Day 01: Arrive in Paro.
On a clear day, the flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular of all mountain flights. You will see major Himalayan peaks such as Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu, and then on the final approach to Paro Bhutan’s own snowy peaks, Chomolhari, Jichu Drake and Tserimgang will come into view. Bhutan’s first gift to you as you disembark from the aircraft will be cool, clean fresh mountain air. You will be met by your Bhutan representative, and after completion of arrival formalities will be taken to your hotel. Afternoon free for activities or at leisure. In the evening, take a stroll around Paro market after dinner. Dinner and overnight at the Tenzinling Resort or Metta Resort in Paro.
Day 02: Tiger Nest Hike.
Paro is a most picturesque valley, with quaint hamlets clustered amidst terraced paddy fields. The town still maintains tradition by way of its architecture and simple way of life.
In the morning, Visit.
Taktshang: After an early breakfast visit the Tiger’s nest (Taktshang) Hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face,high above the Paro valley.The Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. Taktsang was damaged severely by fire in 1998 and restored new one which looks like the old one but more elegant lookings.Have lunch at the Cafeteria when you walk back from the Taktshang.
visit Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower but now housing the National Museum. Ta Dzong holds unique and varied collections, ranging from ancient armor to textiles, thangkha paintings, stamps, coins, and natural history. Then walk down a hillside trail to visit Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) built in 1646 during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It now houses Paro’s monk body and the offices of the civil administration. Rinpung Dzong is the venue for the famous Paro Tsechu, held annually in the spring.
After lunch, drive up valley to Drukgyel Dzong or “the Fort of Drukpa Victory”. In former times, the Bhutanese repelled invasions by Tibetans from this fortress. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the ruins still present an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Bhutan’s sacred mountain, Chomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong. Also visit a traditional Bhutanese house in the village nestled below the dzong. Then head back towards Paro town, en route visiting Kyichu Lhakhang, established in the 7th century, and one of the two oldest shrines in the kingdom (the other is in Bumthang), reflecting the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan. Dinner and overnight at the Tenzinling Resort or Metta Resort in Paro.
Day 03: Paro – Thimphu
After breakfast drive to Thimphu, the capital town, passing through idyllic countryside, with villages and paddy fields on either side of the road.
After reaching Thimphu directly drive to Thimphu Dzong and attend the Festival, where showcases the sacred dances dedicated to the protecting deity of Bhutan.
Visit Simtokha Dzong, one of the oldest fortresses of the country, which now houses the Institute for Language and Culture Studies.
Afternoon sightseeing in Thimphu valley, visiting: Tashichhodzong, the seat of the government; the National Memorial Chorten, and Buddha point within which there are finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues which provide deep insight into Buddhist philosophy; and the Handicrafts Emporium, which displays a wide range of the traditional handicrafts for which Bhutan is renowned. You may also be able to catch a game of archery in progress at the Changlimethang sports ground, just below the town.
Take an early evening stroll around the market area before dinner.
Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha
In the morning, visit the following: the National Library, with its extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts; the Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undergo a 6-year training course in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts; the National Institute of Traditional Medicine (outside only), where Bhutan’s famed traditional herbal medicines are compounded and dispensed.
After lunch, proceed to Punakha across Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft). The highest point on the road is marked by a large Bhutanese chorten and prayer flags fluttering on the hill. On a clear day, there is a breathtaking view over the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas from this spot.
Check into the hotel on reaching Punakha. Until 1955, Punakha served as the capital town of Bhutan and it is still the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Visit Punakha Dzong, built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century and situated at the junction of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. Overnight at the Zhingkham Resort in Punakha.
Day 05: Punakha – Gangtey (Phobjikha) – Throngsa
After breakfast drive to Wangdu for further drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Explore Phobjikha valley and also visit Gangtey Gompa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan.
In the afternoon explore Phobjikha valley, hopefully sighting some black necked cranes, if you are there at the right time of year. Later, drive to Tongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m/10,830ft). This pass is traditionally considered the boundary between western and central Bhutan. Further down the road, stop to visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style, with painted eyes at the four cardinal points.
The landscape around Tongsa is spectacular and its impressive dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town. On arrival, check into the lodge. Dinner and overnight at the Yangkhil Resort in Tongsa. (Note: Wangdu Phoodrang was on fire so it is closed for tourist)
Day 06: Tongsa – Bumthang (Jakar)
Morning visit to Tongsa Dzong. Built in 1647 by the Shabdrung, it is the most impressive dzong in Bhutan. Then visit Ta Dzong on the hillside above the town, built as a watchtower to guard Tongsa. After lunch proceed to Bumthang, one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism. The 68 km. journey takes about 3 hours. The road winds steeply up to Yutong-la pass (3,400m/11,155ft), then runs down through dense coniferous forest to enter a wide, open, cultivated valley, known as Chumey valley. From here it is about an hour to Bumthang, a most pleasant run in the soft, late afternoon light. Overnight at the Hotel Tashi Yoererling in Bumthang.
Day 07: Bumthang Explore.
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m/8,530 to 13,125ft. In the morning we will visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom as Bhutan’s “patron saint”, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated here. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the right bank of the river to Jambey Lhakhang. This temple, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other being Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro).
After breakfast, visit Tamshing Lhakhang, Festival founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later on we will visit Jakar Dzong, “the castle of the white bird”, then take a stroll through Bumthang’s market area before returning to the lodge. Overnight at the Hotel Tashi Yoererling in Bumthang.
