The Hidden Kingdom of Bhutan
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 Shangrila 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 Tibet, 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 90 per cent of the people engaged in agriculture or raising livestock, Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist, practicing the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism.
Day 01: Paro - Thimphu ( 65 Kms, 01 hour)
Day 02: Thimphu - hike to Cheri Monastery - local sightseeing
Day 03: Thimphu – Punakha – Gangtey (135 Kms, 06 hours)
Day 04: Gangtey – local sightseeing and short hikes in the valley
Day 05: Gangtey – Punakha ( 78 Kms, 03 hours) Day 06: Punakha – Paro ( 143 Kms, 04 hours) Day 07: Paro -Hike to Tiger’s Nest
Day 08: Departure
Landing in Paro valley is a perfect entry into this other world, with its transparent purity of the air and its absorbing serenity. Paro retains its bucolic nature in spite of the existence of development projects. Fields of brown or green depending on the season cover most of the valley floor while hamlets and isolated farms dot the landscape.
On arrival, our visa is processed and we then pass through customs. We will then begin our 01 hour long journey to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
This evening, enjoy a walk up and down the high street lined with little shops of all descriptions is fascinating. There is always a colorful gathering passing from ubiquitous monk bodies to Bhutanese businessmen, to nomadic farmers that come to trade supplies.
Dinner and Overnight at the Hotel Thimphu.
After breakfast, drive about 30 minutes to the base camp of Cheri Monastery and hike up to the Monastery. The walk up to the Monastery is through the forest filled with Rhododendron flower trees which will be in full bloom during April month. This is the place where monks undergo meditation with
duration ranging from 4 months to 3 years. You will experience complete peace and serenity in this area. In this undisturbed environment, musk deer are spotted often.
The hike up will take approximately 50 minutes. The view from Cheri Monastery is breathtaking. Walk down and rest for a packed picnic lunch.
We will drive back to town for lunch. Or you can choose to have a picnic lunch after your hike, however you would be required to inform your guide, that you would like to take packed lunch for the hike one day earlier. Your guide will make the arrangements as required and you can enjoy your lunch in the open field among the wilderness.
In the afternoon, you will have ample time to roam the streets of Thimphu City.
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. Erected by the royal grandmother Ashi Phutsho Chodoen in memory of her son the third king Jigme Dorje, it contains a fine collection of Buddhist statues and is a center of tantric Buddhism in all its complexity.
Next, we will 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 lifestyles. 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.
Next we will visit Kuensel Phodrang, where the Buddha Dordena resides, it is said to be one of the largest Buddha in the world, standing at 169 feet / 51.5 meters. You will see Thimphu city from a bird’s eye view.
In the evening, we will visit Trashichhodzong, 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.
Dinner and Overnight at the Hotel Thimphu
Leaving Thimphu, we start our journey into the countryside towards the Punakha valley, the winter 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.
Continue towards Gangtey, Phobjikha Valley.
We make our way towards, Phobjikha Valley. The valley is a wide glacial valley with a central stream meandering through the open grassland and thickets of dwarf bamboo. Farmlands occupy the slopes where potatoes and turnips are grown. The forest beyond the farms are mostly coniferous. The general vegetation is composed of mainly blue pine, birch, maple and several species of rhododendrons. The repeated grazing of bamboos by the local cattle and horses in summer prepares the ground for the wintering Cranes.
Dinner and Overnight at the hotel, Phobjikha valley.
After an early breakfast, we will begin our sightseeing in the valley:
OPTIONAL: GANGTEY NATURE TRAIL
This pleasurable walk will give you a nice feeling for Phojikha Valley. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goemba, you head downhill through flower meadows to Simchubara Village and from here through beautiful forest and into the open valley. After passing a Chorten and Khewa Lhakhang, the trail ends at the Tabiding football ground.
Gangtey Goempa: 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 Mountain Gangtey valley, Bhutan and also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. The Monastery is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery. Gangtey was founded by Pema Trinley, the grand son of Pema Lingpa, the famous Nyingmapa saint of Bhutan. In 1613, Pema Trinley establish the monastery and became the first Gangtey Tulku. The religious traditions of Pema Lingpa still taught there. The second Tulku, Tenzin Legpa Dondrup (1645 to 1726), enhanced the size of Gangtey while keeping up good relations with Drukpas, and rebuilt the monastery in the form of a Dzong.
Black Necked Crane Information Centre: Situated on the edge of the forest and wetland along the main road of Phobjikha valley, the black-necked crane information Centre has an observation room equipped with high power telescope and spotting scopes for catching the best view of the cranes. The centre also offers display information that outline the natural and cultural history of the area. There is a small gift shop, which sells handicrafts produced by the local people.
Dinner and Overnight at the hotel, Phobjikha valley.
Drive to the beautiful valley of Punakha.
Upon arrival, we visit the historic Punakha Dzong sprawled at the confluence of the Phochu (male) and Mochu (female) rivers. It was built by Shabdrung Nawang in 1637 and serves as the winter residence of the head abbot, Je Khenpo and headquarters of the district administration.
Lunch will be served at a local restaurant.
Later, we traverse the Punakha countryside walking through paddy fields to the Pana Village to see the `Chimi Lhakhang’ built by the great Lama Drukpa Kinley in 1400 to subdue local demons. The temple is a popular pilgrimage point for all Bhutanese and is specially revered by women for its fertility powers.
Dinner and Overnight at the hotel,Punakha.
Early departure from Punakha valley. Upon arrival, we will check into hotel.
Option A: Evening leisure at the hotel.
Option B: If time permits: National Museum, located above the Paro Dzong and housed in the 17th century watchtower with its fine collection of old Thangka paintings, textiles, ancient weapons, and artifacts. It was in this tower that Ugyen Wangchuk, the future first king of Bhutan was imprisoned in 1872 when he came to put down a revolt. The museum is also considered a temple due to its large collection of religious objects and movement inside is therefore requested in a clockwise direction. The massive exterior architecture and the beautiful interior decoration are worth seeing in themselves.
NOTE: During the September, 2010 earthquake there was severe damages to the main building of the museum. Because of which the main building is closed to visitors however objects and artifacts have been moved to a new wing, just above the main building where visistors are allowed to visit.
Later walk down a short distance to visit the Paro Dzong or Rinpong Dzong, which means “the fortress of the heap of jewels”. Initiated in the early 15th century as a little fort the rulers presented it to the religious and political authority of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who constructed a much more commanding fortress in 1646.
Almost completely destroyed by fire in 1907 it was rebuilt on the same design with money raised via a special tax levied throughout Bhutan. Today the Dzong is the administrative seat of the district of Paro and also contains the state monastic community of about 200 members. The Central tower and galleries are among the most beautiful in Bhutan with its superb woodwork and classical paintings of Buddhist cosmology representing the universe as seen by two different philosophic streams. Return to your transport crossing the traditional wooden covered bridge called Nyamai-Zam, which spans the Paro River. Earlier, in times of war, the bridge was removed each time to protect the Dzong.
Evening, you will have some time to walk down the high street lined with little shops filled with handicrafts and other interesting souvenirs that you might want to take back home. A perfect opportunity to shop for gifts for family and friends.
Dinner and Overnight at the hotel, Paro
After breakfast, we drive around 25 minutes to Ramthanka 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 Rimpoche, father of Bhutan’s stream of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in the Paro valley more than a millennium ago on a back of a tigress. He meditated for 3 months in a cave which was converted into this 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 Ramthanka base.
Enroute, we will drive to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong: This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at
its foot, was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan and Mongolian invaders. Historically and strategically this Dzong withstood all its glory and was featured in 1914 vide National Geographic magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mount. Jhomolhari(7314m) from the Dzong.
The rest of the evening is at leisure, relax at the hotel or visit the Paro town to look for some souvenirs.
Dinner and Overnight at the Hotel, Paro.
In the morning our representatives from