Day 1 and 2 : night halts in thimphu- driving time 1 hour.
The drive from the airport is an hour. Lying at an elevation of 2320m above sea level the capital of bhutan is a blend of the traditional and the modern. It is the only capital in the world without streetlights relying instead on the elegant gestures of the traffic policemen. The population of thimphu stands at around 40,000. There are many pleasant day hikes which can be enjoyed in thimphu.
Some of the sites* you can visit in thimphu are:
tashichodzong. Dzongs are traditionally built without nails or written plans. The dzong houses the monk body in summer and is the seat of government, the king’s offices are in this dzong. There is a picturesque cantilever bridge below the dzong.
Memorial chorten. Tibetan style chorten built in memory of the third king – father of modern bhutan. Throughout the day people come to go around the chorten in prayer and worship.
National library. Houses ancient dzongkha and tibetan texts in a huge traditional building. Each floor has an altar with statue of bhutan’s most important historical/religious figures. People sometimes go around the building in prayer because the building houses many holy books.
School of arts and crafts. Traditionally there are 13 arts and crafts in bhutan. The students sell the works in a shop nearby to supplement their income. The 13 arts and crafts are painting, carpentry, carving, sculpture, casting, blacksmith, bamboo works, gold smithing & silver smithing, weaving, embroidery, masonry, leather works and paper works. Guests can visit the school to see the students master the crafts.
National institute of traditional medicine. Diagnosis of diseases is done mainly by feeling the pulse. Bhutan has a rich array of herbs which are used for the treatment of diseases. The traditional system of medicine is incorporated into the national health system.
Weekend market. The bustling week end market where all bhutanese buy their groceries etc. Also houses a handicraft section.
Folk heritage museum preserving way of life in bhutan for posterity
textile museum encompassing different aspects of weaving which is an intrinsic part of bhutanese culture(visiting the various museums is dependant on their opening and closing timings. In case of holidays – winter or otherwise- please discuss alternative options with your guide)
Day 3 night halt at trongsa – driving time 6-7 hours
The drive can be split into two portions thimphu to punakha/wangdue: drive takes 2-3 hours approximately and en route we cross dochula pass where on a clear day we can see beautiful views of the himalayas.
Punakha/wangdue to trongsa: the drive should take around 4 hours passing chendibji chorten and the village of rukubji. A magnificent drive with many waterfalls alongside the climbing road. Night halt at trongsa and sightseeing can be carried out in the evening or next morning. Sightseeing at trongsa comprises of its town located in the centre of the gorge. It serves as a transit point for many journeys within bhutan. The trongsa dzong is a magnificent example of bhutanese architecture. It is also the ancestral home of the royal family. In the old days the only road from east to west passed through the dzong which gave the ruler of the dzong complete control over east-west travel and the right to levy tariffs on such travel.
The watch tower overlooks the entire valley of mangde chhu and is a short hike up from the main road. This has now been converted into a museum.
Day 4 and 5 night halts at bumthang – driving time 2 hours
2 hours drive past the picturesque chumey valley bumthang is often known as the cultural heartland of bhutan. Buddhism was introduced into bhutan by the guru padmasambhava who was invited into bhutan by a local king of bumthang. (at that time unified bhutan under one ruler did not exist).
Chumey valley en route to bumthang has a yathra weaving centre. Yathra is a woollen embroidered cloth peculiar to bumthang. You can watch the production of yathra while shopping for souvenirs.
Bumthang is dotted with monasteries and historic sites. Among some are:
Mebartsho: this revered site is the lake in which pema lingpa (a buddhist treasure discoverer) discovered some treasures. People were unbelieving of this discovery and legend has it that pema lingpa stated to the unbelievers that he would once again descend into the depths of the lake with a butter lamp. Should he be false the lamp flame would be extinguished, should he prove to be a true the lamp’s flame would not be extinguished. He is said to have descended into the lake and emerged from its depths with the flame still intact thus proving the validity of his discoveries.
Jambay lhakhang: this revered monastery is said to be built by the tibetan king songsten goembo and is also the site of the jambay lhakhang drup a festival which takes place in late fall. Inside the lhakhang there are three steps which are said to represent the three ages. One for the age of the historical buddha, the next the age of the guru (also the present age) and the last represents the new age. It is believed that when all three steps sink into the earth the world as we know it will end.
Tamshing goemba:it is believed that pema lingpa built this monastery with the help of fairies. In the main temple there are three thrones – one each for each incarnation of pema lingpa (body, mind and speech). In the lower floor is a chain mail armour made by pema lingpa and it is believed to be auspicious to carry it around the goemba three times
Kurjey lhakhang: there are three temples dotting this sanctuary. The oldest monastery holds a body print of the guru on a rock. The first king of bhutan and the present queen mother built the second and the third temples respectively. This monastery complex is revered by the bhutanese as one of the most sacred sites and there is a spring located just above the monastery complex which is believed to be blessed with curative properties.
Jakar dzong: the meaning of this word translates as ‘fortress of white bird’ as legend has it that while the monks were deciding on a site for the dzong, a big white bird rose into the air and settled on the hill. The dzong overlooks the valley below.
Ngang lhakhang:this monastery is accessed via a walk of several hours and is located in the land known as ngang-yul – land of swans. The temple holds statues of the guru and his consorts.
