Highlights of Western and Central Bhutan with Tsechu Festivals


Bhutanese monks

Overview

On this journey of a lifetime, Far & High takes you to the land of fresh air, rich religious and cultural traditions, stupendous mountains, and pristine nature. It is also a land of people who, by official proclamation that is unique in the world, measure their lives not by GNP (Gross National Product), but by GNH (Gross National Happiness)! Bhutan, a country of the size of Switzerland, tucked between Tibet and India, is truly a jewel of the Himalayas – perhaps, some would say, Shangri-La.

This trip covers the main highlights of western and central Bhutan, with a focus on the annual Tsechu festivals at temples and monasteries. We’ll join these Bhutanese festivals that celebrate the great accomplishments of the Buddhist Saint Guru Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche. The festivals also celebrate Bhutan’s energy and bright culture – masked, barefoot dancers leap, whirl, brandish knives, and beat tambourines to subdue evil spirits and to celebrate the teachings of Buddha. Clowns prance, crack vulgar jokes, clang the brass cymbals, ring the bells. Bald monks in maroon robes chant and trumpet the horns, while pink-cheeked children frolic about. Everyone shows off their best national costumes and jewelry.

For the Bhutanese, participation in the festivals is an important social event that is also chance to immerse themselves in the essence of their religion and culture. For us, the festivals are a chance to be part of grand, colorful events in a beautiful Himalayan setting.

Tour Highlights

  • Explore the fortresses, monasteries and temples of Bhutan.
  • Hike the ridge top monasteries and temples.
  • Attend the colorful weekend market.
  • Explore the lesser visited villages of Ura.
  • Visit a typical farmhouse to learn the lifestyle of the local farmers.
  • Share a meal with a Bhutanese family.
  • Attend the colorful Tsechu festivals of Bhutan.
  • Meet the textile weavers, time-honored thangka painters, and the traditional paper makers.
  • Enjoy the customary hot stone bath to heal common ailments.

Detailed Itinerary

  • Day 01 ~Arrive in Paro, Bhutan

    • Flights to Paro (altitude 7,380 feet, or 2,250 meters) arrive from Kathmandu or Bangkok or Delhi. Please allow at least one night in those cities before and after your trip to ensure a safe connection with flights to and from Bhutan. Please arrange your own international airfare to the gateway city; Far & High will book the onward flight. Your Bhutan visa is part of the tour cost. We will email it to you in advance, as you’ll need it at check-in for your flight to Bhutan and again upon arrival at the Paro airport, where your passport will get its final visa seal. After completing immigration and custom formalities, your guide and driver will meet you outside the terminal for transfer to our hotel.

      After lunch at our hotel, your guide will lead explorations of Paro. We begin from Dungtse Temple. It sits on a hillock that resembles the head of a tortoise-shaped demon that was said to be causing troubles in Paro. As per the legend, the temple was built to subdue the demon. Next, we visit the National Museum housed at Ta Dzong, which served as a watch tower for the Rinpung Dzong (a dzong is a fortress, and a religious and social center). The museum has a wonderful collection of books, murals, Bhutanese textiles, crafts, weapons, olden utensils, stuffed animals, and a rich philatelic collection. From here, we descend to Rinpung Dzong, which is the district headquarters and also the seat of the district's monastic body.

      Now, we have a short hike to Zuri Dzong monastery (altitude gain: 984 feet). This hike is relatively easy, about 30 minutes, and then we can enjoy a grand view of the entire Paro valley. The Zuri Dzong is the oldest Dzong in Bhutan and is an important Buddhist site. We can opt to descend the same way back, or take another hour-long route that finishes above Uma Paro Hotel. (Note: Those on the original route or not hiking will be transported back to the hotel.)

      Overnight at Khangkhu Resort or Raven's Nest Resort
      Meals: Lunch and dinner
  • Day 02 ~Paro: Cheli La Pass and Kila Nunnery hiking.

    • Kila Goemba nunnery is located on the cliffs below Chele Pass at 11,480 feet.There are around seven small temples and several retreat huts built into a dizzying, sheer cliff. About 70 nuns live here in self-imposed isolation.

      First we drive 90 minutes up to Chele la Pass (altitude 12,497 feet) from Paro. We’ll want to stop in the pass and enjoy the serene view of the valleys and mountains. On a clear weather day, we will enjoy spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, including Mt. Chomolhari and Jichu Drake.

