Twelve days is just enough time to venture eastwards to the spiritual heart of Bhutan, to the valleys of Bumtang. This suggested itinerary also includes all of the most popular destinations in Bhutan and gives you the chance be a little adventurous with a rafting trip in Punakha and picturesque hiking in Bumtang.
Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound.
Your Himalayan experience has begun even before you land in Bhutan. If you’re checked in early enough to get a seat on the left side, you’ll see the one of best views possible to see from an aeroplane – breathtaking views of Mount Everest quickly followed by Makalu and Kanchenjunga. And after seeing right onto the Tibetan plateau, you’ll first cast your eyes on Bhutan in the shape of Jhomolhari (7,314 m) and Mount Jichu Drake (6,794 m). This is all subject to the weather of course! We’ll be there to greet you at Paro International Airport and drive you to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. The drive takes around an hour and we’ll get you checked in at your hotel. Depending on your arrival time, and how you’re feeling, the afternoon can be spent visiting some of the cultural sites around Thimphu, or just relaxing watching life go by in the town square.
After spending the morning sight-seeing in Thimphu, we then drive on towards Punakha via the Dochu La at 3,150 m. We’ll spend a short time here among the 108 chortens below rich rhododendron forest, part of the Royal Botanical Park. If it’s clear, we’ll break at a hotel nearby where you can scan the mighty Himalayan peaks through a telescope. The road is winding and passes through incredibly varied forest and you’ll likely see Langur monkeys playing in the trees. Lower down you’ll see several monasteries on the hillsides. Before lunch, we’ll stop and walk to visit the 500 year-old Chhimi Lhakhang, otherwise know as the temple of The Divine Madman, the one responsible for the many phalluses you’ll see painted onto the walls of houses. If the lama is there, you may receive a special fertility blessing. After lunch, it’s a short drive to visit the astonishing Punakha Dzong.
After breakfast, we’ll make a short 1½ hour hike through pine forest, rice fields and small villages to the raft put-in for the Pho Chhu at Samdenkha. We’ll raft the lower class II/III section of the Pho Chhu right past the Punakha Dzong, seeing it from a unique angle. Later in the afternoon, a short 30 minute hike to the Khamsum Yulley Monastery.
Drive down the valley to the town of Wangdue Phodrang. The road gradually winds its way up towards the Pele La at 3,420 m, where on a clear day there’s a good view of the snow-clad peaks of the Eastern Himalayas. We stop for lunch near the huge 18th century Chedebji Chorten, designed after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. On arrival in Trongsa, we’ll stop briefly to take tea and then continue towards the valley of Chumney in Bumthang. We explore the impressive Trongsa Dzong on the return journey.
Bumthang is considered the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and age-old traditions are very much alive here. It comprises four valleys of Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume. Chokhor is the largest valley and most of the important religious buildings are here. We drive for 1½ hours towards Bumthang across the Kiki La. Again, an early start will give us the clearest views if the weather is good. En route we’ll visit the Yathra Weaving Centre where we’ll see production of Yathra, handwoven, colourful woollen strips of cloth, often with geometric design. Some of Bhutan’s best weavers are here and it is a great place to buy a gift.
The trek begins today and the route follows the Chamkhar Chhu through meadows, forests of blue pine and stands of bamboo. We will pass by many villages and temples, on this relaxing walking day. Ngang Lakhang means ‘Swan Temple’. This 15th century temple houses a huge statue of Guru Rinpoche and has a small festival in the 10th month of the year, Ngang Shey.
The trail ascends gradually through juniper forest towards Phephe La at (3,340 m). Once over the pass the trail descends to the pretty Tang valley. Finally arriving at Ugyen Chhoeling village (2,850 m).
Morning drive to Jakar (Bumthang) following the Tang Chhu until arriving on the main road. We’ll pass by and visit the Mebartsho (burning lake) where it’s believed that Terton Pemalingpa (1450-1521) revealed the religious treasures hidden by Guru Rimpoche in the 7th Century. We’ll continue to Jakar and explore some more of the delights of this wide open and beautiful place, including the Jakar Dzong, the castle of the white bird, which has wonderful views of the valley.
After breakfast we’ll drive back over the Yotong La (3,370 m) and we’ll stop at Trongsa for tea and to visit to the Trongsa Museum and Dzong. After that drive on towards the glacial valley of Phobjikha, a conservation area home to the rare black-necked cranes.
Morning sightseeing of the Phobjikha Valley and visit the Gangtey Goempa (the only Nyingmapa monastery west of the Pele La) and then drive on back towards Paro. With a stop in Wangdue Phodrang for lunch.
Sightseeing in the lovely Paro Valley. Hike to Taktsang perched some 900 m up on a sheer cliff overlooking the valley. Mythology has it that it here where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Rinpoche landed and meditated in the 7th century. It is believed that he flew from Tibet on the back of a magical tigress to defeat the demons who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. From the end of the road, it takes a gentle two and half hours to make the pleasant hike up to the impossibly located monastery.
Early morning drive to the airport where we say goodbye to you as you catch your flight home!