DAY 1 – Bangkok – Paro – Thimphu
Flying west with the morning sun, we turn north from the Indian plains for a dramatic landing in the Paro Valley. After clearing customs and completing immigration formalities, we’ll be greeted by our Bhutanese partners, who will accompany us throughout the trip.
Our exploration of traditional crafts begins from today. The government of Bhutan is well-known for its policy of pursuing development, while preserving traditional culture. Traditionally painted farmhouses dot the hillsides beside the winding road to Thimphu, the capital.En route, we will admire the 15th-century Tamchog Lhakhang (temple), built by Drupthob Thang Thong Gyalpo, a skilled blacksmith who is famously known as “the great iron-bridge builder.”
After settling into hour hotel, we’ll have lunch and spend time at the weekend market, full of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as arts and crafts, and explore the heart of Thimphu.
DAY 2 – Thimphu
We begin with a visit to the Institute of Traditional Crafts (Zorig Chusum, 13 arts & crafts), where young Bhutanese enroll in courses to learn thangka painting, wood carving, metal smiting, and more, in order to become professional craft workers.
After lunch in a downtown restaurant, we’ll visit the stunning Royal Textile Academy to learn more about weaving, the only traditional craft that is predominantly practiced by women. The Royal Textile Academy provides a wonderful introduction to the variety of textiles that we will see throughout our trip.
Time allowing, we will visit a hand-made paper workshop and/or a boot-making workshop
[Where are the boots actually made – or will we see boot-making at the Zorig Chusum Institute?].
Yes! You will get to experience it at Zorig Chusum.
We’ll be hosted for dinner at the Voluntary Artists’ Studio of Thimphu (VAST) and hear from its founder, Asha Kama, about how VAST promotes creativity in young people. Some of the artists will join us and speak about their work.
DAY 3 – Thimphu-Paro-Bumthang (details to be confirmed once flight timing is known)
The flight timing from Paro to Bumthang will be as follows
The morning is at leisure with options to explore on your own, join pilgrims circumambulating the Memorial Chorten for the Third King, or visit the workshop where bronze and silver statues and temple accessories are made on commission for temples across the country.
We depart Thimphu late morning for a traditional Bhutanese lunch [the place near Simtokha that was closed last year], and continue on to Paro for the 35-minute flight to Bumthang in central Bhutan, a journey that would otherwise take two days! Upon arrival at 4 pm, we will transfer to our hotel.
This time, the babesa village (restaurant) will be open on Tuesday, and it’s only closed on Monday.
Bumthang is one of the most beautiful and sacred areas in Bhutan, and was the site of Bhutan’s royal court in the early 1900s. The region was converted to Buddhism by Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), who made frequent visits to Bhutan in the 8th century.
Bumthang’s four valleys – Chokhor, Tang, Ura, and Chume – are studded with monasteries and temples of great historic importance. Bhutanese say the Chokhor Valley, where we land, is shaped like the holy vase for saffron water found on every Buddhist altar. Bumthang is famous for the production of honey, cheese, apples, apricots, and Red Panda beer, all of which we will have the opportunity to sample.
Out hotel in Bumthang is at an elevation of 2850 meters/8900 feet.
OPTION 1 DAY 4 – Bumthang
Today we will visit Jambay Lhakhang, one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan. It was built around 750 by King SongstenGampo of Tibet as part of his pledge to subdue a demoness whose body stretched figuratively across the Himalayas; this was one of 108 temples he constructed to ensure that Buddhism could spread. Jambay is one of the holiest of Bhutan’s religious sites, and one can visit the courtyards of the ancient temple and see people circumambulating from dawn to dusk. The temple is a wonderful example of Bhutan’s carpentry and masonry arts.
Weather permitting, we will enjoy a picnic lunch by the rushing TsamkharChhu (river) and then explore the local market.
OPTION 1 DAY 5 – Bumthang
Bumthang is famed for its sheep, as well as for the local nobility’s patronage of weaving. Our first destination is the temple complex of Tamshing, which was founded in 1501 by one of Bhutan’s most famous saints, Pema Lingpa, who is known as the “treasure discoverer”. Newly renovated and richly decorated with thangkhas and statues, Tamshing is home to many young monks in training.
Next, we will visit the weaving workshop at Dorjibi, still sponsored by a local noblewoman. Dorjibi is known for fine, handspun sheep wool which has become very rare, and forreviving weaving with nettle fiber.
