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This 7 day tour offers in depth exploration of Paro and Thimphu, a visit to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the ancient capital of Bhutan and the stunning Phobjikha Valley, a famous shelter of the rare Black Necked Cranes.

Departure: Paro
Duration: 7 Days
Best season: October - December; March - May

This tour is for those who wish to experience the essential Bhutan and explore out of the towns to get the feel for daily life in Bhutan. This trip allows the traveller to see the stunning traditional architecture and the landscape on an overland drive to the ancient capital and beyond to Bhutan’s haven for the rare Black Necked Cranes, which shelter here in the winter months. We get to explore this truly unique culture, clothing and crafts, farming and rural life, the famously spicy food and of course to learn about Bhutan’s incredibly rich Buddhist heritage! All of this, set in the beautiful Bhutanese landscape with its high mountains, lush forests and picturesque terraced fields.

BRIEF ITINERARY

Day 01: Welcome to Paro
Day 02: Paro, Excursion to Taktsang Monastery, Thimphu
Day 03: Thimphu Sightseeing
Day 04: Thimphu - Punakha
Day 05: Punakha - Gangtey 
Day 06: Gangtey - Thimphu 
Day 07:
Drive to Paro Airport (Departure)

DEATILED ITINERARY

Day 01: Welcome to Paro
The spectacular flight into Paro is a great introduction to beautiful Bhutan – you may have breathtaking views of Mount Everest, KanchanJunga 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 tea.

After tea, we will drive out to the ruins of the Drukgyal Dzong (fort). This dzong, now in ruins, was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders in 1644. The Shabdrung is credited with being the unifier of Bhutan and he also sought to create a distinctly Bhutanese cultural identity, separate from the Tibetan culture from which it was derived. The dzong’s name actually means "victorious Druk" and it had been used as an administrative centre until 1951 when a fire caused by butter lamp destroyed it. We can explore the ramparts and on a clear day we can see the unforgettable view 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, Excursion to Taktsang Monastery, Thimphu
This morning 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!

After lunch we visit the Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower that, since 1967, has been the National Museum of Bhutan. A specific route must be followed in the building which ensures a clockwise progression around important images. Exhibits include an impressive collection of thankas; a description of early history that illustrates how magic and science are inseparable in Bhutan; and not to be missed, Bhutan’s eclectic stamp collection, including some stamps that you can listen to on a record player! Below the Ta Dzong is the Rimpung Dzong (Paro Dzong) built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Dzong presently houses administrative offices and protected within its walls is a collection of sacred masks and costumes, some dating back several centuries.

This evening we drive 60km to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, ready for more exploring tomorrow!
 
Day 03: Thimphu Sightseeing
After breakfast we will indulge in a great day’s sight seeing in Thimphu! First 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 the Nyingmapa tradition of Buddhism and teachings of Vajrayana (or tantric form of) Buddhism and provide a rare insight into Buddhist Philosophy. We then visit the Dupthop Lhakhang, one of the few surviving nunneries in Bhutan.

We then visit the National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and some of the oldest records of Bhutanese history and religion. We follow this with a visit to the Painting School, famous for carving and free hand art. Here you can see not only paintings, sculpture, clay work and metal work, but also students and artists at work.

After lunch we drive to the Traditional Medicine Institute, established in 1988, traditional herbal medicines are prepared here in accordance with ancient practices and distributed nationwide. There is a daily clinic where doctors diagnose patients and prescribe appropriate traditional medicine or treatments.

We then visit the locality of Lungtenzampa to observe the Royal silver smiths and Bhutanese paper factory at work. Other highlights of our Thimphu exploring include a visit to the Tashichho Dzong (or the ‘Fortress of the Glorious Religion’), built in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and reconstructed in 1961. It is presently the seat of the national government and the Central Monastic Body, including the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot and spiritual leader of Bhutan).

Lastly, we visit the Handicrafts Emporium to see the exquisite artistry of Bhutan’s traditional crafts and textiles before taking some free time to indulge in shopping for souvenirs in the shops of Thimphu. Over night back in our Hotel.

Day 04: 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. This is a new monastery built by and for the Royal Family, it is about a 45 minute walk from Punakha. After this excursion we return to our hotel for dinner and well earned rest.

Day 05: Punakha - Gangtey 
After breakfast we have a scenic drive to Gangtey, with the stunning Wangdiphodrang Dzong as a stop on the way. This dzong was built in 1638 and legend relates that, as the people were searching for the site of the dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered auspicious sign, representing the spread of Buddhism to the four points of the compass. The dzong is located at the last town before entering central Bhutan and it played a vital role in unifying the districts of Bhutan.

Moving on from Wangdiphodrang we cross a mountain pass to descend into the Phobjikha Valley. As we have been driving through beautiful rhododendron forest on most of our travels, the contrast of descending into the unique open marshlands of the valley is striking.

While in Gangtey we will visit the Gangtey Gompa founded in the 16th century by Gyaltse Pema Thinley, the grandson of the great Bhutanese saint Pemalingpa. At the end of the 17th century it was enlarged by the second reincarnation, Abbot Tenzin Legpai Dhendup. It is currently headed by the Abbot Kunzang Pema Namgyal, who is the ninth re-incarnation. It is a Nyingmapa monastery and is affiliated to other Nyingmapa monasteries including Tamshing in Bumthang and is well known for its lovely paintings and statues.

After lunch we will explore the Phobjikha Valley, famous for sheltering the rare Black Necked Cranes during winter. The cranes, usually in a flock of up to 200 birds, migrate from northern Tibet to winter here. Their numbers have been gradually increasing over the years and it is important to respect this important conservation site and not to disturb these beautiful birds. Dinner and over night in Guest house.

Day 06: Gangtey - Thimphu 
After breakfast, we drive to Thimphu taking in the stunning scenery along the way. We arrive in time for lunch, after which we will visit the Folk Heritage Museum before taking an excursion to Cheri Monastery.

The principal exhibit of the Folk Heritage Museum is the museum building itself, a stunningly restored traditional rammed-earth and timber house. The museum is dedicated to connecting people to Bhutan’s rural past through exhibition of items and artefacts used in rural households, demonstrations of rural customs, traditions, habits and skills; educational programmes for children about rural life in Bhutan, and research and documentation of rural life.

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. Dinner and over night in Hotel.

Day 07: Drive to Paro Airport (Departure) 
We have an early morning this morning to drive to the Airport for departure home!

 

 

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