CENTRAL BHUTAN CULTURAL TOUR:
Name of package: Central Bhutan cultural tour
Duration: 11 days 10 nights
Activities: Driving through the region in a personal chauffeur-driven vehicle, sightseeing, short walks and mountain hikes.
Central Bhutan presents one of the most coveted Bhutan travel and tourism opportunities in the country because of its distance from major commercial hubs and relatively thin population. Many who have taken the Central Bhutan package have told us that since the area sees fewer tourists than other parts of the country, they feel much closer to nature. The pristine purity and natural beauty of the region make it a wonderland of sensations for both the uninitiated and seasoned tourist alike. We will tell you here about this amazing Bhutan travel package and the extraordinary things you will get to do on your Central Bhutan tour.
- Where is Central Bhutan Located?
Obviously, one doesn't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to answer that question. Central Bhutan is located-that's right--- in the center of Bhutan. Having said that there is more to Central Bhutan than meets the eye and so this question isn't without significance.
If you happen to explore a map of Bhutan, you will notice that the best way to reach Central Bhutan is via the large, fertile Mangde Chhu Valley just across the Pele La and the Black Mountains. Situated at an average elevation of about 3500 meters, this is a world that is a world apart. Trongsa, the region's beating heart and home to the world famous Trongsa Dzong, is situated at the intersection of three major highways which connect the region to the rest of the country. Its importance is further highlighted by the fact that even today; the Crown Prince of Bhutan is required by both law and tradition to serve as the Penlop or the regional governor of the Trongsa Dzong before he can ascend the throne as the king of Bhutan.
Day 1: Arrival at Paro International airport for your Bhutan travel:
Your true Bhutan experience, in a real sense, commences not when you touch down at Paro International Airport but when you begin to approach Bhutan air space. The sheer beauty of the Himalayan range with its immaculate and majestic snow-peaked tops is a sight to behold even for the uninitiated. Once you arrive at Paro International Airport, you will be greeted by an English-speaking representative from International Bhutan Travel Services who will help you negotiate customs and immigration formalities. Your tour representative is also your tour host, guide and Good Man Friday. Unlike some of the really busy airports you have probably seen in the past, the Paro International Airport is relatively quiet, much less crowded and functions with clockwork precision. Your tour representative will drive you to your hotel in Paro located approximately fifteen minutes away from the airport.
- Bhutan National Museum
After a round of welcome drinks and an opportunity to settle in comfortably, you are all set to begin your enchanting Bhutan tour. Visit the watch tower of Paro Dzong, which is home to the Bhutan National Museum. The museum literally preserves the history and culture of the land through ancient Bhutanese artifacts and history. Enjoy a rare collection of Bhutanese art, crafts, paintings and sculptures from a by-gone era carefully preserved for posterity. The museum is especially famous for the amazing range of colors and shades used in the fabrics on display many of which probably don't even have a name.
- Paro Dzong
You will then proceed to Rinpung Dzong also known as Paro Dzong, which means "fortress of the heap of jewels." The monument was built in 1646 AD and is today the seat of the Bhutan Government. The monastery, by the way, is fully functional and is a classic example of a traditional abode in which "the church and the state" co-exist in harmony. Feel free to take lots of pictures as evidence! The historical and architecturally rich complex houses the administrative and religious headquarters for the Paro district. A short scene of Bernardo Bertolucci's famous movie, "Little Buddha," was shot inside this Dzong. Feel free to take a leisurely walk over to the Pachu River and cross over a traditional cantilever bridge, a wooden covered bridge, to the other side of the river.
- Drukgyel Dzong
Drukgyel Dzong is your next stop for the day. This dilapidated fortress is located about 16 km from Paro. It was built in 1646 AD by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders after a long and intense skirmish. The Dzong resembles a quaint pictorial village nestled below its ramparts. Although most unfortunately destroyed by a ravaging fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain intact and present an imposing sight. On a clear day, you can take in a splendid view of Mt. Chomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.
