Heart of Bhutan

Heart of Bhutan

This comfortably paced, yet in-depth 14 day journey will take you on an adventure deep into the heart of this ancient kingdom. Begin with exploring some of the sacred sites of beautiful Paro including the ancient Kyichu Temple and the Drukgyel Dzong ruins. Bhutan’s capital Thimphu offers many incredible sites including Changangkha Temple, the Memorial Chorten, the National Library and the stunning Tango Monastery located in an ancient forest. Continue onto Punakha, Bhutan’s former capital.

Visit the incredible Punakha Dzong, a breathtaking example of traditional architecture and Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the ‘Temple of the Divine Madman’. Drive further east passing by many farms and hills decorated with prayer flags, over high mountain passes and through small villages, temperate forests and emerald valleys. Discover the Phobjikha Valley, a beautiful Alpine wetland and winter home to the Black-Necked Cranes and Trongsa, the birthplace of the monarchy before reaching Bhutan’s spiritual heartland, the central Bumthang valley. Enjoy the beautiful landscapes and visit ancient monasteries, temples as well as many auspicious sites before returning eastwards towards Paro. Walk up to the awe-inspiring Taktsang “Tigers Nest” Monastery, perched on a rocky ledge 900m above the valley floor. There will also be time to enjoy hot stone baths, holistic therapies and spa treatments at your accommodations.

If you would like to spend less time driving during this tour, we can incorporate a domestic flight from Bumthang back to Paro (subject to availability). Please contact us for details.

DETAILED SUGGESTED ITINERARY:

Day 01: Arrive Paro
Fly into Paro Valley on our national carrier, Drukair. In clear weather, magnificent views of the world’s highest peaks give way to the lush green Paro valley as you land. The first gift from Bhutan will be the cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the plane – a befitting introduction to the spectacular beauty of Bhutan. The concierge of Amulet Luxury Travel Bhutan will take care of all airport formalities whilst you enjoy the comfort of the VIP airport lounge services.

After some lunch, visit one of the holiest temples in Bhutan, Dungtse Lhakhang (temple). Dungtse Lhakhang was built in 1421 by the famous Lama, Thangton Gyelpo (1385-1464), also known by the name of Chagzampa, ‘the builder of iron bridges’ or Drubthob, ‘the realized One’. It has three floors representing hell, earth and heaven and the paintings inside are considered to be some of the best in Bhutan.

In the afternoon visit Kyichu Lhakhang. King Songtsen Gampo built this temple in 659 AD. It is believed to be holding down the left foot of a demon whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan. This Lhakhang contains a 5 meter-high statue of Guru Rinpoche and another of Tara, who represents one of the wives of King Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the most sacred monasteries in Bhutan.

If time permits, explore Paro town, either accompanied, or on your own. Please note that your personal guide and chauffer will be at your beck and call as and when you need his/her assistance. He/she will be just a phone call away (use the phone which will be provided to you upon arrival).

Return to your hotel for dinner. Overnight in Paro.

Day 02: Drive to Thimphu, Capital City of Bhutan
Drive to Thimphu, a journey of approximately 1.5 hrs.

Spend the remainder of the day on a tour exploring some of Thimphu’s many sites. These include the Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in memory of the Third King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died in 1972.

Also visit Changangkha Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in the Thimphu valley, the National Library featuring an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old, the School of Traditional Arts and the Folk Heritage Museum.

In the evening before dinner, stroll through the streets of Thimphu to explore the city center. Overnight in Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimphu
After an early breakfast drive to Tango Monastery, located about 12 kilometers north of Thimphu. The trail to Tango Monastery is a climb of 280 meters and takes about an hour. Tango Monastery was founded in the 12th century, and was rebuilt in its present form in 1688 by the 4th temporal ruler of Bhutan, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. It is now the residence of his young 7th reincarnation. Tango Monastery is also the only Buddhist University in Bhutan where His Eminence the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche completed his studies in Master of Buddhist Philosophy in 2009. Currently, His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche is in his final year in Tango University of Buddhist Studies pursuing his Master of Buddhist Philosophy.

