BHUTAN SPIRITUAL TOUR
Guide to Diverse Journeys’ and Druk Asia’s Itinerary: Thursday 26 September – Saturday 5 October, 2013.
Come to the Kingdom of Bhutan with Dr Meath Conlan and Margareta Lee (of Singapore), and a small group of travelers. Our itinerary is generally longer and has more activities listed on each day. We have initially done so to cater to our travelers who are able walkers/climbers. If you would like to linger or have a slower pace, please know that you can do so. You are welcome to discuss your itinerary with myself, Dr Meath Conlan, and prioritize the attractions which you prefer the most. The wider options are also meant to provide you with possibilities should you wish to adapt your trip (e.g. some guests, who are not inclined to the longer walks or climbs may wish to sit and sketch, read or simply rest).
We suggest that you use your itinerary as a “guide” rather than a fixed schedule. Remember the unexpected is always possible in Bhutan. Also, as Bhutan has really just opened up, do not expect service to be what you may be used to. However, to offset this, the Bhutanese are among the world’s friendliest and jolliest people.
We use Standard Hotels during the Peak Periods (March, April, May, Sept, Oct and Nov). Our tour, of course, is in September and October, 2013.
Some of the preferred hotels with which we work closely:
Paro: Tenzinling Hotel, Metta Resort & Spa or equivalent
Thimphu: Kisa Hotel, Khang Residency, Rochel Pel or equivalent Punakha: Meri Puensum, Dragon Nest or equivalent
Wangdue: Dragon Nest Hotel
Bumthang: Rinchen Ling Hotel, Peling Hotel and Yu Gar-Ling Hotel
Visiting Bhutan is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and, as a consequence our intention is that our guests enjoy every moment soaking in this amazing Kingdom.
Day 1: Paro – Thimphu Thursday, 26th September 2013
Elevation 2,320m | Drive time 1 hours
Welcome to Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Touching down at Paro International Airport, we are greeted by our guide upon exiting the arrival hall. Today, we will necessarily take it easy to acclimatise to the altitude. Drive to Thimphu, check in to the hotel and enjoy our first taste of Bhutanese cuisine.
National Memorial Chorten [1 hrs] – Meet the elderly generation in circumambulation at the National Memorial Chorten. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the
‘Mind of Buddha’. We will see fantastic depictions of Buddhist teachings in form of paintings and sculptures at this temple.
As the name denotes this National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974 in memory of the Third King.
Tashichhodzong (Thimphu Dzong) [1 hrs] – The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially constructed in 1641 and restored by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses several Ministries: His Majesty’s Secretariat, and the Central Monastic Body. (Hours: 5 – 6 pm Mon – Fri, 8 am – 6 pm Sat & Sun, to 5 pm in winter)
Folk Heritage Museum [1 hrs] – If there is still time, we may visit this replica of a traditional Bhutanese house as it would have looked 100 years ago and as many Bhutanese families still live to this day.
Please note: museum, monastery, temple and dzong opening days and times can and do vary with national holidays and events such a visit by a member of the Royal Family or auspicious ceremonies.
(Hours: weekday, 10 am – 4.30 pm, Sat 10.30 – 1 pm, Sun, 11.30 – 3.30pm)
Buddha Point [1 hrs] – Located at Kuensel Phodrang, the 169 feet bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma, Vajra Throne Buddha symbolising indestructibility will be completed soon. The view of Thimphu valley from the Buddha point is spectacular and beautiful, especially at night.
Day 2: Thimphu (Tango Day Hike) Friday, 27th September 2013
Situated at an altitude of 2400m, Thimphu is the centre of government, religion and commerce. The capital has an interesting combination of tradition and modernity. It includes some of the most advanced and remotest parts of the kingdom. It is home to the Kings and the Royal family, civil servants, expatriates, politicians, business persons and monks. Enjoy this cultural mix based on livelihood. Guests may walk through temples, dzongs, chortens, museums, handicraft stores, nunneries, parks and much more.
