Day 01: 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 take a short drive to our hotel. In the evening, you may take a walk through the colorful streets of “downtown” Paro. Overnight at hotel in Paro.
Day 02: Paro Valley Sightseeing.
In the morning, we visit Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower but now housing the National Museum. Ta Dzong holds unique and varied collections, ranging from ancient armor to textiles, thangkha paintings, stamps, coins, and natural history. Then walk down a hillside trail to visit Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong) built in 1646 during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It now houses Paro’s monk body and the offices of the civil administration.
After lunch, we’ll drive up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong or “the Fort of Drukpa Victory”. In former times, the Bhutanese repelled invasions by Tibetan from this fortress. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the ruins still present an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Bhutan’s sacred mountain, Chomolhari, as we approach Drukgyel Dzong. We’ll visit traditional Bhutanese houses in the village nestled below the dzong.
Next, we’ll head back towards Paro town, en route visiting Kyichu Lhakhang, established in the 7th century, and one of the two oldest shrines in the kingdom (the other is in Bumthang), reflecting the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 03: Hike to Taktsang and drive to Thimphu.
Our hike this morning is to sacred Taktsang Monastery (the Tiger’s nest), perched some 2,000ft/600m upon a sheer cliff overlooking the valley. This is said to be where the legendary saint, Guru Padmasambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The hike is about one hour to a teahouse with panoramic views of the Taktsang and the surrounding cliffs. From here you may either opt to go further uphill near the monastery (a hike of one and a half hours more). Our lunch is served at the teahouse with the majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro valley at the bottom. The return trek to the trailhead is downhill and takes about half the time it has taken you to come up! Later in the evening we drive to Thimphu for two hours. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
Day 04: Thimphu Valley Sightseeing.
Early in the morning, you can take a self-guided fifteen-minute walk from the hotel to the Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Many Bhutanese people gather here to pray every day. After breakfast, we visit Gagyel Lhendup weaving center, and the School of Arts and Crafts where Bhutanese children follow an eight-year program in the traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, woodcarving, embroidery, and weaving.
We will also visit the Textile Museum and Folk Heritage Museum. In the afternoon we’ll visit the indigenous herbal hospital, a hand made paper factory, the Nado incense factory, gold and silver smiths and finally to the handicraft emporium. Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
Day 05: Thimphu to Punakha.
In the morning, we drive to Punakha, an old capital of Bhutan. En-route we’ll 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, finally emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley.
In Punakha, visit the huge and impressive Punakha Dzong built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century and situated at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers.
Later in the afternoon we’ll visit Chimi Lhakhang (the fertility temple) built by Drukpa Kunley (Bhutan’s Divine Madman) in 1499. Drukpa Kunley subdued the demoness of the Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom.’ A wooden effigy of the Lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the Lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to receive a wang (blessing) from the saint. It’s a 20-minute gentle walk across the rice fields from the road at Sopsokha to the temple. The 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. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
Day 06: Punakha – Wangduephodrang – Phobjikha.
After breakfast, drive to Wangduephodrang and visit the Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view both up and down the valley. We drive to the east ascending through the Black Mountains to remote Gangtey in Phobjikha valley. The beautiful Gangtey Goenpa monastery sits on the top of the hillock that overlooks the wide Phobjikha valley and is one of the oldest and the largest Nyingma School of Buddhism sites in the western part of Bhutan.
Phobjikha is a designated conservation area; 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. We’ll watch their interesting mating dances and take a short walk of the breathtaking valley. Overnight at the hotel in Phobjikha
Day 07: Phobjikha to Bumthang (Jakar).
Today we drive back to the main road, cross the Black Mountains at Pele La pass and continue our scenic drive through ever-changing vegetation, dramatic landscapes, passing many villages and farms to arrive in Trongsa where we will visit Trongsa Dzong and explore the town.
After lunch, we proceed to Bumthang, one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism. The 68 km, journey takes about 3 hours. The road winds steeply up to Yotong-La pass (3,400m/11,155 ft), then runs down through dense coniferous forest to enter a wide, open, cultivated valley, known as Chumey valley. En route, stop at Zugney village to see the Yathra weavers at their work. Bumthang is considered to be famous for woolen textiles. From here it is about half an hour drive to Bumthang. Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang.
Day 08: Bumthang Valley Sightseeing.
In the morning drive to Jamba Lhakhang the historic 7th century temple of the future Buddha. Next we visit Jakar Dzong (literally meaning castle of the white bird) which is located at a picturesque place overlooking the Choskhor Valley and was first built in 1667.
Next we’ll visit Wangdichholing palace, built in 1857 on the site of the battle camp of the Penlop of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyal. It was the first palace that was not designed as a fortress. Wangdichholing was the early home of the third king, who moved the court to Punakha in 1952.
