Journey to the remote mountain kingdom of Bhutan – from GBP 1399 for 6 days
|Highlights:||Fantastic scenery and view points, visit a school for monks|
Discover the remote mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Closed to foreigners for many years, Bhutan has now opened its doors to just a few thousand tourists a year, in an attempt to maintain its traditional heritage. We travel through spectacular Himalayan scenery and have the opportunity to visit traditional Buddhist temples. An exciting trip for those keen to see something unique.
- Spectacular scenery and viewpoints
- Visit to a school for monks
- Traditional Buddist temples
Day 1 – PHUNTSOLING
Drive from Darjeeling to the border with Bhutan. Stay overnight in the border town of Phuntsoling. (BD)
The road passes through the crowded bazaar of Jaigaon and turns through a a traditional Bhutanese gate marking the border. Phuntsoling has its own bazaar, a few government offices, banks and hotels, all strung out along the road to Thimpu. Eating out is pretty much restricted to the hotels, and there is not much in the way of evening entertainment unless you are a fan of Bollywood movies.
Day 2 – THIMPU
A marvellous drive as the road twists its way through lush forests and scattered villages to end the day in Thimpu, capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan. (BLD)
Thimpu is a relatively new town, having been built by the late King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk to become the new permanent capital from 1955. Before that time the government moved in winter to Punakha and in summer to Thimpu. The monks of the central clergy, true to ancient custom, still migrate from Thimpu and spend the six coldest months in Punakha. Not far from the market place is the Changlimithang ground where you will always find the game of archery (the national sport of Bhutan) being played.
The 400-year-old Tashichho Dzong, rebuilt in the early 1960s after a fire destroyed most of the buildings, houses the Central Secretariat, the summer headquarters of the Central Monk Authority, where the 150 member National Assembly meets. The king’s throne room and headquarters, richly decorated with pictures from the life of Buddha, are also housed here. Half the Dzong is an active monastery where in summer the monks stay in residence (during this period non-Buddhists are not allowed in).
A new General Secretariat which was completed in 1993 stands on the other side of the river. A short distance away is a chorten (stupa) to the late king which has paintings inside. Across the Thimpu River and up the valley is the Dechenchholing Palace. Nearby you can watch gold and silversmiths at work.
The National Library is a striking tall white building in traditional style and is roofed in shingle. Thousands of manuscripts and xylographs are stored here as well as hundreds of western books on Buddhism, the Himalayas and Bhutan.
Day 3 – WANGDI
Morning sightseeing in Thimpu. Afternoon spectacular drive via the Dochula Pass to the old capital of Punakha. We end the day in Wangdi where we stay in a lovely resort situated on the edge of a river in the middle of a beautiful valley. (BLD)
2 hours from Thimpu lies Punakha, the former capital. The road goes over the spectacular Dochu-La Pass (2,743m) with excellent views of the northern peaks. The descent from the Dochu-La to the Punakha Valley shows an interesting range of vegetation as the altitude difference between the pass and the valley is approx. 1,700 metres. The road passes first through a temperate type of leafy forest where rhododendron and magnolia bloom in spring, then into a semi-tropical zone lined with orange orchards and banana plantations.
To the south of Punakha, located at 1,350 metres, is the impressive Wangdi Phodrang (Wangdi for short) Dzong. Built in the 17th century by Shabdrung, the Dzong is strategically located at the confluence of Punakha-Chu and Tang-Chu rivers. Legend has it that Mahakala, the protective deity of Bhutan, appeared to instruct Shabdrung to build a Dzong “atop a rocky spur where two rivers meet, at the place where a flock of ravens will fly off in four directions”. The valley has rich pastureland and is the winter home for many high altitude farmers who migrate with their cattle to the warmer climate in the valley. Numerous paddy fields indicate the fertile conditions and there are 2 or 3 crops or rice and chilli a year.
Day 4 – PARO
Drive to Paro via the impressive Punakha Dzong. (BLD)
The important Dechen Phodrang Dzong of Punakha stands at the confluence of the Pho Chu (Father) and Mo Chu (Mother) rivers. Originally built in the 17th century, the present king had it restored. It was the winter capital of Bhutan and is still the winter headquarters of the Head Abbott. It is open to foreigners in summer when the monks are in Thimpu. When the Dzong is in use in winter only the courtyard can be visited.
The Paro Valley with its forests of blue pine is considered the most beautiful of Bhutan’s main valleys and the vast white Paro Dzong dominates the skyline. It stands on the site of an old temple that was built in the 14th century and is an imposing five-storied structure with a covered drawbridge on one side and dungeons. The small bazaar and the traditional shingle rooved houses of the local farming population give Paro a special charm.
Day 5 – PARO
Visit the ruined fortress of Drugyel and the nearby Rinpung Dzong which serves as the administrative centre and school for monks. In the afternoon there is an option to do a 2-3 hour hike to the view point of Taktsang monastery. (BLD)
Ta Dzong National Museum
The museum is considered a temple because of the number of religious objects it contains, and as a result you must proceed in a clockwise direction (sounds mysterious? Your guide will explain everything!). It contains works of art as well as hand-crafted objects of daily life, stuffed animals, costumes, armour and even stamps enabling you to get an idea of the cultural and ecological richness of Bhutan in a very short time. Moreover, the massive exterior architecture and the beautiful interior decoration are worth a visit in themselves.
From the Museum it is a short drive to the Drukgyel Dzong fortress, a strategic sentry where the Bhutanese forces repelled the numerous Tibetan invasions from the north. The majestic Jumolhari, or ‘Mountain of the Goddess’, can be seen in the background.
Day 6 – KOLKATA
Transfer to Paro airport for the flight back to Kolkata. Tour finishes on arrival in Kolkata. (B)
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner