Day 1, 8 Oct 2020. Arrive in Paro
A trip to Bhutan actually begins as the plane descends towards the country‚Äôs only international airport, flying over the Himalayas, offering a glimpse at the peak of Mt. Everest (on a clear day). The plane then navigates through the narrow valleys of the Himalaya until it descends into the airport of Paro.
After landing in Paro, and dealing with immigration formalities, meet the local guide and spend the afternoon exploring the sites of Paro. Begin with the National Museum, located just by the ancient watch tower of Paro Dzong. The museum features a unique collection of traditional and religious artefacts commonly used in Bhutan, alongside elaborate explanation on these artefacts, their history, and the way they are being used by the locals throughout the generations. Another exhibition gives an interesting sight into the country‚Äôs flora, fauna and unique geographical features. From here, take to Paro Dzong, which was constructed by the founder of modern-day Bhutan back in the mid-17th century. The Dzong considered to be a fine example of traditional Dzong architecture, with its thick and towering walls surrounding the 14 shrines and chapels of the complex. In the evening enjoy a traditional Bhutanese meal served in a local farmhouse. This is a chance to meet the people of Bhutan up-close, and hear their thoughts on current affairs in Bhutan these days. Late in the evening take to the hotel for a first night in Bhutan.
Day 2, 9 Oct 2020. Flight to Bumthang
This morning drive back to Paro Airport for the 25 minutes‚Äô scenic flight to Bumthang Valley. On a clear day, enjoy the stunning view of the Himalayas just over the plane‚Äôs wings (note: for good views of the Himalayas, choose a seat on the plane‚Äôs left side). Bumthang valley, which its villages retain to date a rather medieval atmosphere to them, often dubbed as the ‚Äėpantry of Bhutan‚Äô. The fertile lands are covered with fields of potatoes, rice and buckwheat, and dairy farms and apple orchards are rather common sites, lying alongside old and rustic farm houses. This is where Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan, and thus, the location of some of the country‚Äôs most ancient and revered religious monuments, temples and monasteries. Many myths that form the founding ethos of the Bhutanese people refers to sites located within the valley.
In the afternoon, visit Jakar Dzong and walk downhill into the town area, passing through local villages, and pause by hidden shrines/temples along the way. In the evening, visit Kharchu Drastang monastery, possibly during the monks‚Äô evening theological debates and prayers. Then revert to the hotel for a good night‚Äôs sleep.
Day 3, 10 Oct 2020. In Bumthang
Drive out of the hotel for a walking tour to the surroundings of Jakar- the main town of Bumthang Valley. Begin with a short ride to Jambay Lhkhang. It is said that Padmasambhava, the propagator of Buddhism in Bhutan has first settled here, and this is where King Songtsen Gampo built Jambay Lakhang temple back in 659 AD in order to subdue a demon that laid over the Himalayas. From here follow a beautiful trail to the 17th century Kurjey Lakhang, overlooking the Chamkhar Chu River. Cross the river over the suspension bridge to Dorjibi village, a local weaving center and a village temple. Later walk to Tamshing monastery, the most important site for the Nyingma School, the oldest of the four main Tibetan Buddhist schools. Then board the vehicle and drive back to the hotel for a second night in Jakar.
Day 4, 11 Oct 2020. Bumthang ‚Äď Trongsa
Leave the valley of Bhumtang and head to Trongsa. Drive past Youtung La Pass, rising some 3425 meters (11,237 feet) above sea level. En route pause by the Yathra Weaving ladies. These artisans preserve generations‚Äô old tradition of hand weaving decorative rugs that are then being hanged on the walls of homes in the region. From here proceed to Trongsa Dzong, one of the most impressive of all of Bhutan‚Äôs Dzongs. A Dzong is a monastery-fortress complex, and a vivid evidence to the turbulent history of Bhutan. Though Bhutan today widely perceived as a peaceful country, commonly known as ‚Äėthe happiest place in the world‚Äô, it has been for centuries the ground of ongoing bloody battles amidst waring lords, all of them serving as high ranking religious clerks. Those local lords fought over royalty rights, territory, and subjects. With slavery being abolished in Bhutan only in the late 1950‚Äôs, larger territory meant more working hands and crop-yielding plots for the local ruler‚Äôs benefit.
The dzong forms a rambling collection of buildings trailing down the ridge with succession of beautiful courtyards, overlooking Mangde Chu river. Though the history of the Dzong goes back to the mid-16th century, it is remarkably preserved not only by its structure, but also for its significant role of keeping the ancient Buddhist traditions. From here it‚Äôs a short drive to the hotel, overlooking the beautiful Dzong.
Day 5, 12 Oct 2020. Trongsa ‚Äď Pobjika
The day begins with a beautiful drive along a winding road offering great views over terraced rice paddies. Cross Pele La Pass of ‚Äúonly‚ÄĚ 3353 meters (11,000 feet) above sea level, before descending into Gangtey Valley. At the afternoon arrive at the small temple of Gangtey, and if time permit, embark on a leisurely hike on a trail that runs along farmhouses and through a forest, overlooking a beautiful valley where the locals work their vegetables plots, with view of traditional Bhutanese villages dotting the ridge on the other side of the valley. From trail‚Äôs end, it‚Äôs a short drive to the hotel for the night.
