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

  • Attend the colorful Tsechu festivals of Bhutan.
  • Explore the fortresses, monasteries and temples of Bhutan.
  • Hike to the Takstang Monastery, Tango Monastery, Khamsum Yuelley Temple, and the Chimi Lakhang Temple.
  • Attend the colorful weekend market.
  • Explore the lesser visited villages of Rinchengang and Ura.
  • Visit a typical farmhouse to learn the lifestyle of the local farmers.
  • Share a meal with a Bhutanese family.
  • Sip tea with the monks, learn the monastic life, and perhaps exchange some English and Bhutanese language lessons.
  • 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 ~Flight to Paro, Bhutan

    • Flights to Paro (Altitude 7,380 feet, or 2,250 meters) arrive from Kathmandu or Bangkok. Please allow at least one day in those cities both before and after your trip to ensure safe connections. Please arrange your international airfare to the gateway city; Far & High will book flights within Bhutan. 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 Thimphu.

      On the way, we’ll visit the ancient Tamchog Lakhang Temple built by the famous Tibetan Iron Bridge builder, Thangtong Gyalpo, who was a yogi, an architect, engineer, physician, and a saint! The 14th century temple is still maintained by his descendents.

      Upon arrival in Thimphu, we’ll check into the hotel and then take a leisurely stroll through the township. Thimphu is the smallest of all the Himalayan capitals and the only capital in the world without a single traffic light! We’ll want to visit the King’s Memorial Chorten, which was dedicated to the third king of Bhutan. This is an impressive shrine, with shining gold spires, and tinkling bells, surrounded by an endless procession of devotees.

      Overnight in Khang Residency or similar
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 02 ~Explore Thimphu

    • Our day begins at Thimphu's weekend market, where local farmers sell their fresh produce. We’ll hope that an archery tournament – Bhutan’s national sport – will be underway. Then we’ll cross the Wangchu River to visit the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, where Bhutanese traditional papers are made of mulberry barks.

      Then two important cultural stops: The National Institute for Zorig Chusum – commonly known as "traditional arts and craft school" – is one of the prime attractions in Thimphu. It offers four-to-six year courses on Bhutan's 13 traditional arts, which include painting, woodcarving, embroidery, and statue making. The Folk Heritage Museum is a three-story, mud and timber building that is a replica of a century-old traditional farmhouse. This living museum is an authentic glimpse into Bhutanese lives, both historic and contemporary.

      A drive up a road to the telecom tower will give us vast, panoramic views over the valley, then a stop to see the Takin Reserve in Motithang. Takins are the national animal of Bhutan. Further down the road is the Zilukha Nunnery, home to 40-65 nuns. The main shrine at the Nunnery is dedicated to the famous saint, Drubthob Thang Thong Gyalpo, popularly known as the Leonardo da Vinci of the Great Himalayas, and the man who first introduced and built the chain of iron bridges in Bhutan. Nearby, we’ll find the Dechen Phodrang, site of Thimphu's original 12th-century fortress, which currently houses the state monastic school; 450 students are enrolled in its eight-year program.

      Other attractions in Thimphu include: The Royal Textile Academy, National Library, and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, all or none of which you might want to visit depending on your interest and the available time today.

      Another option will be the impressive Trasichoe Dzong, a fortress that is the administrative and religious center of Bhutan. The fortress houses the Royal Throne, National Assembly, and the seat of the Chief Abbot of the central monastic body.

      If you want a more active day, we’ll have several hiking options. Far and High Travel would recommend a hike to the Tango Goemba Monastery. The trail climbs about 918 feet, or 280 meters, and takes about 60 to 90 minutes. On the way, you will meet villagers, monks, and possibly a caravan of donkeys carrying goods. At the top, you’ll find this impressive Monastery, founded in the 12th Century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley. The present structures here date from the 15th and 18th centuries. You will get time here to meet with the resident monks, have some tea, learn about their monastic life, and perhaps exchange lessons in English and Bhutanese.
      After this busy day, it’s back to your hotel; the rest of the evening is yours to relax or explore.

