White-capped River Chats feed from boulders, Brown Dippers flash noisily up and down, Blue Whistling Thrushes look rather ungainly, and less demonstrative species such as River Lapwing, the giant Crested Kingfisher, Slaty-backed Forktail and Ibisbill may also be found. We will be focusing on nesting Ibisbill, the very rarely observed and globally threatened White-bellied Heron, River Lapwing, Red-headed Trogon, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Striated Bulbul, the glowing Little Niltava, all three tesias (the Chestnut-headed is a gem), Pygmy Blue-Flycatcher, Pygmy Wren-babbler, the infrequently seen and very striking Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Red-faced Liocichla and the stunning Scarlet Finch. The Tashitang Valley is a truly beguiling spot, wildlife-culture-bhutanfull of wonderful colours and soul enriching scenery. In the forest we may see Himalayan Swiftlet, Great Himalayan, Blue-throated and Golden-throated Barbets, Greater and Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpeckers, Maroon Oriole, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos, and a wide variety of attractive Himalayan flycatchers, leaf warblers, flycatcher-warblers, nuthatches, flower peckers and sunbirds. Among the more unusual forest species recorded here are Bay Woodpecker, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-headed Trogon, White-gorgetted Flycatcher and Yellow-vented Warbler, perhaps the most stunning of the leaf warblers (of the genus Phylloscopus).

Also explore the part of Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), the second largest national park in Bhutan with an area of 4316 sq. km and spread over five districts: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue & Gasa. Charismatic animal species like the Snow Leopard, Takin, Tiger, Black Bear, Blue Sheep and Red Panda said to inhabit the forests and mountains of the park. This may be the only place in the world where the Royal Bengal tiger and snow leopard habitats overlap.

Late afternoon 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 Fourth King.

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

Day 04: Punakha – Gelephu (193km, approx. 7-hour drive)
After breakfast, drive to Gelephu. It is an interesting, scenic drive through picturesque villages, farmlands and diverse vegetation those are home to rich flora and fauna.
About half an hour drive from Punakha, you’ll pass through a mega Punatsangchu Hydro Power Project of 1220MW capacity. Later, you’ll cross first ever highway tunnel in the country which is around one kilometre. Then after a drive of about 90km, you’ll reach Damphu town, a small active business centre for Chirang Dzongkhag (district), the region known for its mandarin (orange) and banana production. Driving 55km further down the southern foothills through verdant forests, you’ll reach Sarpang checkpost. Gelephu town comes under Sarpang Dzongkhag.

Located 280m above sea level in south-central part of Bhutan, Gelephu under Sarpang district  is the largest flat land in Bhutan having its history dating back to 1960s when primitive settlement was shifted from the banks of Mao Chhu river to the present area which used to be known as Hati Sahar (Elephant infested place). Having the intense rainfall, vegetation of Gelephu can be classified as tropical forest with some broad-leaf evergreen trees and the region is also dominated by cash crops. Location of Gelephu is quite favorable for cross-border trade between India & Bhutan and the town also emerging as important gateway for tourists.

Evening explore Gelephu town where you will see farmers from nearby villages gathered around the town square to sale their farm products like vegetables, egg, dairy products, honey etc. There is also opportunity to visit a local farmhouse in one of the nearby villages to experience Lhotsampa (southern Bhutanese) lifestyles which is quite different from their northern counterparts.

Overnight at the hotel in Gelephu. (Altitude 280m)

Day 05: Gelephu – Tingtibi (11wildlife-culture-bhutan5km, approx. 4-hour drive)
Morning after breakfast, departure to Tingtibi, a narrow valley by the side of Mangde Chhu river which is a famous bird watching area and a fishing hotspot. The satellite town of Tingtibi was established in 1991 and its name emerges from two local syllable ‘Ting’ meaning ‘depth’ and ‘Bi’ meaning piece of flat land.  Along the road, the birds Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rufous- necked Hornbill, Black Eagle, Blue-throated Barbet, Blue-bearded Bee-Eater, Golden Babble, Beautiful Nuthatch, Rufous-bellied Eagle can be spotted. We hope to see Golden Langur also in Tingtibi which are found foraging by the roads here.

