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Bhutan

Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom. Incredible Zongs & palaces with enchanting history. High Mountains,Cliff & gorge and great expanse of beautiful valleys & fascinating Culture & way of life.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

March to May/Oct to Dec

Overview

Bhutan is located towards the Eastern extreme of the Himalayan Range. To its North lies the Tibet Autonomous Region of China with a border of 470 Kms. In the south , southwest, and east; Bhutan shares a border of approximately 605 kms with the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, and Sikkim.
Isolated for centuries, due to its location in the inner folds of the Himalayan uplands, Bhutan remained a bastion which resisted Tibetan invasions and British imperialism. Bhutan is known as Druk Yul or, ‘land of the thunder dragon’. The people are known as Drukpa people.
Today Bhutan stands proud straddling the ancient and the Modern. Wise policies adopted by its far sighted monarch, with understanding and support from India has transformed Bhutan into a modern democratic constitutional monarchy A country of apparent contradictions, Bhutan remains an enigma. It is a deeply Buddhist country where everyone wears the national costume. Monks pray in ancient Monasteries and transcribe scriptures on computers. Here people value their rich spiritual and cultural legacy, and follow their traditional lifestyle, but have adopted English as the medium of education. The Rice here is red, Tourist can smoke in private, but buying cigarettes is illegal. It is common to see giant protective penises painted on the walls of houses, and prayer flags fluttering from houses, temples and mountain slopes. It is perhaps the only country where the monarchy introduced a reluctant people to elections and democracy and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product.
In Bhutan, people have treasured their natural heritage and lived in harmony with nature. The environment remains pristine and intact today. The country has been identified as one of the 10 bio-diversity hot spots in the world. It is home to some of the most exotic species of the eastern Himalayas with an estimated 770 species of birds and over 50 species of rhododendron, besides an astonishing variety of medical plants and orchids. Bhutan also has a rich wildlife with animals like the Takin, Snow Leopard. Golden Langur, Blue sheep, Tiger, and elephant.
To preserve its rich natural environment and culture, Bhutan has consciously adopted a controlled tourism and development policy. For the fortunate few who visit Bhutan the rewards are great – a warm friendly people, outstanding art and architecture, pristine nature with breathtaking scenery and an active Buddhist culture little tainted by the outside world.

The early history of Bhutan is steeped in Buddhist traditions and mythology. Demons, Yetis, incarnate lamas with supernatural powers, medicine men, ghosts, evil spirits, and angels are all woven into tales of ancient times. There is some evidence of habitation in 2000 BC, by herding communities who migrated annually between the lower valleys and the highlands.

Introduction of Buddhism

Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century AD. Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang and in the Paro Valley. Buddhism was propagated in earnest in the year 746, under King Sindhu Rāja, an exiled Indian king who had established a government in Bumthang.
In the 8th century, Tantric master and teacher Padmasambava (Guru Rimpoche) came to Bhutan from India at the invitation of one of the local kings. After reportedly subduing eight classes of demons, Guru Rimpoche moved on to Tibet. Upon his return from Tibet, he oversaw the construction of new monasteries in the Paro Valley and set up his headquarters in Bumthang. He is said to have founded the Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism, which became the dominant religion of Bhutan. Following the guru’s return to India, increasing Tibetan migrations brought new cultural and religious contributions.
Small independent monarchies began to develop by the early ninth century. The kingdom of Bumthang was the most prominent among these small entities.
In the 8th Century, to escape persecution, many Buddhist fled from Tibet to settle in Western Bhutan. Between the 9th and 17th centuries Both Tibet and Bhutan remained in turmoil. Petty feuds and claims to territory kept local chieftains engaged.
The country’s political history is intimately tied to its religious history. Relations among the various monastic schools and monasteries have played a major part. In the 12th century, the Drukpa Kagyupa school was established and remains the dominant form of Buddhism in Bhutan today.

 

 

The consolidation of Bhutan occurred in 1616 when Ngawanag Namgyal, a Tibetan lama of the Drukpa School, established himself as the religious ruler of Bhutan with the title Zhabdrung Rimpoche. He defeated three Tibetan invasions, and subjugated rival religious schools. He introduced the present dual system of religious and secular government, creating and building the system of Dzongs. The Dzongs were defensive citadels housing the monastic body together with the administrative headquarters. The Zhabdrung was the head of state and the ultimate authority in religious and civil matters. Succession was through reincarnation. The government comprised a state monastic body with an elected head, the Je Khenpo (lord abbot), and a theocratic civil government headed by the Druk Desi (regent of Bhutan, also called Deb Raja by the British.The Druk Desi was was elected for a three-year term, initially by a monastic council and later by the State Council (Lhengye Tshokdu). Governors called Ponlop ruled each region. They were a combination of tax collector, judge, military commander, and procurement agent. The Zhabdrung codified the Tsa Yig code containing laws for government administration and for social and moral conduct. The duties and virtues inherent in the Buddhist dharma (religious law) played a large role in the new legal code, which remained in force until the 1960s.

Conflict with Tibet, 1644–1730

In 1644, 1648 and 1649 the Tibetans and Mongols invaded Bhutan but were repulsed, resulting in further consolidation of power of Zabdrung Namgyal. However following his death, infighting and civil war eroded the power of the Zhabdrung for the next 200 years, Regional Penlops (governors) became increasingly more powerful. During this period there were six reincarnations of the Zhabdrung, with long periods of childhood for each. During the same period 55 Desis were elected. Interestingly 22 Desis< were either deposed or assassinated. Tibet took advantage of instability and invaded Bhutan three times in 1729 – 1730. All were repulsed, and had to settle for a truce. Tibet recognized the incumbent Zhabdrung as the ruler of Bhutan and formal diplomatic relations were established between Bhutan and Tibet.

Conflict with Cooch Behar and British annexation of Doars 1730-1865

Between 1730 and 1768, the Bhutanese invaded and annexed Cooch Behar territory in the Doars region (now part of India). The Cooch Behar ruler appealed for help from the British. In 1772 the British Indian army routed the Bhutanese and annexed the Kingdom of Cooch Behar. In 1773 the British defeated the Bhutan border garrison at Dalimkot in the Kalimpong region, and thereafter signed a peace treaty with Bhutan. In 1826 the British annexed the Assam Doars In 1857, when the British was busy in quelling the Indian uprising for independence, Bhutan took advantage and mounted regular raids in the Bengal Doars. This lead to the British sending an expeditionary force under Ashley Eden in 1864. Eden tried to impose a treaty on the Bhutan government to stabilize the border in the Doars, and seek passage to Tibet. He was rebuffed and humiliated by the Bhutanese and even compelled to sign a counter treaty under duress. The treaty was not honored by the British and resulted in the Doar war of 1865. The British captured Deothang and forced the Bhutanese to sign the treaty of Sinchula , which ceded the Doars to the East India Company and allowed free trade.

First King of Bhutan: Ugen Wangchuck (1907-1926)

In1907, an assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants and the people, elected the Penlop ( Governor) of Trongsa, Ugen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan with the title Druk Gyalpo ( Dragon King). Ugen Wangchuck established cordial relations with the British, and signed the treaty of Punakha in 1910. Bhutan agreed to be guided by the British in external matters, and the British agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan. The Treaty of Punakha guaranteed Bhutan’s defense against China.

Ugen Wangchuck laid the foundation for the development of Bhutan’s. Internal reforms included introducing schools, improving internal communications, encouraging trade and commerce with India, and revitalizing the Buddhist monastic system.

Second King of Bhutan – Jigme Wangchuck ( 1926-52)

King Ugen Wangchuck died in 1926 and was succeeded by his 24 year old son, Jigme Wangchuck, who ruled till his death in 1952. King Jigme Wangchuck continued his father’s centralization and modernization efforts and built more schools, dispensaries, and roads, and brought the entire country under his direct control by refining the administrative and taxation systems. During his reign India gained independence in 1947, and the new Indian government recognized Bhutan as an independent country. In 1949, the Indo Bhutan friendship treaty was signed. It was similar to the treaty of Punakha. As a goodwill gesture, Deothang annexed by the British was returned to Bhutan.

Third King of Bhutan – Jigme Dorjee Wangchuck ( 1952-2006)

In 1952, when the King died, his son Jigme Dorjee Wangchuck, ascended the throne. During his reign, Bhutan began to slowly emerge from its isolation and began a program of planned development. In 1952 the National Assembly (the Tshogdu) was established. Although the Druk Gyalpo could issue royal decrees and exercise veto power over resolutions passed by the National Assembly, its establishment was the first step towards the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Latter emphasizing his focus on democracy, the Druk Gyalpo decreed that henceforth sovereign power, including the power to remove government ministers and the Druk Gyalpo himself, would reside with the National Assembly. He renounced his veto power and announced that he would step down if two-thirds of the legislature passed a no-confidence vote. A new code of law was enacted. The Royal Bhutanese Army came into being, and the High Court was established.

When the Chinese took control of Tibet in 1951, Bhutan closed its frontier with Tibet and opted for closer links with India. Bhutan requested India to connect the Doars with Western, central and eastern Bhutan Three roads were built from India to the central valley’s in 1962 –65, by the Indian Border Roads organization. The 600 kms long East-West highway was also built with branches interlinking all the valleys and connecting them to India. This road building program was a major factor in cementing Indo- Bhutan ties In 1971, Bhutan became a member of the United Nations.

Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck (1972- 2006)

Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ruled until his death in July 1972 and was succeeded by his seventeen-year-old son, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck emphasized modern education, decentralization of governance, land reforms, abolition of slavery and serfdom, the development of hydroelectricity and tourism and improvements in rural developments. He was perhaps best known internationally for his overarching development philosophy of “gross national happiness.” It recognizes that there are many dimensions to development and that economic goals alone are not sufficient.

Three insurgent outfits from India had established sanctuaries in South Bhutan. In 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army and the Indian army in a coordinated operation destroyed 30 camps and removed the insurgents from Bhutanese soil.

Fifth Druk Gyalpo -Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and the establishment of constitutional monarchy

On December 15, 2006, the fourth Druk Gyalpo, abdicated all of his powers as King to his son, Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, with the specific intention to prepare the young King for the country’s transformation to a full-fledged, democratic form of government. At the time of his abdication the previous king is reported to have said “Bhutan could not hope for a better time for such an important transition. Today, the country enjoys peace and stability, and its security and sovereignty is ensured. After phenomenal development and progress, the country is closer than ever to the goal of economic self reliance. Bhutan’s relation with its closest neighbor and friend, India, has reached new heights. International organizations and bilateral development partners are ready to support Bhutan’s development efforts and political transformation.” Bhutan elected its first government in 2008.

 

Geography and Tourist destinations

Geographically Bhutan forms a giant staircase. Starting in the south, from a narrow strip of land in the plains of India at an altitude of 300 m, the elevation rises to high Himalayan peaks in the North up to 7000m. It was isolated from India due to the 2000 m high formidable mountain wall covered with jungle filled gorges located on the edge of the Indian plains. Bhutan’s isolation can thus be explained in part by its geography. Paradoxically access was easier over the passes connecting its high central valley’s to Tibet. It was only with the take over of Tibet by China that Bhutan closed the northern passes for trade and interaction, and initiated a program to build roads linking it with India. Three roads were built from India to the central valley’s in 1962 –65, by the Indian Border Roads organization. An air service was started in mid 80’s with the opening of the airport at Paro.

In addition to the high Himalayas running East-West, mountain chains also run North-South at an height of 4000-5000 m, dividing Bhutan into Western, Central and Eastern regions. Each of this group of valleys remained a microcosm separated from the next valley by a high pass at an average altitude of 3000 m. The Black Mountains form the watershed separating two main river basins on either side, where the rivers are orientated North – South, watering the valleys. The rivers are turbulent, rushing through gorges to the Indian plains – the Torsa, the Raidak, the Sankosh and the Manas rivers are tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra. The Indian border roads organization has overcome these barriers to communications by linking them by the East-West highway running for over 600 kms – this road with its branches interlinks all the valleys and connects then to India.

Places to visit in Bhutan

Western Bhutan is made up of the valleys of Ha, 2700 m, Paro, 2200 m, and Thimpu, 2300 m., while Punakha and Wangdi Phodrang at 1300 m form a single long valley. Toward the North lie Laya, 3700 m and Lingze, 4000 m, under the shadow of the great mountains rising more than 7000 m in elevation. These gems of nature with a very small population are approachable only by trekking.
Western Bhutan is a land of rice paddies and orchards. Also of high mountain pastures used by yak herders. The villages are formed of large houses accommodating several generations, with walls made of rammed earth, and straw. The upper stories have handcrafted Colourful wooden windows of traditional pattern. Wooden shingle the traditional roofing material is being replaced by corrugated iron or slate. The mountain slopes are covered with coniferous and deciduous forests. All the valleys have reminders of the past – monasteries, temples, and fortresses ( called Dzongs).

Paro Valley

The Paro Valley (2200 m) has the reputation of being the most beautiful of Bhutan’s main valleys. It is home to many of the country’s oldest temples and dzongs (fortress/monasteries), nestled in a patchwork of terraced rice fields, glades of willows and murmuring trout streams. The National Museum and the Kingdom’s only airport are also located here. Further up the valley, perched high on a cliff side, is the renowned Taktsang “Tiger’s Nest” monastery where Guru Rimpoche is said to have landed on the back of a flying tiger. Also of interest are the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, backdropped by the snowy peak of Mt. Chomolhari. (7800 m)

Thimphu

About 30 miles east of Paro is Thimpu (2300 mt), the capital city of Bhutan, is the center of government, religion and commerce. The massive Tashichodzong on the right bank of the Thimpu Chu River is the seat of the major government ministries and is also the summer residence of the Je Khenpo, religious head of Bhutan. It was built in the 17th century, and constructed without the use of a single nail. Other points of interest in and around Thimpu include the Drubthob Gompa Buddhist nunnery, Handicraft Emporium, Simthoka Dzong, Memorial Chorten, a colorful weekend market and workshops of goldsmiths, woodcarvers and traditional painters.
The drive from Thimpu to Punakha is spectacular, crossing over the 3,400 m high Dochula Pass, with magnificent views of the Bhutan Himalaya.

Punakha

The old capital of Bhutan , Punakha at an altitude of 1300 is situated at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. It is blessed by a wonderful, temperate climate. The region produces rich crops of rice, mangoes, bananas and oranges. The dzong here, built in 1637, is winter residence of the Je Khenpo and central monk body.

Wangduephodrang

Lies to the south of Punakha and is the gateway to central and eastern Bhutan.
The Wangduephodrang Dzong (1,400 m) is strategically located high on a ridge above the Sunkosh and Tangchu rivers.

Phobjika Valley

A glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains. It is an important conservation area; being the wintering home for Black Necked cranes, which come every year over the high Himalayas. It is also home to the Gangte Gompa built in 1613. The abbot is the ninth reincarnation.

Gasa and Laya

Gasa district lies North of Punakha on the ancient trade route to Tibet. Largely uninhabited it is surrounded by the Jigme Dorjee National Park. The Trashi Thongmoen Dzong , at Gasa village was built in 1646, and played and important role in defeating Tibetan invasions Laya is located North of Gasa,, and is home to a small community of yak herders, with a population of just 800. They have their own distinct dialect, dress and traditions. Gasa and Laya are reached only by trekking.

ITINERARY

Tour BHT/ 01: 05 days Culture tour of West Bhutan: 
(Thimphu and Paro including hike to Taktshang monastery)

Tour details

Fly into Paro and explore the sights of Thimpu and Paro Valley, and a hike to the Takshang Monastery also known as Tigers Nest

Day 01: Paro- Thimphu

The flight into Bhutan takes you close to the great Himalayas, offering dazzling scenic views of some world’s highest glacial peaks. As you enter Paro valley, you will sweep past forested hills with the silvery Pa Chu (Paro river) meandering down the valley below. Paro Dzong (fortress) and Ta Dzong (watchtower) on the hills above the town will be a fine sight.
Paro is situated in a beautiful valley at 2280 metres and is a fitting introduction to this charming kingdom. Your guide will meet you and take you on a short one-hour drive along the Paro and Thimphu river valleys to
Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, at 2320 metres. You can stop on the way to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Bhutan’s iron bridge builder. Take a late afternoon walk around town and
soak in the atmosphere of this magical capital with its busy shops and bazaars and photogenic citizens in national dress.
Overnight in Thimphu

Day 02: Thimphu local tour

We will visit the weekly market, the revered Memorial Chorten, the National Library and the School of Traditional Arts. You could visit Changangkha temple, perched on the hilltop overlooking the town. Devotees flock throughout the day to circumambulator and turn the prayer wheels. The
temple also contains beautiful wall paintings and hundreds of religious scriptures written in gold. In the afternoon you can take in more of the sights and culture of the capital, with the option of a trip to Simtokha Dzong (one of the oldest fortresses in Bhutan, dating from 1629 AD). If you prefer to stay closer to town you could drive up to the Radio Tower (offering splendid views of the city from a hilltop festooned with prayer flags), visit the Takin Reserve showcasing the unique national animal, the Takin, browse the striking collection of intricate textiles at the National Textile Museum or visit the Folk Heritage Museum. If you would like to view or buy Bhutanese handicrafts you may like to visit the new market opposite Taj Tashi hotel which has an array of stalls run by local handicraft shops selling purely home made articles with no imports. Tell your guide what takes your interest.
Overnight in Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimpu- Paro

This morning drive back to Paro after breakfast, to start your culture tour of Paro valley by visiting the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You can also visit the National Museum. This was previously housed in the Ta Dzong (watch tower) built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong to defend Rinpung Dzong and the Paro valley during times of war, in an unusual circular construction resembling a conch shell. Unfortunately, an earthquake in September 2011 damaged the Ta Dzong and the contents of the museum were moved to a neighbouring building. You can still see a magnificent collection of Bhutanese artefacts – costumes, religious paintings, arms, textiles and a fascinating collection of Bhutan stamps. The National Museum is due to reopen in the Ta Dzong in 2015. In the afternoon you can visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong (fortress of victory), constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644 and destroyed by a butter lamp fire in 1951. Nearby you can also visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan.
Overnight in Paro

Day 04: Paro – Hike to Taktshang monastery

Take a day walk to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, the sacred Taktshang monastery which clings to the rock face 900 metres above the valley floor. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress. He subsequently meditated here for three months. It is one of Bhutan’s most holy sites and draws pilgrims not only from Bhutan but also from neighbouring Buddhist countries. You can have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria from where you get
a spectacular view of the monastery. On the way back you can visit Dumtse Lhakhang, a temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, the iron bridge builder. Overnight in Paro.

Day 05: Departure

Early in the morning your guide will accompany you to the airport to see you off onto your flight and wish you Tashi Delek (goodbye and good luck).

