A Journey through Bhutan (East to West)

Lhuentse Dzong

This journey takes you across the entire Bhutanese landscape, perfect for those who want to explore this remote country in depth, provides a wonderful insight into a land that time seems to have forgotten. Completely off the beaten path, you will be able to visit the heartlands of Bhutan including the eastern provinces of Trashigang, Mongar and Lhuntse. 

Journey on to the more frequently visited destinations of the Bumthang Valley, Trongsa, Punakha, Thimphu and Paro, each of which has its own attractions including Dzongs, markets and stunning vistas.

In addition to the must-sees of other places we visit, highlights include a day at Bragong – a small hamlet in Lhuntse in Eastern Bhutan, where we will have a glimpse into a lifestyle and culture long forgotten by the modern world. We will stay in the farmhouse, participate in friendly archery contest, and have picnic lunch, sing and dance with the locals and many more, guaranteed to make this, the experience of a lifetime.

Day 01: Guwahati – Samdrup Jongkhar
Fly from Delhi or Bangkok to Guwahati, the capital of the Indian state of Assam. Bhutan Excursion’s representative will receive you at the airport in Guwahati and then transfer to Samdrup Jongkhar across the border. It’s about two-hour drive.

Samdrup Jongkhar, the gateway to east, is a thriving commercial center on the northern edge of the Indian plains. Situated directly at the base of the Himalayan foothills, it is a fascinating mixture of Indian and Bhutanese, a perfect example of the mingling of people and cultures.

Altitude at Samdrup Jongkhar: 250m
Overnight – Hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar

Day 02: Samdrup Jongkhar – Trashigang
The Samdrup Jongkhar – Trashigang road was completed in 1970s. The road ascends rapidly from the plains through dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns. Along the way, we pass by Deothang, which is remembered in history as the site of a famous 19th century battle fought during the Duar Wars, in which the forces of Jigme Namgyal defeated the British. Unlike western Bhutan, where the road goes over passes between one valley and the next, the road here follows ridges almost the whole way.

Trashigang lies in the far east of Bhutan, and is the country’s largest district. Trashigang town, on the hillside above the Gamri Chu (river), was once the center for a busy trade with Tibet. Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam.
Trashigang, although is the biggest of Bhutan’s twenty districts in terms of population, it sees very few tourists.

Visit Trashigang Dzong (Fortress); built in 1659, the Dzong serves as the administrative seat for the district as well as the home of the monk body. The Dzong commands a remarkable view over the surrounding countryside, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours
Altitude at Trashigang: 1070m
Overnight – Hotel in Trashigang

Day 03: Excursion to Merak
We will have day excursion to Merak and have intimate insight into the live of the tribes known as the Brokpas, the semi-nomadic people, whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan. Learn how these proud communities, which form a rich part of Bhutan’s ethnic diversity, have survived with their cultures intact to this day. Brokpas inhabit some of the most rugged terrains in the country. Their economy depends heavily on yaks, and although Brokpas are gradually entering in the cash economy, a greater part of their livelihood still depends on ancient bartering practices.

Approximate driving time: 05 hours
Altitude at Trashigang: 1070m
Overnight – Hotel in Trashigang

Day 04: Trashigang – Lhuntse
A short decent to the bridge, and then the most part of the morning’s journey is along the Dangme Chhu River – the biggest of all the rivers in Bhutan with abundance of lemon grass along the roadside. Tackle the famous Zigzags up the hillside to Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast growing settlement, and then ascend gradually through corn fields and banana groves to reach Kori La Pass (2450m) marked by a pretty Chorten and a Mani wall. From here, it’s a short downhill drive through leafy forest filled with ferns to the town of Mongar. The second largest town in the subtropical east, Mongar is built high on a gently sloppy hillside.

Continuing our drive to Lhuntse, the landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. Lhuntse is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. The Kurtoe region of Lhuntse is the ancestral home of the monarchy.