Overnight Camp / lodge. (Altitude 600m)

Day 06: Tingtibi - Panbang - Royal Manas National Park (96km, approx. 4-hour drive)
Early morning, wake up before dusk and drive above Tingtibi for bird and wildlife watching. Tingtibi is one of the major birding hotspots of Bhutan and the rich avifauna in this region includes Chestnut-breasted Partridges, Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, Barred Cuckoo-dove, nine species of cuckoo, Red-headed Trogon, Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-browed Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, Lesser Shortwing, White-tailed Robin, several scimitar-babblers, Black-faced Laughing-thrush and other thrushes, fulvettas and yuhinas, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-faced Warbler, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Sultan Tit, and many more species. It is also possible, with a bit of luck, to see the Beautiful Nuthatch, White-bellied Heron, Collared Treepie and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill. Dense forests of the region are full of golden langurs. 

Back to hotel for breakfast and then continue drive south to Manas. Before this used to be trekking trail but now comfortable paved road is built here. The pleasant drive passes through beautiful waterfalls and nice views of river confluences. While reaching Manas, we will take ferry to other side of Manas river where the park headquarters is located. Since only the small portion pf park is accessible so travellers need to keep modest expectation in terms of sighting animals.

Overnight at the lodge in Royal Manas National Park.  (Altitude 1,400m)

Day 07: Royal Manas National Park
The Royal Manas National Park is one of the oldest nature reserves in the Kingdom of Bhutan with incredibly rich and diverse biodiversity. The park is named after Manas river that winds through the 1,023 sq. km area which encompasses through the park. It occupies a broad low-lying alluvial terrace in the foothills of the outer Himalayas with wide range of climatic conditions in the park due to substantial variations in altitude and influence of seasonal monsoon. Manas is home to countless exotic and endangered species like the Royal Bengal Tiger, Asian Elephant, Great one-horned Rhinoceros, Clouded Leopard, Gangetic Dolphin and rare Golden Langur. More than 365 species of birds have been officially recorded in the Park of which 16 are endemic species. Also, about 50 species of reptiles and 11 species of snakes inhabit the park. Many of the park’s more than 900 types of plants have commercial, medicinal, traditional or religious significance.

During the day, ride through the jungles and grasslands of the park atop a
mighty elephant. You’ll encounter colourful Hornbills taking wing, Rhinoceroses grazing in the grass and Golden Langurs swinging through the trees. Also, enjoy rafting in Manas river amidst pods of frolicking River Dolphins. By late afternoon and evening, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the indigenous Khengpa people’s undiluted culture first-hand by taking part in cultural performances, eating delicious local cuisine and playing traditional sports.

Overnight at the lodge in Royal Manas National Park.  (Altitude 1,400m)

Day 08: Royal Manas National Park - Gomphu (65km, approx. 2.1/2-hour drive)
Gomphu (1,457m) village is located above Gomphu-Panbang Highway on a hilltop. As per the local dialect ‘Gom’ is meditation while ‘Phu’ refers to hills. The local residents and religious practitioners from other areas visited this region for meditation, thus deriving its name.wildlife-culture-bhutan

Later hiking in and around Gomphu through mixed broadleaf forests and thick under growth and looking for avifauna like White-hooded Babbler, Greater and Lesser Yellownape, Crimson-breasted, Grey-capped, Grey-capped Pygmy, and Pale-headed Woodpecker, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Ashy, Black-crested, and White-throated Bulbul, Grey-throated Babblers, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied, and Rufous-faced Warbler, Black-throated and Crimson Sunbird, Black-chinned and Striated Yuhinas, Grey-throated Babbler and Pale-billed Parrotbill, Asian-barred, and Collared Owlet and few species of cuckoos such as Chestnut-winged, Indian and Himalayan Cuckoos.

Overnight at Gomphu Eco Camp. (Altitude 1,457m).