      From the pass, we hike about 90 minutes on the trail down the slopes to Kila, where we can spend some time with the friendly nuns and learn about the monastic lives.The walk down from here to the road is lined with small white chortens, or Buddhist shrines. From there, our transport will take us back to the hotel.

      Overnight in Khanghu Resort or Raven's Nest Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 03 ~Flight from Paro to Bumthang

    • After breakfast, we’ll head for our flight to Bumthang in Central Bhutan. It's a scenic, 25- minute flight that in good weather offers spectacular views of the snow-capped moun-tains of the Himalaya.

      Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel for check-in. After lunch, we can explore.

      Bumthang Valley is regarded as the cultural heart of Bhutan, and it is a place of stories. We start with the Jambay Lhakhang Temple, which was built in the 7th Century by the King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. Legend has it that this was one of 108 temples he built miraculously in a single night in Tibet and neighboring countries. The next stop – Kurjey Lakhang Temple – also has a story: Kurjey means “body imprint,” and it was built around a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated and, yes, left his body imprint.

      From here, we take a short walk (30 minutes), crossing a suspension bridge to visit the Tamshing or Tamzhing Monastery, the most important Nyingma monastery of the region, founded by the great Nyingma guru Pemalingpa. Another brief walk will bring us to Kenchosum Lhakhang, probably the region’s most striking monastery. The original temple dates back to the 9th Century, but the current one was rebuilt completely after it was destroyed by fire in 2010.

      Then, a cultural shift. We will meet our driver here for a ride to Panda Brewery and the Swiss Cheese factory, founded by a Swiss man in 1960s. Prior appointment is neces-sary. Later, we can take a relaxed stroll in the Chamkhar, a bustling one-street town with a goldsmith, tailors, several butchers, cafes, and handicraft stores.

      Overnight in Rinchenling Lodge
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 04 ~Bumthang: Excursion to the remote Ura Valley

    • Today, our guide and driver take us on a scenic drive to Ura Valley, with charming villag-es and a spectacular landscape. The valley of Ura is believed to be the home of the ear-liest inhabitants of Bhutan.

      Ura Valley is less frequented by tourists. We enjoy views of snow-capped mountains along the way. After about two hours, we can stop in the high mountain pass of Serthangla and begin our hiking, which is mostly downhill through the alpine vegetation. Amidst lush vegetation and beautiful wild flowers along the way, you might see horses and cattle grazing. The trail opens into a wide, serene valley with picturesque houses. It takes about one hour from the pass to get to the main village. We can take a leisurely stroll through the village and visit the Ura Temple that dominates the landscape. We’ll look for the monks inside the temple in prayer, and also the community kitchen where the villagers take turns cooking for the monks and pilgrims visiting the temple.

      We can meander on the narrow cobbled street around the medieval village. It has a clus-ter of 50 whitewashed houses that are typical in the countryside. We hope to visit one of them. As the villagers are dependent on livestock breeding and farming, the houses are designed to accommodate them. In the middle of the village is a small flour mill where the villagers grind the wheat, rice, or millet that they harvest. If time allows, we can also visit the village school. We will eventually take our van ride back to Jakar, which takes about three hours with occasional stops on the way for photography.

      Overnight Rinchenling Lodge
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 05 ~Across the Yutongla Pass to Trongsa.

    • After breakfast, we leave for a three-hour drive to Trongsa, the ancestral home town of Bhutan's monarchy. We’ll stop in a roadside town of Zugney to see the yathra workshop. Yathra is the name of locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth. Distinctive patterns and bright, earthy colors enliven the fabric, which is used for a wide variety of purposes and sought after throughout Bhutan. We will also see the vegetable dye techniques on wool.

      We will then head for a breathtaking highway and cross Yutong La Pass (11, 234 feet) before we descend into Trongsa. We stop here to visit the majestic fortress of Trongsa, the ancestral home of the royal family. It is an architectural wonder built by Chogyel Minjur Tempa, the Third Desi, in 1648. It is presently the administrative seat of the district and home of the monastic school. Built at split-levels on a narrow spur, the Dzong is an architectural wonder. Views from here are extensive, creating the strategic location of this Dzong.

      After lunch in a local restaurant, we hike the historic route that adds to the experience of travelers to Trongsa. The trail goes through the steep and dense forest with variety of fauna and flora. A short stop at the traditional cantilever bridge for photographs would be a memorable experience.

