Come to the Kingdom of Bhutan! Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan has for centuries remained cautiously aloof from the rest of the world. With incredible scenery, impressive architectural feats including that of Tigers Nest Monastery & hospitable charm has been revealed to travellers hungry for new experiences.
The spectacular flight into Paro is a great introduction to beautiful Bhutan – you may have breathtaking views of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and many other Himalayan peaks including the sacred Jhomolhari and Mt Jichu Drake in Bhutan. Upon arrival at Paro airport, you will be received by your host for the trip and driven to Thimphu, where we will have dinner and stay the night.
Thimpu is 60km from Paro and is the capital city of Bhutan. Before 1961 it was only a small settlement, but in that year King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, started developing it as the capital and it now has an approximate population of 100,000. All new buildings have been designed in traditional style with Buddhist motifs and the result is a charming capital nestled in the Wang Chuu valley. It is one of only two capital cities in Asia without traffic lights!
oday’s full day of sightseeing in Thimphu Valley includes the National Library which has a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts, manuscripts, modern academic books and printing blocks for prayer flags and the Thimpu Painting School, famous for traditional thangkha paintings. Then Kuensel Phodrang, known locally as Buddha Point and the largest of the Buddha statues within the country, from this vantage point we’ll also take in spectacular views overlooking the town of Thimphu.
Continuing we explore Memorial Chorten, a beautiful stupa built in the memory of Bhutan’s third King. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy. Trashichhodzong, the beautiful fortress/monastery which houses Secretariate building, King’s Throne room and other government’s offices, is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot. To see a wide assortment of beautifully hand-woven and crafted products, visit the Handicrafts Emporium.
Thimphu – Punakha. This morning drive to Punakha, an old winter capital of Bhutan. En-route stop at the lofty Dochu La Pass, 3,048m to view the rugged eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s highest mountain, Gangkar Punsum, 7,550m. The road then drops down through varied–ever changing forest, finally emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley.
Continue your day with a hike to the Chimi lhakhang – the temple of Divine Madman which was built by lama Drukpa Kunley in 1499. Legend has it that he subdued the demoness of the Dochu la with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom.’ A wooden effigy of the Lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the Lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to receive a wang (blessing) from the saint. It’s a 20-minute walk across the rice fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana. There are very few monks at the temple, which is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some very beautiful slate carvings. .
This afternoon visit the impressive Punakha Dzong or Pungthang Dechen Phodrang “Palace of Great Happiness,” which is located on the confluence of two rivers (Phochu and Mochu). It was built in 1637 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal and following the ancient traditions, it serves as winter residence for chief abbot (Je-khenpo) and the monks of Central Monastic Body, who returns to Thimphu in the summer. The building was damaged and rebuilt several times, due to flooding, fire and earth quake. It is one exemplary masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture.
Today, we begin with a hike up through rice terraces taking in the workers in the fields, and along the banks as we ascend to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a stunning monument recently built by the Queens and consecrated in 1999. The temple is located on top of the hill with breath-taking views of the valley, paddy fields and the Mo Chu River that gently meanders through the valley floor. It is an hour walk through rice fields and forest.
After lunch, we drive to the picturesque villages of Talo or Nobgang, where we explore the ancestral home of the Queen Mothers of Bhutan. The villages are scattered along a ridge above the Punakha valley at an altitude of around 2,800m and is known amongst Punakha villages for its neat and clean appearance. Sangchen Dorji Lhendrup Nunnery is our next stop – perched on a ridge with spectacular views of the Punakha and Wangdue Valleys. The temple houses a 14 foot bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara, one of the biggest in the country. The statue was handcrafted exclusively by local artisans and the temple houses a complex for higher studies and is a meditation centre for the nuns. Apart from religious trainings, the nuns are also provided skills such as embroidery, tailoring and statue making.
Our final visit today is Nalanda Monastery, here the monks pursue higher Buddhist studies and you may interact with them and they welcome a chat to further their English studies.
Punakha – Paro. Travel back to Paro today via the scenic Doch La Pass, where on a clear day you can enjoy spectacular views of the towering Bhutan Himalaya peaks. Enjoy a sightseeing tour of the Paro Valley before we wander the National Museum which holds an intriguing collection of artefacts and provides a wonderful introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the Kingdom. Dungtse Lhakang, an incredible 3-storey Chorten-style building which was constructed in 1433. Next, we’ll see the beautiful Kichu Lhakang, one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan, built in the 7th century.
Taktshang Pelphung Monastery or Tiger’s Nest Monastery as it often referred to, is one of the most venerated and famous of Bhutan’s monasteries. It is located on the face of a sheer 900m cliff above the floor of Paro valley. Today take a scenic hike to view this spectacular and unmissable sight! The monastery is only accessible on foot or you can ride a pony part of the way (this must be arranged in advance by your guide). From the trail head (2600m), take a steep one hour walk up to a cafeteria where you can enjoy refreshments and wonderful views of Taktshang.
Those who wish to proceed further must travel on foot. The trail continues uphill for another 45 minutes to a high observation point (3140m) where there is a Chorten (stupa). From this vantage point, the lookout to the monastery is incredible and seems almost close enough to touch. Continuing down a flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail you’ll reach a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the deep chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage, jammed dramatically into a rock crevice. Then climb up the flight of steep steps to the monastery. At any point on this walk, you can always return if you find it too difficult. Once inside the monastery, there are several shrines or temples to see with few monks in residence. After exploring the monastery walk back to the cafeteria for lunch, before retracing your steps back to the road to journey back to Paro.
Further, if you have more time and ready for more challenging day, there are several monasteries, temples, retreat houses in the surrounding area of Taktshang. The most notable among them are Zangdopelri and Ugyen Tsemo.
Your holiday concludes after breakfast and on onward departure transfer to Paro Airport for your international flight.