Day One: Defy Time & SpaceArrive in Paro after a spectacular flight that takes you deep into the Himalayas, affording awesome views of towering peaks, including the sacred Jumolhari and Jichu Drake peaks in Bhutan. Welcome to Bhutan! You may feel like you have been transported to a different dimension in time and space. Your ultimate gay Bhutan adventure begins when we greet you on arrival on arrival and convey you to your hotel.
In the afternoon you visit the Paro Dzong. It was built in 1646 and now houses government offices and religious institutions, as do all dzongs (forts) in the kingdom. You will cross a traditional wooden bridge along the way.
Afterward you will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the country.
In the evening you can stroll through the Paro market and town.
Day Two: The Tiger's NestAfter breakfast we walk to Taktsang ("Tiger's Nest"), which is Bhutan's most famous monastery, perched on the edge of a steep cliff, about 900 meters above Paro Valley. The hike to reach the viewpoint to the monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion. (You can also travel on horse-back if you have physical limitations.)
After lunch, you will visit a local farm for a cooking lesson in the farmhouse kitchen. If you like you can spend the night in the home's alter room, where you can make your own offerings and prayers. If you wish you can also take a hot stone bath.
Day Three: The Haa ValleyDrive to the Haa Valley this morning via the scenic Chele La Pass. This pristine valley was not open to foreigners until 2001 and is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Queen Mother. Bounded by forested hills, the valley is rather narrow and dotted with villages, colorfully-decorated homes, monasteries, and a patchwork of farms growing mullet, barley and potatoes. You may see a yak or two. Return to Paro late in the day.
Day Four: The World's Smallest Capital CityAfter breakfast you drive to Thimphu, which is probably the world's smallest capital city. In the afternoon you visit the King's Memorial Chorten (built in memory of the third King of Bhutan who reigned from 1952-1972). A chorten is much the same as a stupa or chedi. Originally they were used as the final resting place of someone significant, or a relic of a saint.
You also visit Changgangkha Monastery, built in the 15th century. If it is open and you are up to climbing a long flight of stone steps you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the valley. The most important of the temple's statues is that of an eleven-headed manifestation of Lord Buddha that has 1,000 arms and 1,000 eyes.
Next, it's on to the Thimpu Dzong, which now houses government ministries, and Simtokha Dzong. The latter was built on a rocky hill into which an annoying demon was imprisoned in the seventeenth century.
Next is the takin reserve to see the national animal. The takin is an odd-looking beast that might result from the union of a goat and an antelope. The takin is revered for its resilience in harsh conditions (even though it is endangered) and is also a part of Bhutanese mythology.
You will also make quick visits to several other places, including the National Library (which houses ancient manuscripts), and the School of Arts and Crafts, which teaches thirteen different crafts and from weaving and embroidery to carpentry and blacksmithing. We will also squeeze in a stop at the main post office for Bhutan's collectable stamps.
Day Five: Thimpu, Cheri Monasteries and Tango MonasteryAfter breakfast you will drive 12km north of Thimphu to visit the Tango and Cheri monasteries. It will take about 45 minutes to hike to the monastery. Tango Monastery is a Buddhist college and it's the residence of the Desi Tenzin Rabgye, a young boy who is the reincarnation of the sixteenth-century monk who built Tango. Afterward, if you wish, you can wander through Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Park. Return to Thimpu in the afternoon.
Day Six: Punakha, Metshina VillageDepart Thimpu this morning on a three-hour drive to Wangduephodrang. We take a tea break along the way at Dochu La (3,100 meters), where on a clear day you can enjoy spectacular views of the Himalayas. This is a strategic pass that connects the eastern and western halves of the country. The remarkable natural beauty and many prayer flags makes this seem a very serene place.
After lunch there is a short detour to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan. Here you will visit the Punakha Dzong, which dates to 1637 and is considered one of the most beautiful in Bhutan.
On the way back from Punakha, you will stop at Metshina Village and take a 20-minute walk through the rice fields to Chimi Lakhang, a fertility temple, where you may receive a special fertility blessing if you think you need one. This temple is dedicated to a saint who is popularly known as "the Divine Madman." Although he was not a monk, he taught a revolutionary alternative to orthodox Buddhism and is remembered for his sexual prowess. Many homes and temples in this region are decorated with flying phalluses as a symbol of fertility and as a gesture of respect for the Divine Madman.
Overnight in Wangduephodrang.
Day Seven: Gantey, Nyingmapa, Black-Necked Cranes, and PhobjikhaToday's excursion is to Gantey, which takes you through dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons, and a steep pass with waterfalls and deep ravines. Once you arrive you will visit Gantey Gompa, a monastery with a golden roof. This is the only Nyingmapa (which means "ancient ones") monastery in this part of Bhutan. The Nyingmapas first established Buddhism here in the eighth century.
