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Bhutan Explorer & Jambay Lhakhang Festival


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Journey through the mystical kingdom of Bhutan during the Jambay Lhakhang festival


Arrive Paro (2280m) and drive to Thimphu (2400m)

Today we fly to Paro, a historic town located in western Bhutan with tiny streets and brightly painted wooden shops. If skies are clear en route, we’ll be treated to views of the massive eastern Himalaya peaks, including Kangchenjunga, which at 28,169 feet is the world’s third-highest mountain, and 24,035-foot Jomolhari, Bhutan’s holy mountain. Once on the ground, you meet your Bhutanese guide and driver who will greet you with a BIG Kuzu Zangpola (Welcome).We drive to Thimphu (approx 1 hr drive) and check into the hotel overlooking the Thimphu valley. This is the first proper glimpse of Bhutan but you should be aware that this is the most developed urban center in Bhutan, very unique from any capital of the world. Home to the government, the royal family and the head offices of all international organization Thimphu has changed radically in the last decade. After a quick freshen up we begin the Bhutan Experience by visiting the Buddha Dordenma, the largest sitting statue of Buddha in the World. This statue sits atop a hill protectively overlooking the Thimphu valley below. In the evening, our guide will conduct a thorough tour briefing outlining the trip ahead. Overnight: Hotel Riverview or equivalent

Explore Thimphu

We have a day to explore the nation's capital of Thimphu and its plethora of historical museums and sites. Today's activities include visiting the Textile Museum which showcases the renowned traditional textile arts of Bhutan and displays the royal robes donned by the King and Queen of Bhutan worn at the Royal Wedding in 2012. We also visit a folk heritage museum - offering an insight into the village life of a local farmer, the famed Thimphu Dzong, a magnificent structure that seats the Government and the office of his Majesty. Take some time to admire the architecture of this and other Dzongs as they were constructed without a single nail. Thimphu Dzong is the summer home of the central monk, during winter he moves to Punakha. The tour continues at a painting school that teaches students the thirteen traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.Overnight: Hotel Riverview or similar

Drive to Punakha (1300m) via Dochu La (drive approx 4-5 hrs)

This morning we head off over the Dochu La pass at 3100m feet towards Punakha, where it is relatively warmer than Paro and Thimphu. Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan and is dominated by the impressive Punakha Dzong, which sits at the confluence of the Mo (female) and Po (male) rivers. The Central Monk Body moves from Thimphu to Punakha every winter as the lower elevation is more temperate. En route we visit the Chimi Lhakhang (temple) dedicated to the Divine Mad Monk- Drukpa Kuenley and listen to your guide how this Buddhist monk was able to teach people through very peculiar and unconventional methods of teaching, the words of the Buddha. Overnight: Khuru Resort or similar

Explore Punakha

Today’s day begins with a short hike through rice fields, chilies and cabbage, to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a monument dedicated to the King of Bhutan, that offers commanding views of the valley floor and up to the high mountains of Gasa. This beautiful trek is about two hours to and from the road. Once at the Chorten (stupa) you will be treated with spectacular view of the whole Punakha valley.We will plan a Picnic lunch today in an exclusive campsite by the riverside of Mo Chhu. Our next stop will be the magnificent Punakha Dzong built on the confluence of the Pho and Mo Chhu (male and female) rivers. The Dzong is the winter residence of the monastic order’s head, with numerous alter rooms and grand courtyards to be explored. Built by Zhabdrung in 1637, Punakha Dzong is one of the most impressive architectural monuments in the country. It houses some of the country’s most sacred relics, including Zhabdrung’s preserved remains.Bhutan has many trekking levels available, please speak with your guide for options.Overnight: Khuru Resort or similar

To Gangtey/ Crane Valley (drive approx 3 hrs)

