Paro Tshechu/Festival - The First Ever Annual Spring Festival in Bhutan (27 - 31 March 2018)
The Paro Tshechu festival is a Buddhist festival and one of the major annual events of Bhutan. The festival holds religious significance and is held to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the patron saint of Bhutan who introduced Tantric Buddhism into Bhutan. Festivals are held mostly in the huge courtyards of the magnificent Dzongs/Fortresses and comprise of colorful masked dance and traditional folk songs and dances attended by even more colorfully dressed Bhutanese people. As per the Lunar calendar the Paro Festival falls during the Spring and is one of the most beautiful time to visit Bhutan. Weather-wise the days will be bright and sunny with clear view of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains and evenings and mornings will be pleasant but also a little cold. The Paro Tshechu / Festival is a wonderful time to visit Bhutan, experience its ancient culture, and get enthralled in the celebrations. The Festival comes alive with vibrant colors, music, dances and other sacred rituals. Mask Dance and music plays an important role in the cultural life of Bhutanese people and are performed to convey religious messages and righteous ways of living to the people.
Day one: 29 March 2018 - Paro valley – Your first glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven
Enjoy the breath-taking landing of the plane and feel the crisp fresh air of the Himalayas as soon as you step out of the Airplane. At the Paro International Airport you will be welcomed by your enthusiastic guide and driver and checked into your hotel after briefing and introduction. A quick rest and you can start your cultural extravaganza from the National Museum located just above the town. Take your time to casually browse through the National Museum, where an intriguing collection of artifacts serves as a great introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the Kingdom. Some artifacts even date back to 2000 BC.
Afternoon is an opportunity to acclimatize to the rarefied air at this altitude and to get to know your guide and driver, who will accompany your sightseeing for the rest of the day depending on your interest and energy level.
In the evening walk around town and notice that clusters of quaint farmhouses embellish the beauty of Paro Valley and the small handicraft and souvenir shops will mesmerize you with a unique handicraft of Bhutan.
Day Two: 30 March 2018 - The Early Spring Festival
After a good and healthy breakfast, you will drive towards the Rinpung Dzong / Fortress of Heaped of Jewels which was built in 1644 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the saint who unified Bhutan) to defend from Tibetan invasion. The breathtaking structure and courtyard inside the Dzong is also the locale for the Hollywood movie “Little Buddha” starring Keanu Reeves – one of the most popular and favorite actors of the Bhutanese. But this time it will be more beautiful because of the festival. Watch the various masked dances and also interact or walk with the local people who will be in a finest traditional attire to witness the festival.
Today the 4th day of the Tsechu you will experience the colorful atmosphere with different types of Mask dances specifically the Lord of the Cremation Ground, four dancers with white costumes and masks who dwell at the cremation grounds in order to help liberate the departed souls to the higher realms. The Dance of the Four Stags (Shacham) shows Guru Rinpoche extols the victory over the Wind God, who created much unhappiness in this world and rode the stag which was the wind god’s mount. The Drum Dance from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga cham) was choreographed by Lama Kuenga Gyeltshen after he saw a vision of Guru Rinpoche’s attendant in the form of peaceful and terrifying deities dancing in the celestial Paradise. The Dramitse Nga Cham is preserved as a intangible cultural heritage of the UNESCO. Another popular dance of the day is the Dance of the Lord of Death and his Consort called the (Shinje Yab Yum). The dance is about the role of Jambayang (Manjushree) shown as the lord of the dead and ruler of the three worlds and protector of the four continents. He blesses the continents making way for his own arrival on earth in the form of the God of Wisdom.
The Atsara or the Clown will entertain you throughout the festival; in their comic attire and wooden phallus hanging from their mask ready to fly on the women spectators. The highlight of the day will be the Raksha Macham – Dance of the Judgment of the Dead. This is based on intermediate states experienced by the deceased. The deceased will be judged by the Lord of Death and sent to the different realms as per their deeds.
Before the day ends you can enjoy the scintillating scenery of Paro town from the knoll of the Fortress and walk through the nyimazam (cantilever bridge) one of the last few remaining bridges in Bhutan. You will see the glacier water meandering down the valley. Walk through the valley and market places, and you can have your dinner either in one of the restaurants in town or go back to your hotel.
Day three: 31 March 2018 - Drive to Thimphu Valley.
The food must be good and your stomach well fed in any journey especially in the Himalayas. So after a sumptuous breakfast at your hotel, you will drive for about an hour from Paro to Thimphu along the Pachu (Paro River). Thimphu is the only capital city in the world with the main traffic controlled by a policeman with hand gestures. As you enter the city drive towards the Buddha Point which is a 51.5m bronze statue of the present Buddha (Buddha Shakyamuni) and enjoy the panoramic view of Thimphu Valley. Check into your hotel and visit the oldest 13th century Changangkha temple considered to be home of guardian deity of the children born within Thimphu valley. After, visit the Simply Bhutan Museum - the Museum is a depiction of Bhutan’s ancient cultural heritage. The magnificent Memorial Chorten consecrated in the memory of our Third King, and be amazed to witness the senior citizens and young people alike circumambulating the Chorten with prayer beads in hand to gain karmic merit. The Stupa also holds the legacy of tantric Buddhism. In the evening enjoy a leisurely stroll in Thimphu City.
