Day 1: Arrive Paro
After arrival into Paro’s high altitude airport in the Kingdom of Bhutan (“Edge of the Earth”), clear customs and immigration, and meet escort to transfer into Paro town for lunch orientation at the Restaurant. Afterwards, briefly strolling around downtown Paro and an optional visit to the National Museum of Bhutan located in the watch tower of Ta Dzong. The museum is home to a variety of Thangka art canvases, Buddhist relics, artifacts and rare stamps. The museum is ideal for those who want to learn about the history and culture, but also a perfect place to visit this acclimation day with no strenuous activities planned this day. Time permitting, also visiting Rinpung Dzong, the seat of provincial administration and a monastic school. Evening at leisure. Overnight Paro (Alt; 2,280m)
For those impatient to pedal, we can enjoy a short evening ride along the Pa Chu River to Drugyel Dzong (the Ruined Fort).
Day 2: Paro Valley
Today’s morning ride will be easy, allowing acclimating to the higher elevation, and will cover all the main highlights of the Paro Valley and off-the-beaten-track riding through a little visited side valley. Sweeping down to the valley floor, we’ll follow the Pa Chhu (river) via a traditional covered bridge (Nyamai Zam) and then past the main archery ground, Ugyen Pelri Palace and into Paro town. Then cycling off road at Dob Shari alongside the Do Chhu past several temples and traditional farmhouses climbing very gradually up to the village of Dobshaptoe.
Having negotiated the narrow lanes return to Paro via a higher track rejoining the tarmac to pay our respects at Kyichu Lhakhang one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magic orange tree that bears fruit all year round. Continuing up the valley (either by road or on tracks) with Taktsang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) perched above wind through villages, rice paddies and pine forest to the road head (next stop Tibet) and archery ground at Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1644 by Zabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to control northern route to Tibet. Now it’s time to enjoy a freewheel virtually all the way back to Paro town. (Support vehicle is with us to assist with the last leg if necessary)
Today 3-7 hours of cycling is planned to be easy to moderate, riding for a maximum of 50 kilometers, mostly flat with gradual ascents and descents on about 1/3rd road and 2/3rds graded tracks and trails.
Day 3: Chele La-Haa Valley
Today we start early (by van or bike) for rural Haa Valley through the spectacular Chele La Pass which is at 3,810 meters (12,500 feet), is the highest road pass in Bhutan. The climb from Paro snakes upwards through blue pine and rhododendron forests for 21 miles (35 kilometers) on an empty road. The descent from Chele La is 15 miles of sharper switchbacks, flattening on the reaches into the town of Haa.
On a clear day we will have clear view of one of the Bhutan’s highest peak, the sacred Mount Jhomolhari, towering in the distance at over 7,000 meters (nearly 24,000 feet).
After reaching the pass we’ll pay respect to elders, as is the Bhutanese custom, and admire the surrounding Himalayan views, and if we’ve ridding for long, break for refreshments before cycling past the hundreds of colorful prayer flags and enjoying a long, winding descent through the pines into the remote and untouched Haa Valley, with a sparse population and very few tourists.
On entering the valley, we’ll see the Wangchulo Dzong, and continue on the flat road along the Haa River to the tiny Haa Township. In the afternoon, strolling around Haa before dinner. Overnight Haa (Alt; 2,300m)
Day 4: Haa-Thimphu
Today’s 74 miles (114 kilometers) is one of the Bhutan’s most beautiful, passing the scenic overlook of where the Paro and Thimpu rivers unite, and then rolling along the winding road through the valley. The road busies at the junction of the rivers and the remaining 21 miles (33 kilometers), we will travel by van to the capital). Today’s only real climb is, a four-mile ascent near mile 36 (and where after the river confluence, below).
With a population just over 1, 00,000, Thimphu is small and like no other capital city; set in a unique valley, with distinctive architecture reflective of the harmony of tradition and modernity. The capital Thimphu itself sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu and is the center of government, but also religion and commerce. A city with no traffic lights where police still direct traffic at intersections, yet it is the largest city in the country and seat of the government as well as the main hub of commerce.
Exploration of Thumphu’s main cultural and historical attractions, including Institute of Traditional Medicine, School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, Folk Heritage and Textile Museums, and the Jungshina Handmade Paper Factory (Bhutan in ancient days was the biggest supplier of paper in the Himalayan region for printing religious scriptures and prayers). Next drive a short distance to the Sangaygang hill shrouded in hundreds of colorful flags with a great view over the capital city. Walk a short distance from here to the National Animal Sanctuary to see the unique Takin, the national animal. On the way back the bus will stop at the National Emporium.
