Day 1: Arrive at Paro; drive to Thimphu
The flight into Paro (2200m/ 7800ft) on the national carrier, Druk Air, is a befitting introduction to the spectacular 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. On arrival you will be received by your guide and your driver who will drive you to the capital city, Thimphu (2400 m / 8000 ft). The hour-long drive follows the rivers of Paro and Thimphu. You will have ample time to look around the city, the only capital in the world with no traffic lights.
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast visit the Memorial Chorten built in the memory of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Drive to Motithang for a bird’s eye view of the capital city. Visit the mini zoo to get upclose with ‘Takin,’ the national animal of Bhutan. Takins are a unique looking animal and are the only occupants of the mini zoo. There is an interesting story to their existence, which you will hear from your guide. Drive to Drubthop Lhakhang, the nunnery temple. Return to town for lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch visit the Bhutanese Indigenous Hospital, Traditional Painting School, National Library and continue your drive south to Lungtenzampa, visit the Royal silversmith at work and then stop by at the Bhutanese Paper factory. Time permitting we will visit Simtokha Dzong (fortress), the first Dzong in Bhutan built in 1624; it currently houses the Institute of Learning for Culture and Buddhist Studies.
Day 3: Excursion to Punakha Valley
Leaving Thimphu the road gradually climbs through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (3,050 m/10,000ft). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. After a brief stop to catch the breathtaking views, we will descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,430 feet). Before proceeding further to Punakha town we will hike through rice fields to Chimi Lhakhang temple located on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as the “Divine madman” in the west. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequented by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children. After Lunch, continue your drive towards Punakha Dzong (Fortress) situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (Male and Female River). 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.
Day 4: Punakha – Trongsa Valley
The drive to Trongsa takes approximately 6 hours. We start early for the fabulous drive to the central valleys of Bhutan through Bhutan’s rich flora and fauna. As we cross the fertile valley of Punakha and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang. We 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. We then climb steadily passing through subtropical 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. In clear weather we can view the high snow capped peaks including Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.).
As we descend from the pass through the dwarf bamboo we reach Chendebji Chorten. This Chorten (Stupa) was built in 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to subdue a demon that had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley and the Ada valley just over the ridge. We will have our lunch here. We may encounter herds of yaks on the way. Continue your drive to Trongsa; the huge fortress of Trongsa dominates the entire landscape. Like all other Dzongs, it is strategically located, perched atop a hill. You will get a watchman’s expansive view from the watch tower, which is now being converted to a museum. Arrive Trongsa.
Day 5: Tongtongphey (1,000m) – Jangbi ( 1,350m)
Today is the first day of the trek. After furnishing yourself with ample information about the trek from the information booth at the Park Ranger office in Tongtongphey, the Jangbi village guide steers you down to the Mangdi River where you cross a suspension bridge. The first day brings you in contact with the Monpas who are believed to be the first inhabitants of Bhutan. A glimpse of their lifestyle verifies this claim. The campsite in Jangbi stands on the valley sill, which offers a magnificent view of the Mangdi Valley.
Day 6: Jangbi (1,350m) – Kudra (1,500m)
The morning allows you to further interact with the Monpas. Before you proceed, you could pay a visit to the orchid garden to satiate your thirst for botanical photography. The hike to Kudra provides a jovial atmosphere because this part of the trail meanders along stone imprints of Guru Rinpoche’s footprints, dagger and phallus, festooned by stories that espouse Guru’s praxis. Lunch is served just before you reach Ugyendra, a steep cliff below Phrumzur, one of the few villages of the Monpa communities scattered around the trail. With renewed energy from lunch, you could visit the village lhakhang and then proceed to the campsite in Kudra.
Day 7: Jangbi (1,350m) – Kudra (1,500m)
Wake to the distant call of the Rufous-necked hornbill. This part of the trek is a collage of streams, waterfalls and thick forests that will give you an invigorating feeling of being out in the wild. The Great Himalayan Squirrel, Rhesus Mecaques, and small snakes are often spotted along the trail. Unseen but present, are Himalayan black bear, Red pandas, tigers, Clouded leopards and many more. Upon arrival at the holy tree in Nabji, you will receive a heartwarming reception from villagers. Nabji is a beautiful village with endless paddy fields demarcating the valley and surrounding the campsite.
Day 8: Nabji village (1,300m) – Korphu (1,500m)
En route to Korphu, the Nabji temple is located in the middle of the paddy fields. Inside, there remains a stone pillar on which Guru Rinpoche, while traveling through Bhutan in the 8th century, brought consensus between two warring kings: King sindha Gyalp of Bumthang, and King Noeche, by imprinting their thumbs on each side of the stone. Korphu is situated on a mountaintop at an altitude of 1,500m. The most striking thing about Korphu is the people’s hospitality: almost treating you like ‘A King on accession to throne.’ You have the option of being welcomed with a traditional ‘Chipdrel’ procession and a ‘Marchang’ ceremony, singing traditional songs of praise and wellbeing for new visitors. They also perform the traditional ‘Tashi Labey’ dance to bid you farewell. If you are interested, you can participate in the quintessential Bhutanese games of ‘Khuru,’ ‘Dego,’ ‘Sok-sum,’ and ‘Gee-dum,’ all on the brink of disappearance. You could also pay a visit to the village temple that houses the sacred relics of Pema Lingpa, the famous ‘Treasure revealer’ of Bhutan. The village campsite provides a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Nabji and surrounding areas.
