This trip takes in the highlights Western Bhutan and the unique Punakha festival, where you will spend one and a half days, according to your interest. The events and enactments are different on each day. The Tsechu (religious festival) consisting of typical masked dances is usually held directly afterwards. Both are colourful and interesting. You will take a pleasant walk to Chimi Lhakhang, the temple associated with the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kuenley. After spending two nights in the capital of Thimphu where you will visit the colourful weekend market, head over the Dochu La pass to the subtropical valley of Punakha and it's fantastic Dzong. The trip ends with 3 nights in the beautiful Paro valley giving you time to explore this area at leisure, including a hike up to the Taksang Monastery (Tigers Nest), one of the most sacred pilgrimages in the Himalayas.
Flying in to the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression. After clearing customs and visa control then you will meet our guide at the exit gate. Then you will drive about 1 hour to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital (population 100,000): still the world’s only capital city without a traffic light!
Paro to Thimphu
The sightseeing in Thimphu includes; Our tour start with the visit to the National Post Office, along the Chang lam, is an institute itself where the most famous Bhutanese export is exhibited and sold: the various stamps. Stamp collectors all over the world know that Bhutan is the first country to diversify and export quality stamps. Interesting thing is that you can make your own personal stamp with your photo and then can sent to your friends and family.
Afternoon drive to Kuensel Phodrang also knows as Buddha point. It is a place where many Bhutanese frequent, especially on Buddha Point at Kuensel Phodrang. The Buddha statue itself is competed awaiting paintings, but visitors can drive up to the Buddha point and view the tallest statue of Seated Buddha (169 feet). The view of Thimphu valley from the Buddha point is spectacular and beautiful.
You will also visit the Gagyel Lhendrup Weaving centre, Bhutanese arts and crafts portray the "spirit and identity of the Himalayan kingdom" which is clearly seen in their textiles, paintings, sculptures etc. Whilst you are here do not forget to see the weavers exhibit their wonderful artistry in weaving masterpieces all day long.
Then visit the Takin Preserve; is located in Motithang area in Thimphu, and houses the very unusual national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, which, according to legend, was fashioned from the carcass of a cow and the head of a goat by the great saint Drukpa Kuenley.
Tango Day Hike
Drive 12km north of Thimphu to hike to Tango and Cheri monasteries. It will take about 45 minutes to hike to the monastery. Tango Monastery is a Buddhist college, and it's the residence of the Desi Tenzin Rabgye, a young boy who is the reincarnation of the 16th-century monk who built Tango. In route, visit Pangri Zampa Lhakhang (The Bhutanese Astrology School) is idyllically located in the middle of a meadow, not far from the river, a 20-minute drive from Thimphu city on the way to Tango and Cheri monasteries. The temple appeared in Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s vision, which directed him from Tibet to Bhutan. The temple was built by Ngawang Choegyel, the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung, and was the Zhabdrung’s residence when he arrived in Bhutan in 1616. Today, the temple is used as an astrologers centre of the state clergy, and is the home to around 100 monks studying astrology. During a visit Pangri Zampa you can learn more about astrology, and also have your personal reading done.
Visit Trashichhoedzong, the beautiful medieval fortress/monastery which houses most of the Government's office and King's Throne room. It is also the summer residence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot. Every Friday evening, Saturday & Sunday, people from Thimphu valley & other parts of country congregate to sell and buy products in the weekend market. It is an opportunity to mix with local people and the products they sell.
Thimphu to Punakha
Today drive to Punakha with a short stop at Dochula pass (3,080m) stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chorten, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the following peaks can be seen from this pass (left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m ), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana - finally Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
After lunch visit Punakha Dzong, built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan's history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has now been fully restored. Then witness the religious masked and cultural dances amongst colourful Bhutanese villagers.
Meet locals dressed in their finest clothes who have walked from miles around to attend the festivities. They come to watch masked dances, to pray, and to feast. While the underlying purpose of the festival is spiritual, dances are more often like plays, telling stories where good triumphs over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socialising as well.
Punakha Sightseeing and Festival
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. Afterwards, return to Punakha Dzong to observe the continuing masked dances and rituals that take place as part of the Punakha Festival.
Punakha to Paro
After early breakfast drive to Paro. En-route visits the botanical garden, which is the centre of a 47 sq mile Royal Botanical Park, which forms one of the critical biological corridors connecting the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park and the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. The botanical garden has also 46 species of the Rhododendron plant.
Afternoon in Paro visit Ta Dzong, the National Museum of the Kingdom. Originally built as Watch Tower since 1967 it is serving as the National Museum of the country and holding fascinating collection of art, artifacts, thangkha paintings and Bhutan's exquisite postage stamps.
Afterwards, walk down a hillside trail to visit Rinpung Dzong. Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the district administrative and district court of Paro Dzongkhag. The guide will present Bhutan National games and then try how to shot arrow.
Hike to Tiger’s Nest
Get an early start to Tiger’s Nest to avoid the hot sun and any other tourists that may be there. The morning is spent hiking (or riding horses part way--you decide) up a forested path to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. The climb is steep and takes about 2 hours to ascend comfortably, but those who want to can ride a “ pony” up (but not down) and we will have our guides to carry our photography gear and urge us on. An important place of pilgrimage and refuge for more than 1,200 years, Taktsang Monastery clings to sheer cliffs two-thousand feet above Paro Valley, and from the most popular vantage points on a rocky ledges directly across a chasm from it we will still need a 200 mm lens and a steady tripod to get tight photographs.
In the late afternoon, drive to Drugyel Dzong, which is built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On clear day you can see the splendid view of Mt. Chomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong. Then you will then return to the hotel in Paro where there will be time for resting or visiting the town for some more photography or shopping.
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort will bid you farewell and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.