Bhutan Grand Tour from Asia's gay travel Poneers

Our Ten-Day Grand Bhutan Tour

With a bit more time you can experience some of the less-visited places in  the country's spiritual heartland

Day One: Spectacular Himalaya Views

Arrive 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. You will be met on arrival and taken 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: A Capital City With No Traffic Lights

Drive to Thimphu, which is probably the world's smallest capital city, with only three traffic lights and a handful of paved streets. In the afternoon you visit the King's Memorial Chorten, built in memory of the third King of Bhutan who reigned from 1952-1972. Chortens (same as a stupa or chedi) were originally 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.

Later, visit 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,

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 Three: Get a Fertility Blessing!

Continue to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan to visit Punakha Dzong, which dates to 1637 and is considered one of the most beautiful in Bhutan.

Later, 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" who taught a revolutionary alternative to orthodox Buddhism and is remembered for his sexual prowess. Overnight in Wangduephodrang or nearby Punakha.

Day Four: Into the Enchanted Forest

Today's excursion is to Phobjikha Valley, which takes you through  dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons. 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 in Tibet in the eighth century.

The Phobjikha 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.

From there you'll head to Trongsa, the ancestral home of the royal family. The route is along a spectacular winding road, crossing 3,300-meter-high Pele La. You can browse through the Trongsa shops and town in the afternoon. Overnight in Trongsa.

Day Five: A Massive Fortress & a Magic Carpet

In the morning you'll visit 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 visit Ta Dzong, the watchtower built to defend the Dzong.

Weaving is a large cottage industry in Trongsa and among the best places in the country to buy textiles and carpets.

In the afternoon you'll proceed to Bumthang, a region of four lush rural valleys surrounded by dense forest.

Along the way you will stop at a yethra (textile weaving) workshop, 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. Two nights in Bumthang.

Day Six: The Legacy of Guru Rimpoche & a Cheese Factory

Bumthangis considered the religious heartland of Bhutan because of the age and importance of the spiritual places here. The valleys are full of farms and orchards that produce an abundance of fruits, honey and grains.

There is much 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.

Day Seven: Bumthang Market & Wangdue

You'll begin the day at the Bumthang market, and then drive to Wangduephodrang, where you can stroll through the town and visit the shops. The nearby villages are known for their slate and stone carvings and bamboo work. Overnight in Wangduephodrang.

Alternatively, you can take a 25 minute flight to Paro, which will allow you an extra night in Bumthang to visit the spectacular rural valleys of Tang or Ura, and see the amazing "Flaming Lake." Flights are daily and help to avoid an overnight road trip. We will make sure you do not miss anything in Punakha/Wangduephodrang.

Day Eight Back to Paro

Set out for Paro after breakfast. In the afternoon, you will go to a farmhouse and receive a cooking lesson in the farmhouse kitchen. If you like you can spend the night as a guest of the farm house, and take advantage of a hot stone bath. Otherwise, we have a comfy hotel room for you.

Day Nine: A Tiger's Nest & A Farm House

After 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 but you have to walk down.)

In the afternoon you can have a look around Paro town and take a long drive to the opposite end of this long valley to visit Bhutan's oldest fortified temple, Drukgyal Dzong, that dates to 1649. Much of building was destroyed in a fire in 1951, but is being rebuilt to celebrate the infant who will eventually become Bhutan's sixth king (affectionately known as "K6").

Day Ten: Return to Reality

Free time until you are taken to the airport for your departure flight. Darn.

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Includes: Purple Dragon's Bhutan Grand Tour includes all hotels, meals, sightseeing with private guides, all meals,  private transportation for sightseeing, admissions costs, all known taxes. Not included: visa fee, airfare, beverages, airport taxes if any, gratuities, items of a strictly personal nature.

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