DAY 01: ARRIVE AT PARO
- On arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be warmly received by our friendly, traditionally dressed Chen-Ray Travel & Tours’ (Bhutan Travel Company) representative with a white welcome scarf (called Khadhar) with eight auspicious symbols printed on it. Drive to your hotel and relax with a cup of welcome tea.
- Drukgyal Dzong (fortress): Now in ruins the Dzong was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders in 1644; thus the name Drukgyal meaning “Victorious Drukpas”. The Dzong was used as an administrative center until 1951 when a fire caused by butter lamp destroyed it. Most of the Tibetan Invasions including the Mongolian Invaders led by the Famous Mongolian General, Gushri Khan were repelled back from this Dzong which has a strategic Defense location.If the weather is clear you can view the Majestic Mount Jhomolhari (7314m/24,000ft) which lies on the border with Tibet and the locals revere it as the abode of Goddess Jhomo. First climbed in 1937, it is believed the mountaineers stopped short of the summit in difference to local sentiment and it is now a ‘protected peak’.
- On the way back, visit Kichu Lhakhang. It was built in 659 by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The temple fell into disrepair but was superbly restored in 1839 by the 25th Je Khempo (Chief Abbot). He also contributed the outstanding statue of Avalokiteshwara, with eleven heads and thousand arms, which is located in the sanctuary.
- Evening free
- Dinner and over night in Hotel.
DAY 02: PARO, HIKE TO TAKTSHANG MONASTERY
- The hike to Taktshang Monastery perched on a cliff at 2950m/9700ft takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours as per your hiking ability. It is an uphill hike to the Monastery. The trail climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. There is a cafeteria (Taktsang Jakhang) on the half way. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (the great Buddhist master) with his magical powers came to Taktshang in the eighth century, flying from the east of the country on the back of a tigress (a form that one of his consorts is believed to have taken). He is said to have meditated for about three months in a cave on the cliff and subdued the evil spirits. The primary Lhakhang was built around Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave in the 1692 by the fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgay. This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below.
- Later visit Ta Dzong. Built in 1656 as a watchtower for Rinpung Dzong is now used as the National Museum which is a repository of not only precious works of art but also costumes, Armour and other hand crafted objects of daily life that provide a good snapshot of the rich cultural traditions of the country.It opens 7 days a week except on National Holidays.
- Rinpung Dzong: Built in 1646 by Lama Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal and strategically located to thwart Tibetan incursions into the rest of the country, this Dzong became one of Bhutan’s strongest and most important fortresses.
- In the evening, drive to Thimphu.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 03: THIMPHU SIGHTSEEING
- Morning visit the National Memorial Chorten. This Chorten (stupa) was built (1974) in honor of the late 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk “The Father of Modern Bhutan”. Built in a typical Tibetan style outside and with three shrines inside represents the mainspritual themes of the Nyingma School. The paintings inside depict tantric Buddhismin all its complexity. The complex is visited by people from all walks throughout the day and is one of the most public religious places in the capital.
- Drive to Kuenselphodrang now popularly known as Buddha point since the construction of the world’s tallest Buddha (Dhordenma) Statue (169 feet) started. You can also enjoy the spectacular view of Thimphu valley below.
- Then visit the National Library, which was opened in 1967 to preserve the ancient Dzongkha texts and act as a repository for thousands of old religious books and manuscripts as well as the wooden blocks used for printing.
- Visit Zorig chusum (meaning 13 arts and crafts) which is popularly known as the painting school. Students in this institute learn 13 different traditional arts and crafts like painting, sculpture, wood carving, weaving, embroidery, etc.
- Tashichho Dzong: The present form this Dzong was consecrated as late as 1969 and it is a visual delight. The history of this Dzong dates back to thirteenth century but the original dzong was not at the present site that offers no defensive merit. The old one was built in 1216 or so by the founder of the Lhapa School and was located on a spur to the North-East of the present one. This Dzong was badly damaged during a subsequent struggle with the drukpas and later became the property of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 1630s. In 1641 he rebuilt the Dzong christening it Tashichhoe (the Fortress of Glorious Religion). This became the summer residence of the Zhabdrung and the clergy and Punakha the winter retreat. A fire in 1772 resulted in severe damage and the Desi and Je khempo of that time decided to rebuild it at the bottom of the valley where it now stands. After the capital was moved to Thimphu, it was renovated and expanded in 1962.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 04: THIMPHU SIGHTSEEING
- Royal Textile Academy: Was instituted in May 2005 under the patronage of Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck as a non-government, non-profit organization with the aim to educate, promote and preserve Bhutanese Textiles. It showcases the traditional methods of weaving and has large collection of of dresses from the Royal family.
