This tour is for those who love hiking and is suitable for all age groups. Providing hikers great opportunity to visit quaint corners of the valleys of THimphu and Phobjikha. The hike at Phobjikha covers the three and half hours of ‘less traveled’ old trade route ,relatively unknown even to many Bhutanese. This hike will take you through different layers of vegetation, with a very good view of the whole Phobjikha valley from the pass. In spring season (months of March and April to early May), Rhododendron flowers are in full bloom which lifts up the spirit of the hikers.
Day 1: Paro to Thimphu
On arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be warmly received by our friendly, traditionally dressed Chen-Ray Travel & Tour’s representative with a white welcome scarf (called Khadhar) with eight auspicious symbols printed on it. Drive to Thimphu which is about 1 hour drive from airport with sightseeing en route. Check in to your hotel and relax with a cup of welcome tea.
- Before lunch time you can visit 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.
- Tashichho Dzong: In the evening visit this fortress. 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.
- Witness the flag lowering ceremony before you enter the Dzong.
- Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Day 2: Thimphu
- Drive along the Thimphu River for 25km to the Tango Monastery. Be prepared for a steep climb from the car park and about 30 minutes hike through the blue pine and oak forest to reach the monastery. This monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in 13th century and Desi Tenzin Rabgye the 4th Temporal Ruler built in its present form in 1688. In 1616, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal meditated in its cave. Today it is the institute of higher learning of Buddhism in Bhutan. The Main Lhakhang (Temple) holds the statues of ‘Due Sum Sangye’ (three Buddhas of past, present and future).
- On the way back you can enjoy your picnic lunch by the banks of Wang Chu river.
- Evening free for shopping. Visit ‘Craft Bazaar’ for authentic Bhutanese handicrafts.
- Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha
- Drive to Punakha, old capital of Bhutan. 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.
- Hike to Chime Lhakhang takes about one and half to two hours (if you are a photographer). The hike takes you through a charming village set in lush terraced fields.
The Lhakhang (Temple) 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 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.
Later visit 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 4: Punakha to Wangdi & Phobjikha
- Leave hotel for Phobjikha valley, passing by the ruins of Wangduephodrang Dzong. This was another Dzong built by Zhabdrug Nawang Namgyel in 1638 at a spot that controlled the routes to Trongsa towards East, Punakha and Thimphu towards West, Gasa to the North and Dagana and Tserang to the South. Legend says that when Zhabdrung arrived in the area he spotted a boy building sand castle on the banks of the river. This was taken as good omen and when the dzong was built it was named after the boy – Wangduephodrang or Wangdi’s Palace. Complex and different in shape, the dzong comprised of three separate but linked structures. It was unfortunately completely destroyed by fire in 2012 and is now under reconstruction.
- Visit Gangtay Gonpa (Monastery) which 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.
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 Phobjikha/Gangtey.
Day 5: Phobjikha
- Drive to Ruckubjee, a small village on the other side of Pele la. Hike back to Phobjikha through draft bamboo and different vegetation zones. Catch a good view of the Phobjikha valley when you reach the pass.
- Afternoon free to walk around the cranes feeding area and see cranes in very close range. (during winter only)
- Overnight at your hotel in Phobjikha/Gangtey.
Day 6: Phobjikha to Paro
- Drive back to Paro across 2 passes: Lawala and Dochula, your second chance for a good view of the high mountains again. From Lawala you can see faraway mountains – in the north east direction the Rinchenzoe La (5600m) and Mt. Jomolhari (7314m); and in the North West direction the Jichudraki (6980m) and Drakigang (6040m). From Dochula you can see almost the whole Eastern Himalayan Mountain Ranges including Bhutan’s highest mountain the Gangkar Puensum (7550m).
- Evening 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.
- Walk down to 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.
Day 7: Paro
- 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.
- Kyichu 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 fro shopping.
- Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
Day 8: Departure
- End of your travel to Bhutan. Our team will drive you to the Airport and bid farewell.