The annual Black–Necked Crane festival is celebrated at the courtyard of Gangtey Goenpa in Phobjikha valley. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part of their daily lives during the winter months.
Paro International Airport (Google Map)
3 Hours Before Flight Time
Your introduction to our enchanting kingdom begins on a flight over the Himalayas into the lush green valley of Paro; truly one of the world’s most spectacular sights. Flying into Paro, Bhutan is a unique experience altogether. You will view the world’s highest, most majestic peaks and enjoy the view of the approaching valley with its primeval alpine forest, monasteries, temples, and farmhouse nestled in splendid mountain isolation.
Welcome greeting in a Bhutanese style with Tashi Khada (white scarf) by our representative at the Airport. You will be driven to Thimphu. (Please note; your itinerary shall be flexible and your guide shall give you options based on your interest)
Thimphu the cultural heartland of the kingdom. 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. Most of the houses and buildings are painted and constructed in traditional Bhutanese style.
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. Later visit centenary farmers market where vendors come and sell their vegetables that are locally produced as well as one’s that are imported from India.
Take a drive to Buddha point which offers a beautiful city view of Thimphu. Astrologers & locals believe this spot is one of the central meeting points of the sacred energy vibe of the country hence the massive statue of Buddha facing the sun. On the way down, circumambulate around the Memorial Chorten (a huge stupa) built-in memory of the 3rd King of Bhutan. This is the favorite place for the locals to practice their devotions.
Embark on an excursion to Tango. Tango monastery is situated on a solitary hill covered by forest and is one of the best places to study Buddhism. The monks take pride in being a part of this beautiful Dratsang and at present, there is also the seventh reincarnation studying here. It takes about two hours round trip on a stone-paved path. Along the way, you can also look out for some birds as well.
Visit the Bhutanese Paper Factory, This traditional handmade paper is still being widely used around the country. It is made from the bark of the plant called Daphne. It is all produced manually by a handful of people.
Later, drive to the animal sanctuary where the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, is found in captivity. It is believed that the animal was created by the foremost saint Drukpa Kinley popularly known as the “the divine mad man “for the westerners. Afterward, walk around the BBS tower which is surrounded by multi-colored prayer flags, and also known as the “romantic point” and lovers often come here to look at the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley.
After evening tea, witness an archery match played by the locals with lots of hue & cry! Archery is the national game of Bhutan and one of the best ways of expanding your public relation is by participating in it (If it is happening while you are there).
On the sunrise, after your breakfast drive to Phobjikha en route to Wangdue valley. It’s about 5 hrs drive from here.
Today you will be driving across the Dochula pass (3100m), from there one can see the panoramic views of the eastern Himalayas. Especially at this time of the year you get to see the majestic snow-capped mountains. Surrounding the pass one can also see 108 stupas that were built as a tribute to the 4th king and to commemorate the victory of Bhutanese troops against the Indian militants.
Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the periphery of the northwestern 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 the legend that the Gangtey Goenpa was founded by the grandson (the mind incarnation) of Pema Lingpa in 1613. The 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 to these grounds.
Evening, take a hike through the Blue Pine forest following a close-up glimpse at the Black Necked cranes as you head to the village farmhouse. Try traditional Bhutanese snacks made from corn and rice with a glass of homemade wine.
Overnight at Phobjikha.
Today you will be witnessing the Black Necked Crane festival at the monastery. They celebrate the festival coinciding with the birth anniversary of the fourth king. The school children take part in various cultural programs. They also perform the very famous black-necked cranes dance.
Later drive to Trongsa crossing over 3420 meters high Pele la pass which is the traditional boundary between east and west. Later take a stroll in Trongsa town.
Morning visit Trongsa Dzong which has a very important historical significance. It was built in the 17th century by the fourth secular ruler of Bhutan. The present monarchy rose to power from this very dzong. It is also still the tradition that the crown prince has to serve as the governor of Trongsa before ascending to the throne as the king.
