Day 1: Arrive Paro International airport
Your guide and driver will welcome you at the airport and will proceed to the capital of Bhutan which is an hour’s drive away. Take brief stop at Tamchhu Lhakhang on the way. Built by Thangtong Gyalpo or the Iron Bridge Builder as he is known, this 14th century saint introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains and the only way to reach his temple is by one of his bridges.
The view over Thimpu from the big Buddha statue helps to get our bearings before we plunge into this vibrant growing town struggling to blend the shock of the new with traditional aspects of life in the shadow of the Himalaya.
Depending on opening hours, guest interests and time, your guide may include some of the following in your private schedule: The National Memorial Chorten, Trashi Chhoe Dzong: the “fortress of the glorious religion”, the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, the National Textile Museum, the Weekend Market, the Folk Heritage Museum, or you may wish to just go window shopping.
Duration: 5 – 7 hours
Overnight: Thimphu (Alt; 2320m)
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing and Punakha adventure
Thimpu sightseeing, Punakha Valley via Dochu La & Chimmi Lhakhang.
With the morning reserved for more sightseeing in the capital you have the chance to buy some wish fulfilling prayer flags to hang later at the Dochu la pass. If the weather gods are with us at 3,080m the pass affords sweeping views towards the main Himalayan range and a meditative stroll amongst the forest of fluttering prayer flags and maze of 108 memorial chortens.
The route now plunges into primeval forest (look out for monkeys and birdlife) either by bike or in the vehicle snaking nearly 2,000 meters down into the Punakha valley at Chimmi Lhakhang. This hilltop, fertility temple, was founded by the tantric Buddhist Master Drukpa Kunley, one of Tibet’s foremost saints and yogis and the patron saint of Bhutan. He belongs to the Drukpa (Dragon) school of Tibetan Buddhism and is greatly loved by all the people as an enlightened master and an exponent of ‘crazy wisdom’. He taught through outrageous behavior and ribald humor in order to awaken the people he met to a higher awareness free from conventional morality and self-obsession.
Duration of drive: 2 – 1/2 hours (76km)
Overnight: Punakha (Alt; 1300m)
Day 3: Punakha Dzong and Khamsum Yuley Chorten
Walk or white watering rafting adventure for a full day to cover all the highlights of the valley. We start early with a short walk up through whitewashed homesteads and farmland to Khamsum Yuley Namgyle Chorten, a shrine built by the royal family. This temple is a startlingly ornate and elaborate structure boasting a rainbow of Guru Rinpoche images and superb views of the lush rice paddies and orange groves of the Punakha Valley. Downstream the edifice of Punakha Dzong (Druk Pungthang Decchen Phodrang – the Palace of Great Happiness) awaits and we can either drive down or float to its gates on a rafting adventure. Built in 1637 by Zhabdung Nawang Namgyal in a commanding position at the confluence of the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu (Father and Mother rivers).
Bhutan’s second oldest dzong served as the seat of the Kingdom’s government until the time of the second King and today is the winter home of the Je Khempo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of about 1,000 monks. Some guests are so captivated by the murals, shrines and general goings on in the courtyards that they chose to spend a few hours in the dzong.
Optional half day white water rafting adventure (at an additional charge).
Duration: 5 – 8 hours
Day 4: Phobjikha Rural Expedition (65 kms/2 hrs 30 mins)
On rise, after your breakfast drive to Phobjikha enrouting Wangdue valley. It’s about 3hrs drive from here.
Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the north western tip of the Black Mountain National Park. The valley is a conservation 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 northern habitats in Tibet and Siberia to these grounds.
Visit Information Centre for the Blacked Necked 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 homemade wine. Overnight Phobjikha. (Alt; 2900m)
Day 5: Phobjikha to Paro (170 kms/ 5-6 hrs)
On the final leg the sinuous route follows the Pa Chhu river, through apple orchards and rice paddies, past quaint homesteads to our home in the Himalaya, Paro town.
Visit Bhutan’s National museum which houses some of the religious mask, Thangkas (wall hanging/tapestry), religious artefacts, History & geological landscape of Bhutan. Proceed further down to visit Rinpung Dzong(fortress on the heap of jewel) which houses the seat of government and monastic body of Paro valley.
Take a short walk down to the traditional cantilevered bridge Nyami Zam which is built over the Pa Chhu River. From here you can get a good picture of the Ta Dzong, Dzong & the bridge. Later visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magic orange tree that bears fruit all year round. The walk can be also done vice-versa, you can discuss with your guide.
Overnight: Paro (Alt; 2,280m)
Day 6: Taktsang Hike, Drukgyel Dzong
The hike to the iconic Taktsang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery provides a fitting climax to our adventure. Otherworldly forces seem to be at work to keep the monastery clinging to its perch in the rock face so it comes as no surprise to discover that this Cliffside was where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) landed on the back of a ﬂying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet.
To avoid the hot sun an early start is advisable for the two-hour climb to the viewpoint. Descend steeply, then climb up to the monastery, passing a waterfall and entering through the main gates.
Retrace your steps or alternatively (if time and energy levels allow) head further up to several remote temples and monasteries for more magnificent views over Taktsang and the valley below. Time permitting, we drive further up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1649 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to control the northern route to Tibet (from here, it is only a two-day hike to the border, dominated by Mt Jhomalhari).
On the way back to Paro stop for some last minute shopping if you are not tired or you can just relax at the hotel.
Duration: 7 – 8 hours
Difﬁculty: Moderate to hard
Day 7: Depart Bhutan
Druk Air departs in the early morning to avoid adverse weather conditions so after breakfast, your transfer to the airport will be arranged for depending on the flight schedule and your destination.