Hike up to the famous Taktsang Monastery, perched on a cliff 900 metres above the valley floor
Visit the medieval-looking village in Ura Village and the farmhouses in Paro
Browse through invaluable cultural artefacts at the Textile Museum and National Museum
Drive through the Dochula Mountain Pass with stunning views of the snowcapped Himalayas
See Bhutan's national animal at the Takin Preserve
This in-depth 11-day cultural tour offers a rare opportunity to savour the different customs and cultures of the western and central valleys of Bhutan. Marvel at the exquisite museum collections and visit sacred temples containing precious artefacts and relics. Along with scenic drives across the countryside, pass through majestic mountains and by beautiful forests and lush valleys and meet local people during farmhouse visits and village excursions.
After arriving at the Paro International Airport, a representative of Diethelm Travel Bhutan will welcome you in a traditional Bhutanese manner by offering you a 'khadar' or greeting scarf. After that, you will be escorted to your hotel to check in.
After freshening up, your guide will take you to Drukgyal Dzong. Now in ruins, it was once strategically built over the only passage into Paro Valley. It helped to prevent numerous invasions throughout Bhutanese history, beginning in 1646. In clear weather, the towering peak of Mount Jumolhari that marks the frontier with Tibet appears as a backdrop to Drukgyal Dzong.
The evening has been kept free to allow you to explore Paro at your leisure.
In the morning, drive to Thimphu, the only capital in the world without traffic lights. Take in the city’s traditional Bhutanese architecture, which seamlessly blends into the idyllic countryside. Along the way, see the Tachogang Temple or the 'Temple of the Hill of Excellent Horse', which is located a few kilometres before the joining of the Paro and Thimphu Rivers.
On arrival, check into the hotel and then begin a local sightseeing tour. First, walk to the Textile Museum and browse through an invaluable collection of antique textile artefacts and beautiful handwoven Bhutanese textiles. These items are an integral part of Bhutan's cultural heritage and are unique for their diversity and sophistication. The museum is also home to the pearl robe from Tsamdrak Goenpa, crowns of Bhutan’s Kings, dresses and other accessories worn by the Royal Family, personal bedding of His Holiness Zhabdrung Jigme Dorji and the first version of the Raven Crown.
Afterwards, visit the National Library, which has an extensive collection of ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan scripts. Apart from the silk cloth printing and wrappings kept on the second floor, the library also has traditional wood blocks used for printing books and prayer flags. Afterwards, peek into the way of life of Bhutanese villages and rural households by exploring the National Folk Heritage Museum. The building is a restored 3-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house that resembles the average rural household in the Wang area during the mid-19th century.
The tour continues to the Takin Preserve, home to the national animal, a rare bovid mammal that only lives in Bhutan. Then, drive to the BBS Tower for an aerial view of Thimphu Valley and to fly prayer flags for peace, serenity and luck. In the evening, visit the 13th-century Tashichho Dzong, which houses His Majesty’s Throne Room and is the summer home to the Monastic Body.
After breakfast, visit Bhutan Post. Located at the heart of Thimphu, it is renowned for its extensive varieties of exotic stamps made out of metal, silk and three-dimensional images. Many significant events of the world are recorded and made into stamps in Bhutan. Next, travel through the spiralling mountain road through the Dochula Mountain Pass toward Punakha Valley. On a clear day, Dochula offers stunning views of the snowcapped Himalayan range. With powerful binoculars, you can view Jejekangphu Gang, Zongophu Gang (Table Mountain) and Gangkhar Puensum. Then, visit Druk Wangyel Chorten, a new landmark for travellers as you cross the first mountain pass within the country.
Next, stop for a 20-minute walk through the village of Sopsokha to visit Chimi Lhakhang or the 'Fertility Temple'. Located on a hillock in the centre of the valley below Metshina, this holy site has been welcoming childless couples seeking its blessing since the 15th century.
After an early breakfast, visit the impressive Punakha Dzong, which was built in 1637 and is said to be one of the most beautiful dzongs of Bhutan. Inside, there is a set of the 108 volumes of Kanjur, a holy book of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage written in gold. The dzong also safeguards Bhutan’s most treasured possession, the sacred Rangjung Kharsapani relic.