We will be treated to a lunch featuring Bumthang’s specialty – buckwheat pancakes – at a local home.
Today’s itinerary is on the east side of the river and participants have the option to walk from point to point, seeing people at work in their fields and spotting birds.
At tonight’s dinner, at the Swiss Guest House, we may sample home-made cheese, beer, apple juice and honey.
OPTION 2 – combine Days 4 and 5 on Day 4: so start at Kencho sum Lhakhang, Tamshing, continue to Dorjibi, and walk across bridge to have lunch by river. Visit Jambay Lhakhang in afternoon on way back to Swiss Guest House. Day 5: Drive (about 2.5 hours) to Tharpaling, have tea at a local home and lunch at the monastery. Afternoon for a 4-hour walk, mostly downhill, back to Jakar, met by bus for return to Guest House.
DAY 6 – Bumthang to Tang Ogyen Chholing
After breakfast, we head east, past the Chokhor Valley and up the scenic Tang Valley to the aristocratic manor house of OgyenChholing (elevation 2805 meters/9200 feet).
Our hosts, Kunzang and Walter Roder, will greet us and share their wonderful efforts to preserve Kunzang’s ancestral property as a “heritage” palace. Dramatically situated on a hill, OgyenChholing’s rich history begins in the 14th century, with the visit of the great Tibetan master of Buddhism LongchenRabjampa, a celebrated writer and philosopher. We will learn how this site became important for the saint DorjiLingpa, whose descendants have the responsibility of upholding religious traditions.
The historic property is furnished with family antiques, giving us insight into how well-born families lived – and acquired goods from all over the Himalayas and beyond. Kunzang is also a renowned Bhutanese author of books on topics from cooking to fairytales.
The adjacent village is home to families who once served the manorial family, and is a lovely place to explore.
Accommodations: Ogyen Chholing Guest House
Meals included today: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
DAY 7 – OgyenCholing – Lhuntshi
After an early breakfast, we continue east through the Ura Valley with its sloping fields, and into more rugged terrain toward Bhutan’s highest pass. The virgin Himalayan forests in this region are within a national park and include massive rhododendrons, pine, and holly-leafed oak.
Crossing the Thrumshing La (3750 meters/12402 feet) marks our entry into Eastern Bhutan. Although the east is the most densely populated part of the country, it has steep terrain and few good roads. Many regions are accessible only on foot.
Eastern Bhutan also has relatively few facilities for visitors (all are primitive), and is visited by few tourists. As we descend from Sengor village, lovely waterfalls plunge from the cliffs as we approach the Kuri Chu bridge (550 meters/1800 feet).
We will have descended 3200 meters from the pass into a tropical environment where mangoes, pineapples and even lemon grass are grown. The road then ascends another 1000 meters to the market town of Mongar, where we turn north into Lhuntshi District.
Lhuntshi, considered remote even by Bhutanese standards, is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. The princesses were famous as patrons of fine silk and cotton weaving, and popularized the most elegant style of wraparound dress (kushuthara), decorated with distinctive patterning, that is still favored for formal and festive occasions in Bhutan.
Our destination is Takila, one of the scattered villages high above the steep river valley. We will ascend a steep road to this cluster of stone and wood houses built close together, perched on a ridge (1750 meters/5741 feet).Red and white rice, millet and corn should be planted in the surrounding fields.
Arriving in time for dinner, we will be welcomed in the traditional manner by women bringing home-made ara (moonshine) to offer us, as they dance and sing (possible in the guest house???It did not happen last year?)
Yes! It can be done but need to pay extra. Also depends on arrival. Otherwise next day we can organize.
Accommodations for 2 nights: Takila Guest House
Meals included today: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
DAY 8 – Sunday, June 7 Takila
Today we have two options: 1) you may chose to drive to Lhuntshi proper, whose landmark dzong (fortress/monastery) isdramatically situated on a hill overlooking the Kuri Chu. Just beyond Lhuntshi is the tiny village of Gangzur, where one family continues to produce clay pots, truly a vanishing art in Bhutan. We will then visit the village of Khoma, where weaving remains a major source of income for many women, who produce textiles for sale and for clients as far away as Thimphu. Lunch will be hosted in an award-winning weaver’s home. 2) You may wish instead to take a hike to Rawabi Gompa, a monastery within sight of Takila, but reached by a footpath that snakes along the steep hillside. We will take a picnic lunch and return in good time for dinner.Both options to explore this charming area will offer ample opportunities to see rural life, and uses of crafts up close.