In the evening the National Memorial Chorten is a nice place to observe how the locals recite prayers at dusk. The stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the third king of Bhutan. Overnight Thimphu (Alt; 2,320m)
Day 5: Cheri hike & sightseeing
Today, we’ll stretch our legs and with a morning hike into the forested foothills of the Thimphu Valley, ascending to Cheri Goemba Monastery (built in 1620), with expansive views over the valley’s river, farms, and pine forests.
In the afternoon, you can visit some of the sites you have missed on the first day! Later, visiting the massive Tashichoe Dzong. In the evening, stroll the alleys of the the capital & If it is the weekend during your visit, we will explore the local market where locals gather to sell their vegetables, traditional masks, textiles, incense, and jewelry. The market is one of the best place in Bhutan to buy traditional crafts. There is often an archery competition taking place nearby we can watch. Overnight Thimphu (Alt; 2,320m)
Day 6: Thimphu to Punakha
After breakfast we depart for the Punakha Valley 51 miles away, climbing up over over the 10,300 foot (3,139 meter) Dochu La Pass. Ascending out of Thimphu valley we will view Semtokha Dzong with the giant Buddha atop the Kuensel Phodrang hill on the opposite side of the valley. If it’s a clear day, the whole range of inner Himalayan peaks can be viewed, including the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkhar Puensum at 7,541 meters.
The ride up to Dochu La is gradual through the ubiquitous pine forests, and like our ride to Haa Valley, this day is mostly an all up and down endeavor, with over 5,000 feet of climbing coming at the beginning of the ride followed by a magnificent descent through the forest.
From Dochu La, the road descends through a rich forest, blooming giant magnolias, fields of rhododendrons and many other flowers during the right season. Continue descending into valleys of Punakha and Wangdue (the valley is a paradise for bird watchers).
Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan until 1955, is a picturesque town surrounded with snowcapped Himalayan slopes known for the massive Punakha Dzong. Known in ancient times as the Druk Pungthang Dechhen Phrodang or “the palace of great happiness”, the Punakha Dzong was the second dzong to be built in Bhutan. The fortress-monastery was built in 1637 by Shabdung Nawang Namgyal in a commanding position at the conﬂuence of the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu (Father and Mother rivers). It once served as the seat of the Kingdom’s government and is now the winter home of Je Khenpo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of about 1,000 monks.
Afterwards, followed by a short hike of about one hour through local farms and villages to the monastery, Chimi Lhakhang. The site was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kinley (1455–1529) whose legacy was many legends for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humor, and outrageous behavior, often bizarre, shocking, and with sexual overtones (Drukpa Kuenley is one of the most revered and followed saints in Bhutan, and his symbol – the phallus – will be noticed in various forms within Bhutanese houses and restaurants.
One of the most odd aspects of the temples is its place as a pilgrimage site for women who come seeking blessings for children and will receive a thump on the head by the presiding Lama with a 10-inch ivory, wood, and bone phallus as well as the bow and arrow supposedly used by the Divine Madman himself. Overnight Punakha (Alt; 1,300m)
Day 7: Punakha-Phobjikha Valley
Today, we’ll cycle or drive out of Punakha ten miles (16 kilometers) along the flat riverside road to Wangdue, then turn uphill on a quiet side road heading up towards the Pele La Pass (10,800 ft.), to the broad glacial and alpine valley of Phobjikha.
The ride to Phobjikha is all uphill, gaining a leg straining 1,500 meters, with a slight descent into Phobjikha. From Wangdue to Phobjikha is 46 miles (77 kilometers).
Phobjikha is home of the only monastery of the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism in western Bhutan and famous for the endangered black-necked cranes from Tibet that winter here (the birds arrive near the end of October). With beautiful scenery of rhododendrons, dwarf bamboos and villages, ideal for long walks it embodies the serenity and beauty of rural life in Bhutan.
After arriving at the Lawala Pass (not yet the Pelela Pass, which comes tomorrow), descending into the Phobjikha Valley and the small remote town of Gantey. In the afternoon, walking the town and through the scenic foothills. Overnight Phobjikha (Alt; 2,900m)
Day 8: Phobjikha-Trongsa Valley
Following breakfast, we’ll depart by van, or bikes, backtracking the six miles back up to the Lawa Pass, then heading steeply up the short route to 3,300 meter Pele Pass. We climb this morning for about ten miles, over the Pele Pass.
