An Exploration through Bhutan
8 days / Year Round
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• Feel the grandeur of the last stages of construction of the world's largest sitting Buddha.
• View the Punakha Dzong fortress now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years.
• 360 degree views of the snow capped mountains from Lungchu Seka Monastary.
• Taktsang monastery, Bhutan's most iconic and photographed destination.
• Weekend farmer's market, the biggest in the country, where farmers from nearby valleys come together to sell their produce.
Day 1: Arrival in Paro; Transfer to Thimphu
The flight into Paro valley (2,200m/ 7,800ft) on the national carrier, Druk Air (‘Druk’ meaning Dragon), is a befitting introduction to the magnificent beauty of Bhutan. From a window seat on clear days you can enjoy a spectacular view of Bhutan’s snow capped peaks as you approach Paro International airport (some say, it is one of the world’s loneliest airports).
Following check-in at the hotel and freshening up, we stop by the Memorial Chorten/stupa, which was built in 1974 in memory of Bhutan’s third king, late His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, popularly known as the father of modern Bhutan. The pious, young and old alike gather here every morning and evening making it a favorite spot for the locals.
Day 2: Thimphu
While in town, we can stop by the Post Office and the Bank. In Thimphu, sightseeing options include:
• After lunch, we visit the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, the 13 forms of traditional arts and crafts commonly referred to as “the painting school” where a new generation of Bhutanese artists is being trained.
• The Institute of Traditional Medicine, where students are being trained in ancient Tibetan medicine, while also serving as a hospital. The Bhutanese government promotes both allopathic and traditional treatments and made them accessible for people across the country.
• The Takin (National animal) Preserve, a former zoo but closed down because the king did not think a zoo was in line with the country’s Buddhist philosophy. The animals were set free but the Takins were too tame and wandered the streets, and so they were put back in the reserve where you can visit them at close range. With its strange look, the Takin (the national animal of Bhutan) does live up to its legendary creation. You have to see it to believe it.
• Local textile houses, which churn out many of the intricate designs that the stores carry. One can also witness different weaving techniques.
• Weekend option: Weekend farmer’s market, the biggest in the country, where farmers from nearby valleys come together to sell their produce
• Kunselphodrang in the evening; feel the grandeur of the world’s largest sitting Buddha (which is nearing completion). Enjoy a great bird’s eye view of the Thimphu valley.
Day 3: Punakha
After breakfast, we proceed towards Punakha valley. The road to Punakha begins with a gradual climb through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochu La pass (3,050 m/10,000 ft). We will stop to soak up the breathtaking panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. The views continue to entertain us as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 m/ 4,430 ft). On reaching Lobesa valley, we will take an easy hike to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple of the Divine Madman) on a small hilltop. It is a pleasant 30 minute hike through the rice paddies and the small village. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 15th century known as Lam Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as the “Divine Madman” in the west. He preached in the way that is unlike the stiffness of clergy and society of the time; he dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold Phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are as a result of his influence to date. It is believed that the temple blesses couples who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequently visited by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children.
Day 4: Punakha
Today, we visit Punakha Dzong, an impressive fortress guarding the southern end of the valley at the confluence of the Pho (male) and Mo (female) Rivers. This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years. We visit a magnificent stupa that was built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother for the well being of the kingdom and the benefit of all sentient beings. Built over a period of several years, the Bhutanese craftsmen including carpenters, painters, and sculptors consulted Holy Scriptures rather than engineering manuals, to construct this 4-storey temple that presents a great view of the Mo Chu valley below. After lunch, we begin our rafting on the Mo chu (female river) from near the suspension bridge ending below the Punakha Dzong. This stretch of river (4 miles) is a wonderful class II run and it is perfect for family and those who are apprehensive about going on a whitewater trip.
Day 5: To Thimphu
This morning we return to Thimphu via Dochu La Pass. At the pass, we take on a moderate five-hour hike from Dochu La to Hongtso village, where we meet the road again. Start a gradual uphill climb through moss covered giant rhododendron forests to a recently renovated Lungchu Seka Monastery, which sits atop a mountain overlooking Punakha valley to the east and Thimphu valley to the west. Weather permitting, get a panoramic view of the snow covered peaks. The 360-view is worth the climb. After lunch at the monastery, continue on an easy two-hour downhill hike to Tashigang Goemba (Retreat Monastery). Another hour of hike will take you to the road at the village of Hongtso. Drive to Paro. Evening at leisure and explore Thimphu town.
Day 6: To Paro
Upon arriving Paro in the morning, we go on an interesting excursion to Chele La Pass (3,800 m / 12,000 ft). It is one of the highest motor passes in Bhutan. Chele La separates Haa and Paro valley. The drive till here is through dense spruce and larch forests according to the seasons. The drive to the pass takes around one and half hours from Paro. On a clear day, there are spectacular views of some of the tallest mountains - Mt. Jumolhari and Jichu Drake, as well as the view of Haa and Paro valley. From the pass, we'll enjoy the hike along the ridge and then to the Kila Gompa Nunnery. ‘Kila’ in Sanskrit means a subjugating spiritual dagger that destroys the negative forces. The nunnery is at about 3,500 m / 11,500 ft. above sea level and located on the cliff below the Chele La pass. It has less than 100 nuns living in self-imposed isolation. There are several small temples and retreat huts built into a dizzying Cliffside.
Day 7: Excursion to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
After breakfast, our car will drop us at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular and famous Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s Nest), Bhutan’s most photographed and iconic monastery. 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. Halfway, we stop at the cafeteria for a rest and great view. Continue the hike (if not tired) for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the imposing 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. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Spend the evening at leisure in town or a much needed rest at the hotel.
Day 8: Departure
Transfer to Paro airport
To ensure sustainable development, all tourism in Bhutan is regulated and monitored by the government. A percentage of all tour cost is deducted by the government to help provide for free health and education and the remaining is disbursed to the tour operator&amp;amp;nbsp;in local currency to manage all the tour logistics.