Tour Details

BHT/03: 10 days Western and Central Bhutan classic Tour
Fly into Paro and explore the sights of Thimpu and Paro Valley , and hike to the Takshang Monastery also known as Tigers Nest. Continue across the 3050 m high Dochu la pass to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan ro explore the spectacular Dzongs and monasteries. Return back to Thimphu or Paro for departure by air or to drive to the Indian plains to depart via Phuntsholing

Day 01: Arrive Paro by Druk Air

The flight into Bhutan takes you close to the great Himalayas, offering dazzling scenic views of some world’s highest glacial peaks. As you enter Paro valley, you will sweep past forested hills with the silvery Pa Chu (Paro river) meandering down the valley below. Paro Dzong (fortress) and Ta Dzong (watchtower) on the hills above the town will be a fine sight. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport, and after completion of arrival formalities you will be transferred to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, an exciting blend of tradition and modernity.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day 02: Thimphu

Today’s full day of sightseeing in Thimphu valley includes:
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.
Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as Painting School) where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.
Textile and Folk Heritage Museum: These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.
National Memorial Chorten: 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 King (“the Father of modern Bhutan”) and a monument to world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Trashichhodzong: This impressive fortress/monastery houses Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Handicrafts Emporium: This government-run enterprise displays a wide range of beautifully hand-woven textiles and craft products. It also carries a small collection of books on Bhutan, Buddhism and Himalayan culture.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimphu / Trongsa (200 Km, 6 hours drive)

After early breakfast, drive up to Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft) stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chorten, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the following peaks can be seen from this pass (left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m ), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana – finally Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
Then continue onwards, reaching Wangduephodrang town in time for lunch.From Dochu-la pass, it is a long, winding descent into the Wangduephodrang valley, which is about 1,700m below the pass. Take lunch at Wangduephodrang town, then continue on to Trongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m/10,830 ft), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large white chorten prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo.
Stop en route at Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes panted at four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.
Arrive at Trongsa late afternoon and check into the lodge for the night.

Day 04: Trongsa – Bumthang (68 Km, 3 hours drive )

After breakfast, visit Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1648 it was 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 four Kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (‘governer’) prior to ascending the throne, and the present Crown Prince now holds the post. The Dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built.
Then drive to Bumthang, 68 km from Trongsa, a journey of about 3 hours, over the Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass, 28 km from Trongsa, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley.
On arrival in Bumthang, check in at your lodge.

Day 05: Bumthang

Bumthang is the general name given to combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Visit Kurje Lhakhang, where the saint Padmasambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock., the Jambey Lhakhang (7th century temple), Tamshing Lhakhang (housing some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan) and Jakar Dzong (administrative center of the region). Stroll in the village, visit the little handicrafts shop at the entrance to the town, and perhaps take refreshments at a local restaurant.
Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.

Day 06: Bumthang – Gangtey (Phobjikha valley) 190 km, 7 hours drive

After breakfast drive to Gangtey / Phobjikha. In the mountains east of Wangduephodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha valley, on the slopes of which is ituated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km, down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quite, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate. Explore Gangtey village and Phobjikha valley.
Overnight at the lodge in Gangtey / Phobjikha.

Day 07: Gangtey (Phobjikha) – Punakha (70 km, 3 hours drive)

After breakfast drive to Punakha. On the way visit Wangduephodrang Dzong, which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view over both the north-south and east-west. Wangdue district is also famous for its bamboo work, slate & stone carving.

Afternoon visit Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers. Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until 1955, and Punakha Dzong still serves as the winter residence of the central monk body. Bhutan’s first King, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned here in 1907. The fortress has withstood several damages from fire, earthquake and flood over the centuries. The latest flood, in October, 1994, caused great damages to the fortress but miraculously spared its most holy statue. Also visit Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, the newly built stupa. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha or Wangduephodrang.

Day 08: Punakha – Paro (125 km, 4.1/2 hours drive)

After breakfast, drive to Paro en route visit Simtokha Dzong. This dzong, built in 1627 is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Culture Studies.
Afternoon visit Ta Dzong, which in the past served as watchtower for Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) and now houses the National Museum. Then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge, over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also the venue of Paro Tshechu, held once a year in the sprng. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day 09: Paro

After breakfast, drive up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1647 by the Shabdrung to commemorate the Bhutanese victory over the Tibetans in war of 1644. Then take an excursion to Taktsang Monastery view point. It is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900 m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called “Tiger’s Nest”. This site has been recognised as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.
While returning to hotel visit en route, Kyichu Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day 10: Depart Paro

After early breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to onward destination.

