Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan and probably the only capital city that has no traffic lights. During the fall season, Thimphu residents celebrate their annual spiritual festival that over the years have grown to one of the most popular festivals of Bhutan. It was once a small village festival and gradually gained popularity as Thimphu grew and became the capital city.
Like other festivals in Bhutan, it commemorates the deeds of the Tantric master Padmasambhava. People from all corners of the country come not only to witness the religious dances but also take part in the country fair festivities.
In this trip we have also included a small village festival in the central part of Bhutan, in Bumthang. In Contrast with the crowded Thimphu festival, this village festival is small and is known as Thangbi Mani, celebrated at the 15th century Thangbi Temple. Small number of Bumthang residents visit here to celebrate the three-day ceremony. Here you get ample time to interact with the local villagers, share your custom of West with the Bhutanese spiritual life of myths, legend, superstition and folklore. During your trip enjoy the ancient culture of this tiny kingdom and observe the old tradition of crafts, arts and weaving. The trip involves excursions to villages, temples, monasteries, Dzong (fortresses) and markets. While in Bhutan keep your camera ready, there is always some unique photo opportunity around the corner while traveling through the winding scenic road of Bhutan.
Day 01 Arrive Paro.
Fly into the Kingdom of Bhutan. On a clear day, you can see the breathtaking views of the Great Himalayas.
Upon arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be welcomed to the Kingdom by your guide.
If time permits, afternoon sightseeing tour of 200-year-old Watch Tower that has been renovated and converted into National Museum in 1968. It houses a fine collection of national costumes and fabrics, gallery of Thangkas, an impressive stamp gallery with three-dimensional and CD stamps issued as early as 1960 that are remarkable, and other galleries showcasing armor and silverware with the handsome Royal teapots. On the top floor there is a four-sided temple complex depicting thehistory of Buddhism and its propagation.
Visit Drugyel Dzong, although mostly now in ruins, built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel to commemorate the victory over Tibetan Invaders, which indicates by the name of the Dzong meaning Victorious Bhutanese Fort. Visit Drugyel High School and Kychu Lhakhang, the oldest monastery in the valley built in 7th. century. Walk around Paro town.
Late afternoon drive to Thimpu, and overnight.
Day 02 Thimpu Festival & tour around
After breakfast, visit the Thimpu festival. This festival is celebrated annually in fall in honor of Guru Padmasambhava, popularly known as Guru Rinpochey and to commemorate his deeds. Both lay people and monks perform the dances of the Tsechu. The dancers take on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities. The dances known as Cham, bring blessings upon onlookers, to instruct them in the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma, to protect them from misfortune, and to exorcise evil influences. Deities are invoked during the dances; through their power and benediction, misfortunes may be annihilated, luck increased and wishes realized. It is also a social gathering where the people rejoice together, dressed in their finest clothing and jewelry.
Afternoon visit Drukgyal Dzong built in 1647 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal, the Dzong was destroyed by fire and left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. On a clear day you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari, ( 7314 m / 23,990 ft.) Drive south and stop at the Taktsang Monastery view point, from here you will get bird's eye view of the monastery. Continue your drive to Satsam Chorten, built in memory of the late Dilgo Khentse Rinpochey, and continue on to Kyichu Lhakhang, built in seventh century by a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo.
Day 03 Thimpu -Punakha
Leaving Thimphu, the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (3,050 m). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. Before proceeding further to Punakha, you can hike up to the Chimi Lhakhang temple on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as “Divine madman” to the westerners. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility.
Arrive in Punakha and check in at hotel. After lunch, drive North of Punakha for sightseeing. Punakha was the winter capital for over 300 years until the time of second King. Punakha Dzong which dominates the whole area was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, and established the central monastic body with 600 monks. Today, Punakha is still the home for Je Khempo (Chief Abbot) and the central monastic body.
Day 04 Punakha -Trongsa
Start early for the fabulous drive to the central valleys of Bhutan through the breathtaking beauties and serenity of Bhutan’s rich flora and fauna. As you cross the fertile valley of Punakha, and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang, take an opportunity to photograph the majestic fortress of Wangdue Dzong, which stands on a spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers.
Climb steadily passing through semi-tropical vegetation and then to Pele la Pass (3,300 m/ 10,989 ft.). With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo, the Pass is traditionally considered the boundary between West and East Bhutan. On a clear day, you can view the high snow capped peaks specially the Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.). As you descend from the pass through the dwarf bamboo and quite often Yaks grazing we reach at Chendebji Chorten. This Chorten or Stupa was built in 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to nail into the ground a demon that had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley and the Ada valley just over the ridge.
