Special Interest Tours

Apart from the conventional packages offered by tourism companies, Bhutan Musk Travels is an expert in providing special packages. This is because the beauty, culture and extraordinaire that Bhutan has, cannot be covered by the conventional tours. Bhutan can be compared to an epic and what is being displayed and offered is like the first few chapters of the book.

Additionally, visitors differ in their interests. Thus, diversification of packages is a cornerstone of our tourism policy. Taking into account some of the special aspects of Bhutan, which we feel could interest our guests; we bring to you an array of our special packages. Customizing is our forte.

To the “Divine Madmonk’s” Abode

Summary

This is a very special package taking you to the “Temple of Fertility,” associated with Lam Drukpa Kuenley or the Divine Madmonk, whose esoteric method of spreading Buddhism continues to be revered even today.

Amongst others, Lam Drukpa Kuenley is also associated with the worship of the Phallus. Apart from his teachings, his greatest legacy stands in the form of a Lhakhang (monastery) called Chhimi Lhakhang, “Temple of Fertility”, built to honor Lam Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529) where worship of the phallus continues. It is believed that barren couples conceive after a visit to the monastery, due to which hundreds of barren couples visit the monastery.

This tour could also be called the Fertility tour and will take you to the bastion of the Divine Madman, which was built in the 15th century.

Apart from this, Bhutanese also believe that blessings from great Lamas (Buddhist masters) can also make a barren couple conceive. During this trip, you will also meet people who will explain why and how this happens.

Complete Itinerary

Duration –                Seven days

Entry and Exit –      Paro International Airport

Highlights-               Culture, Flora and Fauna, People, Fertility dialogues and others.

Places of visit-         Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang.

Day 1: Arrive at Paro International Airport

After an exhilarating flight, described by many as one of the most enchanting, offering you glimpses of the Himalayan Peaks, including Mt Everest, Jomolhari (Mountain Goddess) and others you will land at Paro. The landing is also a thrilling experience, sure to give you an adrenaline rush.

Our representative will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel.

After checking in and a brief stopover, including lunch, we will begin exploring Paro Valley, once the rice bowl of the country and today one of the most developed districts.

We will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, built in 659 AD by the Tibetan Buddhist King Songsten Goempo. It is said that Kyichu has been built on a site that resembled the left knee of a giant ogress. It is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan and blessed by several Buddhist Masters, including Guru Padma Sambhava.

Our next destinations will be Paro Rimpong Dzong (Fortress on a Heap of Jewels) and the National Museum, which was formerly a Watch Tower (Ta Dzong).

After a stroll of the town, we will rest for the night.

Halt at hotel.

Day 2: Taktshang Visit

A visit to Bhutan without seeing Taktshang Monastery (The Tiger’s Lair) is incomplete. One of Bhutan’s most revered religious sites and a pilgrim’s dream, Taktshang embodies the religious and architectural wonder of Bhutan.

We begin the trek to the monastery along an old trail, with prayer wheels driven by water and flags adorning the route. It will take us about 5 hours to go up and return.

The moment you see Taktshang, you will be shell shocked, for the monastery stands perched on a cliff about 3000 meters from the ground, overlooking the valley. How the spectacular monastery was built is a myth.

Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava came riding in a wrathful form, on a tigress to subdue evil forces that were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. Meditating in a rock temple nearby, he achieved his objective. Later, several Buddhist Masters, including the Guru’s consort, Yeshi Tshogay meditated at the site.

Lunch will be served on our way back.

En-route to the hotel, we will visit the ruins of Drugyal Dzong (Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa), which was built to commemorate the victory of Bhutanese forces over the invading Tibetans.

During dinner at the hotel, we will arrange for experts on Buddhism and Fertility to speak with you.

Day 3: Paro – Thimphu 

After an early breakfast, we will begin our drive to Thimphu. En-route, we will visit Pangpa Ugyen Guru Temple which contains some of the country’s most sacred treasures in the form of phalluses. The two storied temple was founded by Terton (Treasure Discoverer) Sherab Mebar in the 14th century. You will be told the significance of the different forms of phalluses by the caretaker of the temple.

As we continue the journey to Thimphu, we will be following the Pa and Thimphu Chhus (rivers). It is a memorable drive.

Upon arrival at Thimphu, we will check into our hotel, have lunch and then visit Changangkha Temple, Takin (Bhutan’s national animal) Zoo and move to Sangaygang, which offers a beautiful view of Thimphu. We will also visit the National Handicrafts Emporium, the Local Handmade Paper factory anf finally Trashichhodzong, Bhutan’s centre of governance, which houses the King’s Throne Room, Office and is also the summer residence of the Chief Abbot (Je Khenpo) and the central monk body. The Dzong (Fortress) also houses some ministries.

Together with dinner you will be entertained by Bhutanese music and dance, including religious dances signifying the phallus.

Halt at hotel.

Day 4: Thimphu – Chimi Lhakhang

After breakfast, we will visit other historic places of Bhutan. We will begin with Gongzok Choten, the Memorial Choten built for Bhutan’s Third King, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, fondly known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. We will then move to Kuenselphodrang, where construction of the largest statue of the future Buddha is underway.

We then move to Punakha. After 45 minutes, we will reach Dochula (Pass) at 3000 meters, which offers one the first glimpse of the snow-capped eastern Himalayan Mountains ranging from 6000 to 7000 meters. Dochula is a flora and fauna haunt. Its beauty is magnified by the 108 stupas build around a mound and the Druk Wangyel Temple, built for Bhutan’s Fourth King, Jigmi Singye Wangchuck.

From then, the route traverses through changing landscapes as we near the valleys of Punakha and WangduePhodrang. We near “The Fertility Temple” and walk for a few minutes to the temple, Chimi Lhakhang.

We will be camping near the 15th century temple and see how people receive blessings from the Phallus, praying for children. We will see the shrine dedicated to Drupka Kinley, with several wooden penises used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage seeking blessings to bear a child or for welfare of their children.

In the evening, the caretaker will tell us the complete story of Chhimi Lhakhang and how it has become the “Temple of Fertility.”

Halt at camp.

Day 5: Chhimi Lhakhang – Wangduephoidrang – Punakha. 

Today we will visit ruins of Wangduephodrang Dzong, which was built in 1638 but ravaged by a tragic fire in 2012.

We will then move to Punakha, formerly Bhutan’s capital. Punakha Dzong (Fortress) is one of the most significant dzongs in the country. Looking like a giant ship on a mass of still water, the 1637 structure is also an architectural wonder, built at the confluence of two rivers, the Pho (male) and Mo (female) chhus (rivers).

We will visit the Fortress after checking into our hotel and lunch. The Dzong contains some of the most sacred religious relics of the country.

After visiting the Dzong, we will drive for a short while to Khamsumyulley Chorten. In the evening, we will take a short stroll of Punakha town.

Halt at hotel.

Day 6: Punakha – Thimphu

We begin our journey back to the capital. Lunch will be hosted at Dochula. You can spend some time enjoying the scenic beauty that Dochula offers.

After arrival at Thimphu, we check into the hotel. You can stroll around Thimphu town before dinner.

Halt at hotel.

Day 7: Thimphu – Paro Airport

Our representative will escort you all the way to Paro airport for your journey out of Bhutan.

Marriage in the Happy Kingdom

Introduction

Marriage is one of the most memorable, sacred and thrilling moments of one’s life. Couples want their marriage dates to be remembered and thus host annual anniversaries.

What about tying the knots in a far flung area, renowned for its mysticism, serenity, tranquility and culture that have stood the test of time? What about marriage in a way, one can see depicted in some movies only; nuptials in the Happiness Kingdom, Bhutan. What about marrying in a 7th century sacred monastery?

This is possible and Bhutan Musk Travels has professional experience in this. All the bride and groom need to do is come to Bhutan; we handle the rest, beginning from your wedding dresses to attending guests.

Along with the Bhutanese way, we can sieve in some characteristics of your culture, such as hosting reception.

Entry:                                                 Paro, Bhutan
Exit:                                                    Paro, Bhutan
Places of visit:                                 Paro and Thimphu
Venue for marriage:                     Paro Kyichu Lhakhang (monastery). This can be changed based on your wishes.

Summary

Like most weddings, culture and religion play significant roles in Bhutanese marriages. Weddings begin with the recitation of prayers for an everlasting relationship free from miseries. In most cases, religious heads (Lams) and monks conduct the prayers in the homes of both the bride and the groom. Later the two meet in a place of their choice; either in the bride’s or the groom’s house (or a reception hall) where vows to strengthen their ties are exchanged. White scarfs, known as Tashi Khaddar are exchanged, with the Lam offering a scarf, too.

Once this is completed, others can follow suit, beginning from family members and then guests. Gifts are given to the new couple.

Marriages are also hosted in temples, where Bhutanese culture is seen in its entirety. Buddhism dictates the date for the weddings, and people consult the Tsips (astrologers). They spell out the best day and time, such as the most auspicious time to depart from one’s home, tie the nuptials etc.

The couple is escorted in the traditional chipdrel ceremony, a religious and traditional form of reception, where monks, religious music, mask dances and traditional songs envelope the couple.

Prayers are conducted at the temple, where the lama (head monk) and monks recite a special prayer, invoking the guardian deities for a successful wedding ceremony.

Next on the list is the Marchang Ceremony, another tradition where alcoholic beverages are offered to the guardian deities, with special prayers. It is a ceremony conducted at the beginning of all important occasions, after which   the Shugdrel Ceremony, one of Bhutan’s core cultural traits. The ceremony begins with the offering of Droem and Diza (Saffron tea and mashed porridge of black dhal), followed by fruits, tea and nuts to the couple and the guests. It is believed that every edible product should be offered if possible. The couple and guests are also offered, suja (salted butter tea) desi (rice with sugar and butter) , and doma pani (arechenut with green leaves.)