Central Bhutan

Central Bhutan is made up of several regions which speak Kha with variations. The Black Mountains at 5000 m, have traditionally marked the boundry between Western & Central Bhutan. This range is crossed by the 3,300 m high Pale la . The most southerly part is called Khyeng, a region blessed with semi-tropical climate and covered with dense jungle, and popular with bird watchers. The people at adept at using jungle produce and handicrafts with cane and bamboo.
Trongsa, located North of Khyeng lies astride the Central highway. Its impressive Dzong is strategically located to dominate a gorge cut by the Mangde River, which has been the ancient route over the Black Mountains.
Trongsa is in the geographic center of the country. Approaching from the West, the road climbs through forests of magnolia and rhododendron interspersed with grazing yaks to Pela La Pass (3300 m). On a clear day Mt. Chomolhari and other peaks can be seen. Long before reaching the town, the Tongsa Dzong (2300 m) is visible in the distance. Said to be the most impressive building in the kingdom, it is indeed an architectural masterpiece, with countless courtyards, passageways and corridors, in addition to some 23 temples within its walls.

Bumthang

Jakar in the Bumthang group of valleys is reached over the 3400 m high pass – the Yutongla. Bumthang is in fact composed of a group of four valleys at altitude of 2700 – 4000 meters. Chumey and Choekhor are mainly agricultural, while Tang and Ura practice Yak and sheep herding. It is a land graced by many temples and monasteries built along the centuries by famous religious saints such as Longchen Rabjampa, Dorji Lingpa, Pema Lingpa and Guru Rinpoche. It has fields and meadows surrounded by thick dark forests and mysterious streams. The Jakar Dzong (the white Bird fortress) looks over the Choekhor valley. The Kurje Lhakhang is an important religious temple in Choekhor. There are a number of temples in Chume and Choekhor valley. You can also buy Yatha (locally woven woolen clothes) here. Bumthang is proud of its rich art and history. Its religious traditions are alive. Its monasteries nd cultural walks are its main attraction.

Itinerary

BHT/03: 10 days Western and Central Bhutan classic Tour

Tour Details

Fly into Paro and explore the sights of Thimpu and Paro Valley , and hike to the Takshang Monastery also known as Tigers Nest. Continue across the 3050 m high Dochu la pass to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan ro explore the spectacular Dzongs and monasteries. Return back to Thimphu or Paro for departure by air or to drive to the Indian plains to depart via Phuntsholing

Day 01: Arrive Paro by Druk Air

The flight into Bhutan takes you close to the great Himalayas, offering dazzling scenic views of some world’s highest glacial peaks. As you enter Paro valley, you will sweep past forested hills with the silvery Pa Chu (Paro river) meandering down the valley below. Paro Dzong (fortress) and Ta Dzong (watchtower) on the hills above the town will be a fine sight. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport, and after completion of arrival formalities you will be transferred to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, an exciting blend of tradition and modernity.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day 02: Thimphu

Today’s full day of sightseeing in Thimphu valley includes:
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.
Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as Painting School) where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.
Textile and Folk Heritage Museum: These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.
National Memorial Chorten: 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 King (“the Father of modern Bhutan”) and a monument to world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Trashichhodzong: This impressive fortress/monastery houses Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and central monk body.
Handicrafts Emporium: This government-run enterprise displays a wide range of beautifully hand-woven textiles and craft products. It also carries a small collection of books on Bhutan, Buddhism and Himalayan culture.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimphu / Trongsa (200 Km, 6 hours drive)

After early breakfast, drive up to Dochu-la pass (3,088m/ 10,130 ft) stopping briefly here to take in the view and admire the chorten, mani wall, and prayer flags which decorate the highest point on the road. If skies are clear, the following peaks can be seen from this pass (left to right): Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m ), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana – finally Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
Then continue onwards, reaching Wangduephodrang town in time for lunch.From Dochu-la pass, it is a long, winding descent into the Wangduephodrang valley, which is about 1,700m below the pass. Take lunch at Wangduephodrang town, then continue on to Trongsa across Pele-la pass (3,300m/10,830 ft), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large white chorten prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo.
Stop en route at Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes panted at four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.
Arrive at Trongsa late afternoon and check into the lodge for the night.

Day 04: Trongsa – Bumthang (68 Km, 3 hours drive )

After breakfast, visit Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1648 it was 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 four Kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (‘governer’) prior to ascending the throne, and the present Crown Prince now holds the post. The Dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built.
Then drive to Bumthang, 68 km from Trongsa, a journey of about 3 hours, over the Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass, 28 km from Trongsa, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley.
On arrival in Bumthang, check in at your lodge.

Day 05: Bumthang

Bumthang is the general name given to combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Visit Kurje Lhakhang, where the saint Padmasambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock., the Jambey Lhakhang (7th century temple), Tamshing Lhakhang (housing some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan) and Jakar Dzong (administrative center of the region). Stroll in the village, visit the little handicrafts shop at the entrance to the town, and perhaps take refreshments at a local restaurant.
Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.

