This private tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan combines exploring important villages of western Bhutan on foot, meeting welcoming local people, with immersion into a fascinating culture.
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Along the lofty ridges of the Himalayas lies the Kingdom of Bhutan - a remarkable land whose well-preserved countryside, architecture, and rich culture make it seem lost in time. Its capital city, Thimphu, is said to be the only world capital without traffic lights. Our walks in Punakha reveal impressive dzongs, and Paro's location along ancient trade routes is evidenced in its rich culture and unique monasteries, including the beautiful Tiger's Nest.
Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, Gangtey, Haa Valley, Bumthang Valley, Tiger's Nest Monastery
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Arrival in Paro, Bhutan; transfer to Thimphu
Walk – easy to moderate, 1-2 hours.
Our flight from Bangkok, Thailand into Bhutan provides spectacular views of Bhutan's landscape as we approach the airport in the Paro Valley. The valley is a green bowl surrounded by jagged Himalayan mountains and forested hillsides, crossed by beautiful rivers, and dotted with medieval fortresses. The first thing that we notice as we disembark in Bhutan is the absence of noise and a feeling of peacefulness that is rare in most other Asian cities. The Paro Valley has kept its bucolic nature and is one of the most scenic valleys in Bhutan. The houses are considered to be among the most beautiful in the country, and Paro is believed to be one of the first valleys to have received the imprint of Buddhism.
We are greeted with a warm Bhutanese reception and transferred to the capital city of Thimphu and home to Bhutan's royal family, the Wangchuks. Before becoming Bhutan's official national capital in 1961, Thimphu was simply a rural farming valley. Upon arrival at our first hotel we enjoy a light lunch and afternoon tea before setting out with our guides for a brief introduction to Bhutanese culture in downtown Thimphu. We return to our hotel and relax with an orientation meeting and welcome dinner of Bhutanese cuisine.Hotel Migmar, Thimphu, Bhutan
DAY 2Cheri Goemba and the Choki School of Arts
Hiking – easy to moderate, 3-4 hours.
This morning a short drive through the countryside surrounding Thimphu brings us to the Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area in the country. The park is home to several endangered species including the takin, snow leopard, blue sheep, tiger, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. More than 300 species of birds have been cataloged within the park. Our walk begins from the small village of Dodena. Our trail starts by crossing a covered bridge over the Wang Chhu and we climb steadily to Cheri Goemba, a small monastery perched on the hill with a view over the Thimphu Valley. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620, and this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. The monastery is considered very sacred as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints.
After our visit to the monastery, we descend back the way we came, keeping our eyes open for the goral (wild goat) that are often spotted on the cliffs nearby. Back at the village of Dodena we follow a riverside trail via Begana to Cabesa, home to the Choki School of Arts. The Choki School is private and provides free skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan to Bhutanese children who are unable to attend or complete their formal education. After visiting the school we continue along the riverside trail and pass through small rural villages before returning to Thimphu. Dinner this evening will be Asian-Bhutanese cuisine at one of the finer restaurants in Thimphu.Hotel Migmar, Thimphu, Bhutan
DAY 3Thimphu sites
Small and secluded, Thimphu is unlike any other world capital. The city is quiet and there are still only a few streets, no traffic lights, and none of the traffic problems common to other Asian capitols. Thimphu is a city ideally explored on foot, and our walk today takes us between its many interesting sights. Before the day is through, we may visit the newly built textile museum, the Thimphu Dzong (seat of the government and main monk body), the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum, and the Handicrafts Emporium, displaying the rich traditional crafts of the kingdom. Along the way we stop at a local restaurant for lunch before continuing our walk through the city, and returning to our hotel late afternoon.Hotel Migmar, Thimphu, Bhutan
DAY 4Transfer to Punakha (approximately 5 hrs.); Temple of the Divine Madman
Walk – easy, 1-2 hours.
After breakfast, we say goodbye to Thimphu and transfer to Punakha, our home for the next two nights. The road to Punakha crosses the Dochula Pass (10,230 ft), offering a great view of the eastern Himalayan mountains. From the pass our road descends through magnificent pine and rhododendron forests and wanders through some of Bhutan’s most picturesque countryside. The climate here makes a dramatic change from alpine to semi-tropical, where cacti, banana trees, and orange groves thrive.