Tango/Cheri Monastery [4 hrs] – Trek to Tango Goemba & picnic/lunch by river The Tango Goemba site has had religious significance since the 12th century when it was the home of the Lama who brought the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism to Bhutan. Tango, a Buddhist monastic college, is named after a vision of the horse-headed deity experienced by Drukpa master Phajo Drukom Zhigpo, while Cheri is a retreat centre for meditating lamas. Both monasteries are about an hour’s hike.
Tango is the highest center of Buddhist learning in the country; almost every Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) completed the 9-year program there. After completing that program, monks traditionally spend 3 years, 3 months and 3 days in mediation at the nearby Cheri Goemba retreat, built in 1619 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder or first unifier of Bhutan. It is currently the home of an 19 year old boy believed to be the seventh reincarnation of the fourth desi, or ruler, of Bhutan.
After our hike, we might want to enjoy a leisurely packed lunch by the river.
Changangkha Monastery [3 hrs] – Built in 12th century, Changangkha Lhakhang is oldest temple in Thimphu. It is hovering over a ridge above Thimphu, near Motithang. Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo who came to
Bhutan from Ralung in Tibet chose this site to build this lhakhang. The Lhakhang houses Chenrizig: an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation of Avolokitesawara as the central statue.
Weaving Centre [1 hrs] – Learn about Bhutan’s living national art of weaving.
Institute of Zorig Chusum [1 hrs] – Commonly known as the Painting School, or the School of the Thirteen Arts, the Institute offers a glimpse of novices learning 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts.
(Hours: Mon – Fri, 09.00 – 15.30; Sat, 09.00 – 12.00)
Takin Enclosure [1 hrs] – On the way to the viewpoint over Thimphu is the home of Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin, a strange looking beast some say looks like a bee-stung moose.
Sangaygang (BBS Tower) [2 hrs] – Drive about 15 minutes from the main city to a hillock where the Bhutan Broad Casting Tower is stationed. From there we relish the beautiful scene of the whole of Thimphu City. On the way up or down from this hillock, we see Takin, the national animal of Bhutan.
It is also possible to enjoy an early morning walk up to this view point.
Visit the Archery Ground [1 hrs] – The national sport of Bhutan. Archery in Bhutan is culturally distinctive. People from different social strata find archery one of the most enjoyable sports, being both fun and physical exercise. Archery in Bhutan is a way of socialization, communication, and development of relations between people. Emotions run high during competitions. Support for archers and ridicule or distraction of opponents can become as energised as in other countries’ sporting events.
Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha Saturday, 28th September 2013
Elevation 1,300m | Drive time 3 hours
We will set off early from Thimphu after breakfast, perhaps with a visit to the weekend market first. Then proceed to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan, about 2 1/2 hours drive from Thimphu across Dochu-la pass. Once we cross the pass, we wind down into a warm fertile valley and meander along a gently flowing aquamarine river that leads to the Punakha Dzong, the second dzong to be built in Bhutan.
Dochula Pass [2 hrs] – at 3,050m, this beautiful pass with its 108 Bhutanese stupas was built by Her Majesty The Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate victory over Indian militants and to liberate the souls of the lives lost.
Chhimi Lhakhang [2 hrs] – The divine madman also known, as Drukpa Kinley is a famous teacher with whom the phallic symbol is associated. The Divine Madman sits there though a statue this time; his deeds painted on the walls.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge [1 hrs] – The 160 metres Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge is known for the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan; giving you spectacular views of Punakha dzong and the Pho Chhu Valley.
Dochu La Nature Hike [1 hrs] – Hike through the deep forest of Rhododendrons, Magnolia and Juniper for more than 2 hours to the Botanical Garden at the bottom. Guests can hike here, observing the beautiful flora that Dochu-la has to offer.