- Kichu Lhakhang
On your return, you will visit Kichu Lhakhang, the oldest and the most sacred religious shrine in the country. It was built in 659 A.D. by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. It is believed that Kichu Lhakhang was the place from where Buddhism first set foot in the country.
You will return to your hotel in the evening well in time for a quick session of R&R plus a little dose of leisure. Dinner will also await you at the hotel. Your fun-filled days of Bhutan travel have just begun and your Bhutan tour is all set to resume in the morning.
Day 2: Paro - Thimphu Sightseeing:
After a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel complete with Bhutanese breakfast delicacies as well as traditional continental fare, your tour host will first take you to Bhutan's capital Thimphu. You will be driven in a chauffeur-driven private car throughout your Bhutan tour and your first day is certainly no exception. Thimphu is located about thirty minutes from Paro and the drive is indeed scenic.
- National Memorial Chorten
Your first stop for the day is the National Memorial Chorten. It was built in 1974 to pay tribute to the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who is also known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. The Memorial was built in a unique Tibetan style and has scores of religious paintings and occult statues that represent both the pacifist and wrathful aspects of Buddhist spirituality. The Memorial is also a center of worship for the residents of the capital.
- Dupthop Lhakhang and Changkha Monastery
You will next visit Dupthop Lhakhang, a place of spirituality and worship for Bhutanese nuns. Dupthop Lhakhang is among a handful of nunneries in the region and the experience is rather solemn and unique. Watch the Buddhist nuns as they remain engrossed in prayer and meditation. The Changkha Monastery was built in the fifteenth century AD by Lama Phajo Drugom Zhipo. All the new-born babies of Thimphu and other parts of the country are taken here to receive holy blessings from the chief High Lama. If there are children in your group, your tour guide will arrange for them to be blessed too. Simply make a request prior to your arrival in Bhutan.
- More Fun and Frolic for your Children and you too:
You will next visit the Thimphu Mini Zoo, where you will be greeted by Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. We are absolutely sure that you have never seen this animal before because the Takin is both native and exclusive to this region. The Takin lives only on the Himalayan slopes. Its head looks like that of a goat and the body resembles that of a cow or yak. There are other animals in the zoo that are unique to Bhutan and your tour guide will tell you about them.
- Sangay Gang
Enjoy a stunning view of the sun set from Sangay Gang which is your next stop. You will drive down to Sangay Gang View Point which is approximately 2685 meters above sea level. The entire Thimphu Valley is visible from here. This is a spectacular place to take pictures and that's one thing you can say about all of Bhutan for sure.
After your day of exploring and sightseeing in the nation's capital, you will return to your hotel in good time for dinner and a good night's rest. After all, your next day, like every other day you will spend in Bhutan, is meant to be exciting and full of delights and sensations.
Day 3: Thimphu sightseeing continued:
- National Library of Bhutan
Your first stop after a full-featured breakfast at your hotel is the National Library of Bhutan. The library is not simply a repository for Bhutanese learning; it houses some of the world's most rare and ancient religious manuscripts. Many of the precious manuscripts called Thangkas (sacred Buddhist religious scrolls) are several centuries old and have been archived with great care at the library.
- Bhutan School of Arts & Crafts
The Bhutan School of Arts & Crafts, which is also called the Painting School, is world famous for its various fine arts courses. For art lovers visiting the country, the visit to the Painting School is a treat and you are welcome to meet with the students and faculty since you share a common canvas. Let us know in advance and we will formally schedule a short guided tour for you. Visit the class rooms, where students from across the world follow comprehensive courses in drawing and painting, wooden and slate carvings and statue making.
- National Institute of Traditional Medicine
After lunch at a nice local restaurant in Thimphu, your tour guide will take you and the other members of your group to the National Institute of Traditional Medicine. Medicinal herbs, which grow in the region, & minerals that are found in the kingdom, are scientifically processed and administered to patients by qualified traditional pharmacists and doctors who have been trained in the science of natural and alternate medicine. This unique healing method is popular among Bhutanese people as well as foreigners. Your tour guide will gladly schedule a consultation for you if you wish. Please make a request prior to your arrival in Bhutan. The country also has several modern state-of-the-art allopathic hospitals many of which provide world-class services.
