Bhutan: Spirit & Nature - NEW ITINERARY!
Day 1: Bangkok, Thailand / Paro, Bhutan / Thimphu
Arrive at the Bangkok airport this morning for our group flight to Paro. The Paro Valley, rich in culture and scenic beauty, offers a bucolic welcome to the kingdom. Drive to Thimphu, Bhutan’s inviting capital. This seat of government and commerce is a harmonious mix of modern development and ancient traditions, and the only national capital without traffic lights.
Day 2: Thimphu
This morning we visit a takin reserve. This large, hoofed mammal is closely related to the musk ox and is Bhutan’s national animal. Later we hike near the reserve among colorful prayer flags. Depending on time and interest we may visit the handmade paper factory, handicraft emporium or national library and folk art museum.
Day 3: Wangduephodrang/ Chuzomsa
This morning we cross Dochu La, a 10,000-foot pass marked by 108 chortens, fluttering prayer flags and a view of the entire eastern Himalaya. We drop dramatically to the village of Wangduephodrang and visit the dzong overlooking the confluence of the rivers below. This afternoon we reach Chuzomsa and our hotel.
Day 4: Wangduephodrang
After breakfast we set off on our drive to the old village of Samtengang, situated on a nearby ridge. Over the next few hours, we meander our way downhill on an easy walk, passing villages and farms, observing locals as they perform their daily chores and taking in the stunning panorama. Along the way we stop for a visit at a local farmhouse. This afternoon we visit nearby Wangdue Dzong and the village market. Founded in 1638, the dzong, which follows the contours of a ridge high over the river, is surrounded by cacti planted to prevent invaders and offers a dramatic example of Bhutanese architecture.
Day 5: Trongsa
We depart Wangduephodrang for our full-day drive to Trongsa (stops en route). The central-most district in Bhutan, it was from here that the present royal family emerged as the most powerful force at the beginning of the last century. As we continue our journey takes us to the summit of Pele La (11,300 feet), and on the way, we may glimpse the snowcapped peaks lining the Tibetan border to the north.
Day 6: Trongsa
Our first stop is the sprawling stucco and wood-trimmed Trongsa Dzong, with twenty-five temples housing sacred images and religious treasures. We explore the dzong’s rambling collection of buildings that trail down the ridge, and its remarkable succession of street-like corridors, wide stone stairs and beautiful stone courtyards. We also visit the Tower of Trongsa, which has recently been converted into a small but delightful museum, where we enjoy lunch. This afternoon we travel to Kuenga Rabten, the winter palace of the second King Jigme Wangchuck, stopping at local villages en route. Our road passes through patches of temperate broadleaved forest home to many endangered species, and we take short nature walks seeking, birds like the rufous-necked hornbill, and small mammals in the canopy on the hillside bellow.
Day 7: Phobjikha / Punakha Valley
Drive to Punakha, visiting the remote, bowl-shaped glacial valley of Phobjikha en route. Situated on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, the area supports over 700 bird species. Best known, however, is the black-necked crane that breeds in Tibet and then migrates over the Himalayas to spend the winter in several isolated valleys of Bhutan. Experts estimate that about 11,000 black-necked cranes exist in the wild and each year, roughly 250 to 300 arrive in Phobjikha Valley around mid-November. If they are present during our visit, we’ll have an opportunity to watch them as they nest and feed on the valley floor. Continue on to Punakha Valley, green and fertile with rice, oranges, bananas and guavas grown in abundance. Straddling the confluence of the Pho and Mo Chhu rivers, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu.
Day 8: Punakha Valley
Today we explore the massive Punakha Dzong, also known as the “Palace of Happiness.” Built in 1637, the dzong remains the head abbot’s winter residence, and we may be granted access to its temple-filled courtyards. We also hike to a small temple dedicated to one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, the “Divine Mad Monk” Drukpa Kunley. Nearly 500 years ago, this region was the stomping ground of this rather unconventional character, who taught Buddhist dharma by employing an often shockingly ribald sense of humor. The landscape is dotted with evidence of his abiding influence, and legends of his exploits are still told by local villagers. From the road we trace a narrow path through green fields and rice paddies, passing farmers and livestock in the terraced fields.
Day 9: Paro
We drive back to Paro, stopping to visit Kyichu Lhakhang, a seventh-century temple which, according to Buddhist mythology, holds down the left foot of an enormous ogress.
Day 10: Paro
Today our journey concludes with an impressive finale: Taktsang Monastery. Known as the “Tiger’s Nest,” this complex of 17th-century temples clings to a precipitous cliff 2,800 feet above the valley floor. Myth holds that the Guru Rinpoche flew from India on the back of a tigress to the site, where he meditated in a cave for three months. This evening we enjoy a farewell dinner.
Day 11: Bangkok / Home
Depart for Bangkok and onward flights.