Bhutan ? Festivals of the Thunder Dragon

Trip Length 10 Days
Group Size 4-16
Difficulty
Starting from
$4,299 for REI Members
$4,729 for non-members
Departures Apr 2020-Nov 2020

The Bhutanese people constitute one of the most interesting and untouched cultures, making this 10-day trip a uniquely honorable travel experience.

This tiny kingdom is truly a blend of old and new?a hidden country slowly opening up to the modern world, but with a keen balance of its rich traditions. Sacred mountains, holy lakes, isolated valleys and lush forests make it easy to understand why Bhutan is one of the most exclusive destinations on earth.

On our west-to-east crossing of Bhutan's central valleys, we enjoy day hikes with superb views of the distant Himalaya range, visits to remote villages known for their artistry, bustling bazaars and ornate temples clinging to cliff sides. Along the way, our exceptional guides contextualize the sights and sounds of Bhutan. Each departure is timed to take advantage of a "tshechu," a religious festival meaning ?tenth day?, which marks the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava. These are colorful celebrations filled with ancient "mask dances", brilliant costumes, clashing cymbals and merrymaking that take this trip from must-see to never forget.

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Trip Highlights

  • See the majestic, natural beauty of Bhutan's mountains, lakes, and forests
  • Witness a famous Bhutan "teschu", or religious festival, with mask dances
  • Hike to temples, villages, and passes for stunning views and cultural insight
  • Travel with exceptional Bhutanese guides

Activities

This trip is rated Easy Active [2]. Most days include trail hikes and/or short walks spanning 2-3 hours, sometimes on hilly terrain, at altitudes between 4,000? and 12,000?. Our planned hike to Taktsang Monastery, the Tiger?s Nest, will last longer, 4-6 hours, and cover 2000' elevation gain/loss with many steps. Due to the altitude at around 10,200?, the steep terrain and large number of steps, this hike will be the most strenuous hike on the trip. You should be prepared to carry a daypack containing your food, water, fleece jacket/raingear and camera (if desired).

  • Hiking
  • Touring

What's Included

Double-occupancy accommodations as noted above; meals as noted in the itinerary; private transport within Bhutan noted in the itinerary; internal flight from Bumthang to Paro; monument entrance fees and government taxes; tips for restaurant and hotel staff, Bhutan entry visa; services of a skilled bi-lingual guide throughout.

Accommodations

Hotels/Resort, 9 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Paro and travel to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital.

Our trip begins with a morning 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 your Bhutanese leader and transferred to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan and home of the revered Bhutanese Royal Family. If time permits, we will take the opportunity to walk around the capital. Dinner included.

Drive time: 2 hours.

Day 2

Experience a day of immersion in the history, culture and traditions of Bhutan.

We spend our first full day in Bhutan tapping into all aspects of Bhutanese culture in the capitol city. After breakfast, we are off to Buddha point where one of world?s largest Buddhas can be found along with 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. Next we learn the traditional art of inscribing Thangkhas (sacred Buddhist scrolls) and other revered works. We will then visit the Textile Museum followed by a traditional Bhutanese lunch. After lunch, we have gentle hike through blue pine and rhododendrons to the Wangditse monastery. Overnight in Thimphu. All meals included.

Hiking: 2 Hours.

Day 3

Ascend Dochu La Pass and hike to Khamsum Yuelley temple.

After breakfast we begin our drive to Punakha via the Dochu La Pass. The road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar and, if the weather is with us, the panoramic view of the Himalayas from the pass (10,460') is absolutely spectacular. Then it's all downhill on a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (4,162') where we will view the majestic Dzong (fortress). This impressive fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). After lunch, we hike up to Khamsum Yuelley temple. Crossing a traditional bridge the trail climbs steeply to the temple. The temple, built by the current queen mother, Ashi Tshering Yangden features magnificent views of the full valley of Punakha. Overnight in Punakha. All meals included.

Driving: 3 hours; Hiking: 1 hour, elevation gain/loss +1118/-1118? steep incline/decline.

Day 4

Visit the Temple of the Divine Madman and see Chomolhari from Pele Pass.

Begin today with a nice hike to Chimi Lhakhang. Both ancient and infamous, this monastery was built in 1499 by one of Bhutan's favorite Buddhist saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, often called the "Divine Madman" for his outrageous teachings. From here our drive to Trongsa is a long and beautiful one with scenic stops along the way. Leaving Punakha, the road winds through the fertile, central valleys to Wangdue Phodrang and then to Pele la Pass (10,824') which is traditionally considered the boundary between West and East Bhutan. There are views of the big mountains, including one Bhutan's most recognized Mount Chomolhari (23,995'). Our journey ends at a lovely hotel with fantastic views of the impressive Trongsa Dzong (fortress) and surrounding countryside. Overnight in Trongsa. All meals included.

Driving: 6 hours; Hiking: 1.5 hours.

Day 5

Tour Trongsa's magnificent dzong and observe weavers making "yathra."

Today we explore the huge Trongsa Dzong and watchtower Ta Dzong. Built in 1647, this Trongsa Dzong is a masterpiece of architecture, and 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. From the Dzong we walk to the local bazaar. Our journey continues with a drive 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 to be the summer palace of the second King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk. Next, we're on to the village of Tsungney to observe weavers creating the famous Bumthang fabric known as "yathra" before arriving in the Choekhor Valley for the evening. All meals included.

Driving: 2.5 hours; Hiking: 1-2 hours.

Day 6

Hike through agricultural valleys to visit various temples and villages.

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. From our hotel we begin our walk around the Choekhor Valley towards the Jambay Lhakhang temple through scattered and clustered villages of Jakar. A Tibetan king, Songtsen Gonpo, built this temple in the seventh century. Continuing our hike, we come to Kurjey Monastery. It is here that the great tantric saint Padmasambhava meditated and subdued a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Hiking north, we cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension bridge and arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang, built by Terton Pemalingpa in the 1500s. We have some time to explore the area before returning to our hotel for the evening. All meals included.

Hiking: 2-3 hours.

Day 7

Witness a famous Bhutan "teschu," with spiritual masked dances.

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 these religious dances 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.

Day 8

Fly to Paro, visit Kyichu Lhankhang Temple and hike to Rinpung Dzong.

At midday we take a short flight back to Paro and enjoy 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. After lunch and a visit to the National Museum, Ta Dzong, we head out on a leisurely hike down 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.

Day 9

Hike to Taksang Monastery, the Tiger?s Nest, high above the valley floor.

After breakfast we take a short drive from Paro to the trailhead at the base of 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. Our two- to three-hour steep ascent through the forest brings us up to the famed viewpoint overlooking the monastery. Afterwards, we hike back down and return to Paro for our final evening and farewell dinner. All meals included.

Hiking: 4 ? 5 hours; terrain: dirt path, some stairs; elevation gain/loss: 2,000?.

Day 10

Say a final good-bye to this tiny Himalayan Kingdom.

We say our good-byes to Bhutan today and board our flight back to Bangkok. Any flights departing Bangkok to home or elsewhere should be booked for tomorrow to account for any flight delays 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).

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection.� This gear list was created to help you choose your clothing and gear for this trip.� Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff.

What to pack

You might also consider

Travel documents

  • Airline Tickets (Confirmation and Itinerary)
  • Bhutan Visa Form
  • Copy of Passport (2 Copies, First Page Only)
  • Final Bulletin (Emailed Prior to Departure Date)
  • Valid Passport

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.