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To the outside world the small Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is regarded as a modern-day Shangri-La. Nestled along the eastern side of the Himalayas, wedged between Tibet and India, Bhutan sees few outsiders. And the country likes it that way as it attempts to preserve its fragile culture and ecology. That has prompted Bhutan to strictly regulate tourism. But as VOA’s Steve Herman reports from Thimpu, it is possible for anyone with enough money and determination to visit. Here people call their nation Druk Yul – land of the thunder dragon. The Kingdom of Bhutan is nestled in the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, and landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and the Indian states
of Sikkim, Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to the west and south. It lies between latitudes 26° and 29°N, and longitudes 88° and93°E. The climate in Bhutan varies with altitude, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow, in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot shumid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters. It is estimated that between two thirds and three quarters of the Bhutanese population follow Vajrayana Buddhism, which is also the state religion. About one quarter to one third are followers of Hinduism. Muslim and non-religious communities account for less than 1% of the population. The current legal framework, in principle guarantees freedom of religion; proselytism, however, is forbidden by a royal government decision .
The land consists mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers, which form deep valleys before draining into the Indian plains. Elevation rises from 200 m (660 ft) in the southern foothills to more than 7,000 m (23,000 ft). This great geographical diversity combined with equally diverse climate conditions contributes to Bhutan's outstanding range of biodiversity and ecosystems The sights and sounds of its deep connection to Tibetan Buddhism are evident just about anywhere a visitor goes. A religious musician, playing the jaling oboe, dressed in the traditional knee-length gown and huge white cuffs worn by most Bhutanese men is just one example of why this country the size of Switzerland is so appealing to travelers. The country is permeated with fortresses, known as dzongs, and monasteries. The air is crisp and clean, the views of mountains breathtaking. What Bhutan lacks in high-end tourist infrastructure it makes up in courtesy, safety and cleanliness, especially compared to other major regional destinations. Yet, Bhutan remains one of international tourism’s best-kept secrets. It attracts less than 20,000 tourists a year, not including thousands more Indians, here on business or holiday, who do not need a visa to visit.

Golden Wheel Kingdom (5 Days)

Day01:  Arrive   Paro,  Paro-Thimphu.
In clear weather, Druk Air flight to Bhutan provides a wonderful view of Himalayan scenery. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over the foothills from Kolkata, it is a breathtaking journey, culminating in an exciting descent past forested hills into the kingdom.
On arrival at Paro airport, you will be met by Travel representative of Bhutan. On completion of airport formalities, there will be an interesting drive of about 2 hours duration to Thimphu, the modern capital town of Bhutan. Evening free after dinner. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day02:  Thimphu - Punakha
Thimphu, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government. This bustling town is home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.
Morning visit to Tashichho Dzong, the main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty, the King. Tashichho Dzong is also the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body. Proceed to the National Library, which houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature, with some works dating back several hundred years. Visit the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School), where a six-year training course is given in the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Also visit (outside only) the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where the medicinal herbs abundant in the kingdom are compounded and dispensed.
After lunch, visit the National Memorial Chorten. The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace. Visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and privately owned crafts shops, which offer a wide range of handcrafted products, including the splendid thangkha paintings and exquisitely woven textiles for which Bhutan is famous. Also visit the Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums, opened in 2001.
In the early evening, drive over Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) to Punakha. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.