After a long day, unwind with a relaxing hot stone bath*.

Overnight in Thimphu.

*A select range of accommodations offer in-house hot stone baths. Please contact us for details.

Day 04: Drive to Punakha
After breakfast begin your drive to Punkaha, a distance of approximately 72 kilometres. The road climbs to Dochu La Pass, located 3,050 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level and marked by a large array of prayer flags and 108 chortens. On a clear day the pass offers a panoramic view of the Bhutan Himalayas. You will have the best chance of a view in the early morning between October and February.

Following lunch visit Punakha Dzong, built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the unifier of Bhutan. The Shabdrung died in 1651 while he was in meditation at Punakha Dzong, and his body is preserved in one of the Dzong’s temples. Punakha Dzong is the winter headquarters of the Central Monastic Body headed by the Je Khenpo. The Central Monastic Body shifts to Punakha for the winter and back to Thimphu for the summer. The three-storied main temple of the Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. The coronation of Ugyen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan, took place at Punakha Dzong in 1907.

Overnight in Punakha.

Day 05: Punakha/Wangdue Phodrang
Enjoy a morning visit to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, perched high on a hill on the opposite bank of the Mo Chhu (Female River). Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck had the three-storied chorten built for the protection of the country. It was consecrated at the end of 1999. The monument is situated an half an hour’s walk from the road amidst an idyllic rural farming area. It is renowned for its beautiful paintings featuring incredibly complex iconography.

A sumptuous lunch will be served on the way back from Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten by the side of a river accompanied by a musician showcasing traditional Bhutanese instruments.

After lunch visit Chimi Lhakhang, approximately a 20-minute walk from the road at Sopsokha. Lama Drukpa Kunley, ‘The Divine Madman’, built the temple in 1499. He subdued the demon of Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. A wooden effigy of the lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the Lhakhang. If time permits we can drive further east to visit Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel founded this Dzong in 1638. It sits atop a high ridge between the Punak Chhu and the Dang Chhu. Overnight in Punakha.

Day 06: Drive to Trongsa
Drive to Trongsa (6 hrs) over the Pele La pass (3,420m) on the Black Mountain range. Enroute visit beautiful Chendebji Chorten. The Chorten was erected in the 18th century. The imposing Trongsa Dzong can be viewed across a deep canyon to signal your approach to the town around a curving road. Trongsa is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty.

Visit Trongsa Ta Dzong Museum, inaugurated by His Majesty the 5th King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck in 2008. The museum is dedicated to the monarchs of the Kingdom. It is situated strategically above the Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1652, the Ta Dzong served as the watchtower for centuries.

Continue on to visit Trongsa Dzong, the most impressive Dzong in the Kingdom. Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Chhogyel Mingyur Tempa built the Dzong in its present form in 1644. Trongsa Dzong is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. The first two hereditary kings ruled from this Dzong, and it is still a tradition that the crown prince first serves as Trongsa Penlop before ascending to the throne.  Overnight at your hotel in Trongsa.

Day 07: Drive to Bumthang
After breakfast drive to the Bumthang Valley (2.5 hrs), the spiritual heartland of the country. The road winds steeply up to Yo Yutung La Pass (3,400m) before descending down through dense coniferous forest and into the valley.

After checking into your hotel, visit the temple of Jampa (Maitreya). It is believed that it was constructed in the year 659, on the same day as Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro was built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 temples built by him throughout Tibet and the Himalayas constructed to overcome a giant demon. Jampa Lhakhang was placed on the demon’s left knee and was one of the temples built ‘to subjugate the frontiers’. The central figure in the Lhakhang is Jampa, the Buddha of the Future. From Jampa Lhakhang enjoy a short walk of about 15 minutes to Kurjey Lhakhang complex. The Kurjey site is one of the most sacred in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche meditated here and left an imprint of his body on a rock. Both of these temples date back to the origin of Buddhism in Bhutan.

