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Colors of the Drukyul


8 days 7 nights

Code BCT41

Category Bhutan Classic Tours

  • Difficulty Level 3
  • Rating Popular
  • Highest Altitude 10,299 ft at Dhochu La
  • Trip Starts From Paro
  • Trip Ends At Paro
  • Type Tours
  • Destination Thimphu Phobjikha Punakha Paro
Dates & Prices

Overview

A western Bhutan cultural circuit with hiking opportunities on the pristine nature trails leading to the ridge top monasteries, valleys, and quaint villages! Experience an array of colors in nature, culture, and traditions as you travel through Druk Yul which means the Land of Thunder Dragon-a reference to the country's history with roots to Buddhism indeed.

In this trip, we will visit the major towns of Western Bhutan-Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, and Phobjikha in one week. The tour features prominent fortresses, known as Dzongs, ridge top monasteries and nunneries, typical farm families, weaving centers, traditional arts, and craft schools and the markets.

We will have the opportunity to meet the monks, nuns and the locals; experience the local culture and traditions and learn about Buddhism. Hiking trips are optional.

 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 01~Arrive in Paro

Enjoy the breathtaking views of the Himalayan, including the sacred Mount Chomolhari and Jichu Drake of Bhutan as the plane navigates through Bhutanese sky!

On arrival at Paro, Bhutan, airport, meet your guide and driver after clearing immigration and customs. After introductions, your guide and driver will transfer you to a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, visit the National Museum of Paro which gives a good overview of Bhutan's history, culture, and religion. The museum exhibits a good collection of Bhutanese textiles, manuscripts, books, murals, armors, crafts, traditional utensils, philatelic collections, and more. Then we can either descend or visit the impressive Rinpung Dzong Fortress that houses the office of the district administration and religious body.

Now, we take scenic one-hour drive to Thimphu, the capital, with a stop for a short walk at the Tamchog Lhakhang-built by the famous Tibetan iron-bridge builder Thangthong Gyalpo of the 13th century who was a saint, an architect, physician, and a teacher! Until today, his descendants own and maintain the temple. 

In Thimphu, we’ll have time to settle in before a walking tour of the tiny city. Thimphu is probably the only capital in the world without any traffic lights! We will take a stroll and visit the Memorial Chorten(shrine) of the 3rd King of Bhutan Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, and whatever else time and our interest allow.

Overnight: Khang Residency or similar
Meals : Lunch, Dinner
Day 02~Thimphu Sightseeing and hiking

After breakfast, with our guide and driver, the adventures begin as we get a feel for the city. On the weekend, it's worth visiting the weekend market. Archery is the Bhutanese the national sport, and we’ll hope for matches while we’re there. We’ll visit a small handmade paper factory across the river to see the traditional Bhutanese paper making method that uses “Daphne” or mulberry plants.

We return to the town and visit the National Institute Zorig Chusum that offers a six years course on Bhutan's traditional arts and crafts that include painting, wood carving, embroidery, and statue making. Then we head to the Folk Heritage Museum, a three-story mud and timber building that replicates a century-old traditional farmhouse that gives us a glimpse of not only the lives of ancient Bhutanese people, but also many rural people even today.

The afternoon will bring us to a grand panoramic view of the valley, followed by a short 10-minute hike through the forest to visit the Takin Sanctuary. Takin – a kind of sheep by way of antelope, are the National animals of Bhutan and believed to exists only in Bhutan Himalaya. On the way back to our hotel, we’ll stop at the Zilukha Nunnery in Drubthob Goemba, home to 40-60 Buddhist nuns.

Next stop – the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, dispensary of traditional Bhutanese herbal and other medicines; then finally the Trasichoe Dzong that houses the Royal Throne, National Assembly, and the seat of Chief Abbot of the central monastic body.

An option: Hiking enthusiasts keen to experience a monastic lifestyle away from the crowds of town can take a two-hour long hike (roundtrip) to Tango Goemba monastery. You’ll miss some sights listed above, and non-hikers can stay behind with the driver. Tango Goebma Monastery is Bhutan's highest learning center for Buddhist studies. All Je Khenpo, the religious head of Bhutan, must complete a nine-year program here and a three-year, three-month, three-day in mediation at the nearby Cheri Goemba Monastery! With luck, the monks will be in recess, and we can join them for tea. Cheri Goemba Monastery sits atop an adjacent hill, and if you wish, you can attempt this hike as well. Allow another two hours for this trip.

Are you interested in Buddhist astrology? On our way back, we can stop at Pangri Zampa Temple-an astrology school for the state clergy. More than a hundred monks study astrology in this center and welcome anyone wishing to have astrology consultation. Please, let us know a minimum of one week in advance. Donations are expected. 

