Arrival Paro. Thimphu sightseeing and tour.
Depart Bangkok on morning flight by Druk Air (Rhoyal Bhutan Airlines) to arrive in Paro International Airport in the morning. Walking to the terminal, you will immediately be struck by the transparent purity of the air and the absence of noise, very welcome changes from Bangkok. After completion of Immigration and Customs formalities you will be received by your local guide.
Drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The 55km stretch of road takes about 90 minutes. The first 20 kms takes you along the Paro river which meets the Thimphu river. From the confluence of the rivers we follow the Thimphu river until reaching Thimphu. The road conditions and traffic is good. The traffic picks up on reaching Thimphu city. However, Thimphu is perhaps the only capital in the world which does not have traffic lights, with its traffic regulated majestically by a policeman whose hand motion may present that of a ballet dancer.
Check in to your hotel at Thimphu. Sightseeing and tour.
Activities of interest in Thimphu (time permitting) are:
Altitude: 2300 metres
Traditional arts and craft school; see young Bhutanese students learning the skills of keeping alive the age old traditions of painting and craft work.
Folk heritage museum; a three-storey traditional house which was bought by the government from a family during the time when urbanisation in Thimphu was expanding. The house has been turned into a replica of a traditional farmhouse. A tour of this almost living museum will give you a glimpse into the way most Bhutanese lived then and how many rural people still live today.
Traditional paper factory; Bhutanese paper is made from the plant
Edgeworthia bushes. There is a wide variety of patterned paper available in their small gift shop.
Royal Textile Museum.
Largest Buddha statue; Made of gold, this 201 foot statue overlooks the Thimphu Valley. Enjoy a short walk around the statue.
Arts and crafts bazaar to shop or see traditional handicrafts.
Takin reserve; meet Bhutan's national animal. Takins are humorously unattractive and continue to baffle taxonomists who can't quite relate them to any other animal. Famous biologist George Schaller, reportedly called the Takin a "beestung moose."
Day hike to ancient monastery and cultural tour
Day hike to the ancient Dechenphu monastery which is about 15 minutes drive from Thimphu city.
Proceed to North of Thimphu for about another 15 minutes drive and take a hike to either Cheri monastery or Tangu monastery. The hike takes you through old growth forests and also opportunity to see some wildlife. The walk back is approximately 1.5 hours to drive back to Thimphu.
On one of your evening's in Thimphu you will be invited to a 'welcome' dinner with local host family at their home to get an insight to urban lifestyle and enjoy conversations.
Drive to Punakha which takes roughly 2.5 hours only. However you will be stopping enroute for most of the day. First stop is at Dochula which is approximately a 45 minute drive from Thimphu. Dochu-la is a pass at over 3000 metres between Thimphu and Punakha. Dochu-la is located inside the Royal Botanic Park. Dochu-la is a scenic and open area on the pass iwth 108 chortens (Buddhist stupas) evenly spaced on a mount. It also offers spectacular views of the Himalayas. Spend sometime at the pass visiting the temple, chortens and enjoying the scenery.
Drive for another 15 minutes to take a 50 minute optional guided walk through old forest Rhododendron flowers blooming in the Royal Botanical Park. Learn about the plants and trees from a botanist. Exit walk at the information centre of the park located beside a lake. Presentation at the centre on the Park and insight to overall conservation in Bhutan.
Lunch beside the lake and continue drive to Punakha.
Visit Chimmi Lhakhang (monastery) either before or after checking into your hotel. Chimmi Lhakhang is an ancient temple built on a hillock. The short trail to the temple takes you through rice fields in a village. The temple has an interesting history, built in the 15th century as a dedication to lama Drukpa Kuenley, known as the Divine Mad Man and considered one of Bhutan's favourite saints. He preached the Buddhist dharma through sex and wine (so you can well guess the reason why he was a favourite saint). The flying phalluses that you see painted on houses and hanging from roof tops are his symbol. Although the temple may not look impressive it is one of the most revered temples in Bhutan. It is mainly popular for childless couples who come here to be blessed by a replication of Drukpa Kuenley's iron bow and arrows, his scriptures and phallus for fertility. This miracle has worked on many locals and tourists who have come to the temple to be cured of their infertility. You are welcome to seize this opportunity.
Talo Festival to Phobjikha Valley
Witness the local cultural festival at Talo monastery.
Visit Punakha Dzong. Dzongs or fortresses are massive castle-like historical structures built in the 17th century. There are several dzongs in the country and these structures were historically used both as a military fortress and administrative centres. All the dzongs are still vibrant with the presence of monks and government offices. Punakha dzong is one of Bhutan's most impressive displays of intricate architecture. After the dzong visit you could experience walking across the suspension bridge to a village.
Drive to Phobjikha (approx 2.5 hours). The enchanted valley of Phobjuikha lying at 2900m is a glacial valley and an important wetland conservation area. It lies adjacent to Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Because of the presence of the large flock of Black-necked Cranes
(Grus nigricollis) that winters in the valley - about 260 of them - Phobjikha is one of the most important wildlife reserves in Bhutan. The first cranes arrive from Tibet in late October and leave by March. The annual crane festival is organised as a means to protect the bird and support its conservation efforts.
Phobjikha to Bumthang
Drive to Ura Valley (Bumthang). Explore the village community.
Day trip to Tang Valley
Drive to Tang Valley. Hike through the village to explore this rural area. There is an opportunity to visit the Park head office of Phrumshingla (former Thrumshingla) and interact with Park officials for insights to park management in Bhutan if interested.
Hike to road head and continue towards Tang Valley for approximately 2.5 hours. Enroute visit the sacred membartsho (Burning Lake), a pool formed in the river that looks like a lake and has religious significance intertwined with nature and mythology. Myth has it that Pema Linpa, a Buddhist saint known for finding sacred treasures, jumped into the river at this spot holding a burning lamp and emerged with the treasure and lamp still burning.
Arrive at Tang Valley in the evening. Visit Ogyen Choling Museum Guest House. The museum was historiacally a palace once owned by a powerful family. It has been preserved to show how people lived in an earlier era. This powerful family owned thousands of acres of land and all the tenants and villages on their property had to give a percentage of their crops and goods to the family every year as tax. However, during the fourth king's reign when he abolished serfdom, many rich people found it difficult to maintain their property. Many fell into ruin, but Ogyen Choling has been saved for posterity through the efforts of some family members. This family owned museum showcases many ancient items all excellently displayed and interpreted.
Cultural Tour and drive back to Trongsa
Day tour of village. Later drive to Paro via Thimphu
Departure Paro - Bangkok
Depart for Bangkok onward to Australia.
Witness annual last day of Paro festival
Tiger's Nest Monastery, Paro
Day hike to 'Taktsang', the tigers lair for your final sacred destination. Taktsang is Bhutan's most famous monastery and one of the most venerated religious sites in the Himalayas. The complex is perched on the side of a cliff 2,950 feet above the floor of the Paro Valley. Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padma Sambava) who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, is believed to have come to the site in a miraculous manner - flying on the back of a tigress, hence the name.
Other things of interest in Paro if time permits in the evenings of the two days:
Farewell dinner at your local host farmhouse to get an insight to rural farming life and sharing of stories. Local dance troupe can be arranged depending on group size and interest.
Drive to the northern border of Paro and Tibet. Enjoy the landscape and visit the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, a fortress named for its vanquishing of Tibetan invasions, destroyed by a fire in 1951.
Visit ancient monasteries built in the 7th century.
Visit the National Museum.
Experience a soak in a traditional stone bath.