Arrive Paro International Airport. Your tour guide will meet you and take you to your hotel. Go for a stroll around Paro town and visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You can also visit Ta Dzong (‘the watch tower’) now housing the National Museum.
After breakfast drive to Thimphu for some sightseeing. Some sights may be closed at festival time in which case your guide will suggest an alternative plan. You can visit the National Memorial Chorten, the National Library, the School of Painting or the Folk Heritage Museum. In the afternoon you can take in more of the sights and culture of the capital, or take a drive out of town to view Simtokha Dzong (one of the oldest in Bhutan, dating from 629 AD). If you prefer to stay closer to town you can browse the striking collection of intricate textiles at the National Textile Museum, or drive up to the Radio Tower (offering splendid views of the city from a hilltop festooned with prayer flags) and visit the Takin Reserve showcasing the unique national animal, the Takin.
Visit Thimphu festival, which is held in the courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong. This is the main Secretariat Building, where the Government ministries, the office of His Majesty the King, the throne room, and the living quarters of the monk body and its Chief Abbot are housed. You will see 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. The occasion provides an opportunity for people to relax and forget the daily routine, and to dress in their finest clothes and jewellery, but it is also an occasion for prayer and blessings.
In the morning drive to the old capital, Punakha, via Dochu La pass at 3050 metres, where we will stop for a hot drink and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Eastern Himalaya ranges. In the afternoon visit the imposing Punakha Dzong, and Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) which was built in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drukpa Kuenley).
Drive to Gangtey (at 3500 metres). Enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges. Visit Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and currently under renovation). Overnight in Gangtey village where the villagers continue to live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle.
Return to Paro via Wangdi, originally considered Bhutan’s secondary capital and commanding an important central position. We will stop for lunch or a drink in Wangdi although sadly the Dzong, built by the Shabdrung in 1638 on an auspicious site where four ravens were seen flying in four different directions, was badly damaged in a fire in June 2012 so there is not much to view until renovations works are complete. After lunch continue on your way. There may be time this afternoon to visit Drukgyel Dzong (‘fortress of victory’), and the sacred Kyichu Lhakhang (temple).
Take a day walk to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, the sacred Taktshang monastery which clings to the rock face 900 metres above the valley floor. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress. He subsequently meditated here for three months. You can have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria from where you get a spectacular view of the monastery.
Early morning your guide will accompany you to the airport to see you off onto your flight and wish you Tashi Delek (goodbye and good luck).