Day 9: Korphu (1,500m) – Nyimshong (1,300m)
The hike from Korphu to Nyimshong is arguably the best birding route– boasting a bird list of more than 395 species, featuring the elusive Rufous Necked Hornbill with its nesting holes adjacent to the trail, among others. The walk is mixed with waterfalls and, streams and cantilever bridges. The evening brings you to Nyimshong, a village of reticent architecture and lifestyle. The women of Nyimshong have a penchant for singing and dancing and a cultural show would be ideal to celebrate the end of your trek.
Day 10: Nyimshong (1,300m) – Reotala (1,000m)
Hotel in Trongsa
If you are lucky, the Golden langurs will lead you to the trail’s end. Descend down to the Mangdi river again to see some herons and River-lapwings. An hour’s steep ascent to the road and your driver will drive you back to Trongsa.
Day 11: Drive to Phobjikha/Gangtey Valley
After breakfast, we will drive to Phobjikha Valley, also known as Gangtey Valley. Our journey will take us over Pelela pass, soon after you make a left turn following a road that heads to Phojikha valley over Tashi La Pass. Phojikha Valley is an open wide valley, where Gantey Gompa is ideally located on a hill over looking the valley. It is also the winter habitat for the black-necked cranes migrating from Tibet. To protect the cranes, the government allows no electric poles and cables in the valley.
The birds migrate sometime in mid-October and return to Tibet in March/April. The villagers celebrate their arrival. The Black-necked Crane is also known as ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ and is deeply revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja), which has harmoniously coexisted with the residents largely due to strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in the Bhutanese folklore, songs, dances and historical references. You will most likely have the opportunity to witness these graceful cranes feeding in the marshy meadow. We will be dropped off before arriving at the Gangtey Monastery and take a hike through a village to the monastery and then continue downhill into the Phobjikha valley. We will continue our hike to the hotel where we will be served lunch. The rest of the day will be available for us to explore the village, visit the newly completed Gangtey Monastery, or observe the cranes during the crane season.
Day 12: Phobkjikha – Thimphu
You will resume your journey to Thimphu after breakfast; en route we will stop briefly in Wangdiphodrang, where we will stroll around what is left of the old Wangdiphodrang town. We may visit Wangdiphodrang Dzong, built in 1638. Legend has it that when people were searching for a site to build the Dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spread of religion to the four points of the compass. The Dzong is situated at the confluence of Punatsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers. We will have our lunch either in Wangdiphodrang or Lobeysa, which is twenty-minutes drive from Wangdiphodrang. After lunch, we will continue our journey to Thimphu. We may stop at Docula pass to capture the panaromic view of the majestic Himalayas. Upon arrival in Thimphu, you will have the evening for walking around the town and for some shopping, if you like.
Day 13: Thimphu – Paro; Paro valley siteseeing
Overnight at hotel or specially arranged homestay
Today, you will drive towards Paro, an hour’s journey. However, on your way you will take a short hike after the confluence (where Thimphu and Paro rivers meet) to see Tachogang monastery, “the temple of excellent horse” built by Thangthong Gyalpo (Iron bridge builder 1385 – 1464), who came to Bhutan from Tibet in search of iron ore. You can still see the iron chain used for the new bridge. The drive continues till we reach the point of our short excursion to Dzongdrakha Goemga. Before you start your excursion, you can see Dzongdrakha Goemba, a white structures hanging on the side of the cliff. It takes an hour for the return trip. Drive for lunch in Paro town.
After lunch you will visit the National Museum. The first thing you will notice is the unusual shape of the museum building itself. It was originally the watchtower of the Paro Dzong. Once you are inside, there is a specific route to follow through the entire building that ensures that you walk clockwise around important images. There are six floors of galleries, each with a special emphasis. From there you will drive to Paro Dzong (Paro Rinchen Pung Dzong meaning ‘fortress on a heap of jewels’). It has always been one of Bhutan’s strongest and most important fortresses and was used on numerous occasions to defend the Paro valley from invasion by Tibet. Drive to your hotel.
Day 14: Paro Halt (Excursion to Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
Overnight at hotel or homestay
After breakfast, you will drive for 30 min to reach the base of Taktshang monastery (2,300m). We will hike 4.5 hours for the return trip. Taktshang is the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the floor of Paro valley. Taktshang, the name means “tiger’s nest.” It was named because Guru Rimpoche is believed to have flown to the site of the monastery riding on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan. He then meditated in a cave here for three months to subjugate the demons and at the same time he turned whole Paro valley into Buddhist.
The structure that can be seen today is rebuild in its original style after it was destroyed by fire on 19th April 1998, and cause still unknown. Lunch will be served at the Yak Herders restaurant. After lunch you can visit Kyichu Lhakhang, which was built in 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. Here you can see the statues of Buddha Sakyamuni, Compassion Buddha in its 11 heads and 1000 hands form, 5m high statue of Guru Rimpoche and Tara who represents one of the wives of King Songtsen Gampo. Drive back to you hotel.
Day 15: Depart Paro, Bhutan
Morning drive to Paro International Airport for departure to your onward destination.