- Visits to community projects and local schools
- Meetings with high ranking Bhutan officials and Conservationists
- Audience with Buddhist leaders of Bhutan
- Special permission to visit special monasteries
- Yoga and meditation
- Cooking and archery lessons
- Ayurvedic massage
- Spiritual retreat
- Home stays and volunteer opportunities
- Witness ancient festivals if the trip coincides with festival time
Day 1: Arrive at Paro Valley
Uma Resort or Hotel Zhiwaling
The flight into Paro (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. On arrival you will be received by our representative, and then driven to the hotel. After refreshing yourself, visit the National Museum (housed in an old watch tower) and have an easy afternoon walking around the Paro town.
Sitting atop a hill in 38 acres of parkland, commanding panoramic views of the Paro Valley, Uma Paro consists of 9 Superior rooms, 9 deluxe rooms, 2 Suites, 8 one-bed villas, and 1 two-bed villa. The main hotel used to belong to a Bhutanese nobleman and is built using traditional Bhutanese materials and design. The villas are secluded separately in the grounds. Interior design is simple and elegant with subtle Bhutanese themes. There is an indoor swimming pool, hot stone baths, saunas and steam rooms. You may enjoy Ayurvedic and Asian therapies, a library, an intimate bar and a unique circular timbered restaurant that has floor to ceiling windows and central bukhari wood-burning fireplace.
Day 2: Haa Valley
Overnight in the Haa Valley
Today we drive (3 hours) westwards to the pristine and remote Haa valley, which was recently opened to travelers. The valley is dotted with fields of millet, barley, and potatoes and full of ancient shrines. Haa Valley is the western most state in Bhutan. It borders the Indian state of Sikkim and Tibet. We’ll drive to Haa via the Chele-la pass (3,800m/13,000ft) through blue pine and rhododendron forests. On a clear day there are superb views from the pass of two of Bhutan’s highest and best known peaks — Mount Chomolhari and Jitchu Drake. We will stop here briefly to enjoy the lovely mountain scenery and then continue down to Haa town (2,670m / 8,811ft).
The drive will give you an insight into a medieval way of life that has changed little over the centuries. Modern development has brought better education, health care and electricity to these remote areas but the local small farm-based economy that has kept the local people self sufficient over the years is largely unchanged.
After a picnic lunch by the river near the newly built Haa Dzong (fortress), we will visit two famous monasteries, Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). Lhakhang Karpo is also called Chundo Gompa, dedicated to the chief protector-deity of the valley. The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to be almost identical to that of the Jowo temple in Lhasa, Tibet. Legend has it that local deities assisted in the construction of Lhakhang Karpo and as a result, the place came to be locally known as ‘Hay’ (meaning ‘surprise’) which later became ‘Haa’ due to varying interpretations and pronunciations over time. Visit Dorikha Village.
Day 3: Haa to Thimphu Valley; Thimphu sightseeing
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu
After breakfast, we depart Haa for Thimphu via a forest of pine and cedar with panoramic views of the Himalaya. Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital (2,320 m / 7,609 feet), is situated on a broad green valley surrounded by terraced rice fields. Thimphu has a population about 90,000 people. The main street of Thimphu, Norzim Lam, is lined with shops of all descriptions–mainly stocking goods imported from India and Thailand. This is the only capital in the world where there are no traffic lights, only a few roundabouts.
Lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch, 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 see ‘Takin’ the national animal of Bhutan. There are only a few of these and they look rather unique. They are the only occupants of the mini zoo and there is an interesting story to their existence. Drive to Drubthop Lhakhang, the nunnery temple. Return to town for lunch at a local restaurant. Time permitting, visit the Bhutanese Indigenous Hospital and the Traditional Painting School.
Day 4: Day Hike to Cheri Monastery
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu
This morning, after breakfast, we drive north of Thimphu for less than 30 minutes to get to the base of the hiking trail. This is where the border of the Jigme Dorji National Park begins. From here, you will walk to the 17th century Cheri Gompa (monastery). You cross the cantilever bridge and climb steeply for 30 to 45 minutes towards themonastery. Two thirds of the way up, one can rest at a Tibetan-style stupa. Ascend to the gompa where there are lovely views. It is usually possible to enter Cheri courtyard, but not the temples (A special permit needs to be obtained).
Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel (first ruler of Bhutan) built this monastery in 1620 and established its first order of monks here. A silverchorten inside the monastery is said to hold the ashes of the Zhabdrung’s father. Picnic lunch at the monastery site. After lunch, walk back to the base of the mountain to join the driver and the car, who will be waiting to drive you back to Thimphu. In the evening, do some more sightseeing or shopping. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 5: Excursion to Punakha Valley
Overnight at nearby hotel
After a good night’s rest, we leave Thimphu and head eastwards towards Punakha.The road climbs steeply 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, as we 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 up to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple) on a small hilltop.
