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A Journey through Bhutan (West to East)

Eastern Bhutan

Join us on this trip “A Journey through Bhutan” and experience Bhutan through its whole length as you drive almost all the entire stretch of the country from west to the central valleys and to the far flung corners of the East, all through some of the most beautiful and unspoiled scenery in the world.

This trip includes varieties of experiences, starting out by car from Paro, your journey east pass through the Bhutanese Capital of Thimphu and then the picturesque valleys of Punakha, Phobjikha and Trongsa. You will spend a couple of days in the spectacular valley of Bumthang, hiking around the valley, visiting the sacred and ancient old temples that dot the valley, and take excursions to villages. We continue another day of driving to Mongar through the lush pristine forest, spectacular waterfalls and medieval villages. From Mongar to Lhuntse, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal Family, and then to Trashigang and finally to the plains of Bhutan and to Guwahati in India to catch up your onward flight to Bangkok, Delhi or Kolkatta.

For those who enjoy light trekking, this can easily be included in the itinerary. As ever this holiday is purely a suggested itinerary. It can be booked as it is or alternatively used as a starting point for creating your own ideal tailor made trip to Bhutan.

Day 01: Arrive Paro
Flying into the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression.

On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and custom formalities, your guide from Bhutan Excursions for the trip will receive you and transfer you to hotel in Paro.

Paro encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s only airport, and the National Museum. Mt. Jomolhari (7,300m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley, its glacial waters plunging through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro River).   The Paro valley is one of the kingdom’s most fertile, producing the bulk of Bhutan’s famous red rice from its terraced fields.

Your sightseeing in Paro includes visit to the following places;

Rinpung Dzong

It was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan; the Dzong continues its age-old function as the seat of the district administration, district court and the monastic body. The southern approach to the Dzong has a traditional roofed cantilever bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk across the bridge offers a wide view of splendor of the Dzong’s architecture and an opportunity to tread the same path as the ancient warriors.

Kyichu Lhakhang
The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emporer Songtsen Gampo. It is considered to be one of the 108 border taming temples he built.

In 1971 HM Kesang Choden Wangchuck, the Queen of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, built a Guru Temple next to the old Jowo Temple that was consecrated by HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Since then, the annual rites of great accomplishment for the deities Vajrasattva, Palchen Heruka, and Vajrakilava have been held in this temple for the well being of the country under the patronage of HM Kesang Choden Wangchuck.

There is a belief that the two orange trees in the courtyard of Kyichu Lhakhang bear fruit throughout the year.

Next in line, we will stroll along the street in Paro and see the local people going about their business in a typically unhurried Bhutanese way, wearing their traditional dress. It’s a fascinating sight!

Altitude at Paro: 2300m
Overnight: Hotel in Paro

Day 02: 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 that 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: 06 hours
Altitude at Paro: 2300m
Overnight: Hotel in Paro

Day 03: Paro - Thimphu
Take a drive to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, passing through idyllic countryside, with villages and paddy fields on either side of the road. Thimphu has a special charm and it is fascinating to sit and watch a gathering of local people in the town square, wearing their traditional dress and going about their business in a typically unhurried Bhutanese way.

Thimphu, the most unusual capital city in the world without traffic light, 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.

Visit the following places in Thimphu;

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.

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.

Tashichhodzong
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.

Approximate driving time: 01 hour
Altitude at Thimphu: 2400m
Overnight: Hotel in Thimphu

Day 04: Thimphu - Punakha
Take a drive to Punakha (02 hours) across 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. From here, it’s about a little more than hour’s drive down to sub-tropical Punakha Valley.

In Punakha, we will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place 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.

Next in line, we will have a short hike to 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?

Approximate driving time: 03 hours
Altitude at Punakha: 1300m
Overnight: Hotel in Punakha

Day 05: Punakha - Gangtey
Drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Explore Phobjikha valley on foot and also visit 17th century Gangtey Gonpa (Monastery).

Approximate driving time: 03 hours
Altitude at Gangtey: 3000m
Overnight: Hotel in Gangtey

Day 06: Gangtey - Trongsa
Drive to Trongsa across Pele-la pass at 3,300m. This pass is traditionally considered the boundary between western and central Bhutan. Further down the road, stop to visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style, with painted eyes at the four cardinal points. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and its impressive Dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town.

Visit the following places in Trongsa:

Trongsa Dzong
The masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture was founded by Shabdrung’s great – grandfather in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Tongsa’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 Tongsa, 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 watch tower 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 Tongsa 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 Museum
Ta Dzong, the 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.

