Bhutan East to West
This comprehensive exploration of Bhutan from East to West traverses areas of incredible natural beauty, visiting isolated monasteries, villages and valleys and high mountain passes offering breath-taking scenery. This tour also explores the highlights of Bhutan's culturally richness from eastern, central and western valleys of Trashigang, Mongar, Lhuntse, Bumthang, Punakha and Paro.
January 3 - 16, 2020
Itinerary at a Glance
Bhutan East to West
|Day 1||After our rendezvous at India’s Guwahati Airport around noon, we drive through the plains of Assam to the border and to Samdrup Jongkhar, with a chance to explore this busy trading town.
|Day 2||A stunning journey passing through varied tropical to broadleaved forests and villages. En route we visit the Handloom Development Project at Khaling, to see Bhutanese techniques of textile dyeing and weaving. We continue through Sherubtse, with the country’s premier university college, arriving at Tashigang late afternoon. Our accommodation is located on a hill with spectacular views.|
|Day 3||After a leisurely morning exploring the bustling town of Tashigang and visiting the massive Dzong (fortress-monastery), our drive follows the Dangle chu (chu means water or river in Bhutanese), the largest river in Bhutan, and continues to Mongar passing over the Korila pass. We stop in the village of Ngatshang, a small independent kingdom prior to the 17th century, and visit a village school nearby.|
|Day 4||We make a day trip to the Lhuntse Valley, one of the most remote and isolated districts in Bhutan, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s kings and location of several of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the country. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. After visiting the Dzong and exploring the pretty town we join the local population at the Lhuntse Tshechu (festival). They will be dressed in their finest costumes (some of the outfits are worn only once in a year at a festival). Bhutan’s festivals are joyous expressions of its Buddhist culture with traditional masked dances, family picnics and an atmosphere of conviviality. The region is famous for its distinctive textiles and we visit the village of Khoma, considered to be the birthplace of traditional weaving culture in Bhutan, where the women are especially adept at weaving the intricately patterned textile called Kishuthara.|
|Day 5||We leave Mongar for a relatively long driving day through stunning scenery and over the highest pass of our journey (3,780m). Few Westerners have experienced travel in this area. We climb a series of switchbacks toward the stunning Thrumshing La Pass, famous for its fecund forests of rhododendrons, before dropping steadily downwards to the Ura Valley. This spectacular drive continues to the beautiful Bumthang region. Our accommodation is located on a ridge overlooking the valley of Jakar.
|Day 6||Bumthang is considered to be the sacred and cultural heartland of the Kingdom. We spend a full day walking traditional paths through villages and fields, experiencing local life at firsthand and visiting the ancient Jambe Lakhang and Kurje Lakhang (Lakhang means temple).|
|Day 7||Leaving Bumthang our route begins with the winding ascent towards the Yutong La Pass and then descends to Trongsa, where we visit the 400-year-old Dzong, from which the first two of the five Bhutanese kings ruled the country. It is strategically located on a steep slope commanding an extraordinary view of the Mangde River and houses 25 temples dedicated to Tantric deities, a 17th-century watchtower (Ta Dzong), a printing shop producing religious texts following an
ancient tradition and a museum honouring the Wangchuck royal dynasty. Again our accommodation commands a superb view.
|Day 8||From Trongsa, we drive to the Phobjikha Valley, located in a huge National Park which provides a pristine habitat for various rare species. The area we will be visiting is remote and wild and is famous as the winter home of the very rare black-necked crane. Our traditionally constructed lodge respects the environmental sensitivities of this unique valley and is well located for walks.|
|Day 9||We hike along the Gangtey nature trail, enjoying the wonderful wild scenery, seeing the black-necked cranes and visiting the Crane Centre which is dedicated to the research and preservation of these annual visitors. En route, we visit one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan - the Gangteng Goenpa. In the afternoon we drive over Lawa La Pass through hillsides of dwarf bamboos, rich pasturelands with yak and many villages down to the lower sub-tropical vegetation and rice paddy of Punakha.|
|Day 10||Our day is spent exploring the Punakha Valley and discovering the sights of the ancient capital. In the morning we hike through rice fields and up to Khamsum Yueley Namgyal Chorten (stupa), perched high on a hill above the river valley and after lunch we visit the splendid Punakha Dzong, situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). It is a breath-taking example of traditional architecture which during recent years has been reconstructed following a disastrous fire and flood. Some people consider this work to be of comparable importance to that of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.|
|Day 11||Before journeying westwards, we enjoy a pleasant walk through paddy fields to Chime Lakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kinley, who is known as the Divine Madman. His eccentric behaviour gives rise to many legends and makes him the favourite local saint. From the Punakha Valley we ascend the Dochu La Pass, with a noticeable and dramatic change in vegetation from the cactus, banana plants, poinsettia and
other semi-tropical plants which dominate the lower elevations to the conifers, hemlock, spruce and juniper at the summit. The Pass is crowned by a unique cluster of 108 Chortens spiralling up to the main monument Chorten and offers a magnificent view of the endless ridges and majestic snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.
Our afternoon is spent in Thimphu, Bhutan’s only “city”, seat of the government, home of the Royal Family, main centre and an unusual mix of Himalayan and Western sensibilities. Our centrally located hotel gives us the opportunity to explore on foot or visit the Textile Museum or the Institute of Arts and Crafts.
|Day 12||This morning we take a gentle hike out of Thimphu to see the huge bronze Dordenma Buddha. When finished it will be the largest seated Buddha in the world. After lunch we continue our westward journey to Paro, following the winding road along the Thim Chu and Wang Chu valleys, ascending to Paro. Before we settle into our hotel, we make a visit to the 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang. Inside there is a great golden image of Maitreya Buddha and Guru Rinpoche. Our hotel in Paro is the first of its kind: an entirely Bhutanese owned and managed luxury property. Zhiwa Ling means “place of peace” and the name is fitting.|
|Day 13||This morning we hike to one of the most important religious sites in the Himalaya, the iconic Taktsang Lhakhang, known as the Tiger’s Nest. This
magical monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 600m above the valley floor. Taktsang was severely damaged by fire in April 1998. Its restoration under strict Royal command was widely seen as an act of devotion, involving all sections of Bhutanese society, and as homage to the nation’s heritage. It reopened with great ceremony in March 2005. To facilitate the restoration work, a road was built to the base of the mountain facing the temple. We drive to the end of this road and begin our hike. After approximately one hour, we reach a small teahouse, which has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple. We have special permission to visit the complex, which is a further hour’s climb. Anyone who does not wish to hike further can relax at the teahouse and enjoy the view. After the hike, we can either relax at the hotel or stroll around the town of Paro.
|Day 14||This morning we bid farewell to the Dragon Kingdom, departing from Paro Airport.|