It is a pleasant 30 minutes hike through the rice paddies and the small village.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. 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 humour. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are as a result of his influence to date. 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 6: Punakha-Trongsa Valley
Overnight at nearby hotel
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’ll 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. The Dzong is protected by cactus plants all around the slope of the hill. We’ll then climb steadily, passing through semi-tropical 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–especially Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.). As we descend from the pass through the dwarf bamboo we reach Chendebji Chorten. This Chorten or Stupa was built in 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to nail into the ground a demon who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley and the Ada valley just over the ridge. We will have our pack lunch here. We will also oftentimes encounter yaks on the way. Continuing our drive to Trongsa, we’ll enter Trongsa valley, the huge fortress of Trongsa, which dominates the entire landscape. Like all other Dzongs/fortresses, it has been built on a strategic location. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in ancient times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen.
Day 7: Trongsa- Bumthang Valley
Overnight at nearby hotel
After breakfast, we will visit the majestic Trongsa Dzong, situated on a hill spur looking over cascading Mangde River. In ancient times, this fortress served as the capital for the Governors (Trongsa Penlop) of eastern Bhutan and later served as the capital of first and second king of Bhutan. After the visit, we will proceed to Bumthang. The drive takes less than two hours to cover the 44 miles if we drive non-stop.
From Trongsa, the road rises rapidly through a series of hairpin bends until you arrive at Yotong La Pass (3,400 m / 11,200 foot). From here the road descends until you arrive at Chumey Valley (2,700m / 8,800 foot). Our first stop at Chumey will be to visit the small village of Tsugney where you will see the traditional weaving of woolen fabrics. Continue your drive to Choekhor crossing the Kiki La Pass (2,900 meters / 9,500foot). Arrive at Choekhor Valley (Valley of Dharma Wheel). Check into your hotel and explore the small town at your own convenience.
Day 8: Bumthang Valley sightseeing
Overnight at hotel in Bumthang
The sightseeing today will be followed in the style of Bhutanese tradition, which is in clock wise direction. Your car will drop you at the Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the holiest temples in the country. It is believed that in the eighth century Guru Padmasambhava had meditated here and subdued the local deity known as Shelging Karpo.
Begin your hike from here crossing the suspension bridge and visit Padmasambhava Lhakhang. This is another meditation site of Guru Padmasambhava. It was founded by Terton (treasure seeker) Pema Lingpa in 15th century and was restored by the Grand Queen Mother of present King. Bumthang valley is truly the most sacred place in Bhutan. Continue your hike to Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in early 16th century by Terton Pema Lingpa. Next, you will visit Konchogsum Lhakhang, built in the 8th century. The Temple is famous for its bell, which bears an inscription from the eighth century. Your car will pick you up from here.
Day 9: Drive to Trongsa and to Phobjikha Valley
Overnight at hotel or lodge
After breakfast, we will make a u-turn and drive to Phobjikha Valley through Trongsa. After crossing the Pele La pass, we will make a left turn on another road that will lead us to the broad and beautiful valley of Phobjikha.
This valley also serves as the winter home for the rare black-necked cranes that migrate from the plateau of Tibet when it gets extremely cold. The birds migrate sometime in late October and they 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 folk lore, songs, dances and historical references. If your visit here is in late October, then you will be able to witness the cranes feeding in the marshy meadow. Our car will drop us before arriving at the Gangtey Monastery, We will start our hike through the 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 with our lunch. Rest of the day free for us to explore the village or observe the cranes during the crane season.
Day 10: Phobkjikha-Thimphu
Overnight at nearby hotel
After breakfast, you will resume your journey to Thimphu, en route we will stop at Lobesa or at Dochula Pass for lunch. Do some more sightseeing in Punakha area if we missed earlier. After that, drive towards Thimphu. Upon arrival in Thimphu, rest of the afternoon will be for walking around the town and for some shopping, if you like.
Day 11: Thimphu-Paro; Paro Valley sightseeing
Overnight at Uma Resort or Hotel Zhiwaling
After breakfast, we will drive to Paro. Upon arriving Paro, we will first visit the ancient ruins of Drukgyal Dzong, built in 1647 by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. The Dzong was destroyed by fire and left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. There were several unsuccessful attempts to invade Paro by the Tibetans from the north.The fortress featured on the cover of the US National Geographic magazine in 1914. The fortress served as an administrative center until 1951, when a fire brought it down.
From here, on a clear day, you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m / 23,990 ft). Drive south to Satsham Chorten, built in memory of the late Dilgo Khentse Rimpoche, and continue on to Kyichu Lhakhang, built in seventh century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gonpo. After lunch, (if we missed during the first day of arrival into Bhutan)- visit the National Museum of Bhutan (Ta Dzong-watch tower), which contains works of art, handicrafts, costumes, armor and rare stamps. Take a leisurely hike down to Rimpung Dzong. You will walk across a traditional bridge across the river. Your car and driver will be ready to pick you up and then drive you to the Hotel. If time permits, take a leisurely walk along the 200 meter stretch of Paro town.
Day 12: Excursion to Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
Overnight at Uma Resort or Hotel Zhiwaling
After breakfast, your car will drop you at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular and famous Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair).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. You stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and 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. Guru Rimpoche is supposed to have meditated here for three months and it is considered like a Mecca for Buddhists. Lunch or pack lunch will be served at the cafeteria.
Day 13: Depart Paro, Bhutan
Morning drive to Paro International Airport for departure to your onward destination.