BHUTAN : PUNAKHA FESTIVAL AND MANAS NATIONAL PARK

February 2019

Winter in Bhutan is beautiful, the skies always blue and the distant snow capped Himalayan peaks easily seen during the winter dry season. Temperatures dip to the 30's and 40's at night, and warm to 60's during the day. The exuberant Punakha Tsechu (a colorful religious festival) and exploration of the seldom visited Royal Manas National Park, with its tropical forest (and pleasantly warm weather), rare birds and elephants and rhinoceros population are highlights of this journey, though all our stops promise to be interesting as we travel from Paro to Thimphu, onward to sub-tropical Punakha, and then to tropical Manas, then return to Paro for our finale, an ascent to Tiger's Nest Monastery. We are indeed fortunate to have the premier specialist guide in Royal Manas National Park, a friend of Champaca Journeys to accompany us on this portion of our journey. All the various places we visit are interesting and unique and this promises to be a memorable journey.

Dochula&snowy peaks 4 Elephants 3 women,improved monk with flowing robes Costume Adjustment Punakha Festival bridge to Punakha dzong

Day-By-Day Itinerary

An early departure from Bangkok, Thailand makes for an early arrival in Paro, Bhutan. We'll stroll through downtown Paro and enjoy some of the sights of this small and charming town, then we drive 90 minutes to Bhutan's small capital of Thimphu. After we check into hotel and have lunch, we'll have a walking tour of Thimphu. Welcome dinner with Bhutanese friends.

Overnight at Druk Hotel.

Full day to explore Thimphu. We visit the National Memorial Chorten, School of Traditional Arts, paper making factory, and Folk Heritage Museum. Afternoon free to wander the town, on your own or with guides. As it's Friday night there are some fun venues with live music and pleasant atmosphere, our Bhutanese friends will join us for night out on the town if you wish.

Overnight at Druk Hotel.

Morning 2-hour hike to Cheri Monastery. Built in 1620 and perched above the Thimphu valley, surrounded by pine and rhododendron forest. Few foreigners visit this monastery, an important Buddhist teaching center. Return to Thimphu for lunch, followed by a 2.5-hour drive over Dochu La, a 10,300-foot pass en route to Punakha. 

Overnight at Drubchhu Resort.

This morning we explore the lovely Punakha Dzong, architecturally and aesthetically one of the most beautiful dzongs. The tsechu, which occurs in the courtyard of the dzong, with origins dating back to the 17th century is a colorful festival commemorating Bhutanese victory over invading Tibetan forces. Monks perform stylized dances re-enacting battles. Optional afternoon hike to Chimi Lhakhang, also known as The Temple of the Divine Madman, built in 1499 and one of the most revered temples in Bhutan. 

Overnight at Drubchhu Resort.

The Punakha tsechu continues and this morning is the unfurling of the thongdrel, an enormous 3-story embroidered weaving; an impressive sight for those wishing to wake up early (for those not wishing to wake up early, we will collect you later at hotel). Afternoon optional hike to Talo Monastery.

Overnight at Drubchhu Resort.

Depart Punakha for the 6-7 hour drive across the Black Mountain range. These impressive mountains are covered with virgin forest and along the way we see small villages, ancient temples and chortens, pass snowy peaks and finally arrive at Trongsa in central Bhutan. Check into hotel and time permitting take late afternoon walk into Trongsa town.

Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.

Morning visit to Trongsa Dzong, the largest of Bhutan's 4 century old fortified monasteries. The 4-hour drive to Zhemgang is dramatically beautiful and takes us from high altitude Bhutan into tropical lowland Bhutan, passing interesting villages and scenery along the way.

Overnight at T-Wang Hotel.

A short drive brings us to the headquarters of Royal Manas National Park. The park has simple but comfortable lodges to accommodate our stay. We begin our exploration with short hike into protected forest and wildlife area. Our guide can answer all your questions and make this unique experience all the richer.

Overnight at Manas Park Lodge.

Today we travel by boat, vehicle and elephant as we adventure into different parts of the National Park. Expect to see plant and animal life not found elsewhere in Bhutan, and not common anywhere else in the world.

Overnight at Manas Park Lodge.

Today we have a river raft expedition, the experience is gentle and exciting, and the views of the forest and park from the river unparalleled for beauty.

Overnight at Manas Park Lodge.

We retrace our route and return to the comforts of Trongsa, en route we stop at Kunga Rabten to visit the Winter Palace of the Third King. 

Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.

Leaving Punakha we drive 2.5 hours to Thimphu where we break for lunch or coffee, then onward 90-minutes to Paro. We have the afternoon to visit the sights in downtown Paro, the National Museum and the Paro Dzong, the 4-century old fortified monastery. Late afternoon we check into our hotel, the award winning Zhiwa Ling Hotel, named by National Geographic Society as one of the unique lodges of the world.

Overnight at Zhiwa Ling Hotel.

After breakfast we drive 10-minutes to base of mountain where Taksang Monastery is located. Also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and probably the most iconic building in all Bhutan, it is perched on a cliff 2,700 feet above the valley floor.  It is said that the Guru Rimpoche arrived here in the back of a flying tiger is 746 CE, 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 have lunch at hotel, then relax or you may opt for visit to spa for massage or Bhutanese Hot Stone bath. Farewell dinner at hotel.

Overnight at Zhiwa Ling Hotel.

Morning free before we leave for airport and onward destinations

prices & registration information

(Inclusive of food, beverages, accommodations, ground transportation, entrance fees, services of licensed Bhutanese guide and driver, services of USA based trip leader, Bhutanese visa and airport taxes.)

$5500. (Based on double occupancy)
$6300. (Based on single occupancy)

NOTE: International airfare, gratuities, alcoholic beverages other than local beer with meals, laundry, souvenirs, items of a personal nature and travel insurance are NOT included.

General Information

INTERNATIONAL AIRFARE

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, $750. ROUND TRIP, economy class
BANGKOK-PARO, BHUTAN-BANGKOK, $850. ROUND TRIP, business class

Flights are with DRUKAIR, ROYAL BHUTAN AIRLINES, operating Airbus 319 jets.