Day 1: Arrive in Paro, Bhutan on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan.
Druk Air flights into Bhutan are spectacular. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu, over the foothills from Kolkatta or following the coastline of the Indian Ocean en-route from Bangkok, every Druk Air flight is memorable and offers incredible scenery. (Get your camera ready!)
After arrival at the Paro airport and sailing through immigration and custom formalities, you will be greeted by your All Access Bhutan guide and driver and warmly welcomed to the enchanting Land of the Thunder Dragon. We will drive for two hours alongside mountains, rivers, and fields of red rice to Thimphu, our capital city. After your first lunch in Bhutan, we will visit Nado, Bhutan’s famous traditional incense maker and the colorful Gagyel Lhendup weaving center. Later in the evening, you may wander and explore the fascinating streets of Thimphu, the world’s only capital city without a traffic light! Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.
Day 2: Thimphu sightseeing & drive to Punakha.
After breakfast at the hotel, we will visit the Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the 3rd King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Many Thimphu residents consider this to be the heart and soul of Thimphu and gather here every day to pray and walk clockwise around the chorten.
Afterwards, we will visit the School of Arts and Crafts where students follow an eight-year program in traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture. No tour of Thimphu is complete without a visit to the incredible Textile Museum, the interesting Folk Heritage Museum, the Traditional Medicine Institute, and a short drive up the hill to Thimphu’s Mini Zoo whose sole residents consist of a small herd of Takin—the highly unusual (and extremely rare) national animal of Bhutan. After we feed the Takin (they love fresh-picked wild artemesia!) we will visit Bhutan’s National Library, the Thimphu Handicraft Emporium which offers high quality traditional goods, and a small family-run enterprise which manufactures paper and paper products using traditional methods.
In the evening we’ll drive to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan.
En-route stop at Dochu La Pass, 10,000ft/3,048m to view the eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s highest mountain, Gangkar Punsum, 24,770ft/7,550m. The road then drops down through varied, ever-changing forest, emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley. Overnight at hotel in Punakha.
Day 3: Punakha Sightseeing & drive to Paro.
In Punakha, we’ll visit the impressive Punakha Dzong. With its three towers, and wonderful location at the confluence of two rivers, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Bhutan’s 21 Dzongs. Later in the afternoon we’ll take a short walk to visit Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley (charmingly known as “The Divine Madman.”) On this site, The Divine Madman subdued the Demoness of the Dochu-La using his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom,” (also known as “his phallus.”).
A wooden effigy of the Lama’s “thunderbolt” is preserved in the Lhakhang. Traditionally, childless women have visited this temple to receive a wang (blessing) from the saint. Our trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana. There are few young monks at the temple, which is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some very beautiful slate carvings. Also, if time permits, we’ll visit Wangdue Phodrang Dzong on our drive back to Paro. Overnight at hotel Paro.
Day 4: Paro Valley Sightseeing. (Or optional Taktsang Hike).
The Paro Valley Sightseeing Option:
Begin the day with a visit to Bhutan’s National Museum, home to a fascinating collection of items representing the many facets of Bhutan’s rich heritage. The museum is located in the old watchtower high above the magnificent Paro Rinchen pung Dzong. The dzong houses the administrative seat of the local government and is the residence of the regional monk body. We’ll also visit the historically important Paro Kichu Monastery (the oldest temple in Bhutan!) and the moody and mystical Drugyal Dzong, which currently lies in ruin. If time, you may explore the shopping possibilities in colorful “downtown” Paro. Overnight at hotel in Paro.
The Taktsang Hike Option:
Taktsang Monastery is one of the most picturesque, and certainly most widely-recognized sights in all of Bhutan. It is said that Guru Padmasambhava flew on the back of a tiger from Tibet to a cave in the side of a cliff at Taktsang (meaning tiger’s nest.) A monastery, mind-bogglingly perched 2,000ft/600m on the sheer cliff face, was built on this site to commemorate his fantastic flight.
We’ll begin the day with a short drive to the trailhead. We’ll then hike for an hour as we climb the hillside trail to a teahouse with a wonderful view of the monastery on one side, and the wide Paro valley on the other side. From there, it’s only another half hour or so to the monastery itself. A visit to Taktsang monastery provides a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We will be served lunch at the tea house. Since the return route is all downhill, it will take roughly half the time as our ascent. If energy-level permits, you may explore the friendly city of Paro in the evening.
Day 5: Depart Paro.
After breakfast at the hotel we’ll drive to the nearby Paro airport. On your flight, it’s likely that you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Chomolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak, and Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain.