Bhutan Cultural Tour – 10 days
Places covered: Paro, Thimphu, Haa, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Trongsa, Bumthang.
Day 1: Paro
Paro is home to the only international airport in Bhutan. It has both ancient and modern outlooks. It is blessed with some of the scared temples in the country. Sometimes Paro is also referred to as ‘rice bowl of Bhutan’ as it has abundant paddy field.
During the flight to Paro, you will experience breathtaking views of some of the highest mountains in the world including Mt. Everest and Mt. Jomolhari
After lunch, visit Paro Dzong, Kichu Lhakhang, National Museum and Dumtse Lhakhang
Paro Dzong (fortress) was built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It stands on a hill above Paro Township. It is linked by the traditional cantilever bridge (called the Nemi Zam) over the Pa chu where one may pose a photograph. We will experience a walk up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls to get into the Dzong.
The temple is undoubtedly one of the oldest temples to have been built in Bhutan. It is one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo.
On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is the Ta Dzong (watch tower), built in 1641 AD, by Desi Tenzin Drukda. It boasts a rich variety of artifacts from all over the country representing different eras, as early at 4000 B.C E. to the present day. A visit through the galleries shows the country’s transition from the Stone Age to a modern Mahayanist Buddhist and multicultural kingdom with its cultural heritage intact. The Museum is designed with connoisseurs, students, scholars and tourists in mind, and seeks to provide each visitor with a rich and colourful experience.
The circular lhakhang, reminiscent of the black hat worn by the Bhutanese Black Hat dancers was, built by Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo popularly known as the “Builder of iron chain bridges”.
Day 2: Thimphu
Thimphu, with a population of just over 100,000 people is the largest city in Bhutan. It has a combination of tradition and modernity. Thimphu city sprawls across the western slopes of the Wang Chuu river valley, with several government offices located around Tashichho Dzong. Rapid expansion following the pattern of rural exodus has resulted in considerable rebuilding in the city centre and mushrooming suburban development elsewhere. It is located at an altitude of 2,300 m. The capital does not have a traffic light.
A massive statue of lord Buddha is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley Located at a short drive from Thimphu city, visitors can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley from the Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang). You can pay offer prayers to the Buddha Dordenma, the largest statue in the country and then walk around and take a glimpse of the valley.
Memorial Chorten (Stupa)
Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’. It was built in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan‘s third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of modern Bhutan. The feature that is distinct here is the outward flaring of the rounded part to give the shape of a vase (a pyramidal shape), unlike a dome shape.
The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. This fortress is the administrative and religious centre of Bhutan. It houses the Royal Throne, some ministries and the seat of the Chief Abbot of the central monastic body. At night, the Dzong lights up in beautiful colors.
Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. It is closely associated to religious history and mythology of the country. The takin preserve is located at a short distance up the road to the telecommunications tower viewpoint (Sangay Gang) is a trail leading to a large fenced enclosure that was originally established as a zoo.
Perhaps the best place for photographers is to visit Sangay Gang. A short drive from the Takin preserve, the hill provides a bird’s eye view of Thimphu valley.
Day 3: Punakha
After breakfast drive to Punakha (which will take about 3 hours). On the way to Punakha, some after 45 minutes drive from Thimphu, you will briefly stop at Dsochula pass to a spectacular view of the snow capped mountains and the 108 Druk Wangyel stupas and view of the snow capped mountains
Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu. However, it still serves as the winter ‘capital’ of the central monk body. It is located at an elevation of 1,200 metres above sea level and rice is grown as the main crop. Punakha has been associated with lot of momentous occasions in the history of Bhutan including the Royal Wedding in 2011.
This majestic Dzong stands at the confluence of two rivers (Phochu and Mo Chhu). It built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsr Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Chimi Lhakhang which also known as the temple of fertility is situated on a hillock. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. The temple is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley (‘Divine Madman”) who used humor, songs and outrageous behavior in his teachings.
Day 4: Phobjikha, Wangdue Phodrang
After breakfast drive to Phobjikha valley, which falls under Wangdue Phodrang district. The travel time will be about 3 hours. Spend the night at a farmhouse. One can get the first hand experience on the Bhutanese way of living in rural areas and opportunity to taste the Bhutanese hospitality.
Day 5: Trongsa
It is the largest fortress in Bhutan built by Chogyel Minjur Tempa in 1648. It is located in a strategic position. It used to be the power seat for Bhutan until the rein of Second King.
This watchtower (Ta Dzong) on the hill above the dzong has been converted into an excellent museum by the financed by the Austrian government. It has displays on Buddhist art and royal memorabilia, including the 500-year-old jacket of Ngagi Wangchuk and the football boots used by the teenaged fourth king.
Day 6: Bumthang
Jakar means “white bird”, which derived the name where a roosting white bird signaled the auspicious of the Dzong. It is located on a ridge above Jakar town in the Chamkhar valley of Bumthang. It is built on the site of an earlier temple established by Lam Ngagi Wangchuk (1517–1554) when he came to Bhutan.
It was built in 1857. The palace was the principal residence of the first king and was used by the second and third Kings.
The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. The other is supposedly the Kichu lhakhang in Paro, believed to have been built on the same day.Here one of the most spectacular festivals is hosted called Jambay lhakhang Drup.
Kurjey Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body. The third temple was built by Azhi Kesang Choden, the Queen Grandmother.
Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa. It has old religious paintings around the inner walls.
Day 7: Bumthang
A one-day excursion is planned for the second day in Bumthang. After breakfast drive to Ura village, which is about 50 km away from Jakar town. The short journey opens up for beautiful scenery around including the majestic view of Gangkhar Puensum mountain. Ura village has clustered houses.
After lunch drive back from different route (by-pass) via Chumey village.
Day 8: Bumthang to Thimphu (choose to fly from Bumthang to Paro)
Day 9: Haa
After breakfast drive to Haa via Chelela pass. The travel time from Thimphu to Haa will be around two hours. Chelela, which is at 4,200 meters provides prefect views of Jhumolhari and Jichu Drakey mountains. It takes one hour descend drive from Chelela to reach Haa. The picturesque three giant hills looming over Haa valley signify three gods (Jambayang, Chana Dorji and Chenrizig).
The Haa Dzong (presently occupied by military) has a stunning view. After lunch visit to Monasteries: Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) followed by visit to Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple).
Later in the afternoon drive to Paro different way. The drive will be under 3 hours.
Day 10: Paro
After breakfast drive to the base of Paro Taktshang (Tiger’s nest). The travel time will be just over one hour. The hike to Tiger Nest will certainly bring back unforgettable memories.. The hike provides breathtaking views and excitement of the holy place. For locals, it takes less than two hours to reach the monastery. There may be a need for few stops/rest due to higher altitudes unless you are fully acclimatized.
Taktshang monastery is located atop an 800 meter cliff in Paro. The monastery is widely regarded is one of the most important in Bhutan. Its history is associated with the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian saint who came to Bhutan in the 8th century AD. The cave was named Taktshang after Guru Rinpoche flew into the cave from Kurtoe Singye Dzong in eastern Bhutan riding on a tigress. In 1692 the fourth Druck Desi Tenzin Rabgye started to construct monastery and finally completed after three years.
Day 11: After breakfast, drop to Paro Airport