Bhutan National Cultural Festival and Expedition

(20 nights/ 21 days)

TOUR CODE: BHN-21

 

 

 

Day 1 : Arrive Paro by Drukair

The flight into Paro is a breathtaking introduction to the natural beauty of the country. Magnificent views of the world’s highest peak, give way to lush green Paro valley. On arrival, you will be greeted by our representative, guide and driver. We then transfer you to Gangtey Palace Resort for check in and briefing to review the itinerary for the following days and exchange ideas for photo opportunity, bird watching, rural and cultural experience.

Our first excursion will be to the National Museum, once the watchtower for the Rinpung Dzong, located high on a promontory overlooking the Paro Valley.  First constructed in 1645, the Rinpung Watchtower was converted to the National Museum in 1968.  While photography within the museum is not allowed, there are numerous photo ops of the exterior and the valley below.  This first outing is meant to familiarize you with the history of this amazing kingdom in the clouds, and a visit to the National Museum is the very best way to quickly learn the culture and natural history since it houses everything that is Bhutanese in a very different museum style that will delight you.

Then we walk or drive down to Paro Town for lunch in a local restaurant and a walk along the Paro Chu (River) to take pictures of Paro Dzong and the watchtower above.  Here we will have photo ops of the covered foot bridge over the river, the huge wooden gate leading to the bridge, and the interior of the dzong.  Built in 1645, this massive building now houses the District Administration Office and the Monk Body.  A flagstone path leads to the dzong, rising gradually from the bridge that is abutted by two guard houses.  The central tower, called the “Utse” of the Dzong, is clad in superb woodwork and is considered to be the nation’s most beautiful tower.

We will also visit the Paro archery grounds where there is usually activity, either a formal match or practice. Dinner and overnight at Gangtey Palace Hotel. This hotel was once the home of the governor of Paro and is decorated with antiques and traditional Bhutanese crafts.  It has some of the best traditional hot stone baths in Bhutan so after dinner those who wish to relax in Bhutan’s version of the hot tub may do so.  The one-person tubs are long and made of wood--they have four of them, side by side in a semi-enclosed bath house.  A board with holes at one end separates the bather from the hot stones. With long steel tongs the attendant picks red-hot rocks from the bonfire and drops them into this chamber causing a cauldron of boiling water.  The heated water then courses through the holes in the board at your feet and the water around your body heats up until you tell the attendant, “No More Rocks!”  You will also enjoy the fragrant herbs that are dropped into the tub, including mint and marijuana--yes, it grows wild in Bhutan and is normally used for pig food. 

Day 2 : A Days Excusion to Tiger’s Nest

Morning after an healthy breakfast, drive to Drugyel Dzong (a ruined fortress - 16kms, away from 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. On a clear day you can get a view of the Mt. Chomolhari (7329m). 

 

On the way back, spend the day hiking up the forested path to Tiger’s Nest, also known as Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. The climb is steep and takes about 4 hours round trip. An important place of pilgrimage and refuge for more than 1200 years, Taktsang Monastery clings to sheer cliffs two-thousand feet above Paro Valley, and from your closest vantage point on a rocky ledge directly across from it, you will still need 200-300 mm lenses and a steady tripod to get tight photographs. 

 

This sacred place got its name when Guru Rinpoche rode there on the back of a flying tiger and meditated in a cave behind the present-day monastery. Sadly, in 1998, the central temple was destroyed by fire, leaving the country in mourning for their holiest of spiritual places. But religious leaders and the King quickly developed a plan to rebuild Taktsang and donations started pouring in from Buddhist centers all over the world, and today, the magnificently rebuilt exterior is complete. Tiger’s Nest is once again the subject of cloud-shrouded posters that say, “Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Picnic lunch on the hillside cafeteria. Special permit will be arranged for you to enter the Tiger’s Nest monastery but you will not be allowed to take pictures of the inside shrines.

 

Evening, visit a typical village home for a traditional Bhutanese style dinner accompanied by the local liquor called “Ara” (tastes somewhat like the Japanese Sake). Then luxuriate in the Chu Tsen (Hot stone bath. This type of bath is considered to have medicinal properties of healing. Overnight Paro.

 

Day 3 : Paro – Thimphu (53km/ 2hr)

This is a lovely drive through spectacular mountain views and peaceful countryside. Thimphu is a small, charming capital city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. It is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. All houses and buildings are painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style. En route visit Simtokha Dzong, one of the oldest fortress of Bhutan built in 1629 and it houses the largest monastic schools in the country. 

