11 day tour
- Visit Trongsa Dzong and Punakha Dzong
- Travel throug the idyllic valleys of Phobjikha, Bumthang and Haa
- View the exquisite Takstang Gompa (The Tiger’s Nest Temple)
Bhutan is known for its highly original culture and nature. This is due largely to centuries of isolation, but also to the deliberate policy of the current government and the kings in the past. On this trip, you will see countless temples, dzongs (monastery fortresses) and beautiful traditional houses. Most importantly, you’ll meet the extraordinary, kind-hearted and peaceful Bhutanese people who embrace their culture as a precious heritage.
Bhutan is extremely well-endowed with natural riches, especially forests – it’s the most forested country in Asia. It is also very mountainous. Most Bhutanese people live in villages surrounded by pine and deciduous forests at an altitude of 1500 – 2500m in rustic farmhouses reminiscent of Swiss chalets. Travelling through this area (and when flying over it) you catch occasional glimpses of the northern and highest parts where the glacier-capped Himalayan Mountain Range marks the border with Tibet.
11 day tour of Bhutan
Route: Delhi – Paro – Thimphu – Punakha – Phobjikha – Bumthang – Paro – Haa – Paro – Delhi
Day 01 – Flight from Delhi/ Bangkok to Paro; to Thimphu
Upon arrival in Delhi or Bangkok, we can arrange your overnight stay in a hotel near the airport. In most cases this is required, as flights to Bhutan generally leave in the morning. Early in the morning you board the flight to Paro. Whether you fly in from Delhi or Bangkok, you are in for a remarkable flight. Especially when flying from Delhi, you get good views of the Himalayan peaks, including Mt. Everest and Kangchenjunga. The last part of the flight is spectacular, as the plane flies through the Paro Valley and ‘almost touches’ the houses on the slopes.
Outside the airport, our guide and driver will be waiting. They will take you to your hotel in Thimphu, which is just a 1.5 hrs drive.
Day 02 – Thimphu
You have the whole day to explore Thimphu. Despite the rapid growth that the city has undergone in the last decade, Thimphu is still the most relaxed capital in the world. The traffic is very controlled (a relief for those who have been in India) and there are no traffic lights. Instead, on the busiest intersection of Thimphu, a policeman directs traffic with theatrical, almost comical gestures.
There are many things to see in Thimphu, ranging from the Memorial Chorten, built in memory of Bhutan’s third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and the largest open-air Buddha in the world, to the Textile Museum and the Institute for Zorig Chusum where young people learn the thirteen traditional arts of Bhutan that are essential to the construction and maintenance of temples and dzongs.
You can also visit the archery range or the animal park where you can see the takin. This remarkable animal – described as a cross between a cow, a goat and a moose – is the national animal of Bhutan.
Day 03 – Thimphu – Punakha (77 km / 2.5-3 hours)
Today we drive east over the only road that connects the capital to the interior of Bhutan. A few kilometers outside Thimphu, you will pass the dzong of Simthoka. Dzongs in Bhutan are a unique phenomenon. They form a combination of a monastery and a district office, and in the past they also housed the military. The former defensive function explains their fortress-like building. The dzong of Simthoka was founded in 1629 and is the oldest of the existing dzongs in Bhutan.
A 45-minute drive from Simthoka will bring you to the Dochu La pass (3120m). A quick stop here is worthwhile because of the beautiful views of the Himalayas, including the highest mountain in Bhutan, the Gangkar Puensum (7497m).
Punakha is the former capital of Bhutan. The main attraction here is the dzong where the King and the Parliament resided until 1955. During the winter season, most of the monks of Thimphu as well as the Jhe Khempo, the highest abbot of Bhutan, stay here. The enormous fortress-monastery is arguably the most beautiful and interesting dzong of Bhutan. Just its famous ‘hundred pillar temple’ alone warrants a long visit.
Day 04 – Punakha – Phobjikha (78 km / 3-5 hours)
Before setting off for Phobjikha, you can visit some other interesting places in Punakha, such as the temple of the Divine Madman and a recently constructed new nunnery where more than a hundred young women live a life of prayer and devotion.
