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A Song Of Dragons And Mountains

A Song Of Dragons And Mountains

Places covered: Bumthang, Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, Trongsa, Wangduephodrang

Duration for Journey: 11 days (10 Nights / 11 Days)

Travel the land of the Thunder Dragon so mystically defined by its geography, environmental richness and its unique culture and traditions. Having preserved itself as a landlocked nation under a self-imposed isolation until the 1950s, the country comes across as an enigma unwrapped for visitors who lay eyes on its landscapes, breathe in the fresh and pure mountain air and experience the culture and the ways of the Bhutanese people.

Under this tour package, your itinerary is guided by places and key locations that have deep historical foundations and have contributed to the shaping of religious, cultural and political foundations of this country.

Your visit starts with Bumthang, a dzongkhag (district) in central Bhutan. Bumthang is most visited for the many pilgrimage sites it is popular for. The place plays residence to many of the holy sites that were visited and blessed by the eight century saint Guru Padmasambhava, known as Guru Rinpoche or ‘the precious teacher’ among the Bhutanese.

The tales and legends that can be narrated from the places you shall visit, they will keep you enraptured. The country’s terrain being mountainous, you can expect a mild trekking experience from these visits.

First Day – Arrival at Paro

Druk Air is the national airline of Bhutan. You can board a flight on it, bound for Paro from Bangkok, Kolkata, New Delhi or Kathmandu.

The preview to what Bhutan has to offer starts immediately once aboard the flight, as you feast your eyes on the majestic peaks of the eastern Himalayas. From above you can see some of the untamed or unclimbed peaks of Bhutan as part of the mountain range. Before that, you will already have had enjoyed a bird eye’s view of the highest mountain range of the world, the Mt. Everest and also Mt. Kanchenjunga.

A representative from A Way To Bhutan, your guide will receive you upon arrival and drive you to your hotel. Feel free to take a walk through Paro’s old-fashioned two-street town toward evening (a guide can accompany you if you wish), browse through the shops, or just take in the scenery which you will find appealingly different.

Second Day – Sightseeing in Paro

The day’s plans are not nearly tiring as the climbs and drops of the landscape may suggest. After breakfast visit the Ta Dzong. The name Ta Dzong translates to ‘watch tower’ and it served the function of watch tower for the Paro Rinpung Dzong.

Back in the day, similar look-out points were built for other dzongs (fortresses) to counter any approaching hostilities, for those were the days of frequent strife. These towers were specifically built high atop hills and other vantage points during the old days.

Presently serving as the national museum, it houses an array of antiquities such as ancient thangka (exquisite scroll painting), mural paintings and other forms of art done by great personalities of those days, original textiles of the kingdom which represent the culture that still flourishes, weapons & armour used back in the day, household objects typical to the Bhutanese people’s way of life back then and even now, and other natural and historical artifacts.

After a brief walk down from the museum you will have reached Rinpung Dzong (‘fortress of a heap of jewels’). It serves as seat of the Paro district administration and residence for the monastic school. Rinpung dzong like all other dzongs in Bhutan is adorned with wall murals that symbolize the lives of the Bodhisattvas and other prominent saints, drawings from Buddhist parables within which the country’s culture and traditional life is intricately represented and holy symbols that signify their own individual religious meanings.

Drukgyel Dzong or the fortress of the victorious Drukpas will be the next stop. History recalls the dzong as being built to celebrate the victories over several Tibetan invasions which were successfully countered from this defence point. The fort was gutted by a fire disaster in the 1950s but has been left in the form of historical ruins to this day to pay homage to what it stands for. You can also see the white dome of Mount Jomolhari (mountain of goddess) from the location.

Third Day – Paro to Thimphu, Thimphu sightseeing

Breakfast and proceed to Thimphu, the capital city­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­. The journey will be for about two hours and on the way you will be able to visit the Semtokha Dzong, which is the oldest dzong in the kingdom built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The dzong has been serving as a school for Buddhist studies for a long time now and continues to do so. As you warm up to the core regions of Thimphu, you can visit the Memorial Chorten called Gongzo Chorten or Gyaldren Chorten. The chorten was built in memory of the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Later in the list of places to visit are the Handicrafts Emporium, the Textile Museum and the local market. You shall also have the opportunity to visit Trashichhodzong (fortress of glorious heritage), which houses the office of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It is the seat of the government while it also houses the monks of the central monastic body.