Day 06: Bumthang – Gangtey (Phobjikha valley) 190 km, 7 hours drive

After breakfast drive to Gangtey / Phobjikha. In the mountains east of Wangduephodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha valley, on the slopes of which is ituated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km, down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quite, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate. Explore Gangtey village and Phobjikha valley.
Overnight at the lodge in Gangtey / Phobjikha.

Day 07: Gangtey (Phobjikha) – Punakha (70 km, 3 hours drive)

After breakfast drive to Punakha. On the way visit Wangduephodrang Dzong, which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view over both the north-south and east-west. Wangdue district is also famous for its bamboo work, slate & stone carving.

Afternoon visit Punakha Dzong, a massive structure built at the junction of two rivers. Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until 1955, and Punakha Dzong still serves as the winter residence of the central monk body. Bhutan’s first King, Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned here in 1907. The fortress has withstood several damages from fire, earthquake and flood over the centuries. The latest flood, in October, 1994, caused great damages to the fortress but miraculously spared its most holy statue. Also visit Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, the newly built stupa. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha or Wangduephodrang.

Day 08: Punakha – Paro (125 km, 4.1/2 hours drive)

After breakfast, drive to Paro en route visit Simtokha Dzong. This dzong, built in 1627 is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Culture Studies.
Afternoon visit Ta Dzong, which in the past served as watchtower for Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) and now houses the National Museum. Then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge, over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also the venue of Paro Tshechu, held once a year in the sprng. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day 09: Paro

After breakfast, drive up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1647 by the Shabdrung to commemorate the Bhutanese victory over the Tibetans in war of 1644. Then take an excursion to Taktsang Monastery view point. It is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900 m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called “Tiger’s Nest”. This site has been recognised as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.
While returning to hotel visit en route, Kyichu Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro.

Day 10: Depart Paro

After early breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to onward destination.

Separated from the rest of the country by the Donga Range – a massive mountain chain extending for the Tibet border almost to the border with India, the relatively low lying, Eastern Bhutan encompasses most of the Manas river watershed. The main reasons for visitors to go to Eastern Bhutan are to:-
Experience travel on the mind boggling, cliff hanging road which descends 3200 m in 62 kms.
With Trashigang, as base, explore the remote and ancient region of Kurtoe. Visit Lhuentse Dzong , one of the most picturesque in Bhutan, and explore the Trashi Yangtse Valley to visit Gom Kora to see the body impression of Guru Rimpoche on a rock, and Chorten Kora dating back to 1740.
Visit Bomdeling near Chorten Kora; the second largest roosting place for Black necked cranes in Bhutan.
Experience fabulous birding in the semi-tropical broad leafed forests around Lingmethang.
Drive on to Samdong Jhonkar to exit Bhutan.
The Western approach is from Bhumthang along the West to East Highway over the Thrumshing la, 3780 m, or from the Assam Doars via the gateway town of Samdrup Jhonkar, which is usually used as an exit point to reach the Guwahati airport in India.
From Thrumshing la the Donga Range and the road drops precipitously from 3200 m to the Kuri chhu, at 550 m. Carved out of sheer rock faces, this marvel of engineering has created one of the most spectacular and wildest of road sections in a 62 Kms stretch from Sengor to Kuri Chuu. The road winds down hanging on a cliff side. It offers a thrilling journey with breathtaking scenery, traversing the entire range of flora from alpine to sub tropical in a span of just 02 hrs. At the bottom flows the Kuri Chhu, which is crossed to reach the town of Mongar. Intrestingly, the Kuri Chhu rises in Tibet; and crosses into Bhutan at an elevation of only 1300 m.
Lhuentse is located 77 Kms up North from Mongar. Lhuentse Dzong, located at the head of the Kuri Chuu valley is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan.
The road from Mongar continues for 92 kms across the Kori la , 2400 m to Trashigang– the heart of Eastern Bhutan. The journey from Bumthang takes a full day of eleven hours. The town with its Dzong lies astride the ancient trade route between India and Tibet through the upper reaches of the Dragme Chhu- the second tributary of the Manas River. Gom Kora and Chorten Kora ( 53 Kms) is reachable for a day trip. Bomdeling is an hour’s walk from Chorten Kora This is the second largest roosting place for Black necked cranes in Bhutan.
The drive from Trashigang to Samdrup Jhonkar on the Indian border takes 6 hrs along a winding road traversing farm land and forests of interlocking inner valleys and ridges, reaching an elevation of 2430 m to continue over the Narphung la,1698 m to the Doar plains.

