Bhutan, a mysterious kingdom nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, is no ordinary place. Here, chilies make up whole dishes, the rice is red and you get fined for not wearing your national dress. A fascinating land heavy with deep mythology, where giant protective penises are painted on the walls of houses and ancient traditions and modern complexes intertwine seamlessly. It is a country of surprises terraced by lush rice paddies, pine forests and dotted with sparkling mountain lakes.
Bhutan is one of the most untouched kingdoms on our planet, with the doors open to only a small number of travellers each year. Now is your chance to mingle amongst the elders chewing on red beetle nut, the creak and whirr of spinning prayer wheels and the flap of fluttering prayer flags, your senses are overloaded. Bhutan will truly encapsulate you.
Day 1 - Arrive Samdrup Jonkhar from Guwahati
Welcome to Bhutan! If you are arriving into Guwahati Airport, India, you will be met and transferred to Samdrup Jonkhar, the border town in Bhutan. Once you have crossed the border, you will be transferred to your hotel. Overnight at Hotel Menjong or similar. (D)
Day 2 - Drive to Trashigang
After breakfast this morning, drive through a dense tropical forest with an abundance of teak, bamboo and lush ferns. En-route you will visit a traditional weaving centre at Khaling.
In the far east of Bhutan, on the bank of Gamri Chhu River lies Trashigang, the country’s largest district. Once the centre of a busy trade route with Tibet, today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with roads connecting to Samdrup Jongkhar and then to the Indian States of Assam. This town is also the main marketplace for the semi nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose costumes are unique in Bhutan.
After checking into your hotel, continue on to visit Trashigang Dzong. Built in 1659, the Dzong served as both administrative headquaters and as a monastery. The Dzong commands a remarkable view over the surrounding countryside. Overnight at Hotel Druk Doejung or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 3 - Mongar
Enjoy a morning visit to Gom Kora, only 24km from Trashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the river. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of banana trees, it looks like an oasis in an arid landscape. It is one of the famous places where Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue a demon who lived within a huge black rock. Take a scenic drive (approx. 100km, 3hrs) along the mountain highway towards the alpine highlands of eastern Bhutan, passing through Kori la pass (2,450m) which is marked by a pretty chorten and a stone wall.
The road ascends through corn fields and banana groves arriving at the famous ziazags of Yadi, which is a recent settlement. Continue on to Mongar. After checking into your hotel, continue on to visit Mongar Dzong, one of Bhutan’s newest Dzong. Built in the 1930’s, using the same method and traditions as all the other Dzongs in the country, without the use of architectural plans and nails have not been used in its construction. Your time here will give you an impression of how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries. Overnight at Hotel Wangchuk or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 4 - Bumthang & Burning Lake
Your journey continues winding through rugged terrain with spectacular views on both sides of the road. The seven hour journey passes through Ura village in Bumthang and across the highest motorable pass in the Kingdom, the Thrumshingla pass, at 4000m. Enroute you will also visit the beautiful sacred lake, Membartsho. Also known as ‘the burning lake’, it has fascinating mythology stories behind it. Continue onto your hotel. Overnight at Wangdichholing or Village Lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 5 - Hike to Pedseling Goempa
Bumthang is the general name given to the four beautiful valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with its altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries.
This morning enjoy a hike to Pedseling Goempa, a sacred monastery with rich historic values. Situated on a steep mountain, this is a half day trek (3-4hrs) from the area of Jakar. The trek starts off at a mild pace but later gains momentum. Along the trekking route, you will be gifted with breathtaking views of the valley and unique flora and fauna. About two thirds of the way along there is a beautiful meadow, the perfect spot for your picnic lunch!
Later in the afternoon when you return to Bumthang, visit Kurje Lhakhang, where the saint Padmasambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock, the Jambey Lhakhang (7th century temple), and Jakar Dzong (administrative centre of the region). Overnight at Wangdichholing or Village Lodge. (B,L,D)
Day 6 - Bumthang to Tang Valley
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before departing for the Tang Valley (approx. 2hrs).
Far and deep into the Tang Valley, sits Thowadrak, ‘the fourth holy cliff’, which overlooks the entire Tang valley. This is a beautiful, yet challenging hike to a mysterious and exceptionally holy temple with many fascinating prints and markings to admire in addition to the temple itself.
The hike starts along the riverside, from the north end of Tang valley. Crossing the river on a wooden bridge, the trail then slowly starts climbing before a short descent. Upon reaching a chorten, the trail continues uphill through a beautiful forest and past several monuments on the mountainside. For the last 40 minutes or so, the trail is very steep, but Thowadrak looking down at you from above will keep you motivated to climb the last stone steps to the top.