 

After checking in Hotel Kisa. Drive to the animal sanctuary where the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, is found in captivity. Walk around the BBS tower which is also known as the “romantic point” and lovers often come here to look at the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley. Enroute visit Nunnery temple. You can show your devotion here by praying with the Buddhist nuns. 

 

Visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved.  They also have on display the largest Picture Book on Bhutan in the world.  

Visit the Traditional Medicine Centre which includes hospital and herbal medicine manufacturing unit based on the Tibetan system of medicine.  The center also trains indigenous medicine doctors known as “Dungtso”.

Visit the Zorig Chuksum “School for Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts”  followed by a visit to Textile Museum, Handicraft Emporium  and some local shops for antiques. 

 

Evening go on a walking tour around the city which includes; Memorial Chorten/ Hongkong Market/ Changlingmethang Stadium/ Clock Tower and more... Overnight Thimphu. 

 

Day 4 : Thimphu Festival & Sightseeing                                                                  

Early rise and attend the Thimphu Tsechu which is held at the massive courtyard of  Tashi Chhoe Dzong. the main secretariat building, the office of the King and Throne room and also the house of the State Monastic Body. 

 

Thousand of locals gather at the courtyard in their finest traditional dress to witness the religious mask dance and spiritual drama. This is one of the most promoted and thus popular festivals in the kingdom in terms of tourist arrival. You can enjoy the Colorful Mask dances, Spiritual folk music, traditional Bhutanese dances, the funny clown (Atsara), the enthusiastic crowed and more… Interact with the locals and take pictures. Villagers love when their picture is being taken. All the festivals around the kingdom has deep religious meaning & significance while this festival also consist an integration of religious prayer & blessing which helps to dispel evil spirits and restore divinity to the community and remind humans about the path of Dharma. 

 

Sightseeing includes; Farmers Market which opens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From the past tour we have found that participants had their own ideas about what is interesting in Thimphu so we include here a list of current events and places to see and leave this decision up to you.

List of things to see and do in Thimphu: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Folk Heritage Museum, where the early life of Bhutan has been preserved. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     Evening, free to shop. Overnight Thimphu.

     

    Day 5 : Excursion to Tango Chari & Festival

    Embark on a days excursion to Tango Chari. This is one of the most popular meditational retreat centre for the monks started from 12th century. The meditational sites are glued to the rocky cliff 300m above the river valley. Once the monks graduates from Tango Monastery most of them decides to sit for meditation around the holy temple of Chari from three years to nine years. Tango Chari is located 12km away from Thimphu city and the road to this sacred site provides a good opportunity for nature photography. The hike to the temple takes about 2.5hrs round trip. Picnic lunch will be arranged amidst the nature trail.

     

    Once you are back from the hike to your hotel. Take some rest and get yourself refreshed by taking a shower or massage. Then drive to Tashi Chhoe Dzong to enjoy the evening festival. Take pictures of the mask dancers in action, the royal dancers in their ancient dress, the locals who have travelled far from the corners of the kingdom just to get blessings from this religious drama and etc. Talk and interact with the people. You’ll be surprised many of them could understand English. (Night Club, Optional). Overnight Thimphu.

     

    Day 6 : Thimphu – Punakha/ Wangdue (78km/ 3hr)

    The journey will take you across Dochu La pass ( 3150m) where you can get spectacular views of the Eastern Himalayan Mountains on a clear day and also walk around the 108 stupas which decorates the pass. Enroute visit Royal Botanical Garden in Lamperi. Situated at an altitude range of 2100 metres to 3800 metres, the Royal Government of Bhutan has created the country's first Royal Botanical Park in an area of high conservation value. The park features a variety of forest types, spectacular scenery, natural rhododendron groves, endangered wildlife and a lake. The natural attributes have been complemented with a visitor's information centre, Cafe, Walking tracks, a garden showcasing 46 native rhododendrons and many flowering herbs, picinic and camping sites and gazebo shelters. The park has a conservation, reaserach, education and recreation functions. Declared over an area of 47 square kilometers, the park serves as a biological corridor connecting Jigme Dorji National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. The park has :

     1. Plants over 300 species( 28 rhododendron + 114 ferns) 2. Wild life - over 21 species 3. Birds, over 220 species.

     

    After lunch in Damchen resort, visit  Punakha Dzong, "Palace of Great Happiness". Punakha Dzong is the former winter Capital and at present day hosts the administrative seat of the district. Also the winter residence of the central monastic body and its Chief Abbot. The Dzong lies between two rivers, the Pochu and Mochu, male and female river.  It was built in 1637 AD It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan's first king was crowned. This ancient fortress is considered to be one of the most beautiful by many. 

