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.
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).
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).
Punakha to Bumthang. Drive to Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan. Set amidst spectacular scenery, Trongsa Dzongcommands the eye from miles away. After lunch continue through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful landscapes to Bumthang.
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 LameyGompa, 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.
Drive to Tang valley, the most remote of Bumthang’s valleys. The road climbs past the trail to Membar Tsho (the burning lake), which is one of Bhutan’s most important pilgrimage sites. Then on to Drangchel, Pema Lingpa’s birthplace. You will also see some picturesque villages and temples and can walk up to visit Ugyenchholing Palace, which is now a museum and gives an interesting insight into life in an aristocratic family in the last century.
This morning you will visit Jambay Lhakhang Festival also known as Bumthang Drup. King Songtsen Gompo of Tibet is known for establishing 108 monasteries in one day in different provinces of Tibet and Bhutan in the 7th Century. The present Jambay Lhakhang is one of those 108 monasteries, located in the heart of Bumthang’s Chokhor Valley. It was in early times, when the world was in the hands of the barbarians fighting for power, that the Great Lord Jo-Jampa descended into this world from heaven and turned the people into a religious and peace loving lot. At that time the valley of Chokhor was infested with disease and misery under the domain of evil spirits. The King of the valley, Sindhu Raja had no other choice for his people, but to invite Guru Padmasambhava (known as Guru Rinpoche) to the valley in the 8th century to subdue these evil spirits. This was achieved by the Great Guru performing the very dances that are performed today in the Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival. Tantric Buddhism then flourished in the valley which later spread throughout the kingdom. In the 14th century Terton Dorji Lingpa introduced the religious teachings of the Great Guru through this very festival. Tulku Choeten Geompo, a descendent of Sindhu Raja, at that point ruled that the people of the valley must teach these dances and maintain this performance every year on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar for the rest of time.
Drive to Gangtey (at 3500 metres). Enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges and monasteries.
Today we 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.
Visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You can also visit the National Museum. In the afternoon you can visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong (fortress of victory), constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644 and destroyed by a butter lamp fire in 1951. Nearby you can also visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan.
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).