Sold out! Please see the spring 2010 itinerary for the women-only tour to Bhutan.
Buddhism-focused tour to Bhutan
13-day co-ed tour to Bhutan
Itinerary dates: October 30th – November 11th, 2009
This 13-day adventure exploring Bhutan and Buddhism is open to both men and women and will be led by Beth Whitman, author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick travel guides. While we will also be learning about the culture and history of Bhutan, the focus will be on Buddhism and will include an audience with His Holiness Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye and special lectures by Buddhist masters. We will also witness a sacred fire dance. We will be accompanied by an English-speaking Bhutanese guide.
The pristine Himalayas are the backdrop for this tour. Throughout the trip, there will be ample opportunity for light trekking in the crisp, clean mountain air.
We will meet in Delhi, India, prior to our departure to Bhutan on October 30th.
October 30th, 2009
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. You’ll first be struck by the cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the plane. After clearing customs and visa control we are met by our guide and drive to our hotel in Paro.
After lunch, we will have the opportunity to visit Ta Dzong (a dzong is a fortress which houses an administrative center and a monastery/school for monks) that houses antique thangkas, textiles, weapons, armor, household objects and other historic artifacts. We 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, followed by a brief talk on Buddhism in Bhutan and then overnight at hotel.
October 31st, 2009
Day 2 – Thimphu
After breakfast, we will depart for Thimphu, about 90 minutes away. Thimphu is Bhutan’s capital (population 86,000; 7,520’) and is still the world’s only capital city without a traffic light! We will arrive early enough to visit the local bank to change money and to then spend some time in town sightseeing. We will have a chance to visit the zoo (which is more a reserve than a zoo), which houses the rare takin (a goat-like animal). We will have the opportunity to visit view points, the School of Arts and Crafts, the paper-making factory and the Handicrafts Emporium.
November 1, 2009
Day 3 – Thimphu – Punakha – Gangtey
After breakfast we will depart for Gangtey. Along the way, we will stop to visit the Punakha Dzong. This is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (head abbot) and the ancient capital of Bhutan. We will tour the spectacular temple in this complex which houses large Buddhas at the alter and thousands more around the walls. This is located between the rivers of the Mo (female) Chu (river) and Pho (male) Chu. While in the Punakha Valley, we will hike from the bank of Mochhu, over a suspension bridge and then through terraced rice fields to the Khamsun Youeley Chorten. The walk is about 45 minutes.
We will then drive on to Gangtey and arrive in the late afternoon.
November 2, 2009
Day 4 – Gangtey – Bumthang
After breakfast, we will hike in the Phoblika Valley to the Gangtey Goempa where we will present offerings of butter lamps. We will then depart for the Bumthang Valley, about a 6 hour drive away. Along the way, we will stop for lunch and visit the Trongsa Dzong. There will also be opportunities for walking.
After dinner, we will attend Jambay Lhakhang Drup, a very special fire dance that will be performed well into the evening. This is the beginning of a tsechu (festival) and is performed in order to purify sins and predict a good harvest. It’s believed to be very good luck to watch these dancers and you’ll have to chance to wash away a lifetime of sins!
November 3, 2009
Day 5 – Bumthang
In the morning, we will attend more festival dances that are part of the Jambay Lhakhang Drup tsechu. This will include the popular mask dance. We will have time for some sightseeing around the Bumthang Valley including possible visits to: the Tamshing Gompa (monastery), built in 1501 by Pema Lingpa, Bhutan’s most important tertons (treasure revealer) and one of the five great tertons of Tibetan Buddhism; Kurjey Lhakhang, where the Guru Rinpoche subdued a local demon, leaving his body imprint on a rock; Jambay (or Jampa, Buddha of the Future) Lhakhang, dating back to the 7th century and much restored in the 19th century; the Jakar Dzong; and the Swiss Farm (for cheese, honey, beer and local fruit spirits).
Dancing at a tsechu
November 4, 2009
Day 6 – Bumthang – Ura Valley – Bumthang
Following breakfast, we will take an excursion to the Ura Valley. About 25 miles from Bumthang, the road reaches the Ura Shelthangla, where, in clear whether, there is a magnificent view of Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (24,600’). The road then descends into the Ura Valley by long loops across fields and pastures. Here we will have an opportunity to hike down through a lush forest and through the village of traditional homes to meet our bus.