- Handicrafts Emporium
You will next visit the Handicrafts Emporium where you can purchase exquisite hand-woven fabric in a million colors and decorations for your living room. Are you a stamp collector by any chance? We won't call you a philatelist because that sounds way too esoteric. Surprising as it may sound, Bhutan has a rather rich tradition of postage stamps which dates back several hundred years. You can purchase rare postage stamps in any one of several shops in this area around the Emporium. Bhutan also happens to be a picture postcard collector's paradise. If you need to change money, the Bhutan National Bank is just next door and guarantees you the official exchange rate.
- Tango Monastery
After lunch, you will follow the trail to the Tango Monastery. This trail is an incline of approximately 280 meters and takes about an hour to reach the monastery. Founded by the Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in 12th century AD, the monastery's present building was built in 15th century AD by the "Divine Madman." There is a very interesting legend about how the name came into being which your tour guide will share with you.
Early evening will bring you to Tashi Chhoe Dzong also known as the Fortress of the Glorious Religion. Initially built in 1641 AD and later remodeled by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in 1965, the Dzong is the home of the main secretariat of the Government. The throne of His Majesty, the King of Bhutan, is situated here. In 1641 AD, the Shabdrung (One who unified Bhutan) received the Dzong from the descendants of Lama Phajo and renamed it "Tashi Chhoe Dzong." The National Assembly Hall is in a modern structure on the other side of the river. During summer each year, the main monk group led by His Holiness, the Je Khenpo, the spiritual head of the country, resides in the Dzong.
Day 4: More Places to See In Thimphu and Punakha:
Your Bhutan package featuring the most striking attractions of the region continues as you depart from your hotel for Punakha after breakfast. You will go through the Dochula Pass which is an incredible experience in itself. Situated high among the mountains, the pass is the primary conduit that connects the two points of Thimphu and Punakha.
- 108 Stupas
Your first destination of the day, the 108 Bhutanese Stupas, is revered by the people of the land as an emblem of religious sanctity. Notice their architectural beauty and the manner in which they have weathered the four seasons over the years. If the weather decides to cooperate, you can admire the glory of the snow-capped Himalayan Ranges from this vantage point.
- Punakha Dzong
After the Stupas, you will drive to Punakha to visit the Punakha Dzong. It is situated near two rivers-- the Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chu (Female River.) Asia has a rich tradition of river personification. Punakha Dzong is one of the largest Dzongs in Bhutan. Take the suspension bridge to arrive at the Dzong. Punakha Dzong was initially called Druk Pungthang or Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), for many years until the second king of Bhutan assumed power. Punakha Dzong happened to be the seat of the Government for a long time. The booty seized during the various wars with Tibet is preserved at Punakha Dzong. Punakha continues to remain the winter residence of Je-Khenpo, the country's spiritual leader. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk convened the National Assembly here in 1952.
- Chimmi Lhakhang
We will next take your tour group and you on a short evening hike to Chimmi Lhakhang, one of Bhutan's most famous monasteries. It was built by Lama Drukpa Kinley in 15th century AD. It is dedicated to Drukpa Kinley who is also known as the Divine Madman. The spiritual leader inherited the accolade since he revolted against the principles of orthodox Buddhism. The monk, it is believed, was bestowed with the powers to subdue the devils with his magical thunder bolt.
The monastery is also revered as a sanctum of fertility. Couples looking to have a baby from across Bhutan and occasionally from other parts of the world visit the temple to seek blessings. Legend has it that once the religious ceremonies are performed, the couples are blessed with a child. The temple was featured in a full-length cover story in the Washington Post. Please drop us a note and we will send you the link.