Later visit the Museum which was initially built to defend the dzong and the valley from the invaders. In 2008 it was converted to a museum to mark the centenary celebration with the funds from the Austrian government.
Continue your drive to Punakha and stop for lunch along the way. This is the best chance to see if you have missed anything while coming in. check into the hotel and the evening is at leisure.
Punakha is the former capital of the kingdom and in present-day hosts the administrative seat of the district. Also the winter residence of the central monastic body and its Chief Abbot. The Dzong lies between two rivers, the Pochu and Mochu, the male and female River. It was built in 1637 AD It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned.
After breakfast drive to Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chorten towards the head of the valley. Upon arrival near the suspension bridge, you can begin your 45 minutes hike to the Chorten through rice fields and chirpiness. It was built in 1999 for the king who was then the crown prince. Once you get to the top you can see the panoramic views of the surrounding valley.
Visit the massive Punakha Dzong “Palace of Great Happiness”. The Dzong showcases the living example of Bhutanese architecture.
Evening, hike to Chimi Lhakhang. This temple is called the Temple of Fertility as it is believed that childless couples who come here to pray for a child are usually blessed with a child. This is the temple of one of Bhutan’s foremost saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known as the “Divine Madman.” The trail takes you through the Himalayan paddy fields and a typical village called Lobesa.
Time to retrace our steps over the Dochu La for a second view of the wonderful Himalayan range. Returning to the Chunzom (river confluence) we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepal, Tibetian, and Bhutanese style which were built to ward of the evil spirits near the checkpoint.
Later visit National Museum (Ta-Dzong).Once the watchtower for the Rinpung Dzong (Fortress), it was converted into the National Museum in 1968 (one of the best museums in Asia). The museum stands on a promontory overlooking the Paro valley in all its glory. Visit the Rinpung Dzong. A flagstone path rises gradually from a beautiful wooden bridge with shingle roofing and abutted by two guardhouses to the Dzong. Today, this massive fortress built in 1645 AD is the seat of the district administration as well as the home for the monastic school. The central tower (Utse) of the Dzong, with its superb woodwork, is one of the most beautiful in the nation.
Visit the oldest temple of the kingdom, Kichu Lhakhang. This temple was built in 629AD by a Tibetan King to pin down a giant demon. There is a sacred orange tree that grew on its own in the courtyard which bears fruits in all the seasons.
Evening, check-in 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. Then 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.
Drive to Satsam Chorten and 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.
Chele La Pass, Alpine skyline walk to Kila Nunnery (optional bike descents) seemingly suspended in rock crags almost on the brink of the highest road pass in Bhutan (Chele La 3,988m), Kila Goemba has been a retreat for meditation since the 9th century. As with so many temples in the Himalayas it was destroyed by fire before being rebuilt by the 25th Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan), Sherab Gyaltsen. These days it is an Anim Dratshang or nunnery; lofty retreat, place of worship, and home to about 30 hardy nuns.
The day’s adventure starts early but we soon get towards the summit of Chele La we pop out of the blue pine and rhododendron forest into windswept highlands much favored by yaks and dotted with azaleas, edelweiss, and perhaps even the famous blue poppy at certain times of the year.
With tantalizing glimpses of Mt Jhomalhari (7,314m) at every other hairpin bend, we finally reach the summit and western Bhutan is laid before us with the unspoiled Haa valley and the mountains of Sikkim to the west, Mt Jhomalhari and Tibet to the north and the patchwork fields of the Paro valley down to the east. Leaving the prayer flag swathed col and our vehicle behind we strike off along the ridge to the summit ( almost 4200 m ) before plunging back into the primeval forest, reaching the nunnery after around three hours. Having paid our respects at the temple and maybe even received a blessing it is time to say farewell to the nuns and drop further into the valley and back to our waiting vehicle.
Evening at leisure or take a stroll in the town or can do some last-minute shopping!
Your tour terminates today so after breakfast, your representative will help you with the exit formalities and bid you farewell and wish you a happy journey back home.