An important religious invocation is the recitation of Barche Lam Se, (Clearing the path from all misfortunes).
It is a prayer recited when one is about to start a new venture or a task. As a symbol of unity, the couple shares a drink of Ara (local brewed alcohol) from the same cup. (Milk can be substituted instead of Ara).

At the end of this prayer, the Lama (head of the religious group) offers a white scarf to the couple. This is the enunciation of the spiritual bond. After the Lama, family members and guests can follow suit. All through the ceremony, local song and dances, including mask dances are held to entertain the guests together with the serving of beverages, liquor and food.

Itinerary  

Day 1: Bangkok/Delhi/Kathmandu -Paro International Airport

The flight to Bhutan is an experience no one forgets. Immersed in the sights of the giant Himalayan peaks such as Mt. Everest, Mt. Jomolhari (Mountain Goddess), Mt. Jitchu Drake etc, one finds the journey very short. Landing at Paro Airport, one of the smallest airports in the world, is a thrilling experience.

At the airport you will be received in the traditional Bhutanese way and escorted to your hotel.

After lunch, we will visit some of Paro’s historical places, such as the Rimpong Dzong (Castle on a Heap of Jewels) and the National Museum (which was formerly a Watch Tower.) The day will be wrapped up with a visit to a farm house in the evening.

Day 2: Paro – The Great Day

Today will be one of the most important days of your life. Our wedding team will arrive at the hotel to dress you in the traditional Bhutanese dress; gho for men and kira for women.

At the astrologically given time, you will be driven to Kyichu Lhakhang (temple), one of Bhutan’s oldest temples, built in the 7th century by Thrisong Detsen, a Tibetan King, who is believed to have built 108 monasteries in a day. It is said that Kyichu Lhakhang was build on a spot that resembled the left knee of a giant ogress. Many saints, including Guru Rimpoche visited the temple, sanctifying the temple even more.

As we reach Kyichu, you will be received in the traditional chipdrel ceremony and escorted into the temple, where the marriage ceremony will begin. (Details have been provided above.) Lunch will be served in the temple premises and cultural programs will be held throughout the day.

Based on your interest, you can host a reception in a hotel or conduct another ceremony as per your culture. A hot stone bath will be waiting for you, before you call it a day.

Day 3: Paro Taktshang – To the “Tiger’s Lair”

It is believed that the bond between couples are strengthened if they visit temples, churches etc and pray for a fulfilling life ahead.

As such, you will be taken to Paro Taktshang, or the Tiger’s Lair, one of the most sacred and revered religious sites. A visit to Bhutan without a trek to Taktshang is incomplete. Perched on a hillock about 1000meters above the valley and overlooking the other side, Taktshang is both an architectural wonder and a sanctified place.

Trek to Taktshang goes along an old trail, prayer flags and water driven prayer wheels dotting the landscape. It would take about five hours round trip for a trekker.

Taktshang is a site blessed by the great Indian Saint and Buddhist Master of the 8th century, Guru Padma Sambhava, himself and several others, including the Guru’s consort, Khandu Yeshey Tshogay and several Buddhist masters. Legend has it that Guru Padma Sambhava came riding on a tigress in a wrathful form to subdue demons who were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. The Guru achieved this by meditating in one of the caves.

At the temple, you can pray for a life filled with bliss. Lunch will be served on the return trek.

As we move back to the hotel, we will visit ruins of the Drugyel Dzong, “Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa,” built by Shabdrung and which served as a bastion of Bhutanese defence while attacked by the Tibetans in the 17th century. It was built to commemorate the victory. On a clear day, one can see Mt Jomolhari (Mountain Goddess) from the dzong.

Night halt at a hotel.

Day 4: Paro – Thimphu

You could call it a honeymoon as we move to the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. It is an hour drive along the Paro and Thimphu Chus (rivers).

At Thimphu, we will check into a hotel and then begin the capital’s excursion, starting from the Memorial Chorten, built in dedication to the Third King of Bhutan, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, known as the Father of Modern Bhutan.

Next we move to Kuenselphodrang, where stands the giant Buddha statue, the biggest of the kind in the region. We will also be visiting the 13th century Changangkha temple, the Takin Zoo, a Nunnery, the local hand-made paper factory, Handicrafts Emporium and the Traditional School of Painting.

The visit to Thimphu’s icon, Tashichhodzong, the seat of governance and Bhutanese polity, which also houses the office of the King and the Throne room will be after lunch. The Dzong (Fortress) is also the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body. It also houses some Ministries and government offices. If time permits we will also visit the Parliament and see a game of archery.

A cultural show will be arranged in the evening during dinner.

Night halt in hotel.

Day 5: Thimphu – Paro (Departure from Bhutan)

Early morning, you will be driven to Paro international airport for your journey out of the country. Our representative will escort you.

Experiencing Gross National Happiness (GNH)

Summary

If we are to point out one product that has attracted the world to Bhutan and elevated Bhutan’s position, it is undeniably Gross National Happiness (GNH). Over the last couple of years it has become a subject dissected by scholars and critics; a literature in itself.

Bhutan is the home of GNH and it sprung from the pine clad palace of Samtenling, when the Fourth King, Jigmi Singye Wangchuck said in the early eighties, that “Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross National Product.”   A very philosophical statement, its essence is very simple, propounding the fact that accumulation of material gains alone is not the gateway to happiness, which is the ultimate desire of all human beings.

While wealth is one of the elements for happiness, there are other factors, abstract in nature, without which even the world’s richest man cannot live happily.

With this concept, Bhutan embarked on a unique form of development, where economic development received equal footing as promotion and preservation of the culture, and environment. Good Governance was given prominence and within a short span of time, the merits of GNH became visible. Bhutan developed, its GDP soared, but there was no affect on the environment. Despite the forces of modernization knocking on the country’s doors and entering the nation, Bhutan’s age old values, embodied in its culture remained intact.

It wasn’t long before GNH flew beyond Bhutan’s borders. It became an international anthem, a literature in itself, with several eminent scholars discussing and dissecting the concept. Countries such as Brazil, Japan and even France started adopting and implementing GNH in its policies. GNH reached its pedestal when the United Nations endorsed it and even dedicated one day of the year to Happiness, as World Happiness Day.

Bhutan, a country that very few had heard of gained popularity and today, the Himalayan Kingdom sparkles in the sky amidst other stars.

While GNH is Bhutan’s gift to the world, how different is a GNH country from others? What is so special about Bhutan? Are the people happy?

These are questions most people who have not been to the country ask. The Experiencing GNH Trip will answer these questions. Apart from showcasing Bhutan’s middle path approach to development and the importance placed on preserving and promoting the country’s unique culture and environment, you will be taken to sites that reflect GNH. You will see and experience how modernity has perfectly blended into the Bhutanese culture. As your trip ends, you will find answers to your questions. You will realize why the world has embraced GNH and other elements that make Bhutan special.

Environment is a crucial aspect of GNH. The small Himalayan Kingdom houses over 5,400 species of plants, including 300 species of medicinal plants, some thriving even at 3,700m above.

It has 369 species of orchids, of which 82 are unique to the Kingdom and 46 species of rhododendrons.

The tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of a unique biodiversity. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2,400m altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir.

At about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs. Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation.

In this 12 day sojourn, you will see all these and more.

Duration:                              12 days
Entry:                                     Paro international airport
Exit:                                        Guawahati airport, in Assam, India
Places to visit:    Almost all districts of Eastern, Western and Central Bhutan, including Assam, India.

Highlights:               Culture, Short trek, Green Schools, Biking, Meditation, Cuisines, Flora and Fauna, Games, Farm-house visits, Hot stone bath, interaction with Bhutanese scholars.

Complete Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Paro international airport

The GNH Excursion will begin the moment you step into the airline taking you to Bhutan. Adorned in the traditional Bhutanese dress, the airline’s crew, personifications of the inheritated and innate Bhutanese hospitality and humility, will welcome and greet you in the traditional Bhutanese way. You will notice how friendly Bhutanese are and if your seat is next to a Bhutanese, do not hesitate to ask any questions. Bhutanese are by nature very friendly and will answer all your queries. It is because of the strong social fabric and network that have bonded the people for years.

In what is defined as one of the most enthralling flights, you will see the jewels of the mighty Himalayas, including Mt. Everest, Mt. Jomolhari (Mountain Goddess), Mt. Jitchu Drake and others. The scenic view of Paro valley before you land is another beauty and the landing itself is thrilling.

At the airport, our representative will welcome you in the traditional Bhutanese custom, with a khaddar (white cloth), a symbol, wishing you luck during your stay here.

After checking into your hotel and a quick lunch, we will visit some of Paro’s historically significant places, such as the Rimpong Dzong (“Fortress on a Heap of Jewels”), the former Ta Dzong (Tower), which has now become the national museum and Kyichu monastery, one of Bhutan’s oldest, build in the 7th century.

During these visits, you will see how Bhutanese culture, one of the core tenets of GNH, has been preserved. Apart from the structures and relics, the formal dresses people wear is another epitome of Bhutanese culture.

In the evening, we will visit a farmhouse and also take a stroll of Paro town. You will be treated to a hot stone bath after which we will have dinner.  There will be traditional Bhutanese entertainment.

Night halt at the hotel.

Day 2: Taktshang (Tiger’s Lair) Excursion – Thimphu

A visit to Bhutan will be incomplete without a trek to Taktshang monastery, one of Bhutan’s most sacred sites and associated with the great 8th century Indian Tantric Saint Guru Padma Sambhava. The hike will start after half an hour’s drive and will take approximately five hours to go up and return.

Taktshang monastery is another epitome of GNH. The hundreds of people, who visit the monastery, reflect the spiritual aspect of Bhutanese life and GNH, which propounds that the material and spiritual in unison will bring forth happiness. The Tiger’s Lair also reflects Bhutanese culture, especially architecture, which is unparalleled.

Following an ancient footpath flanked by water-driven prayer wheels, you will reach Taktshang monastery, precariously perched on a hair-raising ravine about 3,000 metres above the valley floor.