Day03:  Punakh - Wangduephodrang – Paro
Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955, when the seat of government moved to Thimphu. Originally situated on the riverbank and dominated by the towering walls of Punakha Dzong, the township was relocated to a safer site a few kilometers down the valley, consequent upon extensive flooding in the early 1990s. At the same time, extensive renovation work was undertaken on Punakha Dzong itself, which is now a breathtaking and glorious sight as you first glimpse it from the road. Although four catastrophic fires and an earthquake in past times destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong still houses many sacred and historic artifacts and also the embalmed body of Shabdrung                Ngawang             Namgyal.
Later drive to Wangduephodrang, the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan. Situated on a ridge overlooking a river junction, the formidable Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. In the 17th century, Wangdue played a critical role in unifying the western, central and southern regions     of            the         country.                Also       visit        the         local       market.
After lunch drive to Paro, visiting Semtokha Dzong en route. This Dzong, built in 1627, is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies. Arrive Paro and check into the hotel. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day04:  Paro
The valley of Paro contains a wealth of attractions. In the morning, visit Ta Dzong. Once a watchtower, built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century, Ta Dzong was inaugurated as Bhutan National Museum in 1968. Afterwards, walk down a hillside trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, which has a              long and fascinating history.
After lunch, drive ups the valley to view the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, 18 km. from Paro town on the north side of the valley. It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century. Also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the kingdom.
In the evening, visit a traditional farm house for an opportunity to interact with a local family and learn something of their lifestyle. Later on, take an evening stroll along the main street, and perhaps visit a few handicrafts shops, or take refreshments at a local cafe or bar. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day05:  Depart  Paro
After breakfast, drive to Paro airport for flight to onward destination.

 

Golden Vase Explore (4 Days)

Day01:  Arrive   Paro
Fly into the Himalayas with Druk Air, Bhutan National Carrier. The green wall of hills known as duars, or gateways, into Bhutan from the plains of India rise ever higher as the plane flies north towards the Tibet border. Silvery rivers rush along the valleys, waterfalls plunge down forested mountainsides, and to the north, the great snowcapped peaks of the inner Himalayas rise up to the heavens. Farm houses dot the hillsides                on           either    side        of            the         plane.
As the aircraft enters the Paro valley, look down and you will see Paro Dzong on the hillside overlooking the Paro Chu (river), with Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower and now the National Museum, above it. Representatives from Bhutan travels will escort, who will be with you throughout your visit, will be waiting for you at Paro airport. After completion of airport formalities, you will drive through the lovely Paro valley to your hotel. Afternoon free for activities, or at leisure. Dinner and overnight at your hotel.

Day02: Paro -     Thimphu
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought off Tibetan invaders centuries ago. The snowy dome of sacred Jhomolhari, mountain goddess” can be seen in all her glory from the approach road to the Dzong.
Along the way, see the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan.
After lunch visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a watchtower, which now houses Bhutan National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong (“fortress of the heap of jewels”), which has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the inner courtyard are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore, such as the legend of the four friends, the old man of long life, the wheel of life, scenes from the life of Milarepa, Mount Sumeru and other cosmic mandalas.
Finally, proceed to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhutan. The road runs down through the Paro valley, to Chuzom (Confluence) at the entrance to the valley, where the Paro and Thimphu rivers meet. Three chortens on the riverbank at this place, each in a different style, mark the confluence of the two rivers. Shortly before reaching Chuzom, you will see on your left Tachogang Lhakhang, “the temple of the excellent horse”. It is a private temple, built in the 15th century, as the result of visitation from Balaha, the excellent horse, a manifestation of Chenrezig, the compassionate Buddha. The road passes along a narrow valley with high, rocky cliffs on the left, then the valley opens out into farmland on the approach to Thimphu. Semtokha Dzong, “the place of profound tantric teaching”, stands sentinel on a hillock a few kilometers out of town. This Dzong now houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies.
On arrival in Thimphu, check into the hotel. Free time in the early evening for a stroll around town before dinner.

Day03: Thimphu -            Paro
After breakfast, sightseeing in Thimphu valley, including visits to the following: the National Library, housing an extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts; the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where Bhutan famed traditional herbal medicines are compounded and dispensed; the Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undergo a six-year training course in     Bhutan 13           traditional           arts        and        crafts.
After lunch, visit Tashichhodzong, the fortress of the glorious religion”. This is the center of government and religion, site of the monarch throne room and seat of the Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in the 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. Also visit the National Memorial Chorten, continuously circumambulated by the faithful, murmuring mantras and spinning their prayer wheels. Construction of this landmark was the idea of Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”) who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it serves both as a memorial to the Late King and as a    monument                to            peace.
Then, visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and local crafts shops, to browse through examples of Bhutan fine traditional arts. Here you can buy hand-woven textiles, thangkha paintings, masks, ceramics, slate and wood carvings, jewelry, and other interesting items made from local materials. In the evening, drive to Paro. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day04:  Depart  Paro
After early breakfast at the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.