Today we will depart for the stunning Phobjikha Valley, a drive that should take approximately three hours. Our route climbs from the subtropical greenery of Punakha to alpine regions featuring vast hemlock and rhododendron forests. We'll continue into Gangtey Valley, home to Bhutan's black-necked cranes, now an endangered species. Conservation efforts by Bhutan and the World Wildlife Fund have been able to create a safe haven for these stunningly beautiful birds, which flock to the region's marshy wetlands in winter for roosting (mid-October to early March). If luck favors us, we'll have the chance to see a few of these flocks during our time in the valley.We plan to arrive by midday, and you'll have a chance to take some time to relax and enjoy a home-cooked picnic lunch. Afterwards, we'll reconvene for a visit to the Crane Center to learn all about the rare birds and efforts toward protection and community development. We'll get to meet their crane-in-resident, an injured bird that the center cares for year-round.In the evening we’ll head out for a stroll, observing the beauty of the glacial valley and its communities, and stopping to admire the cranes, if they've made their winter arrival. You'll encounter local students on these walks eager to practice their English, an official language of education in Bhutan, along with the national language, Dzongkha. We'll have dinner together and spend the night at our hotel in Gangtey.Overnight: Hotel Dewachen or similar

Explore Gangtey Valley

This morning we embark on a short hike to Gangteng Gompa, a 17th century monastery overlooking the lush Phobjikha hills and wetland. Pema Lingpa, the famous 14th century blacksmith and Terton (treasure finder) from central Bhutan, chose this site for the Gompa; its head lama is an incarnation of this legendary lama. Within the complex you’ll find a central monastery, meditation hall, school, monks’ quarters, and a courtyard. Here we will meet a senior resident monk who has lived his life under strict vows of celibacy, discipline and meditation that are minimum requirements of being the teacher for the young novice monks. We can attend a prayer ceremony here dedicated to our loved ones and for the world peace and all sentient beings.From the temple we’ll hike to the surrounding villages, through forests and farmlands, basking in alpine scenery that is typical of Bhutan’s high country.After lunch, visit a farmhouse and interact with a farmer and his families. While you will notice that modern amenities such as electricity and road have improved the life and sanitation of the houses, the people still live the same as their forefathers, working on the fields and harvesting rice. The family will showcase to us how the famous Bhutanese dish, the ema datse, the chili and cheese curry being prepared and get a chance to taste locally brewed ara (moonshine drink) made from organic grains grown from their fields.Overnight: Hotel Dewachen or similar

Drive to Bumthang via Trongsa (drive approx 4-5 hours)

We continue our journey eastwards towards Trongsa and then to Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. A two and a half hour drive takes as to the steep ravine valley of Trongsa. Here lies the largest fortress in the kingdom, the Trongsa Dzong, powerhouse of ancient Bhutan. Strategically located on the east-west mule tracks, the governors of Trongsa were the most powerful leaders in medieval age that gave birth to the monarchial systems in Bhutan which shaped the history of the country.We visit the precious watch tower known as the Ta Dzong, now converted into a Museum. We venture inside to find a small chapel dedicated to King Gesar, an epic hero of Tibetan history, as well as an excellent museum dedicated to the monarchs of Bhutan.Another two hours of ascent through the winding roads and descend will land us in the Bumthang Valley, our home for the next three nights. Overnight: Rinchenling Lodge or similar

Jambay Lhakhang Festival, Bumthang

This morning we drive to the festival ground of the 7th Century Jambay monastery dedicated to the future Buddha. The festival begins today with the ground purification dance and welcome folk dances by the women of Bumthang. The crowd will slowly pour in as the festival gains momentum. There are different local, national and Tibetan style masked and folk dances that will captivate your attention. Festivals offers an opportunity to immerse yourself into the spirituality of the atmosphere.Traditional Buddhist festivals in Bhutan are colorful affairs with dancers in elaborate traditional costumes and masks. The dances are designed to bring blessings to the spectators, instruct onlookers as to the Buddha’s teachings and protect the monastery and the Kingdom from bad luck. Witnessing this important festival offers a rare insight into Buddhist culture.One of the highlight worthy of mentioning is the midnight naked men dance, Tercham that requires you to be at the chilly grounds at the stroke of midnight. We recommend you wear warm clothes and many travelers have highlighted this event as something very unique. Enjoy the Tshechu! In the evening as the Tshechus nears to end, hike to Kurjey Lhakhang dedicated to one of the most important and notable saints, Guru Rinpoche whose legacy also includes the famous Tiger’s Nest in Paro. Overnight: Rinchenling Lodge or similar