Legend has it that the eight century Buddhist Tantric, Guru Padma Sambhava meditated in the cave to subdue evil forces who were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. It is believed that he came to Taktshang, in a fiery wrathful form, riding a Tigress. The monastery has also seen many Buddhist saints meditating in and around the temple. Some, known as Tertons (Treasure Discoverers) have discovered numerous hidden treasures, particularly teachings hidden by Guru Padmasambhava.

Upon arrival at the road point from Taktshang, a fleet of bikes will be waiting for you. We will bike to the ruins of Drugyel Dzong, the fortress known as the “Castle of the Victorious Drukpa”. It symbolizes Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetan invasions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

We will return to the hotel biking.

During dinner, you will interact with people you can talk with about GNH, especially lecturers of Paro College of Education. From GNH the concept of Green Schools has been incorporated in Bhutan’s education system. You could discuss these with the lecturers and others.

Halt at hotel.

Day 3: Paro – Thimphu

The journey to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital is about an hour. After checking into our hotel, Thimphu’s excursion will begin, by visiting the National Memorial Chorten (Stupa), built in memory of The Third King, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, also known as Father of Modern Bhutan.

It is here that you will see elements of GNH, manifested by the scores of old people chanting prayers and sitting by the huge prayer wheels. Unlike the West, Bhutan has no old age homes. However, most of the senior citizens spend their time in centres such as the Stupa. Economic support is provided by their families. There are stories of these old people finding their partners at these places.

The next visit will be to the statue of the world’s largest Buddha, followed by the 12th century Changangkha Lhakhang, Takin Zoo and drive to Sangaygang, which offers the best view of Thimphu city. The Folk and Heritage museum, Institute of Traditional Medicines Services (ITMS), a nunnery and the local handmade paper factory are other places we will visit. The Bhutanese government pays equal attention to traditional medicines. In the past, Bhutan was referred to as the “Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs.”

The next visit will be to the GNH centre, located in the centre of Thimphu town, where meditation and other basics of GNH are propagated. You can interact with the people there are even participate in some of the programs, such as meditation.

Visits are being arranged especially keeping in focus elements of GNH, which are symbolised in all these places. For instance, the 12th century Changangkha Lhakhang is revered as the protecting deity of all born in Kawang gewog (sub-district). Thus, everyone born in Kawang visit the temple. It is a tradition that has continued for times immemorial.

Similarly, Bhutan used to be called as Lhojong Menjong “Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs.” This is still kept alive today through the ITMS, while the living arts and crafts of Bhutan can be witnessed at the Folk Heritage Museum.

After lunch, we will visit the Majestic Tashichhodzong, the seat of governance, which houses the Office of the King, the Throne Room, some ministries and the Head Abbot’s (Je Khenpo) residence. The office of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) is also located in the Dzong. If possible, we will arrange a small discussion with officers of GNHC.

Next on the list will be a visit to the archery field. Archery is Bhutan’s national game and we will witness a match.

During dinner, a cultural show will be organized. You will be entertained by Bhutanese songs and dances, which is a core ingredient of Bhutanese culture and performed during festivals and other social celebrations. You will also have the opportunity to interact with Bhutanese experts of GNH, the country’s folklore, music and others.

Halt at hotel.

Day 4: Thimphu – Punakha       

We will move early morning. After about 45 minutes drive from Thimphu, we reach Dochula Pass (3100m), which offers the first glimpse of the eastern Himalayan Ranges, with snow capped peaks. The Pass is exotic and the 108 stupas built around a mound add to the grandeur of the place. The Druk Wangyel Lhakhang (temple) at Dochula is one of the latest additions to Bhutan’s glorious architectural and cultural masterpieces, built in honour of the Fourth King.

Dochula is also a haven of Bhutanese flora and fauna.

Few kilometres drive and we reach the Lamperi Botanical Garden, where we will play a game of Khuru. It’s a popular traditional Bhutanese sport. It involves throwing darts outdoors with a target approximately 10 meters (33 ft) to 20 meters (66 ft) away. While playing the game players actually stand near the target as other players are throwing the darts from far away using all their strength.
Every time they hit the paperback-sized target players sing and dance.
Usually “Khuru” player builds their own pair of Khurus.

Lunch will be served at Lamperi and we will then continue the journey to Punakha.

Before reaching Punakha, we will bike to Chimi Lhakhang, a 15th century temple dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as the Divine Mad Monk. The temple is called the Temple of Fertility, where the Phallus is still worshipped. Barren couples from all around the world come to receive blessings from the phallus. It is said that women conceive after they receive the blessings.

After few minutes drive we reach the Punakha Dzong (Fortress), which from far resembles a ship on a mass of still water. The 1637 Dzong is one of Bhutan’s most historically significant icons. It was here that representatives from all parts of Bhutan swore allegiance to Penlop (Governor) Ugyen Wangchuck in 1907 enthroning him as Bhutan’s first hereditary King, leading to the birth of the Wangchuck Dynasty.

The Dzong also houses some of Bhutan’s most precious relics. Built at the confluence of two rivers, the Pho (Male) chhu (water) and Mo (female) chhu (water), the Fortress is an architectural wonder.

Towards the evening we will take a stroll around Khuruthang town.

Halt at hotel.

Day 5: Punakha – Trongsa

After an early breakfast, we begin our journey further east to Trongsa. En-route, we will visit ruins of the Wangduephodrang Dzong, built in 1638 by the Zhabdrung, which was tragically razed to the ground by a fire in 2012.

We will then drive through landscapes covered by forest on all sides and take the route to Gangtey Goenpa and Phobjikha valley. While the former is the seat of the Peling Tradition of Buddhism, the latter is the roosting valley of Black Necked Cranes, who flies into the area in winter from Tibet and Mongolia.

Phobjikha valley also symbolises GNH, especially the manner in which development and conservation has been balanced. You can interact with the people, who will tell you the need to sacrifice material gains for conservation, or the Black Necked Cranes. The landscape is filled with alpine forests, meadows, and flowers, including different species of Rhododendrons, Legumes, Magnolia, Weeping Cypress (national tree of Bhutan), etc.

At Phobjikha we also see red, pink and white rhododendrons (Rhododendron hodgsonii, R. keysii, R. kesangiae, R. ciliatum).

We then move further crossing Pelela (Pass, 4,000 meters), the traditional boundary between western and central Bhutan. A drive along the winding roads will take us to Chendebji, where stands a stupa built by King Zhida. It resembles the Boudanath Stupa of Nepal. We will have our lunch at Chendebji.

On our way to Trongsa, we see varieties of high altitude birds such as Finches and Bush Warblers, Brown Parrotbill, Spotted Laughingthrush and Himalayan Griffon.

We arrive at Trongsa after few hour drive. Trongsa Dzong (Fortress) was built in 1647 and is the biggest dzong in Bhutan. It is very historic, for Bhutan’s unification began from this Fortress, which was the seat of Jigmi Namgyal, the First King’s father. Even today, the crown prince has to become the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) before ascending the Throne.

Night halt at hotel.

Day 6: Trongsa – Bumthang

After breakfast we will visit Trongsa Dzong (Fortress) and the Ta Dzong (Tower). We will then move towards Bumthang, crossing yet another pass (Yotongla pass 3,500 m.) We can sight  Brown Parrotbill, Chestnut-crown Laughingthrush, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Hill Partridge, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Gold-naped Finch and Darjeeling Woodpecker.

Chumey valley in Bumthang is one of the most beautiful valleys and we will have our lunch there. We will visit some of the yathra (cloth made from sheep wool) making houses.

We drive further for another hour and arrive at Bumthang, Bhutan’s mythical and one of the most religious valleys, flanked by prayer flags, stupas and monasteries.

We will check into a hotel and rest for the evening.

Day 7: Bumthang Sightseeing

We begin after breakfast and visit the Castle of the White Bird (Jakar Dzong), which is today the district’s administrative centre. The establishment of offices within the Dzongs (Fortresses) are also very much a GNH insignia, for this tradition was passed down from the 17th century.

One of the oldest surviving man-made structures in Bhutan, a temple dedicated to Buddha Shakyamuni, Jambay Lhakhang, was built in 639 AD as part of an oath by Tibetan emperor Songsten Gampo to subdue a demoness who lay spread-eagled across the Himalayas obstructing the teachings of the Buddha.

From there, we drive a short distance to Chakhar and then to Kurjey Lhakhag. Albeit oblivious today, Chakhar is the site of the legendary “Nine-Storied Iron Castle” built by Sindhu Raja (king) in the 8th century and the innumerable myths surrounding it. Kurjey, meaning “Body Imprint on Rock”, has temples built against a wall of cliff. The imprint belongs to the 8th century saint Padmasambhava who mediated in a rock cave and, using his tantric powers as well as guile and guise, subdued the evils who tormented the people in the vicinity.

After lunch at our hotel, we drive to Tamzhing monastery which preserves the remains of the works of Terton Pema Lingpa who, in the 15th century, discovered many secret tantric teachings hidden by Padmasambhava. Pema Lingpa was an artist and sculptor extraordinaire but, more importantly, one of the five “King Tertons” – treasure revealers – of Vajrayana Buddhism. Our last visit for the day is the “Burning Lake” (Mebertsho) in Tang where Pema Lingpa, challenged by a local warlord, took a dive into a pool with a lighted butter lamp on his head and re-emerged from the lake with the lamp intact and holding a hitherto unknown statue in his hands.

GNH is not just about culture, temples and monasteries. At Bumthang, we will visit the cheese factory, bee hives and taste some of the local delicacies, such as puta (noodles), Khuli (pancake made of barley). The beauty of the landscape will be sufficient to answer all questions about the environment.

We will also visit the site, where the GNH centre will be established. Those wishing to undergo meditation can also do so.

Night halt in Bumthang.

