Sandwiched between India and Tibet, the small landlocked nation of Bhutan has for centuries preferred to keep its Himalayan curtains drawn.
Up until the 1960’s, there were no telephones, no paper currency, no roads, cars or even parking tickets. It wasn’t until 1974 that they put cultural bouncers on the door and began to let well-heeled travelers in - a few at a time and no smoking (cigarettes are banned!). In 1999 television was eventually introduced, and by 2007, Bhutan held its first general elections making the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. Bhutan today is known for its florid monasteries, pristine scenery and colorful folk culture. By royal decree, citizens must wear traditional dress in public during the day, which lends the nation an odd Disneyesque charm. Some say it's the happiest kingdom in the world.
|Arrive in Paro, drive to Thimphu
|Drive to Punakha
|Drive back to Paro
On arriving at the Paro:
International Airport, our representative will receive you and escort you to the hotel in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. The drive takes you through the winding road with lots of beautiful hamlets. Visit the Simtokha Dzong.
Simtokha Dzong: Located 5 km south of Thimphu on the road to Paro and Phuentsholing, Simtokha Dzong is officially known as ‘Sangkak Zabdhon Phodrang’ or the Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras. Built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it is often said to be the first dzong built in Bhutan and is a gateway to Thimphu Valley. The name Simtokha is derived from the name sinmo (demoness) and do (stone), the site is said to have been chosen to guard over a demon that had vanished into the rock nearby.
It is the first structure that incorporated both monastic and administrative facilities. Since 1961 it has been the home of the Rigney School for Dzongkha and monastic studies. Its students are both monks and ordinary people. The Dzong’s antique murals are renowned for their historic and artistic value and the frescoes and images are among the finest in the country.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu
Visit Memorial Chorten, The National Institute of Traditional Medicine, Tashichho Dzong and Folk Heritage Museum
The Memorial Chorten, also known as the Thimphu Chorten, is a large Tobetan-style Buddhist Monastery is a popular landmark in the city with its golden spires and bells. It was built in 1974 to honor the memory of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The architecture of the chorten has been designed to present it as ‘one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu’.
The whitewashed chorten is decorated with richly carved annexes facing the cardinal directions, and features elaborate mandalas, statues and a shrine dedicated to the popular third king. There are numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues housed inside reflecting both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities.This chorten is unlike other chortens as it does not enshrine the mortal remains of the King. Only the King’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor. The King when he was alive wanted to build ‘a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha’.
The National Institute of Traditional Medicine was established in 1988 with the concept to merge the allopathic and traditional systems of healing. It contains an impressive, large laboratory and production facilities that ensures quality of the products, the components of which includes plants, minerals, animal parts, precious metals and gems. The Institution produces traditional Bhutanese medicine towards the needs of the public. There is a day-care facility and clinic where doctors diagnose patients and prescribe appropriate medicines or treatments. The institute also researches the use of herbs and plants and has a plot on the premises. A small museum and a gift shop (where the famous herbal tea -Tsheringma- is produced) are also present in its compounds. There is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners. After the closing of the Institute the visitors can walk along the compound to view it from the outside.
Tashichho Dzong: Located on the northern edge of the city of Thimpu, on the western bank of the Wang chu Tashichho Dzong is Bhutan’s most stately and arguably the most impressive building. It has traditionally been the seat of the Druk desi or ‘Dharma Raja’, the head of Bhutan’s civil government, an office which has been combined with the kingship since the creation of the monarchy in 1907, and summer capital of the country. It houses the throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and is the summer residence of the venerated monastic community. The current dzong is the impressive result of a redesign of the original medieval structure sanctioned by the Third King, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, when he moved the capital to Thimpu from Punakha.
The Fortress of the glorious religion houses the throne room of His Majesty the King, the main secretariat building and the central monk body. Its courtyard is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tshechu and when the monk moves to its winter residence in Punakha.
The Folk heritage museum: A three storied traditional building houses the Folk Heritage Museum. The earthen and timber building was renovated and restored few years ago to appear as it was century ago. Established in 2001 in Thimphu, the museum provides glimpse into the traditional Bhutanese material culture and way of life. The artifacts, which are kept inside the house, remind the visitors about how the rural Bhutanese live today. This 19th century traditional house provides you a glimpse of the Bhutanese lifestyle, and artifacts from the rural households. One can come across typical household objects, tools and equipment.
