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13 day Cultural tour

Embark on an enchanting journey through Bhutan's scenic wonderland. From a warm welcome in Paro to exploring Thimphu's iconic landmarks, including the Buddha Dordenma statue and National Memorial Chorten, the adventure unfolds. Discover Punakha's stunning beauty and hike through the ancient rhododendron forests to Lungchutse monastery and enjoy a bit of fun rafting. Immerse yourself in the Phobjikha valley's serenity, visit Gangtey monastery, and witness the black-necked cranes during the winter months. Explore Bumthang's ancient temples and indulge in the breathtaking views. Conquer the famous Taktsang monastery hike in Paro. With captivating experiences and warm hospitality, this journey promises to be an unforgettable memory.

Itinerary 

Cultural Sightseeing Tour

12 Nights / 13 Days

Day 1: Paro to Thimphu (1.5 Hours)

Arrival & Welcome
 

Your friendly tour guide will be eagerly awaiting your arrival with your surname written on a plaque outside the exit doors at Paro International Airport. We will immediately head off to Thimphu and as we follow the Paa Chu (river), we will pass the picturesque Tamchog temple (lhakhang), built in the late 13th century by the great Tibetan saint Drupthob Thangthong Gyalpo. If requested, we can stop long enough to take in the vista and snap a photo or two. Arrive at your hotel in the centre of Thimphu and take your time to unpack and relax. There will be a welcome dinner where your tour guide will give you a brief introduction about the tour. Time permitting, we encourage you to take a stroll in the town. Most shops close at 9pm with bars and nightclubs closing around 12pm. Your guide will be available to accompany you and offer advice. Overnight: The Willows hotel (located in the centre of town) (L,D)

Day 2: Thimphu

Exploring Thimphu Town
 

Today we will explore a few sites in and around the Thimphu valley. After breakfast we will make our way to the Buddha Dordenma statue at Kuenselphodrang, which towers over the city of Thimphu. It is the largest sitting statue of the Buddha in the world at a height of well over 50 metres. From here you will be able to view the whole of the Thimphu valley as well as go inside the statue that contains hundreds of smaller replica statues of the outer statue and offer prayers if you wish. We will also visit the National Memorial Chorten, completed by the Royal Queen Mother as a memorial for the 3rd King who passed away in 1972. This is a wonderful place to observe the older devout Buddhist population circumambulating the chorten in their colourful national dress. We will then have a few options. We could make our way to the Textile Museum where you will be able to learn about the history of Bhutanese textiles. The museum was established in 2001 under the royal patronage of Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Sangay Choden Wangchuck. Another option is a visit to the Zorig Chusum, the school of arts and crafts where you will be able to observe the students engaging in the 13 artistic skills or if arts is not your thing, we can visit the 12th century Changangkha temple and Zilukha nunnery and even the Takin preservation centre, the national animal of Bhutan. After lunch there will be time to wander around the streets of Thimphu. There is a craft market near the magnificent Pemako hotel where you will be able to purchase local handicrafts at a reasonable price. Numerous handicraft shops are also scattered throughout the town. For a nice cup of coffee, we recommend Ambient café which is located near the only traffic light in the whole of Bhutan which is manually operated by a traffic policeman with white gloves. There are also a handful of shops selling the traditional attire which your guide will be more than happy to take you to. You may also wish to visit the main post office which offers for sale a wide array of stamps for the avid philatelist or visit the vegetable market to observe the hustle and bustle. If you are active, there is always the option to go on a short hike to Wangditse monastery, a short distance above Thimphu town. At 4:30 pm we will regroup to visit the summer residence of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan known as Tashichho Dzong, which is also the seat of the government of Bhutan and houses His Majesty’s office. Overnight: The Willows hotel (B, L, D)

Day 3: Thimphu day excursion - Lungchutse hike (5 hours round trip)

Picturesque hike

The Lungchutse hike to the monastery is one of the best destinations around Thimphu with beautiful rhododendron forests and spectacular views on a clear day from the peak (3600m). From the monastery we will hike to Trashigang monastery (3300m) which has a lovely view over Hongtsho village. On arrival back to Thimphu town you will have free time to roam around. Overnight: The Willows hotel (B, L, D)

Punakha dzong 2.jpg

Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha (2.5 hours which includes stopping at Dochu La to take in the view of the Himalayas)

