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12 Days/11 Nights Cultural Journey to Central Bhutan

Bhutan Home Expeditions

The Living Culture of Bhutan

In this world most of the countries preserved their traditions artificially for tourists only. But in Bhutan, you can see and feel the distinct culture and tradition. This Self-reliant kingdom proudly stands with its unique heritage. The living culture, arts and crafts are practiced, ceremonies and festivals are performed because they continue to have a religious and spiritual significance.

Bhutan has been isolated from the world for many centuries, it’s sacred towering mountains and spiritual Buddhist culture make remarkable home journeys. Our Bhutanese tour guide with in-depth knowledge of local culture will help you to experience and understand the true Bhutanese way of life. Explore and interact with local people to learn the meaning and how the living art of weaving, painting, wood carving and many other crafts were creating. Drive from one valley to another visiting dzongs, monasteries, isolated villages and it’s people. Visit or stay at the Bhutanese family homes to experience and get close look of the unique Bhutanese culture. Any of our Bhutan trip is an incredible immersion into Bhutanese culture, where daily life itself is a form of art.

Important Note

Most of our trips take place during busy and festival season so it is difficult to secure reservations on Druk Air and Hotels in every places. We request you to book as far in advance as possible to confirm the reservation you choose and do not hesitate to contact us at the last minute if free time suddenly comes your way.

Highlights

On a 12-day tour visit Paro, Punakha, Wangdi Phodrang, Thimphu, Trongsa, Bumthang, and Phobjikha valley. Drive from one valley town to another through dense forests of pine, rhododendron and oak, rice fields, past traditional farmhouses, Buddhist stupas and fluttering prayer flags, green meadows, beautiful wildflowers, gushing waterfalls and steep cliffs. Visit temples, monasteries, dzongs, isolated villages and the people. Attain prayer ceremony, meditation and lecture on Buddhism by the Lama or scholar. And also special talk on the living culture, traditions and Gross National Happiness

Optional Day Hikes

• The magical monastery known as Taktshang (the “Tiger’s Nest), one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World

• Hike through the beautiful Phobjikha Valley

• The beautiful Bumthang valley walk, visiting several temples, traditional farm houses, farmers working in the fields

• Very easy hike to isolated Khamsum Yuley chorten.

Tentative Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival Paro/Travel to Thimphu (altitude: 7,700 feet)

Early morning proceed to the airport to check in with Druk Air. If we are lucky, we’ll have glorious views of the snow capped Himalayas. On its way to Paro, Druk Air flies over eight of the ten tallest peaks of the world including Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga. The remarkable and steep descent into the Paro Valley is an awe-inspiring beginning to our adventure. Already you can feel the pace of life slow down.

After visa formalities and collection of baggage, we’ll meet with our local guide and the Driver. We’ll then drive through the beautiful agricultural valley of Paro to visit the the Rinpung Dzong (the full name of the Paro Dzong), which means "the fortress of the heap of jewels." This complex houses the administrative and religious headquarters for the Paro district. A part of Bernardo Bertolucci's movie, "Little Buddha," was filmed inside this Dzong.

After lunch, we will drive (1 and half hours) the winding road following the Pa Chu (Paro River) downstream to its confluence with the Wang Chu (Thimphu River), then up-valley to Thimphu, the capital. As we enter Thimphu Valley we will pass by Simtokha, the Dzong built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the man who unified Bhutan). Simtokha is the oldest of the Dzong, originally serving as a fortress to protect the region, an administrative center and the center for the monk’s religious activity. Simtokha now houses a language school where scholars of all ages study Dzongkha, the national language. Upon arrival in Thimphu (the only capital city no traffic light!), we'll check in to our centrally located hotel and have the rest of the evening free. Overnight at Hotel in Thimphu.

Day 2: Thimphu/Drive to Punakha (altitude: 4,500 feet)

This morning we'll visit the Bank and the General Post Office to exchange money and to buy Bhutan's famous and beautiful stamps and postcards. Later in the morning, we will head eastward to Punakha Valley. The road winds through pine forests and small villages, and passes by chortens (stupas) and prayer flags before heading up to Dochula Pass (10,000'). The prayer flags on mountain slopes, bridges and high passes, transmit prayers to the Gods and keep up a constant communication with the heavens. At the pass, we'll see 108 newly built chortens (stupas) dedicated to Bhutan's continued peace and happiness.