Besides, the museum also organizes demonstrations of rural traditions, skills, habits and customs and educational programs for children. The activities of the museum follow a seasonal rhythm, just like the activities of a true rural household, offering you something new to see, every time you visit it. The rural setting and flavor has been well-preserved and you can see paddy, wheat and millet fields here, a traditional water-mill with mill stones more than 150 years old, traditional style kitchen gardens with vegetables that were grown over the past 100 years and the famous traditional hot stone bath. Native trees and plants that had domestic uses in Bhutanese rural household are being grown here in an effort to keep indigenous knowledge about the use of natural resources alive and have a patch of greenery, right in the heart of the capital city of Thimphu.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu
Today we will do a excursion to Haa valley.
Haa Valley which is often known as “Hidden-Land Rice Valley” is one of the most picturesque places in Bhutan. According to the legend, the Haa valley, before the 8th century, was wrapped up in animist tradition. Some elements of this belief system still exist in form of festivals and rituals. The tantric master Padmasambhava visited the valley in the 8th century and transformed some blood sacrificing animist beliefs into peaceful Buddhist traditions. Ap Chundu and several other deities, once hostile animist forces, were subdued and made the guardians of the land.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro
Today you will be transferred to the airport for your onward journey.
After breakfast, Visit ‘The Takin’ in Thimphu then drive to Punakha and visit Do Chula Pass (on the way) and Chimi Lakhang.
The Takin (Budorcas taxicor) is the national animal of Bhutan and also called cattle chamois. This globally rare and endangered animal is admired for its unique physique and agility on steep terrain of Bhutan. According to Lam Drukpa Kuenley(Devine Madman) Takin was created by joining the bones of a goat’s head and bones of the cow’s body. Thimphu Takins are kept in Motithang Takin Preserve center or Takin Mini Zoo.
Dochula Pass, located 30 km away from the capital, on the way to Punakha from Thimphu offers a 360-degree of beautiful panoramic view of Himalaya mountain range, especially on clear winter days. The 108 chortens that adorn the beauty of this place were built by Queen Mother to commemorate the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed when fighting the Indian rebels in 2003. The pass is also popular spiritual place for both locals and tourists because of an important temple that is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
Besides the spirituality of the place many Bhutanese families visit the pass during holidays and weekends to simply enjoy the scenery of the place with their pack lunch and hot tea. For tourists, the place is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalaya mountain range provided the weather permits.
Chimi Lhakhang: located near Lobesa, Punakha stands on a round hillock and is flanked by hundreds of prayer flags. Built in 1499, this monastery is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kinley or ‘the Divine Madman’. An accomplished master of Mahamudra Buddhist Tradition, he is also known as the ‘Mad Saint’ for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humor and outrageous behavior, which amounted to being bizarre and strong sexual overtones and inclinations.
Drukpa Kinley is also a cultural icon in Bhutan around whom countless yarns, fictions, stories and legends have been spun. In founding the site it is said that Lama Kunley subdued a demon of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” and trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the chorten now stands. He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eves. The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. This wooden phallus is decorated with a silver handle and is used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessings to beget children. The tradition at the monastery is to strike pilgrims on the head with a 10 inch (25 cm) wooden phallus (erect penis). Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha
Hike Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten and later visit Punakha Dzong
Drive 12 km north of Punakha and hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a fine example of Bhutanese architecture and artistic traditions. An hour hike to the Chorten, through a moderately inclined trail surrounded by pine trees, this site offers beautiful view of the Punakha Valley.
The Chorten built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
A fine example of Bhutanese architecture and artistic traditions, the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten stands out on a beautiful ridge above the Punakha valley. This 4-storey temple was built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck as per the Holy Scriptures and took 9 years to complete it. This temple has been dedicated for the well being of the kingdom, its people and all sentient beings.
Punakha Dzong: The Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong (meaning ‘the palace of great happiness or bliss’) is the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag in Punakha, Bhutan. Constructed by Zhabdrung (Shabdrung) Ngawang Namgyal on the 8th day and 8th month of the Fire ox year in 1673, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. Punakha Dzong was the administrative centre and the seat of the Government of Bhutan until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu.
It is a six-storied structure with a central tower or Utse at an average elevation of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) with a scenic, mountainous background. The materials used in building the Dzong consisted of compacted earth, stones and timber in doors and windows. The Dzong was constructed as ‘an embodiment of Buddhist values’. The first King of modern Bhutan was crowned in Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong remained the centre of government until it was relocated to Thimphu. In 2011, the wedding of the 5th King was held in this fortress.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha
Drive back to Paro and visit National Museum and Paro Dzong
The National Museum of Bhutan is housed inside the revamped circular Ta-dzong building, an ancient watchtower above the Paro Dzong. This unusual round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell. The original building was constructed in 1656 but the building was converted into a museum in 1968. The necessary infrastructure was created to house some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, including masterpieces of bronze statues and paintings gathered from different parts of the country. Suitable galleries were constructed to house the extensive collections. Works of art were elegantly displayed on scientific lines.
