This cultural tour covers western Bhutan and also offers the visitor a brief moment to discover the history of some of the Dzongs (fortresses) and monasteries of Bhutan’s prominent areas.
The itinerary takes you around Thimphu which is the capital city of Bhutan allowing you to discover the history, arts, architecture and traditional life of the Bhutanese people which still remains amidst the vast development activities taking place in the country. Other places of visit are Paro where the Taktsang Monastery is “nested” and Punakha – once the old capital of Bhutan and now the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan.
The journey leads through the twisting mountain roads and through one of the highest passes in Bhutan called Dochu La. Weather permitting, one can experience beautiful views of the mountain ranges located far up in the northern territory of Bhutan.
The hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery is definitely the highlight of this trip presenting a memorable trip to Bhutan.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO – THIMPHU
- Arriving at Paro International airport and upon clearing immigration and customs, you will meet with your guide and driver. Drive about 1 hour 30 minutes to Thimphu (2,286m), the capital of Bhutan.
- After lunch at the hotel, visit the Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in loving memory of the Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, where a multi-storied Stupa and numerous paintings are exhibited providing an insight into Buddhist philosophy.
- Visit Changangkha Lhakhang, an ancient temple built in the thirteen century by Lam Phajo Dugom Zhigpo, situated on a ridge above the city.
- Visit the Takin Reserve, where you can see the national animal of Bhutan (Takin).
- In the evening, you will visit Tashichho Dzong (the fortress of the glorious religion). Tashichho Dzong houses His Majesty’s Secretariat and the Central Monk Body. You can see the National Assembly building across the river.
DAY 02: THIMPHU
- Visit the National Library, established in the 1960s, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and a small collection of books.
- Institute of Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where you can see young children learning and practicing the ancient arts and crafts of Bhutan. Zorig Chusum literally means the “thirteen traditional arts and crafts”.
- Visit the Textile Museum, which provides an excellent introduction about the techniques, style of various textiles woven in the country along with exhibitions of the national dress ‘gho’ for men and ‘kira’ for women.
- If your visit falls from Friday till Sunday, then visit the weekend vegetable market held at the Centenary Farmers Market. The market provides an opportunity to mingle with the local people and sample local organic produce. Local arts and crafts are also available.
DAY 03: THIMPHU – PUNAKHA
- The first stop after leaving Thimphu is Dochula pass at 10,500 ft. (23km from Thimphu – 45 minutes drive), where you can see one of Bhutan’s most enchanting views. If weather permits, from this pass, the breathtaking peaks of Bhutan’s northern border can be viewed.
- At Dochula, you will also see a unique cluster of 108 Namgyel Khangzang Chortens that spiral up to the main Chorten known as the “Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens”. Her Majesty The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, dedicated these chortens as a tribute and monument to the selfless service and visionary leadership of our Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The Chortens are also a celebration of the stability and progress that His Majesty the King brought to the nation. These chortens are a new landmark for travelers as they cross Dochula, the first mountain pass into the interior of the country.
- Reaching the village of Sopsokha, you can walk about 20 minutes across the rice fields up to the monastery, Chimi Lhakhang. It was built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the Divine Madman by the West). It is believed that childless women who visit the monastery will conceive after receiving the ‘wang’ (blessing).
- Blessed with a temperate climate and drained by the Phochu and Mochu rivers, is the fertile valley of Punakha. The District has hosted several historical events such as serving as the Capital of Bhutan since 1651 till 1956. The First King, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned in 1907 and the first session of the National Assembly was held in 1955. It is still the winter residence of His Holiness the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) and Zhung Dratshang (the Central Monk Body).
- Visit Punakha Dzong located strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The Dzong served as the religious and administrative center of Bhutan until the mid-1950s. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the early 17th century and where the Bhutanese enthroned the First King.
DAY 04: PUNAKHA – PARO
- Drive towards Nezergang and hike about 1hour 30 minutes to Khamsum Yueley Namgyel Chorten, built by The Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, in 1999 for the protection of the country and universal peace in the world.
- Drive to Paro
- In Paro, visit Rinpung Dzong (the fortress on a heap of jewels). The Dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1646.
DAY 05: PARO
- Day hike to Taktsang Monastery. Taktsang meaning “Tiger’s Nest”, is built around a cave in which Guru Rimpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava) meditated. The monastery clings seemingly impossible to a cliff at 914m above the valley floor.
For the local people it is a place of pilgrimage, but for a tourist, a hike up to the viewpoint opposite the monastery is exhausting, thrilling and mystical. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown to the site of the monastery on the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave.
- Drive to the end of the valley and visit the ruins of Drugyel Dzong. It was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1649 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetan invaders.
- Enroute to Paro town, visit Kyichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang is said to have been built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. It is believed that it holds down the left foot of an ogress, so large that it covers Bhutan and most of eastern Tibet. It is one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King in one day throughout the region of the Himalayas; according to legends. The temple also houses a museum dedicated to late Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche and hosts a range of artefacts belonging to the Rimpoche.
Transfer and departure from Paro airport.