After lunch, the remainder of your afternoon is at leisure to either explore the small township of Jakar, take a leisurely walk in the Bumthang Valley, or spend some time at your hotel. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 08: Bumthang
Enjoy a day excursion to the Tang Valley to visit a 16th century palace called Ugyen Choeling, originally built by Deb Tsokye Dorji, a descendant of Dorji Lingpa. You will reach the Ugyen Choeling after an enjoyable one-hour hike over a suspension footbridge, through farm fields and small villages. The palace complex has been turned into an eco-museum to preserve its legacy and provide a place for religious studies, research and solitude. The museum also features an excellent overview of traditional rural life in Bhutan.

A beautiful picnic lunch will be served with a view of rolling hills close to Tang Rimochen Monastery, also known as ‘Tiger Stripe Monastery’. There are large tiger stripe patterns on a large rock that the monastery is built beneath. According to legend, Guru Rimpoche meditated on a giant rock, and together with his two wives (Mandarava and Yeshe Chhogyal) left traces of foot prints here.

Continue on to visit Mebartsho, ‘the flaming lake’. Mebartsho is located in a narrow gorge in Tang valley, which is a short drive from Jakar; and is one of the great pilgrimage sites of Bhutan. This is where Pema Lingpa found the treasures (Terma) hidden by Guru Rinpoche and thus became a terton, a ‘discoverer of religious treasures’. The lake is so-named because of an incident involving Pema Lingpa in the late 1400s. The first Terma that Pema Lingpa discovered here contained instructions to return to the lake to collect more treasures. When the local governor accused Pema Lingpa of trickery, he declared that if he were the real revealer of treasures, he could dive into the lake with a lamp, and would return with a lamp still lit. If he were a devil, he would perish. Pema Lingpa took a plunge in the lake and was gone long enough to satisfy the skeptics; but he soon emerged clutching a statue and a box of treasures, with the lamp still burning. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 09: Bumthang
Today begins with a visit to Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa. It contains paintings of fundamental interest for the history of painting in this region. On the lower floor is a coat of chain mail attributed to Pema Lingpa, who had knowledge of metallurgy. It weighs about 25 kilograms. The tradition says that if a person walks three times around the sanctuary wearing this coat of chain mail, a part of his/her sins will be wiped away.

A short distance below Tamshing Lhakhang is a small rural-looking temple called Konchogsum Lhakhang – the source of many interesting stories. The temple is very old, probably dating back to the 6th or 7th century. However, it looks quite new as it was renovated in 1995. The small statues of the three Buddhas (past, present and future) in the sanctuary are said to have flown here straight from Khaine Lhakhang in Kurtoe in eastern Bhutan. Hence the name of this lhakhang is Konchogsum – konchog (divine being) and sum (three).

Following lunch explore Jakar Dzong, or the “Castle of the White Bird”. Constructed in 1549, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress for the defence of Bhutan’s eastern districts. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty metre high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. Jakar Dzong is very elegant and more modest in size than other Dzongs of Bhutan. It is the administrative seat of the district and, since 1998, a Drukpa monastic community. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 10: Drive to Phobjikha Valley (Gangtey)
Start early today for the Phobjikha Valley, approximately 6 hrs from Bumthang. Farmhouses and temples dot the landscape and you may see local farmers wearing the traditional woven bamboo hats of central Bhutan. Enjoy a picnic lunch en-route.

Phobjikha Valley is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves. It is one of the two chosen winter homes of black-necked cranes (November-March) migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Overnight in Phobjikha Valley.

Day 11: Drive to Punakha
Visit Gangtey Goempa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan and explore Phobjika Valley with time to view the Black-Necked Cranes. Afterwards depart for Punakha (approx 3 hrs).

The remainder of the day is at leisure. Either choose to remain at the resort enjoying the spa facilities, or enjoy further exploring the beautiful Punakha Valley with a range of activities including cycling, walking, and visiting other sacred sites. Overnight in Punakha.

