Far Eastern Bhutan
This itinerary is designed to start at the far eastern end of Bhutan, entering the country from the border crossing at Guwahati, and travelling back towards Thimphu and Paro by road. It's an epic journey that gives you insight into parts of Bhutan that few travellers experience.
There are regular flights connecting Guwahati to Paro, Delhi and Bangkok, making it a fascinating starting point for this adventure. Historically, parts of Assam were once strongly connected to the Bhutanese kingdoms, making it a fitting element of the journey.
As always we can adjust this itinerary to suit your needs. For examples, if you've been to Bhutan before and want to experience something unique we can plan to spend more time in the most eastern part of the country and express your journey back to Paro with a flight from Bhumthang. There are many possibilities.
Day 1 / Guwahati, India to Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan
Our tour guide will await you at the Guwahati International Airport (GAU) which is the main airport hub of north east India. Soon after arrival we drive from the Indian plains for 3 hours to arrive in Samdrup Jongkhar, the eastern gateway to Bhutan.
We will facilitate all the entry formalities to enter Bhutan. We then check in at the hotel located in the bustling border town to rest and relax after your travels. Later in the afternoon we leisurely stroll in the town area. The frontier town of Samdrup Jongkhar, or SJ for short, is the main trading hub of the entire eastern Bhutan since it borders the Indian city of Guwahati, Assam.
Day 2 / Samdrup Jongkhar to Tashigang
We embark on a scenic 180km drive across farmlands, villages and pristine forests for about five hours and arrive in Tashigang.
Along the way we also stop briefly in Deothang previously known as Dewangiri. Deothang was a battlefield between Bhutanese and British in 1865. From Deothang there is a good view of the Indian plains below and this will be our first encounter with the Bhutanese mountains as you ascend the foothills to the greater Himalayas.
We also take a break at Narphung town which is located just beside the highway and has not changed much since the 1980s, and have time to walk the local shops.
In Khaling we visit the National Handloom Development Project operated by the National Women Association of Bhutan. The weaving centre utilises only natural dyes for the exquisite traditional textiles that are produced here. Depending on your interest and if the Institute is open, we can also visit the National Institute for the Disabled. The Institute assimilates students from all over Bhutan who are blind or handicapped into the local educational system and provide special resources and training.
En-route we stop briefly at Sherubtse College, the site of the premier university in Bhutan offering degrees in Arts, Commerce, Sciences and Information Technology.
Tashigang is the largest of the 20 districts in Bhutan. The vegetation here is sub-tropical with people mainly growing maize, rice and some varieties of fruits.
Tashigang also still has pockets where certain shaman practices still exists and many age old traditions and practices thrive in the rural areas here.The eastern folks in these parts are known for their love of fish and Ara, the traditional brew which is produced by distilling wheat or maize.
Day 3 / Tashigang to Mongar
We begin the day by exploring the Tashigang Dzong which is located on a ridge overlooking the confluence of two rivers. This is the centre of district administration and the monastic body of Tashigang. It will also be worthwhile to enjoy a brisk walk in Tashigang Bazaar, which is a rustic charming cluster of houses, shops and peoples homes.
We then drive onward to Mongar which is located 92 km away from Trashigang, a journey of about three and half hours. Later in the afternoon we visit the Mongar Dzong which is the centre of district administration. Afternoon at leisure in Mongar Town.
Day 4 / Mongar
Day excursion to Lhuntse. Besides the royal anecdotes and the idiosyncratic ethnicity of the region, Lhuentse is famous for the Kushuthara, which are exquisite textiles woven from fine silk. The weavers in this village have been keeping intact one of the distinctive art forms in the country.
The weavers from Khoma village are famous for their skills and expertise in weaving the intricate designs. We will also be meeting the weavers here and also visit a home to understand more about the way of life in these parts. There will be plenty of stops along the way for photography, refreshments or simply to enjoy the luxuriant forests and landscape.
Day 5 / Mongar to Bumthang
Today will be the longest drive in the course of this trip as we will be entering central Bhutan. The road gradually descends past sub-tropical forests and is among the most spectacular nature drives in the country. The route to Bumthang is a popular birding site where myriad species of avi fauna can be spotted alongside the road.
We also pass through extensive cornfields, wayside farm outlets and descend down through the rice terraces until the vegetation becomes much tropical near to the floor valley of Limithang. Across Limithang are the ruins of Shongar Dzong, this is believed to have been one of the earliest and largest Dzongs and estimated to be built around the 1100 AD.
From Limithang we climb to the Thrumshingla Pass (3750m) which is the highest motorable road in the country. The pass offers a wonderful view of Gangkhar Puensum (7541m), the highest unclimbed peak in the world.
On the way depending on the availability of time and interest, we can also make a brief visit to Ura village.
We arrive in Bumthang in the late afternoon. Bumthang Valley, sometimes referred to 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 prominent Buddhist temples dating back to the 16th century, and monasteries and it is also the traditional home to the saint Pemalingpa to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
Day 6 / Bumthang
Tamshing monastery was founded in 1501 by the Treasure revealer saint Pema Lingpawho is considered as the incarnation of the patron saint, Guru Rinpoche. The murals at Tamshing are the oldest frescoes in the country.
Kurje Temple, another sacred site associated with patron saint of Buddhism in Bhutan as this was where the saint subdued a local demon and left his body imprint.
Jambay Temple was founded in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo and it is one of the oldest monasteries in the country.
We will also visit a farmers home for lunch to enjoy some local delicacies.
Jakar Dzong or the castle of the white bird was built in 1667 and it is the seat of district administration and regional monastic body of central Bhutan.
The swiss farm,the farm produces a variety of cheese, pure honey, fruit juice and spirits. The brewery here also manufactures the famous Red Panda Beer (wheat beer). It will be befitting to end the sightseeing today with a sampling of the red panda beer over some fresh swiss cheese (subject to availability).
In the late afternoon before we return to the hotel we leisurely walk in Chamkhar town, the main trading hub of the town.
Day 7 / Bumthang to Gangtey
We embark on yet another picturesque drive through pine forests and villages to the ecologically bio diverse Phobjikha Valley.
En route we stop in Trongsa, to visit the Museum on Bhutanese Monarchy and explore the impressive Trongsa Dzong, both of which are magnificent works of traditional architecture. This Dzong is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family and served as the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All five Kings were enthroned as the Trongsa Penlop (governor) prior to ascending the throne. The dzong is also home to the largest monastic body in Bhutan.
We arrive in the town of Gangtey, in Phobjokha Valley, in the early afternoon and spend some time at the the local monastery, which exemplifies traditional craftsmanship at its best. We also visit the Crane Information Center where we learn more about the Black-necked Cranes which flock to this valley during the winter months, before they fly back to the Tibetan plateau.
Day 8 / Gangtey to Punakha
Phobjikha Valley is famed for its scenic walking trails and upon consulting your guide you may choose any of the easy or moderate nature trails in the morning before we make the drive to Punakha.
The nature 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.
In the afternoon we begin the descent into the sub-tropical Punakha valley.
Day 9 / Punakha
In the morning we enjoy a walk across the traditional footbridge that spans across the river into the Punakha Dzong, reputedly the longest cantilever bridge in the world. We then explore the architectural grandeur of the “castle of great happiness”. This Dzong is a massive structure built at 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 still serves as the winter residence for the central monastic body. The Dzong has been witness to many significant national events which include the coronation of our kings and all the Royal weddings.
We then drive 15 minutes to North Punakha and 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 viewing platform at the temple.
Day 10 / Punakha to Thimphu
Ahead of the two hour drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan we disembark at the Limbukha village from where we walk to the Chimi Lhakhang Temple, a temple dedicated to the Divine Madman (Saint of Fertility).
Our drive then begins the ascent to Dochula pass (3150m), the pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges on clear weather. Enjoy the floral landscape along the way which consists of myriad species of alpine flora and assorted species of pine trees which makes the area a favoured habitat of some rare birds found only in Bhutan.
We arrive in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan in time for lunch. Thimphu has a population of 100,000 people and is claimed to be the fastest growing capital in Asia due to the sheer number of new buildings. This is also the only capital city in the world without traffic lights.
In the afternoon we visit the Tashichhodzong. This impressive dzong houses Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government ministries. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Evening at leisure or we enjoy a stroll in the main street of Thimphu.
Day 11 / Thimphu
We visit the National Memorial Chorten, the most visible land mark of the capital. 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 third King and a monument to world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Folk Heritage Museum: The 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. On display here is a book called, "Bhutan - A Visual Odyssey", conceived and printed by MIT USA and is the biggest book in the world.
Drive to the Thimphu viewpoint at Sangyegang, en route we visit the a preserve for the unique and highly endangered Takin, Bhutan's national animal.
There will also be options to explore the streets of Thimphu town.
Day 12 / Thimphu to Paro
We leave the capital city behind to begin on an hour long drive to the fertile Paro and the area known for the only International airport in the country.
Upon arrival in Paro, we visit the National Museum, which houses some of the finest specimens of art including bronze masterpieces and paintings. The Museum with its extensive collections interprets history and culture of Bhutan through its exhibits.
We then explore the Paro Rimpung Dzong which was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and political ruler of Bhutan. This dzong houses the monastic body and district administration. En route we take the traditional route across the 16th century cantilever bridge. A walk through the bridge, over a stone cobbled path, offers up a close view of the architectural wonder 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 659 AD to subdue a huge demon whose body covered Tibet and Bhutan.
Day 13 / Paro
We drive 20 minutes north of the valley 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. Tigers Nest is one of the most venerated places in Bhtuan, yet precariously perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. The patron saint of Bhutan had arrived at this spot on a back of a flying 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 have lunch and refreshments at the cafeteria half way down the path, which offers an impressive view of the cultural landmark.
Day 14 / 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
PRICING GUIDE AND INCLUSIONS
High season touring for 14 days will typically cost USD$3500pp for a group of two or more people. The following are included in this price guide:
- Accommodation in our preferred 3 star hotels and guest houses
- All Meals
- All Transportation
- Visa for entry into Bhutan
What's not included:
- International flights for Paro and Guwahati
- Visa for your travel in India/Assam
- Drinks and Alcohol
- Tips for guides