Lotus Wonderland (4 Days)

Day01:  Arrive   Paro
Fly into the Himalayas with Druk Air, Bhutan National Carrier. The green wall of hills known as duars, or gateways, into Bhutan from the plains of India rise ever higher as the plane flies north towards the Tibet border. Silvery rivers rush along the valleys, waterfalls plunge down forested mountainsides, and to the north, the great snowcapped peaks of the inner Himalayas rise up to the heavens. Farm houses dot the hillsides                on           either    side        of            the         plane.
As the aircraft enters the Paro valley, look down and you will see Paro Dzong on the hillside overlooking the Paro Chu (river), with Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower and now the National Museum, above it. Representatives from Bhutan Travel will escort, who will be with you throughout your visit, will be waiting for you at Paro airport. After completion of airport formalities, you will drive through the lovely Paro valley to your hotel. Afternoon free for activities, or at leisure. Dinner and overnight at your hotel.

Day02:  Paro-     Thimphu
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought off Tibetan invaders centuries ago. The snowy dome of sacred Jhomolhari, “mountain goddess” can be seen in all her glory from the approach road to the Dzong.
Along the way, see the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan.
After lunch visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a watchtower, which now houses Bhutan’s National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong (“fortress of the heap of jewels”), which has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the inner courtyard are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore, such as the legend of the four friends, the old man of long life, the wheel of life, scenes from the life of Milarepa, Mount Sumeru and other cosmic mandalas.
Finally, proceed to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhutan. The road runs down through the Paro valley, to Chuzom (Confluence) at the entrance to the valley, where the Paro and Thimphu rivers meet. Three chortens on the riverbank at this place, each in a different style, mark the confluence of the two rivers. Shortly before reaching Chuzom, you will see on your left Tachogang Lhakhang, the temple of the excellent horse. It is a private temple, built in the 15th century, as the result of visitation from Balaha, the excellent horse, a manifestation of Chenrezig, the compassionate Buddha. The road passes along a narrow valley with high, rocky cliffs on the left, then the valley opens out into farmland on the approach to Thimphu. Semtokha Dzong, the place of profound tantric teaching, stands sentinel on a hillock a few kilometers out of town. This Dzong now houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies.
On arrival in Thimphu, check into the hotel. Free time in the early evening for a stroll around town before dinner.

Day03:  Thimphu-Paro
After breakfast, sightseeing in Thimphu valley, including visits to the following: the National Library, housing an extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts; the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where Bhutan’s famed traditional herbal medicines are compounded and dispensed; the Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undergo a six-year training course in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts.
After lunch, visit Tashichhodzong, the fortress of the glorious religion. This is the center of government and religion, site of the monarch’s throne room and seat of the Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in the 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. Also visit the National Memorial Chorten, continuously circumambulated by the faithful, murmuring mantras and spinning their prayer wheels. Construction of this landmark was the idea of Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan) who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it serves both as a memorial to the Late King and as a monument to peace.
Then, visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and local crafts shops, to browse through examples of Bhutan’s fine traditional arts. Here you can buy hand-woven textiles, thangkha paintings, masks, ceramics, slate and wood carvings, jewelry, and other interesting items made from local materials. In the evening, drive to Paro. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day04:  Depart  Paro
After early breakfast at the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination. Bhutan Travel escort will help you with exit formalities and then bid you farewell.

