Central Bhutan Tour (11 days)
This cultural tour offers a rare opportunity to savour different customs and cultures of the western and central valleys of Bhutan at a leisurely pace. Highlights include Ta Dzong Museum, Rinpung Dzong and famous Taktshang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) in the beautiful Paro Valley, the National Memorial Choeten, the 12th-century Changangkha Temple and the National Library exhibiting ancient scriptures in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. After crossing the 3,050 m Dochula Pass, we take a journey into the sub-tropical Punakha valley featuring the historic Punakha Dzong and Chime Lhakhang, the Temple of Fertility. Then, continue towards the central districts of Trongsa, the birthplace of monarchy, and Bumthang.
- Arrive in Paro
Your guide from BCD-Bhutan will receive you at the airport and drive you to the hotel. After lunch, we visit Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower, which is today the National Museum of Bhutan. Then, visit Rinpung Dzong (Paro Dzong) built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Dinner and overnight stay in Paro
- Paro-Thimphu: Excursion to Taktshang Monastery
After breakfast, visit Kyichu Lhakhang (5 km from the town). The temple is one of the two among 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century to subdue a demon that lay supine across Tibet and Bhutan. The temple contains sacred relics dating back to the 7th century like a statue of Lord Buddha and four statues of Chagtong Chentong. It also contains the statues of Guru Nangsi Zilnon, Dolma Kukuli (a manifestation of Tara), Zhabdrung, the bone relic of his Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Then drive to Drukgyal Dzong, 16 km north of the valley, built in 1647 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the father, and unifier of medieval Bhutan, to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders in 1644. The dzong, which is reconstructed, was used as an important watchtower for defence until 1951 when a fire destroyed it. Explore the ramparts of the dzong and experience an unforgettable view of Mt. Jomolhari (7,314 m).
We drive back the same way to Satsham Choeten and start our hike towards Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest). Taktshang is perhaps the most famous monastery in the country. The monastery was named Taktshang after Guru Rinpoche flew there from Kurtoe Singay Dzong riding a tigress in the form of Guru Dorji Drolo. Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay began the construction of the monastery in 1692 and completed it in 1694. The monastery houses many temples that contain sacred statues of eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, Tshepame Yabyum and Bone relic of Pelgi Singay.
In the evening, drive to Thimphu. On the way, we can view Tamchog Monastery, a private monastery built by Thangtong Gyalpo (Popularly known as Lama Chazampa, which literally means, the Iron Bridge builder) in the 15th century. It is situated along the Paro Chu. Thangtong Gyalpo (1385–1464) was a Tibetan lama who built 108 bridges across Tibet and Bhutan, out of which 8 were built in Bhutan.
Dinner and overnight in Thimphu
- Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast, visit the National Memorial Choeten. It was built by in 1974 by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Phuntsho Choden in memory of her son, Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The three-storeychoeten houses several relics such as Phurba Lhatshog, Kagay, Khrowo Nampur Gyalwa, Guru Tshengye, and Khenlop Chesum. The choeten is today the spiritual nerve centre of the city.
Then visit the National Library which gives a permanent home for sacred religious books and collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts. Then we visit Painting School. After lunch, we drive to the Traditional Medicine Institute where medicines are prepared according to ancient practices, and to Lungtenzampa to observe the Royal silver smiths and Bhutanese paper factory. Other places of interest include Tashichho Dzong. We finally visit the Handicrafts Emporium followed by shopping for souvenirs in the markets of Thimphu.
Dinner and overnight stay in Thimphu
- Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast, visit Folk Heritage Museum, Textile Museum, Changangkha Lhakhang and Philatelic office. After lunch, hike to Cheri Monastery and to the largest statue of Buddha in the world (Buddha Point).
Dinner and overnight stay in Thimphu
- Thimphu to Punakha
After breakfast, drive to Punakha via Dochula Pass (3140m). Dochula Pass offers a spectacular view of mountains on all sides. The 108 choetens at Dochula Pass gives the passer the beauty of the fresh and high altitude vegetation. On the way, stop a while to view Chime Lhakhang, also called the Temple of Fertility built by Lam Ngawang Choje on the spot where Lam Drukpa Kunley subdued the demoness of Dochula. The Lhakhang is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some beautiful slate carvings. Childless women pray to a fertility goddess here.
We have lunch in Punakha. After lunch, visit Punakha Dzong built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal 1937 and named it Pungthang Dewa Chenpai Phodrang, the Palace of Great Bliss. Later it became the final retreat palace for him. The first monarch, King Ugyen Wangchuck, was crowned there and it served as the capital of the country until 1955. Today it serves as the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body. The sacred relic Rangjung Kharsapani is also kept in the Machen Temple inside the dzong.
- Punakha to Gangtey
After early breakfast, drive to Trongsa via Gangtey. On the way, sightseeing in the valley of Wangdiphodrang includes a visit to Wangdiphodrang Dzong (reconstructed) originally built in 1638. Located between Punatsangchu and Dangchu, Wangdiphodrang Dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1638 on a mountain ridge that resembles a sleeping elephant. Zhabdrung is believed to have received the prophecy to build the dzong from guardian deity Mahakala while meditating at Chime Lhakhang. He sent his attendant to check out the place after a dark figure instructed him to meditate on the ridge. On approaching the ridge, the attendant saw four ravens fly towards four directions. Taking it as a good omen, Zhabdrung built the dzong. Years later, it was enlarged by the 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgay. The dzong was completely burnt down in June 2012 it is being rebuilt to its former glory.
Drive further to Gangtey. Visit Gangtey monastery also known as Gangtey Gompa. The temple was founded in 1613 by Pema Thinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa and the first Gangtey Trulku. The name of the monastery was derived from its location atop (teng) and hill (gang). The monastery is today among the biggest in the country and houses a shedra (Monastic college).At present, the ninth Gangtey Trulku Kunzang Pema Namgyal looks after the monastery. The packed lunch will be served at Gangtey. Dinner and overnight stay at Thekchen Phodrang Guest House.
- Gangtey to Trongsa to Bumthang
After breakfast, drive to Trongsa. Visit Trongsa Dzong. The most spectacular dzong in Bhutan, Trongsa Dzong was built by Chogyal Mingyur Tenpa in 1647 at the site where a small temple was built by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk and named it Druk Mingyur Chokor Rabten Tse. The dzong was once a seat of the highest ranking regional ruler in Bhutan, Trongsa Penlop. The dzong consists of many different temples built by many different rulers and saints of Bhutan.
Then, visit Trongsa Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower. Ta Dzong is located above Trongsa Dzong on the left bank of the Mangde River. It was built by Chogyal Mingyur Tenpa, the first governor of Trongsa in 1652. The watchtower now houses a museum. The Gesar Lhakhang inside Ta Dzong is dedicated to Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal. After lunch, we drive to Bumthang.
Dinner and overnight stay in Bumthang
- Bumthang sightseeing
After breakfast, we visit Jakar Dzong, the Castle of White Bird. The current structure was rebuilt in 1667. The dzong acted as the fortress of defence for the central and eastern Bhutan. Then, visit Jampa Lhakhang. Jampa Lhakhang is believed to be one of the two temples (the other is Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro) built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century AD in Bhutan among 108 temples that he built in one day to subdue a demoness that lay supine across the Himalayas. It’s believed to have been built on the left knee of the demoness. Besides the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from which the temple derives its name, the temple contains more than 100 statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first King of Bhutan in 1887.
After lunch, visit Kurjey Lhakhang named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche (Ku – body; Jey – print). It was built in 1652 by Chogyal Mingyur Tenpa. Kurjey is a very important place of pilgrimage for the Bhutanese and the Buddhists from all over the world. Then, visit Tamzhing Lhakhang. Built in 1505 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the temple served as his main seat. The relics contained in the statues in the temple are treasures discovered by the terton himself. The two-storey temple houses the images of Peling Tsokhor Sum (three principal deities of Peling tradition), the three Buddhas (Duesum Sangay), Guru Tshengyed (eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche), a life-size statue of Terton Pema Lingpa. Among many relics crafted by the founder himself are the hat of Guru statue and a metal chain armour.
Then visit Mebar Tsho (the Burning Lake) in the Tang Valley near Bumthang. Mebar Tsho (meaning Burning Lake) is the sacred lake from where renowned Terton Pema Lingpa discovered treasures as directed by Guru Rinpoche. Terton jumped into the lake with a burning butter lamp in his hand. He miraculously emerged from the lake after some time with a chest and a scroll of paper, the butter lamp still burning. Therefore, the lake came to be known as Mebar Tsho.
- Bumthang to Thimphu
After an early breakfast, drive to Thimphu. Lunch will be served on the way.
Dinner and overnight stay in Thimphu
Drive to airport and bid farewell.