Day 09: Gomphu - Trongsa (150km, approx. 5-hour drive)
Morning after breakfast, drive to Trongsa. We could see a few important bird species on our drive to Trongsa such as Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Lammergeier, Snow Partridge, Purple Cochoa, Scalybreasted Wren Babbler, Long-tailed Minivet, Himalayan Monal Pheasant, Speckled Wood Pigeon and Rufousbellied Bulbul.

Trongsa town, perched on steep slopes above a river gorge, forms the central hub of the nation and is the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular.

Afternoon visit, Trongsa Dzong. Like almost all towns in the Kingdom, this Dzong architecture dominates the entire Trongsa horizon dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second King ruled the country from this ancient seat. Protected from invaders by an impenetrable valley, Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress. The Dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over the local community. It is built on many levels into the side of the hill and can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold.

Overnight at the hotel in Trongsa. (Altitude 2,300m)

Day 10: Trongsa – Gangtey (Phobjikha) (85km, approx. 3-hour drive)
After breakfast, visit 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 wildlife-culture-bhutan into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.

Then drive onto Gangtey through Black Mountain region, crossing 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, the stupa built in 18th century by a Lama named Shida. It is Nepalese in style with eyes painted at four cardinal points.

This stretch covers a range of habitat from tall, dense, evergreen forest characterised by moss and lichen covered oak and rhododendron together with broad-leaved trees such as horse-chestnuts, laurels, maples and alders. At higher elevation, the composition is perceptibly with conifers such as fir, spruce, larch, hemlock and juniper. Bamboo is another important habitat in this region, holding a number of special but elusive species. We could see a few important bird species on our drive from Trongsa such as Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Lammergeier, Snow Partridge, Purple Cochoa, Scalybreasted Wren Babbler, Long-tailed Minivet, Himalayan Monal Pheasant, Speckled Wood Pigeon and Rufousbellied Bulbul.

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 village of Phobjikha.

Afternoon explore fascinating Phobjikha valley. This place is the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climate. The valley boasts two beautiful meandering rivers, Nakay Chhu (Chhu Naap-black water) and Gay Chhu (Chhu Karp-white water).
Also visit Black Neck Crane Information Centre. Situated on the edge of the forest and wetland along the main road of Phobjikha valley, the black-necked crane information Centre has an observation room equipped with high power telescope and spotting scopes for catching the best view of the cranes. The centre also offers display information that outline the natural and cultural history of the area. There is a small gift shop, which sells handicrafts produced by the local people.

Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Altitude 3000m).

Day 11: Gangtey (Phobjikha)
Early morning visit Monastic School to witness prayer ceremony. wildlife-culture-bhutan
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.

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).

Later birding in idyllic Phobjikha valley. We will check forest edges and explore some of the small patches of cultivation then continue our search in areas of productive forest near the end of our journey; here we will be looking for species such as:

Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan and the majestic Himalayan Monal. Past highlights at this location have included Himalayan Honeyguide, Crested Kingfisher, Tibetan Serin, Short-billed Minivet and Rufous-bellied Bush-robin. Spotted Laughingthrush, Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, White-browed Bush Robin and White-winged Grosbeak

Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Altitude 3000m).

Day 12: Gangtey – Paro (195km, approx. 6.1/2-hour drive)
After breakfast, drive to Paro along scenic highway. En route visit Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress of the country built in 1627 which now houses the School for Buddhist studies.

On arrival in Paro, check into the hotel.

The beautiful valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, National Museum and country’s only international airport. Mount. Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial water plunge through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fertile valleys in the Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its terraced fields.

Afternoon, proceed to visit Ta Dzong, originally built as Watchtower, which now houses National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armour, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.

Then, attend an Archery session. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and every village has its own archery range. Using bamboo bows (although modern compound bows are now common in cities) team of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimeters in diameter from a distance of 120 meters. Local Archery competition are among the most picturesque and colorful events in the country and are the integral part of all festivities.

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

Day 13: Paro
After breakfast, embark on a fascinating excursion to Taktshang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest (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. wildlife-culture-bhutanIt is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is 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.

Afternoon visit 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.

Evening for shopping or at leisure in Paro city centre.

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

Day 14: Depart Paro
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for flight to onward destination.





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