Some of the handicrafts items cover the history and cultural heritage of more than 1500 years. The National Museum has in its possession over 3,000 works of Bhutanese art, rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines that represent a remarkable blend of the past with the present and is a major attraction for local and foreign visitors.
Paro Dzong is one of the most impressive and well-known dzongs in Bhutan. One of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture, it is also known as the Ringpung Dzong, which means ‘fortress on a heap of jewels’. It is the administrative seat of the district of Paro. The dzong was built in the 16th century on the foundation of a monastery built by Guru Rinpoche. It was used on numerous occasions to defend the Paro Valley from invasions by Tibet.
Unlike most of the other dzongs in Bhutan, it survived the massive 1897 earthquake mostly unscathed, though it was almost burnt to the ground by a fire in 1907. All-important relics were lost to the fire and nothing could be salvaged except for the Thongdrol, a 20×20 meter-wide Thangka. The Thangka is displayed annually during a ceremony called Paro Tshechu. The Dzong was however rebuilt the following year.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro
Visit Hike to Taktsang monastery and later visit Drukgyel Dzong and Kyichu lakhang.
Drukgyel Dzong: The Drukgyel Dzong in Paro was built as one of the four principal Dra Dzongs (defense fortress). It was built in 1649 to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the allied Tibet-Mongol forces. Drukgyel means ‘the fortress of victory’. The Dzong sits on a trail that leads to the Paro Valley from Tibet. It was once a major trade route between Bhutan and the Tibetan town of Phari.
The Dzong was used as an administrative centre till 1951 when a fire caused by a butter lamp engulfed the Dzong and completely destroyed it. All that remains of the Dzong now are tokens of a haunted house, still robust walls and charred remains of gigantic wooden posts and beams.
As a defense fortress, Drukgyel Dzong is said to have housed the finest armory in the country, which was located in a room overlooking the southern valley. While most were burnt in the fire some that were saved from the fire are now kept in Rinpung Dzong.
Taktsang Monastery: Drive to Satsam chorten and hike to Taktsang Monastery (10 Km) from Paro Town. The name Taktsang means “Tiger’s Nest”. The monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800m.And overlooks the Paro Valley and the river. It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, Guru Padma Sambhava known as the second Buddha in Bhutan, meditated at the spot where the monastery is situated having alighted there on the back of a flying tigress.
The hike takes about 4 hours back and forth depending on the level of the hikers. Once you reach the view point of the monastery you have the option to visit the monastery which takes another hour hike.
Perched on the side of a vertical cliff at 3000 m altitude north of Paro, this monastery creates an impressive sight, and is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan. It is one of the most famous Buddhist Monasteries in Bhutan and is also referred to as the ‘Tiger’s Nest’. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) flew to this location from Khenpajong, Tibet on the back of a tigress and subdued a demon. He then meditated in a cave here for three months and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and blessed the place. Guru Padmasambhava is known for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen caves in which he meditated.
The first monastery was constructed 1694, but in 1998 a tragic fire destroyed most of the original buildings – which have since been painstakingly restored to their former glory. Taktsang Monastery is a pilgrimage site for both tourists and locals, it is a journey filled with spiritual bliss. Keeping the spiritual side aside, the journey up to Taktsang Monastery is a Hiker’s delight. An hour hike up to a small wooden teahouse called Cafeteria provides close view of the monastery. A further and a rather challenging hike lead you to the glorious Taktsang Monastery.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro
· Arrival/Departure transfers LuxuryDMC
· Meet and assistance at the airport.
· 02 Nights hotel accommodation at Hotel -Thimphu in twin/double occupancy basis on full board plan.
· 02 Night hotel accommodation at Hotel - Punakha in twin/double occupancy basis on full board plan.
· 03 Nights hotel accommodation at Hotel - Paro in twin/double occupancy basis on full board plan.
· All the sightseeing tour and transfers as per the itinerary with English speaking guide.
· All surface transportation by private vehicle.
· Bhutan Visa fee.
· Tourism development fee & Entrance fee in Bhutan.
Cost does not include:
· International airfare and airport taxes.
· Items of personal nature such as bar bills, alcoholic beverages, laundry, telephone calls, extra mileage, personal gratuities as tips to guide, porters, drivers etc
· Personal insurance policy – suggested a comprehensive travel insurance covering tour and flight cancellations, loss of valuables, thefts, illness, accidents and hospitalization; and most of all Emergency Helicopter Evacuation.
· Expenses incurred by re-routing, inclement weather, floods, famine, political disruptions, strikes, riots and other disturbances.
· Any items/ services that are not mentioned on cost inclusions.