BT1 BHUTAN TOUR

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'The Last Shangri-La'

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Comprehensive coverage of this fascinating and beautiful mountain kingdom; Colourful Nalakhar Festival; Bumthang - cultural heart of Bhutan; Spectacular Tiger's Nest Monastery

  • DATES & PRICES
  • FULL ITINERARY
  • MAP & HOTELS
  • TRIP INFORMATION

Dates & Prices

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Prices are in US Dollars (USD), before taxes (see note below, if applicable) - All pricing reflects twin-sharing, per-person pricing for the TOUR AND INTERNAL FLIGHTS ONLY; however, we can book flights from your home airport to join the tour for an added cost. Contact us for a no obligation quote.


Start DateEnd DatePriceMore Info
Sun 18 Nov 2018Fri 30 Nov 2018 $3548 USD

Optional Single Supplement: $600 USD (number of singles limited).


Tour Overview


While cliches abound in describing Bhutan as the last Shangri-La, it's still surprisingly true, even for the most hardened traveller. The mountains that cut Bhutan off from the rest of the subcontinent for centuries also imbue it with a mystical air. The terrain is remarkably unspoiled, the people friendly, and the culture rich and vibrant. The peace and serenity of the country soothe those who have to endure daily traffic jams and crowds back home. You're likely to find that you might be the only tourist in some areas especially as you go further into the heartland of the country.

This is our most comprehensive treatment of Bhutan, a trip that gets you, literally and figuratively, to the very heart of this magical Buddhist kingdom.

Regions visited: South Asia
Countries visited: Bhutan


Full Itinerary

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Day 1 Arrival in Paro, Bhutan - Thimphu
Today we arrive into Bhutan (via Druk Air). The airport at Paro is ranked as one of the most thrilling descents as the plane glides into the valley and one can see the chillies drying on farm roofs nearby. The crisp mountain air greets all visitors.

Upon arrival you will drive to Thimphu (2320 m / 7,609 feet), the capital, which is roughly an hours' drive from the airport. En route you can see the Iron Bridge Builder Monastery located in the opposite hillside. You will also cross the Chunzom (confluence of rivers) bridge where stupas in three styles (Bhutanese, Nepalese and Tibetan) are located.

Thimphu is a bustling developing city/town with little cafes, bookshops and handicraft shops lined along its streets. The main town center itself is just a small area, and it lends itself well to individual exploration as it is easy to walk around and navigate.

Overnight in Thimphu.

Meal plan: Dinner

Day 2 Thimphu: City Sightseeing
The capital of the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Thimphu is a stronghold of traditional Bhutanese art, architecture and culture. Today we will enjoy some sightseeing in and around the city. We will visit the Buddha Statue, which is one of the biggest statues of the Buddha in the world and gazes upon the valley from a nearby hilltop. At the memorial chorten (stupa) you can see people from all walks of life circling the stupa structure in prayer. This chorten was built in memory of the third king of Bhutan.

We will see the Folk Heritage Museum as well as the Simply Bhutan complex. These are living museums documenting rural life in Bhutan. We will take time to stop at the Textile Museum with its displays of traditional Bhutanese textiles and clothing. Built in the style of a traditional temple, the National Library houses religious books and manuscripts in Dzongkha and Classical Tibetan. Not far away is the imposing Tashichho Dzong. This 350-year-old monastery fortress is the present administrative centre of Bhutan, and the present king's office is also located in the building.

We will wander the stalls at the bustling Weekend Market. This is where many of the local Bhutanese buy their groceries etc. People from surrounding villages start arriving on Friday evening and come to buy and sell produce, ranging from dried chillies and yak butter to textiles and bamboo products. The market continues until Sunday afternoon.

A visit to the 12th century Changangkha Monastery offers a bird's eye view of the valley! Perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu, this 'guardian monastery' hums with pilgrim activity.

Overnight in Thimphu.

Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3 Thimpu - Phobjikha: Dochula Pass, Punakha & Wangdue Valleys
This morning we depart from Thimpu and head towards Phobjikha (3000m/9,800 ft). The first stage of our journey takes us to the Punakha and Wangdue valleys. This part of our journey crosses over the Dochula pass. Passes in Bhutan are considered sacred, and the Dochula Pass is home to the 108 Druk Wangyel chortens and a monastery. The hillside here is covered with prayer flags, and travellers are able to partake in the Bhutanese custom of hoisting prayer flags to increase their good fortune. When the weather is clear the Dochula pass offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The pass is also a popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple that is located on the crest of Dochula pass.

We then continue onwards to Phobjikha, a bowl-shaped glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains bordering a National Park. Because of the large flock of black-necked cranes that winters here, it is one of the most important protected wildlife preserves in the country. Phobjikha is also considered to be a Baeyul or a 'hidden valley', which as per legend serves as a refuge from this world.

This afternoon we will visit a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse and see how life for the rural farmer continues at its age old pace.

Overnight in Phobjikha.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 4 Phobjikha: Gangtey Monastery
The Probjikha Valley is one of the most beautiful destinations in Bhutan, and the valley here is dominated by the Gangtey Goempa Monastery, which has been restored to its former glory. Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, this monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountain's. We will visit the monastery and gain some insight into the age old practice of Buddhism in Bhutan. The Gangtey Monastery likes to engage with the public and guests can observe age old practices here.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature has built a Black Necked Crane Centre in the valley which is situated on the edge of the forest and wetland along the main road of Phobjikha valley. The black-necked crane Information Centre has an observation room equipped with a high power telescope and spotting scopes for catching the best view of the cranes. The centre also offers display information that outline the natural and cultural history of the area. Cranes are usually in residence from late October to mid February though migration patterns cannot always be accurately predicted.

Bhutanese will hoist prayer flags for a variety of reasons, and one of the most popular form of flag are the lungta prayer flags. These are hoisted to increase one's good fortune and to ward off bad luck. Today we will be able to participate in the morning or evening prayer! We may also be able to partake in other activities like blessings. The monastery and Buddhist school is supported by private donations and any donations made will go towards providing food, books and clothes for the monks.

In the afternoon we will be able to enjoy an interesting hike in the area. This exploration will allow us to see the beauty of both the valley as well as the rural villages of the region.

Overnight in Phobjikha.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 5 Phobjikha to Bumthang: Trongsa & Chumey Valleys
Today we will head for the Bumthang Valley (2800m / 9,185 ft), taking us past the famous Trongsa Valley, which used to be the seat of the royal family. Trongsa Dzong straddles the ancient path to the east, and is an amazing architectural sight. The recently renovated Taa Dzong (watch tower) serves as a museum. This commanding dzong, high above the roaring Mangde Chhu, is perhaps the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan, with a sheer drop to the south that often just disappears into cloud and mist. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.

After our visit to Trongsa we the continue past the picturesque Chumey Valley and later arrive in Bumthang. Chumey Valley is renowned for its yathra weaving, and there is a weaving centre en route that we will be able to visit. Yathra is a woolen embroidered cloth unique to Bumthang, and we will learn more about its production.

Bumthang is often considered to be the cultural heartland of Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan by the Guru Padmasambhava who was invited into Bhutan by a local king of Bumthang. (At that time a unified Bhutan under one ruler did not exist). Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.

The scenic region of Bumthang is dotted with monasteries and historic sites. Today we visit the Jambay Lhakhang and Kurjey lhakhang. The Jambay monastery is said to have been built by the Tibetan King Songsten Goembo. Inside the Lhakhang there are three steps which are said to represent the three ages. One step is for the age of the historical Buddha, the next is for the age of the Guru (also the present age) and the last represents the new age. It is believed that when all three steps sink into the earth the world as we know it will end.

There are three temples dotting thes sanctuary of Kurjey Lhakhang. The oldest monastery holds a body print of the Guru on a rock. The first King of Bhutan and the present Queen Mother built the second and the third temples respectively. This monastery complex is revered by the Bhutanese as one of the most sacred sites and there is a spring located just above the monastery complex which is believed to be blessed with curative properties.

Overnight in Bumthang.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 6 Bumthang: Nalakhar Festival / Mebartsho & Tamshing Goemba
This morning will be spent at the Nalakhar Festival (Tshechu) at Ngaa Lhakhang in the village of Nalakhar near Bumthang. A Tshechu is an annual religious Bhutanese festival, and Bumthang is often referred to as the cultural and religious centre of Bhutan. These large social gatherings perform the function of social bonding among people of remote and spread-out villages. This colourful festival is one of the most popular festivals in the Choekhor valley, and it attracts villagers from all over Bumthang, dressed in their finest clothes. This festival is celebrated to bring happiness and prosperity to the village and the country as a whole. It is also a symbolic prayer for good harvest and for the well-being of everyone.

This afternoon we will visit the revered site of Mebartsho - 'the Burning Lake'. It is here that Pema Lingpa (a Buddhist discoverer of spiritual treasures) made some local discoveries. According to the legend Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of the sacred treasures that Guru Rimpoche had hidden within the lake centuries earlier. However the people of Tang and the local ruler were cynical of his claims. In order to prove his claims, Pema Lingpa held a butter lamp in his hand as he jumped into the lake. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake).

It is believed that Pema Lingpa built the Tamshing Goemba Mmonastery with the help of fairies. In the main temple there are three thrones - one each for each incarnation of Pema Lingpa (body, mind and speech). In the lower floor is a chainmail armor made by Pema Lingpa, and it is believed to be auspicious to carry it around the monastery.

Overnight in Bumthang.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 7 Bumthang: Nalakhar Festival & Drangchel
This morning we will return for a second visit to the Nalakhar Festival.

This afternoon we will visit Drangchel where we will witness some picturesque villages and temples. We can walk up to visit the Ugyenchholing Palace which is now a museum. Here we will gain an interesting insight into the life of an aristocratic family of the last century. The Palace has always been renowned for its religious history, and has been maintained beautifully. Here there are several exhibits through which we can gain a glimpse into Bhutans religious, cultural and architectural heritage.

Overnight in Bumthang.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 8 Bumthang - Punakha
Today we will visit the Jakar Dzong - 'fortress of white bird' - in a picturesque location overlooking the Chokhor valley. Constructed in 1549, the Jakar Dzong dominates the valley. The Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defence of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan.

We then begin our journey to Punakha (1200m / 3,937 ft). En route we will stop at Chendibji Chorten!

Upon reaching Punakha we will visit the Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful dzong in the country! The magnificent Punakha dzong straddles an island in the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chhu (male and female tributaries of the river). This dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan's kings have been crowned here. The dzong is still the winter residence of the dratshang (official monk body). Today the dzong has been magnificently restored to befit its status in Bhutan’s history.

Overnight in Punakha.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 9 Punakha - Khamsum Yuelley Monastery
Punakha is the old winter capital of Bhutan, and today it is still the winter home of the Central monk body. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimpu. Punakha valley is famous in Bhutan for rice farming. Both red and white rice are grown along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. Ritsha (meaning at the base of a hill) is a typical village in Punakha. The village houses are made of pounded mud with stone foundations. Each house is only two storeys high. Surrounding the houses are the gardens and the rice fields. The gardens also usually have fruit bearing plants like oranges and papaya among the organic vegetables.

Today we will visit the famed Chimi lhakhang where many locals go to pray for progeny. Also known as the "Fertility Temple," the single building site was originally built in 1499 on a short hill that had been blessed by rogue Buddhist leader Drukpa Kunley, known as the "Divine Madman." Drupa Kunley, also known as "The Saint of 5,000 Women" worked overtime to spread enlightenment through an active sex life. The monastery is located past scenic farming fields and a quaint village.

This afternoon we will enjoy a short hike to Khamsum Yuelley monastery, which was built by the Royal Queen Mother. The hike takes us through rice paddies and up the twirling trail to Khamsum Chorten where you can take a well deserved rest while admiring this impressive structure and the beautiful view of the valley below (Total hike time: 1-2 hours).

Overnight in Punakha.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 10 Punakha - Paro
Today we drive to Paro, a route that sees us going back over the Dochula pass. En route we will visit the Simtokha Dzong, the oldest dzong in the country.

Paro is a thriving agricultural valley and is also the location of some of the holiest Buddhist sites in Bhutan. Before the construction of roads most of Bhutan's trade came through Paro either from Tibet via Tremo la or from the south via Haa. Paro Valley extends from Jumolhari on the Tibetan border to Chuzom which is the confluence of the Thimphu and Punakha rivers.

