Like all adventure itineraries, this is our proposed itinerary. We may follow it exactly or modify it based on weather, new opportunities, or airline schedules. If you are coming from North America, you will likely need to depart October 13 in order to be at the Bangkok Airport by the morning of October 15.
Sunday, October 15: Arrive Paro, Drive to Thimpu
journey starts when we assemble at the Bangkok Airport Sunday morning
in time for our very early morning Druk Air flight (4:30AM). Although airfare to Paro is not included, we'll arrange a group flight so we can all arrive at the same time. The flight into Paro is renowned for
being one of the most exciting in the world, as the airplane wings seem
to almost touch the high mountain walls. Fortunately the pilots are very
experienced and we'll arrive safely to the airport, where we'll be met by our Bhutanese
Since we'll be returning to Paro later, we'll head straight to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan and home to many of its governmental and cultural institutions. Along the way we'll stop at a viewpoint of Tachogang monastery, founded towards the early part of the 1400s. We'll walk across an old suspension bridge to a private temple, looked after by three generations of a family that are believed to be descended from the temple's founder. This short 15 - 20 minute walk will help us start acclimatizing to the altitude here. We'll then continue our drive to Thimphu (2,400m), the only capital in the world without a traffic light.
We’ll visit the Fortress of Trashicho Dzong on the northern edge of the city. This Fortress is the traditional seat of Bhutan’s civil government as well as the kingship with the royal palace on site.
We'll next visit the "Takin Preserve" and learn the story behind the existence of the national animal of Bhutan. Our final activity for the day before checking into our lodging will be a vist to the National Memorial Chorten to the 3rd King . This large Tibetan-style chorten is one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu, and for many Bhutanese it is the focus of their daily worship. Overnight Hotel Peaceful Resort, Thimpu
Monday, October 16: Sightsee Thimpu, Hike Tango-Drolay loop
We start this morning with the Tango
and Drolay Gompa hike, a 3 hour loop hike offering great views of
Thimpu. The hike starts at the Tango temple, founded in the mid 13th
century and known for its unique architecture. We’ll then follow a trail
up the mountain above a hot stone bath frequently used by the monks.
The trail crosses a creek and continues to a meadow, site of the monks’
soccer field, before continuing along a ridge to the gompa. We’ll
descend another way to the car park where we’ll meet our bus and return
to Thimpu. After a picnic lunch we'll visit the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, the 13 forms of traditional arts and crafts commonly referred to as "the painting school". The institute was established decades ago to assure that traditional arts would continue to flourish. We can watch students taking classes in all the traditional art forms and then visit the school gift shop where everything has been made by the students.
We’ll finish our day with a visit to the Great Buddha Dordenm, a more recent addition to the Bhutan landscape, a gift from China. The statue commemorates the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy as well as fulfilling 2 prophecies; in the twentieth century, the renowned yogi Sonam Zangpo prophesied that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region to bestow blessings, peace and happiness on the whole world. Overnight Hotel Peaceful Resort, Thimpu
Tuesday, October 17: Thimphu - Punakha (4 hours scenic drive, 3 - 5 hour hike)
We leave Thimpu today and drive a winding road to Punakha. If time and weather allow, we’ll stop along the way at a roadside market to sample some of the local delicacies – dried cheese, fresh fruits and maybe even the infamous Betel Nut! Continuing our journey, we’ll reach Dochula Pass (9900 feet), where we will be greeted by 108 Chortens. After paying our respects to all 108 Chortens, we’ll take the Botanical Gardens path to the top – yes, there is more to this pass! We’ll hike up to the Lungchutse Monastery for spectacular views of the snow capped mountains and the surrounding valleys. The LungchuTse monastery, built in the 18th century is home to the main sacred statue is of Guru Pema Jungney, one of the eight manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava, also popularly known as Guru Rinpoche. The statue is believed to have 'spoken' and is considered one of the most sacred in the country.
Descending to the car park and our waiting bus, we'll transfer a short distance for a late lunch at the Dochula Resorts before continuing to our lodging for the night. Overnight: Hotel Kingaling, Punakha
Wednesday, October 18: Chimi Lhakhang, Khamsum Yuley Namgey Lhakhang, Punakha Dzong
We'll spend today exploring the Punakha Valley, which at 3600 feet is subtropical and warm enough to grow bananas and oranges. We’ll begin our day with a pleasant hike through rice paddies and farms and along the way stop to talk with as many locals as possible. Our path will eventually take us to the beginning of our 'up’'for the day – to Khamsum Yuley Namgey Lhakhang, a 2-hour round trip hike and an absolute architectural delight! The temple was built over a 10 year period in the 1990s by the Queen Mother. It is majestically located on a ridge in idyllic countryside north of Punakha, with amazing views of the Mo Chu valley below. Descending to our bus, we’ll be transported to one of Bhutan’s most beautiful national parks, on the shore of the Mo Chhu, where lunch awaits us.
