Bhutan – 12-day Customized Tour
Interested in visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan with your own small group, your significant other or by yourself? This 12-day itinerary is the ideal starting point for making the most of your journey. The following is intended to give you a general idea of a trip schedule. It includes the best cultural and natural aspects of Bhutan and can be customized to suit your specific interest, needs and vacation time.
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Day 1 – Arrive in Bhutan via Druk Air – Paro
The flight into Paro on Bhutan’s national carrier, Druk Air, is a befitting introduction to the spectacular beauty of the country. In clear weather, magnificent views of the world’s highest peaks give way to the lush green Paro Valley as you land. The first gift from Bhutan will be the cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the plane. After clearing customs and visa control you will be met by your guide and driver and be taken to your hotel.
After lunch, you will have the chance to visit Ta Dzong (a dzong is a fortress which houses an administrative center and a monastery/school for monks,), built in the 17th century as a watchtower for Rinpung Dzong and converted into the National Museum in 1967. See antique thangkas, textiles, weapons, armor, household objects and other historic artifacts. You’ll proceed to Rinpung Dzong, built to defend against Tibetan invaders in the 17th century. The day ends with a walk along Paro’s main street and shopping district. Dinner and overnight at hotel in Paro.
Day 2 – Paro and Hike to Tiger’s Nest
After breakfast, you will take the winding road to Drukgyal Dzong, the ruined fortress which once defended this valley from Tibetan invasions. You’ll then go to Ramthangkha, the end of the road and starting point for the hike up to the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). The hike to Taktsang will take about two hours and there is a chance for a tea and coffee break at the cafeteria, about half way up. At this viewpoint, you will enjoy the stunning view of the monastery, where Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a tigress in the 8th century. You then hike up to the monastery.
Taktsang is one of the most venerated pilgrim sites of the Himalayan world. The monastic complex clings to the rock towering above the valley. After visiting the temple, you’ll walk back to the cafeteria for lunch and then back down the mountain to your awaiting vehicle.
After lunch, there will be the opportunity to visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. You will then drive west 1 ½ hours to Thimphu, the modern capital of Bhutan. Thimphu has a population of about 98,500, consists of a few roads packed with shops and is the only capital in the world without traffic lights. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
Day 3 – Thimphu
After breakfast, you’ll visit numerous sightseeing locations. This may include the National Memorial Chorten, built in honor of the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk; the Folk Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through the exhibition of items and artifacts used in rural households; and the Textile Museum, where the art of traditional weaving is still kept alive and preserved through exhibitions and has a good collection of old textiles which are rich in color and design. If time permits, you may also visit the School of Arts and Crafts, where 13 crafts are taught to young children. This school was established in 1971 with two objectives; to preserve and promote traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts and to create more job opportunities. Later in the afternoon, you may visit Tashichhoe Dzong. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
Day 4 – Thimphu – Punakha
After breakfast, you’ll depart for Punakha. Leaving Thimphu, the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochu La Pass (10,000 feet). When the weather is good, this pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. After stopping for tea and the view, enjoy an hour’s downhill walk through magnolia, hydrangea, vibernam and evergreen oaks, and through blankets of the wild orchids before reaching the road, where you’ll board your vehicle and drive into the Punakha Valley. Lunch will be served at your hotel.
In the afternoon, you’ll drive the short distance to Punakha Dzong, the winter seat of the Je Khenpo and the ancient capital of Bhutan, which is located between the rivers of the Mo (Female) Chu (River) and Pho (Male) Chu. Je Khenpo is the highest religious office in Bhutan, and the formal head of the Drukpa sect. The (Central) Monk Body is Bhutan’s main monastic body of Lamas (monks). The dual system of governmental power in Bhutan is divided between the religious branch, led by the Je Khenpo, and the administrative branch headed by DrukDesi. Dinner and overnight at hotel Meri Puensum.
Day 5 – Punakha – Trongsa – Bumthang
On this day, you’ll start early for the fabulous drive to the central valley of Bhutan. The drive to Bumthang, via Trongsa, is about 7 hours and crosses over Pele La Pass (10,900 feet) and Yotong La Pass (11,150 feet). The Central Road across the Black Mountains was completed just 30 years ago and brought about great changes to the people in central Bhutan.
During the drive, you’ll pass through Wangdue, one of the major towns in the area and the district headquarters of Western Bhutan where you’ll make a short stop to view the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. This is dramatically located on the spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang and Dang rivers. You’ll then drive onwards, passing through semi-tropical vegetation over Pele La Pass with its alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo. This pass is traditionally considered the boundary between western and eastern Bhutan. If the weather is clear, the Himalayan range can be seen, particularly the peak of Jhomulhari (24,140 feet). En route you’ll see Chendebji Chorten, built many centuries ago to suppress a demon. After lunch, you’ll visit the impressive Trongsa Dzong, ancestral home of the ruling dynasty. You’ll then drive to Bumthang Valley, across the Yotong La Pass and overnight at your hotel.
