Our trip begins with a flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Paro, Bhutan. The flight is a beautiful and fitting introduction to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Upon arrival in Paro you are met by our trip leader and transferred to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan and home of the revered Bhutanese Royal Family. If time permits, we enjoy a sightseeing walk around the capital before dinner. Dinner included.
Drive time: 2 hours.
Today we immerse ourselves into all aspects of Bhutanese culture. We begin at Buddha Point where one of world?s largest Buddhas can be found; we also take in sweeping views of Thimphu Valley. Our next stop is the fascinating Traditional Medicine Institute, a repository of over 300 herbs and minerals from all corners of Bhutan. Here traditional medical practitioners actively prepare treatments which are distributed out to regional health care units. We learn the traditional art of inscribing Thangkhas (sacred Buddhist scrolls) and other revered works, and visit the Textile Museum. In the afternoon we take a gentle hike through blue pine and rhododendrons forests to the Wangditse monastery. Overnight in Thimphu. All meals included.
Hiking: 2 Hours.
We transfer to Punakha via the Dochu La Pass (10,460?). Weather permitting, we take in panoramic views of the Himalayas before we descend the pass on a series of hairpin bends. Reaching the fertile valley of Punakha (4,162'), we discover a majestic dzong (fortress) that is now used as the winter seat of the Spiritual Head of Bhutan. After lunch, we hike to Khamsum Yuelley temple. Crossing a traditional bridge, the trail climbs steeply to a temple built by the current queen mother, Ashi Tshering Yangden. The views of the Punakha valley are magnificent. Overnight in Punakha. All meals included.
Driving: 3 hours; Hiking: 1 hour, elevation gain/loss +1118/-1118? steep incline/decline.
We hike to Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built in 1499 by one of Bhutan's favorite Buddhist saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley. He is often referred to as the "Divine Madman" for his outrageous teachings. Leaving Punakha, we begin our drive on a road that winds through fertile, central valleys to Wangdue Phodrang and then to Pele la Pass (10,824'). On a clear day, we take in amazing views of the big mountains, including Mount Chomolhari (23,995'). Our journey ends at a hotel with fantastic views of the impressive Trongsa Dzong and surrounding countryside. Overnight in Trongsa. All meals included.
Driving: 6 hours; Hiking: 1.5 hours.
The huge Trongsa Dzong and watchtower Ta Dzong are today?s focus. Built in 1647, the Trongsa Dzong is a masterpiece of architecture. Its strategic location, perched on a narrow spur that juts into the gorge of the Mangde River, gave it great power over this part of the country. The view from the dzong extends for many miles and in former times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen. We explore a local bazaar, then continue our journey east over the Yotongla Pass (11,154') and into the first of four valleys of Bumthang known as Chumey. Here we visit the Domkar Palace, originally built as the summer palace of the second King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk. Reaching the village of Tsungney, we observe weavers creating the famous Bumthang fabric known as "yathra". Our explorations conclude at our hotel in the Choekhor Valley. All meals included.
Driving: 2.5 hours; Hiking: 1-2 hours.
Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on pastoralism. We walk around the Choekhor Valley to the Jambay Lhakhang temple; it was built in the seventh century by a Tibetan king, Songtsen Gonpo. Our hike continues to Kurjey Monastery, where the great tantric saint Padmasambhava meditated and subdued a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. We cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension bridge and arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang, built by Terton Pemalingpa in the 1500s. We explore the area before returning to our hotel for the evening. All meals included.
Hiking: 2-3 hours.
It's festival day! During the festival various spiritual mask dances are performed. Local villagers participate by wearing their finest dress?this is the annual event at which to be seen. The origin of the religious dance dates back as early as the eighth century AD when Guru Rinpoche, the revered Buddhist saint, used these tantric and magical dances to subdue evil spirits and demons. The mask dances performed today, during Tsechu (festivals), have similar meaning and also give a visual aspect to religious teachings to help people understand them. These dances are believed to ensure the well-being and happiness of all living things. Following the festival, we visit a farmhouse and engage with a local family before retiring to our hotel for the evening. Overnight in Bumthang. All meals included.
At midday we take a flight back to Paro for an afternoon of sightseeing. We visit to Kyichu Lhankhang, one of the oldest and most beautiful Buddhist temples in Bhutan and built in seventh century by a Tibetan King. We visit the National Museum, Ta Dzong, then take a leisurely hike to Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of Bhutan's most impressive and well-known fortresses. Overnight in Paro. All meals included.
Walking: 1 hour; Flight: 35 minutes.
This morning we hike to Bhutan's most famous monastery: Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 2,700' into the valley below. It is said that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. A steep ascent through a forest brings us to the famed viewpoint overlooking the monastery. When the monastery is open, we tour the inside and view several temples and chambers that are lit by flickering traditional butter lamps. Returning to Paro, we freshen up and gather for a farewell dinner. All meals included.
Hiking: 4?5 hours; terrain: dirt path, some stairs; elevation gain/loss: 2,000?.
We transfer to the airport to board a flight back to Bangkok. Any flights departing Bangkok must be booked for the following day to account for possible flight delays or schedule changes from Paro. Breakfast included.
Note: Bhutan requires all passports to be valid for six months beyond the last day of your trip (Day 10 of this itinerary).