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Bhutan: In Essence

Trip Overview

As recently as 1961 all entry into Bhutan was still on horseback. Druk-yul, the land of the thunder dragon is only just emerging from the mists of its self-imposed isolation. The last Shangril-La is an exotic land of high mountains and lush valleys, snow clad peaks with clear running springs, a pristine ecology, and an incredible wealth of wildlife.

A most striking feature of Bhutan is its architecture. The style and color which characterize every building and house in the kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Dzongs themselves – imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without drawing and without a single nail, are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture. Patterns of rich colors adorn every wall, beam, pillar and door in traditional splendor.

Nestled deep in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, the simple pleasure that this country offers gives a sense of kinship with the people and their love for the land.  Essentially  a  rural  country   with  80 per  cent  of  the  people  engaged  in agriculture or raising  livestock,  Bhutan  is  predominantly  Buddhist,  practicing  the  Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism

“ Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and new. Here is a country that is slowly opening up to the modern world in a fine balance with its ancient traditions.”- Tourism Council of Bhutan (www.tourism.gov.bt)

Activity: Cultural and natural sightseeing combined with walking and light hiking in and around Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa districts of Bhutan.

PACKAGE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Viewing spectacular Himalayan sceneries
  • Walking the pristine and beautiful valleys
  • Driving over the Dochula Pass (over 10,000 ft)
  • Experiencing Bhutan’s unique tradition and culture
  • Hike to the Tiger’s Nest
  • Driving through winding roads flanked by terraced rice fields and traditional village houses
  • Constantly changing vegetation from sub-tropical through alpine
  • Rich dzong architecture without a single nail.

TRIP DETAILS
Day 01- Arrive Paro; travel to Thimphu and sightseeing in Thimphu (55 km / approx one hour)

On your flight to Paro, you will experience breathtaking views of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mt. Jomolhari and Mt. Jichu Drake in Bhutan. On arriving Paro International Airport and after you have completed immigration formalities and collected your baggage, you will be welcomed by our tour representative and drive you to Thimphu.

The drive from Paro will take you along the Paro Chu (Chu means water or river) downstream to the confluence with the Wang Chu. Next we turn upstream and travel along the Wang Chu to Thimphu, the new capital city of Bhutan.
Afternoon, visit the Memorial Chorten, with its golden spires shining in the sun, its tinkling bells and an endless procession of elderly people circling around it. Built by the royal grandmother Ashi Phutsho Chodoen in memory of her son, the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, it contains a fine collection of Buddhist statues and is a center of tantric Buddhism in all its complexity.

As evening falls, we will visit Trashichho Dzong, the beautiful medieval fortress /monastery is Bhutan’s administrative and religious centre which houses most of the Government’s office and the King’s Throne Room. It is also the summer residence of Je – Khenpo, the Chief Abbot. The National Assembly hall is located in a new building across the river.

Evening, enjoy a walk up and down the high street lined with little shops of all descriptions. There is always a colorful gathering passing from ubiquitous monk bodies to Bhutanese businessmen, to nomadic farmers that come to trade supplies.

Overnight at a hotel (L,D)

Day 02- Hike to Cheri Monastery and Sightseeing in Thimphu
After breakfast, drive to the base camp of Cheri Monastery and then take a 45mintues hike to the monastery. Cheri Monastery was founded by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the 17th century unifier of the Bhutanese nation state. Initially coming from Tibet, Shabdrung moved to Bhutan and promoted a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity from the dominant Tibetan culture. He established Cheri Monastery at the end of Thimpu Valley in 1620. Cheri, also known as Chagry Dorjeden, had been a sacred place ever since Guru Rinpoche visited it in the 8th century. Shabdrung added to its sacredness, and nowadays, it is a prominent teaching centre of the Drukpa Kagyu order. Like many monasteries, Cheri offers ample opportunities for people to go into retreat, and even in the 20th century, a new meditation centre was opened. Shabdrung himself spent three years in retreat, and later, regularly used it as a residence.

Later, visit the Changangkha Lhakhang, a fortress like temple perched on a ridge
above Thimphu, south of Motithang. The temple was established in 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, who came from Tibet and is dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of compassion. The central statue here is Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) in a manifestation with 11 heads. From the courtyard of the temple, there is fascinating view of the Thimphu valley.

Next, visit the weekend market where the locals come to do their weekly shopping. This will be one of the highlights of your trip as you observe the Bhutanese people’s culture and life styles. Later, we will make a stop at the Centenary Park where the walking Buddha resides; the entire statue was built by Thai workers who specifically came to Bhutan to build the statue. It stands at 45 feet tall.

Overnight at a hotel (B,L,D)

Day 03- Sightseeing in Thimphu
After breakfast, visit the Folk Heritage Museum, founded by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. The museum is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through an exhibition of items and artifacts used in rural households, demonstrating customs, traditions, habits and skills. The principal exhibit is the museum building itself which is a restored three-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house. It contains household objects, typical domestic tools, and equipment used by a rural family.

Then, visit the Institute of Zorig Chusum (Painting School) where the 13 traditional arts and crafts are still kept alive. Students here receive training for six years on thangka painting, slate curving, tailoring, stone carving, embroidery, etc. Upon completion of the training, they either find employment in the government or the private sector and some even start their own arts and crafts business.

Next, visit Textile Museum which serves as the living art of Bhutanese weaving culture at display. The products mostly come from Lhuentse, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family.
Handmade paper is one of Bhutan’s 13 arts and crafts. It will be interesting to see how it is being made from inner pulp of daphne and edgeworthia plants. Paper products are mainly used for printing Buddhist Holy Scriptures, souvenirs, and some exported to international markets such as North America, Asia and Europe.