On our road to Punakha we stop in a small village where a short walk brings us to Chime Lhakang, a temple dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley. Drukpa Kunley is one of Bhutan's favorite saints, and is more commonly known as the "Divine Madman." He traveled throughout Bhutan and Tibet using songs, humor and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings, believing that the stiffness of the clergy and social conventions were keeping people from learning the true Buddhist teachings. This site is still believed to hold fertility powers for women wanting to conceive.Hotel Punatsangchu, Wangduephodrang, Bhutan
DAY 5Khamsung Yuely Namgyel temple to Punakha Dzong
This morning a drive through the Punakha Valley brings us to where we begin our walk by first ascending a series of switchbacks to the Namgyel Khamsum Yuely Temple. From the viewpoint at this modern temple we are afforded grand views of the Mo Chu River Valley below. We descend from the temple and follow a well-worn path down the valley through rice fields and small villages. Along the way we are rewarded with stunning views, the terraced rice paddies providing an exotic backdrop to the river below. After enjoying a picnic lunch alongside the river, we continue our walk to the Punakha Dzong. Constructed in 1637, the Punakha Dzong was the second of Bhutan's dzongs and for many years it served as the seat of the government. Today it is the home to Bhutan’s spiritual leader, the chief abbot Je Khempo, who resides here with 1,000 monks during the winter months due to Punakha's relatively low altitude by Himalayan standards (4,000 feet). From this spectacular dzong we can look back to see the Namgyel Khamsum Yuely Temple perched on the hillside far in the distance.
A short walk from the dzong takes us to our vans, waiting to shuttle us back to our hotel for the evening.Hotel Punatsangchu, Wangduephodrang, Bhutan
DAY 6Transfer to Paro (approximately five hours); Visit to Bhutan's National Museum, the Paro Dzong, and Drukgyel Dzong
This morning we drive to Paro, where we will visit the National Museum, housed in the round multi-storied Ta Dzong, built in 1775. The Ta Dzong was once the watch tower for the massive Paro Dzong, built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The museum's collection includes ancient artifacts, weapons, a collection of antique thangkha (painted or embroidered religious pictures), textiles, and stamps. We walk from the museum to the Paro Dzong, the religious and secular center of Paro, and certainly the most dominant feature in the valley. The dzong was first conceived in the 15th-century, and finally consecrated in 1646.
Next we complete a short walk to Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought Tibetan invaders centuries ago. This dzong was built in 1649 to commemorate Bhutan's victory over Tibetan invaders, and sits at the point where the trail from Tibet enters the Paro valley. Bhutan's dzongs are perhaps the most visibly striking aspect of the kingdom and these huge citadels dominate the landscape of the major towns and act as the administrative headquarters for their respective regions. If we are lucky and the weather is clear, we may have the opportunity to view the sacred Mt. Jhomolhari (23,977 ft), which lies along the border of Tibet and Bhutan. Our home for the next three nights is a friendly family owned hotel located in the quiet Paro countryside.Janka Resort, Paro, Bhutan
DAY 7Kyichu Lhakhang to the Paro Dzong; Dzongdraka Goemba
Walking – easy to moderate, 2-4 hours.
A short drive through town then takes us to Kyichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang, meaning "twin temples," is believed to have been built in 659 AD by King Songtsen of Tibet, and reflects the introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan. The temple is one of 108 that were built throughout the Himalayas in one day in an effort to subdue a mighty ogress; it is still believed to hold her left foot in place today. From here an easy walk leads us through Paro countryside and to farm fields of rice, mustard, buckwheat, eggplant, and, of course, chilies. We cross the Paro River on our way to the valley's magnificent Rinpung Dzong. If we are fortunate we may get the opportunity to explore within the dzong's mighty walls; however, if the Administrative Body is in session, we must admire from the outside.
Following a hearty lunch in downtown Paro a short drive leads us out of town for an afternoon walk. We enjoy a short walk to Dzongdraka (8,100 feet), an area in which the great Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava meditated in the 7th century. Situated on the cliffs just above the Bondey Valley not far from the terraced fields, Dzongdraka is a tranquil village of about eight farmhouses built around four temples. From the last temple you can see the houses of the village of Tashigang, situated about a 20 minute walk from Dzongdraka. The trail descends through stunted oaks until it reaches a chorten at the base of Dzongdraka. Looking up from here provides a wonderful panoramic view of this amazing village set high along the cliffs. We return to our hotel for dinner.Janka Resort, Paro, Bhutan
DAY 8Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
Hike – moderate, 3-4 hours on hiking trails; approximate elevation gain of 1,650 feet.
This morning we enjoy a hike to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the "Tiger’s Nest." This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Entry into the monastery is now permitted, and we may be allowed to visit this sacred site. We enjoy a trailside picnic lunch and views of the valley below before descending to the valley floor.Janka Resort, Paro, Bhutan
DAY 9Departure from Paro
An early morning departure from Paro returns us to Bangkok where we say farewell and journey home or to other exciting destinations.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary to take advantage of weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these should the need arise.
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