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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, we will take you to the land of fresh air, rich religious and cultural traditions, breathtaking 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 indeed a jewel of the Himalayas – perhaps, some would say, Shangri-La.

On this trip, we visit the Dzong fortresses, Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, arts and craft school, weaving centers, school, and typical farm families. We will have the opportunity to meet the monks, nuns and hospitable farm families. We also have options for taking short day hikes if you wish to. The weekend provides an opportunity to visit the weekend market and archery practices. There are also quite a few colorful tsechu festivals that feature mask dances related to the biography of Guru Rinpoche who brought Buddhism into Bhutan. Check with us for the calendar festival so that your trip overlaps with at least one festival.

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 several high passes that offer spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains on clear weather day. From Bumthang, we take a short flight back to Paro. Otherwise, it's two long day drive. The tricky part is that there is currently one flight a day during the season and only three or four flights a week during the slow season and it's an ATR craft with 40-45 seating capacity.   

Tour Highlights

  • Explore the fortresses, monasteries, and temples of Bhutan.
  • Hike to the Takstang Monastery, Tango Monastery, Khamsum Yuelley Temple, and the Chimi Lhakhang 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.

Trip Cost

Season ( Mar, Apr, May, Sep, Oct, and Nov)

US$ 3030 Solo Traveler
US$ 2875 per persons (two persons private trip)
US$ 2565 per persons (three persons and more)
US$ 315 Private room supplement

Off-Season ( Jan, Feb, June, Jul, Aug, and Dec)

US$ 2940 Solo Traveler
US$ 2785 per persons (two persons private trip)
US$ 2475 per persons (three persons and more)
US$ 270 Private room supplement

Note: The trip cost does not include international airfare.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 01~Arrive in Paro, Bhutan

Your flight will likely include breathtaking views of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mount Chomolhari and Jichu Drake of Bhutan.

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 an excellent presentation on 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 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 13th-century temple of Tamchog Lhakhang-built by the famous Tibetan iron-bridge builder Thangthong Gyalpo – who was also a physician, teacher, and a saint! Until today, the descendants of the great architect owns and maintains 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 leisurely 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~Explore Thimphu

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. 

Next, 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, visit the Simply Bhutan Museum, a living museum of Bhutan, resembling a typical village that promotes the cultural heritage and local lifestyle. Here, you will have a chance to wear traditional Bhutanese costumes and pose for photographs, if you wish.  

Next stop – the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, dispensary of traditional Bhutanese herbal and other medicines. Other attraction, if time permits and if you wish is a textile academy that preserves the centuries-old living art of Bhutan. Thimphu's latest addition is Buddha Dordenma, a giant 177 ft tall Buddha statue on a ridge overlooking the valley.

Late afternoon, take a short 10-minute hike through the forest to visit the Takin Sanctuary. A Takin, a kind of sheep by way of antelope, is the National animals of Bhutan and believed to exist 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.

Finally, we visit the Trasichoe Dzong -a beautiful fortress 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 half-day hike to Tango Goemba monastery. There will be a trade-off with some sights listed above though. 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. If you wish, you can also hike to  Cheri Goemba Monastery back to back, and please, allow another two hours for this monastery.

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 accept public for astrology consultation. They need minimum a week-advance notice and also expect a donation to the school.

Overnight: Khang Residency or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 03~Punakha-the former winter capital

(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/10168 ft.), marked by 108 Buddhist shrines, flickering with sacred prayers flags offered by the Buddhist devotees. On a clear day, the pass offers a 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. Settled into our room and re-energized after a hearty lunch, we are ready for the exploration of the valley.

We first hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – a pleasant hike, first through the paddy fields and then along a path that twirls up a hill above which sits the magnificent temple. From the road, it should take about 45 minutes up but the return trip is much faster. Built by the Queen Mother, the temple is an example of Bhutan's most beautiful traditional architecture. The location also offers a superb view of the valley.

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 here for the winter retreat.