      Overnight in Khang Residency or similar
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 03 ~Drive from Thimphu to Phobjika

    • This morning we depart for a five- or six-hour drive to Phobjika. The Phobjika Valley is an isolated glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountain Range that divides western and central Bhutan. As we leave Thimphu behind, the road gradually climbs to a beautiful stop at the Dochula pass (9,872 feet, or 3,010 meters). This pass also includes a group of chortens (pagodas or stupas) and hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. The dramatically descending road zigzags to the lowland of the Punakha and Wangdue valleys at around 4,600 feet or 1,400 meters.

      After lunch stop in Punakha, we continue on our journey. Soon the prominent Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, -the second capital of Bhutan comes in view but this is under restoration now and we may not be able to visit it. We’ll have the option to take a gentle, 25-minutes hike to Rinchengang Village with its traditional two-story houses. We’ll finish the drive through dense oak and rhododendron forests before arriving in the Phobjika, 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 Conservation 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 04 ~Across the Black Mountain Range to Trongsa.

    • A stunning day today, covering 75 miles over four to five hours, as we backtrack to the main road and head to the east. The road gradually climbs the Black Mountain Range and crosses Pele-la pass (10,824 feet, or 3,300 meters) where the panoramic views include Mount Jhomolhari on the border with Tibet. Below is Trongsa, hometown of the present rulers of Bhutan. At the Chendebji chorten, note the large white monument, which is said to have concealed the remnants of an evil spirit that was vanquished here.

      Check into the hotel and, after refreshment, feel free to relax or explore the town.

      Overnight in Yangkhil Resort or Tashi Ninjay GH or Raven Crown Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
  • Day 05 ~To Jakar (Bumthang)

    • (Altitude 9,184 ft, distance 43 miles, 2 ½ hours)

      After a leisurely breakfast on a leisurely day – 43 miles to Jakar – we’ll visit the Trongsa Dzong , one of the largest and the most impressive of all Dzongs in Bhutan (and the site of emergence of monarchy in Bhutan) and Ta Dzong, a former watch tower turned into a temple dedicated to Jigme Namgyel, the father of the first King of Bhutan.

      From Tronga, the road climbs to the Youtongla pass (11,234 feet, or 3,425 meters) and then descends to Chume, the first of the four Bumthang valleys. Zugney Village here is home to the Yathra workshops, where they make deep-colored wool textiles in a pattern typical to these parts of the country.

      At Jakar, we’ll check into the hotel, and the rest of the day is yours for exploring and relaxing. Jakar is a bustling one-street town with a goldsmith, tailors, several butchers, cafes, and handicraft stores. The impressive and picturesque Jakar Dzong overlooks the valley, and the town’s Wangdicholing Palace was the principal residence of the first king of Bhutan.

      We’d also suggest a visit to Panda Brewery, housed in the cheese factory.

      Overnight in Jakar Village Lodge or Gongkhar Guest House
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 06 ~Sightseeing in Bumthang Valley

    • Today we explore the Bumthang Valley, regarded as the cultural heart of Bhutan, and a place of stories. We could 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. The Jakar Dzong, is the "castle of the white bird." According to legend, when Llamas assembled here in about 1549 to select a site for a monastery, a big white bird arose suddenly in the air and settled on the hill. This was interpreted as an omen, and the hill was chosen as the site for a monastery and for Jakar Dzong. The fortress is now used as an administrative center of the valley and summer residence of Trongsa monks.

      Overnight in Jakar Village Lodge or Gongkhar Guest House
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 07 ~Excursion to the remote Ura Valley

    • Ura village is an hour or two drive – about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers – from Choekhor Valley. Located in a broad valley, Ura village is a cluster of traditional style homes on cobblestone streets, which give the village a mediaeval atmosphere. The women in Ura village cover their heads with white cloth pieces for protection from harsh winds, and they carry a sheepskin behind their back to cushion and protect their clothes from the loads they carry.

      Late afternoon, we’ll drive back to Jakar.

      Overnight Jakar Village Lodge or Gongkhar Guest House
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 08 ~Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang

    • We’ll retrace the drive back across the Black Mountain Range to Punakha (132 miles, or 212 km, over six hours). After checking into our hotel, we can stretch our legs on a gentle, 25-minute hike through the paddy fields and villages to Chimi Lakhang Temple (also known as the "Fertility Temple"). Time permitting, the Nalanda Buddhist College, locally known as Dalayn is nearby, and offers a chance to meet the monks, who are fond of trying their English speaking skills with the tourists.