As we descend from the Pass and continue our drive to the lowlands of Punakha Valley, we will notice the dramatic change in vegetation. At the lower elevation of the valley floor, cactus, banana plants, poinsettia and other semi-tropical plants dominate the landscape. After a few hours, we will come to the green terraced fields of Punakha Valley, where red rice and winter wheat are the staple crops.

In the village of Lobesa, we will enjoy a nice short hike to visit Chime Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who as a favourite saint of the Bhutanese people is known affectionately as "The Divine Madman". The temple is on a hillside in the middle of rice fields and has become a pilgrimage site for childless couples (learn more about Drukpa Kuenley from "The Blessings of Bhutan" by Russ and Blyth Carpenter and "The Divine Madman" by Keith Dowman). Then we'll visit the Punakha Dzong, the "Palace of Great Happiness" built in 1647 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the one who unified Bhutan. The Dzong lies between the Pho Chu (male river) and the Mo Chu (female river), and is the winter home of the central monk body.

When the Zhabdrung arrived in Punakha, he set up a camp at the confluence of the two rivers and that very night had a dream in which he heard the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tantric Buddhism. He then built a Dzong on that spot and placed the Rangjung Kharsapani there, the most sacred relic that he brought with him from his monastery in Tibet.

A devastating flash flood in 1994 washed away a major part of the Dzong. His Majesty the King personally supervised the reconstruction of the Dzong, a project that has occupied thousands of skilled craftsmen and builders during the past twelve years. The results of the restoration are amazing. You will be seeing the most magnificent architectural and artistic masterpiece in the Kingdom, just consecrated in an elaborate ceremony in May, 2003.

After the Dzong, we will enjoy a beautiful drive alongside the Mochu River through several small villages and past traditional farmhouses till we reach Serigang village. From here, we may opt to go on a short hike to Khamsum Yuley Namgyal Chorten (Stupa). A visit here is a good introduction to Tantric Buddhism in all its complexities. It contains some of the best Tantric art in Bhutan, and a visit there will serve as a balance to the more traditional Buddhist statuary and wall painting visible at the Punakha Dzong. The shapes and forms of the Tantric statues may surprise most visitors. The terrifying divinities are manifestations of peaceful gods, which assume these forms to subdue evil spirits that are hostile to Buddhist doctrine.

The nudity of most of the deities show that this world’s conventions are of no importance on higher planes, and the persons being crushed by the wrathful deities are either spirits hostile to Buddhism or primordial negative concepts such as ignorance, jealousy and anger. In Tantric Buddhism, numerous statues and paintings are also in the form of sexual union, which represents the union of knowledge and wisdom that permits the attainment of sublime state of enlightenment.

After the hike, we will drive to Hotel in Punakha

Day 3: Punakha to Trongsa (altitude: 7,200 feet)

After breakfast, we'll drive to Trongsa enjoying magnificent views of small villages, terraced fields, diverse forests of exotic Himalayan plants, trees and wildflowers. As we climb higher up and above the cloud the forest gets more beautiful with big 30-40 feet rhododendron trees, and massive hemlock and fir trees. Near the Pelela Pass (10,825 feet), we'll enjoy a nice walk through a beautiful forest of blooming rhodendron and fields of dwarf bamboo in a good high altitude birding area. This is a likely time to see yaks, as they live only in high altitudes.

Before reaching Trongsa, we’ll see the 18th century Chendebji Chorten, a whitewashed stone chorten (or stupa) built in order to nail into the ground a demon who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of the valley. The first sight of the Trongsa Dzong (a “Dzong” is a fortress), the largest in Bhutan, is from across the valley. But the road winds another 12.5 miles before we’ll actually get there. Magnificent views around every turn! Overnight at Hotel in Trongsa