- Simtokha Dzong: Simtokha Dzong is about 3Km south of Thimphu above the old road to Paro and Phuntsholing. Officially known as Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras), it was built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
- Centenary Farmers’ Market- Initially started as a week end market where the local villagers from the valley and other nearby places come to sell their agriculture products used to be open on Saturdays and Sundays. But now the market opens from Thursday to Sunday.
- Evening free to go for shopping for souvenirs in the shops of Thimphu or the Craft Bazaar where you can find handicrafts of Bhutan. The Bazaar is supported by the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Craft (APIC) to promote the traditional arts and crafts and to supplement the income of the rural people.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Thimphu.
Day 05: Thimphu – Punakha
- Drive to Punakha (72 Kms, 3 hours drive). Before reaching Punakha (about 22km from Thimphu) you will pass through a mountain pass “Dochu La” at 3100m above sea level. On a clear day, the view of the Eastern Himalayas from this pass is one of the best in the country. There are a hundred and nine chortens (stupas) in three tiers of forty five, thirty six and twenty seven circumscribing a single larger chorten at the top. This chortens are called Druk Wangyal Chortens or ‘Stupas of Victory’. The building of these chortens was initiated by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck when her husband the fourth King, travelled to the South-East of the country in December 2003 leading his army against the insurgents from India.Besides these magnificent chortens in an amazing setting you will be able enjoy the view of some of the great Himalayan peaks starting from the left with Masangang (7165m), which dominates the district of Laya. The next is Tshendagang ((7100m) and the following peaks are Tserigang (7300m), Jejegangphugang, Kangphugang, the Table top mountain’ Zongaphugang (7100m) and finally the highest peak of Gangkar Puensum at a towering height of 7541m.
- On the way, hike view Chimi Lhakhang. This Lhakhang dates back to 1499 which was built by Lama Drukpa Kinley who is till this day known as a Divine Madman. Located beautifully on a hilltop, it is about 30 to 40 minute walk passing through a charming village set in lush terraced fields. Lama Drukpa Kinley is beleived to have subdued a demoness residing in Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’ and a wooden effigy of this is preserved within. There are also statues of him along with those of Lama Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni and Avalokiteswara. Devotees receive blessings from his wooden phallus and iron Bow and arrow that lie here and childless women are said to have their wish fulfilled after visiting this Lhakhang.
- Punakha Dzong: The Dzong straddles the confluence of two rivers- Phochu (Male River) and Mochu (Female River) is the most beautiful fortress in Bhutan. It was named as ‘Pungthang Dechen Phodrang’ or ‘Palace of Great happiness’. This impressive fortress was built in 1637. It was the second of the mighty dzongs built by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel (person who unified Bhutan) and was the seat of government till the end of the reign of the second King.The site of the Dzong is believed to have received the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava (the Great Buddhist teacher who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan). In the eighth century he is believed to have prophesied: “…on the edge of the hill that looks like an elephant’s trunk, a man named Namgyal will come and build a fortress…”The most recent historic event the wedding ceremony of the present King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema’s was held inside this Dzong.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Punakha.
DAY 06: PUNAKHA – GANGTEY
- Drive to the beautiful valley of Gangtey.
- Visit Gangtey Goenpa. The Monastery was established by Pema Lingpa’s grandson who became the first Gangtey Trulku. The goenpa is affiliated with several other important goenpas in this region, including Tamzhing in Bumthang. Currently the ninth reincarnation, Kunzang Pema Namgyel is the abbot here. Besides the goenpa there are several schools, a Tibetan style chorten (stupa) and meditation centers where monks retreat for periods ranging from three days to three years. There is also a Buddhist college nearby that offers a nine-year course in Buddhist studies.
