Cultural Heartlands Tour
This package is designed for travellers who wish to immerse themselves in the historical story of Bhutan. It's an adventure that dates back to the 7th century, become very busy in the 17th century and flourishes into the nation we know today at the beginning of the 20th century.
Bhutan is a newly formed kingdom that has been cautious about opening it's doors to the outside world. This is why Bhutan remains a unique and culturally preserved destination. Our itinerary takes you to meet monks in the monasteries, explores the gilded architecture of the 17th century and gets you up close to some of the best museums in the country. We also explore the local charms with very special farmhouse experiences and a chance to meet talented crafts people.
Additional sightseeing, modifications or activities can also be incorporated depending on your interests and local events. We assure you all the flexibility possible in terms of the daily tour activities.
Day 1 / Flight to Paro
The flight to Bhutan offers scenic views of the Himalayas. Mount Jumolhari at 7314m in Bhutan is also visible just before your approach to Paro airport, an altitude of 2280m above sea level. This valley is rich in terraced filed growing rice, apple, wheat, potatoes and vegetables.
A Bhutan Scenic Tour guide will meet you at Paro airport, traditionally welcomed with traditional scarves and after completion of arrival formalities we take a short drive to your hotel to recover and freshen up from the early flight.
We spend the afternoon with a leisurely stroll in the Paro Valley to get a sense of the place . We will also take a moment to watch the national game at the archery range, close by the Paro Town.
In the evening we take a leisurely stroll in Paro Bazaar.
Day 2 / Paro to Thimphu
Today we travel to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The scenic one hour drive takes us past rice fields and wayside mountain villages.We briefly stop at the confluence where Thimphu river meets the Paro river with the three styles of stupas commonly found in the Himalayas. These kinds of monuments are also used as trail markers. Most of these monuments are built by high monks or by layman contains holy Buddhist relics.
After checking in at your hotel in Thimphu and a brief rest , we embark on a leisurely exploration of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan .
Light sightseeing around Thimphu. All the sights mentioned below are located within a 2km radius to ensure that you are not tired and also to maximise the sightseeing at each of the highlights mentioned below.
We begin with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten which is the most visible landmark of the capital city. The building of this landmark was envisaged by the third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, as a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the Father of modern Bhutan”) and a monument to world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Folk Heritage Museum, which opened in 2001, provides fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.
National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion. "Bhutan - A Visual Odyssey", conceived and printed by MIT USA as the biggest book in the world, is displayed here.
Drive to the Thimphu viewpoint at Sangyegang, en route we visit the unique and highly endangered Takin (national animal) preserve .
Explore Tashichhodzong. This impressive castle/monastery houses Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
There will also be options to enjoy a leisurely stroll in Thimphu Town.
Day 3 / Thimphu to Punakha
In the morning we begin on a scenic drive to the Dochula pass (3050m). The pass here offers panoramic views of the eastern Himalayan ranges, the views are normally unobstructed during the spring, summer, and winter seasons. We take in the view and also go around the 108 Stupas built to honour His Majesty the King, world peace and for the benefit of all living beings.
We will be briefly stopping at the Cafeteria for some refreshments. From the pass, it is a scenic winding descent into the sub-tropical Punakha valley.
En route we enjoy a short and easy walk to Chimmi Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to the saint of fertility. We walk past villages and rice fields to Chimi Lhakhang, the Temple of the Divine Madman. The saint is revered as a symbol of fertility and most childless couples visit this temple to seek blessings.
Day 4 / Punakha to Gangtey
In the morning we enjoy a walk across the traditional footbridge that spans across the river into the castle of Punakha. This is reputedly the longest cantilever bridge in the world. we explore and experience the architectural grandeur of the “castle of great happiness". The Castle of great happiness is a massive stricture built on the junction of two river Pho Chu (male river) and Mo Chu (female river). Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and the dzong serves as the winter residence of the central monk body. Our kings are crowned inside the sacred temple and all our Royal weddings take place inside this magnificent castle.
We then drive 15 minutes to North Punakha to enjoy a short hike to Khamsum Yulay Namgyal Chorten, this beautiful temple located on top of a small hill was consecrated in Dec 1999 by Her Majesty the Queen mother. We take in the spectacular views of the valleys to the south and the mighty Himalayas in the north from the viewpoint at the temple.
After lunch in Punakha, we drive into theBlack Mountain’s which is the traditional boundary between east and west. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo. The journey passes through farm house and road side villages. This area is a favoured habitat of the Yaks.
We will also stop by wayside markets and panoramic landscapes to stretch out or for photo opportunities. We arrive at the tranquil, enchanting valley of Sha Phobjikha in the early afternoon.
Day 5 / Gangtey
We begin the tour in Gangtey with a visit to the magnificent Gangtey Monastery, a 16th century monastery which exemplifies traditional craftsmanship at its best.
We also the Crane Information Center in Phobjikha valley and also perhaps enjoy a walk around the enchanting valley in the afternoon. Gangtey valley is famed for its scenic walking trails and upon consulting your guide you may choose any of the easy or moderate nature trails.
The trail traverses through the ecologically diverse roosting grounds of the highly endangered black-necked cranes and therefore there will be ample photo opportunities to train your camera on the magnificent birds. The cranes flock to this valley during the months of November and stay until April before flying back to the Tibetan plateau.
After enjoying a picnic spread in the alpine meadows, we explore a village towards the southern end of the valley before returning to the hotel in the evening. There will also be options to overnight at a farmhouse in the valley should you be interested.