Punakha Dzong [2 hrs] – Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century. In 1907, the country enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At the dzong enrich your trip with the opportunity to see the highest standards in woodwork. Do not miss the massive Kuenray, the Coronation Hall of all Bhutanese kings, the Dzongchung at the entrance to the dzong and the cantilever bridge over the Mochu that has been recently renovated.
Khamsum Yuley Temple [3 hrs] – There is no temple in Bhutan built as elaborately as this. This fascinating temple was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King to bring universal peace in this world. Beautiful art works are painted on the inner walls. There are also paintings of Buddhist teachers and tutelary deities of the country; the perfect arena for the study of symbolic meanings of frescoes and sculptures.
1 hour to ascend and 1 hour to descend.
Day 4: Punakha to Trongsa Sunday, 29th September 2013
Drive time 8 hours
Pelela Pass (alt. 3300m) is an important dividing range that separates Western from Central and Eastern Bhutan. Crossing this important Pass, one may enjoy pastoral feelings while driving deeper into the valley with meadows where sheep and yaks graze. The bamboos that grow plentifully on these hillsides are trimmed by yaks; they love dwarfed bamboos. Bird watchers look out for the specialty called the Wren Babbler taking refuge underneath those bamboos. In the months of April-June, the hillsides are painted with the rhododendron blooms. Trongsa district, is the sacred and the temporal heart of the country.
Trongsa Museum (Taa Dzong) [2 hrs] – sits high above the valley at a strategic vantage point over Trongsa Dzong. The “Tower of Trongsa” tells the stories of the dzong and the valley that it has watched over for centuries. His Majesty the King inaugurated the Taa Dzong as a museum dedicated to the Wangchuk dynasty. Thus marking yet another significant event as the nation celebrates 100 years of the monarchy. The museum represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. There are 224 items on display, include a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self-spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries old treasures such as dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings, scrolls and textiles.
Chendebji Chorten [1 hrs] – Two kilometres beyond Chendebji village is Chendebji Chorten, at a lovely spot by a river confluence. The large white chorten is patterned after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu and was built in the 19th century by Lama Shida, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was killed.
Trongsa Dzong [1 hrs] – Foundations here were laid in the 16th century by Pema Lingpa and flourished during the 17th century under Shabdrung Ngwang Namgyal. The impressive fortress is a massive structure; its wall looming high above the winding Mangde Chu Valley, commanding the east-west road.
Day 5: Bumthang Monday, 30th September 2013
Bumthang is one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the heartland of Buddhism in Bhutan. It is an area with a wide variety of fauna and flora. The Guru Rinpoche and his lineage of Tertons (treasure finders) making Bumthang his home have led to more than 40 temples being built in this peaceful valley.
Kurjey Lhakhang [1 hrs] – one of the most sacred monasteries in Bhutan. Built by the Guru Rinpoche in 1652, it houses a rock with an imprint of his body. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche manifested as a Garuda to defeat the demon Shelging Karpo who had taken the form of a white lion.
Jambay Lhakhang [1 hrs] – This 7th century monastery was one of 108 monasteries built in 659 by Tibetan King Sontsen Gampo to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region and who was obstructing the spread of Buddhism. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century. However the inner shrine with the Future Buddha is believed to have been there some 1400 years ago.
Jambay Festival (Jambay Lhakhang Drup in the late autumn) is famous for the Tercham. English-speaking Bhutanese refer to this dance as the Naked Dance.
Tamshing Goemba [2 hrs] – Built by 1501 by Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa then hike up to Thangbi Valley and cross a suspension bridge to visit Thangbi Lhakhang built in the 14th century via unpaved road.
Jakar Dzong [1 hrs] – Pitched on a high ground overlooking the town junction, the Dzong was first constructed in 1549 by the great-grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. It was upgraded in 1646, after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative center for Bumthang valley, and also houses the regional monastic convocation.
Day 6: Bumthang, visit Ura Valley Tuesday, 1st October 2013
One of Bhutan’s most tranquil and beautiful valleys, in Bumthang. While in Ura visit the Ura Monastery; enjoy the meadows and the beautiful landscapes; the buck-wheat and barley fields.