You will drive back to your hotel in the evening. There will be time to unwind and a little dose of leisure. Dinner will also await you at the hotel.
Day 5: Punakha - Wangdue Phodrang - Gangtey Valley:
After breakfast at your hotel, you will start the day by driving down to the Gangtey Valley. While on the way, you will go through the beautiful and lush Wangdiphodrang valley. The places that you could visit on the route include the Wangdiphodrang Dzong which was built in 1638 AD. According to folk lore, when people searched for the site of the Dzong, four ravens were seen flying in four different directions. The citing was considered a good omen, representing the reach of the religion in the four corners of the world. The Dzong is located at the confluence of Mo Chu and Tang Chu rivers.
- The Gangtey Valley and the Gangtey Monastery
The Valley of Gangtey is your next vantage point for extraordinary views. Its beauty is striking in spite of the fact that it has very few trees. The vast spaces and a feeling of close-to-nature openness are unique. The Gangtey Monastery is the largest and the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountain. This is surrounded by a village inhabited primarily by families of the 140 Gomchens who are the traditional caretakers of the Monastery. The monastery was built in 1913 by Pema Trinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa, the popular Nyingmapa saint of Bhutan. The ancient beliefs & traditions of Pema Lingpa have been preserved here to this day. The second Tulku, Tenzin Legpa Dondrup (1645 to 1726 AD), increased the geographical size of Gangtey, while maintaining friendly relationships with the Drukpas. He rebuilt and renovated the monastery in the shape of a Dzong.
- Phobjikha Valley
You will now drive further to the north to Phobjikha. This place is the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains to spend the winter months in a relatively less harsh climate in this region. It is situated at an altitude of 2900 meters above sea level and is in the district of Wangdue Phodrang. The valley has two rivers named Nakay Chhu (Chhu Naap-black water) and Gay Chhu (Chhu Karp-white water). According to a local belief, the rivers symbolize a snake and a boar that raced with each other on a dare that if the snake (Nakay Chhu) won, the Phobjikha valley would cultivate rice and if the boar won, then rice could never be grown there. Most unfortunately, the snake lost the race since it had to crawl all the way. Since then, rice is not cultivated in the valley even today. The valley continues to wait for a holy man to arrive and cast off the spell.
Day 6: Gangtey - Bumthang (Sightseeing):
- Chendbji Chorten
You will first drive to Bumthang via Trongsa after breakfast. Your first stop for the day is Chendbji Chorten. The temple, famous for its striking architecture, is patterned on the lines of the Swaminath temple in Nepal. It was constructed in 18th century AD by Lama Shida and covers the remains of an evil spirit that was taken down at this location.
- Trongsa Dzong
You will next visit the Trongsa Dzong, one of the most secure dzongs in the country. It was built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa who was the emissary sent by Shabdrung to appease the rulers of eastern Bhutan. The Dzong was added too at the end of the 17th century by Desi Tenzin Rabgay. Noteworthy is the fact that this Dzong is the ancestral home of the present Royal Family. The first two kings ruled Bhutan from this location and from this Dzong. You will drive to Bumthang via Yongtala & Kilakha passes.
- Visit to a Bhutanese Carpet Factory
While in Bumthang, we will take you for a quick visit to a Bhutanese carpet factory, where they use yak and sheep wool and even pure silk to create carpets and ethnic Bhutanese Textiles. If you are interested in buying a carpet for hundreds of dollars less than what it would normally cost, place an order and it will be shipped directly to your home as a prepaid and insured order.
- Jakar Dzong and Lamey Goemba
After lunch, visit the Jakar Dzong. When translated, it means "The Castle of White Bird". Its current structure was built in 1667 AD. You will next visit Lamey Goemba. This is a grand monument built like a palace and monastery. It was built in the 18th century AD by Dasho Phuntsho Wangdi, the great warrior.
