Spirit of Bhutan Tour

About the Experience

Imagine a country that places happiness above all else, where every policy must pass a happiness filter to be enacted. Imagine trekking through lush green mountainous valleys of a remote Himalayan kingdom where yak herders greet you with smiles, where the chanting of monks echoes from ancient cliff-side monasteries, and where colourful prayer flags rippling in the breeze overlook staggering views of snow-capped peaks.

Welcome to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, also known as Bhutan.

There’s a reason why people call Bhutan the last Shangri-La. Bhutan’s dramatic otherworldly scenic beauty and centuries-old peaceful Buddhist culture is unmatched on this planet. But Bhutan is also cutting edge with its eco-sustainability and its Gross National Happiness index—showing a deep respect and love not only for nature but for human beings.  In your rambles through Bhutan’s villages, towns, and mountainsides, you’ll see that it’s the unique blend of the ancient and modern which makes this small, hidden and fun-loving country so enchanting.

Over the course of 13 days you’ll trek through Himalayan wilderness, visit monasteries at the tops of mountain passes, wander through ancient fortresses overlooking Tibet, visit a 3-storey golden Buddha, enjoy a hot stone bath, take an archery lesson, visit a nunnery, go river rafting, visit towns and rural villages, and meander through magical temples and palaces, such as the “Palace of Great Happiness”.

You’ll also get a chance to turn prayer wheels, watch women weaving, laugh along with the Bhutanese at the work of the “Divine Madman” who in the 15th century painted giant penises on buildings to teach the clergy to relax and lighten up. On the two-day Bumdra Monastery Trek—through ancient mossy pine and rhododendron forests—you’ll discover why the trek is also known as the Trek of One Thousand Dakinis (Celestial Female Beings) as you catch glimpses of golden-roofed temples below and majestic fortress monasteries shrouded in mountain mist, ending finally at the legendary Tiger’s Nest.

These are just some of the happy discoveries that await you in this once-in-a-lifetime trip to what may be the closest you’ll ever come to Shangri-La.

 

Click here to see the full itinerary!
Spirit of Bhutan Tour

About the Experience

Imagine a country that places happiness above all else, where every policy must pass a happiness filter to be enacted. Imagine trekking through lush green mountainous valleys of a remote Himalayan kingdom where yak herders greet you with smiles, where the chanting of monks echoes from ancient cliff-side monasteries, and where colourful prayer flags rippling in the breeze overlook staggering views of snow-capped peaks.

Welcome to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, also known as Bhutan.

There’s a reason why people call Bhutan the last Shangri-La. Bhutan’s dramatic otherworldly scenic beauty and centuries-old peaceful Buddhist culture is unmatched on this planet. But Bhutan is also cutting edge with its eco-sustainability and its Gross National Happiness index—showing a deep respect and love not only for nature but for human beings.  In your rambles through Bhutan’s villages, towns, and mountainsides, you’ll see that it’s the unique blend of the ancient and modern which makes this small, hidden and fun-loving country so enchanting.

Over the course of 13 days you’ll trek through Himalayan wilderness, visit monasteries at the tops of mountain passes, wander through ancient fortresses overlooking Tibet, visit a 3-storey golden Buddha, enjoy a hot stone bath, take an archery lesson, visit a nunnery, go river rafting, visit towns and rural villages, and meander through magical temples and palaces, such as the “Palace of Great Happiness”.

You’ll also get a chance to turn prayer wheels, watch women weaving, laugh along with the Bhutanese at the work of the “Divine Madman” who in the 15th century painted giant penises on buildings to teach the clergy to relax and lighten up. On the two-day Bumdra Monastery Trek—through ancient mossy pine and rhododendron forests—you’ll discover why the trek is also known as the Trek of One Thousand Dakinis (Celestial Female Beings) as you catch glimpses of golden-roofed temples below and majestic fortress monasteries shrouded in mountain mist, ending finally at the legendary Tiger’s Nest.

These are just some of the happy discoveries that await you in this once-in-a-lifetime trip to what may be the closest you’ll ever come to Shangri-La.

