9 Days Spiritual Bhutan
Day 1 (Paro)
This morning you will fly into Paro on Bhutan’s Airbus with Druk Air, the national carrier of the Royal Government of Bhutan and experience breathtaking views of the Himalayan peaks as we descend into this remote land. The flight into Paro is one of the most spectacular in the world. Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan and is located in a deep valley at an elevation of 2,225m above sea level. The surrounding hills are as high as 4,900m and the approach into Paro airport is entirely by visual flight rules. Flying along the Himalayan range over the foothills from Bangkok is a mesmerizing aeronautical feat with highly skilled pilots and offers an exciting welcome into the kingdom. On arrival in Paro our guide and driver will meet you at the airport and drive you to Paro, for sightseeing and lunch. On this day you will visit the dramatic Paro Dzong (fortress) built in 1646 (where the movie ‘Little Buddha’ was filmed). You will also visit the National Museum (a converted Dzong watchtower), which provides a good introduction to the history and architecture of the country. There are many photographic opportunities on this day including while we drive to the capital Thimphu (2320m). Overnight at Hotel.
Day 2 (Tango Monastery)
The walk up to Tango Monastery takes approximately 45 minutes and provides a wonderful opportunity to visit monks and receive blessings. Spend some time at the monastery and talk with the monks about their daily lives. At present, Tango Monastery is a university of Buddhist philosophy, with a student body of over 70 monks. The monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in the 13th century and built in its present form by Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler in 1688. It underwent restoration in the mid 1990’s and is currently the residence of a young incarnation of Tenzin Rabgye.
Later in the day begin exploring Thimphu, visiting the colourful and bustling vegetable market, Archery ground, circumambulate the important National Memorial Chorten, marvel at the Textile Museum or tour the art school that teaches the thirteen traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts including carpentry, painting, embroidery and blacksmithing, sculpting and weaving. Evening make a visit to majestic Trashichhoedzong, the most modern dzong (fortress) in Bhutan. It serves as the summer residence of the Chief Abbot and the main monk body as well as providing administration areas for government departments and the office of the King. Overnight at Hotel.
Day 3 (Thimphu, Punakha)
Today we will depart Thimphu eastwards for Punakha (1220m). Enroute we will cross Dochu La (‘La’ means mountain pass) at 3140m featuring 108 chorten built by the Queen Mother in 2004. On a clear day we may enjoy a spectacular view of the eastern Himalayan Mountains. After stopping for tea and refreshments we will proceed over the mountains and into Punakha Valley staying right on the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, rivers known for their crystal blue quality fed by glaciers in the Lunana region of the Punakha Valley. After lunch, you will take a walk to the temple standing on a round hill rock through a paddy field to Chimi Lhakhang or the temple of fertility. It is about 25 minutes’ walk through rice terraces and the village of Yoakha. The temple is situated on the spur above the village. It is believed that barren couple will have children if they get blessing for this temple.
In the afternoon, our guides will arrange a visit to the breath-taking Punakha Dzong. Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan and the dzong, built in 1637, is the winter residence of the Head Abbott of Bhutan and the main monk body. The dzong lies between two rushing rivers (chhu), the Mo (mother) and Po (father) Chhu and so is one of the most dramatic looking buildings in Bhutan. Take photos from various vantage points, then cross the cantilever bridge and spend some time exploring the interior, a treasure trove of small temples and especially fine examples of Buddhist iconography. Evening drive to visit the famous Phobjikha valley (3000m), the winter breeding ground of the endangered Black-necked Crane. This is a beautiful glacial valley that is quite unique to others you will have seen. With noticeably different vegetation it is well worth the visit. Overnight at Farm house to experience the Bhutanese life.
Day 4 (Phobjikha, Bumthang)
After breakfast, you will take a walk through Gangtey nature trial to Gangtey Goempa. On arrival will visit Gangtey Goempa, perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountain’sGangtey valley, Bhutan and also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. The Monastery is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery. Gangtey was founded by Pema Trinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa, the famous Nyingmapa saint of Bhutan. In 1613, Pema Trinley established the monastery and became the first Gangtey Tulku. The religious traditions of Pema Lingpa still taught there. The second Tulku, Tenzin Legpa Dondrup (1645 to 1726), enhanced the size of Gangtey while keeping up good relations with Drukpas, and rebuilt the monastery in the form of a Dzong.
Later we depart for the village of Trongsa (2000m). There are some great photo opportunities of waterfalls on this part of the journey making a stop at Chendepji Chorten, patterned on Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. It was built in 18th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. On arrival in Trongsa visit Trongsa dzong and continue your drive to Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Central Bhutan. Overnight at Hotel
Day 5 (Bumthang)
Sightseeing includes visit to the following:Jambay Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the King Songtsen Goempo of Tibet. In his effort to propagate Buddhism he had a plan to build a total of 108 temples in Tibet and neighboring kingdoms.
