Western region of the country is more developed with more choices in any terms. Thimphu has lot more to show to the visitors. Thimphu, the capital city gives an impression of traditional architecture integrated with modern development of the Kingdom.
Paro has the only International Airport in the country, being one of the smallest international airports in the world. Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang, perched high on a rocky cliff above the Paro valley is never to be missed in Bhutan.
Between two rivers, Pho-chu and Mo-chu Rivers lay majestically the massive Punakha Dzong.
Thimphu – National Memorial Stupa, Buddha Doderma, Tashichoedzong, Takin Preserve, Folk Heritage Museum and Semtokha Dzong
Paro – Rinpung Dzong, National Museum, Kichu Lhakhang and Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest
Day 1 Paro – Thimphu
Day 2 Thimphu – Punakha
Day 3 Punakha – Paro
Day 4 Paro
Day 5 Departure
Day 1 Arrival in Paro – Thimphu
Every flight to Bhutan has panoramic view of the high mountains of the world. As airstrip is in the valley, landing at Paro Airport is breathtaking. Upon arrival in Bhutan, you will meet our representatives and transfer to Thimphu, the capital city. After lunch in Thimphu in Thimphu, you may visit National Memorial Stupa, Buddha Doderma, Takin Preserve, Folk Heritage Musum and Tashichoedzong. You may self guided exploration in the city in the evening.
Overnight in Thimphu
Thimphu: (El. 2250m) is Bhutan’s capital city and center of government, religion and commercial activities. About one and half hour drive east from Paro is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development with ancient traditions. Home to civil servants, expatriates and monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style. It was a wooded farming valley until 1960s, when it became Bhutan’s official capital. The massive Tashichoe Dzong, about 700 yrs old, was carefully revamped in the 1960s by the Late Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to house the Royal and main government offices. Even today, it still has a few streets and no traffic light with estimated population of 100,000 people. Thimphu has many places and sights to visit, in addition to several days excursion possibilities. It has relatively more choice in terms of the accommodation.
National Memorial Chorten was built by Royal Queen Mother, Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck in 1974 in memory of her son, His Majesty Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as ‘Father of Modern Bhutan’. The stupa now stands as a symbol of peace, where people of all age come to pray and circumambulate for merit.
Buddha Doderma is one of the largest sitting statues of Buddha Shakyamuni measuring 169ft (51.5m) on hilltop overlooking the Thimphu valley. The building of the statue was started in 2006 and finished in September 2015, commemorating the birth anniversary of Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Ground floor houses temple with over one hundred thousand smaller statues of Buddha itself, made of bronze and gilded in gold.
Takin Reserve: Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor) has been chosen as the national animal of Bhutan based both on its uniqueness and association with country’s history and mythology. It is said that Divine Madman, a popular Tibetan saint has said to have created the beast with his magical power at a large congregation of devotees. It resembles a calf from back, a goat from the front and continues to befuddle Taxonomists, who cannot quite relate to other animals. However, the animal looks like a Canadian Moose.
Folk Heritage Museum: A century old building is converted as museum to show the folks that how our forefathers used to live in the mid 19th century with all household belongings. The three-storied house is built with ramped mud wall and shingled roof.
Tashichoe Dzong: The fortress built in the 17th century serves as the office of the King, Ministers and various government organizations. It also is the headquarters for Central Monastic Body of Bhutan. Bhutan’s spiritual leader, Je-khenpo or Chief Abbot and the monks of both Thimphu and Punakha reside here during summer. It is also the venue for Thimphu festival in the fall season.
Day 2 Thimphu – Punakha
Drive east to Punakha takes about 2½ hrs. En-route, we stop for the panoramic view of the Himalayan range from Dochula Pass (El. 3,100 m). Just before arriving Punakha, we will take a short walk to Chimi Lhakhang (No-dog temple) through the rice field and hamlet for an hour. There will be time in the evening to take self guided walk from your hotel to nearby places.
Overnight in Punakha
Road from Thimphu to Punakha: The drive from Thimphu to Punakha or Wangdue Phodrang (75kms) takes about 2½ hrs. The road climbs from Thimphu to Dochula Pass (3100 m), and then descends through ever changing forest into the semi-tropical valley of Punakha and Wangdue at about an elevation of 1250m. Dochula Pass en-route, provides spectacular view of snow-capped mountains of Eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s one of the highest mountains (Gangkar Phuensum – 7570m), on a clear day. The pass is marked with 108 stupas which were built in 2004 commemorating victory of Bhutanese Army over Indian group of militants; ULFAs, Bodos and KLOs.
