Exploring Happiness In The Dragon Country
Places Covered: Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, Wangduephodrang
Duration of tour: Six days (Five Nights)
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 – 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 at the hotel in Thimphu
Third 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/Wangduephodrang
Fourth Day Punakha to Paro (125 Km, 4.1/2 Hours)
After breakfast, drive to Paro. On the way, visit Semtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in the Kingdom, built in 1627 by the founding saint of Bhutan , Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
In the afternoon visit Paro Ta Dzong, the National Museum of the Kingdom. Originally built as watch tower, the museum houses a fascinating collection of art, artifacts, thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps. Then walk down the trail to Rinpung Dzong, the seat of administration and the monk body.
Your overnight stay will be at the hotel in Paro
Fifth 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.
Your overnight at the hotel in Paro
Sixth Day – Departure from Bhutan
After breakfast drive to the airport for flight to you onward destination. Representative (s) from A Way To Bhutan will bid you farewell.