Set amidst the mighty Himalayas, and steeped in ancient traditions, the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” delivers true one-in-a-life time experiences. Make a pilgrimage to the iconic Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest as it is commonly known, which clings to a sheer cliff face 900m above the Paro Valley. Cycle through picturesque valleys and hike along rugged mountain passes, stopping in remote local villages and meeting the friendly Bhutanese. Take a thrilling rafting expedition on the Pho Chu River, with a backdrop of alpine landscapes and the stunning Punakha Dzong. Gain insight into Bhutan’s artistic heritage, discovering its 13 traditional arts, or “zorig chusum” on an urban adventure in its capital city, Thimphu.
Misty Mountains & Monasteries (11D/10N)
|Theme||Adventure, Arts & Culture, Nature & Wildlife, Off The Beaten Track, Walking|
Day 1: Arrive Paro
On your journey into Paro, the panoramic views of the Himalayas are sensational, including Mount Everest and other famous Himalayan peaks. The approach through the Bhutanese foothills and the steep descent into the Paro Valley is a breathtaking experience. After immigration formalities and baggage collection, you will be met by our representative, and transferred to your hotel.
In the afternoon, explore Paro town and valley at your own pace cycling. Also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most beautiful temples in the country. Legend holds that a giant demon had covered Tibet and all of the surrounding areas with her body, thus preventing the spread of Buddhism. The Tibetan King Songsten Gampo decided to erect a temple at each one of the demon’s joints, preventing her from moving, thus allowing Buddhism to grow and flourish in the region. It is said that Gampo magically multiplied himself and sent out his emanations to various areas across the region to erect 108 temples in just one single day. Kyichu Lhakhang is considered to be one of them.
(Altitude: 2280m, Slopes: Gentle, Roads/slopes: Gentle slopes, winding roads, black topped and smooth).
Overnight in Paro.
Day 2 : Paro
In the morning cycle to the base of Taktsang Monastery, or Tiger’s Nest as it is commonly known, to explore this fascinating site.
Distance: 8 Km ride
Approximate Time: 20 Minutes
Riding elevation: 2280 Meters
Road: Through the villages among blue pine trees and a slight uphill after the diversion of 3 km.
After arriving at the base, you’ll begin the walk up to the iconic Taktshang Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous landmark and holy site. This incredible monastery clings to the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It was built in the 1600s at the site of a cave where Guru Padmasambhava had meditated in the 7th century – legend holds that he arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave. (The walk is around 4-5 hours round trip).
In the afternoon, ride to the ruins of the Drukgyal Dzong. It was here that the Bhutanese finally defeated the invading Tibetans and drove them back. The peak of Jumolhari ‘Mountain of the Goddess’ (Alt. 7,329 m /24,029 ft.) can be seen on a clear day from here.
Distance from the base: 10 km
Time: 30 Minutes approx
Riding elevation: 2280m
Road: Among the villages and blue pine forest through winding road with gentle up hills and downhill.
Overnight in Paro.
Day 3: Paro - Thimphu
After breakfast, visit Ta Dzong, the National Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection including antique thangka paintings, textiles, weapons & armour, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Next, take a short walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, meaning (“fortress of the heap of jewels”), which has a long and fascinating history. Lining the walls of the inner courtyard are paintings depicting various scenes from Buddhist lore.
After lunch, drive to Thimphu, the modern capital of Bhutan, visiting en route the Tamchog Lhakhang, built in the 13th century by Thangthong Gyalpo, also known as the Iron bridge builder. Situated on a hill top, we need to cross an ancient style bridge to reach the temple.
Further ahead take a short stop at Chuzom, the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers. Three different styles of stupas adorn the confluence.
Continue driving and five miles before Thimphu, visit the Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in the country, which now houses the School for Buddhist studies.
The capital town of Bhutan and the centre of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Although not what one expects from a capital city, Thimphu is still a fitting and lively place. Home to civil servants, expatriates and monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.
In the evening explore Thimphu valley and town.
Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 4: Thimphu
Following breakfast, ride to the Kuensel Phodrang. Here you can pay your respects to the Buddha, the largest statue in the country, and then walk around and take a glimpse of the valley.