 

DAY ONE: LAND OF HAPPINESS

Upon your arrival from Delhi, Calcutta, Kathmandu or Bangkok, your guide will meet you at the small and friendly Paro International Airport. Paro is an idyllic mountain valley town full of sacred sites and is the perfect introduction to the alluring kingdom of Bhutan. Depending on your arrival times, we can visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong (Dzong is a distinctive type of fortress-like monastery unique to Bhutan), aka “Fortress on a Heap of Jewels”, a stunning example of Bhutanese architecture.

We’ll take a leisurely 1-hour hike from the Ta Dzong along the forested hillside to Zuri Dzong. The walk passes Gonsaka Lhakhang (a charming old temple with a meditation cave) and then Zuri Dzong, with breathtaking views over the valley and of Paro Dzong. Zuri Dzong, dating from 1352, is home to the valley’s local protector gods. Our walk continues down to the Uma Resort junction for more astonishing views before our driver picks us up at the Paro bridge.

  • Overnight Stay: Paro
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY TWO: GOLDEN BUDDHA

On our day trip to the capital city of Thimphu, we’ll visit the weekly market (if it’s a weekend) and the revered Memorial Chorten, a large Tibetan-style structure that for many Bhutanese is a site for daily worship. We’ll next visit Changangkha, a popular 12th-century temple perched on the hilltop overlooking the town. Devotees flock throughout the day to circumambulate and turn the prayer wheels, which you can also turn yourself. The temple also contains extraordinary wall paintings and hundreds of religious scriptures written in gold.

Next, we visit the gigantic golden statue of Buddha Dordenma, which commands a tremendous view of Thimphu valley. The jaw-dropping 3-story throne holds several chapels and the body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha. Afterward we visit Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre in Changzamto where you can watch women weaving intricate fabric for the traditional Bhutanese dress of gho (for men) and kira (for women). There will be some time this afternoon to stroll in town at leisure, and then we return to Paro for the night.

  • Overnight Stay: Paro
  • Hiking Distance: 2 km

DAY THREE: CHELE LA PASS

This morning we take a drive to the stunning Chele La pass. At 3900 meters it’s the highest motorable pass in the country. On the way, we’ll see alpine wildflowers, pristine rushing rivers, snowy peaks, and grazing Himalayan yaks.

Once at the pass, we’ll walk five minutes towards a small stupa (a mound-like structure containing relics and used as a place of meditation) and then follow an old trail downhill for a couple of hours through rhododendron and hemlock forest towards Kila Gompa, a nunnery inhabited by about 30 nuns living a life of contemplation and seclusion. Established in the early 9th century, the community is one of the oldest of seven nunneries in Bhutan. The main temple houses ancient statues of Chenrezig and Guru Rinpoche, among others. If possible we will arrange a meditation session with the nuns. After visiting the nunnery we return to the car, about a 15-minute walk.

  • Overnight Stay: Paro
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY FOUR: BUMTHANG VALLEYS

Today we catch a morning flight to Bumthang, the collective name for a region of four high valleys: Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chumey. Bumthang is known as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan with its legendary monasteries, temples and palaces. Our guide will take us on a mesmerizing walking and/or driving tour of a variety of sacred sites including Jamba Lhakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang, Tamshing Lhakhang.

We’ll also visit Membar Tsho (the burning lake) one of Bhutan’s most significant pilgrimage sites, along with a visit to Bhutan’s largest Dzong—called Jakar Dzong—which translates to “castle of the white bird”. When lamas assembled here in 1549, a big white bird supposedly rose into the air and settled on a hilltop overlook Chokhor valley. This was interpreted as a happy omen and the perfect building spot for the Dzong.

  • Overnight Stay: Bumthang
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY FIVE: MOUNTAINTOP MONASTERIES

Today we take a gorgeous day hike to Babzur via Petseling monastery starting at the Swiss Guesthouse Hotel. We’ll hike for roughly 1.5 hours to a tiny village called Changbi where we’ll be welcomed with hot tea and snacks. We’ll then continue on to Petseling monastery, home to 70 monks (most will be as curious about you as you are of them).