Thowadrak, the last of the holy cliffs, is said to have been founded by the Indian consort of Guru Rinpoche, and it is believed that Guru Rinpoche also spent time meditating there. There are many gorgeous small meditation retreats scattered in the steep mountainside around the temple with dramatic views of the valley. If you have read Ashi Kunzang Choden’s book about Dawa, the stray dog in Bhutan, you might recognise Thowadrak as the temple with the cave where Dawa goes to meditate to get rid of his mange. This cave is only one of many shrines you will find around the temple. Ask a monk or your guide to show you Guru Rinpoche’s meditation seat, his walking stick, foot prints imprinted in stone, meditation caves, and the holy water sources where water appears inexplicably. It is possible to walk up to the roof side of the temple where you can enjoy a well deserved lunch or just sit and enjoy the fabulous view of Tang Valley.
After your hike, drive to Ugyenchholing Palace in the Tang valley for an experience of an ancient Bhutanese royalty culture. Spend the night here in the guest house of the Ugyenchholing Palace.
Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang – Restored in 19th century, it is now housing the Family Museum, a place that will transport you to another world and time. View permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan’s history truly unfolds here.
Overnight at Ugyencholing Guest House. (B,L,D)
Day 7 - Gangtey
This morning following breakfast, drive to Gangtey where the altitude reaches 3000m. In the mountains east of Wangduephodrang lies the 17th century monastery of Gangtey, on the slopes of the beautiful Phobjikha valley. The village of Phobjikha lies a few kilometres down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north to pass the winter months in a milder climate.
The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan. The sight of such a wide, flat, treeless valley contrasts greatly from the dense forests, the impression of vast space is an extremely rare experience in Bhutan where most of the valleys are tightly enclosed. This evening is yours at leisure. Overnight Dewachen or Gakyiling. (B,L,D)
Day 8 - Punakha
This morning after breakfast, a beautiful hike takes you to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
You will then visit the majestic Punakha Dzong built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the current King.
Lunch is followed by a short drive to the village of Lobesa where you will visit a traditional farm house. Enjoy a leisurely walk through the village which will give you rare glimpse into the daily life of the locals. Bhutanese farm houses are very colourful, decorative and traditionally built without the use of single nail. The majority of the population of Bhutan continues to live as it has for centuries – in small isolated farms and hamlets, surrounded by terraced fields of rice, maize and buckwheat.
From here, you will then visit the Nalanda Buddhist College. Locals call this place ‘Dalayna’ while the monks refer it as ‘Nalanda Buddhist College’. Here, enjoy your evening tea complemented by the stunning view, along with interaction with the local monks. Overnight at Dragon’s Nest or Drubchhu. (B,L,D)
Day 9 - Drive to Thimphu
After breakfast, drive to Thimphu across the Dochula pass (3088m). Upon arrival, check into your hotel. This afternoon, head to the Post Office for a personalised stamp (closed on weekends) before visiting to Choki Traditional Art School, which helps preserve the traditional arts and crafts of the country, where you can also learn the art of Mandala painting.
This evening, participate in a cooking demonstration followed by a special welcome dinner which will be hosted by a local family in their home. Here you can learn more about Bhutan’s culture while savouring local cuisine.
There is also the opportunity to try on the National dress of Bhutan (additional $35AUD), one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of the Dragon Kingdom’s unique character. Men wear Gho, a long robe, while women wear ankle length robes called Kira. The Bhutanese textile is made from fine, hand-woven fabric, with colourful, distinctive patterns. Overnight at Thimphu Towers or Namseling Boutique. (B,L,D)
Day 10 - Haa
Early this morning, take a short drive to the northern end of town to participate in the Tsewang ceremony (puja ceremony) at the 12th century Changangkha Lhakhang. This is a fortress like temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu. Held at the monastery by a team of monks, this is a special prayer ceremony for peace, prosperity and good health. Guests are required to light a butter lamp at the monastery alter.
From here, you will continue to Haa Valley. From Bondey village, the road to Haa climbs up towards the chele-la pass. After driving through beautiful blue pine and rhododendron forest for 45km, you will reach Chele-la pass. It is a great place to stretch your legs and at 4200 metres, soak in the superb views of Mount Chomolhari and Jichu Drakey,
Continuing on, you will descend into Haa. Although the Haa Dzong is presently occupied by military, the view from the outside is stunning. After enjoying a picnic lunch, visit to the famous Monastery Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) followed by Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to have no difference with that of Lhasa JOWO in Tibet. The construction of the Lakhang Karpo is believed to have been assisted by the locality. As a result the place came to be locally known as Hay’ meaning ‘surprise’ which later became ‘Haa’ due to the differences in interpretations and pronunciations of different people over time.
The three giant hills looming over the fringes of Haa valley were called ‘Me Rig Puen Sum’ especially after the incidence of the Lhakhang Kdarpo construction. Today the three hills are popularly known as ‘Rig Sum Goenpa’ signifying three deities-Jambayang Chana Dorji and Chenrizig.
Later, other Buddhist saints like Guru Rinpoche and ‘Machi Labdorn’ came to the Jungney Drag in Haa and blessed the locaation. The principal religion followed here is Drukpa Kagyud. After the arrival of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the chief guardian deity of Haa became Ap Chundu.
