BHUTAN: LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON
12 NIGHT JOURNEY
October 1 - October 13, 2012
Rates for journey at bottom of page
Bhutan: the last Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. This formerly little known Hermit Kingdom is changing rapidly. While you don’t have to visit before the advent of fast food and strip malls (no chance of this due to wise development policy), it does make for a unique destination in terms of what one can see and experience. Isolated from the world until 1960, with no roads, electricity, running water, schools, hospitals, postal service or currency, Bhutan has leapt from the Middle Ages to the 21st century in just 50 years. A visit to Bhutan has the feel of a trip back in time, though with every bit of comfort the 21st century has to offer.
On this cultural tour we’ll visit the enormous Dzongs. These massive stone and timber fortresses with their inward sloping walls stand guard over most Bhutanese towns, build for protection at a time when the threat of marauding Tibetans was a serious one. Constructed over 350 years ago, and still in use today, the only significant change is the addition of electricity and running water, and the transfer of the army to other garrisons (no threat of invading Tibetans now). Our guide will have the necessary permits to enter the innermost sections of the Dzongs, the monastery and headquarters of the local government. The trip takes us to towns and villages where we see the unique stone or rammed earth homes Bhutanese have been constructing for centuries. As we move from region to region we’ll travel over mountains through untouched forest.
Our travels will take us from the high altitudes of Thimphu, Paro, Gantey, and Trongsa to the lower semi-tropical elevations of Punakha and Wangue. Along the route we pass through forests of pine and cedar, oak and magnolia, rhododendron and dogwood, and bamboo and daphne. We pass small towns, hamlets, and isolated homes perched on mountainsides, and terraced fields of rice, wheat and potatoes.
Our journey will be by private small bus, with the required government licensed guide and driver. The vehicle has seats for twenty passengers, though our group size is limited to 10 people, so all will have adequate room in the bus. Lodging will be in comfortable hotels, some old converted homes of affluent Bhutanese, others newly constructed. Expect all accommodations to be comfortable, the equivalent of 3 star hotels. There is always hot and cold running water, showers, flush toilets, and heat. Some have television, telephone and wi fi connections. Bhutan is still a developing nation, so travelers here ought not to be seeking luxury, but comfort is assured and more significant the opportunity to observe a unique culture, with some of the friendliest people you’ll ever encounter in some of the world’s most remarkable and beautiful sights.
Tourism is new to Bhutan, the first tourists arrived in the 1970’s. You will find only a handful of fellow travelers, and it is government policy that all visitors be accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide. Our guide is Dorji Khandup, with 20 years of experience and a range of contacts across the country that ensures that the trip runs smoothly and your days in Bhutan are well spent.
Arrive Paro and check into the Gangtey Palace Hotel. Your first Bhutanese meal in a restaurant in downtown Paro, followed by exploration of Paro town. Spend the late afternoon and evening relaxing at the hotel, a former palace as the name implies.
Morning visit to the National Museum and the Paro Dzong. The museum is in the former watch tower of the dzong and provides a good introduction to Bhutanese culture and history. The Paro Dzong is just one of the many fortresses/monasteries still in use today, nearly 4 centuries after construction. Ninety minute afternoon drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Overnight at Druk Hotel.
Full day to explore Thimphu. We’ll visit the School of Traditional Arts, paper making factory, and Folk Heritage Museum. Afternoon free to wander the town, an opportunity to see how the Bhutanese have adapted to the 21st century. Overnight at Druk Hotel.
Morning 2 hike to Wangdi-tse Monastery. Built in 1750 and impressively perched above the Thimphu valley, surrounded by pine and rhododendron forest. Few foreigners visit this monastery, with its impressive Buddha statues and collection of ancient chortens. Return to Thimphu for lunch, and then a 2 ½ hour drive over the Dochu La, a 10,300 foot pass en route to Punakha. Overnight at Hotel Zangto Pelri.
The morning will be spent exploring the lovely Punakha Dzong, architecturally and aesthetically one of the most beautiful dzongs. Optional afternoon hike to Chimi Lhakhang, AKA the Temple of the Divine Madman, built in 1499 and one of the most revered temples in Bhutan. Overnight at Hotel Zangto Pelri.
Morning departure for Trongsa. The 5 hour drive is our longest and we pass through the Black Mountains the traditional dividing line between western and central Bhutan. The drive takes us across sparsely settled and uninhabited land, and through forest of rhododendrons, conifers, bamboo, and magnolias. We will cross Pele La, at 10,830’ this pass is the highest altitude we will attain in Bhutan. Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.
After breakfast we’ll drive or walk one mile into Trongsa to explore the Trongsa Dzong, the largest in the country. Return to hotel for lunch and cooking demonstration. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.
After breakfast we drive west to the Phobjikha Valley. The broad glacial valley is one of the widest in Bhutan and largely given over to agriculture. It is also the main wintering grounds of the very rare black necked crane. These impressive birds stand 5 feet tall, and there may be some still here, not yet having left for breeding grounds in Tibet. Overnight at Dewachen Lodge.
After breakfast we visit the Gangtey Goemba Monastery. Dating from 1650, it is now undergoing renovation, with the artisans using the traditional tools and methods to rebuild in the original style. Late morning drive to Wangdue Phodrang to explore the dzong. Overnight at Dragon Nest Hotel.
After breakfast we depart for Thimphu, a 3 hour drive. Lunch in Thimphu, then afternoon free to explore. Overnight at Phuntsho Pelri Hotel.
Early afternoon departure for Paro. Afternoon free to explore Paro town or relax at hotel. Overnight at Druk Hotel.
After breakfast we drive 20 minutes to base of mountain where Taksang Monastery is located. Also known as Tiger’s Nest, and probably the most iconic building in all Bhutan, perched on a cliff 2,700’ above the valley floor. It is said that the Guru Rimpoche arrived here in the back of a flying tiger is 746, and meditated in a mountain cave for 3 months. The site has since been sacred and a monastery has been constructed to commemorate his visit. It is a pilgrimage site for all Bhutanese who gain merit by making the ascent. You too can gain merit while by making the 3 hour ascent and visiting the monastery seemingly glued to the barest concavity of the cliff face. After descending we’ll have lunch in Paro, then return to the hotel for massage or Bhutanese hot stone bath, or to simply relax. Farewell dinner at our hotel, the Gangtey Palace.
Breakfast at hotel, then transport to airport for flight home.
TOTAL COST PER PERSON FOR TWELVE (12) NIGHTS IN BHUTAN
(Inclusive of food, accommodations, ground transportation, entrance fees, services of licensed Bhutanese guide and driver, services of USA based trip leader, Bhutanese visa and airport taxes.)
$4700. (Based on double occupancy)
$5200. (Based on single occupancy)
NOTE: Gratuities, beverages other than coffee or tea at meals, and bottled water in vehicle, laundry, souvenirs, international airfare and travel insurance are NOT included.
Bhutan is accessed most easily from Bangkok, Thailand from where there are daily flights. Flights always depart in the early morning and participants should give themselves at least 24 hour layover in Bangkok in the event flight to Bangkok is delayed. Fares are subject to change without notice.
BANGKOK-PARO, BHUTAN-BANGKOK, $910. ROUND TRIP, economy class
BANGKOK-PARO, BHUTAN-BANGKOK, $1070. ROUND TRIP, business class
Flights are with DRUKAIR, ROYAL BHUTAN AIRLINES, operating Airbus 319 jets.
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