Depending on your interests, visits can also be arranged to other places like the Changangkha Lhakhang, Kuensel Phodrang where lies the giant Buddha Dordenma (touted as the tallest sitting Buddha by the project sponsors), Dechenphug monastery and others.

Most of these places to be visited have ‘no photography’ rules and it has to be respected as it falls in line with the country’s cultural preservation rules. You can enquire with your guide about these rules as and when you visit places, as photography is not entirely prohibited unless for strictly specified areas, as mentioned above.

Your Overnight stay shall be at the Hotel in Thimphu

Fourth Day – Thimphu to Punakha

The day’s program is scheduled for after lunch, which is travelling to Punakha. In the morning, there’s time enough to make a visit to the Folk Heritage Museum, National Library, Painting School and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine in Thimphu.

The drive to Punakha, which is the old capital of Bhutan begins after lunch.

The Dochula pass (altitude – 3,050m above sea level) falls on the way, so make sure to take time and enjoy the view of the mountains from the pass. Dochula also has 108 chortens built on it that adds to the scenic grandeur of greenery and mountain peaks.

The journey to Punakha is about two and half hours. In Punakha, you will visit Chimi Lhakhang, a temple built by Lama Drukpa Kuenlay most popularly known as the Divine Madman due to his odd and at times grossly weird mannerisms through which he propagated his teachings or subdued demons and demoness.

The temple is most visited and worshipped for it is believed to bless sterile men and women with the boon of fertility. Many foreign couples have also visited Bhutan specifically to receive blessings from Drukpa Kuenlay and have their children named after the Buddhist saint or his temple, as has been the custom so far to add the name ‘Kuenlay’ to their names or ‘Chimi.’ In the evening, you can visit the Pungthang Dewa Chenpoi Phodrang (Palace of Great Bliss) or simply Punakha Dzong.

Punakha Dzong houses the sacred Machen Lhakhang, which is the holy sanctum where Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s relics are preserved. The Kings of Bhutan receive blessings and ceremonial scarves for their coronations which are blessed by the lhakhang.

The dzong was built in 1636-37 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and is a fine specimen of Bhutanese architecture. It is said that not a single nail was used in the construction of the dzong. It served as the ancient capital of Bhutan for centuries before it was shifted to Thimphu in the 1950s.

Your overnight stay will be at the Hotel in Punakha

Fifth Day – Punakha to Gangtey (Phobjikha), Wangduephodrang

Today you will travel to the beautiful valley of Gangtey and it’ll be a slightly longer drive (about 3 hours), so breakfast suitably. On the plus, however the fatigue of journey will be forgotten as you drive through serene dense forests of Oak and Rhododendron before reaching Gangtey (Phobjikha).

Toward evening side, feel free to make a round of the quaint valley and its villages and while you’re doing that also visit Gangtey Gonpa, a highly revered and respected place of worship among the Buddhists in Bhutan, especially those of the Nyingma following.

Your overnight stay will be at a guest house

 Sixth Day – Gangtey to Trongsa

Morning at Phobjikha will be a most beautiful greeting for you as the valley greets you with all its beauty. You should know that Phobjikha valley is also the winter resting grounds for the highly-endangered and very rare Black-necked Cranes. Around mid or late October the elusive cranes start flying into Bhutan and it is a most wonderful sight. The other place in Bhutan where these cranes migrate in for the winters is Bomdeling in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag in eastern Bhutan. The cranes migrate from Central Asiatic plateau to escape its harsh winters.

A 120 kilometer drive to Trongsa awaits you, so take your lunch in good preparation for it. The four and a half hour journey will cut across the 3,300m high Pele La pass. In the evening upon arrival in Trongsa, you can visit the Trongsa market.

Your overnight stay will be at a lodge in Trongsa

Seventh Day – Trongsa to Bumthang

In the morning we shall visit the Trongsa Dzong. This dzong is supposed to be the longest dzong in Bhutan amongst the ones built across the nation by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. However its length is hardly the reason for which it is significant in the country’s history. Trongsa was the seat of power for the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel who played a huge role in defeating and bringing together different warring factions under a stable system of governance.

This noble objective was continued by his son Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk who succeeded in unifying the whole nation under one king’s common rule when he was enthroned and crowned as The First King of Bhutan, unanimously by the people of Bhutan on December 17, 1907. The day has ever since been celebrated as the National Day of Bhutan.

