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BHUTAN

BHUTAN -  5 DAYS in the Land of the Thunder Dragon

A kingdom where Buddhism and nature have come together to forge a world whose primary goal is human happiness.  Land locked, and tucked away in the Himalayas, this little kingdom limits the number of tourists per year on purpose to guarantee that their unique culture and way of life will not be dramatically altered by the outside world.  Hence, the government sets a daily rate for visitors to Bhutan.  The rate includes everything (hotels, transportation, meals, sightseeing), but limits the number of days most travelers want to spend there.

We have itineraries ranging from 5 days upward.  The best time to travel is during festivals which are in the spring and fall.  The winter is too cold.  This is a mountain kingdom.  The summer can be wet.

5 day Itinerary   - Paro,  Thimpu,  Punakha, Wangdue

See day 1 itinerary.

 

 

Day 1: Arrive Paro (Altitude: 7,000 feet)

Paro valley is home to many of Bhutan ’s sacrosanct monasteries and temples. The country’s only airport is in Paro. Mount Chomolhari (7,300 meters) is situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu (river) curving through the valley.

When the plane glides over the clouds one can witness the Himalayan peaks. The cockpit will advise you on mountains like Mt. Everest , Mt. Kanchenjunga , Mt. Chomolhari & Mt. Jechu Drake. As the aircraft arrives to Paro valley, you will see Paro Dzong, the magnificent monastic fortress on the hillside overlooking the Pachu (River) and the Ta Dzong (Watchtower) and the National Museum above it.

After arrival transfer to your hotel, tea and snacks and a bit of relaxation, your guide and the driver will take you around the valley for sightseeing.

Drive to Drugyal Dzong, a ruined fortress where several Tibetan invasions were resisted centuries ago by the Bhutanese warriors. The fortress during the period served as barrack and was built on the main route where the Tibetans could enter. The fortress caught on fire in 1950 and burnt down to the ground.

On a clear day one can see Mount Chomolhari (mountain goddess) from the village below the ruined fortress.

On way back, the winding road will take you through the lush pine trees along the settlements. Stop on the way and visit Kyichu Lhakang, a sacred monastery which dates back to 17th century. This monastery is one of the oldest in Bhutan . Drive back to your hotel for lunch.

After Lunch: Visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a watchtower now turned into the National Museum . The Museum has the exclusive collection of antique scroll paintings, textiles, weapons and armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.

Walk down the trail to visit Ringpung Dzong (fortress of the heap of jewels), with its wooden galleries, fine wall paintings expressing Buddhist values and spiritual events. It is the venue for the annual festival held every spring.  

In the evening stroll around the town to feel the cultural diversity. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.

See day 2 itinerary.

Day 2: Paro to Thimphu (Altitude 7,000 ft)

After breakfast drive to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan .  Visit Tamchoe Lhakang across the river. You will have to cross a historic suspension bridge built with an iron chain.  The journey would take an hour and half to get you to the capital city.

Thimphu is a bustling town located on the banks of Thimphu chu (river) and set in the hills of the valley. It is home to the Bhutanese Royal Family, the Royal Government and to several foreign missions and development projects.  

On reaching the capital city, visit Trashichhoedzong (fortress of the glorious religion). It houses the throne room of His Majesty the King, the main secretariat building and the central body of monks. Then visit Memoral Chorten- this stupa was built in 1974 by the mother of the Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in memory of her son. Drive into the town and lunch in one of the best hotels in the town.

After lunch, visit National Library where Bhutan history is preserved in the form of religious and historical literature, Institute of 13 traditional arts and crafts; Institude of Traditional Medicine.  The complex has the traditional medicine production unit, the treatment hospital and the school. Also visit Handicraft Emporium.

If a week-end, visit the weekend market which takes place every Saturday and Sunday, a fun local market. Most of the Thimphu population congregates on the banks of the river where the weekend market is held. Here villagers from the valley and other nearby places come to sell their produce.

