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Western and Central Bhutan Delights


10 days 9 nights

Code BCT06

Category Bhutan Classic Tours

  • Difficulty Level 3
  • Rating Popular
  • Highest Altitude Youtongla pass (3425m/11234 ft)
  • Trip Starts From Paro
  • Trip Ends At Paro
  • Accommodation Hotels
  • Type Tours
  • Destination Thimphu Punakha Phobjikha Trongsa Jakar (Bumthang) Ura Paro
Dates & Prices

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. Bhutan is also the 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.

We visit the Dzong fortresses, Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, arts and craft school, weaving centers, school and typical farm families. We will have opportunity to meet the monks, nuns and hospitable farm families.

We visit Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Phobjhika in western Bhutan and then the trip advances to Trongsa and Bumthang in central Bhutan. The travel involves a number of high passes that offer spectacular views of the snow capped mountains on clear weather days. From Bumthang, we take a short flight back to Paro, otherwise it's 2 long days drive back to Paro. The tricky part is that the flight operates only 3 days a week currently.  

Tour Highlights

  • 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 at hotel

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, 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.

Late afternoon, visit 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,  there are 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

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Overnight at hotel

 

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 03~Drive from Thimphu to Punakha

(77 km/ 48 miles, 3 hrs)

Following breakfast, we begin a scenic drive to Punakha, the former winter capital of Bhutan. As we leave Thimphu behind, the road gradually winds up through villages and pine forests to Dochula Pass(3100m/10168ft), marked by 108 Buddhist shrines, flickering with sacred prayers flags offered by the Buddhist devotees. We’ll hang our prayer flags. On a clear day, the pass offers superb panorama of the snow-capped mountains and the valleys.

Two hours later we’ll be in Punakha, the end of a road that drops slowly through the changing vegetation to the sub-tropical lowlands of the Punakha and Wangdue Valleys. After lunch at our resort, we start with 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, and is an example of Bhutan's finest traditional architecture.

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 the chief abbot moves there from the capital.

Overnight at hotel

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 04~Phobjhika Valley

(49 miles, 3 hours)

After breakfast, off to Phobjhikha Valley. We cross the Lawala Pass and continue on the winding road down to the glacial valley of Phobjhika on the slopes of Black Mountains. Phobjhika is also referred to as Gangtey, after the Goemba here. 

Visit 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 is held here on 11 November every year to welcome the Sarus Cranes ! Sarus cranes are believed to bring fortunes to the valley!

Today's exploration also includes  the Sarus Crane Conservation Center and take a leisurely walk through the village to the hotel. There are also a number of hiking trails to choose from short and easy to long and strenuous ones. Consult with your guide and pick the one, depending on available time, your interest and fitness level.

Overnight at hotel 

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 05~ 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, 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.

Overnight at hotel

 

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 06~ To Jakar (Bumthang)

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

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.

We will have time to settle into our accommodation and soon we are off to explore Bumthang's attractions. 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 Lamas 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.

Also visit the Panda Brewery, housed in the cheese factory.

Later in the evening, take a relaxing stroll in the township. Jakar is a bustling one-street town with a goldsmith, tailors, several butchers, cafes, and handicraft stores.

Overnight at loge.

 

 

 

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, 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 at lodge.

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 08~Flight back to Paro

Note: There are only two or three flights a week.

After breakfast, you are transferred to the airport for flight back to Paro.

Upon arrival, meet a new driver who will transfer you to the hotel. After wash up and change, proceed for sightseeing. Visit 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, that houses a rich collection of Buddhist scriptures, murals, Bhutanese textiles, crafts, armors, and philatelic collection.

Next-visit the impressive Rinpung Dzong Fortress, the district administrative headquarters that is believed to have been built on the heap of jewels!

Overnight at hotel

 

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 09~ Hike the Taktsang 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, Dinner
Day 10~ Depart Bhutan

After breakfast, you are transferred to the airport in time for flight to your next destination.

Meals : Breakfast

Trip Map

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
  • Domestic airfare(Bumthang-Paro)

Trip does not include

    • Airfare into and out of Bhutan (We can book it for you and quote separately).
    • 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 Far & High 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. Far & High’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.

Accomodation

Khang Residency Thimphu
Khang Residency Thimphu
Khangkhu Resort Paro
Khangkhu Resort Paro
Drubchu Resort Punakha
Drubchu Resort Punakha
dewachen250
Dewachen Hotel Phobjikha
Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa
Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa
rinchenling thumb
Rinchenling Resort, Bumthang

 

Note: The hotels listed are our preferred properites but they are subject to change.

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 of 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.

 

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(Formerly Highland Asia Travel)

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

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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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