Chimi Lhakhang: A fertility temple dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as ‘the Divine Madman’ and considered a folk hero in Bhutan for his unconventional ways. Lama Drukpa Kuenley originally built a black Stupa at the site; the temple was later built in the 15th century by his cousin, Ngawang Chogyal. The temple, flanked by nearly 100 tall prayer flags, sits atop a picturesque hill. It has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples. This easy walk takes about less than 1 hr.
Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang: are two separate districts, but they are located in one valley (20kms- 45mins drive apart). The accommodations may be in either one of these two towns but sightseeing generally includes both places. Punakha and Wangdue are located at lower elevation (El. 1250m) and they have pleasant winters. Cactuses, oranges, banana and sub-tropical plants are grown here. Farmers are able to grow two crops in a year.
Punakha was once the winter capital of Bhutan, the tradition that is still being carried out by the Central Monastic body and Jekhenpo (chief abbot), residing here in Punakha Dzongduring the winter and return to Thimphu in summer. Wangdue Phodrang is further down the valley and is comprised of small town along the Punatsangchu River and large Wangdue Phodrang Dzongon the ridge.
Punakha Dzong: or Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, “ palace of great happiness” is located on the confluence of two rivers ( Pho-chu and Mo-chu). It was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in accordance to the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master of the 8th century. The Dzongstill follows the ancient traditions; it serves as winter residence for chief abbot (Je-khenpo) and the monks of Central Monastic Body and Thimphu as the summer residence. The Building was damaged and rebuilt several times, due to flooding, fire and earthquake. The most impressive Dzongof Bhutan is believed to be exact architecture of Zangtopelri (the Guru’s Paradise). It is an exemplary masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. Annual 3 day festival is held here with Thongdrol, unfurling of huge painting on the last day in early spring.
Day 3 – Punakha to Paro
Drive early from Punakha same way back to Paro via Dochu-La Pass and visit Rinpung Dzong(fortress), ruins of Drugyal Dzongand Kyichu lhakhang, the oldest temple, and stroll through the town in the evening.
Overnight in Paro
Paro Dzong: Its official name, Rinchenpung Dzong(fortress on a heap of jewels) was built and consecrated in 1645 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on the site where five storied castle was built in 16th century. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a bastion against invasion from the north. It is regarded as one of finest Bhutanese architecture – with intricate wood work, large beams slotted into each other and held together without nails. It houses the giant 30m x 45m Thangka (Thongdrol), commissioned in mid 18th century, display on the last day of Paro Tshechu (Festival). Nowadays, it functions as the administrative and judicial headquarters of Paro district, residence for the 200 monks of Paro Rabdey (district monastic body).
National Museum: White conch shaped building above the Paro or Rinpung Dzong(fortress) on hilltop used to be Ta Dzongor watch tower, built in the 17th century by Chogyel Minjur Tempa, governor of Paro. Later in 1968, under the command of the Third hereditary Monarch of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the Watch Tower as National Museum. Unfortunately, the building was damaged in 2011 by earthquake and is still under renovation. Nevertheless, the artifacts are kept outside the main building.
Drugyal Dzong: the name stands for fortress of victory. In 1643, Bhutanese army won war against Tibetans and later in 1646, the Dzongwas built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory. Unfortunately, in 1951 the Dzongwas completely burnt down and only the ruins are left, looking like English castle. The Dzong is under renovation following the command of the His Majesty the King of Bhutan.
Day 4 – Paro
Start early! As we will have now covered more grounds on foot and well acclimated. Hike to Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest takes 5hrs (both ways) in an average, through pine and oak forest. The hike uphill is really worth. After the hike, visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the oldest Buddhist temple, in the valley on the way back.
Overnight in Paro
Taktsang Monastery: Taktsang (Tiger’s lair) – or Taktsang Pelphug is one of the most venerated and famous monasteries of Bhutan. It is located on the face of a sheer cliff above the Paro valley. It is an impressive sight but accessible only by trek or pony. The walk to the Tea-house is a steep one hour uphill (about 350m ascent). From the Tea-house (El. 2795m), one can get a close-up view of Taktsang and most actually return from here. After tea, snacks and rest, we will trek further uphill to a high observation point (El. 3140m). Continue down the flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the great Buddhist tantric master, who had spread Buddhism across the entire Himalayas is said to have flown here in 8th century on the back of a Tigress. During his visit he meditated in the cave here for three months. In 1692, Gyesey Tenzin Rabgye built a two storied temple here, which over a period of time was expanded and refurbished. In April 1998, tragically, two of the three temples were completely burnt down by fire. It has now been restored to its original splendor.
Kyichu Lhakhang: is one of the most important Buddhist temples similar to Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang, before the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan. Tibetan King, Songtsen Gempo built the temple in 7th century, in order to pin down an ogress, obstructing him in flourishing Buddhism in the Himalayas.
Day 5 – Departure
After breakfast, drive to the airport for your flight.