Bhutan respects all religion and is a deeply spiritual and religious country. Mahayana Buddhism is the predominant religion in Bhutan and is the last country in the world to practice the tantric form of Vajrayana Buddhism. Religion has become a binding foundation for the social, cultural, traditional and ethnic life and people’s utmost faith can be reflected in the everyday life of the people. Bhutan is a mythical place where myths and legends are very deeply ingrained in the everyday life.
There are numerous sacred and holy temples, monasteries and stupas, magnificent fortresses called Dzongs, historical and religious sites to explore, wisdom to share with myths and legends that are really out of the ordinary. In every part of the country you will find monasteries and red robed monks carrying on the teachings of Buddha and statues/paintings of numerous religious figures in all the monasteries.
DAY 1: PARO VALLEY – Your first glimpse of Bhutan
Upon arrival at the Paro International Airport you will be received formally with a Tashi Khadar, a white scarf symbolizing peace, prosperity and happiness by your tour guide and driver. After a brief rest at your hotel, you will start your magical experience of Bhutan by first visiting the impressive Rinpung Dzong/Fortress of the Heaped Jewels, a fine example of the ostentatious Bhutanese art and architecture. The Dzong houses about 14 shrines and chapels housing numerous prominent statues of the Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Guru Padmasambhava (patron saint of Buddhism in Bhutan), Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (founder of modern Bhutan) and many other religious saints and revered figures.
In the evening stroll through the main town and visit the many small handicraft shops and market areas.
DAY 2: TAKTSANG MONASTERY / TIGER’S NEST – The most important cultural icon of Bhutan
After a hearty breakfast you will hike for about 3 hours uphill to the Taktsang Monastery popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest. Located around 900 meters above the Paro valley on a precarious almost vertical cliff the Taktsang Monastery is one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist arena and is truly spectacular in terms of its location, setting and history.
In the evening you can visit a traditional Farmhouse, enjoy a hot stone bath and a traditional dinner with the local family and overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 3: DONGKOLA NEY / TEMPLE
After about fifteen minutes drive from your hotel (towards Thimphu) you will reach Shaba village from where you will hike for about 4 hours till you reach the remote and ancient Dongkola Lhakhang / temple. Located at an altitude of 3,370 meters Dongkola temple is strategically situated atop a hill overlooking the Paro valley and the majestic snow capped Himalayan ranges.
Overnight at campsite near the temple or hike back to Shaba, drive to hotel and overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 4: DONGKOLA – THIMPHU
After breakfast at the campsite, walk for about 3 hours till you reach the road in Jemina village from where your vehicle will take you to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan.
After lunch and a brief rest, you can visit the National Memorial Chorten / stupa where devout Buddhists congregate to circumambulate and pray at the Chorten from dawn till dusk. The Chorten was built in 1974 and is one of the most prominent landmarks in Thimphu. The main statue is of the Buddha and is supposed to grant wishes to the earnest and honest hearted! The Chorten also houses larger than life size images of tantric deities (wrathful deities with their female consorts) some in explicit sexual poses!
After, drive for about 20 minutes till you reach the site of the gigantic Buddha Shakyamuni at a height of 51.5 meters overlooking the Thimphu valley.
Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 5: TANGO & CHERI MONASTERIES
About 15 kms drive towards the north of Thimphu lies two important Buddhists monasteries – Tango and Cheri Monasteries. The Tango Monastery is the highest center of Buddhist learning in Bhutan and almost all the Je Khenpos (Chief Abbots/spiritual leaders of Bhutan) have completed 9 years educational programme at the Monastery. Apart from the main temple there are a lot of caves and hermitages around used solely for meditation and prayer.
Built on a hill adjacent to the Tango Monastery, the Cheri Monastery is a complex of temples and hermitages spread around the hill side. Cheri was the first place of residence of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th Century. The monastery complex is now a major teaching and retreat center of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage of the Tibetan Buddhism.
You can enjoy your picnic lunch in either of the monasteries. In the evening drive back to your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 6: DODEYDRAK MONASTERY
The 5 hours hike to the secluded Dodeydrak Monastery will provide a glimpse into the everyday life of a student monk in a remote location. The Monastery was established in the 12th Century by the then Chief Abbot of Bhutan and the monastery also houses a small museum with many historic and religious artifacts and stories attributed to founder (the chief Abbot) considered an acclaimed craftsman who made numerous statues and paintings/murals.
Upon the Royal command by the 4th King of Bhutan, a monastic school was established in 1980 and the monastery complex now consists of many small living quarters for the student monks while classes are held inside the altar rooms.
You can either choose to hike back and stay at your hotel overnight or stay at the monastery guesthouse or camp nearby the monastery.
DAY 7: THIMPHU – WANGDUE – GANGTEY & PHOBJIKA VALLEYS
After breakfast check out of your hotel and drive for about 3 hours to Wangdue and Punakha valleys. Enroute stop over at the Dochulaa Pass (3150 meters) and enjoy the spectacular 360 degree views of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains. You can also visit the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang / temple and the 108 small stupas built over a small hill to commemorate the victory of our 4th King and the Armed Forces over Indian insurgent forces in southern Bhutan in 2003.