Visit Bhutan Post to see the various collections of Bhutanese stamps that the country is famous for. They also print stamps using personal photos that you can take as souvenirs. Price is nominal. Drive to see the Royal Botanical Garden, located at south of Thimphu city. It has a collection of various plant species and the area provides with a calm, serene and excellent picnic spot for people living in Thimphu, especially on weekends.
Take a ride to the Buddha Point (Kuenselphodrang), where the tallest Buddha statue, 160 ft is under construction and enjoy the view of southern Thimphu valley.

Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 04- Travel to Punakha (71 km / approx 2½ hours).
After breakfast, we start our journey into the countryside towards the Punakha valley, the old capital of Bhutan. The drive ascends gradually to the Dochula pass over 10300 ft, with magnificent vistas of the Himalayan range.
The Dochula Monastery also known as the Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens is a tribute to the service and leadership of His Majesty the king. The design inspired by the Queen is a unique cluster of 108 Chortens seen from all directions. The descent to Punakha is vibrant and colorful, with the fluttering prayer flags adding to a rich topography dotted by terrace farming and rivers flowing through.

We will visit the historic Punakha Dzong sprawled at the confluence of the Phochu (male) and Mochu (female) rivers. Built in 1637 by Shabdrung Nawang, in terms of architecture, it is believed to be a master piece. The crowning of the first king of Bhutan in 1907 and the royal weddings of Bhutan’s fourth and fifth kings were held at the fortress.
A glacial lake outburst in the north of Punakha in 1994 heavily destroyed some parts of the structure, but it is being rebuilt to its original shape.

Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 05- Sightseeing in Punakha
After early breakfast, drive for 15 minutes to the road point to Khamsum Yuellay Namgyal for a 35-45 minutes hike. mgyal Chorten (stupa) built by the Queen Mother of the Fifth King to bring peace and harmony for Bhutan and the world.

Thereafter, enjoy river rafting on Mochu, the female river of Punakha for one and half hours. The river bank is scenic with secluded blue water, alpine scenery, sighting of rarest birds, amazing rapids on the backdrop of striking 17th Century Punakha Dzong.

Afternoon, take a hike to Chimi Lhakhang (“Temple of Fertility”). The temple was built by a cousin of Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, the Divine Madman who was generally known for his eccentric behavior. Walk would take an hour to and from the road point.

Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6- Travel to Paro (247 km, 7 ½ hours); sightseeing in Paro.
Make an early journey to Paro. The beautiful Paro valley provides a visitor with all the essential elements of Bhutan, in general ancient temples, massive forts, monasteries, picturesque villages, scenic hikes, and drives. Upon arriving in Paro, visit the Paro Ta Dzong- Overlooking the Rinpung Dzong it was built in 1951 as a watch tower. Unlike the rectangular shape of the Dzongs, Ta Dzong is Round, more like parts of a European castle. From 1967 the Dzong was re-established as the National Museum and holds fascinating collection of arts, relics, religious thangkha, and many others. Due to renovation work at the site, the artifacts are presently housed in a separate building.

Rinpung Dzong serves as a civil administrative center and a monastic home for the monks. Most dzongs were built in the mid- 1600s to protect the inhabited valleys from invasion by Tibet. The Paro dzong was started in 1644 on the order of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of modern day Bhutan. Unlike most other dzongs in Bhutan, it survived the massive 1897 earthquake mostly unscathed.

Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 7- Travel to Haa via Chelela Pass (130 km, approximately 6 hours to/from)
After early breakfast drive to Haa Valley, located at 9000 ft. Haa was used as the trade route between western Bhutan and Chumbi Valley, Tibet in the past. It was opened to the tourist only in 2001. Cross over the Chelela Pass (11000 ft) en route. On clear weather, we should be able to see Mt. Jumolhari, (23,989ft), the Bhutan’s highest mountain to the north. Road goes through pine forests and pasture land mainly used for grazing yaks.

On arriving Haa, visit Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) that are located close to each other. Local legend has it that deity helped construct the temple thus giving the name to Haa, meaning ‘surprise’. Haa valley is overlooked by three mountains called ‘Rig Sum Gonpa’ which signify three Buddha deities; Jambayang, Chana Dorji and Chenrizig. In the late afternoon travel back to Paro.
Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 8- Hike to Tiger’s Nest
After breakfast, drive around 25 minutes to Ramthangka base for a hike to view one of Bhutan’s most revered pilgrimage sites of the Buddhist world, the Taktshang Lhakhang, popularly known as the “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery. The trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched precariously on a sheer rock face 3000 ft above the valley floor. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, father of Bhutan’s stream of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in the Paro valley more than a millennium ago on the back of a tigress. He meditated for 3 months in a cave which was converted into the monastery. The only sounds heard here are the murmurs of wind, water and the chanting of monks.

We begin our hike from the base to the cafeteria which will take us at least an hour and a half. From here, it’s about an hour’s trek through some stunning landscape to reach the monastery. On our return, we stop by once more at the Cafeteria for lunch. Later, we begin our descent to Ramthangka base.

En route, visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s two oldest monasteries built by the Buddhist Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century to subdue a demoness lying across the Himalayas.
Overnight at hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9- Depart Paro
After early breakfast, depart to the airport for your onward journey.

Thank you & Tashi Delek!

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