Visit the newly built World’s tallest statue of Guru Rinpoche at Taki La in Tangmachu. The construction of the enormous statue of Guru Rinpoche in the form of Guru Nangsey Zilneon was started in 2008 and it’s been just completed now. The statue was built with the donations from devotees within and as well as from outside the country.
This 148 feet bronze statue despite becoming the tallest statue of Guru Rinpoche in the world, it is also one of the most prominent structures in the Buddhist world, as well as a place of pilgrimage for devotees from all over the world, plus an attraction for the tourists visiting Eastern Bhutan– built to ensure continued peace in the world, stands high and handsome on the hillock overlooking Kurichu Valley.

Later, we will drive to Bragong that is perched high up on the mountain slope opposite to Guru’s statue on the other side of the valley. Bragong is a small hamlet consisting of about a dozen of houses scattered here and there. The people of Bragong are not well off but happy and contented. They work in their fields and eat whatever they produce, and when there is no work, their time is committed for social gathering and drinking.

Approximate driving time: 06 hours
Altitude at Bragong: 2000m
Overnight – Home stay at Bragong

Day 05: Bragong
We will take part in the friendly archery contest with the locals in the morning and have a lot of fun with several customs and practices attached to the activity apart from being an archer in the middle of nowhere.
In the afternoon, explore the village and have intimate insight into their rural ways of living.

Altitude at Bragong: 2000m
Overnight – Home stay at Bragong

Day 06: Bragong – Mongar
Today, before we head back towards Mongar, we will drive up towards north to explore Kurtoe region of Lhuntse and visit old Dungkhar palace. It was the palace of first king or it’s the origination of Bhutan’s royal family. Visit to the palace will give us an intimate insight into the life in the early days of Bhutan’s monarchy.
Later, on our way to Mongar, we will visit Lhuntse Dzong, perched high on a hill overlooking the Kurichu valley. Lhuntse Dzong is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan. The Dzong has two divisions known as Dzong Thogma and Dzong Wogma. The Thogma or the upper part belongs exclusively to the monk body, while the district administration occupies the Wogma. The dzong is set on a hilltop and is very graceful. There is an old song that praises the glory of this Dzong. Your guide will probably sing for you.

Approximate driving time: 06 hours
Altitude at Mongar: 1600m
Overnight – Hotel in Mongar

Day 07: Mongar – Bumthang
The drive from Mongar to Bumthang will surely enchant you as it offers one of the most spectacular views of the country. Evergreen junipers and colorful rhododendrons cover the hillsides, as fresh new scenery unfolds with every twist and turn of the winding road. Sound of the rushing streams and cascading waterfalls greets you as you look down at the valley looming in the distance below the precipitous rock face. You will be so captivated by its beauty that the eight-hour journey will hardly be noticed.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours
Altitude at Bumthang: 2700m
Overnight – Hotel in Jakar

Day 08: Bumthang
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600m to 4,000m. If you are looking for the religious heartland of Bhutan then Bumthang beckons: a region famous for some of Bhutan’s oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.

Visit the following places;

Jambey Lhakhang
This 7th century monastery was one of 108 monasteries built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century. However the inner shrine with the Future Buddha is believed to be there some 1400 years ago. Jambay festival (in the late autumn) is famous for the Tercham. English speaking Bhutanese refer to this dance as the Naked Dance. Indeed some dancers appear naked!

Kurje Lhakhang
Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises three temples. The exciting thing here is comparing the 17th century structure on right side with the 20th century on the left (the one built by H.M. Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Grand-Queen Mother). A 108-chorten wall surrounds these three temples. Kurje is very special as the kings of Bhutan and other Royal Family members are cremated here.

Tamshing Lhakhang
Take a walk from Kurje Lhakhang to Tamshing Lhakhang. Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava, founded this temple in 1501. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple. Take an experience before restoration.

Jakar Dzong
Constructed in 1549 by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. It was upgraded in 1646, after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative center for Bumthang valley, and also houses the regional monk body.