In the evening, stroll around the town on your own. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu .

See day 3 itinerary.

Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha (Altitude 4,420 ft)

Breakfast in your hotel.  Drive to Semtokha Dzong, which is five miles from the town. On a lofty ridge stands the Dzong, the oldest fortress in the kingdom. The fortress now houses the institute for Language and Culture.

Drive over Dochu-la Pass (10,130 ft). Stop at the summit to view the beautiful panoramic sight of the Himalayan Mountains .  Impressive fusion of morning sunlight and the snow-capped mountain peaks are visible especially on clear winter days. The beauty of the place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyal Chortens- a 108 stupas built by the   Queen mother of Bhutan , H.H Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. Continue on a winding road descending through the rhododendron forest to a blue pine tree forest  You enter the valley of Punakha on the two rivers- Pho Chu and Mo Chu.  The drive is about 3 hours and half.

Punakha served as the capital city of Bhutan until 1955. It is the winter seat of the Je-Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the body of monks. It has a temperate climate and fertile agriculture land.

Visit the Dzong. Punakha Dzong was built by Zhabdrung in 1637. Zhabdrung is a saint who was born in Tibet and came to Bhutan in 1616. He united the country under one rule and religion. The Dzong stands majestically at the junction of the two rivers. After the visit, break for lunch in one of the finest hotels in the town.

Visit Khamsum Yulley Namgayal Chhorten- built by the third Queen, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. This stupa is is a splendid example of fine Bhutanese architecture and art. It is only one of in the world.

In the evening stroll around the town on your own. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Punakha.

See day 4 itinerary.

Day 4: Punakha to Wangdue (Altitude 4,430 ft) and to Paro.

After breakfast in the hotel drive to Wangdue Phodrang. (30 minutes) This town is located south of Punakha and is the last town before central Bhutan . The place is famous for its fine bamboo work and its slate and stone carving.

On the way to Wanguephodrang, visit Chemolhakang, a monastery of a divine mad man (Lam Drukpa Kuenley). Brief hike- about 20 minutes from the road. En route, visit a few fairm houses.

When reaching Wangdue visit the Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of the fortress is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view both up and down the valley. Lunch will be in one of the best hotels there.

Continue your journey towards Paro. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.

See day 5 itinerary.

Day 5: Paro Taktsang Excursion

The Taktsang, (Tiger’s lair) is perched on the side of a cliff at a height of 900m above the Paro valley. The hike up to the monastery takes about 3-4 hours. There is a lookout point and a cafeteria about two hours walk from the road head.    If you prefer not to hike, there are other options in town that will be of interest.

After breakfast, hike up to Taktsang Monastery. It is said that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche (a saint) flew on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan and meditated in a cave for 3 months to subdue the demons.  The principal structure of the monastery dates back to 1692. The monastery was engulfed by fire in 1998 but has been fully restored to its former beauty.

Lunch will be served at the cafeteria at the monastery. After lunch descend to the road and drive back to the hotel.

A hot-stone bath will be arranged.

See departure day.

Day 6: Departure

Breakfast and depart for your onward journey. Your driver and guide will take you to the airport.

PRICE PER PERSON IS SET BY THE BHUTAN GOVERNMENT AND VARIES SLIGHTLY DEPENDING ON NUMBER OF TRAVELERS: $250/PER DAY/PER PERSON.

That includes everything:   hotels, transportation, meals, sightseeing
Aman Resorts opened some small properties but they are very pricey.

FLIGHTS TO ASIA AND INTO BHUTAN ARE EXTRA. 

FLIGHTS ARE GENERALLY FROM BANGKOK OR CALCUTTA OR KATHMANDU

EXTENSIONS INTO SIKKIM ALSO AVAILABLE.    Your guide and driver will take you into Sikkim or Darjeeling if you wish to extend your trip.

See sample of festival activities.

