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How better to get acquainted with the soul of Bhutan than attending a grand festival?! This 9 day tour includes the fascinating Paro Festival and in depth exploration of Paro, Thimphu and beyond!

Departure: Paro
Duration: 9 Days
Best season: April

Any festival in Bhutan is a colourful affair as people celebrate and socialise, simultaneously completing devotional duties, religious teachings and catching up with friends and family while showing off new clothes and jewellery, eating the best food and getting away from daily grind of work! Attending a Bhutanese festival is one of the best ways to appreciate the essence of the Bhutanese character.

The Paro Festival, or Paro Tsechu is a 5 day religious festival celebrated only in Paro. A renowned giant thangka of Guru Rimpoche is shown at dawn on the last day and people throng to get blessing on this special occasion. We will attend key elements of the festival while also exploring the must-see sights of Paro, Thimphu and the Bhutanese countryside.

BRIEF ITINERARY

Day 01: Welcome to Bhutan
Day 02: Paro Festival & Hike to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery)
Day 03: Paro
Day 04: Thimphu
Day 05: Thimphu sightseeing
Day 06: Thimphu – Punakha
Day 07: Wangdiphodrang – Thimphu
Day 08: Thimphu
Day 09: Thimphu – Paro Airport

DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 01: Welcome to Bhutan
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. Your guide will meet you on arrival at Paro and take you to your hotel to settle in and have some lunch.

This afternoon we will take in some of the fabulous Grand Paro Festival, then in the evening we drive to the ruins of the Drukgyal Dzong. This dzong, or fort, was built in 1647 by the Great Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, father and unifier of medieval Bhutan. Sadly it was destroyed by accidental fire and left in ruins, but it provides us with an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. We can explore the ramparts and on a clear day have breathtaking views of Mt. Jhomolhari (7,314 m).

On the way back to Paro we will visit Kichu Lhakhang, a monastery that was built to hold down the left foot of an ogress whose body covers Bhutan and most of Eastern Tibet. It is one of the 108 monasteries that were miraculously constructed in one night by Tibetan King Songten Gampo in the 7th century. This is one of two of these monasteries that lies within Bhutan, the rest being found in neighboring countries.

After this great introduction to the history and mysticism of Bhutan, we return to our hotel to enjoy our dinner and a well earned rest.

Day 02: Paro Festival & Hike to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery)

After breakfast we will again enjoy checking out the Paro festival. After lunch, we head out of town to visit Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest Monastery, perched high on a cliff and one of the most important places in Buddhism. While flying on the back of a tiger, Guru Rinpoche identified Taktsang as a sacred place and meditated in a cave for three months.  Guru Rinpoche is also known as Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 747 AD. Today it's perhaps the best-known monastery in the world, because of its stunning location and it is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan. The monastery was built around the meditation cave in 1684 by the Penlop of Paro and although a fire destroyed most of the original buildings in 1998, these have since been painstakingly restored to their former glory.

The hike to Taktshang is a steep walk and takes 2- 2 ½ hours to reach. The trail climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. We stop for a rest and light refreshments at the Taktsang Jakhang (cafeteria) and then walk a short distance until we gain an incredible view of the Monastery, perched precariously on the edge of the sheer 800m cliff!

While tourists are generally not allowed inside the monastery we have been able to arrange entry for our group so we will have the rare opportunity to go inside this incredible monastery and pay our respects by lighting a butter lamp!

After this amazing experience we will return to our hotel in Paro for dinner and rest.

Day 03: Paro
After breakfast we will drive to the Haa valley where we will visit Chorten Nagpo and Chorten Karpo. These two famous monasteries are also known as Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to be almost identical to that of the Jowo temple in Lhasa. Legend has it that local deities assisted in the construction of Lhakhanga Karpo. The Bhutanese come here to offer prayers and adorn the hills with prayer flags to pray to the Mountain Gods.

After enjoying our packed lunch we head back, stopping a while at beautiful Cheli La (pass) where we have stunning views of the Higher Himalayas. This pass is also famous for the traditional ‘sky burials’ and, if we choose, we can walk to the top of the pass before returning.

This evening we will visit a Bhutanese Farm house where we can spend time with our Bhutanese host family, eating snacks, drinking and chatting with the family members. This is a fantastic opportunity to get closer to the real Bhutan and get to know about daily life from the perspective of the local people.

We will return to our hotel in Paro for our dinner and rest after this exciting day.

Day 04: Thimphu
Today is the last day of the Paro Festival and the highlight is the unfurling of a centuries’ old Thanka (Scroll) from the top of a building at about 3 am. This is a very special ceremony that the local people come to witness early in the morning. We have the chance to witness it as well and, while we will have to arrive to the festival ground at 3 am, it is well worth it to feel the thrill of the crowd in this important event!

The festival will be over by about 11 am so, after lunch, we will drive to Thimphu. 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!
 