 

Conch in the Sky (5 Days)

Day01:  Arrive   Paro,     Paro–Thimphu
In clear weather, Druk Air flight to Bhutan provides a wonderful view of Himalayan scenery. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Katmandu or over the foothills from Kolkata, it is a breathtaking journey, culminating in an exciting descent past forested hills into the kingdom.
On arrival at Paro airport, you will be met by Bhutan Travel representative. On completion of airport formalities, there will be an interesting drive of about 2 hour’s duration to Thimphu, the modern capital town of Bhutan. Evening free after dinner. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day02:  Thimphu–Punakha
Thimphu, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government. This bustling town is home to Bhutan royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.
Morning visit to Tashichhodzong, the main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty, the King. Tashichhodzong is also the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body. Proceed to the National Library, which houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature, with some works dating back several hundred years. Visit the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School), where a six-year training course is given in the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Also visit the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where the medicinal herbs abundant in the kingdom are compounded and dispensed.
After lunch, visit the National Memorial Chorten. The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace. Visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and privately owned crafts shops, which offer a wide range of handcrafted products, including the splendid thangkha paintings and exquisitely woven textiles for which Bhutan is famous. Also visit the Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums, opened in 2001.
In the early evening, drive over Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) to Punakha. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.

Day03:  Punakha-Wangduephodrang–Paro
Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955, when the seat of government moved to Thimphu. Originally situated on the riverbank and dominated by the towering walls of Punakha Dzong, the township was relocated to a safer site a few kilometers down the valley, consequent upon extensive flooding in the early 1990s. At the same time, extensive renovation work was undertaken on Punakha Dzong itself, which is now a breathtaking and glorious sight as you first glimpse it from the road. Although four catastrophic fires and an earthquake in past times destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong still houses many sacred and historic artifacts and also the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Later drive to Wangduephodrang, the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan. Situated on a ridge overlooking a river junction, the formidable Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. In the 17th century, Wangdue played a critical role in unifying the western, central and southern regions of the country. Also visit the local market.
After lunch drive to Paro, visiting Semtokha Dzong en route. This Dzong, built in 1627, is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies. Arrive Paro and check into the hotel. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.


Day04:  Paro
The valley of Paro contains a wealth of attractions. In the morning, visit Ta Dzong. Once a watchtower, built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century, Ta Dzong was inaugurated as Bhutan National Museum in 1968. Afterwards, walk down a hillside trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, which has  a              long       and        fascinating          history.
After lunch, drive ups the valley to view the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, 18 km. from Paro town on the north side of the valley. It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century. Also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the kingdom.
In the evening, visit a traditional farm house for an opportunity to interact with a local family and learn something of their lifestyle. Later on, take an evening stroll along the main street, and perhaps visit a few handicrafts shops, or take refreshments at a local cafe or bar. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day05:  Depart  Paro
After breakfast, drive to Paro airport for flight to onward destination.

Endless Knot Himalayas(7 Days)

Day01:  Bagdogra/Siliguri-Phuentsholing
Bhutan Travel representative will meet you on arrival at either Siliguri or Bagdogra airport in the Indian state of West Bengal. After a drive of about three hours along a road lined with lush green tea gardens you will reach Phuentsholing, the gateway to Bhutan, which lies directly at the base of the Himalayan foothills. This rapidly growing town is Bhutan commercial center, with most commercial organizations headquartered here. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Phuentsholing.