- Jambay Lhakhang
Jambay Lhakhang was built by King Srongsen Gampo of Tibet in 659 AD. The temple was blessed by Guru Rimpoche during his visit to Bumthang. It is said that Guru Rimpoche was the one who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. It was renovated by Sindhu Raja after Guru Rimpoche restored his life with his magical powers. Many believe that there is a natural lake under the temple in which Guru Rimpoche took refuge on several occasions.
- Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival
Bhutan is known the world over for its colorful festivals that are steeped in tradition. During October each year, the magnificent festival called the Jambay Lhakhang Drup unfolds at this temple. As the evening sets in, you can explore the handicrafts and many other local arts.
You will have your dinner downtown in Bumthang and retire for the night at your hotel.
Day 7: Bumthang Sightseeing:
- Chakhar Lhakhang
After a sumptuous breakfast served bright and early, visit Chakhar Lhakhang. When translated, in means "Iron Castle". This is where the palace of the Indian King, the Sindhu Raja who invited Guru Rimpoche to Bumthang, is located. The palace was constructed with Iron and hence the name Chakhar. The saint Dorji Lingpa built the Current building at this location in the 14th century AD. It is also called Dechen Phodrang.
- Kurjey Lhakhang
Kurjey Lhakhang is our next stop. It is named after the body print of Guru Rimpoche. It was built in 1652 by Minjur Tempa.
- Tamshing Lhakhang
You will next visit TamshingLhakhang which, when translated, means "Temple of the Good Message." It was built in 1501 AD by Pema Lingpa and is the most important Nyingmapa temple in the kingdom of Bhutan.
A quick evening drive will take you to visit Membarstho which literally means "The Burning Lake." It is now time to return to your hotel in Bumthang where you will have dinner and rest for the night.
Day 8: Bumthang - Wangdue:
After an early breakfast, we will hit the road and drive to Wangdiphodrang. On the way, we will stop over at different places for clicking pictures of the picturesque valley. In the night, have a fulsome yet healthy dinner at your Hotel at Wangdiphodrang.
Day 9: Wangduephodrang - Thimphu - Paro:
- Simtokha Dzong
You will leave for Thimphu on your way to Paro from Wangdue after breakfast. While in Thimphu, you will visit Simtokha Dzong. This is the oldest and the most secure fortress in Bhutan. It offers you an amazing backdrop to take pictures.
Enjoy a dose of "me" time at the hotel or go for a short leisurely walk in the city. Dinner awaits you at your hotel in the evening.
Day 10: Hike to Taktshang Monastery:
- Tiger's nest
Your call of the day after a sumptuous breakfast is the Taktsang monastery. It can be called "the Tiger's Lair" when translated. The short trek to the monastery passes through a dense pine forest. You can hear the insects chirp as you pass along the clearly marked and maintained pathway. You will stop at a traditional Bhutanese cafeteria for rest and refreshments royal Bhutanese style. You will then continue the hike till you arrive at the ruins of the ancient Taktsang monastery. This abode of devout traditional Buddhist religious prayer and worship was built in the 17th century AD. It is now visited by Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. It literally hangs from the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. According to a legend, Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, came to Bhutan from India flying on a tiger.
The hike up to Taktshang monastery along a smooth path takes approximately 2-3 hours at a leisurely pace on a bright, sunny day. We recommend that you carry sunglasses, sunscreen, adequate water, a walking stick and a hat to protect yourself.
You will have Lunch and refreshments at the cafeteria. Take in the amazing views of Bhutan's majestic peaks and valleys as you enjoy your meal. The hike may be quite a challenge for the uninitiated and your tour guide can arrange for a pony for you at a nominal expense. The pony ride is very safe and an experience in itself. Opt for a mule instead of a pony if you wish but be sure to participate in the entire excursion because it isn't worth missing.
Day 11: Departure:
Sayonara to the beautiful country and your guide . Time to head to the airport to catch your flight. Like all good things, your Central Bhutan tour package finally comes to an end. Bid farewell to your IBTS tour guide who will facilitate your departure. Take a pledge to return very soon!