Yes! For option number 2, it can be done.
DAY 9 – Takila to Trashigang via Mongar
Today we return to Mongar and continue further east. The final leg of our journey takes us over one more pass and across two rivers, before climbing the steep crag on which Trashigang is perched.
The governor at TrashigangDzongadministered all of eastern Bhutan until the early 20th century, and the town is still an important market for the region, and for goods coming north from India. Trashigang has a modest bazaar where hand-woven fabrics of wild silk –a local specialty – and hand-turned wooden bowls made in the surrounding hills are sold. Herders from MerakSakteng come here to trade and are readily recognized by their dress and distinctive yak hair hats.
Lingkhar Lodge, just south of Trashigang, has a lovely garden and good views of the sunset.
DAY 10 – Trashigang
We take a day excursion to the village of Radhi, famous for its wild-silk weaving. Wild silk is spun from the cocoons of silkworms that are not domesticated: they mature into moths in the wild and eat their way out of the cocoon – thus avoiding the taking of life that Buddhist want to avoid. As a result, the strands of cocoon silk are broken and “slubby” but favored by local weavers. This area is also famous for its use of natural dyes.
Radhi is located on the traditional walking route from MerakSakteng to Trashigang. We will walk down the road from Radhi, passing by a nearby nunnery and seeing village markets.
This evening we will be entertained by visitors from MerakSakteng, performing their distinctive dances and songs.
DAY 11 – Trashigang. Day excursion to Trashiyangtse.
Today’s destination is Trashi Yangtse, 53 kilometers to the north. Trashi Yangtse is known as a wintering site for black-necked cranes, and for Chorten Kora, a stupa modeled after the famous Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu (with eyes painted on it). Trashi Yangtse is also home to an Institute for Traditional Crafts.
On the way back visit Gom Kora a very famous monastery where Guru Rimpoche subdue a demon and blessed that area. There are many interesting stories and lot of prints on the rock.
There are opportunities to walk along the road. We’ll return to Trashigang in time to take an evening stroll to the dzong, from which the sunset is spectacular.
DAY 12 – Trashigang to Trogon Villa (Trogon Villa is 50km away from Mongar)
Today is one of our longer drives, so we will breakfast early and begin retracing our steps back toward Bumthang. We will have periodic stops along the way to break the journey, including opportunities to walk ahead of the bus to stretch your legs – and watch for birds, and look for dye plants.
We spend the night high at a rustic but comfortable guest house on the side of a steep valley, surrounded by corn fields, banana trees and bamboo groves, where the bird-watching is excellent.
DAY 13 – Bumthang/Jakar (It will take 140km from Trogon Villa to Bumthang)
Today is another long drive, as we cross back over the Thrumshing La. By evening, we will reach Bumthang and have the option of enjoying a traditional hot stone bath before or after dinner.
DAY 14 – Saturday, June 13Jakar to Paro
This morning is at leisure – to stroll in the market and explore the one-road town, including Wangdicholing Palace, the site of the early 20th century court. The Bhutan Foundation, based in Washington, DC, and Thimphu, is supporting a major renovation project here.
Our afternoon flight from Bumthang to Paro arrives at 3:35pm, and after arrival we will drive up the valley.
Actually there will be four flights with different timing from Bumthang to Paro.
DAY 15 – Paro
Those interested can hike to one of the most important religious sites in the Himalayas, TaktshangMonastery, known as the Tiger’s Nest. This magical monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 2,000 feet above the valley floor.
The legend of Taktsang dates to 747 AD when Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), in the wrathful form of Guru DorjiDrolo, is believed to have arrived at this site on the back of a tiger and subdued the evil spirits in the region. The Guru then meditated in the holy cave here. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of Buddhism.
You may walk for about one and a half hours through blue pine forest to a teahouse and an excellent vantage point. Some may want to continue another 45 minutes to the monastery itself.
After lunch back at the hotel, there will also be time this afternoon to explore Paro town, which is lively and full of shops, galleries, and cafés. Our farewell dinner will be at the hotel.
DAY 16 – Monday, June 15 Paro – Bangkok
After an early breakfast we will report to the airport for our flight to Bangkok