Thangbi Gompa
If you are fond of walking, take an opportunity to Thangbi Gompa, a walk of about 30 minutes north of Kurje Lhakhang. H.H Shamar Rinpoche of a Buddhist lineage called Karma Kagyu founded it in 1470. If you happen to be around here, in autumn, look out for the dates of Thangbi festival.

Altitude at Jakar – 2600m
Overnight – Hotel in Jakar

Day 09: Bumthang – Trongsa
We head towards west once again, climbing up to Yutong La (3425m) and then down to Trongsa.

En-route; We will take a drive to Tharpaling Monastery and hike along the beautiful alpine ridge above the monastery with stunning views of mountains and valleys. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. They say heaven is a place on earth – perhaps this is one such place.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours
Altitude at Trongsa – 2200m
Overnight – Hotel in Trongsa

Day 10: Excursion to Kuenga Rapten
Before we set off to Kuenga Rapten, we will visit the following places in Trongsa;

Trongsa Dzong
A masterpiece of architecture with a maze of courtyards, passageways and 23 temples. It was Shabdrung’s great – grandfather who founded the first temple at Trongsa in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Trongsa’s position; he constructed the first Dzong at the place where his ancestors had erected the temple. The Dzong was called Choekor Rabtentse. In 1652, Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Trongsa, had the Dzong enlarged. The Dzong is built in such a way that in the old days, no matter what direction a traveler comes from, he was obliged to pass through the courtyard of the Dzong. This helped to make the Penlop of this Dzong as powerful as it had a complete control over the east – west traffic. The watchtower above the Dzong further strengthened its defense. The father of the first king known as the black regent and the first king served as the Governor of Trongsa before the emergence of the Bhutanese Monarchy, since then it has become a tradition for the young crown prince to serve as the Governor of this place before he is crowned.

Ta Dzong
Ta Dzongthe museum that is situated strategically above the Trongsa Dzong, the Ta Dzong served as the watchtower for centuries. Choeje Minjur Tempa built it in 1652. The museum focuses on the history of the monarchy, which had its cradle in Trongsa and the history of the Trongsa Dzong. The Ta Dzong or the Tower of Trongsa Museum was renovated as state of the art museum dedicated to the Monarchs of Bhutan. The museum has total of eleven galleries styled along the National Museum in Paro. One gallery is fully dedicated to the history of Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty. There is also a gallery that showcases the history and the religious significance of Trongsa Chhoetse Dzong. This 300-year-old monument showcases some of the rare and priceless artifacts of the Kingdom. These include the statues built in the 17th century to Bhutan’s rare royal possessions.

Later, we will take a drive towards south to see the winter palace of the second king, Jigme Wangchuk. It’s an interesting drive, passing Takse Goemba and a large expanse of rice terraces in the lower Mangde Chhu valley. Kuenga Rabten palace is 23km from Trongsa dzong. The road passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. Enjoy the drive as the terrain slopes quite gently opening opportunities for good bird watching and cultural sight seeing. This palace functioned as winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. Nevertheless this is a place to witness the aura of Bhutan’s medieval royalty.

Approximate driving time: 02 hours
Altitude at Trongsa: 2200m
Overnight – Hotel in Trongsa

Day 11: Trongsa – Punakha
Continuing our journey, we re-enter the forest and follow a dramatic section of the road, carved into the side of a cliff, high above Mangde Chu River. We then gradually drive uphill to Pele La Pass (3300m), the pass that was traditionally known as the boundary between Western and Eastern Bhutan, before we descend to subtropical Wangdi and Punakha valleys.

En-route; visit Phobjikha Valley, perhaps one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. The Valley falls from the western slopes of the Black Mountains and the entire valley is a designated conservation area adjacent to the Black Mountains National Park that protects a large flock of endangered black-necked cranes that migrate from Tibet in the winter months.

