- This 11-day tour offers you the highlights of Bhutan’s rich cultural, religious and historical background in the western and central regions, as well as driving through stunning landscapes and venturing into remote valleys with centuries-old villages. In the west you’ll be able to explore an array of ancient fortresses (dzongs), monasteries and temples, including the dramatic ‘Tiger’s Nest’ or Taktshang monastery in Paro. Paro and the capital, Thimphu, are home to an impressive number of fascinating museums and other places of interest, such as the Institute of Traditional Medicine. Travelling eastwards through pine-scented forests towards Punakha you climb the first major pass, the Dochu La. The journey continues through magnificent territory to historic Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan, and then onto Bumthang, an ideal base for exploring the beautiful surrounding valleys as well as key historic and spiritual landmarks. The beautiful, high-altitude village of Gangtey, home to the black-necked crane in winter, is your easternmost destination before returning to Paro. - The minimum daily package for tourists travelling in a group of 3 persons or more is as follows: USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December. USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November. - There are also surcharges applicable for tourist travelling less than 3 persons: 1 pax $ 40 surcharge + the daily tariff per person per night 2 pax $ 30 surcharge + the daily tariff per person per night
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Rainbow Tours & Treks
This 11-day tour offers you the highlights of Bhutan’s rich cultural, religious and historical background in the western and central regions, as well as driving through stunning landscapes and venturing into remote valleys with centuries-old villages. In the west you’ll be able to explore an array of ancient fortresses (dzongs), monasteries and temples, including the dramatic ‘Tiger’s Nest’ or Taktshang monastery in Paro. Paro and the capital, Thimphu, are home to an impressive number of fascinating museums and other places of interest, such as the Institute of Traditional Medicine. Travelling eastwards through pine-scented forests towards Punakha you climb the first major pass, the Dochu La. The journey continues through magnificent territory to historic Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan, and then onto Bumthang, an ideal base for exploring the beautiful surrounding valleys as well as key historic and spiritual landmarks. The beautiful, high-altitude village of Gangtey, home to the black-necked crane in winter, is your easternmost destination before returning to Paro.
- - The minimum daily package for tourists travelling in a group of 3 persons or more is as follows:
- USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.
- USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.
- - There are also surcharges applicable for tourist travelling less than 3 persons:
- 1 pax $ 40 surcharge + the daily tariff per person per night
- 2 pax $ 30 surcharge + the daily tariff per person per night
Day 1: Arrive Paro to Thimphu (65kms/1hr)
Arrive Paro by Druk Air of Bhutan Airlines flying over the world’s highest mountains and finally landing at the lush green Paro valley. A cool and clean fresh air greets the visitor as stepping down from the plane, the first gift of Bhutan. After clearing customs and visa formalities, meet the representatives and the Bhutanese guide, and a short tour brief by the guide then transfer to Paro town for lunch.
Then drive towards Thimphu, Thimphu Altitude: 2320m. Thimphu is a small, charming capital city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas with a polulation of about 100,000 people. It is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. All houses and buildings are painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style. En-route Thimphu, one can do a short hike to Tamchog Monastery, a private temple owned by the descendents of famous Tibetan bridge – builder Thangthong Gaylpo. Later on continue the drive to Thimphu.
After lunch visit the following places:
Memorial Chorten: Memorial Chorten. This stupa was built in 1974 to honor the 3rd King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. This religious structure is circumambulated only in a clockwise direction (reciting prayers and whirling the large red prayer wheels).
Buddha Point – This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8 inch tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas has also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall. The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
Zilukha Nunnery: This is the biggest nunnery in Bhutan. The Zhilukha Nunnery is overlooking the Tashichhoedzong or Thimpu Dzong. You can see many nuns chanting prayers and turning prayer wheels in Zhlukha nunnery. In Bhutan, girls and women are admitted to nunneries for short to long period of time. They are educated in Buddhism here and after their graduation they dedicate their lives in serving the community at large. Spend some time interacting with the nuns and learn about what it takes and feels like to be a Bhutanese Buddhist Nun.Overnight at Hotel.
Day 2: Thimphu – Punakha (77kms/3hrs)
Punakha Altitude: 1300m/4265ft. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan during the time of Zhabdrun Ngawang Namkgyal, the founder of Bhutan. Today it is the administrative and religious center of the district and the winter home of Bhutan’s Central Monk Body.