Distance: 6 km from town
Time:Uphill 30 minutes approx
Elevation: 2320m to 2500m at Kuensel Phodrang
Road: Smooth and good, uphill
Next you’ll cycle to the National Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in honour of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as “The Father of Modern Bhutan”. It is also a center of worship for the people living in Thimphu and contains many religious paintings and tantric statues.
Distance (Kuensel Phodrang to Memorial Chorten): 4.8 km
Time: Approx 15 minutes
Road: Smooth and good, downhill.
After lunch, cycle to the Sangaygang view point, along the way visiting the Takin Preserve Centre. The takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and only found in this region. Upon arrival at the Sangaygang view point, enjoy a sweeping view of the Thimphu valley, and walk through hundreds of colorful prayer flags that dot the hill overlooking the valley.
Distance from town: 7 km
Time: Approx 30 minutes
Road: Smooth and good, uphill
Next you’ll ride back to Changangkha Lhakhang downhill. This monastery was built in the 15th century by Lama Phajo Drugom Zhipo, and it overlooks the Thimphu valley. Many parents of Thimphu take their newborn babies to this monastery to be blessed by a high lama.
From there, cycle towards the Drupthob Lhakhang, one of the few surviving nunneries in Bhutan.
After the visiting Drupthob lhakhang, ride back downhill to the hotel from Zilukha, stopping on the way for a view of the Tashichho Dzong. This impressive fortress/monastery houses the Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty the King, and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 5: Thimphu - Gangtey
In the morning after breakfast explore the city of Thimphu. Visit the National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion.
Gain insight into Bhutan’s artistic heritage, exploring the Institute for Zorig Chusum. Commonly known as Arts & Crafts School or Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. On a visit, one can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.
Explore the Textile Museum, and discover one of the country’s most distinct art forms.
You will also visit Simply Bhutan, an exclusive project under the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF), built to offer a unique experience to its visitors. It is a living museum and studio encapsulating the cultural heritage of the Bhutanese people. A distinctive feature of Simply Bhutan is that it fully operated by young people and job seekers, who receive on the job training in basic business and management skills, customer care and other areas. The fund generated through Simply Bhutan is utilized to run many of the youth development programmes for vulnerable and disadvantaged youth. As a visitor while you are enjoying this special place, you are also helping to ‘make a better today’, ‘a brighter tomorrow’, for the youth of Bhutan.
Later enjoy a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La (3,080m), and onwards to the Phobjikha Valley, passing through dense forests of oak and rhododendron tress. The highway follows the scenic Dang Chhu before climbing through forests of bamboo and oak. Take a short stroll around the mountain pass enjoying the impressive glistening peaks in the eastern Himalaya range. On a clear day the views of the Himalayas to the north are tremendous including Gangkar Punsum, the highest unclimbed peak (over 24,000 feet) in the world.
The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the journey through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, and extremely rare experience in Bhutan where most of the valleys are tightly enclosed.
Overnight in Gangtey.
Day 6: Gangtey – Gogona
In the morning you’ll visit the Gangtey Goenpa. Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountains, and also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. It is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery.
Then, explore the Phobjikha Valley and the surrounding villages. Phobjikha is also the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climate. Phobjikha, at an altitude of 2,900 m, falls under the district of Wangduephodrang and lies on the periphery of the Black Mountain National Park.
Afterwards, begin the trek for the day. The trail leaves the valley at 2,830km and leads south, then west through meadows and fields. It then climbs through a mixed forest of juniper, bamboo, rhododendrons and magnolia. The trail is rough and rocky and weaves through trees where pack animals have created deep muddy furrows. After crossing Tsele La (3,440m) the trail crosses several meadows, and then descends through forests to Gangak (3,020m). It is then a short climb to the camp at Gogona (3,100m), a beautiful hilltop site overlooking a long valley. Nearby is Gogona Lhakhang and dozens of poles with white prayer flags fluttering.
A 30-minute walk beyond Gogona is a hamlet where you may find homemade arra to buy. The women here weave blankets and speak a different dialect called Bjop-kha (language of the nomads).
Overnight camp (Altitude 3,100m).