Then it’s on to Kurjey Lhakhang temple, named after the body imprint of Guru Rinpoche, which is preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings that make up the temple complex. The first temple is the oldest and was built in 1652 by Mingyur Tenpa, when he was Penlop of Trongsa. The second temple was built by Ugyen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan in 1900 when he was still Penlop of Trongsa. The third building in the complex is an elaborate three-storey lhakhang built by Ashi Kesang Wangchuk, in 1984 under the guidance of Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche.
Next we’ll take a short walk across the suspension bridge to Tamshing and a visit Tamshing Goemba monastery, established in 1501 by Pema Lingpa (the great Treasure Discoverer) an important monastery in the Kingdom. Pema Lingpa built the structure himself, with the help of Khandroms (female celestial beings) who made many of his statues.
If time permits we may also visit the cheese factory and microbrewery in Jakar. Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang.
Day 09: Bumthang – Mongar.
Our journey continues eastward, winding through more rugged terrain. The drive to Mongar takes about 6 hours with spectacular view en-route. We will drive up into the hills above the valley and then past Ura village, before climbing sharply to the highest point on Bhutan’s motorable road network, Thrumshing-La pass (4,000m/13,125 ft).
From here, the road gradually descends to the alpine valley of Sengor, with wonderful views of cascading waterfalls and the hills of eastern Bhutan along the way. Vegetation changes from alpine to subtropical with the loss of height, and bamboos and luxuriant ferns overhang the road as we drop down to the valley floor. The descent stops at 700m/2,300ft, where we cross the Kurichu river. We ascend again through pine forests, maize fields and eastern hamlets to reach Mongar town, high on a gentle slope above the valley. Overnight at the Lodge in Mongar.
Day 10 : Mongar – Lhuntse – Khoma.
Today we drive to Lhuntse, which is one of the most rural and isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs and gorges, beautiful conifer and pine forests, and remote villages with rice, millet and corn fields. The Kurtoe region of Lhuntse is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal family. In Lhuntse, we visit Lhuntse Dzong built in the 17th century. After lunch drive down to Tsa Zam and start hiking for about one hour to the village. Overnight camp.
Day 11: Weaving tour in Khoma Village.
Khoma is the best-known weaving village in the country. This region is famed for its weavers and special textiles, considered to be the best in the country. The living art of Bhutanese weaving is done with the same technologies and applications as the weavers of earlier centuries and has a sophistication to match any weaving tradition in the world.
We will explore some of the very interesting small villages and ancient temples by foot. An hour’s brisk walk from the bridge on the main Lhuntse-Mongar road will bring us to Khoma. The other famous weaving area is Gonpa Karpo (four hours walk from the bridge), a remote village clustered around a sacred monastery. Overnight camp.
Day 12: Khoma to Trashigang.
In the morning drive to Mongar for lunch, we continue our journey to Trashigang, which takes about 3 hours. Leaving Mongar, the road climbs past fields of corn to the Kori-La pass (2400m) from here the road drops into the upper reaches of the Manas Chu drainage, switch-backing down through corn fields.
En-route we will see Ngatshang Lhakhang, a small private Goemba that can be figured out from the small buildings alongside the road. The road descends further through the village of Yadi and following the Gamri Chu you arrive at Cha Zam (cha is iron, zam means bridge) from which point it is a gradual climb uphill for about 20 minutes to the town of Tashigang at 1100m. Overnight at the hotel in Tashigang.
Day 13: Excursion to Trashi Yangtse.
A full day excursion to Tashi Yangtse visiting Gom Kora and Chorten Kora stupa built in typical Nepali architecture. Here you will also see the wood works and local weaving. Return to Tashigang for overnight. Overnight at the hotel in Tashigang.
Day 14: Excursion to Ranjung & Radhi.
Today we drive to Ranjung and visit the largest monastery in the east and the small town. After that we drive for half an hour to the village where it is famous for the RAW SILK (BURA) weavers. Stop for a picnic lunch. In the evening we return to Trashigang. Overnight at the hotel in Trashigang.
Day 15: Trashigang to Bumthang.
Drive to Bumthang. Today’s drive features extraordinary views! The beautiful winding road from Trashigang to Bumthang, across the Thrumshing-La pass delights with stunning views of snow-capped peaks, breathtaking scenery of the landscape, dense forests of pine and oak, green meadows, beautiful wildflowers, gushing waterfalls, steep cliffs and constantly changing vegetation. This journey is one of the most exhilarating drives in the eastern Himalayas. Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.
Day 16: Bumthang to Punakha.
We set out for Punakha. Lunch will be served en route at one of the famous restaurants in Trongsa town. En-route at Wangduephodrang we’ll take a short break for tea/coffee and then continue on to Punakha. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
Day 17: Punakha – Thimphu – Paro.
After breakfast drive to Paro. En-route we stop in Thimphu for lunch and proceed to Paro for two hours. Farewell dinner. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 18: 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.