Day 08: Bumthang – Mongar
The journey continues eastwards, winding through more rugged terrain. The drive to Mongar takes about 6 hours, with spectacular views en route. We will drive up into the hills above the valley and then past Ura village, before climbing sharply to the highest point on Bhutan’s motorable road network, Thrumsing-la pass (4,000m/13,125ft).
From here, the road gradually descends to the alpine valley of Sengor, with wonderful views of cascading waterfalls and the hills of eastern Bhutan along the way. Vegetation changes from alpine to subtropical with the loss of height, and bamboos and luxuriant ferns overhang the road as we drop down to the valley floor. The descent stops at 700m/2,300ft, where we cross the Kuri Chu (river). We ascend again through pine forests, maize fields and eastern hamlets to reach Mongar town, high on a gentle slope above the valley. We visit Mongar Dzong, built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs, but constructed in the same way as all previous dzongs, without either plans or the use of nails. Overnight at the Wangchuk Hotel in Mongar.
Day 09: Mongar – Tashigang
This trip of about 96 km. takes only 3 hours. The first part of journey is through leafy forest filled with ferns. After driving through the Kori-la pass (2,450m/8,040ft), marked by a pretty chorten and a mani wall, we descend rapidly through corn fields and banana groves to reach the famous road zigzags just below Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast-growing settlement. After zigzagging down the hillside, the road east runs along the Gamri River. A turnoff on the left leads up to Drametse. The temple, perched on top of a steep hill above the village, was founded by Choeden Zangmo and is the most important monastery of eastern Bhutan. This is the place of origin of the famous Drametse Nga Chham, a masked dance with drums. About 30 km. onwards lies Tashigang (1,100m/3,610ft), which clings to a steep hillside above the Gamri river. Tashigang is the principal township of the biggest and most populated district in the country.
After lunch, we will visit Tashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. It serves as the administrative seat for the district and part of the dzong is occupied by the local monastic community. Overnight at the Druk Deojung in Tashigang.
Day 10: Tashigang (excursion to Tashiyangtse)
After breakfast we visit the temple of Gom Kora, set on a small alluvial plateau, overlooking the river, 24 km. from Tashigang. Gom Kora is a famous place, as Guru Rinpoche is said to have subdued a demon here, trapping it in a rock. We continue on down the road to Doksum village, where you can see women busily weaving traditional Bhutanese fabric, and a chain-link swing bridge dating back to the 15th century. The road turns into the hills here, running up the side of a winding river valley to Tashiyangtse.
In former times, Tashiyangtse was an important center because it lies on one of the caravan routes leading from western and central Bhutan. Tashiyangtse is now a rapidly growing town and the administrative center for this district. The area is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful souvenirs of a visit to this remote region.
We will visit Tashiyangtse Dzong, which overlooks the town and was built in the late 1990s when the new district was created. If time permits, we will also visit the dazzling white stupa of Chorten Kora on the riverbank below the town, and the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum, where students are trained in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts. In the evening we return to Tashigang. Overnight at the Druk Deojung in Tashigang.
Day 11: Trashigang – Bumathang Same route.
Overnight at the Hotel Tashi Yoererling in Bumthang.
Day 12: Bumthang – Thimphu
After breakfast, just drive back to Thimphu only.
Day 13: Thimphu to Haa.
After breakfast drive to Haa Valley located in South West of Paro and covering an area of roughly 1706 sq. km, Haa is one of the smallest Dzongkhag in the country. This tiny region is one of the most beautiful and isolated areas in the kingdom, adorned with pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks.This valley remains one of the least visited areas in the country and retains the air of an unspoiled, primeval forest. The wooded hills of Haa provides an ideal location for hiking and mountain biking. Biking around the valley to visit the dozen or so local temples is an enjoyable way to spend the day when visiting.
Overnight on Kinley Wangchuk Home Stay
Day 14: Haa to Paro via Chela Pass
After breakfast visit Haa’s 50-strong monk body is housed not in the Dzong (fort-monastery) but in the Lhakhang Kharpo (White Chapel) complex, just south of the Dzong. The atmospheric central chapel has statues of the Tselanam Sum trinity (Tsepame, Namgyelma and Drolma) and has a statue of local protector App Chhundu.
A 10-minute walk or short drive behind the Lhakhang Kharpo is the Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Chapel), one of the oldest temples in the valley. It is said that when searching out auspicious locations for two new temples the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo released one black pigeon and one white pigeon; the black pigeon landed here, the white one at Lhakhang Kharpo (White Chapel). Then drive to Cheli la makes an interesting road excursion and is an excellent jumping-off point for day walks. Chele la separates Haa and Paro valley and at 3810m, it is one of the highest motor able pass in Bhutan. The drive till here from either Paro or Haa is through dense spruce and larch forests according to the seasons. On a clear day, there are spectacular views of Mt. Jumolhari, Jichu Drake and adjoining peaks to the North West, as well as the view of Haa and Paro valley.
Once you arrived Cheli la pass you can also do 2 hours hike to Kila Gompa Nunnery established as a meditation site in the 9th century and reputedly the oldest nunnery in Bhutan, Kila Nunnery is reached via a dirt track from the road between Paro and Haa. Around 50 nuns pursue higher Buddhist college studies in a series of nunnery buildings that are pressed dramatically against the cliffs.
Day 15: Departure.