     

    Evening, hike to Chimi Lhakhang (fertility temple). The trail take you through the Himalayan paddy fields and a typical village called Lobesa. This is the temple of one of Bhutan’s foremost saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known as the “Divine Madman.” Overnight Dragon’s Nest in Wangdue Phodrang. 

     

    Day 7 : Wangdue Phodrang – Trongsa (129km/ 5.5hr)

    On rise visit Wangdue’s weekend market, town and the Dzong. This classic fortress has many sacred temples hidden in it. The journey will take you across Pele La pass (3,300m), which is marked by a chorten and an array of prayer flags. On a clear day, you can get spectacular views of the highest peaks of the kingdom and its quite common to spot some yaks and yak herders on this pass. This point marks the boundary between western and central Bhutan as well as the western border of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. 

    Beyond Pele La is Longte Valley where people raise sheep and yaks. You’ll come to the village of Rukubji Valley, with its big school and Gompa. The houses here are clustered amid extensive fields of mustard, potatoes, barley, and wheat. As you drive down through rhododendron trees and ferns, you’ll reach Chendebji village. This was a night halt for mule caravans traveling from Trongsa during the reign of the 2nd King of Bhutan. Just below Chendebji village is the Chendebji chorten, a large white structure beside a stream. This chorten is modeled after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. The last village before you reach Trongsa is Tangsibji, which provides full view of Trongsa Dzong and its distinctive red roof. Trongsa Dzong, built in 1645, is a vast, white fortress that appears to grow directly up from the narrow green ridge on which it is constructed. It is one of the most powerful Dzongs and even today the crown prince of Bhutan must first become its Trongsa Penlop (governor) before he can become Bhutan’s King. On arrival visit Trongsa Dzong and the ancient watch tower which has been now turned into a museum. Overnight Yangkhil Resort in Trongsa.  

    Day 8 : Trongsa – Bumthang (68km/ 3hrs)

    Drive to Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. This journey will take you over one of the most scenically beautiful routes in Bhutan via the Yotong La pass (3425m), which is also the habitat for the Satyr peasant. Good for photography. As you enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bumthang Valley) you can visit a center of Yathra weaving.  Yathra is the name for the locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth.  Distinctive patterns and bright, earthy colors enliven the fabric, which is used for a wide variety of purposes and sought after throughout the country. 

     

    After lunch and check in Lodge. Visit the historical Jakar Dzong. It is probably one of the biggest Dzongs in Bhutan with the surrounding walls about 1 km in circumference. Evening, explore Bumthang’s local town and experience their lifestyle.

     

    Day 9 : Bumthang Festival & Sightseeing

    Participate in the colourful Tangbi Mani festival of Bumthang valley which is held at the ancient courtyard of the monastery. Hundreds of villagers & locals attend this festival with their finest ghos & kiras (traditional dress). You can enjoy the traditional Bhutanese dances, folk music, the colorful mask dances, the funny clown (Atsara), the enthusiastic crowed and more… Interact with the locals and take pictures. Villagers love when their picture is being taken. All the festivals around the kingdom has deep religious meaning & significance. 

     

    Numerous lively shops & entertainment gets displayed surrounding the fortress hence It’s common to see villagers & children buying many things to gift it to their family members & friends who couldn’t make it to the festival. It is believed by the locals, attending Tshechu brings blessing and purifies your life. The locals don’t go for the festival only to enjoy but also to show respect to all the great seekers of the past who eventually found enlightenment.

     

    After lunch, take a hike through several ancient and important monasteries such as Jambay Lhakhang/ Kurjey Lhakhang/ Kenchoksum Lhakhang/ Tamshing & Pema Sambha Lhakhang. Overnight Bumthang. 

     

    Day 10 : Thagbi Mani – Ugen Choling

    Early rise and we tour to the remote regions of Tang valley and detour to take part in the festival again. Then depart for our first destination in the remote eastern side of Bhutan, the Tang valley and the village of Ugen Choling. Our journey finds us driving 20 miles, 13 miles of which is on an unpaved road.  We stop at a roadside temple and a nunnery at Bapzor village then drive to the end of the road at the village of Kesum. After a roadside picnic lunch by noon we should be at the end of the road where pack horses will meet us there and from the road head we have a one-hour hike over a suspension footbridge, through farm fields and cluster villages and up a “hill” to the mystical Ugyen Choling Palace where we will spend two nights in the owner’s guesthouse.