Day 6 and 7: driving time 6-7 hours mongar night halt
Optional detour visit to ura: the picturesque village of ura lies 2 hours away from bumthang proper. It is a quaint village with cobblestone paths and celebrates a festival every spring. Visiting this village will allow our guest to experience traditional bhutanese hospitality. The 6-7 hours drive from bumthang to mongar can include breaks to allow appreciation of the wide variety of flora and fauna flourish. The sheer difference in altitude changes (from thrumsingla pass at over 3000m above sea level to around 600m) provides us with a rapid and interesting change in flora and fauna. Moist ridges cloud forest and cliff vegetation can also be viewed along the drive. The town of mongar is dominated by the dzong which overlooks it. Like most dzongs in the country the building houses the local government and the local monk body. The inhabitants of mongar and eastern bhutan belong to the ethnic groups called sharchopas. They speak a dialect, which is different from dzongkha the national language.
Day 8, 9 night halt at trashigang driving time-3 hours
Trashigang dzong dominates the town and a drive of one hour will take us to gom kora.
Gom kora: this site is the site of guru rimpoche’s meditation. There is a body imprint which is attributed to guru rimpoche. There are also many treasures which were revealed by the guru including a dragon egg. There is a yearly festival in spring in this temple where people circle the temple meditating on the temporary nature of existence. Another two hour drive from trashigang will see us in khaling where the country’s school for the blind is located. Here the students are taught in braille and are also given skills to function effectively in the outside world. Khaling also has a weaving centre which produces the khaling kiras and ghos. A forty five minute drive from trashigang takes us to kanglung which is the site for the only university in bhutan
Chorten kora: is a temple/stupa, which is styled after boudanath in nepal. It was constructed in the late 18th century. Legend has it that the people of the region had deeply desired to visit boudanath in nepal as they were deeply religious. Lama ngawang loday visited nepal and brought back a copy of the temple carved into a radish. The reason for this being that it could be used as a model to construct a copy of the temple in bhutan. As the radish had shrunk slightly the temple ended up being of different proportions from the temple in nepal.
You can either choose to return to western bhutan or exit through the eastern town of samdrup jongkhar to india.
Return to western bhutan for exit
Night halt at bumthang. Driving time -9 hours ( if you want to reduce the driving time this day you can travel to monger on the previous night)
Driving back from trashigang to bumthang is a fairly demanding drive of over 9 hours. Guests are advised to rest early the night before the drive and keep their sense of humour.
Day 11 and 12
Night halt at punakha driving time – 6-7 hours hours drive. (please note this will be your second straight day of long driving hours) punakha lies at a lower altitude of and hence has a warmer climate than thimphu the capital. The valley used to serve as the winter capital of bhutan. It is still the winter residence of the central monk body. This valley also played a decisive role in bhutan’s history as shabdung (the founder of unified bhutan) too resided in this winter capital.
Some of the sights in punakha:
punakha dzong: the seat of the local governance lies in a island in the middle of the river. The two sides of the river are identified as the male and female rivers which meet to form the main river. The dzong has built rebuilt several times due to floods and fire.
Chimi lhakhang: this monastery is dedicated to lama drukpa kinley who is also popularly known as the divine madman. It is located atop a hillock past a picturesque village. Many people go there to pray for progeny.
There are many pleasant day walks which can be taken and which pass by several traditional villages. There are also several wonderful treks, which can be arranged in this area. These are primarily cultural in nature and afford a delightful insight into bhutanese life. Bird watchers will be thrilled at the variety of birds that abound in this area
Rafting can be undertaken in this valley. Rafting as an activity for tourists has only started recently and will be handled by a specialized company. The company has been notified that you will be doing the rafting on the afternoon of day 11. Exact timing can be confirmed in consultation with the guide a day or two prior by phone
Day 13, 14 and 15
Paro lies at an altitude of 2280m above sea level. Paro valley has excellent agricultural land and is a prosperous valley. The airport is situated in paro valley. Before the construction of roads most of bhutan’s trade came through paro either from tibet via tremo la or from the south via haa. Paro valley extends from jumolhari on the tibetan border to chuzom which is the confluence of the thimphu and punakha rivers. There are many opportunities for day hikes. Visits to traditional bhutanese houses to experience bhutanese hospitality (hot stone baths) can be arranged.
Some sights in paro
Paro dzong the correct name of the dzong is rinchen pung dzong which means fortress on a heap of jewels. The dzong was built in 1646 by shabdung ngawang namgyel. The dzong was formerly the meeting hall for the national assembly. The dzong is located on a vantagepoint on the hillside and has two lhakhangs (monasteries) and a central utse (central tower). As with all dzongs the local administrative and monk body are housed on the premises.
National museumthe national museum is located above the dzong in the ancient circular watchtower. The museum consists of six floors dealing with different aspects of bhutanese culture. The museum also houses a great collection of thangkhas (paintings or embroidered religious works). The tshogshing lhakhang (the temple of the tree of wisdom) is also located in the museum.
Taktsang monastery the tiger’s nest monastery is built on the where guru padmasambhava is reputed to have flown to on the back of a tiger. The monastery is a revered site for the bhutanese. The walk up to the viewpoint takes roughly two hours and is an uphill climb through alpine forests. There is a very good viewpoint from a pleasant cafeteria which serves only vegetarian food out of respect for the shrine.
Drugyel dzong a pleasant 14-km drive from paro town takes us to the site of the ruins of drugyel dzong. Drugyel dzong was built to commemorate a bhutanese victory over tibetan invaders in the mid seventeenth century. It is situated at the point where the trail from tibet enters paro. The dzong was destroyed by fire in this century. On a clear day there is a magnificent view of the mount. Jumolhari from the site.
Day visit to haa valley which is reputed to be one of the hidden valleys or baeyul. This valley was only recently opened to tourism and is in pristine condition. The drive to haa valley through chelela pass (the highest pass in the country) is a beautiful drive.
Day 19 out
In tandem with various museum timings
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