Continuing our journey after lunch, we'll make our way to the magnificent Punakha Dzong, located at the confluence of the Mo and Po Chhu (mother and father rivers). A dzong is a combination of monastery, fortress, and administrative seat, built without iron nails and one of the most striking examples of Bhutanese architecture. Until 1955 this Dzong served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for over 300 years, and is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). The Royal Wedding was held at the Dzong on October 13, 2011.
Our final stop for the day will be at Chimi Lhakhang. This temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley (1455 - 1529), also known as 'The Divine Madman' for his often outrageous and sexually explicit teachings. He is an important character in Bhutanese history and the subject of many stories and legends. He originally built a chorten on this site, and the temple was later built in 15th century. It is a pilgrim site, especially for childless couples seeking to improve their fertility. Overnight: Hotel Kingaling, Punakha
Thursday, October 19: Punakha - Phobjikha Valley (5 hours scenic drive, 4-5 hour hike)
This morning we'll head down the valley to Wangdi Phodrang, the name of both a dzong and the town that is the capital of this District. We then continue our scenic drive east to Phobjikha valley, stopping at the village of Longtey for a hike into the beautiful Phobjikha Valley. Our trail climbs gradually and steadily towards the Pele La (pass) at 10,944 feet, passing under hemlock and rhododendrons, with occasional stands of bamboo. It's about 2 to 3 hours moderate hike to the pass and although it gets steeper towards the summit, gaining the crest is well worth it. We'll then descend for about 45 minutes until we reach a place with a panoramic view of the entire Phobjikha Valley before us, the perfect place to stop for lunch. A steep descent brings us to Khumbu Lhakang, and from here a further 50 minute walk on a dirt road takes us to our bus for the last part of the drive to Phobjikha.
Phobjikha Valley, a beautiful bowl-shaped valley that was carved out by glaciers, is best known as the wintering place of the endangered black-necked cranes. It is also one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country and home to muntjacs (barking deer), wild boars, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes. Typically the black cranes start their migration back to the valley in mid-October but it can be earlier or later; with any luck we'll see at least the beginning of their return. Overnight Yue-Loki Guest House.
Friday, October 20: Phobjikha Valley (4 - 6 hour hike)
After a few days of driving, it will be great to spend most of our time today on foot. The vast and remote flat valley of Phobjikha is an excellent place for day hikes and today we'll go for a full day circumnavigation of the valley. Leaving from our hotel, we'll walk first to the Black-Necked Crane Information Center, which has lots of information both on the valley and its famous migrating birds. From here we walk to Beta Village with a small school that we can visit if we choose. We then continue our walk to Gangtey Gompa, one of Bhutan's oldest monasteries and recently extensively renovated. We'll continue along the Gangtey Nature Trail, past Semchubara village, through forests of blue pine trees covered with lichen (known as old man's beard). If the cranes have returned, this is where we're most likely to see them. From the end of the nature trail we continue to Kingathang village, where we can visit a temple built by the Queen Mother. From Kingathang, we'll walk via Yusa village back to our hotel. Overnight Yue-Loki Guest House, Phobjikha Village
Saturday, October 21: Drive to Jakar in the Bumthang district
Today is mostly a travel day (approximately 6 hours) with several stops along the way including Trongsa Dzong and a local weaving shop.
The local weaving shop offers the opportunity to watch local artisans in action and to purchase items as well - beautiful crafts and good prices. The Trongsa Dzong, built in 1647, is a masterpiece of architecture, and its strategic location, perched on a narrow spur that juts into the gorge of the Mangde River, which gave it great power over this part of the country. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in former times, nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen. Other stops will include stops for tea (of course!) lunch and just to stretch our legs. After a full day of traveling and sightseeing, we’ll arrive in Jakar and our lodging for the next two nights. Overnight: Yu Gharling Resort, Jakar
Sunday, October 22: Explore Jakar Bumthang (about one hour), short walks in the vicinity
Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys - Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on animal husbandry. Today will be more relaxed and we can get a later start from our hotel. The drive is short and most of the day is spent on cultural sightseeing. In Jakar, we’ll visit both Jambay Lhakhang Temple and Kurjey Temple. Both temples are located side by side and if traffic is not bad, walking the 1.2 miles between them is a possibility. The Jambay Temple or Temple of Maitreya is said to be one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo in 659 CE on a single day, to pin down an ogress to earth forever. Kurjey Temple is the final resting place of the remains of the first three kings of Bhutan. It is also revered for an 8th century event: Sendhu Raja (a Bumthang King) had invited Guru Rimpoche (Precious Master), who brought Buddhism into Bhutan, to cure him from a dreadful disease. Guru meditated at Kurjey for three months, left his body print on the rock and subdued the local deities including powerful Shelging Karpo, who had stolen the king's life force and was the cause of King's disease. Kurjey is complex of three temples, on the right beneath a giant cypress tree, the main temple built in 1652 by Minjur Tempa, Trongsa Penlop. This temple houses the cave where Guru Rimpoche had meditated and left his body imprint. The middle temple was built by the First King of Bhutan during his tenure as Trongsa Penlop in 1900. The third temple is recently constructed under patronage of Her Majesty queen mother Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuk. We will continue our day by hoping on our bus for a short ride to Burning Lake where Pema Lingpa found treasures indicated by Guru Rinpoche at the river. Legend tells us he jumped in with a burning butter lamp and immerged with scared scrolls and the butter lamp still burning.