Approximate driving time: 05 hours
Altitude at Punakha: 1300m
Overnight – Hotel in Punakha

Day 12: Punakha – Thimphu
You will always love Punakha for its varieties of cultural opulence created by the country’s history. This district, leveling from 1300m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000m around Dochu La pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907. The dzong of Punakha is historically important as the symbol of unified Bhutan.

Visit the following places in Punakha;

Punakha Dzong
Built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic junction at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987.

Chhimi Lhakhang
The Divine Madman also known, as Drukpa Kinley was a famous teacher with whom the phallic symbol is associated. Tales told by your guide would have excited you to visit Chhimi Lhakhang. The Divine Madman sits there, though as statue this time. Do not miss the master’s deeds painted on the walls. Japanese and several American couples visited this temple and were blessed miraculously with children. Ask yourself, do I need this Fertility Tour or not?

Continuing our drive, we go up and over Dochu La (3050m) from where one can have a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear. The pass is marked by 108 chortens (Stupa), which are Buddhist reliquaries, memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings.

A short drive from the pass will take you down to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan which is perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government, home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.

Approximate driving time: 03 hours
Altitude at Thimphu: 2400m
Overnight – Hotel in Thimphu

Day 13: Thimphu
Your sightseeing in Thimphu includes visit to the following places;

National Memorial Chorten
Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, originally envisaged the building of this landmark. 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 peace.

Buddha Dordenma Statue
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.

Motithang Takin Preserve
A short distance up the road to the telecom tower is a trail leading to a large fenced area that was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bhutan’s environmental and religious convictions, and it was disbanded some time ago. The animals were released into the wild but the takins, Bhutan’s national animal, were so tame that they wandered around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity. It’s worthwhile taking the time to see these oddball mammals. The best time to see them is early morning when they gather near the fence to feed. It’s a five-minute walk from the road to a viewing area where you can take advantage of a few holes in the fence to take photographs.

Weekend Market
Most of the Thimphu population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the riverside. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday to Sunday. Otherwise, there is no use going there on other days. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy some souvenirs.

Weaving Centre
In Bhutan, textiles are considered the highest form of art and spiritual expression. Our hand looms have evolved over centuries and reflect the country’s distinctive identity. Most of the designs and patterns of weave are unique to the country. Bhutanese weavers have been very innovative in their designs while maintaining the traditional character of the art. By utilizing primarily the simple back strap loom, the Thunder Dragon People have crafted one of the most advanced and sophisticated weaving cultures in the history of civilization.
Weaving Centre produces hand-woven textiles on site and has a selection of cloth and ready-made garments for sale. This is one of the few places where you can watch weavers at work.

Handicrafts Emporium
Visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and privately owned crafts shops, which offer a wide range of handcrafted products, including the splendid Thangkha paintings and exquisitely woven textiles for which Bhutan is famous.

The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in the 1960s. While other governments around the world ensconce themselves in fortresses of stone and steel, the seat of Bhutan’s Royal Government is in a building that mirrors the country’s culture and its people.
The building we see today is largely a modern affair, built in 1962 when His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk moved the government to Thimphu after a fire at its original location.
The complex’s central tower is original. Tashichhodzong houses the main secretariat building, throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan. During the warmer summer months the monk body headed by His Holiness, the Je Khenpo, makes its home in the Dzong.

Altitude at Thimphu: 2400m
Overnight – Hotel in Thimphu

Day 14: Hike to Tiger’s Nest
Today, we hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags.

After visiting what is known as one of the most venerated pilgrimage sites in the country, we will go off the beaten track further up to the temples that are on the hill tops above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. No wonder, some monks have chosen this place to meditate for the rest of their lives 

Coming back, we are following a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.

Approximate-walking time: 05 hours
Altitude at Paro: 2300m
Overnight – Hotel in Paro

Day 15: Departure
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort from Bhutan Excursions will bid you farewell and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.

Tashi Delek & Good Luck!!!