The bliss of Bhutan (9 nights 10 days)
From an exhilarating flight to spectacular views of the architectural masterpieces of the Himalayan Kingdom, embodied in the scores of Dzongs (Fortresses) and monasteries, a virgin landscape preserved and unsoiled, including flora and fauna that will enthrall you, a journey to some of Bhutan’s most beautiful places is an experience you cannot forget. Taking you to Bhutan’s most sacred valley, this package has almost everything you would wish for.
Day 1: Arrival at Paro, Bhutan
Welcome to Bhutan and your first day in the magical Land of the Thunder Dragon! Upon arrival at Paro International Airport, just outside the arrival hall, you will be greeted by one of our guides. At more than 7,300 feet above sea level, you will need to acclimate to the high altitude. So, we will take it easy with a short drive to your hotel, enjoy a Bhutanese lunch, and if possible, visit a few sights around the capital city of Thimphu.
Overnight at Thimphu Hotel
Day 2: Tour of Thimphu
Centenary Farmer’s Market is where most of the locals gather on the banks of the river every weekend. Villagers from the nearby valley come here to sell agricultural products and handmade crafts.
Today we visit the National Folk Heritage Museum, dedicated to connecting Bhutan to its past with exhibitions, demonstrations, and artifacts. Designed to resemble a rural home, this 19th-century building houses three stories of art, culture, and relics.
At The National Textile Museum, you will witness the art of weaving and learn about the significance of textile design. Bhutanese weaving is considered a living art form and the Royal Government preserves traditional weaving methods.
The National Memorial Chorten was built in 1974 to honor the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. A chorten is a hemispherical-shaped memorial stupa. Known as the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan, it is used as a place of meditation.
Outside Thimphu is Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in Bhutan. Legend says it was built to imprison a demon that was terrorizing the area. The first fortress of its kind, it features beautiful Buddhist paintings and carvings.
Thimphu Tashichho Dzong, a traditional fortress and Buddhist Monastery, is the largest in the city. Featuring distinctive Bhutanese architecture, using neither nails nor written plans, the structure serves as the current seat of the King of Bhutan.
Overnight at Thimphu Hotel
Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha
On our way to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, we will stop at Dochula Pass. Providing stunning 360-degree views of the Himalayan Mountains, it is also the location of the 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens. Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the present Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the memorial to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Indian militants and to liberate the souls of those who died.
Sitting at the fork of two rivers, Punakha Dzong is considered one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. With spectacular displays of Bhutanese architecture, it stands as if a medieval city surrounded by lavender Jacaranda trees. Built in 1637, the six-story structure is the second oldest and second-largest dzong in Bhutan. It still serves as the winter home of the Je Khenpo, Chief Abbott of the clergy. In 2011, it hosted the royal wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.
The longest suspensory bridge of the Kingdom is located just a few yara DSS ahead of Punakha Dzong.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten is a one-of-a-kind example of Bhutanese art and architecture, built by the third Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck. This beautifully designed chorten took nine years to build, using only religious scriptures to construct the four-story temple. Accessible only by foot, the one-hour walk crosses over a suspended footbridge that is adorned with colorful prayer flags.
Overnight at Punakha Hotel
Day 4: Punakha to Bumthang
Drive from Punakha to Bumthang via Trongsa (8 hrs) over Pele La pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range. En route visit beautiful Chendebji Chorten, erected in the 18th century.
The imposing Trongsa Dzong can be viewed across a deep canyon to signal your approach to the town around a curving road. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. After lunch, visit Trongsa Dzong, the largest Dzong in Bhutan. The view from the Dzong is spectacular and one can see across the landscape for many miles. Also, visit the Ta Dzong museum housing an incredible collection of historical artifacts of the Royal Family.
Continue driving to Bumthang, home to some of Bhutan’s oldest Palaces and temples. The valley’s barley fields, apple groves, and meadows lay below huge hills which climb up towards the Himalayan mountain wall separating Bhutan from Tibet.
Overnight at Bumthang
Day 5: Bumthang Tour
Bumthang Valley is known as the heartland of Buddhism in Bhutan. In 746 AD, it is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here to exorcise a demon from the king and then converted the people to Buddhism, restoring peace to the region. Guru Rinpoche stayed in the valley to build more than 40 temples.
In the morning, we hike to Tamzhing Goemba. Building 1501, is an important monastery because of its direct connection to the Buddhist saint, Pema Lingpa. We will then visit the sacred monastery Kurjey Lhakhang, which houses a rock that shows Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint after he subdued the powerful Shelging Karpo demon.
According to legend, a giant demoness was preventing the spread of Buddhism by laying her body across Tibet and Bhutan. In 659 AD, King Sontsen Gambo built 108 temples in one day, pinning her to the earth. Jambay Lhakhang is one of the two temples built in Bhutan that day, and every October it hosts a colorful festival to celebrate.
Jakar Dzong was founded in 1549 by the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the father, and unifier of medieval Bhutan. Known as the Castle of the White Bird, it was built on top of the hill because the lamas were directed there by a large white bird.
In the afternoon, we will take an easy hike to the Thangbi Lhakhang. Situated in the picturesque Thangbi Valley, it is only accessible by foot and across a suspension bridge.
Day 6: Bumthang to Gangtay
On our way to Gangtey, we will pass through Trongsa, the ancestral home of the Wangchuck monarchy. Meaning new town, the first temple was built here in 1543. Traditionally, each king of Bhutan has held the position of Trongsa Penlop (governor) before wearing the Raven Crown.
Trongsa Dzong was built in 1644 and controlled by the Wangchuck dynasty until they became the rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Occupying the only road that connected eastern and western Bhutan, all trade was controlled by this dzong. Flourishing under the command of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, this massive structure with its high walls could shut down all trade between the east and west by closing its doors.
Up the mountain sits the Taa Dzong, a watchtower built in 1652 to ward off attacks on the town below. It now serves as home to the Royal Heritage Museum, highlighting the history of the area and the Wangchuck dynasty. Featuring Buddhist art, royal memorabilia, a 500-year-old jacket of Ngagi Wangchuck, and Padma Kathang’s copy of the handwritten biography of Guru Rinpoche. You can read more about the history and importance of the Taa Dzong in the book, Tower of Trongsa by Christian Schicklgruber.
Day 7: Gangtay Tour
Today we travel to Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley. Known as the winter home of the black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis), you can see 600 of these elegant, shy birds that migrate here from Tibet between November and March. This bowl-shaped valley is also a wildlife preserve, so you might also see the other native animals to Bhutan, including the muntjac, sambar, serow, or yak.
Gangtey Goemba is a 17th-century monastery that sits on a hill, overlooking the entire valley. An excellent example of Tibetan architecture is the prayer hall (Ashokan), which features eight great pillars. In the 15th-century, the Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa foretold that a temple would be built there, so his teachings could be spread. In 1613, his grandson, and reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, fulfilled the prophecy by building a Nyingma temple at the location. Kuenzang Chholing, the long white building nearby, is where monks go to meditate for three years, three months, and three days.
While visiting Gantey Valley, you can stain the hotel or room with a local family in a modest farmhouse. This unique opportunity will allow you to get to know a Bhutanese family more closely by interacting with them on a personal level.
Overnight at Gangtay Hotel
Day 8: Gangtay to Paro
We head back to scenic Paro Valley, home to many of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and the country’s only airport. This mixture of old and new makes Paro an important part of Bhutan’s past, present, and future.
The valley is home to Chomolhari (Jomolhari) Mountain, located on the northwestern border of Bhutan and Tibet. Often called the wife of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, Chomolhari is Bhutan’s third tallest mountain at 24,035 feet. The glacier waters flowing from the mountain feed the rivers of the Paro Valley.
Paro (Rinpung) Dzong means Fortress on Jewels because it was built using stones rather than clay. It is an excellent example of 15th-century architecture and one of the most impressive dzongs in Bhutan. It currently serves as the government center of Paro. A cantilever bridge that crossed the river was damaged by fire in 1907 and later washed away by floods, so the original construction was lost.
Located on a hill above Para Dzong is Ta Dzong. This cylindrical watchtower was built in 1649 and converted into the National Museum of Bhutan in 1968. The spiral-shaped building holds antiques, art, textiles, weapons, and household items that tell the history of Bhutan.
Overnight at Paro Hotel
Day 9: Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Hike
We will take a two-hour hike to Taktsang Monastery, arguably one of the most photographed monasteries in Bhutan. Accessible only by foot, this sacred site was built precariously on the cliff’s edge, more than 10,000 feet above sea level. This is where Guru (Rinpoche) Padmasambhava, the father of Bhutan Buddhism, is said to have flown on the back of a tiger to meditate in a cave for three years. An exhilarating climb to the cafeteria is decorated with colorful prayer flags and provides breathtaking views of the Himalayas.
A short drive away is the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong. The great Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this fortress in 1647 to fight invading Tibetan armies. In 1957, a fire destroyed the dzong, but it was left in ruins as a reminder of Bhutan’s glorious past military victories. On clear days, the snow-capped peak of Chomolohari Mountain can be seen.
We end our tour with a visit to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Bhutan. Tibetan King Songtsen Gambo the second of two temples builds this in Bhutan in a single day to hold down the giant demoness who was preventing the spread of Buddhism.
Overnight at Paro Hotel
Day 10: Depart Paro
We bid a fond farewell to this beautiful Himalayan country and we look forward to seeing you again in this beautiful land of endless Enchantments! Tashi Delek.