Regional Information

Paro (Altitude 8500 feet) 
Depending on the season the valley floor is covered with green, yellow or brown fields, while small hamlets and isolated farms dot the landscape. The valley is also known for its red rice, apples and fruits. The Paro festival (Paro Tshechu) is a famous event every year and draws thousands of visitors from around the world. Some of the places you can visit while in Paro are Drugyel Dzong, Rinpung Dzong, Ta Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang and Taktsang Monastery. 

Haa 
To the north-west is the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. To the south it is bounded by Samtse Dzongkhag (district), to the south-east by Chukha, and to the east by Paro Dzongkhag. Haa is a culturally rich valley and some of the famous sites in Haa are the Lhakhang Nap (Black), Lhakhang Karp (White), and Haa Gonpa. Beside the above sites, the valley itself is dotted with pretty villages and the rich architectural works can be seen on every house. There are day hikes starting from Haa that will take you to Paro through lush coniferous forests. Chelela pass between Haa and Paro is a popular spot for finding the rare Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan . 

Thimphu (Altitude 8500)  
About 53 Km from Paro airport is Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan . The centre of government administration, religion & commerce, Thimphu is a unique city, with an unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient tradition. Home to civil servants, expatriates and the monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style. The Thinchu river cuts through the narrow valley. Major places of interest in Thimphu are the Memorial Chorten, Tashichhodzong, Simtokha Dzong, National Library, Zorig Chusum Institute, Folk Heritage Museum , Textile Museum with Day hikes to Phajoding Goenpa, Tango and Cheri Monastery. At the National Library, you can glimpse the largest book in the world entitled “ Bhutan ” by Michael Hawley from MIT. 

Punakha  
Two and a half hour’s drive from Thimphu is the old capital of Bhutan , Punakha. Pine trees line the journey out of Thimphu to this old capital with a climb to Dochula pass (10,500 ft) giving travelers a spectacular view of the mighty Himalayan mountains towards the north. On the descent you enter lush rhododendron and cool broadleaved forests. In Spring the rhododendrons are in bloom and the whole mountainside is decked in white, pink, yellow and red blossoms. The dangling lichens are indication of the clean unpolluted mountain air. Located at an altitude of 4430 feet above sea level, Pungthang Dechen Phodrang “ Palace of Great Happiness ,” popularly known as Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is the winter residence of Bhutan ’s spiritual leader Je Khenpo and the monks of the Central Monastic Body. The majestic fortress sits on a spit of land between the male and female rivers (Pho Chu and Mo Chu). It was here on 17th December 1907 that Bhutan ’s first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned. It is also the venue for the Punakha Dromchoe festival held in February or March each year.  About 12 Km away from Punakha, towards Wangduephodrang is another historical monument Chimi Lhakhang dedicated to the ‘Divine Madman’ Drukpa Kuenley.There are various places for day hike, bird watching and trekking in Punakha. 

Wangdiphodrang 
The last town on the lateral highway before entering Central Bhutan has the beautiful Wangdue Phodrang Dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1638. It sits on a hilltop overlooking the two rivers Punatsang Chu and Dang Chu. This Dzong played a critical role in the 17th century in unifying the districts of western, central and southern Bhutan . Located at the same elevation as Punakha, it's about 30 minutes drive from Punakha. The Wangdue festival is celebrated here in the fall. Rinchengang, a densely clustered village sprawling on the slope facing the Wangdue Dzong, is known for its skilled stone masons. It is a short 20 minutes hike uphill to the village and offers a great view of the Dzong, the valley and the river. 

Reminders

Expert Local Guide

Our trips feature gifted local leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you things you'd never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You'll be in good hands with them every step of the way. By the way, you should know that, unlike in some countries, driver and guide are different persons.

Vehicle

Depending on group size, we use cars, Japanese Hiave Van, SUVS or mini buses. All are in excellent condition.

Visa& Passports

Valid passports and an entry visa are essential. Travelers to Bhutan are permitted only as a member of a commercially organized tour group. Visa clearances are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu and must be obtained before departing for Bhutan . Druk Air tickets cannot be purchased without visa clearance. At your port of entry your visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of fee. Visa fee is included in your trip cost.