Day 6 – Bumthang Sightseeing
In Bumthang Valley, you will visit many places of interest. First, you will visit Kurjey Lhakhang, where legend has it that the body imprint of Guru Rimpoche was left behind while he was meditating in a cave in this temple. You will also visit the new Zangdopelri Monastery, built by the Queen Mother of Bhutan. Afterwards, you will take a gradual hike to Tamshing Monastery, built by Terton Pema Lingpa (the revealer of hidden treasures). You will then drive back for lunch at the hotel.
In the afternoon, you will visit Jambay Lhakhang, a temple built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century which denotes the spread and emergence of Buddhism in the country. You may also visit Jakar Dzong, the castle of the white bird, which houses the administrative center and institute for monks. In the evening, attend a prayer ceremony at Karchu Dratsang (the monastery of His Holiness Namkhai Ningpo). This is a unique opportunity to experience the Buddhist philosophy as practiced by the Bhutanese. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
Valley near the Temple of the Divine Madman
Day 7 – Bumthang – Ura – Bumthang
Following breakfast, you’ll take an excursion to the Ura Valley. About 25 miles from Bumthang, the road reaches the Ura Shelthang La Pass, where, in clear weather, there is a magnificent view of Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (24,600 feet). The road then descends into the Ura Valley by long loops across fields and pastures. Here you will have an opportunity to hike down through a lush forest and through the village of traditional homes to meet your vehicle.
Ura’s main occupation is raising sheep and yaks, and the introduction of potato farming has brought a certain degree of prosperity to the people. You’ll visit Ura Lhakhang and then return to Bumthang. In the afternoon, you will have a chance to visit Tamshing Monastery, one of the oldest monastic schools built by Terton Pema Lingpa. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
Day 8 – Bumthang – Hike to Tang Valley
On this morning, you’ll depart to Tang Valley about 15 miles away on a dirt road that gives access to the valley. En route visit the Mebartsho (Flaming Lake), where the Terton Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures, and view the Kunzangdra Monastery. You will continue your journey and pass through several villages, visiting the Tang primary school and Rimochen Monastery. Along the way, you will have a picnic lunch. After a 20 minute drive, you will reach Kizom. Here, you will begin your one hour hike to Ugyen Choling where you will check into your guesthouse. Ugyen Choling Monastery is located on the hill overlooking the valley.
Ugyen Choling was never so much a seat of political power but played a vital role as a religious center. It is the only structure of its size and history that still exists and is used by a family with direct historical links to it. This complex houses a historical museum which ensures that the religious and cultural legacy will be preserved and maintained. After visiting the museum, you will walk back to the road and drive to Bumthang for dinner and an overnight at the hotel.
Day 9 – Bumthang – Gangtey
After breakfast, you’ll drive to Gangtey and back over Pele La Pass. The drive is approximately 6 ½ hours back through the rhododendron forest and dwarf bamboo. Gangtey lies towards the east of Punakha and Wangdue and on the flanks of the Black Mountains. You will have a chance to visit the Gangtey Gompa (monastery), which dates back to the 17th century. A few miles past the gompa on the valley floor is the fascinating valley of Phobjikha. This area is often described as the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas. This is the winter home of black-necked cranes which migrate from the arid plains in the north. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
Young boys sing near Bumthang
Day 10 – Gangtey – Thimphu
After breakfast, you’ll drive over the Dochu La Pass to Thimphu, where you will have lunch. You’ll then have the chance to visit the Institute of Traditional Medicine, where old healing arts such as acupuncture and herbal remedies are still practiced. You may also visit the National Zoo, paper making factory and the Tashi Chhoedzong Zilukha Nunnery. Later in the afternoon, you may visit the Handicrafts Emporium which has a wide range of Bhutanese handicrafts for sale. Dinner at a local restaurant and overnight at hotel.
Day 11 – Thimphu – Haa – Paro
After departing your hotel in Thimphu, you will visit the Haa Valley. The drive will give you the opportunity to see deep pine forests and then drive into the narrow valley of Haa which was closed to the outside world until 2002. Here, there is a military camp occupied by the Indian army. You can visit Wangchuk Dzong, which dates back to 1915, and Lhakhang Temple, which is said to have been built by a pigeon emanating from King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. There will be a picnic lunch served at one of the many inviting spots. After lunch you’ll drive 2 hours to Paro via Chele La Pass (12,500 feet). From the pass you will get a good view of the highest mountains of Bhutan and the Himalayan peaks. Dinner and overnight hotel.
Day 12 – Paro – Departure
After breakfast drive to the airport and your guide will bid you a sad farewell at Paro Airport.