- Pema Thinley, the grandson and mind reincarnation of Terton Pema Lingpa founded the Temple in 1613, and Tenzin Legpai Dhendup, the second re-incarnation, built the temple. The present Abbot, Kunzang Pema Namgyal is the ninth re-incarnation. It is a Nyingmapa monastery and is affiliated to other Nyingmapa monasteries including Tamshing in Bumthang.
- Explore Phobjikha valley; this valley is famous for potatoes which is one of the cash crops of the region and an important export to India. Phobjikha is also famed for the migratory black-necked cranes that make it their winter home. This endangered species of birds arrives from Tibet towards the end of October. Known as ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ by the Bhutanese, the locals have great affection for these beautiful birds and are featured in many folk songs. Their departure by the end of February is marked by songs of lamentation. Details of their habitat and habits are available at the Crane Observation and Education Center. If you visit the place at the time when the birds are in residence, you may be able to get a close view from the hides specially constructed for this purpose.
- Overnight at your hotel in Gangtey.
DAY 07: GANGTEY – TRONGSA – BUMTHANG
- Drive to Trongsa, visit Trongsa Dzong (fortress), The most impressive Dzong (Fortress) in the country – it is intricately layered into the hillside, in complete harmony with its surroundings. The structure is aesthetically designed and its clean lines boast a superb sense of proportion and space while finely carved woodwork and elegant paintings suitably embellish it. Following the instruction of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the Dzong was built in 1644 by Chhogyel Minjur Tempa who later became the third Desi (Governor). The Dzong was named Chökhor Raptentse Dzong. The structure was enhanced by Desi Tenzin Rabgye in 1771 and now contains twenty-three temples. It is a veritable maze of corridors, courtyards and passageways leading to the multiple levels contained within the great outer impregnable shell.
- Ta Dzong: Located strategically above the Trongsa Dzong, it was built by Choeje Minjur Tenpa, the first governor of Trongsa, in the year 1652. The tower stood guard over the Trongsa Dzong to protect the main stronghold of the town from any external threats. It is a short steep walk from the Trongsa town.
- Drive to Bumthang.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Bumthang.
DAY 08: BUMTHANG SIGHTSEEING
- Visit Jakar Dzong, which literally means “The Castle of White Bird” was built in 1646. The building was damaged by fire and then again by earthquake of 1897 after which it was rebuilt by King Ugyen Wangchuck in 1905. Today it is the administrative Head Quarters of Bumthang district.
- Visit Jambay Lhakhang, believed to have built on the same day as Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro by a Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the year 659. The temple is dedicated to Maitreya or Jampa and the central shrine holds a large statue of the Buddha of the future, surrounded by four boddhisatvas. The statue is guarded by iron chainmail handcrafted by Pema Lingpa. Under the temple is said to be a lake in which Guru Rimpoche hid several Terma. In October one of the most spectacular festival, “Jambay Lhakhang Drup” is staged here.
- We then visit Kurjey Lhakhang. This monastery is the country’s most historical holy place – the complex is surrounded by 108 chortens (stupas), transforming it into three dimensional mandala patterned on the lines of the Samye Monastery in Tibet. ‘Kur’ means body and ‘jey’ is print – it is here that guru Padmasambhava meditated when he first arrived in the country, leaving an imprint of his body on the rock enshrined here.
- In the evening, visit Membarstho about 11 km drive from Chamkhar town you can visit the site of some of Terton Pema Lingpa’s (Treasure Discoverer) greatest finds – Meybartsho or ‘Flaming Lake’ which is one of the popular pilgrim sites of Bhutan.
- Overnight at your hotel in Bumthang.
DAY 09: BUMTHANG – PUNAKHA
- Drive to Punakha.
- Overnight in your Hotel in Punakha.
DAY 10: PUNAKHA – PARO
- Today drive to Paro via Thimphu.
- Visit Simtokha Dzong which is about 3Km south of Thimphu above the old road to Paro and Phuntsholing. Officially known as Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras), it was built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
- Drive to Paro. Visit a Farm House.
- Overnight at your Hotel in Paro.
DAY 11: DEPARTURE
- End of your travel with Chen-Ray Travel & Tours (Bhutan Tour Operator). Our team will drive you to the Airport and bid farewell.