The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied. due to vast differences in altitude, and the influence of the Indian monsoons.
Southern Bhutan has a hot, humid sub-tropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius.
In the Central parts of the country the climate cools a bit, changing to temperate and deciduous forests with warm summers and cool, dry winters.
In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom the weather is cold during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain.
The seasonal weather cycle
March to Mid Apr is Spring time. It is dry and sunny with occasional rainy spells in April
Mid Apr to late June is summer. It is marked by cloudy weather with occasional showers.
Late June to Sept is monsoon time. Overcast skies and heavy rains are the norm.
Early Oct to Late November is Autumn. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations.
From late November until March is winter . It is cold with frost throughout much of the country. Snowfall is common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings stroms. Gale-force winds sweep through the valleys and shriek through the passes bringing thunder and lightning. Ths Bhutan got its name Drukyul, which in the Dzongkha language means Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Rainfall

Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the northern border region to Tibet gets about forty millimeters of precipitation a year which is primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimeters is more common, and 7,800 millimeters per year has been registered at some locations in the humid, subtropical south, ensuring the thick tropical forest, or savanna.

The People

Early records suggest scattered clusters of inhabitants had already settled in Bhutan when the first recorded settlers arrived 1,400 years ago. Bhutan’s indigenous population is the Drukpa. Three main ethnic groups, the Sharchops, Ngalops and the Lhotsampas (of Nepalese origin), make up today’s Drukpa population. Bhutan’s earliest residents, the Sharchops reside predominantly in eastern Bhutan. Their origin can be traced to the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India. The Ngalops migrated from the Tibetan plains and are the importers of Buddhism to the kingdom. Most of the Lhotsampas migrated to the southern plains in search of agricultural land in the early 20th century.
Bhutan’s official language is Dzongkha. The current population is approximately 750, 000. Given the geographic isolation of many of Bhutan’s highland villages, it is not surprising that a number of different dialects have survived. Bhutan has never had a rigid class system. Social and educational opportunities are not affected by rank or by birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with men in every respect. To keep the traditional culture alive Bhutanese people wear the traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries. Bhutanese men wear a gho, a long robe tied around the waist by a small belt. The women’s ankle length dress is called a kira, made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics with traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls, turquoise, and the precious agate eye stones which the Bhutanese call ‘tears of the gods’.

Religion

Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyu) as its official religion. The Buddhist faith continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all strands of secular life, bringing with it a reverence for the land and its well being. Annual festivals (tsechus and dromches) are spiritual occasions in each district. They bring together the population and are dedicated to Guru Rinpoche or other deities. Throughout Bhutan, stupas and chortens line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another high Lama may have stopped to meditate. Prayer flags dot the hills, fluttering in the wind. They allow Bhutanese people to maintain constant communication with the heavens.

Way of Life

While urban settlements have sprung up with the process of modernization, the majority of Bhutanese people still live in small rural villages. An agricultural based economy, small family farms are the predominant way of life and the farming the most common occupation. As the altitude rises crops give way to cattle and yak breeding. The Bhutanese diet is rich in meat and poultry, dairy, grain (particularly rice-red and white) and vegetables. Emadatse (chili and cheese stew) is considered the national dish. Poulry and meat dishes, pork, beef and yak, are lavishly spiced with chilies, and it is common to see bright red peppers drying on rooftops in the sun. Salted butter tea, or suja, is served on all social occasions. Chang, a local beer, and Arra, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley, are also common and widely favored. Doma or betel nut, is offered as a customary gesture of greeting. The Bhutanese way of life is greatly influenced by religion. People circumambulating the chortens with prayer beads and twirling prayer wheels are a common sight. Every Bhutanese home has a chosum – special room used for prayers.

Government

The form of government in Bhutan is as unique as the country. It is the only Democratic Theocracy in the world. His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who was Bhutan’s fourth king was a very special monarch. He ensured that the culture and traditions of his county were kept intact. He listened to the voice of his people, and modernized Bhutan maintaining his goal of “ People’s participation and decentralisation of the government”. He abdicated in favour of his son after training him for his role as a constitutional monarch.
Bhutan is divided into 20 Dzongkhags (districts or states), each with its own elected 3 year representative. The Tshogdu, or National Assembly has 154 members who fall into 3 catagories. The largest group with 105 members are the Chimis – Representatives of Bhutan’s 20 dzongkhas. The regional monk bodies elect 12 monastic representatives who also serve 3 year terms. Another 37 representatives are civil servants nominated by the king. They include 20 Dzongdas, (district administrators or mayors), ministers, secretaries of various government and other high ranking officials. The Tshogdu meets in Thimphu twice each year and is presided over by an elected speaker. The speaker may also call special sessions during emergencies. The Tshogdu body passes all the kingdom’s legislation by a simple majority vote.

Accomodation and food

A variety of accommodation is available at all locations, The cusine comprises Indian and Bhutanese. For the more conventional western palate, general continental food is also available on request.

Transportation

High mountain roads constitute the main mode of travel within the country. For the comfort and safety of our guests, our associates maintain a very reliable and well-maintained fleet of cars, 4 w drives, and mini coaches.

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