Bhutan - Festival Tour

Bhutan - Festival Tour

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 13 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Day 1 – 3rd November- Paro- Thimphu – Driving time 1 hour

Arrive at Paro International Airport which is situated in a beautiful valley at 2280 metres and is a fitting introduction to this charming kingdom.  Meet the guide and drive along the Paro and Thimphu river valleys to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital.  Stop en route to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Thangtong Gyalpo, who organised the building of Bhutan’s iron bridges. Take a late afternoon walk around town and soak in the atmosphere of this magical capital with its busy shops and bazaars and photogenic citizens in national dress. Also visit the archery ground where local teams demonstrate amazing skill with bow and arrow as they practice the national sport of Bhutan. Overnight at Gakyil Hotel or similar (D)

Day 2 – 4th November- Thimphu

Today you will visit the weekend market, the revered Memorial Chorten and the Changangkha temple. Perched on the hilltop overlooking the town, devotees flock to the temple throughout the day to turn the prayer wheels. It also contains beautiful wall paintings and hundreds of religious scriptures written in gold. We also take an easy stroll along the side of the valley through beautiful pine forest and enjoy glimpses of the valley below. This afternoon, take in more of the sights and culture of the capital with the option of a trip to Simtokha Dzong which is one of the oldest fortresses in Bhutan dating from 1629. In the centre of town there are many handicraft stalls all displaying products that are entirely made in Bhutan. Overnight at Gakyil Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Note – The walk today along the side of the valley should take around 1.5 hours maximum and is an easy stroll along a good trail.

Day 3 – 5th November- Thimphu – Punakha via Dochu La – Driving time 3 hours

Today enjoy a scenic drive of approximately 3 hours to the old capital, Punakha, via the Dochu La pass at 3050 metres, where on a clear day you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Eastern Himalaya ranges including peaks well over 7000m. Then descend through cool forest. You will notice the change of climate and vegetation as we approach low lying Punakha at 1250 metres situated in a fertile valley. Take a pleasant walk of an hour or so across terraced fields to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) built in the 15th century by the “Divine Madman” (Lama Drukpa Kuenley). This afternoon, visit the impressive Punakha Dzong, “Palace of Great Happiness”; built in 1637, and strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, the Po Chu and the Mo Chu. Close to the Dzong there is a spectacular suspension footbridge that crosses the Po Chu and it is well worth taking the short detour to cross it for the thrill and the excellent views of the river. Overnight at Hotel Lobesa or similar (BLD)

Note – The walk today to the Temple of Fertility should take around 1.5 hours there and back and is an easy walk but the last approach to the temple is uphill with steps (not steep).

Day 4 – 6th November- Punakha Valley  

After breakfast visit Chorten Ningpo, dating from the 17th century. The chorten is a little-known spot with a magnificent statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha) and images of the great lamas of the Drukpa lineage. This magical spot was once a dense forest inhabited by evil spirits. The magnificent great oak tree outside the monastery is said to have grown out of the blazing log that the ‘Divine Madman’ threw (the tree’s bark is still black from where it was burnt). In 2005 the monastery began to house orphans from the nearby village, and founding a small Buddhist educational institution where the children can study traditional Buddhist scriptures and texts as well as Western subjects. Then you can take a hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten via the village of Yebisa.  The walk starts from the suspension bridge below Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten.  Hike at a gentle pace for around 10 minutes from the bridge through the paddy rice fields of Yebisa village. Then continue the hike for around 40 to 50 minutes up to the temple.  The walk is still fairly gentle but there are some steeper parts.  From the top you will see a beautiful view of the valley and surrounding villages.  The temple is 30 metres tall and is dedicated to the fifth King.  After visiting the temple descend for around 30 minutes until you reach the suspension bridge where you will be picked up by the vehicle. The rest of the afternoon will be at leisure. Overnight Hotel Lobesa or similar (BLD)

Note – rafting is an optional extra this morning instead of the hike to Chorten Ningpo. Rafting on the Mo Chu (Mother River) is a low grade of difficulty with some gentle rapids. The majority of the ride down the valley is nice and calm with opportunities to soak up the views and watch the many species of birds playing on the riverbanks. At the end of the 1.5 hour rafting you will cruise past the impressive Punakha Dzong. A unique perspective of this historic building. Please let us know at the time of booking if you wish to do the rafting. Lifejackets and helmets will be provided. You may get wet so wear appropriate clothing.

Day 5- 7th November – Punakha – Trongsa – Bumthang – Driving time approximately 8 hours

An early start today around 7:30am with a full morning drive of around 5 hours to Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan (2180 metres). Set amidst spectacular scenery, visit Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, commands the eye from miles away. Continue this afternoon for around 3 hours through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful scenery to Bumthang.  The spiritual heartland of Bhutan with its many legendary monasteries, temples and palaces, Bumthang is the collective name for an area of 4 valleys - Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume.  Overnight at Ugyenling Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 6 – 8th November- Tang Valley- Bumthang – Driving time 3 hours

Drive to Tang valley, the most remote of Bumthang's valleys, where the people raise sheep and yaks. You will see picturesque villages and temples and can walk up to visit Ugyenchholing Palace, which is now a museum and gives an interesting insight into the life of an aristocratic family in the last century. Return to Bumthang for the night. Overnight at Ugyenling Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Note – the walk to the palace should take around 30 minutes.

