|TREKKING THROUGH TIME: BHUTAN, 2012
April 3-17, 2012
Unique Bhutan is one of the most exclusive and rare destinations in the world, lying just south of Tibet, east of Nepal, with Sikkim to the West. Mystery surrounds Bhutan's distant past, dating back to the 8th century. With pristine rivers, towering crags, green hills, and magnificent snow-peaked mountains, land-locked Bhutan is filled with Buddhist myths and legends.
Isolated and remote, it is not difficult for travel in this Himalayan kingdom. While India greatly influenced Bhutan in early days, eventually Tibet's influence grew after the introduction of Buddhism somewhere between the 2nd and 7th centuries.
The Bhutanese are committed to preserving their culture and limit the number of tourists. Bhutanese respect their land; approximately 72 per cent of the country is in forests--of fir, mixed conifers, rhododendrons and over 600 species of orchids.
On April 3, a small group will travel to this enchanted land for a combination of walking, monastery visiting, and history gathering. Our guide will be Sonam Wangmo, our tour guide for the trip, who will lead us through the history, language, religion, arts and culture.
April is a most desired time to trek Bhutan with temperatures around the mid-seventies F. Our total trip days, including travel from the U.S. are 15 days.
from USA to Bangkok.
||Bangkok on your own
|| Day 1 - Arrival at Paro International Airport
Flying into Paro, Bhutan is a unique experience altogether. The flight offers views of the majestic eastern Himalayas, and the arrival into a solitary runway at the country's only airport is a mind-boggling event with the landscape and weather conditions dictating a steep descent into a narrow valley.
On arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be received by your tour representatives who will escort you to the Nak-Sel Boutique Hotel for refreshment and a brief discussion about your tour program. Head on out to the Paro Dzong to attend the second to last day of the Paro Tsechu. Dinner and overnight at Nak-Sel.
||Day 2 - Spend the whole day at the last day of Paro Tsechu
Dinner and overnight at Nak-Sel resort.
||Day 3 - Paro to Thimphu (1.5 hours drive)
After an early breakfast, drive to Thimphu. Thimphu is a small, charming capital city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. It is nothing like what a capital city is imagined to be. All houses and buildings are painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style. En route walk on the ancient suspension bridge below Tamchok lhakhang and visit Simtokha Dzong, one of the oldest fortress of Bhutan built in 1629 and it houses the largest monastic schools in the country.
Stop by the Farmers’ Market which used to be the Week end market. This is one of the highlights of your trip.
On arrival in Thimphu, check in at Kisa Hotel for some rest and refreshment. Circumbulate around Memorial Chorten. This huge stupa was built in memory of the late 3rd King and it’s the favourite place for the people of Thimphu to pray and show their devotion. From here on embark on a walking tour that includes; Hongkong Market/ Main Traffic/ Norzin Lam/ Central Plaza/ General Post Office/ Clock Tower, etc.
Drive to the animal sanctuary where the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, is found in captivity. Walk around the BBS tower which is also known as the “romantic point” and lovers often come here to look at the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley. En route visit the only nunnery in Bhutan. Spend some time talking and praying with the Buddhist nuns.
Visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved. They also have on display the largest Picture Book on Bhutan in the world.
Visit the Traditional Medicine Centre which includes hospital and herbal medicine manufacturing unit based on the Tibetan system of medicine. The centre also trains indigenous medicine doctors known as “Dungtso”. Spend some time with the Dungshos.
Visit the Zorig Chuksum “School for Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts” followed by a visit to Textile Museum, Handicraft Emporium and some local shops for antiques.
Visit the 12th century Changangkha lhakhang, which is the birth registration temple of Thimphu.
Visit the Tashichhoe Dzong, the main secretariat building, the office of the King and Throne room and also the house of the State Monastic Body.
Visit the Bhutanese Paper Factory, This traditional handmade paper is still being widely used around the country.
Drive to Buddha Gang to enjoy the sunset and the lovely view of Thimphu city. Astrologers & locals believe this spot is one of the main meeting point of the sacred energies of the country hence the massive statue of Buddha facing the rising sun.