      The hike lasts about 90 minutes and finishes nearby our hotel. You can do this hike in reverse direction as well.

      Overnight in Yangkhil Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
  • Day 06 ~A long day drive to Phobjikha

    • This morning we depart for a six-hour drive to Phobjika. The Phobjika Valley is an isolat-ed glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountain Range that divides western and central Bhutan. We’ll finish the drive through dense oak and rhododendron forests, perhaps visiting the prominent Gangtey Gompa, which is the only Nyingmapa Monastery in this region.

      The Phobjika Valley is also known for its endangered Black-necked cranes, which circle the monastery as they migrate from the high Tibetan plateau during winter. An annual festival here in November welcomes them. We might want to visit the Sarus Crane Con-servation Center and take a leisurely walk through the village to the hotel.

      Overnight in Dewachen Hotel or Gakiling Hotel
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 07 ~Phobjikha: Sighseeing and hiking

    • 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 an easy hike through the pine forest and the valley. The hike ends over the meandering Chhu Nap (Black River) near Khewang village. Here we will be picked up by transport.

      If we wish for a longer hiking option, here are some recommended hiking trails: Shasi La Nature Trail (3-4 hours, moderate), Longtey Hike (4 hours, moderate) and Gogona Hike (6-7 hours, strenuous). Discuss these options with your guide and choose the option that best interests you.

      Overnight Dewachen Hotel
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 08 ~Travel from Phobjikha to Punakha

    • This morning we take a scenic, four-hour drive to Punakha, the former winter capital of Bhutan. We cross the Lowa La Pass and rejoin the main highway, leading to Punakha.

      After lunch, we visit 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 the chief abbot moves there from the capital. Next, we proceed for a pleasant hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – about 45-60 minutes up, but only 30 minutes down. The temple is situated atop a beautiful hillock overlooking the valley. Built by the Queen Mother, it is an example of Bhutan's finest traditional architec-ture.

      Later, we can take leisurely stroll in the town.

      Overnight at Drubchu Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 09 ~Across Dhochula Pass to Thimphu

    • We begin with a lovely drive to Thimphu, about three hours away. The road climbs through the changing vegetation from subtropical to the alpine and rhododendron forest. We stop at Dochula Pass (10,168 feet), marked by 108 Buddhist shrines and flapping sacred prayer flags. On a clear day, the pass offers a superb panorama of the snow-capped mountains and the valleys. After some splendid time on the pristine pass, we continue our travel to Thimphu. The road winds down, passing through the villages.

      Upon arrival, we will check into our accommodation. After a wash up and change, we can explore the town. First, visit the memorial chorten (shrine) of the 3rd King of Bhutan Jigme Dorje Wangchuk. Next, visit the visit the impressive Trasichoe Dzong fortress that houses the Royal Throne, National Assembly, and the seat of Chief Abbot of the central monastic body.

      Late afternoon, we suggest a relaxed stroll in the township and craft bazaars of Thimphu.

      Overnight Khang Residency
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 10 ~Thimphu: Sightseeing and hiking

    • After breakfast, we are off for sightseeing and hiking. We have a lot to see today! De-pending on your interest, pace and available time, we may or may not see all the sights listed below. We first visit the week-end market of Thimphu, if we are here during the week-end. Farmers from the neighboring villages come to sell their fresh produce. We will also visit the archery field to see the national sports of Bhutan.

      Next, we can visit the National Institute Zorig Chusum that offers a six-year course on Bhutan's traditional arts and crafts, including painting, wood carving, embroidery, and statue making. Then we can 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.

      Next, we can visit the Takin Sanctuary. Takins – a kind of sheep by way of antelope — are the National animals of Bhutan and believed to exist only in Bhutan Himalaya. On the way back, stop at the Zilukha Nunnery in Drubthob Goemba, home to 40-60 Buddhist nuns.

      We can visit the Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Center, which produces traditional hand-woven textiles and has a selection of cloth and ready-made garments for sale. Here, you can see the local women working their looms.

      Next, visit the Changangkha Temple, one of the oldest in Thimphu, built in the 12th Century. The temple houses Chenrizig (Avolokitesawara), an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation as the central statue.

      In the afternoon, we can visit the World’s Largest Buddha Image — Buddha Dordenma, situated atop a hill overlooking the Thimphu Valley. This is the latest addition to Thim-phu's attractions. The image is 169 feet tall. The massive three-story base houses a large chapel, while the body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha.