Day02:  Phuentsholing-Thimphu
After breakfast, proceed to Thimphu, making our first stop about 5 km. up the road to visit Kharbandi Gonpa. This beautiful monastery situated in a garden of tropical plants and flowers, was built by Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron in 1967. There is a splendid view of Phuentsholing and the Indian plains from the monastery garden.
From this point the road climbs steeply up into the hills, winding in innumerable bends, to an altitude of approximately 2,000m/6,560ft. We will make stops along the way from time to time, so as not to miss the magnificent view of the Indian plains and the Toorsa River below. After a two hour drive through light mountain jungle, displaying lianas and orchids, we pass over the first ridge and begin a long and gradual descent to the river which is the source of energy for the massive Chukha Hydel hydroelectric power project. We cross the river, and rise up the mountainside ever further into the hills, leaving Chukha and the small town of Chimakothi behind us. Lunch is served en route.
After passing through Chapcha the road reaches its highest point of about 2,800m/9,185ft, then descends steeply and runs along the banks of the Wang Chu (river) to Chuzom (meaning confluence), where the Paro Chu runs into the Wang Chu. From here it is only about 2 hours drive up the valley to Thimphu. Shortly before reaching our destination, we will stop to visit Semtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in the kingdom, built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1627. On arrival in Thimphu, check in at the hotel. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day03:Thimphu
Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation bustling capital. Today full day of sightseeing in Thimphu includes visits to:
Tashichhodzong, the fortress of the glorious religion”: Initially erected in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was rebuilt in the 1960s during the reign of Bhutan third king in the traditional style, without plans or nails. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty secretariat, and the central monk body;
National Memorial Chorten: The building of this landmark was envisaged by Bhutan third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, as a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (the father of modern Bhutan”) and a monument to world peace;
Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan;
National Library, which holds an extensive collection of Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books, mainly on Himalayan culture and religion.
Other places of interest which may be visited if time permits include: the National Institute of Traditional Medicine where medicinal herbs are compounded and dispensed, and traditional medical practitioners trained; the Handicrafts Emporium, which displays a wide assortment of beautifully hand-woven textiles and craft products, and also a small collection of books on Bhutan, Buddhism and Himalayan culture; the Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums.
In the evening take a stroll through Thimphu market area, visiting local shops and mingling with the people. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day04:  Thimphu-Punakha–Wangduephodrang
After breakfast, proceed to Punakha, stopping briefly about 45 minutes drive from Thimphu at Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft), which offers visitors their first glimpse of the eastern Himalayan ranges.
A low-lying subtropical valley, Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955, and is still the winter residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and central monk body. Punakha Dzong, built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, has played prominent role in civil and religious life of the kingdom. Damaged by fire, flood and earthquake over the centuries, it has now been fully restored in its original splendor.
Also visit the valley of Wangduephodrang situated at the junction of the Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha/Wangduephodrang.

Day05:  Punakha–Wangduephodrang-Paro
Morning sightseeing in Wangduephodrang, a typical small Bhutanese town, with bustling market and well-stocked shops. This area is also known for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, locally mined slate, and a yak dairy research station. Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town most visible feature, situated majestically on a spur above the junction of the Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers.
After lunch, we drive to Paro, visiting a village house en route to get an idea of the lifestyle of the local people. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day06:  Paro
This beautiful valley is home to some of Bhutan oldest temples and monasteries, the National Museum and the                country                                only       airport.
Situated strategically and commanding a spectacular view of the valley, Rinpung Dzong (“the fortress of the heap of jewels”) was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, and now houses Paro’s monk body and the offices of the civil administration. It is also the venue for the annual springtime Paro Tsechu (festival). Above Rinpung Dzong (commonly referred to as Paro Dzong) is Ta Dzong, housing the National Museum, which holds unique and varied collections ranging from ancient armor, to textiles, thangkha paintings, stamps, coins and natural history.
A short drive north and overlooking the Paro river is Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of Bhutan, dating back to the 7th century, when Buddhism was first introduced into Bhutan. Further ahead, at the end of valley lies Drukgyel Dzong, or “the Fort of Drukpa Victory”, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Evening at leisure to visit local shops. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day07: Depart   Paro
After early breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to onward destination.
Note: We can organize incoming by Air and departing by air to any of the Cities; Bangkok, Kolkata, New Delhi and Kathmandu.

 

Rodongla Trek(17 Days)

This journey across the top of eastern Bhutan follows what used to be an important trade route before completion of the national highway. The trek is tough, and involves a tremendously long, steep descent. Few groups take up the challenge which this long and demanding journey presents. The account below is incomplete as Bhutan Wilderness Travels guides are still researching alternative routes/night halts, etc. for some sections of the trek, which we hope to be able to offer on a regular basis within 2-3 years.
Seasons: The recommended season for this trek is October, early November and late spring.

