Witness the celebration of traditional Bhutanese culture and faith and Druk Wangyel Festival (Tsechu), held in the grounds of the at the Druk Wangyel Lhakhang Festival Ground located at Dochula Pass against a stunning vista of Himalayan peaks. This Bhutan tour also explores all of the highlights of Bhutan’s western valleys, including the famous Taktsang Monastery at Paro, Punakha Dzong, and the many sites of Bhutan;s capital, Thimphu. Witness unique dances and rituals performed by the Royal Bhutan Army rather than monks or lay people. Join in with locals in a special occasion of celebration, blessings and socialising. Discover some of the most sacred Buddhist monasteries and temples in the Himalaya. Visit many cultural attractions including medieval fortresses (Dzongs), markets and museums. Hike up to the famous Taktsang Monastery, perched on a cliff 900m above the valley floor. Marvel at the elaborate and ancient wall paintings and carvings in Dzongs and temples. Traverse beautiful landscapes from lush valleys to dense forests. Incorporate a Value-Added Option such as a cooking lesson or meditation session with a monk.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO – THIMPHU The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Our Bhutan Travel Bureau representative will meet you at Paro airport exit doors following customs formalities. After lunch enjoy afternoon sightseeing around Paro, including a visit to the Ta Dzong Museum housing many religious relics, works of art and handicrafts offering a great orientation into Bhutan’s historical, cultural, and religious past. Next, visit the Rimpong Dzong to see the painting of the great saint Milarepa, considered as the master of meditation by the Bhutanese and believed to have attained enlightenment in a lifetime. Dzong’s are large monasteries and district administrative centres, which were once strategic forts. Afterwards, drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. Before dinner at the hotel there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 02: THIMPHU Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation’s bustling capital. Enjoy a full day of sightseeing, including a visit to stunning Buddha Dordenma Statue, made of bronze and gilded in gold, and the National Memorial Chorten depicting the Buddhist faith in the form of paintings and statues. This temple was first initiated by the Third King as a protection from the negative elements of modernisation, and as a monument to world peace. The Royal Queen Mother completed it as a memorial stupa for the Third King who passed away in 1972. Continue on to 12th century Changangkha Temple, The National Library housing the collection of Bhutanese scriptures dating back to the 8th century and Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body. If your visit to Thimphu coincides with the weekend, you can walk through the Thimphu Market to see the variety of food of Bhutan, including basket upon basket of fiery chillies, fresh cheese and a variety of fresh greens. In addition, many stalls contain Bhutanese handicrafts and household items. (This market is open only from Friday until mid Sunday). Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 03: THIMPHU – PUNAKHA Leave Thimphu early after Breakfast up to Dochu-La pass (3,100 meters) to attend the spectacular Druk Wangyel Festival (45 Minutes drive, 22 km). Set amidst this breathtaking backdrop of Himalayan mountains, the Druk Wangyel Tsechu is an experience unlike any other and truely exemplifies Bhutanese cultural traditions. The Druk Wangyel Lhakhang was built over a period of four years (2004-2008) under the vision and patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo. The Lhakhang honors the courageous service of the Fourth King, who personally led the troops against the insurgents, as well as the regular Armed Forces of the country. The Druk Wangyel Tshechu is a unique festival performed by the Royal Bhutan Army rather than monks or lay people. It is a tribute to the wise leadership of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan. It also celebrates the continuous efforts of the Royal Bhutan Army in protecting the sovereignty and the stability of the country. Afterwards drive towards the Royal Botanical Park at Lamperi, which is situated at an altitude range of 2,100m to 3,800m. The park (47 square kilometers), serves as the biological corridor connecting to the Jigme Dorji National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Continue on to Punakha where you will have the remainder of the day at leisure. Stroll around Punakha town in the evening. Overnight at hotel in Punakha.
DAY 04: PUNAKHA Punakha was the ancient capital of Bhutan. Visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness”. Built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’, Punakha Dzong is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). It is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here in 1907 that Bhutan’s first king was crowned. After lunch enjoy a walk to Chimi Lhakhang, temple of the Drukpa Kuenly who is also known as the Divine Madman. He inherited the Divine Madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time. He taught the people that religion is an inner feeling and it’s not necessary that one should be an ordained monk. He is also considered a symbol of fertility and most childless couples go to his temple for blessing. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 05: PUNAKHA – PARO
In the morning drive to Yabesa village and hike to through ricefields and up to Khamsum Yueley Namgyal Chorten, built by her majesty the queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. Perched high on a hill on the bank of the river, the Chorten houses paintings belonging to Nyingmapa Traditions. Take a picnic lunch on a picturesque riverside before exploring the Wangduephodrang Dzong. Built in 1639 the strategically located Dzong is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. Drive back to Thimphu where you will have an opportunity to visit handicraft and souvenir stores. Afterwards proceed to Paro, visiting Semtokha Dzong en route. The Dzong, built in 1627, is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Culture studies. On arrival in Paro, check into the hotel. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 06: PARO After breakfast hike to Taktsang Monastery. The trail is broad and the walk of approximately 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro valley floor (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to the viewing point). The view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the valley floor is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. He then mediated in a cave there for three months where the monastery was later built. Nearby there is a teahouse where you can stop for refreshments. In the afternoon drive to the ruins of the 17th Century Drukgyel Dzong, an historic monument built by the Shabdrung to commemorate his victory against invading Tibetans in 1644. In fine weather the towering peak of the sacred Mount Jomolhari (7314m) appears as a stunning backdrop. On the return drive to Paro, visit 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Alternatively, day 6 could be spent on a day trip to the Haa Valley, one of the most picturesque districts in Bhutan. Reached via the beautiful Chelila Pass, Haa Valley is characterised by its surrounding rugged and mountainous terrain. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 07: DEPART PARO Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination. Tashi Delek!