Onwards to Punakha over the mountain pass
 

Today we will be having an early start to venture to Punakha. Enroute we will pass Semtokha dzong built by the founding father of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, in 1629. We will continue ascending to Dochu La (pass) to view the 108 stupas commissioned by the Queen mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, as a memorial to those who lost their lives during a conflict in late 2002 when Bhutan evicted Indian rebels camped in the jungle on the Bhutanese – Indian border. On a clear day you will witness a breathtaking view of the eastern Himalayas. Before arriving in Punakha, we will stop at Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built by Ngawang Choegyel in honour of Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the divine madman due to his enlightened though unusual behaviours). It’s an easy 20-minute picturesque stroll through a traditional village and across rice paddy fields. Lunch at Nobgang B & B restaurant (12:30 – 2:30pm) After lunch we will visit the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body known as Punakha dzong. This dzong was also built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (in 1637) and was where he established his formal way of governing the land, known as the dual system of governance. Punakha dzong is one of the most breathtaking dzongs in Bhutan, situated at the confluence of two rivers. It is the second largest dzong in Bhutan after Trongsa dzong. We will enter inside the dzong as well as have time to stroll around the picturesque grounds. We will also visit the suspension bridge behind the dzong – a favourite amongst visitors. Overnight: Zhingkham resort (B, L, D)

Day 5: Punakha

Sightseeing in Punakha & river rafting

First thing after breakfast, we will head to the upper Punakha valley to walk through lush paddy fields to the beautiful temple known as Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Lhakhang. The leisurely walk to the temple will take around an hour. From there you will be able to enjoy stunning views of the lush green valley and meandering river. We will have a casual picnic lunch on the banks of the gushing river before we go on our 1.5-hour river rafting adventure. We will be guided by our expert river rafting team while floating down the Mo Chu (mother river). In the afternoon we will visit Wolakha nunnery, a Buddhist nun’s college where nuns can pursue studies up to a Masters level. Overnight: Zhingkham resort (B, L, D)

Phobjikha 3.jpeg

Day 6: Punakha to Phobjikha (2.5 hours)

Beautiful Gangtey Monastery & valley
 

After breakfast we will head eastward to the Gangtey valley. The Gangtey valley is a broad glacial valley located in the central region of Bhutan, which is often referred to as the Phobjikha valley, and is one of the most beautiful destinations within the kingdom. The valley is the winter home of the black-necked cranes that arrive annually from the Tibetan plateau in late October and depart in mid-February. The locals believe that the arrival of these cranes bring with them a good harvest and blessings for the entire valley. During our stay in this sacred valley, we will be visiting the magnificent Gangtey monastery which was built in the 17th century and is home to the revered Nyingma Buddhist master, Gangtey tulku. We will wander around the grounds, meet with the monks, and take in the stunning views of the Phobjikha valley from the monastery. Afterwards we will go on a relaxed 2.5-hour hike along the Gangtey nature trail as well as visit the crane information centre to learn more about these beautiful birds and the natural environment. Overnight: Local farmhouse (B, L, D)

Village scenery

Day 7: Phobjikha to Bumthang (5 hours)

Trongsa to Bumthang
 

Today we will have an early start as it is a driving day, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. If we are lucky, we will come across the grey langur, one of several species of primates found in Bhutan. We will be travelling towards Bumthang via Trongsa. On the way we will make a rest stop at the Drukwilling café just before Trongsa, which is stunningly positioned at the base of a waterfall. The imposing Trongsa dzong can be viewed across a deep canyon as we approach the town around a curving road. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. After lunch we will start heading towards Bumthang over the Pele La (pass 3,420m) and the Black Mountain range. Bumthang is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest palaces and temples. Nestled beneath the magnificent Himalayan Mountain range, the picturesque valley of Bumthang boasts lush green meadows, fertile barley fields, and thriving apple orchards. It’s no wonder that this serene landscape has earned comparisons to Switzerland. On arrival in Jakar, Bumthang’s main township, we will visit Kurjey Lhakhang, where Bhutan’s patron saint, Guru Rinpoche mediated and left his body print in the rock. We will also visit Jambay Lhakhang, which is one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and is one of Bhutan’s oldest temples. In the evening enjoy exploring the village of Jakar. Overnight: Swiss Guest House (B, L, D)

Day 8: Bumthang - Tang valley day excursion (1.5 hours)