      An option: hiking enthusiasts keen to experience monastic lives away from the crowds of town can take a half-day hike to Tango Goemba monastery. You’ll miss some sights listed above; and if you are part of group, the choice will be made by majority vote. Tan-go Goema 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, includ-ing a three-year, three-month, three-day course in mediation at the nearby Cheri Goemba Monastery! With luck, the monks will be in recess, and we can join them for tea. (Note: on a group tour, there must be an unanimous decision to take this hike.)

      Overnight in Khang Residency or similar
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 11 ~Hike the Takstang Monastery.

    • We’ll have an early morning breakfast, check out of our hotel, and then drive about 90 minutes to the trail head for the legendary Takstang Monastery – the Tiger's Nest, Bhutan’s most famous pilgrimage. Perched dramatically on the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff above the valley, Tiger's Nest is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan and a forever-memorable destination for anyone who makes the trip. The round trip is about four hours. It is possible to ride a pony half way up, but not on the upper trail, or on the way down.

      On the way back to Paro, we will detour to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, a 16th Century monastery built to mark the Bhutanese victory over Tibetan invaders, and also the an-cient Kyichu Lakhang Temple – another of the 108 temples that King Songsten Gampo of Tibet built in a single night in 7th century!

      Optional Hot Stone Bath:
      With advance notice, you can experience a traditional Hot Stone Bath in a farmhouse. Hot stone bathes are a Bhutanese traditional method of curing skin ailments, joint pains, hypertension, stomach disorders, arthritis, and many other ailments. Even if you don’t have any of these issues, it’s a wonderfully relaxing experience, especially after a labori-ous hike. It costs around US$ 20-25 per person.

      Overnight Khangkhu Resort or Raven's Nest
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 12 ~Depart Bhutan

    • After breakfast, we are transferred in time for flight to your next destination.

      Meals: Breakfast

Trip Info

Trip Includes

  • Accommodation on double occupancy basis
  • All transfers and sightseeing, as listed on the itinerary, by private vehicle.
  • Three meals a day
  • English speaking local tour guide
  • Sightseeing admission fees
  • Bhutan visa fee
  • Service of internal airfare reservation.

Trip Does Not Include

  • Airfare to and from Bhutan and airport taxes (separately quoted).
  • Expenses of personal nature such as drinks, tip, laundry, phone, etc.
  • Extra expenses or loss due to acts of nature, and unforeseen events such as flight cancellation, delay, accident, illness, etc.
  • Travel Insurance

Trip Difficulty Level, Road and Transport

This is a motor vehicle-based tour with some optional hikes, and can be undertaken by anyone in general good health. The itinerary’s highest altitude is Chele La (12,497 feet, or 3,810 meters) for a brief stop. Our accommodations are in lower altitudes where altitude sickness is not a concern. Some of the hiking excursions are steep, but they are optional. Travel on a given day can include three to six hours of driving, sometimes on rough or damaged roads that are carved out of the hillside. If you are traveling during monsoon, there can be temporary washouts. 

Far & High Travel provides Korean- or Japanese-made SUVs or minivans, or Japanese coaster buses, depending on the group size. Drivers are skilled and know Bhutan’s roadways. Drivers, unlike guides, may speak little or no English. Flat tires and mechanical breakdowns are possible in these conditions, but our drivers are capable of taking the situations under control. We will appreciate your cooperation and flexibility when something unexpected happens during the tour.

Accommodations

Majority of Bhutanese hotels are small properties with 25 or 30 rooms; some are even smaller. They are built in local architectural styles and have traditional Bhutanese decor. They are classified as “three-star” properties, but in fact have limited choices even you want to upgrade. You will have private bathroom with running hot and cold water. There may be disparity in the rooms; so travelers of the same group may get different types of rooms. Toiletry supplies may be limited. Hotels in the towns may have internet and long distance calling available. 

Some international chain resorts, such as Aman Kora, Uma Paro, Taj, and some heritage hotels, can be booked at an additional cost.

Meals

Our tour features three meals each day, most of them at our hotel. In Bhutan, meals are usually served in buffet that includes rice, vegetables, noodles, and breads. Our guides can arrange some dinners at local restaurants at your request. One note: traditional Bhutanese food always features chilies, and the most popular dish, "ema dates," is made with large, hot, green chilies in a cheese sauce.