Following information needs to be forwarded to us at least four weeks prior to date of travel for processing visa and arranging accommodation

  • All tour fees paid
  • Copy of passport
  • Visa Application including:
    • Full Name
    • Permanent Address
    • Place of Birth, Date of Birth
    • Nationality
    • Profession
    • Nature of Passport: Diplomatic / Official / Ordinary / UN Laissez Passer
    • Passport Number, Date of Issue, Place of Issue, Date of Expiry
    • Date & Duration of visit

Also four copies of original passport size photographs should be mailed to us along with this information.

Actual visa is stamped on arrival in Bhutan while visa is cleared in advance and a visa clearance number issued.

NOTE: Visas cannot be obtained at Bhutanese embassies.

A few days before departure, you will be sent a scanned copy of Bhutan visa clearance letter or we simply e-mail you the visa reference number. You should have a visa approval letter or reference number handy while checking in Druk Air flights and also upon arrival at Paro airport. Your passport is stamped with actual visa at Paro airport. Bhutan visa fee is included in the trip cost.

Bhutan Internal Flights

Bhutan internal flights are manually booked in Thimphu . If time permits, we can mail you the tickets or you can collect them at the Druk Air counters at the Gateway Airports.

Trip Activity Level

The trip is mostly motor vehicle based sightseeing but you may require taking some walks and short hikes. There are a  few passes over 10,000ft. usually as you are being driven over mountains.  You don’t go to any higher altitudes. . Anybody with normal health conditions should not experience any difficulties.  Please check with your physician if you have altitude problems.

 If you will be there for a festival

Most festivals include a lot of dancing and cultural activity, so make sure you have ample space on your memory stick.

Examples of the dances usually included at festivals are listed below.  Generally, you would not stay for the entire 5 days of the festival, but most likely only 2 days max.

Because flights into Bhutan are quite limited, we strongly recommend you book your trip 6 months in advance if possible.  At 3 or 4 months you might not be able to get air space during festitval times.

See sample of festival activities.

Sample of Festival Activities - Paro Festival

Enjoy mask dance and cultural festivities at the Paro Festival. 

 Day 1 (Inside the Dzong) 
Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort (Shinje Yab Yum) 
Dance of Lords of Cremations Grounds ( Durdag ) 
Dance of Black Hats ( Shanag) 
Dance of Drum from Dramistse (Dramitse Nacham) 
Dance of Eight kinds of Spirits (Degye ) 
Religious Song (Chhoeshey)

 Day 2 (Outside the Dzong) 
Dance of the Lord of Death and His Consort (Shinje Yab Yum) 
Dance of Black Hats with Drums (Shanag Nga Cham) 
Dance of three kinds of Ging with Sticks (Gynging) 
Dance of Lord of Cremation Ground (Durdag) 
Dance of three kinds of Ging with Drums (Driging) 
Dance of three kinds of Ging with Drums (Ngaging) 
Dance of Stage and the Hounds (Shawa Shachi) 1st part

 Day 3 
Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag) 
Dance of Terrifying Deities (Tungam) 
Dance of Heroes with six kinds of Ornaments (Guan Drug Pawo) Kyacham
Dance of Novel man and Ladies Lencham

 Dance of Stag and Hounds (2nd part) (Shawa Shacha)

 Day 4 
Dance of Lord of Death and His Consort (Shinje Yab Yum,) 
Dance of four Stags (Sha Tsam) 
Dance of Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham) 
Dance of the Drums from Dramitse ( Dramitse Nga Cham)

 Day 5
Early morning the great Thanka (Thongdrol) is shown and Shugdrel Ceremony is performed. 
Dances of the Heroes (Pacham) 
Dance of Ging and Tsholing 
Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (Guru Tshen Gye) 
Dance of the Sixteen Fairies
Religious Song (Chhoeshey) 

Go back to overview.

 
 
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