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.
In the morning we’ll take a short drive towards the northern end of Thimphu valley for a nature walk to Cheri monastery.
Our day begins with a pleasant rural walk that meanders gently up the valley through paddy fields, pristine woodlands and a Tibetan village. The walk starts just below the village of Dechencholing. We’ll walk through the village along a trail to Pangri Zampa gompa. We’ll see many Bhutanese chortens on our riverside route as we pass through the villages of Choku and Begana (also known as Dodena.) From Begana, after crossing a cantilevered bridge, we’ll have a 45-60 minute climb up a hill to the monastery. Cheri Dorji Dhen was built in 1620 by Shabdrung, the first ruler of Bhutan, who also established the first order of monks here. At the bottom of the hill, a picnic lunch will be waiting for us along the riverside.
After lunch, we will drive back to Thimphu for an afternoon of sightseeing. There is much to see! 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 Dubthob nunnery, and then 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, 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. Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.
Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha.
In the morning we’ll drive to Punakha, the ancient winter capital of Bhutan. En-route stop at Dochu-La pass (10,000ft/3,048m) for a breathtaking view the eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s highest mountain, the majestic Gangkar Punsum (24,770ft/7,550m.) On the other side of the pass, the road descends through varied and ever-changing forest, emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley.
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. Later in the evening we’ll visit nearby Wangduephodrang Dzong, which dates to 1639. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
Day 4: Punakha to Phobjikha.
After breakfast, we’ll drive to the east, ascending through the magnificent Black Mountain to the remote Gangtey area in Phobjikha valley. The beautiful, newly-restored Gangtey Goenpa monastery sits on the top of the hillock that overlooks the wide Phobjikha valley. Gangtey houses one of the largest (and one of the oldest) Nyingma Schools in the western part of Bhutan.
Phobjikha is a designated conservation area; in consideration of the area’s wildlife, the valley has no electricity. Flocks of rare and endangered Black-Necked Cranes migrate here from Tibet and Siberia between October and March. These cranes (called ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ locally) have inspired many Bhutanese folk songs and dances and many myths and legends exist about the bird. You will get a rare chance to glimpse their interesting mating dances as we take a short walk across the valley. Overnight at hotel in Phobjikha.
Day 5: Phobjikha to Paro.
In the morning we’ll drive west, first descending to Wangduephodrang and Punakha valley and then climbing Dochu-La pass en-route to our lunch in Thimphu. After lunch, we’ll drive back into the Paro valley. Overnight at hotel in Paro.
Day 6: 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-boglingly 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 7: 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.