Dechen Chholing Goemba [2 hrs] – Chakhar (Iron Castle) Lhakhang; is the site of the palace of the Indian King, Sindhu Raja, who invited Guru Rinpoche to Bumthang. The Original palace was made of Iron and hence the name Chakhar. The saint Dorji Lingpa built the Current building in 14th century. Its correct name is Dechen Phodrang.
Ura Valley [6 hrs] – Enjoy an excursion to Ura valley which will be around four hours driving back and forth. The drive is exciting as it passes through some sheep farms. Serthang-la pass at 3600m above sea level offers a great view of Gangkar Puensum (the highest unclimbed mountain in the Himalayas).
Farmers at Ura village are enterprising; they have a community library initiated by Global READ (an NGO from the US). The highlight of Ura village is the festival that takes place in spring.
Me-Bar Tsho (Burning Lake) [1 hrs] – One of the most sacred lake-sites in Bhutan. Long ago, Terton Pema Lingpa (Buddhist saint and treasure discoverer) dove into the lake while holding a burning butter lamp on one hand. Several hours later when he came out of the lake, he was holding some relics one one hand, while the butter lamp in his other hand was still burning! Thus the lake was called Me-Bar Tsho (Me-bar=Burning Tsho=Lake)
Day 7: Bumthang to Gangtey Wednesday, 2nd October 2013
Drive time 7 hours
The valley of Phobjikha is well-known as the winter home of the Black Necked Crane (Grus Nigricollis). Bhutan is home to around six hundred Black Necked Cranes, with Phobjikha being one of the popular places to which birds migrate in the winter months from the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately for our September tour, the elegant and shy birds can be observed from early November to end of March.
Black-Necked Crane Information Centre [1 hrs] - Here there are informative displays about the cranes and the valley environment. Guests can use the centre’s powerful telescopes; checking what is seen against the Centre’s pamphlet ‘Field Guide to Crane Behaviour’. If the weather is inclement Guests can browse the library and handicraft shop.
This is also the centre of the valley’s fledgling ecotourism initiative. Guests can enjoy mountain-bike hire (cost: Nu 700 per day), an overnight stay in a local farmhouse, or informative lectures on the local ecosystem.
Nature Hike along the valley of Phobjikha [2 hrs] – A short trek of about 90-120 minutes known as the ‘Gangte Nature Trail’ – starts from the Mani stone wall to the north of the Gangteng Gonpa and ends in Khewa Lhakhang.
Gangtey Goempa [1 hrs] – Situated south of the road and east of Wangdue Phodrang, is Gangtey Gompa, an old monastery dating back to the 17th century. The largest Nyingma monastery in western Bhutan, it was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinlay.
Day 8: Gangtey to Paro Thursday, 3rd October 2013
Elevation 2,280m | Drive time 5 hours
The beautiful valley of Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s old monasteries and temples. The country’s only Airport is in Paro. The valley is also home to mount Chomolhari (alt. 7,300 meters) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacial waters forms the Pachu, flowing through the valley.
Paro Dzong (aka Ringpung Dzong) [2 hrs] – Explore the Rinpung Dzong, which the locals call the ‘fortress of a heap of jewels’. Built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the dzong stands on a hill above Paro Township. It is linked by the traditional cantilever bridge (called the Nemi Zam) over the scenic Pa Chu River. Guests can walk up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. Once inside the Dzong, you will be welcomed by the monks, architecture and the ancient frescoes.
Kyichu Lhakhang [1 hrs] – Also known as Kyerchu Temple or Lho Kyerchu, is the oldest temple in Bhutan. Just like Jambhay Lhakhang in Bumthang, it is one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to subdue an ogress that was obstructing the spread of Buddhism. According to legend, all 108 temples were built in a single night.
Go back in time to visit the 7th century Kyichhu temple; a reservoir of peace; the serenity is quite palpable here.
