Date: 17 – 21 Mar 2019
Paro Tsechu is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan. Featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes, Tsechus (festivals) are one of the best ways to experience the ancient living culture of Bhutan. A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. A highlight of the Paro Tsechu is the unfurling of the silk Thangka – so large it covers the face of an entire building and is considered one of the most sacred blessings in the whole of Bhutan. The ‘Thangka, known in Bhutan as a ‘thongdroel’ is a religious picture scroll, and is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival enabling the people to obtain its blessing. This holy scroll “confers liberation by the mere sight of it” (the meaning of the word ‘thongdroel’ in Bhutanese). This tour also visits sacred sites in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa and Bumthang.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth.
After lunch enjoy afternoon sightseeing around Paro, including a visit to the Ta Dzong Museum housing many religious relics, works of art and handicrafts offering a great orientation into Bhutan’s historical, cultural, and religious past. Next, drive to, 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Kyichu is built in a manner similar to the Jokhang in Lhasa. Inside there is a great golden image of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Before dinner at the hotel there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 02: PARO
After breakfast hike to Taktsang Monastery. The walk of approximately 1.5 to 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro valley floor (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to cafeteria). The view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the valley floor is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. Nearby there is a teahouse where you can stop for refreshments before returning to Paro for lunch.
In the afternoon, attend the Paro festival. You will see locals dressed in their finest clothes who have walked from miles around to attend the festivities. They come to watch masked dances, to pray, and to feast. While the underlying purpose of the festival is spiritual, dances are more often like plays, telling stories where good triumphs over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socialising as well. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 03: PARO – THIMPHU
Wake up very early at 2.30am and drive to Paro Dzong to witness the thongdroel ceremony where a large religious painting of Guru Rinpoche made of cloth is unfurled on the side of the Dzong. This event signifies the final day of the annual festival. After some time spent resting back at the hotel, Drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. You can stop on the way to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Bhutan’s iron bridge builder. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 04: THIMPHU
Once a rustic village sitting in a broad, fertile river valley, Thimphu is today the nation’s bustling capital. Enjoy a full day of sightseeing, including a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, completed by the Royal Queen Mother as a memorial stupa for the Third King who passed away in 1972. Continue on to 12th century Changangkha Temple, Zilukha Nunnery and The National Library housing the collection of Bhutanese scriptures dating back to the 8th century. If there is time, you may visit the nursing pen for the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, and Tashichhodzong, ‘the fortress of the glorious religion’ housing some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body. If your visit to Thimphu coincides with the weekend, you can walk through the Thimphu Market (Open only from Friday until mid Sunday). Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 05: THIMPHU – TRONGSA
Drive from Thimphu to Trongsa (7-8 hrs) over the Dochu-La pass (3,100m) and Pele La pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range. Enroute visit beautiful Chendebji Chorten. The Chorten was erected in the 18th century. The imposing Trongsa Dzong can be viewed across a deep canyon to signal your approach to the town around a curving road. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. Overnight at your hotel in Trongsa.
DAY 06: TRONGSA – BUMTHANG
Morning visit to Trongsa Dzong, a masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. Trongsa is the largest Dzong in Bhutan and the location of where the institution of monarchy in Bhutan began. The view from the Dzong is spectacular and one can see across the impressive landscape for many miles. Also visit the Ta Dzong museum housing an incredible collection of historical artefacts of the Royal Family and a range of traditional armour.
Afterwards proceed towards Bumthang (2.5 hrs), the spiritual heartland of the country. The road winds steeply up to Yo Yutung La Pass (3,400m) before descending down through dense coniferous forest to Chummey valley.
The Bumthang Valley is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest Palaces, Buddhist temples and monasteries. The valley’s barley fields, apple groves and meadows lay below huge hills which climb up towards the Himalayan mountain wall separating Bhutan from Tibet. Visit the 16th century Tamshing Lhakhang containing ancient Buddhist wall paintings, 7th Century Jambay Lhakhang and Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom where Bhutan’s patron saint Guru Rimpoche meditated. Overnight at your lodge in Jakar, Bumthang.
DAY 07: BUMTHANG
Enjoy a day exploring some of the many sites around Bumthang. The 16th century Tang Ugyen Chholing Palace stands features a museum containing an excellent overview of traditional rural life in Bhutan. Continue on to visit the pool of Mebartso (The Lake of Fire). It is here that Pemalingpa (founder of the Nyingmapa sect) is said to have found treasure hidden by Guru Rinpoche. Overnight at your lodge in Jakar, Bumthang.
DAY 08: BUMTHANG – PUNAKHA
Depart for Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan stopping along the way at Trongsa for lunch. On arrival, enjoy a stroll through the Punkha township. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha.
DAY 09: PUNAKHA
Visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers) and is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned.
Afterwards drive a short distance for a short walk to Chimi Lhakhang, temple of the Drukpa Kuenly who is also known as the Divine Madman. He inherited the Divine Madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time. He taught the people that religion is an inner feeling and it’s not necessary that one should be an ordained monk. He is also considered a symbol of fertility and most childless couples go to his temple for blessing. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 10: PUNAKHA – PARO
In the morning drive to Yabesa village and hike to through ricefields and up to Khamsum Yueley Namgyal Chorten, built by her majesty the queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. Perched high on a hill on the bank of the river, the Chorten houses paintings belonging to Nyingmapa Traditions. Afterwards drive back to Thimphu where you will have an opportunity to visit handicraft and souvenir stores. Afterwards proceed to Paro. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 11: DEPART PARO
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.