Day 4: Trongsa Valley Sightseeing

Spend an entire day in Trongsa. This morning, we will visit Trongsa Dzong and explore the surrounding area. Built in 1647, it is the largest Dzong in the country. It is also the ancestral home of the Royal Family, and both the first and second kings ruled the country from Trongsa. The Dzong sits on a narrow spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde-Chu River and overlooks the routes east, west and south. It was built in such a way that in the olden days, it had complete control over all east-west traffic. This helped to augment the strategic importance of the Dzong which eventually placed its Penlop (regional ruler) at the helm of a united country when His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first king of Bhutan. To this day, the Crown Prince of Bhutan becomes the Penlop of Trongsa before ascending the throne, signifying its historical importance. Explore the tunnel-like passageways to find the four original entrances of the Dzong. The original footpath, barely visible in the forested valley, has recently been uncovered and the cantilevered bridge restored. Hiking the 2 hours path and entering the Dzong like locals did once upon a time is now possible again, and an option for anyone interested. Above the Dzong is the medieval Watch Tower, which has recently been renovated as a museum showcasing Buddhist art and Bhutanese royalty. Views from here are astounding for unobstructed shots of the Dzong in the surrounding Mangde valley. Overnight at Hotel in Trongsa

Day 5: Trongsa to Jakar, Bumthang (altitude: 8,500 feet)

After breakfast, we’ll drive east to Jakar (Bumthang), crossing the Yutong La Pass (11,200 feet). We may visit and attain prayer ceremony for our special journey in "Sangna Thig Chog Lhakhang", the temple of prophecy on the way into Bumthang. This is a very special temple, newly built as per the predictions and prophesies of the oracle of Damchen Dorji Lekpa, one of the most important protective deities of the Nyingma School of Buddhism founded by Guru Rinpoche.

As we near the first of the four beautiful valleys of Bumthang, Himalayan blue pine dominates the landscape. In the village of Chumey, we’ll stop at a special wool shops. This place is famous for Yathra weaving, colorful hand-woven woolen textiles. Overnight at Hotel in Jakar.

Day 6: Bumthang Valley sightseeing

The sightseeing today includes several monasteries which are of great significance to the Bhutanese and to other Buddhists. Hike through the beautiful valley visiting several ancient temples, including Tamshing Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Saint Pema Lingpa that contains some of the oldest untouched wall paintings in Bhutan. Under protective covering, 36 paintings line the vestibule where pilgrims can atone their sins by wearing a 25 kilo iron coat of chains around the sanctuary. From here walk to Kurje, a sacred place where Guru left his body imprinted on a rock to signify the place where he meditated, subdued a wrathful deity, and converted King Sendhu Raja to Buddhism. Bumthang valley is truly the most sacred place in Bhutan.

After lunch continue a day hiking to Padmasambhava Lhakhang crossing the suspension bridge. This is another meditation site of Guru Padmasambhava. It was founded by Terton (Treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa in 15th century. Overnight at Hotel in Jakar.

Day 7: Bumthang to Phobjikha(altitude: 9,800 feet)

After breakfast, we'll drive back past Trongsa crossing the Yutong-la and Pele-la passes to the hidden valley of Phobjikha in the Black Mountains National Park. Circled by pine and rhododendron covered mountains, this is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. The rare Black Neck Cranes migrate from Tibet to Bhutan and use the swampy center of this valley as their winter residence from mid November to mid March. Considered a symbol of peace, black-necked cranes have been revered by Bhutanese people for centuries.

In Phobjikha Valley we'll visit the Black Neck Crane Information Center. The Center works to conserve cranes and the wetland ecosystem on which they depend. The centers various conservation and education programs and projects stress the interdependence between the birds and their habitat the relationship that exists between the birds, habitat and people.

If time permits, we'll enjoy a nice and easy hike through the beautiful valley among a cluster of traditional houses, past the village school and through a beautiful Himalayan Pine forest. We may also visit Gangtey Goenpa, perched atop the ridge overlooking the valley. The Goenpa is directed by Gangtey Tulku, the ninth reincarnation (a “tulku” is a reincarnate) of Pema Lingpa. According to the Buddhist tradition and as a mark of their devotion, the cranes circle the monastery three times on their arrival in November and before they fly back to Tibet in March. Overnight at Hotel in Phobjikha.

Day 8: Phobjikha valley to Thimphu (altitude - 7,700 feet)

After breakfast, we drive to Thimphu, crossing the Dochula Pass. Once in Thimphu, we will settle into one of the centrally located hotels.