Excursion to a sacred lake and an ancient palace
 

Enjoy a day exploring some of the many sites around Bumthang. We will drive to one of the four valleys in the Bumthang region known as the Tang valley. Here we will visit one of the holiest lakes in Bhutan known as Mebartsho (the Lake of Fire) where Pema Lingpa, a Bhutanese saint of the Nyingma sect of Buddhism, is said to have found treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche by diving to its depths holding a burning butter lamp which was still burning once he surfaced. We will then travel to one of the oldest nunneries in the country called Tang nunnery then onto the privately owned Ugyen Choling palace, which features a museum containing an excellent overview of traditional rural life in Bhutan. After visiting a sheep farm which presents sweeping views across Bumthang we will arrive back to Jakar just in time to visit Red Panda brewery where we will be able to see how they make the famous red panda beer and enjoy a drink or two. Overnight: Swiss Guest House (B, L, D)

Day 9: Bumthang to Paro (whole day drive - 8 hours)

Trongsa Dzong & heritage museum
 

A 2-hour drive sees us arrive at Trongsa dzong. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty and its dzong is the largest in Bhutan. After visiting the dzong we will move to the watch tower known as Taa dzong which houses an incredible collection of historical artefacts of the Royal family. Enroute to Paro we will stop at beautiful Chendebji chorten, a perfect lunch spot beside the river. Just before reaching Dochu La (pass) we will stop at the Royal Botanical gardens at Lampelri to give our legs a stretch. Overnight: Khangkhu resort (B, L, D)

Day 10: Paro (short hike)

Dzongs & hike in the Paro valley
 

After breakfast we will take a short drive to see the Drukgyel dzong with its stunning forest and mountain vistas. This dzong (the name literally translates to ‘the fortress of the victorious Drukpas’) was built after the victory over the Tibetan – Mongols in 1649. Then onto Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan which is said to have been built in 7th century by a Tibetan King known as Songtsen Gampo. There is an orange tree in its grounds that quite miraculously perpetually bears fruit. After an early lunch we will visit the national museum known as Ta dzong which houses a fine collection of ancient thangka paintings, textiles, weaponry, and other artefacts. From above the museum, we will take a short 2.5-hour leisurely hike, known as the Zurik trail, which leads to a stunning view of Paro dzong, the airport and the whole of Paro valley and township. Our driver will be waiting to pick us up at the end of the airport. In the evening you will enjoy free time to roam around Paro town which offers good shopping for traditional jewellery and handicrafts and houses a few quaint cafes serving locally roasted coffee. Overnight: Khangkhu resort (B, L, D)

Day 11: Chele la ridge hike (4- 5 hour hike)

Sky burial hike, nunnery & cliff face monastery 
 

Today we will drive to the pass between the Paro and Haa valleys which is at an altitude of 4000 metres. From this windswept location you will be able to experience stunning views of the Himalayas and the Haa valley. From the drop off point we will hike to a sky burial site. In Bhutan the method of sky burial is used for children under the age of 8 years old as per the local Buddhist customs they should not be cremated. Once reaching the site we will descend to Kila nunnery where you will be able to mingle with the nuns. Our driver will be waiting for us at Kila nunnery from where we will drive to Dzongdrakha Lhakhang which is a short walk from the roadside. The Lhakhang’s location is stunning and is known as the second Taktsang as it is also built into the cliff face. After the hike, we will enjoy a traditional hot stone bath and the local hospitality of our hosts who will serve up a sumptuous Bhutanese dinner at one of the friendly homestays in the Paro valley. Overnight: Khangkhu resort (B, L, D)

Day 12: Paro (Taktsang hike 5-6 hour round trip)

Taktsang Monastery (Tigers Nest)
 

The big day has arrived! After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we will make our way to the base of the Taktsang hike. (Note: for those who don’t feel up to the hike there is an option to ride up to the viewpoint on a horse). For those going on horseback, you must alight at the viewpoint and walk the rest of the way if you wish to enter the temple, which involves a further short walk and a steep descent and ascent along steps. Most find this walk not too taxing as they are mesmerised by the stunning view of Taktsang monastery – one of Bhutan’s national treasures. Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) clings impossibly to a cliff of rock at over 800 metres above the valley floor and where Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress to subdue the local demons followed by 3 months meditation in a cave still visible in the monastery. In 1998 the monastery was seriously damaged by fire and has since been painstakingly reconstructed to its original condition and consecrated by the 4th King in 2005. On the way down we will enjoy lunch at the Taktsang cafeteria overlooking the Taktsang monastery. Free time to roam around the town and for last minute shopping. Overnight: Khangkhu resort (B, L, D)

Day 13: Paro (Departure)

Till next time
 

Free time to relax this morning before we leave for the airport and onward flights. In Bhutan we never say goodbye as we always believe we will have the good fortune of meeting again. So, from the team at Touch Bhutan Travel, we sincerely hope you enjoyed travelling with us. Take care until next time. (B)

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