  1. Bumthang – Mongaar

In what is one of the most beautiful drives, you will be treated to sights of floral delights, especially various species of Rhododendrons, Rubus, Acer, Aconitum, Delphinium, Ranunculus, Clemantis, few species of orchid such as Coelogyne, Pleione, Cephalenthera, conifers such as Fir, Hemlock, Pine, Juniperus, Primulas, Androsac, etc.

We will reach Thriumshing La National Park covering Bumthang, Lhuentse, Zhemgang, and Mongar districts. Bhutan has designated one area there as Insitu-Rhododendron Garden. The Garden showcases the Kingdom’s rhododendron diversity in their natural habitat in an area of approximately 2 hectares harboring 22 different species of rhododendron in assemblage.

Thrimshing La National Park is home to many endemic species namely Daphne ludlowii, Lobelia nubigena, Vanda griffithii, Rubus sengorensis, and Pedicularis spp. It is also has Red Panda, reptiles, amphibians and different avian fauna.

This high altitude park area also has Spotted Nutcracker, Red-billed Chough, Fire-tailed Sunbirds, Great Parrotbills, Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Snow Pigeon, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, White-browed Fulvettas, Grey-crested Tits and Coal Tits.

As we move further, we will be entering the wet sub-tropical forests, a stretch that goes all the way to Lingmithang and is known in some circles as the “birding capital of the world”. It is undoubtedly the finest birding place in the Himalayas. The lush forests are home to several rare species and if interested one can scour for Shortwings, Bar-winged Wren Babblers, Black-headed Shrike Babblers, Ward’s Trogon, Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Barbets, Golden Bush Robin, Chestnut-breasted Partridge and many other rare species.

From Lingmithang, we arrive at Mongar and check into a hotel. Arriving at Mongar marks the beginning of your eastern Bhutan experience. Many towns in eastern Bhutan are built on the sides of the hills which contrast to the west where they develop on the valley floor..

Overnight at the hotel.

  1. Mongar – Trashigang

We will visit Mongaar dzong, which was built in 1953 at the orders of the Third King, Jigme Dorje Wangchuck and then move to Trashigang. The drive is again a flora and fauna delight.

En-route, we will visit Dramtse Monastery, one of the most revered in the East. The monastery is very famous for the mask dance called as the “Dramtse Ngacham,” which is performed at all religious tsechus.

After Dramtse we will reach Trashigang and take a stroll of the town. You can get to know the people and the culture of Eastern Bhutan.

During dinner, you will be entertained by showcasing Bhutanese culture. You will also be meeting senior citizens who will narrate you stories of the past and folklores.

Halt at hotel.

Day 10 – Trashigang to Tashiyangtse and back

After breakfast we will drive for 48km to Tashiyangtse, a small town rich in Bhutanese arts and legend.

On the drive to Tashiyangtse you pass the small town of Duksum located on the Drangme Chhu (Bhutan’s biggest river) and its tributary. It is a few kilometers past Gom Kora, associated with Guru Rimpoche, who is said to have subdued evil forces there.  A large boulder sits in the garden of Gom Kora (Gom Kora) Temple and its is said that if anyone can climb below the rock and emerge from its summit, he will be forgiven of his sins.

Duksum, a small weaver’s town where you can find a fair amount of weavers producing some very nice work will also be visited.

We will arrive at Chorten Kora, where one of the most famous festivals in Bhutan is observed. It is said that a pious Princess from the Dakpa tradition of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh state (Assam), entombed herself alive in the chorten for the benefit of all sentient beings. Chorten Kora Tshechu is held to honour this ultimate sacrifice.

We drive back to Trashigang.

Before dinner, we will organize Bhutan’s traditional (national) game, archery for you.

Overnight at hotel.

Day 11: Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar

This will be a long 180 kms journey. So we start early. We will stop at Sherubtse College in Kanglung (22kms from Trashigang) and interact with students and professors of the institute. The college is Bhutan’s only university. During the interactions, you will know a lot about Bhutan, GNH and the form of education practiced.

From Kanglung, we move further, crossing Yongphula, where the eastern domestic airstrip is located. We will stop at Khaling, and visit the School for the Disabled. As a GNH country, Bhutan gives equal importance to those who are impaired.

33 kms later, we will reach Wamrong, where we will have our lunch. We will be passing through Kharungla Nature Park, another treasure house of birds and flora.

From Wamrong, the journey takes us through tropical and subtropical forest cover. We will be passing Narphung and arrive at Deothang. If time permits we will visit the Monastery and Buddhist Institute at Deothang.

Upon arrival at Samdrup Jongkhar, we will check in and rest for the day.

Day 12: Samdrup Jongkhar – Guwahati

From Samdrup Jongkhar, we will be taking the 100 km drive through the Indian state of Assam to Gauhati Airport, for your journey out of Bhutan.  You will be escorted by our representative.

Scents of Drukyul – Bhutan Botanical Tour

Duration:                               12 days
Best Seasons:                      April-September
Starting Point:                       Paro, western Bhutan
Furthest Destination:          Bumthang, central Bhutan
Highlights:                             Biodiversity Centre (Thimphu), Botanical Park (Lamperi), Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and Thrumshingla National Park.

Tour Summary

The Eastern Himalayas have long been renowned for the wealth of their flora. An astonishing array of plants grow in Bhutan: over 5,400 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants, some hardy species thriving even at 3,700m above.

Bhutan has one of the richest stocks of orchids in the world.  Of the 369 species, 82 are unique to the mountain kingdom. Bhutan claims 48 of the 1,000 species of rhododendrons found worldwide.

The tropical evergreen forests growing below 800m are repositories of a unique biodiversity. The tropical vegetation of the lower zones gives way to dark forests of oak, birch, maple, magnolia and laurel. Above 2,400m altitude is the home of spruce, yew, and weeping cypress, and higher still, growing up to the tree line, is the east Himalayan fir.

At about 5,500m are low shrubs, rhododendrons, Himalayan grasses and flowering herbs. Bhutan’s national flower, Blue Poppy grows above the tree line 3,500 – 4,500m elevation.

ITINERARY

DAY 1: Bangkok/Kathmandu/Delhi-Paro

  • Flight to Bhutan’s only international airport (2,250 meters elevation).
  • En-route see the world’s highest mountains – the Abode of the Gods
  • After lunch, sightseeing around Paro valley
  • Halt in Paro.

DAY 2: Paro

  • After a short drive, hike to Taktsang Monastery (3,000 meters), famous religiously and for its location smack in the middle of a huge wall of cliff.
  • Enroute see Bhutanese farms and meet people. Visit The Fortress of Victory (now in ruins) at Drukgyel, the National Museum, the Fortress on a Heap of Jewels (Paro Dzong), and the 7th century Kyichu Temple.
  • Explore the vegetation in the valley towards late afternoon.
  • Night halt at hotel in Paro.

DAY 3: Paro-Chelela-Thimphu

  • Drive to Chelela pass (3,810 m, over 12,000 ft) through a mixed forest of Rosa brunonii, Pieris formosaand Daphne papyracea and scour for aromatic herbs, meconopsis species and many primulas ( Smithiana, P. Denticulata, P. Sikkimensis). Chelela has an alpine ecosystem with several endangered and endemic species. Nearly all flora species found here are medicinal. Some rare species found are Meconopsis horidula, Meconopsis grandis, Fetillsria chirhosa, Aconitum Spp, Rhododendron anthopogon, Rhododendron nivale, Rhododendron setosum, Primula Species, Juniperus etc. The place is especially spectacular in the summer, when all the wildflowers are in full bloom.
  • Night halt at hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 4: Thimphu

  • Tour the National Bio-Diversity Centre, Serbithang (just 8 kms away from the main town), Botanical Garden at Serbithang, and the Mushroom Centre at Semtokha (5 kms)
  • Visit the National Institute of Traditional Medicine (NITM) in Kawajangsa, Thimphu, to learn about Bhutan’s art of making traditional medicine, in particular the hundreds of plants that are used as ingredients.
  • See places of historical and cultural interest in and around Thimphu.
  • Night halt in Thimphu.

DAY 5: Thimphu-Dochula-Lamperi-Punakha

  • Drive to Dochula (10,450 ft, or 3,100 meters), which provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the highest unclimbed mountains of the world. The place is considered a vitalconservation area with significant altitudinal and associated changes in vegetation within short distances. The east – facing slope harbors cool temperate broad – leaves forest at the higher elevation and Pinus roxburghii (chirpine) in lower elevations while the west facing slope consists of conifers from Abies densa(fir) and Juniperous recurva down to Pinus wallichiana (blue pine).
  •  A few kilometers away is the Lamperi Royal Botanical Park, which has 46 species of Rhododendron. The park also has trekking routes that lead into a cool moist forest of huge oak, magnolia and birch trees draped in moss that rings with the sound of birds and insects. The park is part of a 47-sq mile critical biological corridor connecting the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park and the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. It has cool broad leaf forests, mixed conifer forests, fir and sub-alpine forests and the temperate rain forest with hundreds of species of fauna. Some of the rare species found in the park are the monal pheasants, blood pheasants, musk deer, tiger, leopard, red panda and the leopard cat.
  • Walk down an old trading route and witness a forest of Silk Cotton trees, Jacaranda and many tree ferns as we climb down to Punakha (4,160 ft) through paddy fields, farm houses, mountain brooks, and lush green landscapes.
  • Visit places of historical and cultural interest in the Punakha-Wangduephodrang valley, including the spectacular fortress of Punakha, and the Temple of Divine Mad Man.
  • Night halt at hotel in Punakha.

DAY 6: Punakha-Wangdue

  • We enter the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park area where, among others, 55 orchid species (including Coelogyne corymbosa, Dendrobium nobileand Dendrobium perardi) have been found in the sub-tropical forests of the upper Mo Chu valley.
  • We spend most of the day in the park and towards evening take a leisurely drive along the Punatsangchu river basin which is renowned as the habitat of one of the world’s most endangered bird, the White-Bellied Heron.
  • Night halt at hotel in Wangduephodrang

DAY 7: Wangdue-Phobjikha

  • We head to the east through the ruins of an impressive 17th century fortress, to a splendid landscape of alpine forests, meadows, and flowers, including different species of Rhododendrons, Legumes, Magnolia, Weeping Cypress (national tree of Bhutan), etc.
  • Then we enter into the Phobjika valley (10,000 ft), the winter home of the rare black-necked cranes. We walk for two hour through scattered forest of red, pink and white rhododendrons (Rhododendron hodgsonii,  keysii, R. kesangiae, R. ciliatum) to our lodge.
  • Halt at Phobjikha.