Day01:  Arrive   Paro
On arrival at Paro airport, you will be met by your Bhutan Travel representative, and transferred to your hotel on completion of arrival formalities. Evening visit to Paro market and town. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day02:  Paro-Thimphu
This morning we visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a fortified watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong, and in 1968 inaugurated as the National Museum. We then follow a trail down the hillside to Rinpung Dzong, a fortress/monastery which has a long and fascinating history.
After lunch we drive up to the end of Paro valley to visit Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate victory over Tibetan invaders. We then visit 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest shrines in the country, and afterwards call at a traditional Bhutanese farm house to get an idea of the lifestyle of local people. In the evening we drive to Thimphu, the capital. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day03:  Thimphu
Full day of sightseeing in Thimphu, including visits to the following, as time permits:
National Memorial Chorten  built as a memorial to Bhutan third king (the father of modern Bhutan”)and as a monument to peace;
Tashichhodzong  the impressive fortress/monastery housing some ministries, His Majesty secretariat, and the central monk body;
National Library  established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan cultural heritage, it now holds an extensive collection of Buddhist texts and manuscripts;
Institute for Zorig Chusum, more commonly known as the Painting School, where students learn the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan;
National Institute of Traditional Medicine (outside only)  herbal medicines are compounded and dispensed here, and traditional medicine practitioners trained.In the evening visit the Handicrafts Emporium, which displays a wide assortment of intricately hand-woven textiles and other craft products. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day04:  Thimphu-Trongsa
After breakfast, we set off for Trongsa, crossing Dochu-la pass (3,088m) about 45 min. after leaving Thimphu. On a clear day the view from the pass is superb. We then descend to the valley, reaching the former capital Punakha about two hours later. After visiting Punakha Dzong, built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century and recently restored to its original splendor, we drive south to Wangduephodrang town where lunch will be served. After lunch we visit Wangdue Dzong then continue on to Trongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m), the traditional boundary between east and west. Stop briefly en route at Chendebji Chorten, an 18th century stupa built in the Nepalese style with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. In the evening, visit Ta Dzong (watchtower above Trongsa Dzong) and the town of Trongsa. Overnight at the lodge in Trongsa.

Day05:  Trongsa-Bumthang
Morning visit to Trongsa Dzong, the largest fortress in the country. The foundations of this imposing edifice were laid down in 1543 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal great grandfather, and the Shabdrung himself completed the work in 1648. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan.
We then drive to Bumthang, one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism. After lunch we walk around the town and also visit some of the holy temples for which Bumthang is famous, including the 7th century Jambey Lhakhang, and Kurje Lhakhang, highly revered as a meditation place of Bhutan patron saint”, Guru Rinpoche. We also visit Jakar Dzong, the castle of the white bird”. Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.

Day06:Bumthang-Tang–Ugyenchholing
We spend the morning sightseeing in the valley, and then have lunch at the lodge before departure for Tang, or else a picnic lunch along the way. We drive out of town along the main highway east for about 20 minutes, and then turn left onto a rough road which winds up the hillside through coniferous forest and into the Tang valley. It is only about 20 km. to Tang village, but due to the condition of the road the drive takes 2-3 hours. We begin our trek at Tang, with a 30 minute walk up to Ugyenchholing Manor, situated on a hillock above the village, where we spend the night. Overnight in the manor guesthouse or camp in the courtyard (2,850m).

Day07:  Ugyenchholing-Phokpey 17km,                5-6hours
Today walk takes us through bamboos, hemlock and finally up into the alpine forest. Overnight camp at 3,600m.

Day08:  Phokpey-Ungaar 20km,                7-8hours
The trail takes us up for half an hour to reach Rodung-la (4,160m), and then continues steadily downhill through rhododendrons, conifers and broadleafed forest, patches of dwarf bamboo and finally ferns and more tropical species to the village of Ungaar at the head of the valley below. We camp overnight near Ungaar (1,770m) just beyond some pine trees.
Today steady descent of 2,390 meters is quite tough on the knees, so for those trekkers with knee problems we would recommend halting overnight at a campsite by a ruined stone building (a grain storehouse during the times of the first and second kings) about half way down the trail (2,950m).

