DAY 01 (07 Nov): 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 Concierge 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. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 02 (08 Nov): THIMPHU
Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation’s bustling capital. After breakfast, we’ll ease into the busy morning at the National Library of Bhutan in Thimphu. Chartered in the 1960s to display and preserve the country’s written history and its literary treasures, the library houses an extraordinary collection of manuscripts, including several centuries–old, block-printed Buddhist texts. We’ll continue to the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum (or the Painting School), where the 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts are taught formally in six-year training programs. Watching the students at work is sure to awaken your artistic side. While in the neighbourhood, we'll visit to the National Memorial Chorten, completed by the Royal Queen Mother as a memorial stupa for the Third King who passed away in 1972. This afternoon we’ll browse the National Handicrafts Emporium. This government-run marketplace offers a brilliant range of handcrafted products, like intricated woven textiles and beautiful thangka paintings. Charged by H.M. King Wangchuk to develop and promote Bhutanese tradition and art, the emporium offers the opportunity to learn about local trade. In the late afternoon, we’ll take a short drive to Kuenselphodrang Nature Park where sits the Buddha Dordenma. This 51m-tall statue of Buddha Dordenma house a large meditation hall, while the body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha.
DAY 03 (09 Nov): THIMPHU – PUNAKHA
We opt for an early departure for a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La and on to the Punakha Valley. On the way, we will stop for refreshment at the Dochu-La pass (3,088 meters above sea level), where 108 memorial stupas known as "Druk Wangyal Chortens" have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the eldest Queen Mother. A stroll to the nearby Botanical garden gives us the opportunity to stretch our legs as we admire the impressive view of the Eastern Himalayan Ranges. Weather permitting, the following peaks can be seen from this pass: Masagang (7,158 m), Tsendegang (6,960 m), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m), Kangphubang (7,170 m), Songaphugang (7,060 m), a Table Mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana, and finally, Gangkar Puensum (7,497 m), the highest peak in Bhutan. Before arriving in Punakha, we’ll stop for lunch in the Lopesa Valley and from there we’ll take a leisure walk through the paddy fields and villages to reach the Chimi Lhakhang, the auspicious fertility monastery dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as the Divine Madman. Drukpa Kuenley built a Chorten on the site in the 14th century, and it has long been a pilgrimage site for couples hoping to start a family. In the afternoon, we will walk back to Punakha and check in into the hotel. The rest of the day will be at leisure.
DAY 04 (10 Nov): PUNAKHA – GANGTEY in the PHOBJIKHA VALLEY
This morning visit the Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’. 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 in 1907 that Bhutan’s first king was crowned. Afterwards drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forests, and over a high pass down into the wide and picturesque Phobjikha valley. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes (November – March) migrating from the Tibetan plateau. The valley is one of the most beautiful in Bhutan. Visit Gangtey Goempa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan and explore Phobjika Valley with time to view the Black-Necked Cranes. These great birds, beloved in Bhutan and known as Trung Trung, feed along the marshy Phobijikha valley bottomlands. There are said to be only 1600 of the birds in the world, of which about 400-500 come to Bhutan in November and stay until March. The beauty of the Cranes has given rise to many Myths, legends, Folktales and songs. Overnight at your hotel in Phobjikha.
DAY 05 (11 Nov): GANGTEY in the PHOBJIKHA VALLEY
Attend the Black-Necked Crane Festival. The festival features numerous cultural programs organized by the local community. These include students performing the crane dance and small stalls offering many colourful local items such as yak tail dusters, butter tea cups, turquoise and also different Bhutanese handicrafts for sale. This will also be ample time to view the Black Necked Cranes, visit the Information Centre and enjoy some of the many nature trails throughout the valley. Overnight at your hotel in Phobjikha.
DAY 06 (12 Nov): GANGTEY – TRONGSA - BUMTHANG
Drive to Trongsa (4 hrs) over Pele La pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range. Visit the beautiful Chendebji Chorten en route. It is built in a style unusual for Bhutan, with painted eyes facing the four directions. The Chorten was erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. We then continue to Trongsa, we can see the imposing Trongsa Dzong across a deep canyon as we approach the city. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. After lunch, 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. Continue driving towards Bumthang (2.5 hrs), one the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the spiritual and historical heartland of the country. The road winds steeply up to Yo-Tong La Pass (3,400m) before descending down through dense coniferous forest to Chummey valley. Enjoy a visit to the Chummey weavers’ workshop (at the beginning of the only straight road in Bhutan!). Here you can see example of Bumthang’s noted textiles. Some of the most popular are Mathra, deep wine and dark green plaid fine wool, nowadays made into colorful scarves, bags, blankets and sweaters. 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 07 (13 Nov): BUMTHANG
Enjoy a day exploring some of the incredible sites of Bumthang, including 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. Also visit Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom where Bhutan’s patron saint Guru Rimpoche meditated and 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. Overnight at your lodge in Bumthang.
DAY 08 (14 Nov): BUMTHANG – PUNAKHA
After breakfast drive to Punakha crossing over Kiki La Pass & Yo-Tong La Pass. We'll stop for a short break in Trongsa to visit the Tower of Trongsa Royal Museum. This watchtower (ta dzong) overlooking the dzong now houses an excellent museum. The five floors of displays tell the history of the monarchy through an incredible collection of historical artefacts of the Royal Family and a range of traditional armour. Continue your drive to Punakha. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha.
DAY 09 (15 Nov): 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.
Take a picnic lunch on a picturesque riverside before exploring the Wangduephodrang Dzong. Built in 1639 the strategically located Dzong is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. 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.
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, the day could be spent on a day trip to the Haa Valley, one of the most picturesque districts in Bhutan. Reached via the beautiful Chelela Pass, Haa Valley is characterised by its surrounding rugged and mountainous terrain. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 11 (17 Nov): DEPART PARO
Enjoy a last breakfast in Bhutan before driving off to the airport for your onward flight. Tashi Delek !