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. We visit Ura Lhakhang and then return to Bumthang. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
November 5, 2009
Day 7 – Bumthang – Wangdue
This will be a long day of driving (be prepared with an iPod or reading material 🙂 ) After an early breakfast, we will drive about 8 hours to Wangdue (4,000 feet). Along the way, we will make stops for photography and walking. We’ll then have dinner and overnight at a riverside resort.
November 6, 2009
Day 8 – Wangdue – Thimphu
After breakfast, we will drive about 3 hours to Thimphu. There will be time in the afternoon for sightseeing and shopping. Depending on our timing, we may visit the paper making factory, the School of Arts and Crafts and the Textile Museum.
November 7, 2009
Day 9 – Thimphu
In the morning, we will hike to Tango Monastery and have an audience with His Holiness Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. His Holiness is the reincarnation of the lama who ruled during the 17th century and was also the builder of Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). We will be required to wear khadar (white scarves) which we can purchase in Thimphu. Monetary offerings are suggested and there may be a possibility of being blessed by His Holiness during this visit.
Tango Monastery perched on a hillside
November 8, 2009
Day 10 – Thimphu – Haa
In the morning we will drive to Haa, about a 4 hour drive away. The road meanders through a deep pine forest and then into the narrow valley of Haa. This area was closed to the outside world until 2002. There is an Indian military camp in this region.
Please note that Haa is a remote area and the hotels are basic though they will be clean and there is hot water 24 hours a day.
November 9, 2009
Day 11 – Haa to Paro
On this day, we will drive to Chelala and then hike about one hour to Jachung Karmo Nunnery and then hike back to the road. Afterward, we will drive back to Paro and visit Ta Dzong (National Museum and Paro Dzong). We will have dinner and overnight at the hotel with another brief talk on Buddhism.
Takstang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
November 10, 2009
Day 12 – Paro
We will get an early start to hike 2 hours up to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest), Bhutan’s most photographed and iconic monastery rebuilt in 2005 after a fire. We will spend a short time enjoying the views and visiting the temples here. We then hike down and enjoy a picnic lunch near a river. We will return to Paro and there will be time for resting or visiting the town for last-minute shopping. Final overnight and dinner at hotel.
November 11, 2009
Day 13 – Paro – Delhi
After an early breakfast, we transfer to the airport for a bittersweet goodbye to the Kingdom of Bhutan and fly back to Delhi. Though it’s possible to connect with your flight home on the same day, consider overnighting in Delhi in case flights out of Paro are delayed.
Total cost: $5,245 (includes roundtrip flight from Delhi to Paro)
Single supplement for 12 nights: $475
Price includes: roundtrip flights from Delhi to Paro, transportation in Bhutan, all meals, hotels, bottled water, visa, airport tax and tourist development fund charge. In addition, this special tour includes cost of entrance fees to dzongs and cost of time with His Holiness.
Price does not include flights to and hotel in Delhi, evacuation insurance (highly recommended), souvenirs, personal purchases (such as books and snacks), beverages other than water, and tips.
This trip is limited to 15 people and requires an $800 deposit (to cover airfare from Delhi to Paro) on a first come, first served basis.
Please make payable and send check to:
PO Box 16102
Seattle, WA 98116
Final payment is due September 1st, 2009.
Beth with tour guides, Chuki and Tshering
Your tour leader, Beth Whitman, has been traveling the world for more than twenty years and has a deep respect for cultures and the environment. She is the author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick series of guides and the editor of www.WanderlustAndLipstick.com.
Few tourists visit Bhutan due to the country’s lack of infrastructure. While hotel accommodations are generally quite comfortable, they are basic. Meals are usually served buffet-style at the hotel and consist of lots of cooked vegetables, rice and some meat. Vegetarians will have no problem finding plenty to eat.
Bhutan is located in the Himalayas. The altitude should not be an issue for most but occasionally some people react to it with slight headaches or stomach upsets. Participants should be reasonably fit and should expect to do light trekking and hiking throughout the journey.