Journey to the rugged, remote and seldom-visited eastern districts of Bhutan
Explore Bhutan’s central valleys, rich with ancient historical and sacred Buddhist sites
Visit ancient palaces and museums featuring historical memorabilia of Bhutan’s Royal Family
Drive over high mountain passes affording sensational views of Himalayan peaks
Tour the Thrumshingla National Park, home to many unusual species of flora and fauna
Ideal for those who want to discover the ‘true Bhutan’, this ultimate tour explores the cultural valleys of the west, the spiritual areas of central Bhutan and the rugged east. For 11 days, journey across Bhutan, traversing otherworldly landscapes and high mountain passes with incredible Himalayan views, mixed forests, beautiful countryside, and meadows rich with diverse flora and fauna. Explore villages and settlements and visit some of the most famous temples, monasteries and fortresses in the country.
Upon arriving at the Paro International Airport, your guide will wait for you and welcome you with a traditional greeting scarf or ‘khadar’. After that, you will be escorted to your hotel, allowed to freshen up, and then taken for a short sightseeing tour around Paro.
First, visit Rinpung Dzong, an administration centre and school for monks. Built in 1645, it was once used to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. Next, visit the Ugyen Pelri Palace, which is one of the most beautiful examples of Bhutanese architecture. Continue onward to one of the finest natural history museums in South Asia, the National Museum. Its collection of precious works of art and fantastic costumes, armour and other handcrafted objects provide a snapshot of the rich cultural traditions of Bhutan. There is also a gallery dedicated to exquisite pieces of thangkas.
Lastly, stop at 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 a leisurely visit to the town of Paro.
Enjoy an early breakfast and then take a brief drive to the trail leading to the Taktsang Monastery, one of the holiest sites in the country. Also known as ‘Tiger's Nest’, it is famous for clinging precariously to a cliff 900 metres (2,600 feet) above the Paro Valley. The climb will take approximately three hours to complete. Lunch will be served during the return hike to the road point. Later, explore the Kyichu Temple, one of the 108 temples built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King, Songsten Gampo. This series of temples were built to subdue the demoness residing in the Himalayas, who was believed to be preventing the spread of Buddhism.
The journey continues with a drive to Thimphu. Urbanisation began here when Thimphu was proclaimed as a national capital in 1952 and the Dechenchoeling Palace was built. This city is best known for being the only capital in the world with no traffic lights. On the way, see the 15th-century Tachogang Temple, also known as the ‘Temple of the Hill of Excellent Horse’. After arriving in Thimphu, check into your hotel enjoy a free evening in the city at your leisure.
After breakfast in the morning, begin your local sightseeing tour with a visit to Changangkha Temple. Built in the 15th century by Lama Phajo Drigom, this temple lies on a hilltop commanding the Thimpu Valley and contains ancient scriptures and thankas. Next, gaze upon priceless Buddhist manuscripts at the National Library of Bhutan. The NLB is also home to a large and steadily growing collection of manuscripts, books, scriptures and written documents as well as numerous hand-carved wooden blocks for printing traditional religious books. 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 trip continues to a Jungshi paper factory, just one kilometre from Thimphu. The factory uses the bark of the Daphne and Dhekap trees and ancient traditional methods that have been practised for generations to make paper. Try your hand at making this ancient craft, which was originally used by monasteries for woodblock and manuscript books and for writing prayer books. Next, visit the traditional art and crafts Institute for Zorig Chusum or the ‘Painting School’. One can often see students learning the various skills taught while visiting the school. The day concludes with a trip to the Takin Preserve to see the national animal and a drive up to the BBS Tower for a beautiful view of Thimphu Valley.
Begin the day with a drive through the Dochula Mountain Pass toward Punakha Valley. On a clear day, Dochula offers stunning views of the snowcapped Himalayan range. Continue to Druk Wangyel Chorten, a symbol of peace and stability of the country. After a 20-minute walk through the village of Sopsokha, visit Chimi Lhakhang or the ‘Fertility Temple’, a temple that is believed to bless couples unable to have children. Continue with a drive to 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.
After an early breakfast, drive to Trongsa via the Pelela mountain pass, crossing the Black Mountains, which divide western and central Bhutan. This 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 the 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.
Continue the 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.