DAY 8: Phobjikha-Bumthang

  • Drive to Bumthang valley (200km) through Pelela Pass which ascends up to 3,340m and see wonderful view of Himalayan Mountains. The drive takes us through thick dwarf bamboo, Yak habitats, and Rhododendrons with beautiful hues of red, white, and yellow.
  • See the spectacular Trongsa fortress, the ancestral palace home of Bhutan’s Kings. Also see the Watch Tower, and the town before driving to Bumthang valley across the Yotongla Pass.
  • Halt in Bumthang.

Day 9: Bumthang– Ura-Bumthang

  • Drive to Ura valley, see the “Burning Lake” on the way, and stop enroute for various species of Rhododendrons, Rubus, Acer, Aconitum, Delphinium, Ranunculus, Clemantis, few species of orchid such as Coelogyne, Pleione, Cephalenthera, conifers such as Fir, Hemlock, Pine, Juniperus, Primulas, Androsac, etc.
  • Drive further up to Thriumshing La National Park covering Bumthang, Lhuentse, Zhemgang, and Mongar districts. Bhutan has designated one area there as Insitu-Rhododendron Garden. The Garden showcases the Kingdom’s rhododendron diversity in theirnatural habitat in an area of approximately 2 hectares harboring 22 different species of rhododendron in assemblage.
  • Thumshing La National Park is home to many endemic species namely Daphne ludlowii, Lobelia nubigena, Vanda griffithii, Rubus sengorensis, and Pedicularis spp. It is also has Red Panda, reptiles, amphibians and different avian fauna.
  • Drive back to Bumthang and halt the night there.

Day 10: Bumthang

  • Explore Bumthang valley
  • Visit places of cultural and historical interests in the valley
  • Undertake an hour-long hike to a local village.
  • Night halt in Bumthang.

Day 11: Bumthang–Thimphu                                

  • In the evening, take a stroll of Thimphu town
  • Halt in hotel, Thimphu.

Day 12: Thimphu – Paro

  • You will be drive to Paro International Airport for departure.

Into Bhutan’s healing waters

Summary

Bhutanese believe that hot-springs have medicinal values and can cure various ailments ranging from arthritis, body aches, to even sinuses.

This specially designed tour is an opportunity for you to experiment this belief as you immerse yourself in two of Bhutan’s most revered hot-springs. The tour will also give you insights into Bhutanese culture, history and architecture as you visit the Dzongs (Fortresses) in Gasa and Punakha.

Duration: 10 days

Entry Point: Paro, Western Bhutan

Exit Point: Paro

Total Area Coverage: 5 districts of Western Bhutan,

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Paro – Thimphu

On arrival at Paro airport, you will be received by our company’s representative. After checking into a hotel, we will visit the nearby places of cultural interest like fortresses, monuments and temples. It includes the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang (monastery), Rinpung Dzong (Castle on a Heap of Precious Jewels), the Ta (Tower) Dzong, which is now the National Museum and the ruins of the 17th century Drukgyel Dzong (Castle of the Victorious Drukpa).

After lunch, preferably around evening, we will move to Thimphu, the capital city.

Night halt in Thimphu.

Day 2: Thimphu – Punakha (4 hrs)
Early morning, we will visit significant places in Thimphu, such as the largest Buddha statue, Handicrafts emporium and others. Towards evening we will visit Tashichhodzong, the seat of power in Bhutan’s polity, that consists of government ministries, the Kings office and others. After that we will move to Punakha and en-route, stop at Dochula, which offers a scenic view of the Eastern Himalayan mountains. Another spectacular sight in Dochula is the 108 stupas. We then drive down to Punakha, one of Bhutan’s most historic places.

Night halt at hotel, Punakha.

Day 3: Punakha – Gasa

Getting to Gasa hot spring is about ten hours trek from Punakha district or one can choose to travel half way by vehicle till a village called Damji. From Damji it is about six hours trek till the hot spring, with the journey comprising a beautiful experience through beautiful hills of pine and oak forests. The route also takes us through small villages, bamboo forests and small streams. On reaching a pass, one can see a beautiful view of Gasa dzong (fortress) seated below snow covered mountain.

Day 4: Halt at Gasa.

For the entire morning, you can relish in the Gasa hot springs. Towards afternoon, we will move up to Gasa dzong, one of Bhutan’s most remote dzongs. The hike involves travelling through the Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck National Park and it is a photographer’s paradise.

Night halt will be at the Dzong’s guest house.

Day 5: Gasa Hotspring halt

You can visit the Gasa dzong early morning and after lunch, we will move back to the hot spring. The journey back will be easier. The whole evening can be spent at the hot spring.  Night halt will be at the hotspring.

Day 6: Gasa – Punakha

The day will begin with a short hike to Damji and then a drive to Punakha. En-route, we will visit the Khamsum Namgyel Chorten. From there, it will be a short drive to Punakha.

At Punakha, one can visit Punakha dzong, built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It has played a prominent role in civil and religious life of the Kingdom. Destroyed four times by fire and an earthquake in 1897, the Dzong has been now fully restored in its original splendor. You can stroll through the town in the evening.

Day 7: Punakha – Chubu Tsachu

After breakfast drive to Chubu Tsachu, located by the banks of the Pho Chu River and is within a day’s journey from Punakha town. However, road has reached, Walathang from where the journey is just two hours. Located at 2,930 metres above sea level, the mountain trail gently snakes through a chir pine forest into the cool, temperate mixed forest.

The hot springs see a chain of people from across Bhutan for more than six months in a year. In the last month of the Bhutanese calendar, the hot springs gushing out of the steep, swampy hillside are inundated with more than 1,000 visitors. The temporary village presents a rich mosaic of people from all walks of life and from different social and cultural backgrounds.

Day 8: Punakha – Paro

In the morning head back to Punakha and drive to Paro. En-route one can visit the ruins of Wangduephodrang dzong that was tragically gutted by fire in 2012. The dzong was originally built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637. Arrive at Paro and night halt at hotel.

Day 9: Paro Excursion

Apart from being the rice bowl of Bhutan, Paro is home to some of Bhutan’s most sacred religious icons. It is a visitor’s delight and one can begin by visiting the Tiger’s Lair – called Taktsang. In the morning drive for about 20 minutes to the base of Taktsang. From there begin a 5 hour round trip to the monastery, majestically perched on a mountain. It is believed that the Indian saint Guru Rimpoche came flying on a tigress to subdue the evil in Taktsang.

On the way, visit the Drugyel Dzong, located 16 Km. away from the Paro town. Although in ruins, this Dzong is of great historical importance. It was here that the Bhutanese finally defeated the invading Tibetans and drove them back. From here, Jomolhari “Mountain of the Goddess” can be seen on a clear day (Alt. 7,329m/24,029ft.).  In the evening, menchu, a hot stone bath widely practiced in Bhutan and believed to cure various diseases will be arranged.

Day 10: Depart from Paro

You will be escorted by our representatives to fly out of Paro.

Frames of the Dragon – Bhutan Photography Tour

Summary

Bhutan is a photographer’s delight and almost everything, beginning from landscape, culture, people, flora, fauna and others can be photographed. You can catch spectacular views of the world’s highest mountains, mind-boggling gorges, waterfalls and other wondrous manifestations of nature.

Additionally, from the thousands of flowers which carpet the mountainsides in spring, it has more than 55 different varieties of rhododendron alone and about 500 species of orchids. This tiny country has over 700 species of birds, more than the whole of North America.

Duration:       13 days
Entry:         Paro, western Bhutan
Exit:            Guwahati, Assam, India
Best seasons: March-May, September-November

Day 1: Bangkok/New Delhi/Kathmandu-Paro

Get a seat on the left side of the aircraft; keep your camera ready (battery charged, of course), and follow the instructions of the pilot as he/she guides you through the world’s highest mountains, one after another – Kanchenjunga, Everest, Lhotse, etc. On a clear day, the views are nothing short of spectacular.

Get a bird’s view of Paro International Airport, a black strip in a narrow valley that is considered to be among the world’s 10 most challenging airports. Here on, you have entered the “dreamland”, so to speak, for photography.

Day 2: Paro

  • Rinpung Dzong (Fortress on a Heap of Jewels), National Museum, 7th century Kyichu Temple among several other ancient religious monuments and sites
  • The ruins of Drugyal Dzong and Taktshang (Tiger’s Lair) Monastery, famed for its religious significance and architectural wonder
  • Chelela Pass (3,988 meters) and from there stunning views of Mt Jomolhari (7,326 meters) which is revered as the Abode of Goddess Remati. Also, numerous species of alpine flowers, and birds like Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan, and Kalij Pheasant

Day 3 & 4: Thimphu

Thimphu is Bhutan in a miniature. There are places that no photographer should miss. These include:

  • Tashichhodzong – the magnificent 500-year old seat of Bhutan’s governance and the palace/office of the king.
  • Parliament Building – An epitome of modern Bhutanese architecture combined with traditional grandeur.
  • Buddha – the world’s biggest Buddha built on the breast of a hillock which commands a spectacular view of the capital city.
  • Sangaygang– The perfect viewpoint for Thimphu city.
  • Memorial Stupa – the most beautiful stupa in Bhutan built in memory of the father of modern Bhutan, king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck
  • Vegetable Market – For people and culture
  • Norzin Lam (street) – The busiest place in the capital
  • Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum, School of Art and Craft

Day 5 – Thimphu-Punakha/Wangdue

  • Semtokha Dzong, the oldest monastery fortress of Bhutan.
  • Dochula, the 3,116 meter pass which provides a breathtaking view of the higher Himalayas
  • Vegetation from alpine to the sub-tropical, rare birds and flowers
  • The Wangdue-Punakha valley, farms and villages, ancient monasteries including Chimi Lhakhang (the Temple of Fertility)
  • Punakha Dzong, the old capital of Bhutan and Bhutan’s most prized asset
  • The ruins of Wangdue monastery-fortress
  • The area is the habitat of White-Bellied Heron, the world’s rarest bird.