Day four: 1 April 2018 - Thimphu to Gangtey
After breakfast drive for about 5 hours to Gangtey and Phobjika valleys. It is a beautiful place of rolling hills and green meadows surrounded by snow capped mountain.
Enroute stop over at the Dochula Pass (3100m) and soak in the picturesque view of the Himalayan Ranges floating above the dancing clouds and the magnificent 108 Stupa blessing all the travelers passing through. Get lost in nature for a while. You will continue the drive towards Gangtey via Wangdue valley along the longest river and Dangchu River as well. Be prepared for cool temperate to tropical weather conditions and changing vegetation along the drive. The bumpy road will give you a natural massage so you can have good sleep as soon as you check into your hotel at Gangtey.
Day five: 2 April 2018 - Gangtey to Phobjikha valley Excursion.
Gangtey, Phobjika and the neighboring villages are the sacred roosting grounds for the endangered Black Necked Cranes in the winter, and also one of the most beautiful glacial valleys of Bhutan.
Around this time, the Black Necked Cranes would have just migrated back to Tibet for its summer habitat. If you are fortunate there will a few left behind.
After breakfast visit the Crane Center and enjoy the Gangtey Nature Trail, which is a leisure and wonderful walk of about 1.5 hours. From the valley you head upward to the beautiful forest of lichens which is also known as old man’s beard! Walk on to the village and climb through flower meadows to the small hilltop overlooking the Gangtey Monastery. Built in the 16th century, The Gangtey Goemba /Monastery is one of the most important center for the Nyingma school of Buddhism and the Monastery is a showcase of the fine Bhutanese architecture.
Drive back to Punakha, which will take a little more than 2 hours to your hotel.
Day six: 3 April 2018 - Punakha Day Excursion – The Old Capital of Bhutan
Punakha is one of the most beautiful valleys amid the greenery of chirpine trees and terraced paddy fields. It is the old capital of Bhutan and still the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body.
Wangdue is also located alongside the Punakha valley and located at an elevation of 1400 m above the sea level.
Have a leisurely breakfast and hike for an hour towards the Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten / Stupa. Perched on the top of a ridge the stupa was built for the longevity of our present king. Further drive to Punakha and visit the most beautiful Fortress in Bhutan (Punakha Dzong / Fortress of Great Bliss) built in 1637 by Zhabdrung. Important national ceremonies are conducted in the Punakha Dzong, like the crowning of the First king Ugyen Wangchuk in 1907 and the Royal Wedding of our Royal King and Queen in 2011.
After a healthy lunch walk through the paddy fields to reach the Chime Lhakhang / The Fertility Temple of the Divine Mad Man. Paintings of phalluses on the wall of the house will welcome you humorously when you cross the village.
Drive back to Thimphu, check into hotel, rest and relax.
Day seven: 4 April 2018 - Thimphu Excursion – the Combination of the Ancient and the Modern
Your day start with a visit to Zorig Chusum (Traditional School of Arts and Crafts) a leading institute to preserve and promote culture. The thirteen traditional arts of Bhutan were introduced by Pema Lingpa the Treasure Discoverer in the 14th century. You can also watch the students t their work stations and maybe learn some tips too!
The Bhutan Postal Museum was recently established in 2015 to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of our fourth king. One of the most intriguing story you will learn will be that of the legend of Garp Lungi Khorlo (literally translates into wind below the feet) - a messenger who used to travel from Trongsa to Wangdue on foot which is approximately 123km in just one day.
Next visit the Royal Textile Museum showcasing the finest Bhutanese textiles and you can also watch the weavers at their looms. Located next to the Museum is a single line of small bamboo huts selling traditional authentic made in Bhutan art and craft items. In the evening you will visit the Tashi Chho Dzong / Fortress of the Auspicious Religion and the office of the Golden Throne.
Drive to Paro and check into your Hotel, and rest well for your hike to the Tiger Nest hike tomorrow.
Day eight: 5 April 2018 - Hike to Tiger Nest Monastery
The Taktsang Monastery / Tiger’s Nest is one of the most important cultural icon of Bhutan and a must visit for all.
Have a good breakfast and try to start as early as you can. Your driver will drop you till the base of the Monastery from where you will start the hike. It takes about 3 hours uphill on a comfortable and leisurely pace. A frequent hike can complete it in 1 hour! The total distance walked is about 4km one way with 800m elevation gained. Along the hike your guide will enthrall you with motivating local jokes and stories. You will have your lunch in Taktsang view cafeteria facing the magnificent Monastery hanging on the cliff.
In the evening visit a traditional farm house with Bhutanese cuisine and a hot stone bath to relax. Your guide will take you around the farmhouse whichis replete with farm animals, paddy fields and vegetable garden.
Rest and relax at your hotel.
Day nine: 6 April 2018 - Departure
After breakfast drive to Paro International Airport where your guide and driver will bid you farewell and hope you had a pleasant holiday and hope to see you in Bhutan again.