The town is an interesting mix of traditional architecture interspersed with handicraft stores, cafes and galleries. This morning we can stroll and explore the growing town. The town is situated below the Dzong (fortress / monastery) which overlooks the valley and is accessible via a traditional cantilever bridge. Near the bridge are chortens (prayer shrines) situated alongside the Ugyen Pelri palace. We will also visit the local monastery situated at one end of the town. If we are lucky we may be able to view an archery match as the local archery field is at the end of the town en route to the Ugyen Pelri Palace.

Overnight in Paro.

Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 11 Paro: Area Sightseeing
Today we will continue with our sightseeing in Paro. Just a short drive from town is the revered Kyichu lhakhang, one of Bhutan's oldest and most beautiful temples situated among the paddy fields. This is venerated as being as holy as the monastery in Lhasa. The small Dumste lhakhang was built in Tibetan style, and legend has it that it had flown from Tibet.

We will enjoy a visit to the Paro National Museum, situated above the Dzong in the ancient watchtower (at time of writing the exhibits are being viewed in an adjoining building as the tower is under repairs). Housed in a 17th Century watchtower, the museum has a unique character and beautiful panoramic views over Paro Valley. Opened in 1968, its collection of fine arts, paintings and bronzes are famous. Here we will also find displays of textiles, jewellery, and handicrafts. The top floor of the Museum is a chapel containing a "tree" depicting the main figures of the four religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

After our visit here we will visit the Rinpung Dzong which serves as the headquarters for the local government and the local monk body.

Overnight in Paro.

Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner

Day 12 Paro & Tiger's Nest Monastery
Today we will visit the Tiger's Nest Monastery, a revered site for many Bhutanese.
The Tiger's Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Takstang, is one of Bhutan's most recognized spots. This place is extraordinary!! Here one dicovers a small collection of buildings precariously perched on a cliff, 900 meters off of the ground. It is stunning in its beauty and location. Without a doubt, visit to Bhutan would not be complete without seeing the Tiger’s Nest.

Due to it’s location, the only way to get to the monastery is by hiking. There are no vehicles that make the drive up to the monastery. However, for those who cannot hike the entire way, you can hire a horse to carry you most of the way there. On average it takes 4-5 hours to do the round-trip hike, plus one more hour to tour the monastery. The uphill walk/hike to the viewpoint takes roughly two+ hours through alpine forests, and we will either eat lunch on the trail or at the cafeteria which provides a good view of the monastery.

The trail to the monastery is a wide, dirt trail. It is uphill the entire way, but not overly steep. It is very doable for most people, just be prepared to take your time. Anyone of average fitness can complete this hike. Take your time, it’s not a race!

Along the way we pass prayer flags and stunning views of the valley below. At the halfway point (cafeteria stop) we are provided with a great view of the monastery. This is the view seen on many postcards and guidebooks. Those who wish can select to finish their hike here, electing not to make the final climb.

After we tour Tiger's Nest we hike back the way we came.

Overnight in Paro.

Meal plan: Breakfast and Dinner

Day 13 Departure
Departure from Paro.

BON VOYAGE!

Meal plan: Breakfast

Tour Map

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

*The red tour trail on the map does not represent the actual travel path.


Hotel List


The following is a list of sample hotels at some locations included on this tour. The hotels shown here are meant to provide a general sense of the standard of hotel we usually aim for; they are not necessarily confirmed for your chosen departure.


Tashi Yoedling Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Thimphu
Country: Bhutan

Tashi Yoedling is centrally located in the heart of Thimphu Town with a great panoramic view – all the way
... Tashichhodzong on the left to Semtokha Dzong on the right, with a compelling bird's eye view of the Thimphu town.
Read More.