Day09:  Ungaar-Taskila 21km,    7-8          hours
Today trail winds gently up and down through chirpine forests and across open hillsides covered in lemon grass. We pass through several villages then climb up to Khaine Lhakhang (2,010m), reputed to be one of the 108 temples which the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo built in 659 to subdue demons. The main protective deity is a ferocious god named Taxan, depicted on horseback. A two-day festival is celebrated here in mid-November. From Khaine Lhakhang to Taskila is a gentle descent of 2-3 hours. We camp overnight near Taskila village (1,800m).

Day10:  Taskila-                Tangmachu 20km,           5-6          hours
We start our day with a leisurely walk down to Menjabi (sometimes spelt Minjibi) village, where beautiful houses and terraced fields are scattered across the gently sloping hillsides. Legend says that in the olden days many beautiful ladies could be found in Menjabi, but that outsiders did not marry them for fear of the leprosy which was prevalent in the area at that time (but is no longer, due to modern treatment methods). After passing Menjabi we have a short climb up to Tage-la (1,760m). From here the journey is all downhill till we reach Tangmachu village (2,200m), situated just above a major rice growing area. There is a big secondary school here. In autumn, we can camp in the fields, but if we are passing through during the cultivation season, we will carry on down the hill and camp by the side of the Kuri Chu (2,000m).

Day11:  Tangmachu-Menji 16km,             4-5          hours
The trail takes us down to the river crossing at Kuri Zam, then winds gradually up through paddy fields and villages to Menji, where we camp for the night above the village beside Darchu Pang Lhakhang (1,830m).

Day12:  Menji-Pemi 20km,          6-7          hours
We continue uphill on a steep, rough trail which passes through thick forest. We come out onto a ridge-top meadow after a couple of hours, but soon our trail takes us into the forest again. We finally reach some herders huts at Pemi, in a narrow ridge-top clearing from which there is a view of a forested gorge and mountains beyond. Other than the huts, there is no sign of habitation, although Menji villagers use this area as a summer pasture. We camp overnight under forest shelter at 2,400m.

Day13:  Pemi-Taupang 21km,     6-7          hours
Continue up to Dong-la (3,900m) and pause at the pass to enjoy a splendid view of the surrounding snowy peaks. Then descend through thick evergreen forest to reach our camp site at Taupang (2,450m), a forest clearing with a wooden shelter in it.

Day14:  Taupang-Trashiyangtse 24km,   8-9          hours
We set off early as this is the longest day of the trek. The trail runs gradually downhill, passing through chirpine and sub-tropical hardwood forests. We camp overnight at Trashiyangtse (1,700m).

Day15:  Trashiyangtse-Trashigang
End of trek. Bhutan Wilderness Travels transport takes us to Trashigang town, administrative centre of Bhutan easternmost district, Trashigang. Overnight at the lodge in Trashigang.

Day16:  Trashigang-Samdrup      Jongkhar
Morning visit to the 17th century Trashigang Dzong, perched on the edge of a steep hillside and commanding a spectacular view of the valley far below. Then visit the town and take a stroll through the local market, where people from nearby places come to trade.
After that proceed to Samdrup Jongkhar. The road winds upwards around the contours of the hillside to Kanglung, home of Sherubtse College, then further ascends to Yongphu-la (2,190m). There are splendid views of the region through which you have travelled from the ascent up to this pass. The road then descends fairly rapidly, passing through cultivated areas and then dropping down into dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns on the approach to the Indian plains. Overnight at the hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar.

Day17:  Samdrup-Jongkhar-Gauwahati
The drive to Gauwahati in Assam takes about three hours. Your Bhutan Travels representative will drop you there at the hotel or airport for your onward program.

