The Ultimate Bhutan Grand Tour
Fourteen Thrilling Days from Paro in the West, and off the beaten track to the Indian border across this pristine Himalayan Kingdom in style. Only a fraction of visitors to Bhutan go farther east than Punakha, so your experiences will be extremely special. No trekking or camping involved. You get comfortable hotels and tasty meals in our gay-friendly adventure with with a private car, driver and guide throughout. Our adventures of a lifetime are open to everyone!
Day One: Defy Time & Space
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 Jitchu 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 private Bhutan adventure begins when we greet you on arrival at the world's most beautiful airport.
In the afternoon you will visit the Paro Dzong. It was built in 1646 and now houses government offices and religious institutions, as do all Dzongs (fortified monasteries) 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. Your guide will tell you the story about a giant ogress, a Buddha statue that did not fit and building temples across Bhutan and Tibet in a single day.
Paro is a market town. There are several surprisingly great restaurants here and we will usher to one of them. After dark nothing happens here, so early to bed because tomorrow begins with your first challenge.Custom vacations are our specialty. If this travel package is not exactly what you are looking for, we may be able to modify it to make it a perfect fit.
Day Two: The Tiger's Nest
After breakfast we hike to Thaktsang ("Tiger's Nest"), which is Bhutan's iconic monastery, that seems to dangle from the side of a steep cliff,. The hike to reach the viewpoint to the monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion. If you are not feeling that energetic or have not adjusted to the altitude, we have another intriguing place for you to enjoy that is not so demanding.
Later, 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. Or we can take you to one of our other favorite restaurants in town that does not specialize in "tour food."
Day Three: The Haa Valley
Drive 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. It's also possible to spend the night here so you won't be so rushed.
Day Four: The World's Smallest Capital City
After 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 for its sweeping views of the valley. You will also come face to face with 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, which was built on a rocky hill into which an annoying demon was imprisoned in the seventeenth century.
You will also make quick visits to several other places, including the National Library, and the School of Arts and Crafts, which teaches thirteen different crafts and from weaving and embroidery to carpentry and blacksmithing, and finally a stop at the main post office for Bhutan's collectable stamps.
Day Five: Thimpu, Cheri Monasteries and Tango Monastery
After 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 Village
Depart 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, and stop at Metshina Village and take a 20-minute walk through the rice fields to Chimi Lakhang, a fertility temple. This temple is dedicated to a saint who is known as "the Divine Madman," who taught an alternative to orthodox Tibettan Buddhism and is famous for his sexual exploits.
Overnight in Wangduephodrang or nearby Punakha.
Day Seven: Gantey, Nyingmapa, Black-Necked Cranes, and Phobjikha
Continue this morning to Phobjikha Valley, which takes you through a dense forest, where you may stop to see families of primates. Your first stop will be Gantey Gompa, a monastery with a golden roof.This valley is the home of the black-necked crane, which migrates annually for the 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. You will pay a visit to local "Black Necked Crane Center" to learn more about them.
Overnight in the Phobjikha valley.
Day Eight: Bumthang
In 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 larger 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 Lhakhang
There 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.
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 a peculiar "Penis Ceremony." The remains of Bhutan's first three kings are interred here. 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 Ten: Thrumshin Pass and Mongar
You 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, making it 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 rhododendrons, 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 Trashigang
Next 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: Trashigangtse
Today you will make a detour to 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 constructed by a Tibetan bridge builder by the name of Thangtong Gyalpo in the 15th century. Overnight in Trashigang.
Day Thirteen: Samdrup Jongkhar and the Yangphu Pass
The 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.
Day Fourteen: Across the border into India
You will take an Indian taxi (not included) from the Bhutanese border to Guwahati, a major city in India's Assam State, where we can arrange for you to stay in a comfortable international-class hotel. It is an interesting and historic city that is still fairly undiscovered by tourists, so it's worth an overnight if you have time. Guwahati is served by several domestic airlines that serve Delhi, Kolkata or Patna, where you can connect to international flights or domestic destinations.