We'll have the rest of the day to explore Bhutan's exotic capital city—a fascinating combination of traditional and contemporary life. There are numerous things to do here. A visit to Takin Preserve to see the Takin, Bhutan’s national animal is a favorite. Many visitors also enjoy visiting the handmade paper factory along with some interesting handicraft shops, where they sell masks, beautiful handwoven textiles, carpets, jewelry and Bhutanese wooden products. Other choices include: a chance to see Bhutanese Archery Game - Bhutan’s national sport and an integral part of all festivities, and an evening walk to the Memorial Chorten, a sacred shrine built in honor of the current King’s father. The Chorten is an impressive three-story monument with Tantric statues and wall paintings of three different cycles of Nyingma teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. You will find many elderly people making the Kora (pilgrimage circuit). Overnight at Hotel in Thimphu.

Day 9: Day hikes to Chari & Tango Goenpa

After breakfast, we drive to north of Thimphu valley for less than 30 minutes to get to the base of the hiking trail. This is where the border of the Jigme Dorji National Park begins. From here, you will walk to the 17th century Cheri Goenpa (monastery). You cross the cantilever bridge and climb steeply for 45 minutes towards the monastery. Two thirds of the way up, one can rest at a Tibetan-style stupa. Ascend to the Goenpa where there are lovely views, with tame deer and soaring birds. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (first ruler of Bhutan) built this Goenpa in 1620 and established the first monk body here. The silver chorten inside the Goenpa holds the ashes of the Zhabdrung’s father.

The trail to Tango Goenpa is a climb of 280m and takes about an hour gradual climb. Lam Gyalwa Lhanangpa founded the site n 12th century. The famous Lama Drukpa Kuenly (Divine Madman) constructed the present building in the 15th century. Later in the 17th century the descendent of Divine Madman presented the Goenpa to Zhabdrung, who carved the sandalwood statue of Chenresig and installed in the monastery. Tango is now the residence of an important young truelkus (reincarnate lama). Return to the city for lunch. Visit the Tashicho Dzong/fortress that houses the monk body and the offices for the King, the Chief Abbot and the Prime Minister. Evening at leisure. Overnight at Hotel in Thimphu.

Day 10: Thimphu to Paro (altitude - 7,400 feet)

After breakfast, you’ll drive to Paro. Upon arriving Paro, a drive through beautiful Paro Valley will bring us to the ruins of Drugyel Dzong sitting in the shadow of Jhumolhari’s towering peak that rises 24,000 feet. This sacred mountain marks the border with Tibet, and is the home of the goddess Jhumo. The Dzong was built in 1649 by Zhabdrung Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetans in 1644. A fire, caused by a butter lamp, destroyed the Dzong, but the dramatic ruins remain clear where it featured on the cover of the US National Geographic magazine in 1914. Then visit Kichu Lhakhang/Temple, built in 7th century by Tibetan Buddhist King Songtsen Gonpo in order to pin down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Evening take leisure walks along the 200 meters stretch of Paro town. Overnight at Hotel in Paro.

Day 11: Excursion to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery

We will conclude our visit to the Dragon Kingdom with a hike to the magical temple known as Taktsang (the "Tiger's Nest). Taktsang is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World. The temple itself is perched on a granite cliff that drops 2,000 feet to the valley floor. The name is derived from a legend that Guru Rinpoche flew across the mountains to this spot on the back of a tigress, reaching a cave in which he meditated for three months, converting the people of Paro Valley to Buddhism during his stay.

Hiking the 2 hour trail to reach this holy temple requires stamina and an absence of vertigo, but can be accomplished by all! Just take it slow to counter the high altitude. Horses are available to the tea house if you request one in advance. The trail winds through a forest of oak, moss draped hemlocks and rhododendron before arriving at a small chorten surrounded by prayer flags. Not far from here is the teahouse with spectacular views of Taktshang. Power up for the final climb. Stairs built into the steep ridge bring us past cleft-side meditation caves and a waterfall before ascending to the temple itself.

Visit the temples inside the Tiger’s Nest monastery and see the magnificent relics that adorn the altars and the fearful deities that decorate the walls. Peek into the holy cave where Guru meditated before you begin the descent. After a leisurely hike back, there will be time for last minute shopping and also packing. Overnight at Hotel in Paro.

Day 12: Departure

After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, we'll drive to the airport to depart from the Land of the Thunder Dragon and for your onward journey.

Tashi Delek!


Tour details

  • US$ 3510 per Trip
  • Available Anytime
  • Duration: 12 Day(s)
  • From 1 to 20 people
  • Starts at Thimphu, Bhutan

Travel pro profile

  • Speaks English, Japanese
  • Tour Operator