Dewachen Hotel

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Phobjikha
Country: Bhutan

Overlooking a farm, set just outside the village of Gangtey and the edge of Black Mountain National Park, Dewachen Hotel,
... one of our preferred guesthouses in Bhutan with just 16 cozy rooms and a striking location overlooking the valley.
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Swiss Guest House

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Bumthang
Country: Bhutan

The oldest hotel establishment in Bumthang, the Swiss Guesthouse is practically a heritage site, with rich history since 1970s. The
... structure of the house in the seventies belonged to older sister of the 1st king of Bhutan. The guest house spread over an apple orchard offers a tranquil farmhouse experience. The hotel is run by a Swiss family who has been living in Bhutan for the last three decades and has successfully managed to combine local design with European comfort to ensure optimum guest comfort. An added highlight is one may get to experience home cooked Swiss food.
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Punatshangchhu Cottages

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Punakha
Country: Bhutan

Located at the bank of the historic Punatshangchhu river, it gives you a delightful scenic feast of the smooth Punatshangchhu
... and the villages in Wangdue. You might even get a glimpse of some of rare birds along the river.
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Gangtey Palace

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Paro
Country: Bhutan

Although the palace has today been transformed into a luxury hotel, it still retains most of its original features. The
... inside the palace is silent, clean and respectful, as if inside a temple. On every part of its corridors, entrance halls and rooms are placed ancient Bhutanese antiquities that arouse fascination and fantasies of Bhutanese arts and crafts.
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Trip Information

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Inclusions

Breakfast and dinner daily; most lunches. Evening meals on tour will be taken mostly at hotels. In some locales we endeavour to break up the buffet dinners with a meal at a local restaurant but, overall, the imperatives of hygiene and quality dictate hotel meals.

All transport, accommodation, sightseeing and entrance fees are included for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary. Gratuities for drivers, restaurant staff, porters, local guides. Airport transfers for land & air customers.

Exclusions

Tour Leader gratuities, some lunches, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), international (if applicable) air taxes, visa fees (approx USD 45), and any excursions referenced as 'optional'. Airport transfers for Land Only customers. Optional trip cancellation insurance. Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on shopping, not included meals, visas.

"Visa Fees" are not included in the tour cost; we list these separately as they can change without notice. The "visa" for Bhutan is very easy and we acquire an entry permit on your behalf.

Seasonality and Weather

At the elevations of 2500-3500 meters above sea level, Bhutan welcomes travellers all the way to Christmas and New Year. The lowest temperatures occur usually at the end of January or early February. The mountain pass may be snowing by end of December, but the main towns usually receive snow only in January.

One advantage of travelling in the month of November is the clear, crisp blue sky that you witness grand views of some of the tallest unclimbed mountains in the world. It is the best time for trekking and travelling. The climate is cool and temperate and you can get lovely photography opportunities of willows shedding their golden brown leaves, the solitude of parks, and somber views of dzongs and monasteries.

Transport and Travel Conditions

Land transportation is via private bus or Land Cruiser type vehicle depending on group size and / or conditions. Air-conditioning / heat in vehicles is generally not available in this part of the world, but temperature should not be a serious issue. Road conditions are generally quite poor and can be bumpy, and as with all mountain roads the occasional delay can occur due to landslides or adverse weather conditions. The roads are also quite twisty on the mountain sections; if you suffer from travel sickness you should bring your usual remedy.

Porters are generally available at hotels but you must be able to manage with your baggage at airports.

This tour does not feature any arduous hiking or camping, but it is very busy: you must be prepared for some early starts, be steady on your feet, and be able to endure some long travel days at high altitudes. We have numerous walking tours and visit several sites that are LARGE with steps and uneven surfaces.

Because some of this tour involves locations approaching 10,000 ft, ALL PASSENGERS will require a medical questionnaire to be signed by his/her physician indicating that the traveller is fit to travel on such a journey. Those with pre-existing conditions that could be exacerbated by travel at high altitude or on poor roads, or persons with compromised immune systems and mobility problems, should carefully consider their participation.

Accommodation

We will be staying in hotels with private bathrooms, and there will be hot water, though in more remote areas this may only be available in the morning and evening. Generally hotels are comfortable and often spectacularly located, though simple and maybe with some quirks that are charming more than anything.

Single rooms are limited and possibly smaller than twins. Porters are generally available (see 'Inclusions').

Due to strict government rules re what constitutes a "group" traveller, no extra nights are allowed. All group members must arrive on the start date of the tour.

Staff and Support

Tour Leader throughout, local drivers, local guides at various locations.

Group Size

10-18 (plus Tour Leader)