Overnight: Khang Residency or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 03~Drive from Thimphu to Phobjhika Valley

(85 miles, 6 hours).

After an early breakfast, we leave for Phobjhikha Valley.

As we leave Thimphu behind, the road gradually winds up through villages and pine forests to Dochula Pass (3100m/10168 ft.), marked by 108 Buddhist shrines, flickering with sacred prayers flags offered by the Buddhist devotees. On a clear day, the pass provides a superb panorama of the snow-capped mountains and the valleys.

From the pass, the road drops slowly through the changing vegetation to the sub-tropical lowlands of the Punakha and Wangdue Valleys. We will stop in a roadside restaurant for lunch and continue our travel to Phobjikha. We cross Lawala Pass and then the road winds down to the glacial valley of Phobjikha on the slopes of Black Mountains. Phobjikha is also referred to as Gangtey, after the Gangtey monastery here. If time allows, we will visit the monastery, or we will return here the following day.

Overnight: Dewachen Hotel or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 04~Explore Phobjikha Valley

Phobjikha is a glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. It is one of the most important wildlife preserves of Bhutan as the large flock of black-necked cranes migrate here from Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet during the winter time. Usually, the first flock arrives in late October or early November and locals believe, they bring the fortune for the valley. Today, we will visit the Crane Conservation Center and learn about these honore species and center's conservation awareness programs.

In addition to the cranes there are also muntjacs (barking deer),wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes in the surrounding hills.

Today, we first visit the prominent Gangtey Gompa of early 17th century. This is the only Nyingmapa monastery in the region.From here, we jump on the Gangtey Nature Trail for about 2-hours easy hike through the pine forest and the valley. The hike ends over the meandering chhu Nap ( Black river) near Khewang village where we meet our transport and transfer back to the hotel.

If you wish for a longer hiking option, here are quiet a few options. Discuss with your guide and plan the day as you wish.

Overnight: Dewachen Hotel or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 05~Punakha-winter capital of Bhutan

(47 miles, 3 hours).

After breakfast, we retrace our drive back to Punakha. Near the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, which is under restoration now after it was destroyed by fire in 2012, we take a short hike to Rinchengang Village. It's a quaint small village with a unique character: Multiple families own and share the residence! 

After lunch at our resort, we start with a pleasant hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – that takes about 45-60 minutes up, but only 30 minutes down. The temple sits atop a beautiful hillock overlooking the valley. Built by the Queen Mother, and is an example of Bhutan's most excellent traditional architecture.

Optional: Mo Chu River also offer rafting experience! If you are interested, you can experience 30 minutes raft down the white waters of Mo Chu River. The put in point is just below the Samdingkha Bridge, and it's taken out at the confluence of Mo Chu and Pho Chu near the Punakha Dzong. It's a scenic ride with II to III+ rapids. Costs $150 for a private boat, guide, safety jacket and helmet (up to 6 people)

Back down, we ride to the stunning Punakha Dzong, probably the most impressive of all the Dzong (fortress) architectures of Bhutan. It has served as the winter capital of Bhutan, and even today, it's the winter residence of the Chief Abbot.

Overnight: Drubchu Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 06~Retrace drive to Paro

(142km/89 miles, 5 hrs.)

After breakfast, visit the Chime Lhakhang Temple-a less than twenty-five minutes hike from the main road, through paddy fields and villages. The houses in this village are decorated with phallic arts! You might even see the door handles or knobs and signs carved out in the phallus! Ask your guide why.  Associated with the Lama Drukpa Kuenley-the temple is called a fertility temple and so, childless Bhutanese women pay the visit to the temple for fertility blessing!

Late morning, we bid farewell to Punakha and retrace the drive across the Dhochula pass. We may stop in Lamperi Botanical Garden that preserves 46 species of rhododendron among other rare species of vegetation. We will have another photo stop opportunity at Dhochula pass.

Just before Thimphu, stop at Simtokha Dzong - the first Dzong architecture of Bhutan. The dzong preserves precious statues and paintings of various Buddhas, deities and religious figures including The Eight Manifestations of Guru Rimpoche, Jampelyang the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Shakya Gyalpo the Buddha of Compassion and many more. They are all carved and painted in exquisite detail. 

A one-hour scenic drive from here brings us back to Paro. Check into your accommodation and take rest for the day.

Overnight: Khangkhu Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 07~ Hike the Taktsang Monastery, a.k.a. Tiger's Nest

Today is an extraordinary day and may be challenging for some! And we highly recommend this hiking trip; only physical limitations should keep you away. The monastery is the famed "Tiger's Nest," perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer, 900-meter drop that overlooks the Paro Valley. Legend has it that in the 8th Century Guru Padma Sambhava, known as the second Buddha in Bhutan, alighted on the monastery’s very site from the back of a flying tigress, to meditate.