Approximate driving time: 03 hours
Altitude at Trongsa: 2200m
Overnight: Hotel in Trongsa

Day 07: Trongsa - Jakar
The road climbs rapidly through a series of hairpins out of Trongsa and there are great views back to the Dzong and out across the valley. After passing through cultivated fields for a while, we re-enter the forest and at a distance of 30 kilometers from Trongsa, we reach the Yutung La (3400m). Descending to a low point of 2650m at a village called Chumey, the scenery is once again totally different as we enter the wide-open Bumthang valleys. After a short climb to Kiki La, we turn a corner for a short descent to Jakar. From almost 20 kilometers away we can see Jakar Dzong, high above the village.

Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m.

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.

Approximate driving time: 03 hours
Altitude at Jakar: 2600m
Overnight: Hotel in Jakar

Day 08: Tharpaling Ridge Hike
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 valleys. They say heaven is a place on earth – perhaps this is one such place.

Altitude at Jakar: 2600m
Overnight: Hotel in Jakar

Day 09: Bumthang - Mongar
The drive from Bumthang to Mongar 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 Mongar: 1600m
Overnight: Hotel in Mongar

Day 10: Mongar - Lhuentse
Today, we will take a drive to Lhuentse which is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Although, Lhuentse is the ancestral home of the monarchs of Bhutan, it is one of the most remote and least developed provinces in the country.

In Lhuentse, we will visit Lhuentse Dzong which sits high on a rocky outcrop 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 memorises the glory of this dzong. Your guide will probably sing for you.

Next in line, visit the world’s tallest statue of Guru Rinpoche standing high on the hillock at Taki La in Tangmachu overlooking Kurichu Valley that was just built recently. 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 most 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.

After our visit to the Guru’s statue, we will take a drive to the other side of the valley across the mighty Kurichhu River where we will spend next two nights at Bragong, a small remote village perched high up on the mountain.

Approximate driving time: 05 hours
Altitude at Bragong: 2000m
Overnight: Farm stay at Bragong

Day 11: Bragong
Bragong is a small hamlet consisting of about a dozen of houses scattered here and there on the mountain slope. 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.

Explore the village and have intimate insight into their rural ways of living. Later if the time permits, will try archery with the locals. Apart from the archery itself, there are several other customs and practices attached to the activity that we wouldn’t see in any other country!
 
Altitude at Bragong: 2000m
Overnight – Home stay at Bragong

Day 12: Bragong - Trashigang
To go to Trashigang, we will have to first retrace our journey till Mongar, after which, we drive through leafy forest filled with ferns way up to Kori-la pass (2,450m), marked by a pretty Chorten and a Mani wall. We descend rapidly through corn fields and banana groves to reach the famous road zigzags just below Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast-growing settlement.

After zigzagging down the hillside, the road east runs along the Gamri River. A turnoff on the left leads up to Drametse. The temple, perched on top of a steep hill above the village, was founded by Choeden Zangmo and is the most important monastery of eastern Bhutan. This is the place of origin of the famous Drametse Nga Chham, a masked dance with drums. About 30 km. onwards lies Trashigang (1,100m/3,610ft), which clings to a steep hillside above the Gamri river. Trashigang is the principal township of the biggest and most populated district in the country.

We will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. It serves as the administrative seat for the district and part of the Dzong is occupied by the local monastic community.

Approximate driving time: 07 hours
Altitude at Trashigang: 1070m
Overnight: Hotel in Trashigang

Day 13: Trashigang - Samdrup Jongkhar
The Trashigang - Samdrup Jongkhar road was completed in 1965. On our journey down to the Indian border, we pass by Sherubtse College in Kanglung, which was founded in 1978 and is a degree granting institution affiliated to the University of Delhi. We also visit the nearby Zangtho Pelri temple representing Guru Rinpoche’s paradise, built in 1978 by the late Minister of Home Affairs. We then drive on to Khaling, home of the National Institute for the Disabled and the Weaving Centre. From here, it is a further 80 km. to 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. The road then descends fairly rapidly to the plains through dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and ferns.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours
Altitude at Samdrup Jongkhar: 250m
Overnight: Hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar

Day 14: Samdrup Jongkhar - Guwahati
After breakfast, drive to Guwahati, the capital town of the Indian north-eastern state of Assam, to catch up your onward flight to Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata or for the onward program in that region.

Tashi Delek & Good Luck!!!