Start your morning by enjoying and taking pictures of the Dochula Pass (3150m/10,000ft) with its panoramic views of the Himalayas. The pass is decorated with 108 Druk Wangyel Chorten, which were built to celebrate the stability and progress, brought to Bhutan by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King.
Visit the following places in Punakha:
Chimmi Lhakhang: take a short hike through the rice field to Chimmi Lhakhang, the 15th-century monastery built by Lam Ngawang Chogyal on the spot where his cousin Lam Drukpa Kuenley (popularly known as “the Divine Madman”) subdued a powerful demon. This monastery is also referred to as the “Abode of Fertility” and believed that any couple who gets blessing from this temple is blessed with a child in the next year or so.
Punakha’s Dzong: The name means Palace of Great Bliss. This dzong stands magnificently on the spit of land where two rivers (Pho chu and Mo chu) meet. Punakha Dzong has special significance in Bhutanese history as the place where Bhutan's first King, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned in 1907. It is also the winter residence for the Je Khenpo (spiritual leader) and the entire central monk body.
Suspension bridge: Hike across this bride. This is an exciting bridge for photography enthusiasts
Overnight in Punakha
Day 03: Punakha – Trongsa (146kms/6hrs)
Trongsa Altitude: 2300m. Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched.
Visit the following places:
Chendebji Chorten: Approximate four hours drive from Wangduephodrang is Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. It was built in 18th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.
Trongsa Dzong: Like almost all towns in the Kingdom, this Dzong architecture dominates the entire Trongsa horizon dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second King ruled the country from this ancient seat. Protected from invaders by an impenetrable valley, Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress. The Dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over the local community. It is built on many levels into the side of the hill and can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold.
Ta Dzong : The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. There are 224 items on display including a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries-old treasures like dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings and scrolls, and textiles. The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in lifelong meditation.
Evening: Stroll through Trongsa town
Overnight in Trongsa
Day 4: Trongsa – Bumthang (68kms/2hrs
Bumthang Altitude: 2600m-4500m. 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, this deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the ancestral home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
We will proceed to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation, with lush valleys and hilly forests. Along the way you will stop at a yathra (textile weaving) factory at Chumey, where the yathra are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms.
Visit the following places:
Tharpaling monastery: The Monastery located at 3,600m is composed of a series of buildings overlooking the Chhume valley. The main part of the monastery was founded by Longchenpa or Lonchen Rabjam (1308-1363) during his self-exile from Tibet for ten years. This monastery was also used as place of meditation by Jigme Lingpa, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The monastery contains statues of Longchenpa and Jikme Lingpa in meditation posture and frescoes of the lineage of Longchenpa and Jigme Lingpa. Above the Tharpaling Monastery (to the north) is Chodrak Monastery, a place where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated and the first settlement here is attributed to the Drukpa Kagyupa master, Lorepa (1187-1250), who founded Choedrak. Above Chodrak Monastery, there is a meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche, a meditation cave of Longchenpa and a rock throne, where Longchenpa wrote part of the Seven Treasures. Tharpaling is known for Longchen Rabjampa, who was a major teacher in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. His major work Seven Treasures, encapsulates the previous 600 years of Buddhist thought in Tibet. Longchenpa was a critical link in the transmission of the Dzogchen teachings. He was abbot of Samye, one of Tibet's most important monasteries and the first Buddhist monastery established in the Himalaya, but spent most of his life travelling or in retreat.
Nimalung Monastery: The Lhakhang was co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Trulku Jamyang Kunzang, the third mind-aspect reincarnation of Terton Jigme Lingpa in 1935. The main relic of the two-storied temple is a magnificent statue of Guru Rimpoche. The monastery is decorated with murals of the Nyingmapa and Drukpa traditions. There are also paintings of Guru Rimpoche and his disciples, the lineage of Terton Pema Lingpa, and several Buddhist masters affiliated with the monastery.
Overnight in Bumthang
Day 5: Bumthang sightseeing
After breakfast visit Jakar Dzong, founded by great grand-father of the first Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as administrative centre for Bumthang valley, and houses the regional monk body.
