Bhutan Land of the Thunder Dragon (BHU-DIS-14)
This Himalayan Kingdom calls itself Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon, and carefully guards the traditions of its past.
Little touched by the outside world the traditions of art and architecture and, most importantly, religion are upheld. The modern world is admitted only cautiously. The result allows you an encounter with a stunning, pristine landscape of forest and mountains, a proud, friendly people and a vibrant, living religious tradition.
Where are you going?
Days 1-2 : Flying into Kathmandu is an unforgettable experience with the Himalaya spread out before you. You will be met at the airport on arrival and transferred to your hotel. In the morning of day 2 a half-day city tour will introduce you to some of the highlights of Kathmandu .
Day 3 : The flight from Kathmandu provides a most dramatic view of the Himalaya as you fly alongside the world's highest mountain range. The tiny town of Paro is bursting with colour and tradition overlooked by a dramatic dzong. Fields, cover most of the valley floor, while hamlets and isolated farms dot the countryside - the houses here are considered to be among the most beautiful in the country. Paro is believed to be one of the first valleys to have received the imprint of Buddhism.
In the afternoon visit the National Museum (Ta-Dzong) and Paro Rinpung Dzong.
Days 4-5: Thimphu lies in a wooded valley, sprawling up a hillside on the west bank of the Thimphu River . Quiet and peaceful, w ith its streets lined with traditional shop fronts, this town seems almost too small to be a capital – it is often said to be the only one without traffic lights. Beautiful textiles in wool, silk and cotton, basketwork, silver jewelry, thangkas and other traditional crafts of the Kingdom are available in various Handicraft Emporiums.
Sights include the Memorial Chorten (built in memory of the third King of Bhutan), the Textile Museum , The Arts and Crafts School , the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved, Trashichho Dzong is the Secretariat building, which houses the Chief Abbot and central monastic body. It also houses the Throne Room. Thinphu's oldest fortress, Semtokha Dzong, still houses a few monks and is also the center for Cultural and Language Study.
Day 6: The road to Punakha and Wangdue crosses the Dochula Pass (3150 m), offering a great view of the Eastern Himalayan Mountains .
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers, completely covering the spur it commands an impressive view over both the north-south and east-west roads. The main road climbs the length of the spur and on the left, across the river, comes the first glimpse of the picturesque village of Rinchengang whose inhabitants are celebrated stonemasons.
Punakha Dzong is the winter residence of Bhutan's spiritual leader, the Head Abbot, and the Central Monastic Body. The Dzong is built between two rivers known as “Phochu” (Male River) and “Mochu” (Female River).
Day 7: It takes almost four hours to drive between the windswept town of Wangdue and Trongsa. The route crosses the Black Mountains via Pele la (3240 m) before entering the broad, heavily cultivated Mangde Chhu Valley. Trongsa means 'the new village.' and it dates from the 16 th century, which is indeed relatively recent for Bhutan. The approach to Trongsa is spectacular, and for miles on the end the Dzong seems to tease you so that you wonder if you will ever reach it. Backing on to the mountain and built on several levels, the Dzong fits narrowly on a spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde River and overlooks the routes south and west.
Days 8-9: The Bumthang region encompasses four major valleys: Choskhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume. The Dzongs and the most important temples are in the large Choskhor valley, commonly referred to as Bumthang Valley. There are two versions of the origin of the name - the valley is supposed to be shaped like a Bumpa, a vessel that contains holy water, and Thang meaning ‘field' or ‘flat place.' The religious connotation of the name aptly applies to the sacred character of the region. The less respectful translation relates to the particularly beautiful women who live here – bum means girl.
It would be difficult to find so many important temples and monasteries in such a small area anywhere else in Bhutan.
Southeast of Jakar 48 km, Ura is the highest of Bumthang's Valleys and is believed by some to have been the home of the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. Ura is quite a large village, dominated by the Lhakhang, with about 40 closely packed houses along cobblestone streets, giving the town a medieval atmosphere.
Day 10: Retrace the route back to overnight at Wangdue.
Days 11-12: Taktsang is the most famous of all Bhutanese monasteries. It is perched on the side of a cliff 900 m above the floor of the Paro valley, where the only sounds are the murmurs of the wind, and water and the chanting of the monks. The name Taktsang means ‘Tigers Nest'; the Guru is said to have flown on the back of a tigress to the site of the monastery where he meditated in a cave for three months.
The monastery itself is closed to tourists except by special permit. However the one-hour walk to the viewpoint, where there is a small wooden teahouse provides a close-up view of the monastery. It's also a good warm-up hike if you are going trekking.
Nearby Paro are the ruins of Drugyal Dzong, a site of great historical significance. It was from this fortress that the Bhutanese repelled many Tibetan invasions. The name means the victorious Bhutanese. It offers a magnificent vista of Mount Chomolhari, "Mountain of Goddess" (7329 m). A short distance south of the road is Kyichu Lhakhang. This temple is said to be one of the 12 great geomantic temples ordered built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet in the 7 th century. It holds down the left foot of an ogress whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan and most of central Tibet .
Day 13: The early morning flight back to Kathmandu leaves the rest of the day free for shopping and sightseeing.
Day 14: Depart