The road from the Pass winds down to the warm and fertile valleys. At Wangdue valley, you can have your lunch and visit the Fertility Temple / Chime Lhakhang. It is a pleasant 30 minutes walk through mustard and paddy fields of Sopsokha village. As prophesized by the Lam Drukpa Kuenley (popularly known as the Divine Madman) the fertility temple was built on the present location and is famous for fertility wish grants to couples!
Then drive for another 2 hours to the Gangtey and Phobjika valleys. Rest and relax at your hotel in Gangtey.
DAY 8: EXCURSION OF GANGTEY & PHOBJIKA VALLEYS
Gangtey, Phobjikha and the surrounding villages are located in one of the most beautiful glacial valleys of Bhutan and is the winter residence of the endangered Black Necked Cranes (from mid October – early March).
Visit the Gangtey Monastery located atop a hill overlooking the valley. Gangtey Goenpa is an important Monastery of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism.
Hike through the serene Gangtey Nature Trail for about two hours or less. It is a leisurely and gentle hike.
Rest of the day you can stroll through the valley and visit few traditional houses. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Gangtey.
DAY 9: GANGTEY – TRONGSA – BUMTHANG VALLEY
After breakfast, drive for about 5 hours to Trongsa through beautiful and remote villages. It is a scenic drive via the Pelela Pass at 3420 meters and across quaint little highland villages of Sephu, Rukubjee, Chendebjee, Tangsibjee and many other small rural settlements along the way. At the Trongsa viewpoint, enjoy the view of the majestic Trongsa Dzong/Fortress of the Vanguard of Warriors and the neighboring valleys.
Lunch either enroute or at one of the restaurants in Trongsa.
From Trongsa it is just 2 hours to the beautiful valley of Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and also known as ‘mini-Switzerland’!
Enroute stop over at the Yathra Weaving center in Chumey village where you can watch men and women weavers at their loom weaving yak wool products. Overnight at your hotel in Bumthang.
DAY 10: EXCURSION OF BUMTHANG VALLEY – The Spiritual Heartland of Bhutan
Bumthang valley is one of the most beautiful valleys of Bhutan and also the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. There are numerous sacred temples, monasteries and holy sites blessed by Guru Padmasmbhava and many saints after him.
You can visit the Jambay Lhakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang, Tamzhing Lhakhang, Chakar Lhakhang (iron castle), Karchu Dratsang (Monastic School), Jakar Dzong (Fortress of the White Bird), Kenchosum Lhakhang and many others.
In the evening stroll through the town and overnight at your hotel in Bumthang.
DAY 11: TANG VALLEY EXCURSION
Tang valley is a beautiful and remote village about 2 hours drive away from Bumthang and is the birth place of the saint Pema Lingpa, a treasure discoverer of the 14th Century. Enroute to the valley you can first visit the ‘burning lake’ from where Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures from the bottom of the lake. Terton Pema Lingpa revealed many precious treasures of Guru Padmasambhava and spent his life meditating in isolated locations, giving empowerments and building and restoring monasteries.
At the Tang valley, you can visit the Rinmochen Lhakhang/temple and meditation caves of Guru Padmasambhava, a palace turned Museum, stroll through the valley, visit some traditional houses and the local community school. Overnight at the Tang guesthouse.
DAY 12: BUMTHANG – TRONGSA – WANGDUE – PUNAKHA
Today you drive back to Punakha via Trongsa and Wangdue (6 hours drive). At Trongsa you can visit the Trongsa Dzong / Fortress of the Vanguard of Warriors and the Royal National Museum – dedicated to the Wangchuck Dynasty, the Dragon Kings of Bhutan.
Since the drive is about 6 hours you can relax and rest at your hotel in Punakha.
DAY 13: PUNAKHA VALLEY EXCURSION
Punakha valley is the old capital of Bhutan and the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body, their summer residence is at the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu.
Today you will spend the whole day in Punakha visiting the Punakha Dzong / Fortress of Great Bliss, The Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery and Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Lhakhang/temple.
Located on a piece of land between two rivers Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu (literally meaning male and female rivers), the Punakha Dzong is massive, huge and magnificent in all its architectural grandeur. Important ceremonies are held at the Dzong including the crowning of the 1st King of Bhutan in 1907 and the Royal marriage of the 5th King to Ashi Jetsun Pema was also held at the Dzong in October, 2011.
You can interact with the nuns most of whom speak English and also enjoy the spectacular views of the Punakha and Wangdue valleys from the nunnery.
Rest of the day relax and at leisure. Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Punakha.
DAY 14: PUNAKHA – THIMPHU – PARO
After breakfast, you drive back to Paro via Thimphu. From your hotel it is about 3 hours drive to Thimphu and from Thimphu to Paro another one hour only.
Visit the Semtokha Dzong / Fortress atop a Demoness, which is the first Dzong built in Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. History has it that a demoness was persistently disturbing and harming the local residents, so the Zhabdrung visited the place and subdued the demononess, banishing her under a rock and commissioned for a Dzong to be built on top of the rock, hence the name.
You can have your lunch in Thimphu and then continue drive to Paro.
A few minutes before you reach Paro you can stop over and visit the Tamchogang Lhakhang / temple and walk through an iron suspension bridge.
In Paro in the evening you can visit a traditional Farmhouse, enjoy a traditional hot stone bath and a traditional dinner with the local family.
DAY 15: PARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
After breakfast drive for a few minutes from your hotel to Paro International airport. Farewell and e hope you had a pleasant and memorable holiday in Bhutan.