Day 7 – 9th November- Ura Valley – Driving time 3 hours

Today we will drive approximately 1.5 hours to the Ura Valley, stopping on the way at Membar Tsho (“Burning Lake”), which is one of Bhutan’s most important pilgrimage sites. Continue to Ura village, situated at 3100m and dominated by its temple. Ura is in the highest of Bumthang's valleys and is believed to be the home of the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. The village has about 40 houses closely set along cobbled streets, giving it a medieval atmosphere. You can also visit Sumthrang Monastery, founded in the 13th century and currently undergoing renovation; there is a small collection of sacred arts and crafts on display.  Return to Bumthang and overnight at Ugyenling Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 8 – 10th November- Bumthang – Gangtey – Driving time 6 hours

An early start today around 7:30am. Drive approximately 5-6 hours to reach Gangtey situated at 2900 metres. Stop on the way to the village of Zungney where you can watch the women weaving traditional “yathras” by hand- woollen strips used in the making of blankets, bedcovers and winter jackets. Continue to Ta Dzong, the museum in the watchtower dedicated to the Wangchuk dynasty, which tells the stories of the Dzong and the valley it has watched over for centuries and feature personal belongings of the Kings and Queens of Bhutan.  [Note may be closed if on winter timing. On the approach to Gangtey there are wonderful views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges. On arrival in Gangtey, visit Gangtey Gompa, one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries which has recently been restored, and explore the valley where the villagers live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle. Enjoy a lovely nature walk starting from near the monastery taking you first downhill and then a nice flat walk through the forest to the valley floor.  This is the area where Black-Necked Cranes visit in their hundreds in November each year after spending the summer in Tibet. Overnight Dewachen Hotel or similar (BLD)

Note – the nature walk should take around 1.5 hours and is an easy stroll along a good trail.

Day 9 – 11th November – Phobjikha Valley and the Black Necked Crane Festival

Today (which is also the birthday of the Fourth King) you will visit the annual Black Necked Crane Festival in Gangtey. The festival takes place in the courtyard of the monastery and provides the opportunity to share a local cultural experience; it is held to promote conservation among the local people.  There will be some official rituals, such as flag raising and welcome ceremonies, followed by folk culture displays, including dances performed by schoolchildren. There will be stalls offering local food. You will also visit the Black Necked Crane Information Centre, to learn more about these amazing migrating birds, with the opportunity to spot some of them through the high quality lenses for use at the centre. Overnight Dewachen Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 10 – 12th November- Gangtey to Paro – Driving time approximately 7 hours

This morning we depart the Phobjikha Valley and travel to Wangdi (also known as Wangdue Phodrang), originally considered Bhutan’s secondary capital. Sadly Wangdi Dzong was gutted by fire in June 2012, destroying in a few hours not only a magnificent building that had stood proudly for hundreds of years, but also the painstaking work that had been in progress for many months to repair recent earthquake damage using traditional construction methods.  There is little now to see in Wangdi and after a brief stop for lunch you will return to Paro, a drive of approximately 5 hours. You will have some free time to visit the local handicraft shops to look for souvenirs. Overnight at Olathang Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 11- 13th November- Paro

This morning you visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You also visit the National Museum which was previously housed in the Ta Dzong (watch tower), built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong to defend it and the Paro valley during times of war, in an unusual circular construction resembling a conch shell. Unfortunately, an earthquake in September 2011 damaged the Ta Dzong and the contents of the museum were moved to a neighbouring building, although it is still possible to see a magnificent collection of Bhutanese artefacts – costumes, religious paintings, arms, textiles and a fascinating collection of Bhutan stamps.  The National Museum is due to reopen in the Ta Dzong in the near future. Nearby you can also visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan. Overnight at Olathang Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 12 –14th November - The Tiger’s Nest Monastery

This morning embark on the amazing hike to the ‘Tiger's Nest’, the sacred Taktshang monastery which clings impossibly to the rock face 900 metres above the valley floor. It is the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan and Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress and He subsequently meditated here for three months.  It is one of Bhutan’s most holy sites and draws pilgrims not only from Bhutan but also from neighbouring Buddhist countries. You can have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria from where there is a spectacular view of the monastery. On the way back you may be interested to visit Dumtse Lhakhang, a temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, who was responsible for building many of the iron bridges in Bhutan. Overnight at Olathang Hotel or similar. (BLD)

The ascent to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is very steep and you should be sure that your level of fitness will allow you to make the hike. It is possible to rent a stick at the start of the hike. Expect the entire hike with stops including at the cafeteria to last 6 hours. Speak to our team for personal experience account of the hike.

Day 13 – 15th November- Depart Bhutan

Early in the morning your guide will accompany you to the airport and wish you Tashi Delek (Goodbye and Good Luck). (B)

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