- Visit the magnificent temples and fortresses of Bhutan
- Hike up to the sacred Tiger's Nest Monastery
- Admire soaring Himalayan peaks and the natural beauty of Paro Valley
- Learn about the kingdom's rich history and culture
|Day 1||Sightsee in Thimphu||Thimphu|
|Day 2||Visit Changangkha Lhakhang||Thimphu|
|Day 3||Explore the Punakha Valley||Punakha|
|Day 4||Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal||Paro|
|Day 5||Tour Historic Paro||Paro|
|Day 6||Trek to Tiger's Nest Monastery||Paro|
Day 1: Sightsee in Thimphu
Welcome to Bhutan! You'll start in the Paro Valley. Despite recent development projects, Paro maintains a bucolic atmosphere with farms and charming hamlets. Your Bhutanese guide will accompany you for the one-hour trip to the capital, Thimphu, located in a broad valley between tall peaks and the Wangchu River.
You'll do some easy sightseeing around town this afternoon. Begin at the Memorial Chorten, resplendent in the sunlight with its golden spires and soft sounds of religious bells. This center for tantric Buddhism contains one of the finest collections of Buddhist statues in the world. Continue to Kuensel Phodrang, home to the Buddha Dordenma — one of the largest Buddha statues in the world at 169 feet (54 meters) tall. In the evening, relax with a stroll up and down the main shopping street. You'll see people from all walks of life, from monks to businessmen to nomadic farmers who have come to trade supplies.
Day 2: Visit Changangkha Lhakhang
Begin your day with a visit to Changangkha Lhakhang, a 12th-century fortress-like temple situated just above Thimphu, and home to the Institute of 13 Arts and Crafts and the Bhutan School of Astrology. Later in the day, visit the craft bazaar to peruse local wares and handicrafts. Visit the post office and the attached museum, which traces the development of the postal system from the earliest mail runners to Bhutan's highly collectible modern stamps. In the evening, head towards the 17th-century Tashichho-Dzong. Known as the "fortress of the glorious religion," this formidable building houses the throne room of the king of Bhutan.
In the afternoon, hike to the Lhakhangs (monasteries) of Tango and Cheri, an hour's drive north of Thimphu. Founded in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 15th century, Tango Lhakhang is now home to a revered tulku, a reincarnated spiritual leader whose previous incarnation is believed to have lived during the 19th century. To reach Cheri Lhakhang, you'll cross a traditional wooden bridge spanning the Wangchu River. This monastery was built in 1620.
Day 3: Explore the Punakha Valley
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Depart Thimphu in the morning and start your journey into the countryside towards the Punakha Valley, the seasonal winter capital of Bhutan. Your drive into the mountains takes you up over the Dochula Pass, which offers breathtaking panoramas of the Himalayas. Visit the Dochula Monastery, also known as the Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens. This intricate cluster of 108 chortens, or Buddhist monuments, is a tribute to the king of Bhutan. Then descend to Wangduephodrang to see a colorful and vibrant display of fluttering prayer flags.
Afterward, there are several options for excursions into the surrounding hillsides. You could hike up through rice paddies to the village of Pana to see the Chimi Lhakhang temple, which was built in 1400 to protect against demons. It's revered by Bhutanese women as a pilgrimage destination for its fertility powers. Alternatively, visit the Punakha Dzong complex, located at the confluence of the Mochu and Phochu Rivers.
Day 4: Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal
After an early breakfast, head out for a beautiful morning hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal monastery. The trail takes you across a suspension bridge, through rice fields, and up a moderate incline through a pine forest. At the temple, participate in the ritual lighting of butter lamps before enjoying the peaceful hike back down to the car. Continue driving through the countryside towards the Paro Valley for about four hours, with a stop at the Dochula Pass for a picnic lunch.
Stop at the Royal Botanical Park, located just below Dochula, to explore a sprawling conservation area. Here you'll find 28 different species of rhododendron and over 300 other species of medicinal plants. Don't miss the orchid conservation area — the region's finest — before heading back on the road.
Day 5: Tour Historic Paro
Start the day by visiting the Paro Dzong, an excellent example of Bhutanese architecture. Built in the 17th century as a stronghold of defense against the invading Tibetans, today the dzong is a monastic school home to 200 resident monks. Continue on to the Ta Dzong, a watchtower built in 1649, which now houses the National Museum. View the displayed collection of thangkas, tapestries that depict Bhutan's important teachers and saints, and the exhibit of impressive festival masks. See the three-dimensional map of Bhutan in the Natural History Gallery, and stop by the Heritage Gallery to browse its collection of natural oddities and historical artifacts.
Head over to the 7th-century Kyichu Lhakhang, a Buddhist temple, to learn about the local legend of a giant demoness who tried to prevent the spread of Buddhism. Visit the ruins of the Drugyel Dzong fortress, which was built in the mid-17th century to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan-Mongol forces, and enjoy the view of Mt. Jumolhari, Bhutan's holy peak. If there's time, hike up to the Drakharpo Monastery, perched on the edge of a rocky cliff. Here you'll find sacred sites, including what is believed to be a bodily imprint of the female Buddhist deity Vajrayogini.
Day 6: Trek to Tiger's Nest Monastery
In the morning, drive to Ramthanka to begin your hike to one of Bhutan's most sacred pilgrimage sites, the Taktshang Lhakhang, more commonly known as the Tiger's Nest Monastery. The uphill hike will reward you with spectacular views of the monastery, built into the side of a cliff at 3,000 meters (915 meters) above the valley floor. According to legend, Guru Rimpoche, the father of Bhutanese Buddhism, rode into the valley on the back of a tigress over a millennium ago and chose a cave at this location to meditate for three months. Enjoy the peaceful two to three-hour hike to the monastery, surrounded by the quiet sounds of nature and chanting monks, before stopping for lunch in the monastery's cafeteria. After lunch, return the way you came. Enjoy a relaxing dinner in Paro on the last night of the trip.
Day 7: Depart Bhutan
Today is your last day in the kingdom. Transfer to the airport for your flight home. Tashi delek (blessings and good luck) and safe travels!
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