The road to Phobjikha follows a densely forested river gorge with small hamlets of traditional houses sprinkled over the mountainsides. It gradually climbs towards the 3425m high Pele La pass, but just before reaching this, your driver will turn right and descend into the wide and wooded Phobjikha Valley. At 2900 m, this is the highest night halt on your journey.
Day 05 – Phobjikha
Phobjikha is a protected area (Conservation Area) consisting of some vast, high-altitude valleys surrounded by thick forests. It is both scenically and culturally worthwhile to visit. It’s best known for its black-necked cranes that hibernate here in large numbers. These rare birds breed during the summer in swamps on the barren plateau of Tibet and Ladakh. In the winter, they avail of the relatively mild climate and harvest leftovers of the potato fields in Phobjikha.
You can see the cranes during a walk through the valley and also through the telescope of a specially equipped observation center. Equally worthwhile is Gangte Goemba, the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. The Nyingmapa sect is the oldest Buddhist sect in Bhutan and Tibet and differs in some respects from the (in Bhutan) dominant Drukpa sect.
Day 06 – Phobjikha – Bumthang (188 km / 6-8 hours)
After breakfast, you first drive over the Pele La (pass) to Trongsa, the capital of Bhutan’s most centrally located dzongkhag (province). Trongsa has a very distinctive, elongated dzong, located high above the valley. In the past, the penlops (district heads) who controlled the trade and traffic between eastern and western Bhutan resided here. A visit to the dzong is a must, and perhaps also to the interesting museum that is housed in the watchtower.
After crossing a second pass – the Yori La (3420m) – you descend to the very picturesque Chumi Valley, one of the best parts of this road trip. By evening, you reach Jakar in Bumthang.
Day 07 – Bumthang
Bumthang is culturally perhaps Bhutan’s most interesting area. The many temples here are associated with the early history of Buddhism in Bhutan. It was here that Padmasambhava (also called Guru Rimpoche) began his mission in Bhutan, in the eighth century. This man is considered to be the most important apostle of Buddhism in Bhutan (and also in Tibet, Ladakh and Sikkim). He led a fierce battle against animistic and Bon ghosts and demons who dominated the area at the time.
Bumthang consists of dozens of interesting temples and villages spread out over three valleys, each of which is very much worth exploring. Together with your guide, you can work out a programme for the day.
Day 08 – Flight Bumthang to Paro; to Haa (25 min flight plus 69 km / 3 hours)
On the 30-minute flight to Paro, you’ll get magnificent views of the Himalayan Range as well the areas that you have traveled through in the last week – weather permitting, that is.
Outside the airport, another driver and car will be waiting. You’ll travel southward and start the climb to Bhutan’s highest motorable pass, the Chele La (3988 m). The drive up leads to beautiful coniferous forests of hemlocks, pines and firs as well as tree-size rhododendrons that flower in the spring. On the pass, you will be treated to magnificent views of the Himalayas (weather permitting). As you descend, you will reach the tranquil backwaters of Haa.
Day 09 – Haa – Paro via Chusom (97 km / 3.5 – 4 hours)
Today you return to Paro via a different route, and in our opinion, this is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful car routes. You follow the Haa River eastward over a small road along and through tiny farming enclaves of traditionally built houses with a permanent view of endless wooded slopes where bears, leopards and tigers live.
After lunch in Paro, you can visit some of this ancient little city’s highlights, such as Paro Dzong, the interesting museum and the Kyichu Lhakahng, one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan.
Day 10 – Paro, visit Tigers Nest Temple
A short drive to the northwest brings you to a wooded side valley. Here, you begin the 2 – 2.5 hours hike to the world-famous Tigers Nest (Taktsang Goemba). This magnificent monastery clings like a dovecote against the rocks some 900 metres above the valley.
Padmasambhava, after completing his work in Bumthang, landed here after a flight on the back of a tiger, to confront yet another local demon. In 1692, a temple was built around the cave where the Guru meditated. Inside, it is a maze of temples, niches and caves filled with Buddhist artwork. All beautifully crafted, and steeped in mystery and magic. Halfway through the descent, you can have lunch at a small cafe overlooking the temple.
Day 11 – Flight Paro to Delhi or Bangkok
After breakfast, you will depart to the airport for your flight to Delhi or Bangkok.