Kurje Lhakhang : Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rock face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru's body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD. The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.Tamshing Lhakhang: Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padsambhava. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century. Konchogsum Lhakhang: It was built in the 6th century but was renovated in 1995, which accounts for its fresh look. It contained a large bell and it is said that when this bell was rung it could be heard all the way in Lhasa in Tibet. During the 17th century a Tibetan Army tried to steal this bell but was too heavy and they dropped it and cracked it. It is now displayed at the National Museum in Paro.Chankhar Lhakhang : Beyond Jambay Lhakhang is Changkhar Lhakhang, the site of the palace of the Indian King Sindhu Raja. Because of its simplicity it looks like an ordinary village house. The original palace was built of iron and this is why it was named Chankhar, meaning iron castle. It was rebuilt in the 14th century by a Saint called- Dorji Lingpa.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery: Located above the main town, about 3 km from Chamkhar town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage dates back to the nearest disciples of the great 9th century master. Since then the monastery has developed considerably with increase in number of monks to almost four hundred. The monastey has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture. The monks regular curriculum include reading, memorizing the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandalas, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments and the art of making sacrificial objects, grammer, poerty, karika along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.
Day 6: Bumthang sightseeing (Day excursion to Tang valley)
After Breakfast drive to Tang Valley for full day excursion:
Tang Valley: Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Lingpa, the famous saint, was born in the Tang valley of Bumthang. The people of this valley raise sheep and at higher elevation, yaks as the soil in this region is not so rich for agricultural activities. From Bumthang central, it is a short drive past the Dechenpelrithang sheep farm to an unpaved road that leads to the north. Just under a kilometer ahead, there is a rough track on the left and another kilometer ahead, there is junction where vehicle can be parked. From parking, it is a short walk down to the river. The path is lined with prayer flags and ends up above a gorge where the river forms a pool before it rushes on. Images of Pema Lingpa and his two sons are carved on a rock here.
Pema Choling nunnery: On a windy plateau at the entrance of Tang valley, about 5 kms from the main Jakar-Ura-Mongar highway, the nunnery is made of several buildings: hostels, classrooms, kitchen, temple. In the 15th century, a prophesy was made by Pema Lingpa, known as the patron saint of Bhutan, that one day in the future there would be a great center of learning for women in the center of the sacred Tang Valley. The present 9th Gangtey Tulku, as a lineage holder of Pema Lingpa’s teachings, decided to establish a monastic school for nuns at that place and from 2001, nuns settled there living in huts. From 2005, the buildings have been built by nuns, working alongside workers from a vocational training school in Thimphu and villagers. The nunnery is a monastic school (shedra) under the purview of the present Gangtey Tulku. It houses about 100 nuns between 12 and 70 years of age, who follow the Nyingma Peling tradition and have a 9 year academic courses.
Tang Rimochen Lhakhang in the valley is a sacred place of Guru Rimpoche. A rock in front of temple bears a body print of the Guru and two khandroms (female celestial being). The site is named after the tiger stripe markings on the cliff. Footprints of the Guru and his consorts Mandarava and Yeshe Chhogyal are found below the lhakhang. Two large boulders nearby are said to be male and female jachungs (garudas).
Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang valley is another attraction. Restored in 19th century, it is now housing the Family Museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The visitors will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan's history truly unfolds here.
Day 7: Bumthang – Phobjikha Rural Expedition (188kms/5-6hrs)
En-route visit Tangshibi village and experience the daily life of the villagers or farmers up-close and personal. Meet the yak-herders and get a glimpse of their simple world. Enjoy some yak buttered tea.
Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the north western tip of the Black Mountain National Park. The valley is a conservation area and lies on the northern boundary of the Jowo Durshing range. People sometimes refer to the entire region as Gangtey after the name of the Gangtey Goenpa that is situated on a ridge overlooking the Phobjikha valley. The Phobjikha valley is also famous for the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes that migrates here each year in winter from its nothern habitats in Tibet and Siberia
Visit the following places:
Gangtey Gompa: one of the biggest Nyingma temple of the kingdom sits atop a hillock that overlooks the Phobjikha valley. It is headed by the ninth Gangtey Trulku and is the largest Nyingma monastery in western Bhutan. It was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinlay, a grandson and reincarnation of influential treasure finder Pema Lingpa. An incarnate line of Pema Thinlay, representing the body aspects of Pema Lingpa, contrasted with mind and speech emanations. The monastery has been recently built and surrounding the monastery are village homes and hermitages.
