9 Nights | 10 Days
Discover the highlights of Bhutan’s popular western and spiritual central valleys. Visit Dzongs, temples, monasteries, palaces, and witness Bhutan’s ever-changing scenic beauty of forests and himalayan peaks. For those with a little less time or are interested in a birds-eye view, we can easily organise helicopter transfers. Bhutan The Last Shangri-La Tour is our effort to introduce you to the rich cultural heritage of this tiny Himalayan kingdom also known as the last Shangri-La. Our week-long tour in Bhutan begins with sightseeing in the country’s capital, Thimphu, where we visit the Memorial Chhorten, mini- zoo, National Institute of Traditional Medicine, folk heritage museum and the majestic Tashichho Dzong (fortress). Next, we travel to Punakha via Dochu La pass (3,100m) and tour the Chimi Lhakhang temple on the way. We also visit the Punakha Dzong and explore the amazing Gangtey village before heading to Paro.
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport exit doors following customs formalities.
After lunch enjoy afternoon sightseeing around Paro, including a visit to the Ta Dzong Museum housing many religious relics, works of art and handicrafts offering a great orientation into Bhutan’s historical, cultural, and religious past. Next, visit the Rimpong Dzong to see the painting of the great saint Milarepa, considered as the master of meditation by the Bhutanese and believed to have attained enlightenment in a lifetime. Dzong’s are large monasteries and district administrative centres, which were once strategic forts. Afterwards, drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. Before dinner at the hotel there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation’s bustling capital. Enjoy a full day of sightseeing, including a visit to the National Memorial Chorten. This temple was first initiated by the Third King as a protection from the negative elements of modernisation, and as a monument to world peace. The Royal Queen Mother completed it as a memorial stupa for the Third King who passed away in 1972. Continue on to 12th century Changangkha Temple and Drubthob monastery housing the Zilukha Nunnery.
Other sites to visit include: the School for Arts and Crafts where students are taught the 13 types of Bhutanese art, The National Library housing the collection of Bhutanese scriptures dating back to the 8th century, the Traditional Paper Factory displaying the Bhutanese paper making process, and a fascinating replica of a medieval farmhouse at the Folk Heritage Museum. If there is time, you may visit the nursing pen for the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, and Tashichhodzong, ‘the fortress of the glorious religion’. Initially erected in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was rebuilt in the 1960s during the reign of Bhutan’s third king in the traditional style, without plans or nails. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body.
If your visit to Thimphu coincides with the weekend, you can walk through the Thimphu Market to see the variety of food of Bhutan, including basket upon basket of fiery chillies, cheese and a variety of greens. (This market is open only from Friday-Sunday). Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Transfer to Phobjikha Valley (5.5-6 hrs). Drive over the Dochu-La pass (3,100 meters) which on a clear day offers an incredible view of Himalayan peaks before descending into balmy Punakha valley (about 3 hrs total driving time). The drive through the countryside affords a glimpse of everyday life in this most remote of Himalayan kingdoms.
Continue on through the bustling market town of Wangduephodrang, and up winding mountain roads through mixed forests and over high passes before descending down into the wide and picturesque Phobjikha Valley. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes (November – March) migrating from the Tibetan plateau.
Overnight in Phobjikha Valley.
Following breakfast visit the Phobjikha Sanctuary to view the majestic black necked cranes (Nov-Mar only) and Gangtey Gompa (Monastery), dating back to the 16th century. Afterwards drive by luxury 4WD over the Pele La pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range towards Trongsa (4.5 hrs). Enroute visit the beautiful 18th century Chendebji Chorten. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. Visit Trongsa Dzong, the largest Dzong in Bhutan and the Ta Dzong museum housing a collection of historical artifacts of the Royal Family.
Continue driving towards Bumthang (2.5 hrs), the spiritual of the kingdom. Bumthang is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest Palaces, Buddhist temples and monasteries.
On arrival enjoy an optional Spa Treatment before dinner. Overnight in Bumthang.
In the morning visit Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom where Bhutan’s patron saint Guru Rimpoche meditated and 7th century Jambay Lhakhang. It dates back to the origins of Buddhism in Bhutan and is one of the Kingdoms oldest temples.
After lunch continue sightseeing including Jakar Dzong and Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pemalingpa and containing interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Overnight in Bumthang.
Depart for Punakha stopping along the way at Trongsa for lunch. Overnight in Punakha.
Punakha was the ancient capital of Bhutan. Visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here in 1907 that Bhutan’s first king was crowned.
After lunch to Yabesa village and hike to through ricefields and up to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, built by her majesty the queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. Perched high on a hill on the bank of the river, the Chorten houses paintings belonging to Nyingmapa Traditions. In the afternoon you have an option of returning to Uma Punakha for time at leisure, or a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang, temple of Drukpa Kuenly. He inherited the Divine Madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time.
Overnight in Punakha.
Drive back to Thimphu where you will have an opportunity to visit handicraft and souvenir stores, and enjoy lunch. Afterwards proceed to Paro and check into your luxury hotel.
The remainder of the day is free to explore the Paro township, or enjoy the spa treatments available at your accommodations.
Overnight in Paro.
After breakfast hike to Taktsang Monastery. The walk of approximately 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro valley floor (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to the viewing point). The view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the valley floor is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. Refreshments and lunch will be arranged in the tent specifically pitched on the path to Taktsang Monastery.
On the return drive to Paro, visit 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Afternoon is at leisure. Overnight in Paro.
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.