Day 7: Gogona – Khotokha, Altitude
After breakfast, set out for the day’s trek, following a trail that winds gently up above the Gogona village, past flocks of sheep and ploughed fields. Climb into a forest of firs, oak, spruce, dwarf rhododendron, miniature azaleas, cypress and juniper. Much of the undergrowth is daphne, the plant that is used for hand-made paper and can be identified by its yellow flowers. Then a long but gradual climb leads to the Shobju La pass (3,410m). The trail down from the pass is rocky and muddy, weaving through the forest and criss-crossing a small stream. Eventually, at about 3,000m, the trail meets a rough road used by tractors to collect wood from the forest. Follow the road, with a few short cuts through the woods, to a sawmill and woodcutters camp at Dolonaga (2,830m). Still heading down, the trail overlooks the broad Khothangkha valley and eventually reaches a clearing, Chorten Karpo, where there are four Chortens dedicated to the four Je Khenpos who came from this area. Three of the Chortens are square, in Bhutanese style, and the fourth is Nepali style. The best camp is in this clearing at 2,790m, beside a forest of a large blue pines overlooking the valley and the village of Khothangkha, comprised of about 60 rustic houses.
Overnight camp (Altitude 2,790m). CAMP
Day 8: Khotokha - Tikke Zampa
Following breakfast, today’s trek starts with a short, steep climb along a well-known path which takes you to Tashi La (2,800m). This is the upper terminus of the cable car that transports wood down to Chhuzomsa, 1,300m below. The walk down is through a beautiful forest, with the undergrowth changing from rhododendrons and magnolia to ferns and dwarf bamboo. This stretch of trail is one of the finest bird-watching areas in Bhutan. Among the species found here are laughing thrush, shrike, magpie and woodpecker. The trail then plunges down past steep terraced wheat fields to a cluster of houses at Whachay. The trail eventually meets the road near Tikke Zampa at 1,500m.
End of trek & transfer to hotel.
Evening at leisure in Punakha & Wangdue Phodrang valleys.
Overnight in Punakha / Wangdue Phodrang.
Day 9: Punakha
Punakha, at an altitude of 1300m/4265ft, is blessed with a temperate climate, and owing to its natural drainage from the Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the valley produces abundant crops and fruits. Until 1955 Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan, and still today serves as the winter residence of the monk body.
In the morning enjoy a beautiful hike (about 2 hours round trip) which will take you to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu river and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
In the afternoon you’ll visit the Punakha Dzong. Built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Punakha was the country’s first capital, and the Dzong has hosted the coronation ceremonies for each of its Kings. This lovely Dzong, widely thought to be the most beautiful in the country, is also the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body.
Next visit the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang (Nunnery). Nestled on a forested ridge overlooking the valleys of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang, is the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery. The site has a wondrous collection of statues including the 14ft bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara, created by local Bhutanese artists, and statues of Guru Padmasambawa, Gautama Buddha, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, among many others. In addition, the complex is home to a centre for higher learning and meditation for nuns, which also offers training in tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting.
Overnight in Punakha / Wangdue Phodrang.
Day 10: Punakha / Paro
In the morning embark on an interesting excursion to Chimi Lhakhang. Perched on a small hill in the centre of Punakha Valley, Chimi Lhakhang is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley, affectionately known as ‘The Divine Madman’, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behaviour to dramatize his teachings. It is also known as a temple of fertility, and it is widely believed that if couples wishing to conceive pray here they will be blessed with a child. It is about a 30-minute walk across a field from the road to the temple. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field’. It then follows a tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang.
Afterwards proceed on a rafting expedition on the Pho Chu River. The Pho Chu, with its 16 km course of about 15 rapids, class 2- 4, is the most popular for rafting in Bhutan. During this meticulously organized river rafting trip, you journey through the most scenic and secluded areas, featuring incredibly blue water, breath-taking alpine scenery, and amazing rapids, with a backdrop of the striking 17th century Punakha Dzong.
After lunch, drive back to Paro via the Dochula Pass, then enjoy the evening at leisure.
Overnight in Paro.
Day 11: Depart Paro
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for travel to your onward destination.