Continue your drive to Trongsa, as you enter Trongsa valley, the huge fortress of Trongsa makes you wonder if you woud ever reach it. Backing on mountain and built on several levels, the Dzong fits narrowly on a spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde River and overlooks the routes south and west. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles. Arrive in Trongsa and overnight.
Day 05 Trongsa -Bhumtang
From Trongsa the road rises rapidly through a series of hairpin bends to Yotong La Pass (3400 meters / 11200 ft). From here the drive is down the hill up to Chumey Valley (average 2700m / 8800 ft).
You first stop at Chumey will be to visit Domkhar Dzong, This small fortress overlooking the valley was once a summer Palace of the second King Jigme Wangchuk. Continue your drive to Tsugney village where you will see the traditional weaving of woolen fabrics. Continue to Choekhor crossing the Kiki La Pass (2900 meters / 9500ft).
Arrive at Choekhor Valley (Valley of Dharma Wheel). Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys- Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on the animal husbandry.
Day 06 Visit Festival & tour of Bhumtang
The fourth Shamarpa of Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism founded the Thangbi Temple located in the middle of a wide fertile plateau overlooking the river in 1470. It takes about 30 minutes of walk from the road through the fields of buckwheat to reach the Temple.
Thangbi Festival is a small village festival held annually after the harvest of Potato and buckwheat to be thankful for the good harvest. It is also the time to celebrate and to pray that all sentient beings are blessed by invoking the deities through the ritual dances that are performed. A bumpa is an oblong-shaped lustral water vase and Bumthang means ‘the ground shaped like a bumpa’. The religious connotation of the name aptly applies to the sacred character of the region. It would be difficult to find so many important temples and monasteries in such a small area anywhere in Bhutan.
Afternoon take a hike from from your lodge to the temple of Jambay Lhakhang. It is said that, a Tibetan King known as Songtsen Gompo builds the main shrine in seventh century. The story goes that a giant demoness lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayas. To overcome her and to consecrate the land he decided to build 108 temples. Jambay Lhakhang is counted one of them and is believed to be built on the demon’s left foot.
Day 07 Bhumtang - Trongsa
After breakfast we will drive back taking the same highway. We will have few stops en route for pictures. Upon arrival in Trongsa, stroll the small town and check into the hotel.
After lunch we will drive south to visit Kungarabten Palace. This place had served as the winter palace for 2nd King Jigme Wangchuk. We can take a walk up hill to visit the nunnery, which houses over 70 nuns. Evening drive back to Trongsa.
Day 08 Trongsa - Phobjikha-Punakha
Today you will make your journey back through the same route , until reaching Nobding. A road branches off on the left and goes for 13 Kms (8 miles) through a forest of oak and rhododendron into the broad Phobjikha valley alias Gangtey valley. Alt. 3000 meters (9,840 feet) where Gangtey Monastery is located.
Phobjikha is one of the few glacial valleys in Bhutan and the valley floor is quite marshy in places. Phobjikha is also the chosen home of the rare back-necked cranes which migrates from the Central Asiatic Plateau to escape its harsh winters. The other side of the pass that overlooks the valley is a realm of high-altitude dwarf bamboo, the favorite food of yaks. The Gangtey Monastery, is perched atop a small hill that rises from the valley floor. A large village inhabited mainly by the families of the monk surrounds the monastery.
Continue your drive to Punakha by returning on the same route and connect into the East West highway.
Day 09 Punakha-Paro
After breakfast, continue to Paro. Crossing Dochula Pass, you will arrive at Simtokha dzong, visit the old fortress, now used as the Institute for traditional studies.
Continue your drive to Thimphu, lunch will be served here. After lunch resume your journey to Paro, en route visit the 15th Century Tamchogang Temple.
Overnight at Paro.
Day 10 Hike Takshang Monastery.
After breakfast, the guide will take you to the starting point of the hike to view the spectacular Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair).
The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags.
Stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the remains of Taktsang monastery. Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. The history states that Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tiger. Looking at the monastery flying tigers doesn’t seem so impossible after all.
Day 11 Paro - U.S. or an extension.
Transfer to airport and fly back home, or extend your trip to Nepal, India or Myanmar.