TOUR: 6N/ 7D BEST OF BHUTAN TOUR
DATES: 7th to 13th October 2017
Day 1: Arrival at Phuentsholing – Transfer to Thimphu 170kms, 5hrs drive
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing
Day 3: Thimphu – Transfer to Punakha 70kms, 2.5hrs drive
Day 4: Punakha – Day excursion to Phobjikha 90kms, 3hrs drive one way
Day 5: Punakha – Paro 130kms, 3.5-4hrs drive
Day 6: Paro sightseeing – Transfer to Phuentsholing 165kms, 5hrs drive
Day 7: Depart
ITINERARY DETAILS: 6N/ 7D BEST OF BHUTAN TOUR
Day 1: Phuentsholing – Thimphu
You’ll have to visit the Immigration office to process your permits, which may take anywhere from 1hour to a few hours depending on the number of people applying for permits on the same day.
After the permits, drive to Thimphu. Depending on the weather conditions the 1st quarter of the drive may be through heavy fog. There are a few check points along the way where you’ll have to register your permits and driving license. The road is wide and smooth and scenic as you climb up switchback roads meandering along the mountain slopes.
Once in Thimphu, check-in at your hotel and rest. You can take a walk around town later in the evening.
Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing
Post breakfast visit the following
Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory: This is a private factory and they manufacture a special watermark paper as well as products such as lampshades, envelopes and other objects made of traditional Bhutanese paper. They make great gifts to take home with you and are genuinely unique. Bhutan protects its environment through long-term sustainability, and they follow it because they do not destroy the plant when they extract the raw material required. Paper products are manufactured from “daphne papyracea”.
Folk Heritage Museum: The folk heritage museum was open to the general public in 2001 upon completion. It treasures troves of culture and rich Bhutanese heritage provide rich insights into the Bhutanese ethos. The folk heritage museum is housed in a replica traditional Bhutanese house learn first-hand about Bhutan’s rich cultural traditionsand the Bhutanese way of life. The tour of this almost living museum will also give you a glimpse onto how many rural folk of the country live today following the ancient Bhutanese ways.
Memorial Chorten: Referred to as the Memorial Chorten, its actual name is Gongzo Chorten or Gyaldren Chorten The Chorten (stupa) is a chief landmark in the Capital city and is also one of the most sacred place of worship for the locals. The idea of the chorten was conceptualised by the 3rd King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to ward off negative energies. After His Majesty’s demise, the chorten was built in his memory by the 4th King and the then Queen Mother in 1972.
Kuensel phodrang The Kuensel Phodrang or the Buddha point is the world’s largest sitting Buddha statue, the statue is 167 feet high. The statue is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city of Timphu, it can be accessed by road and is about 15 minutes away from the city’s center. The word Kuensel means everything is clear and from this place you will sure enjoy a great view of the Thimphu Valley on both sides.
Changangkha Lhakhang: It is a 12th century temple sitting on top of a hill overlooking Thimphu valley with the main statue of Chenrizig (The Buddha of Compassion). This temple is often mistaken for a dzong by visitors because it looks like one, and apart from the temple it also houses a monastic school. Most of the couples go to this temple soon after birth to get blessings for their child.
Motithang Takin preserve: The Motithang Takin Preserve also known as the Thimphu Zoo by many is a small natural preserve for the Takin Bhutan’s national animal. It was originally a mini zoo, but it was converted in a preserve later on as the Takin. The preserve is a forested preserve that mimics the Takin’s natural habitat, in addition to the Takin there are a few musk deer and barking deer that live inside the preserve.
Tashichho Dzong: The Tashichho Dzong is a Buddhist monastery cum fortress at the northern edge of Thimpu the capital city of Bhutan. It was erected in 1641 and was subsequently rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. The Dzong has been seat of the Royal government since 1952 and presently houses the Throne room and the Kings secretariat. The Tashichho dzong is also home to several ministries of the Bhutanese government, and the Central Monk Body which is the apex organization of the country’s main spiritual order. The monument welcomes visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu festival which is held in autumn each year.
Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 3: Thimphu – Punakha
Post breakfast, visit the Immigration office to extend your permits to go to Punakha and beyond.
After that, drive toward Punakha, stop at Dochula Pass (3,100 m), where on a sunny day, you can get stunning views of the Himalayan ranges. The Dochu La Pass is probably the best known mountain pass in Bhutan. Located at an altitude of 3150 meter above sea level, the Dochu La Pass is about 30 kilometer away from the capital city Thimphu and the road to Punakha. On a clear day the pass offers visitors a spectacular view of the majestic eastern Himalayan Ranges.
Another striking feature at the pass are the 108 Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens, that were built for the well-being of all sentiment beings on earth. The 108 Chorten were built as a tribute to the Kings of Bhutan for their selfless service and leadership they offer to the people of Bhutan.
Continue drive towards Punakha and stop at Lobesa village and have lunch before going for a short hike to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility), it is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley (Divine Mad Man) and is the place from where Phalluses originated as the symbol of fertility and protection and can be seen everywhere in Bhutan, on house walls and roofs and altars. Childless couples usually go to this temple to get blessings so that they conceive and are blessed with a child.
(NOTE: The temple and has some sexual depictions. You may want to reconsider visiting this place if you are not comfortable)
Then drive to Punakha Dzong: Pungtang Dechen Phortang Dzong is located at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and the Po Chhu River, combine to form the Puna Tsang Chu which in turn is a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra River. It is the second largest and the second oldest Dzong in Bhutan. The Dzong has also served as the capital Bhutan till 1955 before the capital was moved to Thimphu. The Dzong is still the winter residence of the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) and the central monastic body and plays host to the annual Punakha Tshechu Festival which is very popular with the locals and tourists alike.
Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 4: Punakha – Phobjikha valley excursion
Post breakfast drive to Phobjikha, the valley of the Black Necked Cranes. This is believed to be a glacial valley and is the winter nesting grounds for the endangered Black Necked Cranes, they start arriving by October end and leave for the Tibetan plateau by February. Visit the beautiful 17th Century Gangtey Monastery, it is the largest privately funded Nyingma Monastery in the country and was recently renovated in 2007, some surrounding beautification works are still being done. Then go for the Nature Trail hike that takes you around the valley from where you can get spectacular views of the valley below. Your car will pick you up down in the valley. You can have lunch in one of the hotels before driving back to Punakha
(NOTE: Road between Punakha and Phobjikha is under renovation process and rough drive is to be expected)
OR you can sightsee in Punakha and visit the following if you don’t like driving
KHAMSUM YUELLEY NAMGYAL CHORTEN: Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a temple that stands majestically on a strategic ridge above Punakha valley. The temple was built by the Queen Mothers to ward off negative energies, promote peace, stability and harmony in a changing world after it was prophesied in the scriptures by Thragthung Dudjom Lingpa.. It is said all its unique architectural designs have been drawn from the scriptures. The hike takes about 45 minutes one way through relatively easy path through paddy fields and thin pine forest. Once at the top, you can enter the stupa and climb all the way to the top for a breath taking view of the valley below.
Yebisa Farmhouse stay/ visit: Go to the village of Yebisa below Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten and visit one of the oldest houses there. It is a traditional 3 storied building made of rammed mud and timber dating back to the mid 19th century and used to belong to the local leader of that area. The great grandchildren of the man now reside there and use the house pretty much like it was used by their ancestors, keeping their cattle in the ground floor, granary in the middle floor, residence in the 3rd floor and the space between the room and the ceiling is used for drying.
Their way of life is still of farming and you can experience it the Bhutanese way by spending one night there if you’re interested and maybe try working in the fields or with the animals. You can stay in their altar room (as it is traditionally used as a guest room too) but will have to go outside for bathroom just like olden times except that nowadays it’s a proper toilet.
Sangchen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery: Perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang is the magnificent stupa like temple built by the 5th King’s Maternal Grandfather to encourage females to pursue Buddhist studies. The temple houses a 14 foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara. Other statues include those of Guru Padmasambhava, Gautama Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Tshela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tshepamey (Buddha of Longevity).