Day 6, 13 Oct 2020. Festival in Pobjika - Punakha
Today is a big day for the residents of Pobjika and the nearby villages. Join the locals as they gather at Gangtey Monastery, which sits atop a hillock overlooking the Pobjika valley. It is headed by the ninth Gangtey Tulku and is the largest Nyingma monastery in western Bhutan. The monastery was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinlay, a grandson and reincarnation of influential treasure finder Pema Lingpa. This is where a local festival (Tshechu) takes place today. Bhutanese Festivals always revolve around a religious ceremony of elaborate dances performed by monks wearing huge colorful masks, representing universal forces, and many of the rich and diverse figures comprising the pantheon of gods of the Bhutanese Buddhism and mythology. The dances serve as a supposed reenactment of the constant struggle between good and evil, with the good eventually prevails, but not diminishing the evil, so there would be a good reason for the ceremony to take place again next year. Alongside the engaging dances, the grounds surrounding the ancient monastery where the Tsechu takes place turns into a huge fair. People from the surrounding villages flock to the monastery which turns into a huge market for the day, where locals sell their fresh produce, engage in fortune telling, or just meet old friends from across the valley. After lunch board the vehicle, and embark on the drive to Punakha, arriving there rather late in the evening to check-in the hotel.
Day 7, 14 Oct 2020. In Punakha
Begin the day with a hike up to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. The Chorten (stupa) was built back in 1994 by the Queen Mother, one of the four wives of the fourth king of Bhutan, the father of the reigning king. Her Majesty built the stupa to bring world peace, and drive away negative forces. The exterior of the chorten is a magnificent testimony to traditional Bhutanese architecture, while the interior offers elaborate display of the rich pantheon of Bhutanese Buddhist deities. At the fourth story of the stupa there is a balcony offering unparalleled vista over Punakha valley and the mighty Mo River, and on clear days, a glimpse over the ever-snowed peaks of the Himalayas to the north.
After lunch, visit Punakha Dzong, probably the most revered Dzong throughout Bhutan. Initially built by Ngawang Namgyal, the nation‚Äôs forefather in the mid-17th century, it is the place at which in 1907 the coronation of the first king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, has taken place. Later it was where the treaty between the British empire and the Bhutanese king was signed, through which the British stated their recognition of the sovereignty of Bhutan as an independent State.
Day 8, 15 Oct 2020. Punakha ‚Äď Thimphu
Leave Punakha, and head towards Ducho-La, the 3,100 meters (10,171 feet) mountain pass, offering (on clear days) magnificent views of the Himalaya Mountain Range. The roots of Bhutanese Buddhism, a close relative of Tibetan Buddhism, derived from fusion between Indian Buddhism and shamanic beliefs of worshiping the spirits of nature, and above them all, the spirit of the sky, the founding father of the entire cosmos, and of all spirits. Thus, mountain passes, which are the closest places at which traveler get to the ‚Äúfather‚ÄĚ, are considered holy. From the mountain pass embark on a three hours‚Äô hike. The trail takes through thick beautiful forest to Lungchuzekha Lhakhang, a small but impressive temple nestled on a mountain top, offering marvelous view over other mountain tops and beautiful valleys. At trek‚Äôs end revert to the vehicle, and continue driving to Thimphu, the national capital, and the seat of the King of Bhutan. Thimphu is nestled in the heart of a fertile valley, where nearly half of the country‚Äôs revenues are being produced. This signifies the importance of the city which was established when several villages have been unified by the end of the country‚Äôs last major war, back in 1885. Upon arrival in Thimphu, check-in the hotel at the city‚Äôs center.
Day 9, 16 Oct 2020. Thimphu
The day would be dedicated to exploring the sites throughout Thimphu. First visit the local market, where city dwellers come to purchase anything from fresh produce and household appliances to religious artifacts. Then proceed to a vocational school where traditional crafts are being taught to the younger generation, in an effort to preserve these unique art forms. Next, pay a visit to the newly constructed Buddha Dordenma statue, a gigantic 52 meters tall status of Buddha Shakyamuni, built at the cost of US$ 47 million between 2006 and 2015. The shrine located under the Buddha statue houses over 100,000 gilded Buddha statues. From here, drive to a vantage point over Thimphu Dzong, the seat of the local parliament. Late in the afternoon visit the national stadium, where locals often engage in friendly archery competitions- being the national sport. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 10, 17 Oct 2020. Paro- hike to the Tigress Lair
Leave the Bhutanese capital city for the one-and-a-half hours‚Äô drive back to Paro, where the trip first begun. Continue out of town to the trailhead for the Taktsang hike. Taktsang literally translates into ‚Äėtigress lair‚Äô, a name derived from the legend of Padmasambhava flying on a tigress back from Singye Dzong in eastern Bhutan to this very location, where he then meditated for three months and left his body imprint on the rock. Today this iconic monastery is probably the best-known image of Bhutan.
The hike is divided into two segments- from the trailhead to the cafeteria located about halfway to the monastery, and then, from the cafeteria to the monastery itself. Each segment is of about 1 hour‚Äôs walk uphill. For the first segment one might choose to ride atop a mule, while the second segment can be done only on foot.
It is also possible to do only the first segment, enjoy the view of the monastery from the cafeteria without ascending all the way to the monastery itself.
As the hike ends, ride to the center of Paro where a variety of cafes located amidst shops selling all sorts of traditional Bhutanese souvenirs- a great chance to grab some material memories of Bhutan and take these back home. At the afternoon head back to the hotel for a last night in Paro, and in Bhutan.
Day 11, 18 Oct 2020. Departure from Paro
This morning transfer to Paro Airport for the morning departure flight from Paro.