      Overnight Drubchu Resort or Punatsanchu Cottages
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 09 ~Travel to Paro

    • Before leaving for Paro – 89 miles over about four hours – we’ll have time for a gentle, one-hour hike to Khamsum Yuelley Temple, the latest addition to Bhutan’s countless trove of temples. It has the finest of the spiritual artworks painted on the inner walls, and offers panoramic views of the valley.

      Our drive back to Paro is via Dhochula Pass and Thimphu. At Paro, we’ll have time to Dungtse Lakhang, a 15th century temple that is said to have been built to suppress a demon that troubled the Paro Valley. The temple has a unique painting of the progressive stage of Tantric Buddhist philosophy and important deities of Drukpa Kagyu School. From here, continue on to the national museum housed at Ta Dzong, with its rich collection of Buddhist scriptures, murals, Bhutanese textiles, crafts, armors, and philatelic collection. Finally, descend to the impressive Rinpung Dzong Fortress, the district administrative headquarters that is believed to have been built on the heap of jewels!

      Overnight Drukchen Resort or Tenzingling Hotel or Khangkhu Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 10 ~Hike the Takstang Monastery.

    • Today, we take the hike to 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 the ancient 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 minor diseases. Even if you don’t have any of these issues, it’s a wonderfully relaxing hot stone bath, especially after a laborious hike. It costs around US$ 20-25 per person.

      Overnight Drukchen Resort or Tenzingling Hotel or Khangkhu Resort
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Day 11 ~Depart Bhutan

    • After breakfast, you are transferred in time for flight to your next destination.
      Meals: Breakfast

Trip Info

Cost 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.

Cost 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 altitude where altitude sickness is not a concern. Some of 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 style and has 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 type 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 locals, 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 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 Bhutan.

From Kathmandu and Delhi, also there are 5-6 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 6 months beyond the last day of your trip and there must be 1 or 2 blank pages on your passport for the visa sticker, entry and exit seals. Bhutan visa is pre-processed by Highland Asia Travel and we will get clearance for you before your flight into Bhutan. Your passport gets actual visa seal upon arrival at the Paro airport. If you are traveling via Indian cities, you need to obtain 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 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 leave no efforts to make your tour smooth and enjoyable, there may be unforeseen events and conditions such as illness, accident, inclement weather, flight cancellation, missed connection, or loss of baggage etc. which may cause interruption, delay or total cancellation of your trip putting your hard earned travel investment in jeopardy. It’s also possible that you may need medical assistance, emergency evacuation or medical transportation when you get ill or involve 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 per person

  • US$ 2550 (3-6 persons)
  • US$ 350 Single Room Supplement

Estimated Internal Airfare

  • US$ 700-750 (Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok airfare) or
  • US$ 470 (Kathmandu-Paro-Kathmandu airfare)

Note: If group size falls below 3 persons, US$ 300 supplement will be applicable. If group size is 7 persons plus, you will get price reduction of $ 100 per person. Credit card payment attracts additional 3.5% fee except on the initial deposit $300 per person.

Small Group Departures

Start Dates End Dates Size Price (per person) Remarks Availability Booking
Sep 30, 2017 Oct 10, 2017 3-16 people USD 2550

Trip timed with Thimphu Tsechu Festival

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Oct 29, 2017 Nov 08, 2017 3-16 people USD 2550

Trip timed with Jambay Lakhang Drup

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Nov 28, 2017 Dec 08, 2017 3-16 people USD 2550

Trip timed with Jambay Lakhang Cham

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Trip price may vary depending upon the group size.

Open

This trip is OPEN for booking

Request On Request: You can book this trip on REQUEST
Closed SOLD OUT and no further booking is possible for this date

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Minneapolis, MN 55425
Tel: 1 612 605 4428
Fax: 612 807 1137

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Fax +977-1-4381369

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Tel (975-2) -329098 / +975-77204087
Fax (+975) 2 337004

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No 13 Jiangsu road Lhasa Tibet China.
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Fax: +86-(891)-6836619


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