Guides

Our guides are college-educated local people, proficient in English and trained and licensed by local tourism authorities. Most importantly, they are friendly and committed to deliver the best services.

International and internal airfares

The tour starts and finishes in Paro, Bhutan. There are no direct flight connections from the USA or Europe to Bhutan. You need to first fly to Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkatta or Kathmandu, spend a night there and next day fly to Bhutan. Bangkok is the most popular gateway for travel to Bhutan, as there are daily 2 flights from Bangkok and US citizens and most European passport holders don't need visa for Bangkok (Thailand). 

From Kathmandu and Delhi, also there are five or six flights a week depending on the season. Please, do not buy your international airfare until Bhutan flight schedule is available.

Passport and Visa

Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the last day of your trip and there must be one or two blank visa pages on your passport for the visa sticker, and entry and exit seals. Bhutan visas are pre-processed by Far & High Adventure Travel; we will get clearance for you before your flight into Bhutan. Your passport gets an actual visa seal upon arrival at the Paro airport. If you are traveling via Indian cities, you need to obtain an Indian visa before your travel begins. If you are traveling via Kathmandu, Nepal, you can obtain Nepal visa upon arrival.

Note on Itinerary

Although we will do our very best to adhere to the itinerary schedule as listed; it is subject to change for numerous reasons beyond our control.

Booking Deposit & Payment Schedule

A deposit of US$ 300 is requested along with completed trip registration form to hold your place on the trip. We also need a color scan of the passport. You can charge the deposit on any major credit cards.

 When its time to purchase the Bhutan flight tickets, we will request from you the second payment for the flights.

 Final and balance payment is due 90 days prior departure.

Final payment by credit card also attracts additional 3.5% fee. You will save this fee by paying personal check or cashier's check.

We reserve the right to refuse certain form of payment.

Cancellation and Refund

Notice of cancellation and refund request must be received in written form. Cancellation fee structure has been listed below:

  • 90 days prior departure: US$ 150 (Administrative Fee)
  • 60-89 day's prior departure: US$ 300 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%

Travel Protection Plan

While we spare no effort to make your tour smooth and enjoyable, there might be unforeseen events and conditions such as illness, accident, inclement weather, flight cancellation, missed connection, or loss of baggage, any of which can cause interruption, delay or total cancellation of your trip, thus  putting your hard-earned travel investment in jeopardy. It’s also possible that you might need medical assistance, emergency evacuation, or medical transportation when you become ill or are involved in an accident when you are traveling in remote areas. Highland Asia’s Tour cost does not cover any of these expenses or losses, and so we strongly recommend you that you should protect yourself and your travel investment against those unfavorable conditions.

Dates & Prices

Land Cost :

  • US$ 2998 per person on double occupancy basis
  • US$ 350 Private room supplement

Estimated Internal Airfare:

  • US$ 980 (Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok and one domestic airfare Paro-Bumthang). 

Note: International airfare is not included.

Small Group Departures

Start Dates End Dates Size Price (per person) Remarks Availability Booking
Feb 18, 2018 Mar 01, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Punakha Tsechu

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Feb 27, 2018 Mar 10, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Tangsibi Mani in Ura

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Mar 27, 2018 Apr 07, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Paro Tsechu

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Apr 24, 2018 May 05, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Ura Yakchoe festival

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May 31, 2018 Jun 11, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Padseling Kuchoed

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Sep 11, 2018 Sep 22, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Thimphu Tsechu festival

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Oct 22, 2018 Nov 02, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Jambay Lakhang Drup

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Nov 05, 2018 Nov 16, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Sarus Crane Festival

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Dec 12, 2018 Dec 23, 2018 2-16 people USD 2998

Trip times with Trongsa Tsechu

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Trip price may vary depending upon the group size.

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United States

8030 Old Cedar Ave S, Suite 123
Minneapolis, MN 55425
Tel: 1 612 605 4428
Fax: 612 807 1137

Nepal

Kapoordhara, Samakhusi, Kathmandu
Tel (977 1) 4351780, 4381823
Fax +977-1-4381369

Bhutan

KMT Building, Nordzin Lam, Thimphu
Tel (975-2) -329098 / +975-77204087
Fax (+975) 2 337004

Tibet

B5-1-2, B3 dong, Renchen garden,
No 13 Jiangsu road Lhasa Tibet China.
Tel: +86-(891)-6836609,
Fax: +86-(891)-6836619


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