Overnight at Hotel Kisa in Thimphu. (Alt; 2320m)
||Day 4 - Timphu - Punakha (5 hours)
After an early breakfast, drive to Punakha which will take between 4-5 hours.
The journey will take you across Dochu La pass ( 3150m) where you can enjoy the spectacular views of the Eastern Himalayan Mountain ranges. Take a walk around the 108 stupas which decorates the pass. Also visit the Drukwangyel lhakhang built by the four Queens as a tribute to the fourth King of Bhutan.
Check in at Dragon’s Nest resort for check in and lunch.
After lunch, Punakha Dzong, "Palace of Great Happiness.” It hosts the administrative seat of the district. The Dzong lies between two rivers, the Pochu and Mochu, male and female river. It was built in 1637 AD It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan's first king was crowned. This ancient fortress is considered to be one of the most beautiful by many. Punakha is the former winter Capital of Bhutan and now It’s the winter residence of the central monastic body and its Chief Abbot.
Evening, drive on the Gasa road and go on an excursion to Khamsum Yuelling Chorten. This is a beautiful massive stupa built by the Queen of Bhutan for “World Peace.” The hike takes about 2 hours round trip through the green paddy fields and it also provides beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Overnight at Dragon”s Nest resort in Wangdue. (Alt; 1240m)
||Day 5 - Ngiserang Village Hike
Wake up early and have a quiet breakfast, then set out on a day excursion to Ngiserang village up in the mountains. This hike will take about 4 hours round trip.
In the evening, take a hike to Chhimi lhagang which was built by the “Divine Madman” or Drukpa Kuenley. Walk across the street to Lobesa village and visit some village homes. This is an interesting village as it is inhabited by descendants of Indian migrant labors who came to Bhutan to build roads back in the 60’s. These laborers intermarried with village people and never left.
Dinner and overnight at Dragon’s nest resort.
||Day 6 - Wangdue to Phobjikha
After an early breakfast, drive 2-3 hours to Phobjikha valley.
Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the north western tip of the Black Mountain National Park. The valley is a conservation area and lies on the northern boundary of the Jowo Durshing range. People sometimes refer to the entire region as Gangtey after the name of the Gangtey Goenpa that is situated on a ridge overlooking the Phobjikha valley. According to legend the Gangtey Goenpa was founded by the grandson (the mind incarnation) of Pema Lingpa in 1613. Phobjikha valley is also one of the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes that migrate each year in winter from its northern habitats in Tibet and Siberia.
On arrival, attend Gangtey’s lively festival at Gangtey Goemba. Hundreds of villagers & locals attend this festival with their finest ghos & kiras (traditional dress). You can enjoy the traditional Bhutanese dances, folk music, the colorful mask dances, the funny clown (Atsara), the enthusiastic crowed and more... Interact with the locals and take pictures. Villagers love to have their pictures taken! All the festivals around the kingdom have deep religious meaning & significance.
Evening, take a hike through the Blue Pine forest to visit a village farmhouse. Try traditional Bhutanese snacks made from corn and rice with a homemade wine. Overnight at either Hotel Dewachen or Thegchen Phorang in Gangtey. (Alt: 2900m)
||Day 7 - Phobjikha - Bumthang (140km/6hr)
The journey will take you across Pele La pass (3,300m), which is marked by a chorten and an array of prayer flags. On a clear day, you can get spectacular views of the highest peaks of the kingdom and it’s quite common to spot some yaks and yak herders on this pass. This point marks the boundary between western and central Bhutan as well as the western border of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
Beyond Pele La is Longte Valley where people raise sheep and yaks. You’ll come to the village of Rukubji Valley, with its big school and Gompa. The houses here are clustered amid extensive fields of mustard, potatoes, barley, and wheat. As you drive down through rhododendron trees and ferns, you’ll reach Chendebji village. This was a night halt for mule caravans traveling from Trongsa during the reign of the 2nd King of Bhutan.