Today's sightseeing tour will begin with a visit to Jakar Dzong or the 'Castle of the White Bird'. According to legend, lamas assembled in 1549 to select a site for a monastery. A big white bird suddenly rose into the air and settled on a spur of a hill; this was interpreted as an important omen and the hill was chosen as the site for a monastery and Jakar Dzong. The fortress is now used as an administrative centre for the valley and the summer residence of Trongsa monks.
Continue 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. Then 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).
Today after an early breakfast, drive eastward to Mongar. The 7-hour journey will wind through rugged terrain and places with spectacular views. Pass through the Ura village in Bumthang before climbing sharply to the highest motor road pass in the Kingdom, the Thrumshingla Pass. As you approach Thrumshingla's the highest point, you'll have a spectacular view of Gangkhar Puensum (7,541 metres).
Along the way, visit the Thrumshingla National Park, which is home to a large variety of plants and animals, most notably the red panda, different kinds of rhododendron flowers and a variety of bird species. The Bengal tiger has also been sighted in this park. Along the drive to Mongar town, see cascading waterfalls pine forests and maize fields. Upon arrival, check into the hotel and visit the Mongar Dzong, a relatively new construction but still maintains the architectural traditions of the old dzongs.
Today's journey will take you on a 3-hour drive Lhuntse. The road begins by snaking through the open countryside then turns north and goes down into the river gorge, following its left bank at an altitude of 1,100 metres. The landscape is spectacular with cliffs and coniferous forest from which turpentine is extracted. Lemongrass also grows in abundance here. Along the way, visit the Lhuntse Dzong, which was built in the year 1962 but has been restored several times.
In the morning, visit the village of Gompa Karpo, which is a 4-hour walk east of Lhuntse Dzong. This village is renowned for the exceptional quality fabrics produced there. Afterwards, drive back to Mongar, check into a hotel and enjoy leisure time in the evening.
After breakfast, drive through lush forests and ferns from Mongar to Trashigang, the eastern-most region of the country. Arrive at the village of Ngatshang one hour into the drive, a famous historical place in Mongar. Then, descend rapidly through maize fields and banana groves to Yadi Village and continue following the Gamri River to Drametsi Temple. Perched atop a steep hill, this temple was founded by Nun Choden Zangmo in the 16th century. This is the place where Kunga Nyingpa had his vision of the famous Drametsi Nga Chham or 'Drums from Drametsi'. Roughly 30 kilometres onwards lies Trashigang, the centre of the biggest and most populated district in the nation. View the dzong, built strategically on a spur going out towards the Gamri Chu, before checking into the hotel.
After breakfast, drive to Gom Kora Temple, which is a sacred meditation site of Guru Rimpoch. It is said that the guru left several imprints on the rock including a body impression after meditating for three days, an impression from his pointed hat on a cave's ceiling, and thumbprints on the cave wall that sealed a deal he made with a demon. There are also numerous sacred objects under the statue of Guru Rimpoche and a narrow passageway that tests your virtue by passing through it.
Continue the drive to Duksum where there are many places to eat and local shops selling colourful patterned cloth woven by the women of the village using backstrap looms. Behind the village is the last surviving iron chainlink bridge built by Thangtong Gyalpo, 'The Iron Bridge Builder'. Next, visit Chorten Kora, an important stupa next to the Kulong Chu River. The story of Chorten Kora dates back to over 300 years when the people of Yangtse lived in fears of demons. It also hosts one of the most famous festivals in eastern Bhutan, the Chorten Kora Tshechu. Then, drive for 25 minutes to Shedi, a traditional village of Yangtse where agriculture is the locals' primary occupation. Finally, walk to the 9th-century ruins of Tshenkarla Dzong and visit the old settlement of Shali peppered with houses and farms. Afterwards, return to Trashigang.
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. Whilst there, visit the crane information and observation centre to view the exotic birds.
After breakfast, take a 6-hour drive back to Paro and then check into the hotel. In the afternoon, visit Dungtse Lhakhang, which is just across the river. This may be the only ancient temple built in the shape of a chorten. It was constructed in 1421 by Thangtong Gyelpo, who came to Bhutan in search of iron ore to construct bridges in his homeland of Tibet. Its chimi lhakhang is chained down since local belief holds that it will otherwise fly off to heaven. Enjoy a free evening to visit the town of Paro.
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