Overnight: Drubchu Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 04~The isolated valley of Phobjikha

(49 miles, 3 hours)

A short and easy hike that you don't want to miss is Chime Lhakhang. It's less than 25 minutes from the main road, and the trail goes through paddy fields and villages. The houses here depicts phallic symbol on the walls and doors! You might even see the door handles or knobs carved out in the shape of a phallus! Ask your guide why. The temple is associated with Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who is also known as the Divine Madman for his funny way of teaching Buddhism. Local childless women visit the temple for the fertility blessing

Late morning, we are off to Phobjhikha Valley. We cross the Lawala Pass and continue on the winding road down to the glacial valley of Phobjikha on the slopes of Black Mountains. Phobjikha is also referred to as Gangtey, after a prominent Gangtey Gompa, which is the only Nyingmapa Monastery in this region.

Hiking option: If you wish, you can hike on the Gangtey Nature Trail for about 2-hours through the pine forest and the valley. The hike begins at Gangtey monastery and ends over the meandering Chu Nap ( Black River) near Khewang village where we meet our transport and transfer to the hotel. Those who are not hiking can go with the driver.

The Phobjika Valley is also known for its endangered Black-necked cranes, which circle the monastery as they migrate into Punakha from the high Tibetan plateau during winter and people believe, they bring good luck to the valley. An annual festival is held here on 11th November every year to welcome the Sarus Cranes! 

Today's explorations also include the Sarus Crane Conservation Center and take a leisurely walk through the village to the hotel. 

Overnight: Dewachen Hotel or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 05~ Trongsa-the ancestral hometown of Bhutan's royalty

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 we stop briefly to enjoy the panoramic views that include Mount Jhomolhari on the border with Tibet. Below is Trongsa, the hometown of the present rulers of Bhutan. A few miles before the town is the Chendebji chorten-a sizeable white monument, which is said to have concealed the remnants of an evil spirit that was subdued 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: Yangkhil Resort
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 06~ Today to Bumthang-the cultural heart of Bhutan

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

From Trongsa, 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 Lhakhang Temple – also has a story: Kurjey means “body imprint,” and to justify this, the temple enshrines a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated and, yes, left his body imprint there.

From here, we take a short walk (30 minutes), crossing a suspension bridge to visit the Tamshing or Tamzhing Monastery, an essential 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 beautiful monastery. The original temple dates back to the 9th Century, but the current one is a complete reconstruction after it caught by fire in 2010.

Then, a cultural shift. We will meet our driver here for a ride to Panda Brewery and a small cheese factory, founded by a Swiss man in 1960s. Prior appointment is necessary (Admission ticket $5 is not included). 

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: Rinchenling Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 07~Excursion to the remote Ura Valley

Today, with our guide and driver, we go on a scenic drive to Ura Valley with charming villages and spectacular landscape. The valley of Ura is believed to be the home of the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. Tourists less frequent Ura Valley. We enjoy views of snow-capped mountains along the way.

Hiking option: After about 2-hours, we stop in Serthangla pass and begin our hiking which is mostly downhill through the alpine-like vegetation. The trail continues into steep downhill amidst lush vegetation and beautiful wildflowers. Along the path, we may come across the horses and the cattle grazing. The trail opens into a broad serene valley with picturesque houses. It takes about one hour from the pass to get to the main village. Those who are not hiking can go with your driver.

Once in the valley, take a leisurely stroll through the village and visit the Ura Temple that dominates the landscape as you enter the village. Take a chance to see the monks inside the temple in prayer and also the community kitchen behind where the villagers take the turn to cook for the monks and pilgrims visiting the temple. Meander on the narrow cobbled street around the medieval-looking village. The village has a cluster of 50 whitewashed houses that are typical in the countryside.

Enjoy a traditional meal with a family and also take a chance to check out their dwelling. 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. Also, visit the village school.

After spending some quality time in the village, we will take our van ride back to Jakar, which takes about 3-hours with the occasional stops on the way for photography.

Overnight: Rinchenling Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 08~By flight 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. 

At Paro airport, meet a new driver and transfer to the hotel. Time permitting, your guide and driver will be happy to take you around. You can go for a hike or take a stroll in the township.