Tonight we will get to experience a traditional cultural show featuring Layap Dance (Layaps are nomadic herdsmen living in the remote Upper Himalaya), Brokpa Dance (Brokpas are nomadic herdsmen living in the remote Eastern part of the country), a mask dance and other folk dances. This is a great way to capture a glimpse of the traditional lifestyles and the storytelling practices of these fascinating people of Bhutan.

Tonight we have dinner and stay at our comfortable hotel in Thimphu.

Day 05: Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast we will visit the National Memorial Chorten built in memory of the third King of Bhutan, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The deities depicted inside are from the Nyingmapa tradition of Buddhism and teachings of Vajrayana (or tantric form of) Buddhism and provide a rare insight into Buddhist Philosophy.

We can then take a walk through the prayer flags in Sangay gang view point to enjoy the scenery of the valley and, after lunch, we have the chance to visit a re-incarnate Lama in Babesa. This Lama is our most famous Yogi, who's previous re-incarnation in 15th century was the brother of Lama Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as “The devine mad man of Bhutan” who built Chimi Lhakhang (monastery) or Temple of Fertility in Wangdiphodrang.

We will return to the same hotel in Thimpu for dinner tonight.

Day 06: Thimphu – Punakha
After breakfast this morning, we have a scenic drive to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. On the way we cross the Dochu La (pass), where we will have a superb view of the Himalayan Range if the weather is clear. Driving through swarms of prayer flags fluttering in the wind we cross the pass and descend into the sub-tropical Punakha valley.

On the way we will visit the Chimi Lhakhang (temple), also known as “the Temple of Fertility”. This temple was built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the Divine Madman for his odd ways) in the 15th century who subdued a demoness with a magical thunderbolt and made her the protective deity of the temple.

While in Punakha, we will visit Punakha Dzong (fort), built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and situated at the holy confluence of the Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chu (Female River). It has been destroyed by four fires, an earthquake in 1897 and has frequently been devastated by flood water coming from the great northern glaciers! However, the Dzong has now been fully restored to its original splendour.

It has long been an important site, with the temple of saint Ngagi Rinchen built here in 1328. The temple, now called the Dzong Chu (small dzong) can still be seen opposite the main dzong and houses a sacred statue of the Buddha, which plays an important role in the creation of the Punakha dzong. Its construction was foretold by Guru Rinpoche, who predicted Namgyal’s coming. It is said that the Shabdrung commanded the architect to sleep in front of the ancient Buddha statue. In his dreams the Shabdrung showed him the palace of Guru Rinpoche and from this vision, the design for the new dzong was conceived. The mummified body of the Shabdrung is preserved here and Bhutan’s first king was crowned here. For many years it served as the seat of the Government and, even after moving to Thimphu, the government used it as their winter seat, due to the warmer climate. It is still the winter residence of Je-Khenpo (the spiritual leader of Bhutan).

After lunch we have an excursion to the Khamsung Yulley Namgyal Choling Monastery, before returning to our hotel for dinner and well earned rest.

Day 07:  Wangdiphodrang – Thimphu
After breakfast we will visit Wangdiphodrang Dzong. Built during the 17th Century this magnificent Dzong is located near the last town before entering central Bhutan and it played a vital role in unifying the districts of Bhutan.

It is said that the Dzong came into being when the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came across a small boy named Wangdue who was playing on the riverbank. Being so touched by the boy’s innocence the Shabdrung named the Dzong in the valley Wangdue Phodrang (meaning Wangdue’s palace). The Dzong’s location was fixed as it was the site at which four ravens were seen flying in four different directions which was considered an auspicious omen, indicating the spread of Buddhism in these four directions.

After a fascinating day at this ancient Dzong, we return to Thimphu for dinner at our hotel.

Day 08: Thimphu
After breakfast we have an excursion to Tango and Cheri Monasteries, two of the most highly respected Buddhist academic monasteries in Bhutan.

Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa founded the monastic school at Tango Monastery in the 12th century and the present building was built in the 15th century by the 'divine madman', Lama Drukpa Kuenley.  Tango is the residence of an important Tulku (reincarnate lama) who is recognized as the seventh reincarnation of the highly respected fourth Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, whose previous incarnation passed away in 1830.

The Cheri Monastery was built in 1620 by the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The monastery, which is now a major teaching and retreat center of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu order, is located at the northern end of Thimphu Valley about fifteen kilometers from the capital. Stunningly located on the southern edge of the Jigme Dorji National Park, the monastery is a steep walk uphill from the road head through a delightful forest rich in plant species, animal and birdlife. The views from the monastery are delightful and a silver chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of the Shabdrung's father.

We will return to Thimphu to have dinner at our hotel.

Day 09: Thimphu – Paro Airport
After breakfast we will drive to the Paro airport and we bid each other farewell after a great experience in Bhutan!

 

 

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