Day 12: Drive to Paro via Thimphu
Afterward a relaxing morning drive back to Thimphu via Dochu La Pass where you will enjoy a sumptuous meal, and have an opportunity to visit handicraft and souvenir stores. Afterwards proceed to Paro. Overinght in Paro.

Day 13: Paro (Taktsang Monastery ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Hike)
Drive to the foothill of Taktsang Monastery. There are two options available to enable you to reach Taktsang Monastery (Please note that riding pony downhill is not recommended). You can either choose to ride a pony or hike. It takes approximately one and a half hours uphill to reach the Taktsang cafeteria overlooking the magnificent Monastery perched on the side of a cliff 900 meters above the floor of the Paro valley. From here it is about another hour to a lookout point beside the monastery.

Taktsang means ‘tiger’s lair/nest’. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site of the monastery on the back of a tigress. Guru Rinpoche then meditated in a cave for three months and converted the Paro valley to Buddhism. According to Bhutanese tradition, the tigress was a form taken by one of Guru Rinpoche’s consorts for the occasion.

Continue on to explore Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the great “Unifier of Bhutan”. Drukgyel Dzong was featured on the cover of the US National Geographic magazine when John Claude White published an article about Bhutan in 1914. In 1951, a butter lamp fell over and started a terrible fire which destroyed the glorious and magnificent Dzong. Now the Dzong is in ruins and its main courtyard is closed to all visitors.

Afterwards visit the Rinpung Dzong, also known as ‘fortress of a heap of jewels’. Built in 1646, the dzong stands on a hill above Paro, and features beautiful architecture and ancient frescos. If you wish, you can also enjoy an exploration of Paro Town at leisure. Overnight in Paro.

Day 14: Depart Bhutan
After an early breakfast you will be transferred to Paro International Airport for your flight to your onward destination.

End of Service and Tashi Delek!

Return to Sample Itineraries

heart-of-bhutan-map

ITINERARY SUMMARY:

Day 01: Arrive Paro.
Day 02: Drive to Thimphu.
Day 03: Thimphu.
Day 04: Drive to Punakha.
Day 05: Punakha.
Day 06: Drive to Trongsa.
Day 07: Drive to Bumthang.
Day 08: Bumthang.
Day 09: Bumthang.
Day 10: Drive to Phobjikha Valley/Gangtey.
Day 11: Drive to Punakha.
Day 12: Drive to Paro.
Day 13: Paro. Hike to Taktsang.
Day 14: Depart Bhutan.

Tailor-MADE TOUR

Our many years of experience have enabled us to establish the network and knowledge that provide our clients with a more in-depth experience of Bhutan. All of our tours are tailor-designed by our specialist travel designers to ensure they perfectly suit client interests. This itinerary is designed to provide only an example of the kinds of accommodations, activities and experiences that we can customise for you.

INCLUSIONS

  • Bhutan Government Tourist Tariff Royalty
  • Visa fees
  • Arrival & departure airfares to Bhutan including taxes
  • Accommodation in superior standard hotels (and premium hotels and resorts where applicable)
  • All meals in Bhutan
  • Services of a professional, experienced and English speaking personal guide
  • Experienced driver
  • All private excursions and transfers in superior air-conditioned vehicle.
  • All excursions, transfers, route permits and monument fees

NOT INCLUDED:

  • Medical / Travel Insurance.
  • Expenses such as bar and laundry, cigarettes and other tobacco items, sleeping bags whilst on treks and other personal expenses.
  • All add-on activities such as wellbeing and spa programs at premium hotels and resorts
  • Telephone calls (except those made on the supplied mobile phone for contacting Amulet head office or your private guide)

Sample Itineraries

Bhutan In Brief – 4 days

Splendours of Bhutan – 6 days

Dragon Kingdom Explorer – 7 days

The Hidden Kingdom – 11 days

Druk Path Discovery Trek – 11 days

The Spirit Kingdom – 12 days

Heart of Bhutan – 14 days