Overnight at Lechuna Lodge or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 11 - Haa to Khadey Gom/Talung
To start off your trek, you will be driven north to the Yangtong village. From here head off on foot following a short but steep climb (150m) which leads to Yangtong Goemba village. This village is marked by a large temple dedicated to the great 8th century Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche. Walk through the buckwheat fields and Blue Pine forest as you follow the small river which flows from Saga la. Your trail takes you through the village of Talung. Your trail is further punctuated by a bridge (Chado Zam) and several meadows and forest to reach Khadey Gom. The camp site is in the open meadows, where lots of yaks come from high pastured land in the winter months. (B,L,D)
Day 12 - Khadey Gom/Sagala to Donney Tsho
Today your trail follows a gradual hike through meadows and pine forest until your trail leads to another 2-hour gradual climb to reach Sagala Pass (3550m), which is littered with prayer flags and mini stupas made from stone piles. On a clear day, the pass presents a fantastic view on both sides. Looking east you can see the Paro valley flanked by the sacred Mt. Jomolhari (7,134m) and Jo Drake (5,570m). You can spot Drugyel Dzong and the sacred Taktshang monastery (Tigers Nest) in the valley below. You also see the Haa valley and the peaks forming the border with Tibet towards the west. From this pass, walk downhill for a 2hrs, through mixed conifer forests and walls of rhododendrons to reach your campsite in an open meadow at Dongney Tsho (lake), surrounded with tall fir trees. Camp by the lake for the evening. (B,L,D)
Day 13 - Donney Tsho – Paro via Drukgyel Dzong
Today the first part of your trail is steeply downhill for about 1.5hrs until you reach the bridge (Genchu Zam). This stretch of the trail is known for bird-watching and birds like Laughing Thrushes, Magpies; Nutcrackers & Pheasants are often seen. Continue walking through the Blue Pine forests past Chodeyphu, a beautiful small village picturesquely set at the base of the mountain, Lom Bjara (Foggy Mountain, inhabited by mountain goats). This small beautiful village comprises of about eight households and a temple on the left side of the trail. From this village, your trail calls for another 1hr walk to finally reach the end point of your trek where you will rejoin your vehicle and drive to Paro where the evening is yours to explore. (B,L,D)
Overnight Tenzinling Resort or similar
Day 14 - Paro
Take a short drive along a rough road to the 16th-century Neyphug monastery where some sixty orphans are homed.
This relatively unknown and rarely visited Monastery is in the mountains overlooking Paro Valley. Although very run down and offering only basic accommodation, the monastery is a beautiful, peaceful place. The school is led by Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, the founder of the school. In 2005, he returned to Bhutan as Professor of Buddhism and saw much suffering amongst the poor. Daily life is rugged and those living in remote areas have little means of support, surviving under extreme poverty and threats of chronic illness. Rinpoche came across many orphans and children whose parents could not afford to take care of them. Their desolate conditions, helplessness and hopelessness touched him deeply and inspired him to start a school.
Today, time permitting, you will also have the chance for an archery lesson – this is the national sport of Bhutan. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Tenzinling Resort or similar
Day 15 - Tigers Nest
Today it is time to trek to Taktsang Monastery, also known as the ‘Tigers Nest.’ The Taktsang Monastery is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. Visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 this site has been recognised as a most sacred place. It is said all Bhutanese should visit at least once in their lifetime. On 19th April 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of the building but this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.
The hike to the monastery can be broken down into stages. The first stage is the trek to the cafeteria (where lunch will be served later today) which is situated on a rocky outcrop across a ravine from the monastery. This leg of the trek takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes to reach.
The 2nd stage of the walk is from the cafeteria to the lookout opposite the monastery. This leg takes close to one hour. The 3rd stage is the trek/climb down the 475 steps in the cliff face to the bottom of the ravine which crosses over a stream and waterfall before the path again ascends another 300 odd steps to the entrance of the monastery. Once here, you will be able to enter into the monastery and view the cave where Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal meditated (cameras are not allowed inside the monastery). The visit and climb to the entrance and back to the lookout will take approximately one hour.
This afternoon, enjoy a mountain bike ride around Paro Town. (B,L,D)
Overnight at Tenzinling Resort or similar
Day 16 - Departure
Following breakfast this morning, you will be transferred to Paro airport for your flight to your onward destination. (B)
- Return airport transfers
- 15 nights accommodation
- 15 Breakfasts, 14 Lunches, 15 Dinners
- Air conditioned 4WD transportation with English speaking local guide
- Sightseeing as per the itinerary
- Entrance fee to all attractions as per itinerary
- Special Tsewang ceremony (puja ceremony) at Changangkha Lhakhang
- Cooking demonstration and dinner host by Bhutanese family
- Mountain bike in Paro
- Archery demonstration
- Bhutan visa fee
- International and domestic flights
- Travel and medical insurance
- All services, meals other than those indicated above
- Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
- All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips et
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.