This roundtrip hike takes about 4 or 5 hours, depending on your pace. Before returning to the hotel, we drive away from Paro to visit the ruins of Drugyal Dzong, which on clear days offers views of Mount Chomolhari.

This afternoon, visit a typical Bhutanese farm family and their colorful farmhouse, made up of wood without the use of a single nail! With prior arrangement, we can share a traditional meal with the family.

Experience Traditional Hot Stone Bath (Optional): 
After such an active day, we recommend a traditional Bhutanese Hot stone bath, an ancient Bhutanese method of curing skin ailments, joint pains, hypertension, stomach disorders, arthritis, and many other diseases. Your guide needs one day advance notice to arrange the hot stone bath and it can be taken at some hotel or a private farm house. Estimated cost is $25 per person.

Overnight: Khangkhu Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 08~Depart Paro

Transfer to the airport for your flight to your next destination.

Meals : Breakfast

Trip Map

Trip Info

Trip Includes

  • Seven nights three-star hotel ( by local standard), based on double occupancy.
  • Meals: Full board (3 meals a day).
  • All transfers and sightseeing as on itinerary.
  • English-speaking local guides.
  • Bhutan visa fee and government royalty.
  • Sightseeing admission fees.
  • Service of in-tour airfare booking.

Trip Does Not Include

  • Drinks, tips and other personal expenses such as phone, laundry, etc.
  • Extra expenses or loss due to nature and unforeseen events beyond the control of our management.
  • Travel Insurance.
  • International airfares and airport taxes.
  • Hotels in the gateway cities before and after the trip.

Note on Itinerary

We do our best to adhere to the itinerary but it should be taken as a general guideline in terms of what you expect to do or see during the tour and may differ in the real ground from exact sequence or order of the sights to the overnight places depending on the local conditions. As we continuously work to improve the tour, the final tour itinerary may be different which will be sent to you about 2 months before the trip date.

Trip Activity Level.

This trip is motor vehicle-based sightseeing with some short hikes and village visits; it is suitable for all travelers in general good health. Hiking to Takstang Monastery in Paro can be strenuous, but you can ride a pony for about two-thirds of the trail, but onward the path is narrow on the cliff-side, and so we do not recommend pony ride for the last one-third part and also for the return trip down. 

The longest drive in this trip will be six hours, from Thimphu to Phobjikha Valley. The return from Punakha back to Paro also takes about 4.5 or 5 hours. We will undoubtedly have stops along the way for photography and to grab refreshment drinks. Roads in Bhutan are narrow, often in the mountainside and some portions may be under paved or damaged. The trip does not need you to be athletic, but it's advisable to keep yourself fit. If you are not leading an active life, we advise that you start some exercises like jogging, swimming, cycling or practice some aerobics in the months before the trip. It’s your responsibility to determine that your fit for the trip. If you have any health conditions, please consult your physician before you sign up for this trip.

Accommodations and facilities

The hotels are comfortable three-star properties by local standard. Most hotels are locally managed small properties with traditional decor and friendly services and ensure adequate comfort. You will have en suite bathroom with 24-hour running hot and cold water. There may be a disparity in the rooms and travelers of the same group may get different types. 

Meals

Your trip features three meals a day (total 4 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 4 breakfasts).Most meals are arranged in tourist class restaurants or at your hotels. Meals are usually set menu, served in buffet style. Most in-house restaurants don't serve a la carte, unless you have a special dietary requirement.There are not whole lot of choices but meals are hearty and plentiful.Meals include rice, bread, curried vegetables, noodles or spaghetti and chicken or pork dishes. As Bhutan is a Buddhist country, they don't slaughter animals in Bhutan and the meats are imported and so you may find meat chewy or tough. Beware: Local style meat dishes are cooked with bones and traditional dishes always features hot pepper, and the most popular dish, ema datshi, is made with large, green hot chilies in a cheese sauce.

Tour Guides

Our Tour Guides are local people with college degrees, government certifications, and experience with knowledge of the destinations and their history, culture and religion. Our guides are, just as importantly, easy-going, detailed oriented, patient, and committed to a high level of customer service. They will uncover the wonders of the destinations that you would never find on your own, and make sure your tour is without a hitch. Your guide will also deal with the bureaucracy and passport or permit control, carry all necessary documents and vouchers, and stay alert to road and weather conditions. Note: Guides will change in each country, due to local licensing requirements

Vehicle

We use clean, reliable, comfortable vehicles for all transfers and tours, often the Toyota Hiace microbus (capacity 8-9 persons) and Toyota Coaster Bus (capacity up to 20 persons); depending on group size, we might also use Japanese-made sedans, SUVs or minivans. We provide separate drivers and guides. Our drivers might speak little or no English, but they know the roads and are in a pinch, mechanically skillful.