From here we’ll have staggering panoramic views over the Bumthang valley and also see the finishing line of Bhutan’s most challenging trek, the Snowman trek, in the distance. We’ll continue to Babzur, a village beside a lovely meadow lined with prayer flags and astounding views of Kunzangdrak Gompa monastery. After a packed lunch here we’ll walk for another 1.5 hours through blue pine forest until we reach the feeder road where the hike ends.

  • Overnight Stay: Bumthang
  • Hiking Distance: 15 km

DAY SIX: CHUMEY VALLEY VIEWS

Today we take another incredible day hike, this time to Kikila via a 14th-century monastery called Tharpaling Gompa, located on the hillside above Bumthang. We’ll begin by driving about 1.5 hours to Zungney village in Chumey, one of Bumthang’s four mountain valleys. Here we can watch women weaving the traditional yathras, hand-woven wool strips with geometric patterns used locally to make blankets, bed covers, and warm jackets. We’ll browse the shops that sell the yathras directly from the makers and then continue another 20 minutes to a local family-owned incense factory where juniper, rhododendron, and cypress are used to make incense.

From here we’ll drive 35 minutes to Tharpaling Gompa, a monastery built by a saint named Kuenkhen Longchen Runjam, and today, home to 100 monks. If possible we’ll attend a ritual ceremony or private meditation session with the monks.

From the temple, we’ll climb on foot up a narrow path to the ridge of Tharpaling (which translates as salvation) at 3800 meters where we’ll be greeted with spectacular views over the Gyatsa, Domkha and Chumey valleys. From here we’ll walk another couple of hours down toward Lama Gomba.  The walk runs dramatically along the ridge of Kikila towards Kikila pass through ancient blue pine forest and dazzling displays of wildflowers and finally follows the traditional trek route between Trongsa and Bumthang (the Royal Heritage Trail) finishing with a brilliant view of Jakar Dzong.  Here our driver will be waiting to take us back to the hotel.

  • Overnight Stay: Bumthang
  • Hiking Distance: 12 km

DAY SEVEN: GANGTEY GOMPA

Today we’ll drive about six hours to Gangtey, one of the most beautiful and remote spots in all of Bhutan and home of the rare black-necked cranes that arrive every year from the Tibetan plateau. We’ll see panoramic views of the immense Phobjikha valley, a glacial valley untouched by the modern world, as well as views of the Black Mountains.

We’ll visit the Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and recently extensively renovated) that during the summer months is inhabited by monks and dramatically sits overlooking the valley below. We’ll explore this ancient valley where villagers live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle. This is the site where black-necked cranes visit in the hundreds every November after spending the summer in Tibet.

  • Overnight Stay: Gangtey
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY EIGHT: PHOBJIKHA VALLEY

Enjoy the day walking around and exploring the Phobjikha Valley. You can start at the Dewachen Hotel and walk to the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre to learn about the valley and its famous migrating birds. From here you can walk to Beta Village, then continue to Gangtey Gompa from where you can walk along the Gangtey Nature Trail, past Semchubara village, through forests of blue pine trees covered with lichen (known as old man’s beard) and where you can hopefully see some birds.

Continue from the end of the nature trail to Kingathang village where you can visit a temple built by Bhutan’s Queen Mother. From Kingathang, you can walk via Yusa village back to your hotel. The total distance of all this is 12 to 13 km (6 to 7 hrs).  Later we’ll drive to Wangdi, a small mountain town nestled beside a river and originally considered Bhutan’s secondary capital. Sadly, their monastery, Wangdi Dzong, was gutted by fire in June 2012, destroying in a few hours not only a magnificent building that had stood proudly for hundreds of years but also the painstaking work that had been in progress for many months to rebuild recent earthquake damage using traditional construction methods. Luckily, the monastery was being renovated at the time so most of the relics were safely in storage elsewhere.