     

    Ugen Choling is a national treasure, privately owned by the same family for hundreds of years. It’s remote location makes it one of the less frequently visited historical sites in Bhutan, hosting fewer than two hundred guests per year. One of the owners wrote a book on Bhutanese folk tales of the Yeti and her brother is the property’s caretaker. The best part of the Palace is the quaint museum housing permanent exhibits on three floors in the main building and the Utse, the central tower. Traditional living quarters are recreated to capture the realistic ambiance of the ancient lifestyles and conditions of the households. Everyday kitchen and weaving utensils, war weapons--including gun powder made from petrified yak dung--tools and farming implements are the main part of the exhibits. 

    In the evening, villagers (mostly single ladies looking to meet our guides and drivers) will come to the Palace for an evening of cultural entertainment. You’re invited to join in the singing and dancing. Overnight Ugencholing.

    Day 11 : Ugen Choling - Mongar 

    After an early breakfast, gear up for a fantastic 88-mile drive to Mongar. The journey takes us through mist-covered ThumshingLa Pass, which at 13,500 feet is the highest pass in Bhutan.  On the eastern side of the pass the three-hour drive plunges down through a sunless forest almost 10,000 feet! to the village of Sengor. Then after a few miles of level road we plunge again through what is considered by many to be the most “white knuckle” 12 miles of national highway in the country.  Here the road was blasted out of sheer cliffs with a guard-railed edge that drops clear out of sight.  

    After crossing the bridge over the Kuru River, 15 miles further on the climbing twisting road, we come to the ancient trade route stop of Mongar. Since the area is very mountainous with few valleys, Mongar is built on the side of a mountain. The true homeland of the Eastern People, the Sharchogpas, begins from Mongar. Evening, we will explore the 19-century Mongar Fortress and the new Mongar town. People from the east are shy yet very warm and friendly. Overnight Mongar.

    Day 12 : Textile Tour to Lhuentse (77km/ 3hrs)

    Lhuentse  is one of the most isolated districts of the kingdom. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. The Kurtoe region of Lhuentse is the ancestral home of the monarchy.

     

    Explore the remote lifestyle and culture of this talented villagers with your guide. Visit some home and try to learn the art of traditional weaving. Overnight Lhuentse Guest House!

     

    Day 13 : Lhuentse – Trashigang (162km/ 6hr)

    This morning we make a 5-hour drive from Lhuentse to Trashigang. We will cross at the 8,000 ft. KoriLa pass and stop for tea and cookies as we have all along the way whenever crossing a pass. Beyond the pass, driving through corn fields and patches of banana trees, we come to the village of Yadi where we will stop at a farm house and photograph weavers making natural dyes from native plants. 

     

    After Yadi the road zigs and zags in what seems like never ending switchbacks descending to SheriChu village at the Sheri River. After SheriChu we come across roadside sheds where oil is extracted from lemon grass. After crossing two more rivers the road climbs up to Trashigang town at 3,775 ft. Overnight Trashigang.

     

    Day 14 : A days Excursion to Trashiyangtse & Kanglung

    Morning after breakfast, drive to Trashi Yangtse. Enroute visit Gom Kora (Holy temple famous for its festival held annually); Doksum village known for its traditional fabric; The famous Chorten Kora (Massive stupa); Painting School of the thirteen traditional Art & Craft. Good opportunity for Photography. Lunch along the way in a guest house. 

     

    Evening, learn meditation from a Master who lives in the temple. (Optional excursion; Rongthung/ Yangphula/ Khaling). Overnight Kanglung.

     

    Day 15 : Kanglung – Ura Valley (251km/ 8hr)

    The return trip starts from here. The journey from the extreme east to the central Bhutan lead you through a long and winding road however it provides one of the best sceneries and Himalayan experience. Picnic lunch on the high rocky cliff of Namling, near the water fall. 

     

    Ura is one of the oldest villages of the kingdom. The inhabitants in this valley still lives a semi nomadic life and they are considered wise and homely. You would be able to see yaks and yak herders. On arrival, visit the central temple of this village and then move into Tashi’s home for tea and rest. 

     

    Evening, take a walk around this ancient village and explore the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the inhabitants. Dinner with Tashi’s family. Her husband is the village head man and owns a relatively big house. Overnight home stay in a traditional Bhutanese home.