 

Parasol Splendor(8 Days)


Day01:  Arrive   Paro,     Paro–Thimphu
The flight into Bhutan takes you close to the great Himalayas, offering dazzling scenic views of some of world’s highest glacial peaks. As you enter Paro valley, you will sweep past forested hills with the silvery Pa Chu (Paro river) meandering down the valley below. Paro Dzong (fortress) and Ta Dzong (watchtower) on the hills above the town will be a fine sight. Our Bhutan Wilderness Travels representative will meet you at Paro airport, and after completion of arrival formalities you will be transferred to capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu, an exciting blend of tradition and modernity. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.

Day02:  Thimphu
Today full day of sightseeing in Thimphu valley includes visits to:
National Library, which holds a vast collection of Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion;
Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School) where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan;
National Institute of Traditional Medicine (outside only), where the medicinal herbs abundant in the kingdom are compounded and dispensed, and traditional medical practitioners are trained;
National Memorial Chorten: The building of this landmark was envisaged by the third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, as a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (the father of modern Bhutan”) and a monument to world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy;
Tashichhodzong: This impressive fortress/monastery houses the secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of the Chief Abbot and central monk body;
Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums: These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.
Handicrafts Emporium: This government-run enterprise displays a wide range of beautifully hand-woven textiles and craft products. It also carries a small collection of books on Bhutan, Buddhism and Himalayan culture. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.

Day03:  Thimphu–Trongsa
After early breakfast, drive up to Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chortens, mani walls, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the high Himalayan peaks towards the north east will be revealed in all their glory. On a clear day, the following peaks can be seen from this pass (left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendegang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m), Jejegangphugang (7,158m), Kangphugang (7,170m), Zongaphugang (7,060m) a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana, and finally, Gangkar Puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
Then continue onwards, reaching Wangduephodrang town in time for lunch. From here, it is a long, winding descent into the Wangduephodrang valley, which is about 1,700m below the pass. Take lunch at Wangduephodrang town, then continue on to Trongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m/10,830ft), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large white Chorten and prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf    bamboo.
Stop en route at Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. Arrive at Trongsa late afternoon and check in at the lodge for the night.

Day04:  Trongsa-Bumthang
After breakfast, walk by Trongsa Dzong (built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1647) and climb up a steep path to visit the Ta Dzong (watchtower), dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling.
Then drive to Bumthang, 68 km. from Trongsa, a journey of about 3 hours, over the Yutong-la pass (3,400m/11,155ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass, 28 km. from Trongsa, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open, cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley.
On arrival in Bumthang, check in at your lodge. After lunch, visit Kurje Lhakhang (where the saint body is imprinted on a rock”), Jambey Lhakhang (7th century), Tamshing Monastery (housing some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan), and Jakar Dzong (administrative center of the region). Stroll in the village, visit the little handicrafts shop at the entrance to the town, and perhaps take refreshments at a local restaurant. Dinner and overnight at the lodge.

Day05:  Bumthang-Punakha
After breakfast, explore further the fascinating valley of Bumthang. Then proceed to Punakha, stopping along the way at Trongsa for lunch, which will be served in a local restaurant famous for its cuisine. Visit Wangduephodrang Dzong and town en route to Punakha, which we will reach late afternoon. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Punakha.

Day06:  Punakha-Paro
Morning visit to Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers. Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until 1955, and Punakha Dzong still serves as the winter residence of the central monk body. Bhutan’s first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned here in 1907. The fortress has withstood damage from fire, earthquake and flood over the centuries. The latest flood, in October, 1994, caused great damage to the fortress but miraculously spared its most holy statue.
After lunch, proceed to Paro, en route visiting a traditional Bhutanese farm house, to gain an insight into the lifestyle and culture of the local people. On arrival in Paro, check in at the hotel. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day07:  Paro
Today full day of sightseeing in Paro valley includes morning visits to Ta Dzong, which in the past served as watchtower for Paro Dzong and now houses the National Museum, and Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong), built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
After lunch, we drive up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1647 by the Shabdrung to commemorate the Bhutanese victory over the Tibetans in the war of 1644. En route, we also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day08:  Depart  Paro
after early breakfast, drive to the airport for flight to onward destination.

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