  • Overnight Stay: Wangdi
  • Hiking Distance: 13 km

DAY NINE: PUNAKHA DZONG

Today we’ll hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten via the village of Yebisa. The walk starts from the suspension bridge below Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten and we’ll hike for 10 minutes or so from the bridge through the rice paddy fields of Yebisa village. We’ll continue the hike for around 40 to 50 minutes up to the 30-meter-tall temple. (This part of the walk is fairly gentle but there are some steeper parts.) From the top, we’ll see postcard views of the valley and surrounding villages.

After visiting the temple we’ll descend for around 30 minutes until we reach the suspension bridge where we’ll be picked up by our car.

This afternoon we’ll go rafting on the Po Chu or Mo Chu River, and later visit the imposing and deeply impressive Punakha Dzong, “Palace of Great Happiness”. Built in 1637, it is strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, the Po Chu and the Mo Chu.

  • Overnight Stay: Wangdi
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY TEN: CHIMI LHAKHANG

This morning we’ll take a walk for an hour or so across the terraced fields of Sopsokha village to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) built in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drukpa Kuenley). One of the country’s best-loved saints, the Divine Madman was a “crazy yogi” who taught through outrageous behavior, song and poetry, trying to awaken people’s “Buddha” nature and send a message to the conservative clergy to relax a little by laughing and having a lot more sex. You’ll see evidence of his antics throughout the country in the form of painted penises on people’s houses.

Next, we’ll return to Paro (a 4-hour drive) to visit a local family for tea, and then you can try the restorative properties of a hot stone bath! We’ll also arrange an archery lesson today.

This evening you can sort out your luggage for the trek. Anything you don’t need to carry with you will be kept safely in Paro to await your return. Our accommodation tonight will be at the luxurious 5 star  Zhiwa Ling lodge (one of National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World!)

  • Overnight Stay: Paro
  • Hiking Distance: 0 km

DAY ELEVEN: HIMALAYAN VISTAS

Today we begin our two-day camping trip trek high up on the hillside outside Paro. The trek begins with a 1-hour drive from Paro to Sang Choekor Buddhist College where we start walking at an altitude of about 2800m. We climb gradually upwards through blue pine and juniper forest and after about three hours, reach the majestic temple Chhoe Chhoe Tse Lhakhang, nestled on a mountainside.

We carry on climbing for another 20 minutes or so until we re-enter the forest, and after about 40 minutes, emerge into a lovely alpine meadow full of chortens (Buddhist shrines) and colorful prayer flags flapping in the breeze. Your campsite for the night is just below the nearby Bumdra Monastery, at about 3800 meters, and where the snowy and sweeping Himalayan vistas will have you swaying (and taking photos) with disbelief. You can also visit the monastery, and if you’re still feeling energetic, climb the 4000m peak to admire the views before returning to camp.

  • Overnight Stay: In camp
  • Hiking Distance: 15 km

DAY TWELVE: TREK TO THE TIGER’S NEST

Today we descend again through the forest and after a couple of hours, we’ll start seeing numerous temples. From the gardens of Sangtopelri we’ll be able to look down and see the roofs of Taktshang monastery far below. Guru Rinpoche, said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress, subsequently meditated here for three months. This is one of Bhutan’s most holy sites and draws pilgrims not only from Bhutan but also from neighboring Buddhist countries. We’ll keep descending through the primeval forest, finally visiting the famous and spectacular Tiger’s Nest monastery itself. From here it’s about an hour down to the bottom where we’ll meet our vehicle to return to Paro. Nearby you can also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple believed to have been built in 659 by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, to pin down the foot of a giant ogress. Pilgrims walk around this temple, spinning is numerous pray wheels.

  • Overnight Stay: Paro, Zhiwa Ling lodge
  • Hiking Distance: 16 km

DAY THIRTEEN: TASHI DELEK

Early in the morning your guide will accompany you to the airport to see you off onto your flight and wish you “tashi delek” (goodbye and good luck!).

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