Day 6 / Gangtey to Bumthang
After early breakfast,we embark on a drive across the pass at Pele La (3300m). The pass is marked by a white chorten and many prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo.
We arrive in Trongsa for lunch, we also visit Trongsa Dzong built in 1648. It is the biggest of all the fortresses in the country and also the most impressive and aesthetic with magnificent work of traditional architecture. It was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. This Dzong is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All five Kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (‘governor’) prior to ascending the throne. The monastic body moves to Trongsa for the winter and to Bumthang in the summer.
Above the town is Ta Dzong (watch tower), which now functions as the Museum on Bhutanese Monarchy.
After the tour of Trongsa we drive to Bumthang which is located 68 km away, a journey of about 3 hours, over the pass at Yutong La (3400m). The road winds steeply up to the pass then runs down through coniferous forests to the Choekor Valley or central Bumthang, the cultural heartland of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
The beautiful Bumthang valley (also known as the Switzerland of the Himalayas) is comprised of the combination of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2600m to 4000m. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries and it is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
Later in the afternoon we visit the Swiss farm. The farm produces both cottage and a variety of swiss cheese, pure honey and a large variety of fruit juice and spirits. The Brewery that manufactures the famous Red Panda Beer (a light German styled wheat beer) is also located here.
Day 7 / Bumthang
Visit Jakar Dzong (Castle of the White Bird) built in 1667 and it's seat of district administration and regional monastic body of Bumthang.
Jambay Temple founded in 7th century by the Tibetan king Songsen Gampo and it is one of the oldest monasteries in the country.
Kurjey Temple, where the patron saint of Buddhism in Bhutan subdued a local demon and left his body imprint.
Tamshing monastery was founded in 1501 by Terton (Treasure Revealer) Pema Lingpa, the incarnation of Guru Rinpoche. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhisattvas) in Bhutan.
There will also be adequate time to enjoy a leisurely walk in Chamkhar town, the main trading post of central Bhutan. We will be having dinner at a farmers home this evening to gain some insight into the local cuisine and culture.
Day 8 / Bumthang
We drive (2 hours) to the hidden valley of Tang with a stopover along the way at the Burning Lake (Membar Tso) where Pema Lingpa retrieved sacred treasures from its murky depths. En route we visit the Nunnery at Tang and meet female Buddhist monks for tea and discourses on Buddhism.
We will also be visiting the ancient Tak Rimochen (Tiger Stripe Temple), located below a cliff with tiger stripes where we will view some rare wall murals.
Later in the afternoon we embark on a short hike to the Ugyencholling manor house and museum which offer’s fascinating insights on the traditional aristocratic families of medieval Bhutan. This museum has one of the finest displays of articles, textiles and items of daily use.
We drive back to Bumthang in the late afternoon.
Day 9 / Bumthang to Paro by Air
Today we board the domestic flight from Bumthang to Paro which is a scenic journey of thirty minutes offering spectacular mountain views.
After a brief rest we explore the National Museum. It houses some of the finest specimens of art including masterpieces of bronze and paintings. The Museum with its extensive collections interprets history and culture of Bhutan through its exhibits.
We explore the Paro Rimpung Dzong (fortress/castle) which was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and political ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body and district administration. En route we take the traditional walking route across the 16th century cantilever bridge where travellers were once compelled to pay the "salt tax" to gain entry. We cross the bridge and follow the stone cobbled path for close up views of the architectural grandeur of the Dzong.
Later in the afternoon we visit the Kichu Monastery, one of Bhutan’s most sacred temples dating from the introduction of Buddhism in the 7th Century. This monastery is one among the 108 monasteries built miraculously by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659AD to subdue a huge demon whose body covered Tibet and Bhutan.
Day 10 / Paro
Leisurely drive to the Sangha Choekhor Buddhist university located on the mountains north of Paro valley.
We enjoy the magnificent wall frescoes inside the monastery/university, interact with monks and later picnic at a scenic spot. This vantage offers the best spot to enjoy the panoramic scenery of the entire Paro valley.
We spend the afternoon immersed in the Paro market place and enjoying some local pastries with freshly brewed coffee at a café in town.
The evening today will be at leisure or enjoy a quiet time at your hotel ahead of the hike to the Tigers Nest monastery tomorrow.
Day 11 / Paro
We drive 20 minutes north to enjoy a wonderful day hike to Tigers Nest. This spiritual landmark is an awe inspiring testament to the living spiritual legacy of Bhutan. The hike takes 2 to 3 hours on ascent and about 1.5 hours on descent.
The Tigers Nest Monastery (2900m) is among one of the most popular spiritual heritage sites and a cultural landmark in the Kingdom of Bhutan. The patron saint of Bhutan had arrived at this spot on a back of tigress and meditated here in a cave and hence it is called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. This site has been recognised as the most spiritual of sites in Bhutan and many eminent saints have meditated in this area. Now it is visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their life time.
We will be having lunch and refreshments at the cafeteria, which offers another lovely view of the cultural landmark.
Day 12 / Paro to onward destination
We check in two hours prior to flight departure to ensure the best seats on board, best suited to take in the panoramic view of the Himalayas.
We bid you goodbye and happy travels
PRICE GUIDE AND INCLUSIONS
High season touring for 12 days will typically cost USD$3300pp for a group of two or more people. The following are included in that price guide:
All transportation from the moment you arrive at Paro
Internal flight from Bumthang to Paro
Entry fees to parks and museums
Visa for entry into Bhutan
What's not included:
International flights into and out of Paro
Drinks and Alcohol
Tipping for your guides