Ura festival: sample itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Paro International Airport. Your tour guide will meet you and take you on a drive along the Paro and Thimphu river valleys to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. You can stop on the way to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Bhutan’s iron bridge builder. Take an early evening walk around town and soak in the atmosphere of this magical capital with its busy shops and bazaars and photogenic citizens in national dress.

Day 2

Thimphu sightseeing. We will visit the revered Memorial Chorten, the National Library and the School of Traditional Arts. In the afternoon you can take in more of the sights and culture of the capital, with the option of a trip to Simtokha Dzong (one of the oldest fortresses in Bhutan, dating from 629 AD).

Day 3

Thimphu to Punakha. 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) built in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drukpa Kuenley).

Day 4

Punakha to Bumthang. Drive to Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan. Set amidst spectacular scenery, Trongsa Dzong commands the eye from miles away. After lunch continue through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful landscapes to Bumthang. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 5

Today you will attend the Ura Festival. At the festival you can see Bhutanese from around the area congregating in all their finest clothing to witness the festivities.  Many of them will have walked for days to attend. There will be music, masked dances, feasting and religious blessings. Your guide will explain the story of the dances, many of which are more like plays depicting significant historical events or telling stories, usually of the triumph of good over evil. It is a wonderful occasion and an exciting opportunity to witness true Bhutanese tradition at its purest. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 6

Sightseeing in Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, with its many legendary monasteries, temples and palaces. Start with Bhutan’s largest Dzong (Jakar), with its picturesque location overlooking the Chokhor valley. Then your guide will take you on a fascinating tour of a variety of sacred sites including Jampa Lhakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang, and Lamey Gompa, followed by a visit to Membar Tsho ‘the Flaming Lake’, one of Bhutan’s most important pilgrimage sites. You can also visit Bumthang’s famous Swiss cheese factory and dairy farm. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 7

If you are feeling strong take a day hike to Ngang Lhakhang. Three hours’ walk up the Bumthang river from Thangbi Gompa is the small region of Ngang Yul (‘Swan Land’). The temple is located about 100 m above the valley. Guru Rinpoche visited the site and Lama Namkha Samdrup, contemporary of Pema Lingpa known as the ‘treasure hunter’, built the temple in the 15th century. If you prefer, your guide will show you more of the beautiful Bumthang valley from the comfort of your vehicle!

Day 8

Drive to Gangtey (at 3500 metres). Enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges and monasteries. Overnight in Gangtey.

Day 9

Today we return to Thimphu 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. You should see plenty of flowering rhododendrons, orchids and magnolia to enhance the drive.

Day 11

Today we drive to Paro. Visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan and the ruin of Drukgyel Dzong constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644, destroyed by a butter lamp fire in 1951. You can also visit Paro Dzong. Blue Poppy offers you the exclusive option to spend the night with a host family in a traditional farm house – or if you prefer a bit more comfort you can stay in a hotel!

Day 12

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, and have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria. Back in Paro you can visit the National Museum (Ta Dzong).

Day 13

Early morning your guide will accompany you to the airport to see you off onto your international flight and wish you Tashi Delek (goodbye and good luck).