Bhutan Pilgrimage

According to Bhutanese tradition, the history of Bhutan began in the seventh century AD when the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo constructed the first two Buddhist temples in Bhutan: Kyichu Lhakhang in the Paro valley and Jampey Lhakhang in the Choekhor valley in Bumthang. In the eight century, a saint from Swat (in present day Pakistan) arrived in Bhutan. His name was Padmasambhava but he is generally known in Tibet and Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche, the 'Precious Master'. Here, as in Tibet he introduced Tantric Buddhism. He is considered by the Nyingmapa religious school (pa means school or sect) to be their founder and the second Buddha. All the places he visited and where he meditated are places of pilgrimage in Bhutan. So on this trip, we will visit some of his sacred places and get blessed.

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 will receive you and transfer you to the 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 adorned with peach and cherry blossoms at this time of the year.

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.

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 hilltops 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. They say heaven is a place on earth – perhaps this is one such place. Anyway it is as close as you can get to in a day!

Coming down, 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 - Punakha
Your journey eastwards begins from here as you take a drive along the curvy Bhutanese road to Punakha passing by the outskirt of Thimphu town and up 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) that 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. It’s then about one hour drive down to sub-tropical Punakha Valley from here.

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.

Later, we will take a drive to Talo - the native hometown of the queens for our short downhill hike following the beautiful track that links the village of Talo and Nobgang where we will see villages and have intimate insight into the rural lives.

Approximate driving time: 04 hours
Altitude at Punakha: 1300m
Overnight: Hotel in Punakha

Day 04: Excursion to Goen Tsephu Nye
The Guru Rinpoche Caves (Goen Tsephu) is about one and half hour drive from Punakha following the Mochu River upstream towards north for the first half of the journey. After we reach a place called Mitsegang, which is a small village at the bank of Mochu, we go across the bridge and drive up the winding road to Goen Tsephu.

It is said that Guru Rinpoche visited these caves after his retreat at Maratika in Nepal, and it was here that he was able to fully see the form of Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life. As is common at many Bhutanese sacred sites, there are self-embossed characters in rock and places to scramble through while making dedications for the benefit of other beings and to remove one’s own defilements. Tsephu remains every pilgrim’s spiritual hotspot in the region.

Approximate driving time: 04 hours
Altitude at Punakha: 1300m
Overnight: Hotel in Punakha

Day 05: Excursion to Bay Langdra
The trip to Bay Langdra is one of the wonderful journey you will have. It is more than one-hour drive from Wangdue through Sha village and beautiful forest to the trailhead from where it’s another 02-hour walk up through the temperate forest.

It is believed that one day while in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche had a vision that people in the area where Bay Yul Lang Dra is now situated, were not practicing the Dharma and were engaged in doing evil. To put an end to this, he decided to travel here to reform the people. Whilst Guru Rinpoche was meditating here, the local evil spirit disguised himself as a red ox attempted to distract and harm the Guru. Showing no compassion, Guru Rinpoche slaughtered the ox and later called upon his soul to make the evil spirit promise to stop harming the local people. Guru Rinpoche then concealed a total of 60 religious treasures into the rock, which is now the wall of the temple, and gave the now liberated spirit the responsibility of guarding the hidden treasures. At present, the palm print of Guru Rinpoche, as well as an outline of a protective scorpion, is visible on the rock. The prophecy says that in the future a terton (treasure discoverer) will come to reveal the valuable treasures. Directly translated, Bay Yul Lang Dra means – the hidden treasures in the ox rock.

It is believed that if one merely sees Bey Langdra, one will be freed from samsara. If one visits it, all defilements will be purified. If one practices Dharma there, one will find spiritual fulfillment and realize all the Yidam practices. If one makes offerings here, all aspirations for all lifetimes will be fulfilled. However, despite Guru Rinpoche and many great Tertons like Pema Lingpa and Sherab Mebar consecrating Bay Langdra, it remained hidden even to Bhutanese for many centuries.

Approximate walking time: 04 hours
Altitude at Punakha: 1300m
Overnight: Hotel in Punakha

Day 06: Punakha – Thimphu
After breakfast at hotel we drive back to Thimphu, 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.

The 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.

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 07: 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.