Just below Chendebji village is the Chendebji chorten, a large white structure beside a stream. This chorten is modeled after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. The last village before you reach Trongsa is Tangsibji, which provides full view of Trongsa Dzong and its distinctive red roof.
As you enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bumthang Valley) you can visit a center of Yathra weaving. Yathra is the name for the locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth. Distinctive patterns and bright, earthy colors enliven the fabric, which is used for a wide variety of purposes and sought after throughout the country.
On arrival check-in your resort and then visit the historical Jakar Dzong. It is probably one of the biggest Dzongs in Bhutan with the surrounding walls about 1 km in circumference. Visit Kherchu Draktsang, a monastery on the northern slope of Bumthang valley. This monastery is one of the biggest Buddhist college of the kingdom and also offers beautiful view of the Bumthang’s green valley.
Evening, explore Bumthang’s local town and experience their peaceful lifestyle. Overnight at River Lodge in Bumthang. (Alt: 2580m)
||Day 8 - Bumthang Spiritual Sightseeing
Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of the kingdom and it has been referred by many travellers as the “little Switzerland of Asia.”
Morning, embark on a hike through several ancient and important monasteries such as Kurjey Lhakhang, Kencho Sum Lhakhang & Pema Samba Lhakhangs. (These temples have many mythical stories linked to their origin and some of them date back as early as 6th century. The trail will take you to one of the oldest temples of the country which is believed to be built by celestial beings overnight. Tamshing Phala Festival is held at the ancient courtyard of Tamshing goemba. Many devotees, monks and the villagers gather to attend this auspicious occasion.
Numerous shops & entertainment are set up surrounding the fortress. Hence it’s common to see villagers & children buying gifts for their family members & friends who couldn’t make it to the festival. The Bhutanese people believe that attending a Tshechu brings blessing and purifies your life. The locals don’t go for the festival only for enjoyment but also to show respect to all the great seekers of the past who eventually found enlightenment.
Evening, visit the extensive Palace of Wangdichholing, the early home of the third king of Bhutan, which was built in 1857 on the site of a battle field. It is the first palace of the present Wangchuk dynasty and also the first palace that was not designed as a fortress. Overnight in River Lodge in Bumthang.
||Day 9 - Ugen Choling Palace
After an early breakfast, drive about 20 miles, 13 miles of which is on an unpaved road, to the famed Ugencholing Palace. Stop at a roadside temple and a nunnery at Bapzor village then drive to the end of the road at the village of Kesum. After a roadside picnic lunch by noon you should be at the end of the road where pack horses will meet you there and from the road head you have to do a one-hour hike over a suspension footbridge, through farm fields and cluster villages and up a “hill” to the mystical Ugyen Choling Palace.
Ugen Choling is a national treasure, privately owned by the same family for hundreds of years. Its remote location makes it one of the less frequently visited historical sites in Bhutan, hosting fewer than two hundred guests per year. One of the owners wrote a book on Bhutanese folk tales of the Yeti and her brother is the property’s caretaker. The best part of the Palace is the quaint museum housing permanent exhibits on three floors in the main building and the Utse, the central tower. Traditional living quarters are recreated to capture the realistic ambiance of the ancient lifestyles and conditions of the households. Everyday kitchen and weaving utensils, war weapons--including gun powder made from petrified yak dung--tools and farming implements are the main part of the exhibits.
Overnight Ugencholing Guesthouse. The accommodations here are rudimentary at best - simple rooms with unattached bath rooms. It is as it was in the days of old.
||Day 10 - Bumthang to Wangdue (8 hours drive)
This journey will take you over one of the most scenically beautiful routes in Bhutan via the Yotong La pass (3425m), which is also the habitat for the Satyr pheasant. Good for photography.
On arrival, visit the Ancient Watch Tower of Trongsa which now have been turned into a Historical Museum and it offers a great view of Trongsa from the top. After refreshment in your resort, drive to the Trongsa view point where you would hike on the Royal trail which leads to the fortress of Trongsa. Trongsa Dzong, built in 1645, is a vast, white fortress that appears to grow directly up from the narrow green ridge on which it is constructed. It is one of the most powerful Dzongs and even today the crown prince of Bhutan must first become its Trongsa Penlop (governor) before he can become Bhutan’s King.