Day 6 – Punakha/Wangdue – Trongsa

  • Verdant forests, rare birds (including the exotic black-necked crane) and animals, and beautiful alpine flowers.
  • Pelela pass (3,390 meters), the Black Mountain range, hamlets along the way.
  • 18th century stupa at Chendebji
  • View of Trongsa Dzong – the monastery fortress which is one of the biggest in Bhutan and traditionally the power centre of central-east Bhutan.
  • The Watch Tower of Trongsa
  • Trongsa town.

Day 7: Trongsa – Bumthang

  • Views of Mangde valley
  • Yotongla pass (3,400 meters)
  • Bumthang valley, one of the most beautiful in Bhutan, filled with old palaces, historical and religious monuments.

Day 8: Bumthang

  • Jakar Dzong (Castle of the White Bird)
  • Wangdicholing Palace and Domkhar Palace
  • The famous Kurjey Temple and 7th century Jambay Lhakhang (temple)
  • Tamzhing Monastery, and the legendary Mebartsho (Burning Lake)
  • Airstrip, villages, nature trails, towns, etc.

Day 9: Bumthang – Mongar

  • Thrumshingla National Park and the Thrumshingla Pass (3,780 meters)
  • Sengor-Yongkala-Lingmithang area, which is known as the Birding Capital of the World. Has the world’s highest density of birds, including some of the most rare and exotic.
  • Ruins of Zhongar Fortress
  • Kurichu Hydroelectric Dam and power house
  • Lingmethang and Mongar towns

Day 10: Mongar-Trashigang

  • Korila Pass and the surrounding views of the landscape of eastern Bhutan
  • Yadi zig, and shots of the valley carved by Dangmechu, the biggest river of Bhutan
  • Gomphu Kora, a great site of pilgrimage for Buddhists
  • Trashigang Dzong, historically the powerhouse of the regional ruler
  • Trashigang and Rangjung towns
  • North Trashigang, the most populated area of Bhutan – local culture, customs, traditions, lifestyle

Day 11: Trashigang

  • North Trashigang, the most populated area of Bhutan and the centre of local culture, customs, traditions, lifestyle
  • Folk festival, dance and music

Day 12: Trashigang – Samdrup Jongkhar

  • Dozens of villages along the way.
  • Sherubtse College (Bhutan’s first), Yonphula airstrip, and the adjoining views.
  • Numerous ancient temples and monasteries enroute
  • Ancient iron smithy at Barshong
  • Bird watching area at Moshi, Dewathang

Day 13: Samdrup Jongkhar – Guwahati airport for onward flight.

Expedition Wings – Birds of Bhutan Tour

Summary

Bhutan is home to some of the world’s birds that have reached the brink of extinction or are endemic to Bhutan only. Some of them include the Satyr Tragopan, Ward’s Trogon, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasants, Beautiful Nuthatch, Ibisbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-bellied Heron, varieties of Wren Babblers, and others. As you see the birds you can also see mammals like the Golden Langur, Common Langur, Capped Langer, Goral, Himalayan Black Bear, Golden-throated Martin and Flying Squirrel. Other opportunities include Bhutan’s places of historical and cultural interests plus amazing mountains, landscapes, flora, and unique lifestyle.

Duration: 21 days

Entry Point: Paro, Western Bhutan

Exit Point: Guwahati in Assam, India

Total Area Coverage: West to East Bhutan, 11 districts, 22 birding areas 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Paro
On arrival at Paro airport, our company’s representative will welcome you. After checking in at a hotel, we will visit the nearby places of cultural interest like fortresses, monuments and temples. After lunch, preferably around late afternoon, we will scour Paro river for Ibisbill. We may be able to see other birds like White-collared Blackbird, River Lapwing and Black-tailed Crake.

Night halt in Hotel, Paro

Day 2: Paro – Thimphu. (2 hrs)
We will leave very early for Chelela pass (3,890 m), a cool alpine meadow carpeted with beautiful alpine followers and stunning landscapes. This is the highest road point in Bhutan.

We will comb the area for pheasant species like the Kalij Pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Blood Pheasant. We will have sightings of Laughingthrush, Rosefinch and Grosbeak.

After lunch back at our hotel in Paro, we will take a three-hour hike to the Tiger’s Lair or Taktshang, a famous 17th century temple built on a sheer cliff-face. Towards evening, we take the hour-long drive to the capital city, Thimphu.

Night halt at hotel, Thimphu

Day 3: Thimphu Halt 

We drive to the north of Thimphu in the morning and then hike to Cheri monastery where, enroute, we hope to catch sightings of the various species of Laughing Thrush – Spotted, Chestnut-Crowned, White-throated – plus Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Dipper and White-collared Blackbird. We should be able to see Mountain Goats in the vicinity of the monastery.

After lunch back in the hotel, we visit places of cultural, social and religious interests, in and around the capital. These include Tashichho Dzong, the palace-fortress of the King, the world’s tallest Buddha, Folk Heritage Museum, and if time permits a traditional archery match at Changlimithang.

Night halt at hotel, Thimphu

Day 4: Thimphu-Shaten (5 hrs)

Today, literally, will be our communion with nature. We drive to Dochula Pass (3,150 m) where we absorb and savor the beauty of the mighty Himalayas. We skirt through forests of hemlock, oak, fir and oak besides an amazing array of rhododendron species. This mixed forest habitat spawns the beautiful Satyr Tragopan, a rarity of the Himalayas.  Other species we will come across include the Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Black-eared Shrike Babbler, and Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Fire-tailed Myzornis and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher.

We visit the exquisite fortress-palace called Punakha Dzong and head to our destination at Shaten inside the Jigme Dorji National Park.

Night halt in camp, Shaten.

Day 5 – 6: Jigme Dorji National Park

From our base at Shaten camp, we scour the park for two whole days, primarily the river banks and the foothills, for what should be our opportunity to sight prized bird species. If lucky, we could even catch a glimpse of White-bellied Heron, a rarity with less than 200 alive worldwide. Another rarity found here is the Pallas’s Fish Eagle. Other species found include the Red–headed Trogon, Black-chinned Yuhina, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Small Niltava, Forktails, Wren-babblers, Woodpeckers and Laughingthrushes.

Night halt in camp, Shaten.

Day 7: Punakha – Phobjikha (4 hrs)

Drive early to Phobjikha valley where, enroute, we will look for Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide and other flocks of mixed species. We will stopover for the sighting of various species of Bush Warbler and Laughingthrush which dwell in the dwarf bamboos in the vicinity of Gangteyla pass.

The highlight of our visit to Phobjikha, however, is the Black-necked Crane. As the bird’s biggest wintering ground, we should be able to sight many. Afterward, we will visit the Information Centre for the crane and also take time to see the majestic 17th century Gangtey monastery, the seat of Buddhism’s Peling tradition.

Night halt in camp, Phobjikha.

Day 8: Phobjikha – Trongsa (5 hrs)

On our way to Trongsa, our first birding spot is the Pelela pass (4,000 m) where high altitude species are often spotted. These include varieties of Finches and Bush Warblers, Brown Parrotbill, Spotted Laughingthrush and Himalayan Griffon. On reaching Trongsa, we take our lunch and visit the imposing Trongsa Dzong, built without a single iron nail. This palace-fortress has for centuries been the bastion of powerful governors whose descendents today govern the country as kings.

Night halt at hotel, Trongsa.

Day 9: Trongsa – Zhemgang (6 hrs)

This should be a day of frequent stopovers on the way. The forests along the road are habitats of numerous species like Crested Bunting, Long-tailed Shrike, Prinia, Rufous Woodpecker, Common Green Magpie, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Grey-bellied Tesia and Minivets.

Birds aside, this is our opportunity to see the Golden Langur, discovered just about half a century ago and endemic to Bhutan.

Night halt at camp, Zhemgang.

Day 10 – 11: Zhemgang – Tingtibhi Highway 

This short stretch of forested area is a birder’s dream come true. These lowland forests have innumerable animal and bird species. It is yet another chance to spot the Golden Langur but we will be combing the area for the next two days mainly for Rufous-necked Hornbill, Great hornbill, Chestnut-headed Tesia and Grey-bellied Tesia, Spotted Wren Babbler, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Cutia, Scarlet Minivet, and an amazing variety of Laughingthrush and woodpecker. The sighting of the day, if not the entire trip, should be the extremely rare and much sought after birds appropriately named as Beautiful Nuthatch.

Night halt at camp, Tingtibhi.

Day 12: Zhemgang – Trongsa (6 hrs)

We return to Trongsa looking for species we may not have sighted when we drove to Zhemgang. Visit the Tower of Trongsa, a museum dedicated to Bhutanese kings, and take a leisurely evening stroll in Trongsa town.

Night halt at hotel, Trongsa.

Day 13: Trongsa – Bumthang (3 hrs)

Start early to Yotongla pass (3,500 m) for sightings of Brown Parrotbill, Chestnut-crown Laughingthrush, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Hill Partridge, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Gold-naped Finch and Darjeeling Woodpecker.

On arrival in Bumthang, we have lunch and take a cultural tour of the valley filled with myths, legends, temples and sacred sites.

Night halt at hotel, Bumthang.

Day 14: Bumthang – Sengor (5hrs)

The drive to Sengor is through Thrumshingla (3,800 m), a key habitat for Blood Pheasants. This high altitude park area also has Spotted Nutcracker, Red-billed Chough, Fire-tailed Sunbirds, Great Parrotbills, Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Snow Pigeon, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, White-browed Fulvettas, Grey-crested Tits and Coal Tits.

Towards evening in Sengor, we will be looking for the coveted Satyr Tragopan, as this area is well-known for its sightings.

Night halt at camp, Sengor.

Day 15: Sengor – Namling – Yongkala (4 hrs)

Today, we will be entering the wet sub-tropical forests, a stretch that goes all the way to Lingmithang and is known in some circles as the “birding capital of the world”. It is undoubtedly the finest birding place in the Himalayas. The lush forests are home to several rare species. We will scour for Shortwings, Bar-winged Wren Babblers, Black-headed Shrike Babblers, Ward’s Trogon, Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Barbets, Golden Bush Robin, Chestnut-breasted Partridge and many other rare species.

Night halt at camp, Yongkala.

Day 16-17: Yongkala – Lingmithang Road

This place indeed is the birding paradise. We will spend the entire two days birding the upper and lower Limithang road. Here we have the opportunity to see Wedge-billed Wren Babblers, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, Spotted Wren Babblers, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Coral-billed Scimitar Babblers, Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, flocks of Parrotbills, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Scarlet Finches and many more.

Night halt at camp, Yongkala.

Day 18: Yongkala – Trashigang (5 hrs)

A quick morning birding will be done before we head further eastward to Trashigang.
On the way we stop at Korila pass where its forests of mosses and lichens harbor birds like Steak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Long-tailed Minivet, Grey-winged Blackbird, Hoary-throated Barwing, Bhutan Laughingthrush, and Long-tailed Minivet.

Night halt at hotel, Trashigang.

Day 19: Trashigang – Morong (6 hrs)

Our next campsite is Morong. As the journey is fairly long, we drive early, to catch sights of Hill Prinia, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Red-billed Leiothrix, flocks of Striated Yuhinas, Streaked Spiderhunter, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Common Green Magpie and Red-faced Liocichla. Again, we have an excellent opportunity to see the prized Beautiful Nuthatch.

Night halt at camp, Morong.

Day 20: Morong – Samdrup Jongkhar (4 hrs)

This trip will take us to the lowest elevation of our entire journey. Along the way, our target will be to sight low altitude species like Pied Falconet, Dark-rumped Swift (extremely rare), Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Sultan Tit, Black-backed Forktail, Red- headed Trogon, Black Eagle, House Sparrow, several species of Cuckoo, Jungle Babbler, Grey-sided Laughingthrush besides many others.

Night halt at hotel, Samdrup Jongkhar.

Day 21: Samdrup Jongkhar – Guwahati (4 hrs)

As we travel to the plains of Assam, India, we will come across many species unlike those in the Himalayas. Along the way, we will be looking for species like Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Egrets, Black Ibis, Black Drongo, and even the very rare Lesser Adjutant and Greater Adjutant.

See off at the airport in Guwahati, Assam.

A trip for the Soul (Meditation Tour)

Summary

Bhutan has some of the Buddhist world’s most revered meditation sites, apart from the secular meditation practices offered at the Gross National Happiness (GNH) centre in Thimphu. You can thus seek and find solace in any one of the Himalayan Kingdom’s revered religious sites or participate in the science of meditation.

Itinerary:

Day 01: Bangkok – Paro – Thimphu

Cherish your flight to Paro and get enthralled as you observe some of the Himalayan Ranges’ spectacular structures like Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Jomolhari and Mount Jichu Drake in Bhutan. On arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be received by a representative of our company, who will escort you to the Hotel. After lunch at the hotel, you will be driven to Thimphu.

Overnight at a hotel.

Day 02 – Thimphu stopover

Thimphu is a historically significant city, not just because it is Bhutan’s capital but because of several historical treasures that it houses. Thus, the first day of your tour will be devoted to seeing most of the city’s landmarks. You will visit Buddha Point, where the World’s largest Buddha statue stands. Also included in the day’s trip will be visits to the Memorial Chorten, one of the most beautiful stupas built in memory of the third king of Bhutan, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. Changangkha monastery built in the 12th century, Takin zoo, Weaving Center, Nunnery and Sangaygang, from where you will have a spectacular view of the entire Thimphu valley will be other places that you will visit.

After lunch, we will visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved, the Wood Craft and Painting school where traditional arts and crafts are still kept alive, the Folk Heritage museum and the Tashichho Dzong, the main secretariat building. This massive structure houses part of the government Ministries, the office of the King and the Throne Room. It also houses the State Monastic Body and the living quarters of the Chief Abbot and the senior monks.

We will then visit the GNH centre and have a session of meditation.

Overnight at the hotel

Day 03 & 4– Cheri Monastery – the spiritual communion

It is time to delve into the world of meditation and you will thus be taken to one of Bhutan’s most revered meditation centers. It will involve a 30 minute drive and a hike to Tango monastery, built in the 12th century, which is today a Buddhist University. There are meditation houses above the monastery. However, you cannot enter inside. Nonetheless, you can meditate for some time within the monastery. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enveloped by Nature in its purest form, you will have a great experience.

You will then hike to Cheri monastery, which was built in the 16th century by the Shabdrung. There will be a picnic lunch on the way at a beautiful spot. Cheri is also a renowned meditation center. You will be spending the night at a meditation house above the monastery.

The next day you have all the time to engage yourself in meditation. In the evening, you will return to Thimphu.

Day 05: Thimphu – Punakha/Wangdue

After breakfast, your journey to Punakha, which is about three hours, begins. There will be a stopover after 45 minutes at Dochula pass (3,100m), which offers visitors their first glimpse of the eastern Himalayan range, apart from the 108 stupas( chortens) of the pass. You will have a panoramic view of the snow-capped peaks, with heights ranging from 6000m to 7554m.

Before reaching Punakha, you will be taken to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple), a 15th century structure, associated with Lam Drukpa Kuenley, the “Divine Madmonk.” It is an hour hike, round trip, from the road. At the lhakhang, you will get the opportunity to relax and find peace in meditation.

We will lunch at a local restaurant and then visit Punakha Fortress, an architectural masterpiece built in 1637 by the Shabdrung. It served as Bhutan’s capital till 1955 and houses some of the most precious Buddhist relics. You can get inside the giant temple located within the dzong and devote some time meditating.

Overnight at a hotel

Day 06: Punakha/Wangdue – Trongsa

Early morning, we drive to Trongsa via Wangduephodrang across Pelela pass (alt. 3,300m), the traditional boundary between eastern and western Bhutan. We will stop enroute at Chendbji Chorten, which was built in the 18th century by a lama named Shida. It has a Nepalese chorten resemblance, with eyes painted at four cardinal points. It will be our lunch spot.

Overnight at a hotel in Trongsa.

Day 07: Trongsa – Bumthang
After breakfast, we will walk to the historic Tongsa Dzong, built by Shabdrung in 1647. There are several temples within the Dzong and you can choose one to engage in meditation. We will also visit the Ta Dzong (watch tower) and then drive to Bumthang, which is about 3 hours.

On arrival in Bumthang, we check into a hotel.

Day 08: Bumthang 

One of the most sacred regions in the Kingdom, Bumthang valley is a blend of the abstract and concrete with innumerable legends surrounding the area.

You will be visiting Kurje Lhakhang where the Great Indian Saint Guru Padsambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock.  The other is Jamphel lhakhang, which was built in the 7th century by Songsten Goembo, the Tibetan Buddhist King. Jakar Dzong (the fortress of white bird) built in the 17th century by Tenzin Rabgay (the fourth Desi) is another famous landmark.

You will also be visiting, Tamshing lhakhang built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa (the founder of religious treasures). Kunchosum lhakhang and Membertsho (the flaming lake) are other places. Legend has it that Pema Lingpa discovered several religious text from the lake.

A spiritually rich valley, one has the option to engage in meditation in any of the sacred places.

Overnight at the hotel

Day 09: Bumthang – Trongsa – Gantey / Phobjikha
After breakfast, we proceed to Gantey/Phobjikha via Trongsa. The approach to Phobjikha valley is through a forest of Oak and Rhododendron. Phobjikha is one of the few glacial valleys in Bhutan and home of the black necked cranes which migrate from the central Asiatic Plateau in winter.

Overnight at the hotel

Day 10: Gantey / Phobjikha – Wangdue – Thimphu- Paro

After breakfast you can explore Phojikha valley and visit Gangtey Monastery, one of the Nyigmapa sect of Buddhism’s holiest temples. We then drive to Paro via Wangduephodrang. Lunch will be served at Doclula pass. Uppon arrival at Paro, we will visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, Rinpung Dzong and Paro’s market. Overnight at hotel

Day 11 – 15: Paro – Takstang monastery hike

This is going to be one of your most memorable experiences as we visit Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Lair), a work of art, blending the spiritual with architectural splendor. One of the holiest shrines in Bhutan, the Monastery is perched on a hill (1000m) overlooking the valley.  It is said that the great Indian Saint and Tantric Buddhism’s Master, Guru Padma Sambhava came to Taktsang riding a tigress, in one of his most fearful forms, to subdue demons that were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. Several Buddhist masters have meditated at the site.

Overnight at Meditation house nearby monastery.

We will be spending the next couple of days here, immersing ourselves in the world of meditation.

On the way back, we visit Drugyel Dzong,”Castle of the Victorious Drukpa,”  located 16 kilometers from Paro town. In ruins now, this Dzong was built to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the invading Tibetan forces in the 16th and 17th centuries.

On a clear day, one can see the Jhomolhari Peak, “Mountain of the Goddess” from here.

Day 16 Paro

It will be a day of leisure for you. You can stroll around Paro town. 

Day 17 Paro – Drakarpo

In the morning, we drive 30 minutes and hike to Drakarpo. It is said that Guru Padma Sambhava meditated in a cave there. The cave is visible even today.  You can spend some hours meditating.

Halt at hotel in Paro.

