Day 1: Arrival, proceed to Thimphu
If you are lucky, you’ll have glorious views of the snow-capped Himalayas on the way to Paro (Try and get the left hand seat for better view of the Himalayas). The remarkable and steep descent into the Paro Valley is an awe-inspiring beginning to your adventure. Enroute Tachoggang to have an experience to walk across over see through Iron Bridge which dates back to mid-15th century.
Take a drive to Thimphu following Pa Chhu downstream. Drive on to Buddha point to have an outlook of the city and for a stunning view of the valley. This is one of the largest Buddha statue in world measuring about 51.5m. Later take a visit to Takin Preserve to see Takin, Bhutan’s national animal – a strange looking beast which some say resembles a beestung moose!
Take a view of the majestic Tashichoe Dzong, the seat of the government before visiting the Memorial Chorten – a monument erected in memory of Bhutan’s third king H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Depending on opening hours, guest interests and time, your guide may include some of the following in your private schedule: The school of Arts and crafts, the Folk Heritage Museum, Post office or you may wish to just go window shopping.
Overnight: Thimphu (Alt; 2320m)
Day 2: Punakha valley
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) 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.
Punakha Dzong (Druk Pungthang Decchen Phodrang – the Palace of Great Happiness). 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.
Overnight: Punakha (Alt; 1,300m)
Day 3: Countryside Getaway to Haa Valley (112 kms/5 hours)
In morning, drive to the valley of Haa. It is time to retrace our steps back over the Dochu La for a second chance of that spectacular view of the Himalayan range if the weather permits. Returning to the Chunzom (or confluence) we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward off evil spirits near the checkpoint. From here we take new road to Haa valley diverting to south west from the confluence following the downstream Wangchu River.
This is a scenic drive passing through quite a number of rural villages and beautiful landscapes. 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 farm houses are adorned with intricately painted wooden cornices and ornately carved window frames.
You will walk through the serene hamlets and remote monasteries below mountain peaks like the temple of Black & White Dove. Evening, take a leisurely drive to the beautiful valley of Damthang and on the way back stroll around the remote town of Haa.
Overnight Haa. (Alt; 2670m)
Day 4: Haa – Sagala
From Talung (3000m), trail ascends gradually along Halung chhu (locally known as Makhang chhu) through Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) and Fir (Abies densa) forests onwards to Sagala. You reach to Chagdo Zampa (3180m) after crossing Hatsho Thangka (summer grazing ground of Talung village) and see a rock with twin eyes and distorted mouth. It is believed that a Tibetan saint, Thangtong Gyalpo, in the 14th century subdued Nyela Thi Ngi Tana Rinchen (demon) at Khadey Gom and got turned into this rock. Since then travelers have no fear of the demon.
After a breathtaking climb uphill, you can stop for picnic lunch at Khadey Gom (3280m), a meadow covered with blooming Iris, Primula, Aster, etc. Then you continue uphill to Sagala camp (3600m) below Sagala pass.
The view of Mt. Jomolhari (7326m), other mountain peaks, Haa, Paro valleys and Paro Tak Tshang is spectacular on the clear day from Sagala Pass (3700m) which takes three quarter of an hour walk from the camp.
Sagala is ideal for bird watching in the morning and evening. There are chances to spot feeding Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejans) and Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus) and the likelihood of spotting Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster) along this trail.
Walking Distance: 5 to 6 hours
Overnight Camp Altitude: 3,600 m
Day 5: Sagala – Nyingungla
Morning trek is mostly along the ridges. After lunch, the trail ascends and descends through rhododendron scrubs all the way to Nyingungla camp. Rhododendron lepidotum could be seen in late bloom. The trail is covered with flowers of Meconopsis simplicifolia, Iris, many species of Aster, Primula kingii, Cynanthus lobatus, many species of Bistorta, two three species of Aconitum, Thalictrum cheldonii, many species of Pedicularis, Lillium nanum etc. There may be possibility of seeing Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus), Blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus), Hill Patridge (Arborophila torqueola) and Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra), Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster), Sambar (Cervus unicolor) and Goral (Nemorhaedus goral) along the trail.
Before reaching the camp, you may come across a herder camp and cattle. Nyingungla camp is very beautiful site at 3874m, from where you can view Mt. Jomolhari, Bjichu Drake, Haa valley and Paro Taktsang.
Walking Distance: 5 to 6 hours
Overnight Camp Altitude: 3,874 m
Day 6: Nyingungla – Chele La Pass
The trail ascends and descends along the ridges through Fir (Abies densa) and Larch (Larix griffithii) forest and Rhododendron scrubs. The trail is covered with colourful Iris, Bistorta, Primula, Meconopsis paniculata, many species of Pedicularis, Corydalis spp., Rhododendrons, etc. The Kalila Pass (3770m) is also covered in blanket of flowers. This is another chance to see the view of Mt Jomolhari (7326m) and Bjichu Drake (6794m) on a clear weather.
The trail leads through Fir forest and climbs up to Gung Karpo ridge at 4000m and follows the ridge before descending down to Chelela Pass through Rhododendron scrubs. The view of snow-clad peaks and mountain ranges are spectacular. All along the trail, you can find colourful flowers of Rhododendrons, many species of Pedicularis, Blue, Yellow Poppy, Iris, Bistorta, Berberis, Buddleja colveilei, many species of Asters, red Primula, Primula gracilipes, Primula capitata var capitata, Primula sikkimensis and Edel weiss. Chelela is also ideal for bird watching where you may have chance to spot Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra), Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus), Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos), Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis), Rock Pigeon (Columba iivia), Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalaynsis), Eurasian Sparrow Hawk ( Accipiter nisus), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Black face Laughing Thrush (Garrulax affinis); Spotted Laughing Thrush (Garrulax ocellatus) and other ground thrushes and many small birds. Trek time from Gung Karpo to Chelela road head is about four to five hours.
Walking Distance: 7 to 8 hours
Day 7: Zurig ridge walk & sightseeing
Drive through Paro Town, past Ugyen Pelri Palace and the main archery ground and onto Uma Hotel from where you will start your walk.
Time for an easy but spectacular walk high above the valley to the pretty grounds of Zurig Dzong overlooking Rinpung Dzong and the festival ground before descending to our pick up point near Ta dzong(watch tower). Taking in the magnificent views, we may be fortunate to see a plane on its final approach.
Visit Bhutan’s National museum which houses some of the religious mask, Thangkhas (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. Later in the evening take a stroll in the Paro town.
Overnight Paro. (Alt; 2280m)
Day 8: Mystical Taktsang (3,080m)
Drive to Satsam Chorten and spend the day hiking up the forested path to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, 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 centres 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.
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) & yak meat. Then luxuriate in the Bhutanese equivalent of a Jacuzzi called a “Chu Tse.” River rocks are heated and dunked into a large wooden tub with herbs. This type of bath is considered to have medicinal properties of healing.
Day 9: Departure
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.