Overnight: Khangkhu Resort or similar
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 makes an unforgettable experience for anyone who hikes this temple. The round trip is about four hours for a physically fit person. Non-hikers can take pony ride up to a two-thirds of the trail, but onward the path is narrow and the return trip down is too steep for the ponies.  

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 Lhakhang Temple – another of the 108 temples that King Songsten Gampo of Tibet built in a single night in the 7th century!

Optional Hot Stone Bath:
With advance notice, you can experience a traditional Hot Stone Bath in a farmhouse. Hot stone bath is a conventional Bhutanese 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 such a difficult hike. It costs around US$ 25 per person.

 

Overnight: Khangkhu Resort or similar
Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 10~ Depart Bhutan

After breakfast, your guide and driver will see you off at the airport. 

Meals : Breakfast

Trip Map

Trip Info

Trip includes

  • Accommodation on double occupancy basis in three-star hotels by local standard.
  • 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).
  • Personal expenses 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 journey is a motor vehicle-based tour with some optional hikes and anyone with average health can participate on this trip. The itinerary’s highest altitude is Youtongla pass (3,425 m or 11,234 ft) where we have a brief stop. Our accommodations are in lower elevation where altitude sickness is not a concern. Some of the hiking excursions are steep, but they are optional. There are some long days on the road, usually from three to six hours excluding the stops. The roads are narrow, and the condition deteriorates as we enter the eastern part of the country.

We use 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 the local architectural style and has traditional Bhutanese decor. You will have a private bathroom with running hot and cold water. There may be the disparity in the rooms; so travelers of the same group may get the different types. Toiletry supplies may be limited. Hotels in the towns may have internet and long distance calling available. Hotels indicated in the itinerary are our preferred properties, and they are subject to availability. 

Meals

Our tour features three meals each day, most of them at our hotels. Meals are usually a set menu or buffet and include rice, curried or stir-fried vegetables, noodles, one or two meat dishes, and bread. There are limited choices, and there are no chefs trained in western style dishes. So, you will experience a repetition of the menu soon. In Bhutan, they don't slaughter animals, and so all the meats are imported from India and other neighboring countries. So, meat tends to be chewy. Beware: A local style of meat sauce contains. Our guide can arrange some dinners at local restaurants while you are in Thimphu and Paro. One note: traditional Bhutanese food always features chilies, and the most popular dish, "ema datshi," 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 delivering the best services.

International and internal airfares

The tour starts and finishes in Paro, Bhutan. There are no through airfares from North America or Europe to Bhutan. Only two Bhutanese airlines-Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operate flights to/from Bhutan, and they are a partner to none of the major international carriers. They fly to Bangkok, Kathmandu (Nepal) and Indian cities-Delhi, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Guwahati, and Bagdogra. They also have one or two flights a week from Singapore and Dhaka (Bangladesh). So, choose the gateway city that best works for you. Plan to arrive in the gateway city minimum a day early for safe connection to Bhutan the next day morning. Due to the more frequency of the flights, Bangkok is the most preferred gateway city.

You can book your international airfare to the gateway city (such as Bangkok) on your own, and we will take care of onward flight and return.

Passport and Visa

Your passport must be valid for at least six 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. We apply for Bhutan visa for you we will email you the clearance a few weeks before your trip date. You will get the visa seal on your passport upon arrival at Paro airport. If you are traveling via Indian cities, you need to obtain an Indian visa before your travel begins. If you are flying 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

We request a deposit of US$ 300 along with completed trip registration and a passport scan. The second payment will be for internal airfare.

The balance payment is due 90 days prior departure. Final payment by credit card also attracts an additional 3.5% fee. You will save this fee by paying personal check or cashier's check.

Cancellation and Refund

If you need to withdraw from the trip, please send us notification in writing, by email or fax. Our cancellation fee structure is as below. 

  • 90 days prior departure: US$ 150 (Administrative Fee).
  • 60-89 day's before departure: US$ 300 or 25% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • Forty-five days to 59 days before departure: US$ 450 or 50% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • Thirty 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 withdrawal from the 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 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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No 13 Jiangsu road Lhasa Tibet China.
Tel: +86-(891)-6836609,
Fax: +86-(891)-6836619


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