Then drive to Trongsa via the Pelela mountain pass, crossing the Black Mountains, which divide western and central Bhutan. It is a wonderful opportunity to take photographs of the surrounding scenic views. Continue driving through yak settlements and rhododendron and magnolia forests. After crossing the Nikarchu Bridge, enter Trongsa. First, visit the 19th-century Chendebji Chorten, which was built by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit. Then, continue to the beautiful Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of the Royal Family. Built in 1648, Trongsa Penlop was able to control the whole of the eastern region effectively due to its highly strategic position. Lastly, visit Ta Dzong. What once served as the watchtower above the Trongsa Dzong is now a state-of-the-art museum about the Bhutan monarchy. There are 11 galleries with one gallery entirely dedicated to the history of the kings of the Wangchuck Dynasty.
After breakfast, continue your journey towards Bumthang, which is approximately two hours from Trongsa. This is one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and is also the heartland of Buddhism where many great teachers have meditated.
Afterwards, check into the hotel and begin your pilgrimage tour. Your first stop is to Jambay Lhakhang, which was built in the 17th century during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first religious and political king of Bhutan.
Carry on to Chakhar Lhakhang, an Iron Castle temple that was once the palace of the Indian King Sindhu Raja who first invited the Second Buddha Guru Rimpoche to Bumthang. Next, visit the three temples of Kurjey Lhakhang, which are built on the rock face above Jambay Lhakhang and are surrounded by a 108-chorten wall symbolising each joint of the human body. Take a short walk across a footbridge and uphill on a trail to Tamshing Temple. Founded in 1501, it contains interesting religious paintings such as 11,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Bohhisatava).
Enjoy a day trip to the village of Ura, which lies in the Tang Valley. Drive through forests and large sheep pastures and enjoy a view of the 17th-century Jakar Dzong. Stop at the village for lunch and visit the main temple and do some exploring. Ura Village has a medieval look to it because of the tightly clustered houses and cobblestone streets. You'll also see women wearing sheepskin shawls. On the way back from Ura, stop to see Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake).
The day begins with a drive to Gangtey, the wintering grounds of the rare black-necked crane (Grus Nicorocolis) that migrate from remote parts of Tibet, China and Siberia between mid-October and early December and remain until March through mid-April. The local people say that when the cranes first arrive, they circle over the Goemba (Monastery) as though they are paying homage before descending into land in the marshy area of the valley. Gangtey is declared as a conservation ground for the black-necked cranes and borders the Black Mountain National Park. It is also inhabited by muntjak (barking deer), wild boar, sambar, Himalayan black bear, leopard and red fox. While there, visit the crane information and observation centre to view the exotic birds.
After breakfast, take a short morning walk downhill from Gantey Goemba to Khewang Lhakhang. The location of this temple prophesied by Lam Drukpa Kuenley and it was later built in the 15th century by Trulku Penjor Gyaltshen, the incarnation of the great Tibetan saint, Kuenkhen Logchen Rabjampa. The temple was built to control famine and diseases, to ward off ill wishes of other people and to help the spirits of the people who have sinned in the past to find the path to heaven. Afterwards, drive back to Thimphu. On arrival check into the hotel and enjoy the rest of the free evening at your leisure exploring Thimphu.
After breakfast, take a morning drive back to Paro. Check into the hotel and begin a local sightseeing tour. First, drive to Rinpung Dzong, which was built in 1645 to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. Today, this dzong is used as an administration centre and school for monks. Then, continue to the magnificent Ugyen Pelri Palace, which is situated in a secluded wooden compound south of the river and one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. Afterwards, tour the National Museum and its collection of precious works of art and cultural artefacts. Its thangkas depicting Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first Je Khempo and first Druk desi, are particularly significant.
Continue Dungtse Lhakhang, which is said to be the only ancient temple built in the shape of a chorten. Its chimi lhakhang is chained down since local belief holds that it will otherwise fly off to heaven. Lastly, explore the Kyichu Temple, which is one of the 108 temples built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King, Songsten Gampo, in his attempt to banish a giant demoness that he believed was preventing the spread of Buddhism across Tibet.
After an early breakfast, take a short drive to the trailhead of the famous Taktsang Monastery, which clings precariously to a cliff 900 metres (2,600 feet) above the Paro Valley. Also known as Tiger's Nest, Taktsang is one of the holiest sites in the country and one of the most recognised Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas. The climb to the viewpoint will take approximately three hours. Afterwards, lunch will be served during the return hike back to the road point.
In the evening, visit a local farmhouse and see firsthand how rural Bhutanese live. The farmhouses are very decorative, built and painted in a classical three-storey style. The ground floor is used for cattle and the top floor is used for drying hay whilst the family lives on the middle floor.
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