Kujey Lhakhang (Kujey means, “Body imprint”). The temple to the right is the oldest and was built by Minjur Tempa in 1652. It was built around the cave in which Guru Rimpoche meditated and left his body imprint. Tamshing Lhakhang. This temple is also known as Tamshing Lhendrup Chholing (Temple of the Good Message). Jakar Dzong, “castle of the white bird”. According to legend, when the lamas assembled in about 1549 to select a site for a monastery, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of a hill. This was interpreted as an important omen, and the hill was chosen as the site for a monastery and for Jakar Dzong. The fortress is now used as an administrative center of the valley and summer residence of Trongsa monks. In the evening stroll around the beautiful landscape of the Bumthang Jakar valley. Overnight at hotel.
Day 6 (Bumthang, Tang Valley)
In the morning, you will depart for the Tang valley where we will have a night stay in a rural village. On arrival in Tang, we will take a beautiful 1hour walk over a suspension bridge, and pass rice fields to the isolated village of Ugyencholing (2800m), a pilgrimage site since the 15th Century. This is the location of the stately Ugyen Choling Palace. Along the way to Ugyencholing you will stop at an isolated nunnery that house over 100 nuns, where we will coordinate a photo-shoot. Ugyencholing Palace has been converted by its 20th generation of owners into a museum and houses permanent exhibits that chronicle Bhutan’s feudal history and also its agricultural development. Traditional living quarters have been restored in addition to the servants’ quarters, the temple and grain storage areas. There will also be the opportunity of an archery game between the local villagers and your guides and drivers. It is a great fun. After lunch the village experience continues as you will be introduced to khuru a dart game unique to Bhutan. After a short lesson and explanation of the game you will be invited to test your aim and skills with the locals and find out how life has changed in this once feudal village. Overnight at farm house.
Day 7 (Ugyencholing Village, Wangdue)
In the morning a local monk will join us to hoist prayer flags, a cultural, rather religious gesture, of good will and intention. Buddhism and the animist Bon religion are a part of daily life throughout Bhutan and many cultural activities stem from it. Our guides will provide us with prayer flags blessed by the local monk to bring blessings to our lives and to our loved ones.
After hoisting prayer flags we leave Bumthang valleys and return to Trongsa. Along the way you will walk to Mebartsho(flaming lake) and take photo as you like and cross back over Yotong La, which offers a second chance to get photos that you might have missed the first time through. Travelling from the other side of the mountain often affords a different perspective that may prove inspiring! This return trip is an opportunity to stop whenever you want for these new photo opportunities. After lunch in Trongsa, we commence our journey to Wangdue by crossing the pass of Pele La (3420m). Ovenight at Hotel.
Day 8 (Wangdue, Paro)
Later drive to Paro following the road crossing Dochula pass. The drive to Paro takes around four hours. Make a stop at Dochu la Pass, the pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. On arrival in Paro you will have lunch in the town.
Following lunch you will drive for about thirty minutes to reach the start of your two and a half hour walk up to Taktsang Monastery. (There is an option for a pony ride part the way up, but not coming down). This is the most famous monastery in Bhutan. Taktsang Monastery is built on the sheer cliff about 900 metres above the Paro valley floor. It is believed that in the eighth century Guru Rinpoche (regarded by the Bhutanese as the second Buddha) flew to the site where the monastery would eventually be built, riding on the back of a flying tigress (one of his consorts) to subdue the local demon Sengay Samdrup. After Guru Rinpoche subdued the demon, he meditated in a cave there, which has become a place of Ney (holy place). Fortunately, the cave was spared in the fire that gutted much of the original seventeenth century monastery on April 19, 1998. The careful and complex restoration provides us with a never to be forgotten experience. You will walk alongside many pilgrims on the way up. Cameras are not allowed inside the monastery itself.
After visiting the sacred rooms of this complex of monastery and temples we will briefly retrace our steps to the waterfall and then begin the final descent of about an hour along the ancient pilgrim’s path to reach our vehicles and drive back to Paro. On the way back to hotel, Visit Kichu temple, one of the 108 temples built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. The story goes that a giant demon lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayas and was preventing the spread of Buddhism. To overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples, which would be placed on all the points of her body. Of these 108 temples, 12 were built in accordance with precise plans. Thus, it happened that in about the year AD 638 the temple of Jokhang in Lhasa was built over the very heart of the demoness. Overnight at Hotel.