The Avalokiteshvara statue, one of the biggest in the country, is the handiwork of entirely local Bhutanese artisans. The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation center for nuns, where, apart from religious trainings, also provides life skills trainings such as tailoring, embroidery, statue sculpting and thanks (scroll) painting.
Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 5: Punakha – Paro
After breakfast, trace the road back up to Dochula and then to Thimphu where you can have lunch.
Post lunch drive to Paro, on the way visit Tamchog Lhakhang: Tachog lhakhang is temple that is dedicated to the 13th century saint Thangthong Gyalpo, the iron bridge builder. This temple is located across the river about 15kms from the Paro towards Thimphu. In order to get to the temple one must cross an iron chain bridge, one of the few remaining of the many that Thangthong Gyalpo built. Crossing this very old bridge with its swaying and undulating movements can be quite an experience.
Overnight at a hotel in Paro.
Day 6: Paro, Tiger’s Nest hike
Have early breakfast and drive up to the base of Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). The most famous and sacred site among all the places in Bhutan. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have come riding on a flying tigress to this place and meditated in a cave for 3 months, it wasn’t until Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came to this place and meditated that it gained the popularity that it has now. The present structure is said to be built in the 15th century but was destroyed by fire in 1998 and has been restored.
The walk is about 2 hours till the top through wide pathways which was built during the restoration works. One hour into the climb there is a tea point from where you get a very good view of the monastery, they also serve lunch here. From there it’s about another 45 minutes climb to the 2nd view point and the highest point in the hike.
OPTION if you don’t want to climb up to Tiger’s Nest
Drugyal Dzong Ruins: Literally means ‘Bhutan’s victory fortress’, it was built to in 1654 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders and it would also control and guard the trade between Bhutan and Tibet as it stood right on the trade trail. It stands atop a small hill with a commanding view of the valley up and below and on a clear one can get to see the beautiful Mount Jomolhari from here. It caught fire in 1951 and has been in ruins since, some renovation works have been carried out but has not been able to go full swing. Although in ruins, the dzong is still beautiful to look at and one can just walk about inside the ruins trying to imagine how things were before.
Kyichu Lhakhang: Considered the oldest temple along with Jampa and Kenchosum Lhakhang in Bumthang, it dates back to the 7th century when a Tibetan King ordered 108 temples to be built in a single night to subdue a huge ogress. It was later renovated in the mid 19th century and in the late 1960’s by the Grand Queen Mother. It is also considered by many to be one of the holiest places in the country. Inside the compound is an orange tree which always has oranges no matter what the season.
Dumtse Lhakhang: It is a private temple built by Lam Chazampa (Thangthong Gyalpo) in the 13-14 century. This is a special temple with 3 floors representing Hell, Earth and Heaven. All the paintings and artifacts in the temples are as old as the temple itself. The pillars inside were installed by the different villages in Paro valley, almost in a competition like way, even today the names villages are engraved in the pillars. Though the temple is situated very close to town, the lighting is powered by Solar power but is not lit very much as the owners fear the lights will fade the colors in the paintings, so it is essential to take a torch.
Paro Rinpung Dzong: Means ‘fortress of a heap of jewels’. It was built in the mid 17th century to protect and to gain control over the region, many invasions were averted from this dzong. It now serves as seat of the Paro district administration and residence for the monastic school. Rinpung dzong like all other dzongs in Bhutan is adorned with wall murals that symbolize the lives of the Bodhisattvas and other prominent saints, drawings from Buddhist parables within which the country’s culture and traditional life is intricately represented and holy symbols that signify their own individual religious meanings.
National Museum: It houses an array of antiquities such as ancient thangka (exquisite scroll painting), mural paintings and other forms of art done by great personalities of those days, original textiles of the kingdom which represent the culture that still flourishes, weapons & armour used back in the day, household objects typical to the Bhutanese people’s way of life back then and even now, and other natural and historical artefacts.
Drive towards Phuentsholing in the afternoon.
Overnight at a hotel in Phuentsholing.
Day 7: Depart