After taking into detail the architecture of the Trongsa dzong which is a specimen of fine Bhutanese craftsmanship, head for the dzong’s watch tower or Trongsa Ta Dzong. Initially and primarily built to serve as a lookout point for defence and security reasons, the tower now serves as a museum which boasts a collection of antiquities like historic paintings done by great Buddhist saints, teachers and personalities of those times. The museum also has a few items that are demonstration of the art and crafts skills displayed by Jigme Namgyel.

A three hour journey to Bumthang follows, so have your lunch in good preparation of it. Enjoy the drive as the journey will be a pleasant drive-by experience among the sights and scenes along the way.

Spend a leisure evening upon reaching Bumthang, which is the religious heartland of the nation or the ‘spiritual capital’ as many like to call it. Dinner shall be served to conclude the day for you.

Your overnight stay will be at a lodge in Bumthang

 Eighth Day – Bumthang sightseeing

Start the day with a fulfilling breakfast as the events planned for you involves exploring many a monasteries and temples. The valley has more flatlands compared to other dzongkhags of the country but its different locations are perched at elevations ranging from 8,500ft to more than 13,000ft.

Places you will visit include some of the most ancient and holy temples blessed by the eighth century saint Guru Padmasambhava. One such temple is the Jambay Lhakhang which was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. He had built 108 lhakhangs to suppress a supine demoness, Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang and Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro are two among the 108.

Also, another Lhakhang blessed by Guru Rinpoche is the Kurje Lhakhang. Kurje means ‘body print’ and the Lhakhang displays an area where the Guru had left his print on the wall of a cave when he meditated in it.

You will visit the two temples in the afternoon while you will be able to visit other lhakhangs just as holy and ancient as the two above. To name a few there’s the Tamshing Lhakhang, which is a treasure house of interesting religious Buddhist paintings, Kenchogsum Lakhang and Jakar Dzong, the administrative center of the valley.

The place is also famous for the Bumthang Cheese, Bumthang Honey and Bumthang Bukhari (stove to warm yourselves during winter. And one other product that

In the evening take a stroll through the Bumthang town.

Many other places of interest remain for you to visit so, you can make the changes in the itinerary through enquiries with the company before-hand to extend the duration in Bumthang if you have certain sites that you deeply wish to visit like the Mebartsho or ‘the burning lake’ which is hugely popular among many visitors.

Bumthang, besides being a bastion of holy sites is also a most attractive place for trekking and hiking enthusiasts therefore if you wish to engage yourself with them the request can be made as mentioned above with A Way To Bhutan.

Your overnight stay will be at the lodge in Bumthang

 Ninth Day – Journey back to Thimphu

Breakfast, definitely ‘like a king’ as an almost eight hour drive awaits. You will stop for lunch in Trongsa town. Check into the hotel upon arrival in Thimphu where you can end the day with dinner.

Your overnight stay will be at the hotel in Thimphu.

 Tenth Day – Thimphu to Paro

Breakfast will be served after which you will head to Paro.

Consider this sort-of ‘the best that was saved for last.’ You will be taken on an excursion to Taktsang Monastery a most spectacular site that is perched high and precariously on a steep 800m rock face. Prepare for a two hour walk uphill after you have been reached at the foot of the Taktsang cliff by the company vehicle. There is also the option to take riding-ponies which can be arranged by the company prior to your arrival, as it is a four hour trip in total back-and-forth.

Taktsang or ‘Tiger’s Nest’ is a most holy pilgrimage site blessed by Guru Padmasambhava who is believed to have flown to this spot on the back of a tigress in his wrathful form called Guru Dorji Drolo and it is believed that his consort Yeshey Tshogyal had transformed into the tigress which he rode. Guru Padmasambhava had meditated at the site for three months giving the temple a highly sacred status and thereby making it a popular pilgrimage destination for Buddhists not just in the country but everywhere around the world. In 1684, the Fourth Desi (temporal ruler) of Bhutan, Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye, built a monastery on the site and named it Taktshang drawing from the origins in the Padmasambhava legends.

Later, you can have lunch at the Taktsang Cafeteria.

Spend overnight at the hotel in Paro. Prepare for departure the next day.

Eleventh Day – Departure

After breakfast at the hotel, drive to the airport for flight to onward destination. Our Representative (s) will accompany you and bid you farewell.