If you are travelling in the region, or just have limited time, it is quite possible to include a memorable visit to Bhutan even with just a short time available. This suggested itinerary will give you a glimpse of the Bhutanese way of life and you’ll of course see impressive dzongs and ancient monasteries, including the incredible cliff-top Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) in the Paro valley.
Bhutan is rich in its cultural diversity. Special importance is given on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.
Morning flight to the Bhutanese city of Paro (55 mins approximately), our entry point located in a beautiful valley at 2,280 m, where a warm welcome awaits. Enjoy your first impressions – there are so many small difference to be noticed in this high Himalayan town. The architecture and the dress are immediately noticeable, as too the jovial faces, prayer flags and the cool, fresh air. We return to visit Paro at the end of our journey, and so now make our way to the capital city of Thimphu (2,400 m) which is an hour’s drive away. We’ll settle you in to the hotel and have lunch.
Thimphu is centre of government, religion and commerce. It’s a lively, rapidly growing place as a result of Bhutan’s increasing prosperity. Yet tradition and modernity seem to sit reasonably comfortably together. After lunch, we embark on a tour to take in the highlights of Thimphu. Read more about some of the sights of Thimphu that we’ll visit here.
Not quite done with the Bhutanese capital yet, we drive to a vantage point above the city towards a tiny zoo to be astonished by the sight of an animal that seems more out of the pages of a mythical story book. The Takin, the national animal of the Druk Kingdom, is as strange a creature as you’ll ever see – an interesting concoction of a goat and moose. (There is actually a Takin festival every year.)
We then head further to a nunnery, Drubthob Lhakhang. En route, you can have a wonderful view of the city from high above. We’ll make a short visit to the colourful local vegetable market to see what’s in season on return to the city centre. After lunch, we drive to Punakha (70 km / 3 hrs approx) via the Dochu La (3,050 m). Again, mountain views can be spectacular, weather permitting. Capital of Bhutan until 1955, Punakha is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Afternoon activity will include a walk to the temple of the Divine Madman – Chimi Lhakhang. The walk takes you across farmlands and through a small farming village before ascending to the hilltop temple with commanding views of the river valley below. A look around the village on your return gives you the low-down on typical farm life.
The day starts with a drive to Yambesa (7 km from Punakha) stopping by the Mo Chhu River from where we hike through a beautiful pastoral setting to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten (40 mins approx.). It’s an impressive 30 m tall chorten, dedicated to protector deities, perched high on the hill with a bird’s eye view of the valley below.
After lunch at a farmhouse, we make a visit to the wonderful Punakha Dzong. Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre for the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch.
Our much-awaited morning hike up to the famed Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s nest), an iconic Bhutanese landmark. The upward climb will take around 2 hours and stunning views compensate for the energy expended. Local lore claims that it is here that Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a magical tiger in the 8th century, and then proceeded to meditate for three months.
In 1684 a monastery was built on the site to commemorate the event. Midway on the descent, we take lunch on the terraces of a Government run cafeteria facing the Tiger’s Nest. The remainder of the day is spent around the Paro valley, and has the following in store for us:
This dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain imposing sights. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt. Jhomolhari from the approach road.
The “fortress of the mountain of jewels“ was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on a hill above Paro. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. The Valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.
Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect the Dzong. (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a dzong is always called a “Ta dzong”.) Because of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968, Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum. It now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, an exquisite range of Bhutanese postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history.
NB: You can increase this itinerary to six-days and add a two-day trek with an overnight mountain camp. Read more about the Bumdra trek here.
Early morning drive to airport for the return flight to Kathmandu. Your journey ends on arrival at Kathmandu Airport. End of Expedition!
* All of our itineraries can be arranged from any of Drukair’s gateways. See also our eight and 12 day suggested itineraries and venture a little further east!