There’s still more! Next we’ll drive to Ugyen Tekcholing Nunnery for a visit, lunch on the grounds and hike from there throught the small village and farmlands back to our lodging in Jakar – another wonderful day in Bhutan! Overnight: Yu Gharling Resort, Jakar
Monday, October 23: Drive to Ura/Shingkhar villages (4 hours total) and hike through villages (about 1.5 miles)
We'll start with an early drive to Ura. Ura is the highest of the valleys in Bumthang and is believed by some to have been the home of the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. Cobbled streets and a medieval feel give Ura villages an attractive atmosphere, and houses are unusually clustered. The old women of Ura still wear sheepskin shawls which double as blankets and cushions. On arriving Ura, we'll visit Ura monastery and a village home where we can learn more about rural life. Later we'll drive to Shingkhar village (30 minutes drive) on a dirt road. This village still retains many characteristics of the old villages, as people were isolated from road heads until recent times. These village still rear cattle and yaks, in addition to farming potatoes on a commercial scale. We'll walk through the village and, if school is open, visit a school and later a village home before heading back to Jakar for overnight. We'll also have a cooking class today so we can learn more about the food we've been eating and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Overnight Jakar.
Tuesday, October 24: Fly to Paro, Drive to Haa Valley, Sightsee Haa
Our flight to Paro is short (about 40 minutes) and very scenic, and flying back allows us to avoid backtracking over the narrow, winding roads we came across earlier on our trip. From the Paro airport we’ll drive south to the Haa Valley. Its proximity to Paro means that more people are traveling there but it is still relatively isolated and quiet, with pristine alpine forests and nearby mountain peaks. We’ll spend time today visiting Haa Town, located along the Haa Chu River. The northern section has the central bazaar, main shops, and restaurants. The southern section is the site on an Indian Military Training camp and a Bhutanese Army training camp. Rather uniquely, the local dzong is located inside the compound. Overnight Risum Resort, Haa Valley.
Wednesday, October 25: Hike around Haa Yumthang Valley, 3 – 4 hours hiking
Today we’ll explore the Haa Valley and surrounding area on foot. The major livelihood here is agriculture: potatoes, chilis, apples and other cash crops are grown on the valley floor, on terraced hillsides, and in some of the side valleys. Livestock is also common here, mostly cattle and yaks, but also some chickens, pigs and horses. We’ll do a circular hike through the village, cross Yatong Gompa, and take a steep downhill trail to Talung Village. Our trail winds around picturesque farmlands, fenced with piles of stone to protect the fields from deer and wild boars. Overnight Risum Resort, Haa Valley.
Thursday, October 26: Cheli La hike and return to Paro; 2 hours driving, 3 hours hiking
This morning we'll return to Paro, stopping for a hike on Cheli La (pass). We'll drive to the top of the pass, from where we can see Mt Chomolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak. We then start our hike ascending up hill through meadows of flowers, crossing another pass where sky burials are conducted for the people of Paro and Haa. After about 1.5 hours, we reach top of the peak (600 feet ascent). After admiring the view we'll descend about 20 minutes to reach a flat area with temporary cattle sheds where we can have a picnic lunch. We'll continue to descend for 900 feet through a Rhododendron forest, and then past Rosary shrubs, hemlock, stunted bamboos, and pine forest. We reach a side path leading to the ancient Kylie nunnery, nestled on the mountainside below. The nunnery is home to about 40 Buddhist nuns, who lead a life of religious studies, prayer, and meditation. An hour’s further descent and we are back on the road where our driver will be waiting for us for the one hour drive further to Paro. Overnight Hotel Olathang Paro.
Friday, October 27: Hike to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery (5-7 hours hike)
After an early breakfast we'll drive to the trailhead of the Taktsang Monastery, the most famous of Bhutan's monasteries and easily recognizable from the many photographs that have been taken of it. Taktsang means "Tiger's Nest," so named because Guru Rimpoche reportedly flew to the site of the monastery on the back of a flying tigress in the 8th century. The monastery is perched on a cliff nearly 3,000 ft above the Paro valley floor. This day hike is not only historically and culturally interesting, but also incredibly scenic! It takes about hour and half of steadily uphill hiking to reach the cafeteria, which gives a breathtaking view of the Tiger's Nest. This can be a good place to stop and rest, or if you still feel like hiking, it takes about another hour to reach the temple. Tonight we'll have our final Farewell Dinner, taking time to reflect on our experiences in this amazing country. Overnight Hotel Olathang Paro.
Saturday, October 28: Paro Departure
After breakfast, we'll drive to the Paro airport in time to catch our morning flight back to Bangkok.