Altitude sickness and Health Concerns

The chances of altitude sickness on this trip are very slim. There are two occasions when you are at the high altitude; Dhochula Pass (10,171 ft.) and Taktshang Monastery (10,240 ft.) but you will attain these heights gradually and also the fact that all the towns where we spend overnight are in lower elevations. 

There are no mandatory vaccinations required for traveling to Bhutan. However, you may consider vaccination against rabies and Hep A. 

You’ll be glad if you start some physical exercises in the weeks before leaving; jogging, swimming, cycling, hiking, and aerobics are all helpful. Fitness makes for a better trip and helps you accommodate the altitudes. 

International and Internal Flights

The trip starts and completes in Paro, Bhutan. Flights to Paro arrive from Bangkok, Kathmandu (Nepal) or Kolkata and New Delhi (India). Currently, there are two Bhutanese airlines-Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines serving these destinations and they are partner to none of the major international carriers. Therefore, you are not able to book through fare from the Europe and Americas. You need to book two separate tickets-first, from US to the gateway city (e.g. Bangkok) and then separately with Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines to Paro, Bhutan. You can book the internal air on the airline website or we can help you with. 

Visa and Permits

Remaining validity of your passport must be a minimum of 6 months beyond your return date. Make sure; you are not running out of blank visa pages. Bhutan visa needs one blank visa page (Not the endorsement page) and some empty spaces for entry and departure seals.

We will obtain your Bhutan visa in advance and will email you a copy of this about a few weeks before your arrival in Bhutan. You need to present the document when you check in flight for Paro. You will get the actual visa seal on your passport at Paro airport on arrival. Visa fee is pre-paid, and photos are no longer required.

If your travel starts from India, you should obtain an Indian visa beforehand as India does not grant visa on arrival.

Booking and payment schedule

As there are limited flights and accommodations in Bhutan, you need to plan several months or even a year before. We request an initial deposit of US$300 along with a completed trip application form and a passport scan.

The second payment will be for the airfare. Once we book the reservation, we will advise you the cost and the deadline.

The balance and the final payment is due ninety days before the travel date. Reservation booked within 90 days before departure requires a full amount at the time of booking. Balance payment credit card attracts a 3.5% additional fee.

Cancellation and refund

If you need to withdraw from the trip, please notify us in writing, by email or fax. Following cancellation fee will apply. 

  • 90 days prior departure: Administrative fee US$ 150 per person.
  • 60-89 day's prior departure: US$ 250 or 25% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • 45 days to 59 days prior departure: US$ 450 or 50% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • 30 days to 44 days prior departure: US$ 600 or 75% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • Less than 30 days:100%.
  • Visa fee is non-refundable.

Cancellation, and refund of air tickets will be as per the airline's policy and the air ticket consolidator will levy $25. For details, please view booking and cancellation terms and conditions

Accomodation

  • Hotel Khang Residency, Thimphu

    Hotel Khang Residency, Thimphu
  • Drubchu Resort, Punakha

    Drubchu Resort Punakha
  • Khangkhu Resort, Paro

    Khangkhu Resort, Paro
  • Dewachen Hotel, Phobjikha

    Dewachen Hotel, Phobjikha

Add Ons

Traditional Hot stone Bath

US$ 30

hotstone bathOn your trip to Bhutan, you can experience a traditional hot stone bath in a farmhouse or at your hotel.

The hot stone bath is a traditional method to cure skin ailments, joint pain, arthritis, muscle ache etc. and provides relaxation to your body and mind after a busy day's activities. The tub is usually carved out of a tree trunk. 

They first heat the natural spring rocks to red hot and immerse in the tub. The water is usually fresh water from the spring. They continue adding stone until the water reaches to the right temperature. They also add some herbal leaves.

After the water reaches to right temperature, you enter the tub and relax for about an hour. Your host also will serve you homemade liquor.

 

Rafting in Mo Chu River Punakha

US$ 150

Mo Chu rives originates in the mountainous hills of Northern Bhutan and offers excellent rafting opportunity to the beginners and those who just want to experience white water adventures. No skills or previous experience is required.The trip can be done any time of the year.

rafting mo chu river

The put-in point is just below the suspension bridge at the trail head leading to the Khamsum Yuelley temple.There are 10 rapids of class 2 - 2+ in the stretch of 6 miles.As you raft down the river, you will experience the incredibly blue water, breath-taking alpine scenery, sighting world’s rarest birds and amazing rapids on the backdrop of striking 17th century Punakha Dzong (Fortress). The trip will be led by one or two experience rafting guides and also accompanied by a kayak. Total rafting duration: 30 minutes.

Rafting gears, including safety jacket and helmet are included.

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