Next to the temple is a museum dedicated to the late famous Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Paro Valley [0 hrs] – The beautiful valley is home to many of Bhutan’s old monasteries and temples. The country’s only Airport is in Paro. The valley is also home to mount Chomolhari (alt. 7,300 meters) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu River, flowing through the valley. The following are some of the prominent places to visit in Paro.
Day 9: Paro Friday, 4th October 2013
We will be making the hike up to one of the key highlights in Bhutan today – Tiger’s Nest, also know as the Taktsang Monastery
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) [6 hrs] – perched on the cliffs, has struck many a visitor with awe. The journey there fills one with spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side it is the dramatic, artistically built monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. During this climb guests ascend more than two thousand feet from the valley floor.
A prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex located on the cliff side of Paro Valley. According to legends, it is believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a Tigress (his consort Yeshey Tshogyal) and meditated in one of the caves. Guru Rinpoche performed meditation and emerged in eight manifestations thus rendering the place holy, and ever since, called “Tiger’s Nest”.
Drukgyal Dzong [1 hrs] – Ruins of this fortress tell a tale of how medieval warriors defended Bhutan from northern invaders. Built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, father and unifier of medieval Bhutan, to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders.
Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, it has been left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. Towering outer walls and central keep still remain an imposing sight. If you want to know how this ruin looked like in those glorious days, visit the archives of National Geographic Magazine of 1914 issue.
Day 10: Depart Paro Saturday, 5th October 2013
Druk Air Tickets
Druk Air is the only airline that flies in and out of Bhutan. Druk Air fares are subject to change. Also note that Druk Air tickets are refundable, if cancellation is made prior to 45 days of your initial travel date. You may also re-schedule up to one month from date of departure. On receipt of payment for the full fare, guests will be sent a copy of their E-ticket via email.
Should you flight be delayed and you have to miss your connecting flights, Druk Air would arrange for your lodging in Singapore. Druk Air would also arrange for you to take the next flight in the same airline. We advise that all travelers take the so-called “full-fledged” airline for connecting flights as this ensures Druk Air being able to re-schedule your flight. Druk Air may not be able to re-schedule your flight for budget airlines.
Guide & Driver
Our Druk Asia guide will be waiting for our group outside the arrival hall. Both our guide and driver will be with us throughout the trip. Guests are sent their contact number together with Visa.
Your travel package to Bhutan will include:
1) Royal Druk Air Flights: Singapore – Paro – Singapore 2) Visas for Bhutan
3) A qualified & licensed English-speaking guide
4) An experienced driver
5) Suitable transport for your group with experienced driver
6) All meals inclusive at selected restaurants
7) Accommodation at 3-star rated hotels
Taxes, surcharges, and required government contribution
9) Mineral water for the duration of the stay
* Hotels in Bhutan are typically subject to availability at point of reservation
The package excludes:
1) Your flights to and from Singapore. 2) Hotel Stays in Singapore as you prepare to take your Druk Air flight to Bhutan, or if you wish to remain in Singapore after your tour
3) Personal Travel Insurance
4) Lunch & Dinner outside selected restaurants
5) Tips for guide and driver
6) Alcoholic drinks
7) Expenditure of personal nature, e.g. personal shopping and hot stone bath
Travel to Bhutan
In association with Diverse Journeys, Druk Asia handles the whole booking process on behalf of our guests, including Druk Air flights and visa applications (included in the package) but it is advisable to book well in advance to secure accommodation and seats on Bhutan’s national airline Royal Bhutan Airlines – Drukair.
May be directed to Dr Meath Conlan of Diverse Journeys: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost of Tour:
US$4,800 / person / Twin Share ( * cost based on a minimum group of six confirmed guests on this tour)
Deadline for Tour:
The deadline for confirming your intention to come is 25 August, 2013. Once you indicate your intention, Dr Conlan will send further information and deposit details for your convenience.