From Pele Pass we descends into the Longte Valley and within another ten miles, passing Chendebji Chorten, a stone Buddhist monument, and the small village of Chendebji. Upon reaching Trongsa, we will check-in the hotel and get some lunch.
Explore the small town and visit the fortress, Trongsa Dzong which dominates the entire vista of the town, stretching across a ridge. Initially built in 1648 and expanded in later years, it was the seat of the most powerful governor in the country with influences that stretched all the way to east. Both the first and second King ruled the country from this ancient dzong. Later visit the Ta Dzong(watch tower), which has now been converted to museum coinciding with the coronation of our fifth king in 2008.
Overnight Trongsa (Alt; 2,180m)
Day 9: Trongsa-Bumthang
Today, cycling for roughly forty six miles (77 kilometres) to Bumthang will take us into a different ecological region of immense beauty, riding through confers and lush alpine vegetation, affording sublime views to savor if not for having to bike up the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of the Yotongla Pass reaching 3,400 meters (Support vehicle is with us to assist with the last leg if necessary). The descent into Bumthang is a breathtaking 18 mile stretch (30 kilometers).
Bumthang is a general name given to combination of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. The four valleys that make Bumthang is the sacred heart of the country and is home to many prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries. Besides natural beauty the valley is bountifully blessed with numerous ancient temples and is the revered birthplace of many saints. It was here that the legendary saint Pema Lingpa was born, to whom the Bhutanese Royalties trace their lineage. Bumthang is also distinguished in history as the first place in Bhutan where Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism.
Before reaching Bumthang, we’ll stop to visit a weaving center in Chumey valley. Textiles in Bhutan are unique in style to each region, and Bumthang is famous for woollen textiles called Yathra and Mathra. From here to Chamkhar valley, is only a half hour away and we’ll continue biking into town. Overnight Bumthang (Alt; 2,580m)
Day 10: Bumthang
Walking tour in the sacred Bumthang Valley. Bumthang consists of four valleys and is the heart of both the religious and political history of the country. Today, visiting Jakar Dzong, a 17th fortress monastery which continues to be the seat of local government and monastery. Afterwards, exploring of Jambey Lhakhang, one of the two 7th century temple in the country (other being Kyichu in Paro to be visited later/earlier). They are two surviving temples out of supposedly eight in Bhutan commissioned by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet who took upon himself to build 108 temples in Tibet and other Himalayan regions.
It was here that Guru Rimpoche conducted his first sermon on Tantric Buddhism for his host King Sindhu raja, the local ruler, his family and subjects in Kurjey Lhakhang complex. It consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. The body imprint of the great master can be distinctly seen in the rock cave enshrined in the temple. Tamshing Lhakhang, located in a village across the river from Kurjey Lhakhang which is the seat of Bumthang’s famous son saint Pema Lingpa who built it himself in 1501. A skilled tantric master and an artist he sculpted the main statues and painted the frescoes, which can be seen even today, mostly in original state.
Konchosum Lhakhang also located here, is an old temple suspected to be from the 6th or 7th century but the current structure dates back to the same period as Tamshing Lhakhang. It is also a site from where Terton Pema Lingpa discovered sacred treasures. There is a bell in the temple, which when rung was believed to be heard as far as Lhasa, Tibet. Overnight Bumthang (Alt; 2,580m)
Day 11: Bumthang-Paro
This morning relaxing and savoring our final moments in remote Bhutan. Mid-morning we fly back to Paro on a short hop. After arrival, transfer into Paro to further explore the town or relax before tomorrow’s hike. Overnight Paro (Alt; 2,280m)
Day 12: Quest to Takstang (Tiger’s Nest)
Paro is a valley of religion and myth. The most famous landmark, the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest), stands on a granite cliff about 800m above the valley. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, a famous Buddhist saint, flew to Paro on a tigress and meditated at Taktsang. The monastery, considered a national treasure, was unfortunately burnt down in April 1998 and still the cause is unknown. However the monastery has been restored to its original splendour.
The hike to Taktsang would take us around two and half hours. To reach a cafeteria, a point from where one can enjoy a great view of the monastery is about an hour walk from the road head climbing up gradually. Those interested can walk further to the monastery and return to the cafeteria for lunch. The journey downward to the road head would take us about an hour and half. Overnight Paro. (Alt; 2280m)
Day 13: Departure
Today is your last morning in this mystical and memorable country of Bhutan. We will have breakfast and proceed to Paro for your onward flight. We bid a fond farewell to Bhutan for the flight back to your home. We hope you have enjoyed your trip immensely and taking back wonderful memories!