Phobjekha Nature Hike: Start below Gangtey Gompa, first part of the walk is downhill for about 30 minutes to the Khewa Chu stream that meanders through Phobjekha valley. From Khewa village the trail leads through open meadows to the Khewa Lhakhang built in 13th century by the decedents of Saint Khuenkhen Longchen Rabjampa . This temple houses about 30 young monks in a small monastery that Rainbow Tours supports with finances for food. While at the temple we will meet the Khempo (head lama) and attend a special puja (ceremony) to bless us and our tour.
Evening visit farm House: the local people there are shy but very friendly. They would be very happy to share home made corn and rice snacks with local ara (wine). There is a small temple in the locality. The caretaker of this temple will be pleased to show you how to use the musical horn, which is normally used to perform Buddhist rituals.
Overnight in Phobjikha
Day 8: Phobjikha – Paro (195kms/6.5hrs)
Drive to Paro after breakfast.
Enroute visit Simtokha Dzong. The name Simtokha means “atop a Demon” and the legend associated with the Dzong’s construction tells us that it was built in order to subdue an evil spirit that was harassing travelers in the region. The dzong houses countless statues and paintings of various Buddhas, deities and religious figures including The Eight Manifestations of Guru Rimpoche, Jampelyang the Bodhisattava of Wisdom, Shakya Gyalpo the Buddha of Compassion and many more, all carved and painted in exquisite detail.
Overnight in Paro
Day 9: Paro sightseeing (Tiger's nest hike)
Hike to Taktshang, Tiger’s Nest (3-4hrs)Bhutan’s most scenic icon or the most important landmark, Taktshang the Tiger’s nest clings to the side of a steep cliff 300 meters above the Paro valley. The place was first visited by Guru Rimpoche, founder of the tantric form of Buddhism in Himalayan countries, in the 8th century. It was said that he meditated there for about three months. The original temple was built in the 17th century, but tragically, it was consumed by fire in 1998. Like a phoenix, the temple was rebuilt to its fullest glory in 2003. Takshang is considered to be the 10th-holiest site in the Buddhist world. You can visit three different temples inside the main Takshang complex. Riding Ponies provided upon request.
Kyichu Lhakhang: It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakahng in Bumthang). The lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in original pattern.
Evening visit a local farm house to experience the authentic Bhutanese lifestyle and local hospitality. Enjoy the hot stone bath and a meal with the family here in a typical Bhutanese manner.
Day 10: Day excursion to Haa valley (63kms/3hrs)
Start the day early for drive to Haa via Chele-la pass. After driving through blue pine & rhododendron forest for 45 kms, reach Chele la (pass), at an elevation 3,988 meters is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour's drive along a thickly-forested road, is this Pass-a botanical paradise. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Here, visitors can see cascades of wild roses; purple and yellow primulas; and swathes of deep blue iris covering the forest floor. The top of the pass bloom with rhododendrons in a variety of colours-pale pink, deep pink, burnt orange, mauve, white and scarlet.
Drive on to Haa, descending all the way for another 22 km (under an hours drive), finally reaching Haa. The Haa Dzong is presently occupied by military, but the view from outside is stunning.
After picnic lunch visit to the famous Monastery of Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) followed by visit to Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to have no difference with that of Lhasa JOWO in Tibet. The construction of the Lakhang Karpo is believed to have been assisted by the locality. As a result the place came to be locally known as "Hay" meaning" surprise" which later became "Haa" due to the differences in interpretations and pronunciations of different people over time. The three giant hills looming over the fringes of Haa valley were called "Me Rig Puen Sum" especially after the incidence of the Lhakhang Karpo construction. Today the three hills are popularly known as "Rig Sum Goenpa" signifying three deities-Jambayang Chana Dorji and Chenrizig. Later in the afternoon drive to Paro same way back. The drive will be under 3 hours.
Kila Goempa nunnery or Chele la Gompa is located on the cliffs below Chele pass at about 3,500m. There are around seven small temples and several retreat huts built into a dizzying sheer Cliffside, where between 30 to 70 nuns live in self-imposed isolation. They rarely get visitors, as the hike up from the main road takes almost an hour each way, through forest and steep slopes.
Overnight in Paro
Day 11: Departure
After breakfast transfer to the airport for departure
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