Day 18 Exit from Paro  

After breakfast, you will be driven to the airport for your flight out of Bhutan.

Flavors of Bhutan Tour (Food)

Summary

Bhutan is a diverse country comprising of people speaking different dialects and cuisines, with different regions in Bhutan having their own specialties.

Generally, rice is a common ingredient of all Bhutanese dishes and is served together with different curries. The most popular is “Ema datsi”, chilly mixed with cheese. Bhutanese dishes are spicy and chilies are an essential part of nearly every dish. Spices include cardamom, ginger, chili peppers, Thingay (Sichuan pepper), garlic, turmeric and caraway.

Bhutanese eat a variety of meat too, the most common being pork, beef and chicken. These are prepared in different ways. Popular beverages include butter tea, tea, locally brewed ara (rice wine) and beer.

Travel across the country and experience the Himalayan Kingdom’s dishes and delicacies.

Duration:                       8 days
Entry:                               Paro
Exit:                                  Paro
Areas covered:             Paro, Haa, Thimphu, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Paro international airport

You will land at Paro international Airport, after having experienced one of the most thrilling journeys of your lifetime – the flight to Paro, during which you experience a breath taking view of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Jomolhari and Mount Jichu Drake. The landing at Paro, considered one of the most challenging is an enthralling experience.

At the airport, you will be received by our company’s representatives. You will check in to the hotel and then served Bhutanese tea (Suja), which comprises Bhutanese tea leaves, salt and butter. After this, you will begin a sojourn of Paro valley, which includes visits to the National Museum of Bhutan and Paro Rimpong Fortress.

Lunch will then be served at a local hotel and you can choose Bhutanese delicacies, such as ema datsi (chilly and cheese), beef/yak pa (roasted beef or yak), beef/yak curry, roasted pig or pig curry. Roasted chicken or chicken curry can be served, too. Soup made from boiled bones and added spices, such as coriander is also a delicacy.   Paro is Bhutan’s rice bowl and so you can choose between a variety of rice, including red rice, white ones etc. You will be served Bhutanese curd along with the meal.

After lunch, you can visit other places in Paro, such as ruins of Drugyel Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang and then take a stroll around d town. You can treat yourself to Bhutanese tea and “zow” (a derivate of rice.) Later at dinner, you can help yourself to “ara”, locally brewed alcohol.

Day 2: Paro – Haa

During breakfast you will be served Bhutanese tea and “desi”, rice with butter, sugar and other ingredients such as cardamom. Another  alternative can be “shamday”, rice mixed with minced meat and spices.  You can also taste “Thub”, porridge made of rice mixed with pepper. If you do not want hot (spicy) dishes, alterations can be made.

After breakfast, we begin our journey to Haa and cross Chelela (Pass), Bhutan’s highest road point at an altitude of about 4,000 meters. The flora and fauna of the area will make your drive exciting.

Upon arrival at Haa, we will check into a hotel and order lunch. Haa is famous for its Hoentoe, aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip, greens, datsi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients. This is a dish that the people of Haa Valley serve when they celebrate a festival called as Lomba, the region’s New Year. Other than this, you can taste common Bhutanese dishes served with rice, such as pork, chicken, beef, yak and even fish delicacies. Another common dish is “Momo,” dumplings stuffed either with meat or cheese.

After lunch, we will visit regions of importance in Haa, such as the abode of Aap Chundu (protecting deity of the region.) We can feast on the valleys beauty, before retiring for the day.

Night halt in hotel.

Day 3: Haa to Thimphu

You again have the choice to select Bhutanese dishes served for breakfast.  After travelling through thick forests composed of pine trees, we reach Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. We will check into a hotel, after which lunch will be served.

All Bhutan delicacies will be available and you can select what you want to have.

This will be followed by visits to the weaving centre, Memorial Chorten (a huge stupa) built in memory of the third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck,  Changangkha monastery, built in the 12th century, Takin zoo, Buddha Point, where the statue of the world’s largest Buddha is being constructed; a Nunnery and the Arts and Craft school. You will also be taken to Sangaygang, a place from where you can have a bird’s eye view of Thimphu town and the surroundings. You will also visit the majestic and historic Tashichho Dzong, the main secretariat building, built in 1642. Today, this massive structure houses the office of the King, the Throne Room, some government Ministries and the State Monastic Body. It is also the summer residence of the Chief Abbot and senior monks.

Night halt will be at a hotel in Thimphu.

Day 4: Thimphu – Punakha/Wangdue

Your journey to Punakha, which is about 3 hours, will then begin. In about 45 minutes, you will reach the Dochula Pass (3,100m), from where visitors on a clear day can have a breathtaking glimpse of the eastern Himalayan range that consists of snow capped peaks with elevations ranging from 6000m to 7554m. Apart from this, the 108 stupas (chortens) at Dochula pass add to the beauty of the pass. The Pass is also exotic in flora and fauna.

The onward drive is a gradual ascend through beautiful forests of rhododendron and fields of dwarf bamboo, green meadows, beautiful wildflowers, gushing waterfalls and constantly changing vegetation. Lunch will be served at Lamperi and you can once again choose some of the Bhutanese delicacies served.

Before reaching Punakha/Wangdue, you will encounter several stalls on the way selling vegetables and Wangduephodrang district’s specialty, locally called as “Maykhu”. This resembles a pancake and is made from beaten rice.

Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until 1955 and is still home of the Chief Abbot during the winter months. Punakha Dzong (Fortress), built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands like a giant ship on an ocean from afar. Build at the confluence of two rivers, Pho Chhu (male river) and Mo Chhu (female river), the Dzong was destroyed four times by fire and an earthquake in 1897. However, it has now been restored to its original splendor. The Dzong is an epitome of Bhutanese architecture.

Before reaching Punakha, you will visit the ruins of Wanduephodrang Dzong (Fortress), which was destroyed by a tragic fire in 2012.  It was built in 1638 by the Zhabdrung.

Night halt will be at a hotel in Punakha.

Day 5: Punakha – Bumthang

After an early breakfast, we travel east crossing Pepela (Pass), traditionally the boundary between eastern and western Bhutan. We will stop for lunch at Chendebji, where a stupa resembling the one in Kathmandu stands. In what will be a buffet lunch, you will be served all dishes common in Bhutan, including the “Goep”(Tripe). Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spices, including chilies.

En-route, we will visit Trongsa Dzong, one of Bhutan’s most historical fortresses, from where the unification of Bhutan surfaced. We will also visit the Ta Dzong, formerly a watch tower.

Upon arrival at Bumthang, we will move into a hotel and proceed for dinner.

Bumthang is Bhutan’s premier producer of buckwheat and thus, the district has a couple of special dishes made from buckwheat. The most famous include, “Puta”, which is served in the form of noodles. Curd is usually served with the dish.

Another specialty is “Khuli”, Buckwheat pancakes, which is often served as an alternative to rice, along with ema-datsi.

During dinner, you can have a taste of these dishes.

Day 6: Bumthang halt

Just as rice was and still is the staple food of western Bhutan, maize is associated with eastern Bhutan. Most families of eastern Bhutan dry corn kernels in bamboo shoots and then ground it coarsely to make ‘Kharang’, which is mixed with rice and served with curry. Kharang is a dish that is recommended for diabetic patients.

A derivative of “Kharang” is “Kharang Bokpi,” flour that is produced during the making of “Kharang.” From Kharang Bokpi, one can prepare a special porridge called as “Yomri.” This is served especially as breakfast and as a dish for the sick who cannot take in solid food. One can also mix rice with the dish.

You can try this dish during breakfast.

After breakfast you can explore Bumthang valley, a blend of the abstract and concrete with innumerable legends surrounding the area.

You will be visiting Kurje Lhakhang where the Great Indian Saint Guru Padsambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock.  The other is Jamphel lhakhang, which was built in the 7th century by Songsten Goembo, the Tibetan Buddhist King. Jakar Dzong (the fortress of white bird) built in the 17th century by Tenzin Rabgay (the fourth Desi) is another famous landmark.

You will also be visiting, Tamshing lhakhang built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa (the founder of religious treasures). Kunchosum lhakhang and Membertsho (the flaming lake) are other places. Legend has it that Pema Lingpa discovered several religious text from the lake.

Lunch will be served in a local restaurant, where you will find other special dishes of the east. One is the “Bokpi,” flour smashed and then cooked and fried for a few minutes. Based on the ingredient, you can have “Kharang Bokpi”, a corn derivative; “Khu Bokpi”, rice derivate and those made from buckwheat and even wheat. These are served as alternatives to rice, along with curry.

Another dish is the “Bathu,” a semi-porridge consisting of small flour dumplings mixed and cooked in water consisting of bones. The flavor coming out of the bones make this disk special. Spices are also mixed and this dish is served especially when the weather is cold. It warms up the body.

During lunch, you can try out these dishes, too.

After lunch visit the cheese factory and take a stroll of Bumthang town.

 Day 7: Bumthang – Thimphu

This will be a long journey back to the Kingdom’s capital. Lunch will be served at Chendebji and once again you can try out the Bhutanese dishes.

Halt at hotel in Thimphu.

Day 8: Thimphu- Paro (Departure)

After breakfast, you will be driven to Paro airport for your journey out of the country. Our representative will escort you.

Outline of few common dishes

Ema Datsi: This is the de facto National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chilies and the delicious local cheese known as Datsi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on ema datsi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.

Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favorite.

Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chilies. This dish can also include radishes or spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as sicaam).

Hoentoe: Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datsi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients from the Haa Valley and is usually made during the Lomba Celebration (the region’s New Year).

Red Rice: Bhutanese red rice, native to the Kingdom of Bhutan located in the Eastern Himalayas, is a unique, medium-grain variety. It is ready to serve in about 20 minutes and has a deep red color that fades to pink when cooked. Its flavor is complex, earthy and nutty, like a powerful brown rice, and each serving is nutrient-rich.

Goep (Tripe): Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chilies and chili powder.