     

    Day 16 : Ura Valley – Trongsa (116km/ 4.5hr)

    After a homemade breakfast, visit the village high school when the students would have lined up for their morning prayer and assembly. There will be a short speech by the principal and one student followed by a national anthem. Your guide will make arrangement for you to visit some of the classes. Sit for observation and interact with the students. After farewell drive to Trongsa stopping for a coffee in Bumthang town.

     

    On arrival, rest for some time in Yangkhil resort and then we drive you to the view point where you would hike on the Royal trail which leads to the fortress of Trongsa. This was the ancient trail for the ancestors who would make a visit to the king to pay homage. This Royal path leads you down through the dense forest to a river valley. The typical bridge marks the mid way of the and you have to hike up the second half from this point. It take you to the back door of the fortress which provide excellent view for photography.

     

    Drive to the resort for shower and dinner at a local restaurant.

     

    Day 17 : Trongsa – Phobjikha (72km/ 3hr)

    After an early breakfast drive to Phobjikha through different vegetation of alpine, subtropical and glacial. Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the north western tip of the Black Mountain National Park. The valley is a conservatoin area and lies on the northern boundary of the Jowo Durshing range.  People sometimes refer to the entire region as Gangtey after the name of the Gangtey Goenpa  that is situated on a ridge overlooking the Phobjikha valley. According to legend that the Gangtey Goenpa was founded by the grandson ( the mind incarnation) of Pema Lingpa in 1613. The Phobjikha valley is also one of the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes that migrate each year in winter from its nothern habitats in Tibet and Siberia to these grounds. 

     

    Visit Information Centre for the cranes. Evening, take a hike through the Blue Pine forest to the village farmhouse. Try traditional Bhutanese snacks made from corn and rice with a home made wine. Overnight Phobjikha.  

     

    Day 18 : Phobjikha – Thimphu (142km/ 5hr)

    Morning visit Gangtey Goenpa while the monks will be sitting for their morning prayers. This is biggest Nyingma temple of the kingdom. Drive back to Thimphu via Dochula pass. Lunch in Dochula resort. This resort provides a spectacular view of the eastern Himalayas. You can walk into the nearby forest to take pictures of the wild mountain flowers. 

     

    On arrival, drive to Buddha Gang for the last view of Thimphu valley. Walk around the town and interact with the locals. Overnight home stay at a Bhutanese modern house and have dinner with the family. 

     

    Day 19 : Excursion to the valley of Haa (114km/ 4.5hr)

    Early morning, drive to Haa Valley. This is a scenic drive and you might spot few yaks along the way. The pristine Haa Valley, ancestral home of Bhutan’s Queen Mother was closed to outsiders till 2001. It is surrounded by forested hillsides full of ancient shrines, while the narrow valley floor is dotted with fields of millet, barley, and potatoes. Its farmhouses are adorned with intricately painted wooden cornices and ornately carved window frames. 

     

    You will walk through serene hamlets and remote monasteries below mountain peaks. Good for Photography, Flora and Fauna.

    After check in Lodge, start to explore this magical valley from the Black & White temple to the corner most village. Overnight Hotel Rigsum in Haa.

     

    Day 20 : Chelila Hike – Paro

    Early rise and drive to Chelia pass (3810m). This is the highest motorable pass in the whole of kingdom and on a clear day you can have beautiful view of the western Himalayan mountain ranges. 

     

    From this point, embark on an excursion to Kila Goemba, one of the biggest and oldest nunnery Monastery which is situated on the hillside rocky mountain. There are around 300 nuns studying Buddhist way of life. Some of them had been in meditational retreat for years. We will have you visit some of their homes as well. Then hike down further to the parking lot on the high way. The hike takes about 2.5 hours and the drive from the parking lot to Paro takes about 1.5 hours. Altogether it’s a 45km drive through the blue pine and cheer pine forest.

     

    On arrival, check in resort and then drive to Dzongda Kha located on the mountain cliff. It looks like Tiger’s nest from the bridge in Bonday. There is a newly paved road to this Monastery. You can have a mini farewell party in the resort for your last night in Bhutan.

     

    Day 21 : Departure

    In morning, our representative will bid you farewell at the Airport. Tashi Delek!

     

     

     

     

     

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    A:Available - This tour is available for booking.
    R:On Request - This tour is on request only
    All prices are per person.
    If you are interested, please contact your local agent to make the booking or alternatively email us at reservations@toursite.com.au