To Tang Valley and drive to Trongsa

In the morning, drive up to Tang valley, the most remote of Bumthang's valleys. Terton Pema Lingpa the famous saint responsible for discovering many treasures as prophesized by Guru Rimpoche was born in this valley. Tang Valley villagers her sheep and yaks, at higher elevation. Tang combines immense natural beauty with the mystique of playing host to the greatest collection of eminent spiritual practitioners. One such person, Longchen Rabjam and his descendants have built the Ogyenchholing,Ogyencholing Museum in Tang valley was restored in the 19th century. Today it houses the Family Museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The museum houses exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Tshokye Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan's history truly unfolds here.We visit a local school and understand the modern educations system of Bhutan. All schools follow English medium. The students are always curious to test out their spoken English and also will nursery rhymes and songs for you. You are expected to return the favor with a nursery rhyme.Drive back for an hour and reach Pema Choling Nunnery where nuns undergoes several years of religious studies and living life of celibacies. We may be lucky enough to meet and interact with some of the nuns or even sit in the shrine and hear them chant mantras with bells and drums.Towards the late afternoon we drive to Trongsa for the nightOvernight: Yangkhil Hotel or similar

Drive to Paro (drive approx 7 hrs)

Today's return journey is about 7 hours and on route we will stop at momumental locations such as the Chendiji Stupa. We retract the journey back towards western Bhutan and drive across Pelela pass, descend to Wangdi and the Dochula pass. The drive is scenic and we will stop periodically to truly appreciate the landscapes and country side of Bhutan. drive back retraces our journey towards western Bhutan. We drive across the Pelela pass, descending to Wangdi and then ascend the Dochula pass. The rest of the night in Paro will be at your leisure and to relax in preparation for the challenging but achievable hike to Takstang Monastery the following morning. Overnight: Hotel Drukchen or similar

Trek to Taktsang Monastery

This morning embark on the challenging but very doable walk to Taktsang Gonpa, one of the most iconic and venerated Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas. Set into a cliff face 800m (2600 ft.) above the Paro, the Tiger’s Nest, as it's known, takes its name from a mythical journey made by Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), who flew there on a tigress’ back in order to meditate for three months and convert the valley to Buddhism. Since then, many of Buddhism's most influential figures have visited.The main building of Taktsang was badly damaged in a fire, and a major restoration ended in 2003. The view from the teahouse is well worth the climb, and it is possible to hike all the way to the Goempa for a further 45 minutes and visit the various shrines in the building.Towards late afternoon, we will visit the 7th Century wish fulfilling Kyichu temple, built at the same time as the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang where we witnessed the festival. We stroll the market place and the different handicraft shops to shop for souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home if interested. We retire early to prepare ourselves for a big day tomorrow, the hike to Taktsang Monastery. Soak in the luxury of the hotel and enjoy a farewell dinner with our guide and driver.

Trip concludes in Paro

Your guide and driver will accompany you to the airport and bid their farewells there.

Additional Information

The remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is well known for it's untouched wilderness, rich Buddhist culture and a history steeped in mystic and legend. Our cultural journey encompasses all that Bhutan has to offer taking in the 'must see' highlights of both western and central Bhutan. Our tour begins in the picturesque Paro Valley, home to the Tigers Nest (Taktsang) monastery, before we drive across the dramatic Dochu La into central Bhutan, to Bumthang. It is widely regarded that Bhutanese Bhuddism first took hold here and the legacies are the many ancient and magnificent monasteries in and around the area.

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