This was the ancient trail for the ancestors who would make a visit to the king to pay homage. This Royal path leads you down through the dense forest to a river valley. The typical bridge marks the mid way of the path and you have to hike up the second half from this point. It takes you to the back door of the fortress which provides excellent view for photography.
Drive on to Wangdue which will take another 5 hours. This is a long driving day but you can take many opportunities to get out and stretch your legs and take pictures.
Check in at Dragon’s Nest resort for dinner and overnight.
||Day 11 - Wangdue to Thimphu (77 kms/3 hours) and Tango Cheri Monastery hike
After breakfast, drive to Thimphu and check into hotel Kisa for a hot lunch and a brief rest.
Pack a picnic tea and leave for Tango Monastery, the residence of the Druk Desi Gyaltsen Tenzin Rabgye, a 17-year-old spectacled rimpoche lama who is the reincarnate of the 16th-century monk that built Tango and Tiger's Nest. You will be the special guests of this monastery and have access to many wonderful scenes of a monk’s daily life. It is a vigorous 45-minute climb into the clouds. From the top of Tango (means horse, for the horse-head-like rock formation on the side of the mountain) we will photograph distant monasteries through a forest of colorful prayer flags and the interior courtyard of the monastery. After descending, you will meet up for a full hot picnic lunch on the banks of the Thim Chu (Thim River) next to the picturesque Cheri Zam (Cheri Bridge.) This covered wooden footbridge is one of only a handful of traditional cantilevered bridges left in the Himalayas.
After tea, return to Thimphu for more sightseeing.
Evening dinner at a local restaurant and overnight at Hotel Kisa.
||Day 12 - Excursion to the Mystical Taktsang
After a healthy breakfast, drive to Paro (53km/ 1.5hr). Check-in at Nak-Sel resort and prepare for the excursion to Taktsang Monastery. Spend the day hiking up the forested path to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. The climb is steep and takes about 4 hours round trip. An important place of pilgrimage and refuge for more than 1200 years, Taktsang Monastery clings to sheer cliffs two-thousand feet above Paro Valley, and from your closest vantage point on a rocky ledge directly across from it, you will still need 200-300 mm lenses and a steady tripod to get tight photographs.
This sacred place got its name when Guru Rinpoche rode there on the back of a flying tiger and meditated in a cave behind the present-day monastery. Sadly, in 1998, the central temple was destroyed by fire, leaving the country in mourning for their holiest of spiritual places. But religious leaders and the King quickly developed a plan to rebuild Taktsang and donations started pouring in from Buddhist centers all over the world, and today, the magnificently rebuilt exterior is complete. Tiger’s Nest is once again the subject of cloud-shrouded posters that say, “Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Picnic lunch on the hillside cafeteria. Special permit will be arranged for you to enter the Tiger’s Nest monastery but you will not be allowed to take pictures of the inside shrines.
Evening, visit a typical village home for a traditional Bhutanese style dinner accompanied by the local liquor called “Ara” (tastes somewhat like the Japanese Sake) & yak meat.
Optional - $20 each
Luxuriate in the Bhutanese equivalent of a Jacuzzi called a “Chu Tse.” River rocks are heated and dunked into a large wooden tub with herbs. This type of bath is considered to have medicinal properties of healing. Overnight at Nak-Sel resort in Paro.
||Day 13 Departure for Bangkok
Single supplement - $450 per person.
Additional $990.*** per person airfare from Bangkok to Bhutan on Druk Air, Bhutan’s national carrier.
A $1500. deposit will be needed from group participants by October 15, 2011.
Final payments would be due in mid-January, 2012. In early September we will also need to receive $990.00** from everyone so we can secure seats on the Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok flights (your reservation is not reserved until you pay!).
(**Druk Air varies its rates; you may get a refund if price is reduced, or MMason will pay the difference if increased.)
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