This valley is the home of the black-necked crane, which migrates in winter from Ladakh. The cranes use the golden roof as a beacon. Locals say the birds circle the temple three times before they land in the valley. Residents here use solar power since they are concerned that power lines might harm the cranes.
Overnight in Phobjikha.
Day Eight: BumthangIn the morning you'll continue Trongsa Dzong, the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. This massive and impregnable fortress is built on many levels ascending a hill, so it can be seen from a great distance. You will also see Ta Dzong, the watchtower built to defend the dzong.
Weaving is a large cottage industry in Trongsa, which is among the best places in the country to buy textiles and carpets.
In the afternoon you'll proceed to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation, with lush valleys and hilly forests. Along the way you will stop at a yethra (textile weaving) factory, where the yethras are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms. You can spend the evening strolling through Bumthang town. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day Nine: Bumthang, Jambey LhakhangThere is quite a bit to see in Bumthang so we set out after an early breakfast. Many of the places you visit will be connected to Guru Rinpoche, who traveled from what is now Tibet to Bhutan in the 8th century. Today he is considered a Buddhist saint and often referred to as "the second Buddha." As a result of his visit Buddhism began to flourish throughout Bhutan.
Begin with a visit to Jakar Dzong, the "fortress of the white bird," near Jakar town, and the first stop Guru Rinpoche made here. You will also see Jambey Lhakhang, the oldest monastery in the country and the venue for one of Bhutan's most colorful festivals, which includes the peculiar "Penis Ceremony."
Next, visit Jambey Lhakhang, an eighth-century monastery where the remains of Bhutan's first three kings are interred. It is also the place where Guru Rinpoche left his "body print" in a stone. Next, it's on to Tamshing Lhakhang to see magnificent old temple paintings, a short hike to visit the Thangbi Monastery and a Swiss cheese factory.
In the evening, you will go to a farmhouse and receive a cooking lesson in the farmhouse kitchen. You can also spend the night in the alter room and make your own offerings and prayers. If you wish you can also take a hot stone bath. Overnight in the farmhouse if you like (otherwise in a hotel).
Day Ten: Thrumshin Pass and MongarYou will begin your journey to eastern Bhutan, which is different from western and central Bhutan in terms of development and lifestyle. The steepness of the region lends itself to some spectacular views, with rushing waterfalls and sheer drops.
Today's journey is an exhilarating eight-hour drive over the Thrumshing Pass. The pass was chiseled from steep rocky cliffs and peaks at 3,750 meters, which is the highest pass in Bhutan that can be crossed by car. There are lush forests, streams and waterfalls along the route. This area is a national park that is home to a number of threatened migratory birds. Aside from its dramatic scenic beauty and coniferous forests, the park is best known for its rhododenrons, which are breathtaking when in bloom.
Arrive in the town of Mongar late in the afternoon. This sleepy town is worth exploring on foot on your own. Dinner and overnight in Mongar.
Day Eleven: The Kori La Pass to Charming TrashigangNext you head to Trashigang. The drive over Kori La (pass) leads to a 1,630-meter descent through a pretty valley with several charming homes and an old monastery. As you approach Trashigang, the dzong comes into view high atop the hills along the Kulong and Gamri rivers. Trashigang is a mellow hamlet surrounded by idyllic scenery, with many attractively painted buildings, small shops, and cafes. The town was once an important center for trade with Tibet. During your visit you may see nomadic Sakteng and Merak people, who easily stand out due to their unusual garments. Overnight in Trashigang.
Day Twelve: TrashigangtseToday you will visit nearby Tashiyangtse, which is another small, pretty little town. The people are known for making wooden bowls and containers, which are said to be the best in Bhutan. Just below the town is the Chorten Kora. Along the way to Tashiyangtse you will stop at the Gom Kora temple, behind which is a large black rock. It is said that Guru Rinpoche meditated in a cave in the rock and that you can see the impression of his thumb, his hat, and his body on the rock. You will also visit the abandoned iron chain-link bridge behind the village of Duksum. It is said that this is the last remaining bridge of those built by a Tibetan bridge builder by the name of Thangtong Gyalpo in the 15th century. Later in the day you can relax in Trashigang and enjoy a nice dinner. Overnight in Trashigang.
Day Thirteen: Samdrup Jongkhar and the Yangphu PassThe terrain between Trashigang and the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar has rolling ups and downs and passes over Yangphu La (pass). Samdrup Jongkar is a major market town for the surrounding mountain districts. Overnight in Samdrup Jongkhar.