Day 01: Bagdogra/Siliguri – Phuentsholing
Our representative will meet you on arrival at either Siliguri or Bagdogra airport in the Indian state of West Bengal. After a drive of about three hours along a road lined with lush green tea gardens you will reach Phuentsholing, the gateway to Bhutan, which lies directly at the base of the Himalayan foothills. This rapidly growing town is Bhutan’s commercial center, with most commercial organizations headquartered here. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Phuentsholing.
Day 02: Phuentsholing to Thimpu
After breakfast, proceed to Thimphu, making our first stop about 3 km. up the road to visit Kharbandi Gompa. This beautiful monastery situated in a garden of tropical plants and flowers, was built by Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron in 1967. There is a splendid view of Phuentsholing and the Indian plains from the monastery garden.
From this point the road climbs steeply up into the hills, winding in innumerable bends, to an altitude of approximately 2,000m/6,560ft. We will make stops along the way from time to time, so as not to miss the magnificent view of the Indian plains and the Toorsa river below. After a two hour drive through light mountain jungle, displaying lianas and orchids, we pass over the first ridge and begin a long and gradual descent to the river which is the source of energy for the massive Chukha Hydel hydroelectric power project. We cross the river, and rise up the mountainside ever further into the hills, leaving Chukha and the small town of Chimakothi behind us. Lunch is served en route.
After passing through Chapcha the road reaches its highest point of about 2,800m/9,185ft, then descends steeply and runs along the banks of the Wang Chu (river) to Chuzom (meaning confluence), where the Paro Chu runs into the Wang Chu. From here it is only about 2 hours’ drive up the valley to Thimphu. Shortly before reaching our destination, we will stop to visit Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress in the kingdom, built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1627. On arrival in Thimphu, check into the hotel. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
Day 03: Thimpu
Thimphu, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government. This bustling town is home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.
Morning visit to Tashichhodzong, the main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty, the King. Tashichhodzong is also the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body. Proceed to the National Library, which houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature, with some works dating back several hundred years. Visit the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School), where a six year training course is given in the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Also visit (outside only) the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where the medicinal herbs abundant in the kingdom are compounded and dispensed.
After lunch, visit the National Memorial Chorten. The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace. Visit the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and privately owned crafts shops, which offer a wide range of handcrafted products, including the splendid thangkha paintings and exquisitely woven textiles for which Bhutan is famous. Also visit the Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums, opened in 2001. Overnight at Thimpu.
Day 04: Thimpu – Punakha
After breakfast drive over Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) to Punakha. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955, when the seat of government moved to Thimphu. Originally situated on the riverbank and dominated by the towering walls of Punakha Dzong, the township was relocated to a safer site a few kilometers down the valley, consequent upon extensive flooding in the early 1990s. At the same time, extensive renovation work was undertaken on Punakha Dzong itself, which is now a breathtaking and glorious sight as you first glimpse it from the road. Although four catastrophic fires and an earthquake in past times destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong still houses many sacred and historic artifacts and also the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
Day 05: Punakha – Bumthang
After breakfast drive to Gangtey via Wangduephodrang, where we will stop to visit the remarkable Wangduephodrang Dzong, stretched along a spur at the confluence of two rivers. We will also visit a local village house, to gain insight into the lifestyle of the people. Then drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley. After lunch, proceed to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation. Evening at leisure. Dinner and overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.
Day 06: Bumthang
Bumthang is the general name given to a group of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000m (8,840-13,600ft). This area is home to many ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries.
We will visit Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa, which contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later on we will visit Jakar Dzong, “the dzong of the white bird”, the administrative center of the region. In the afternoon, we will visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche meditated here, and later on Jambey Lhakhang which was erected in the 7th century, when Buddhism was first introduced into Bhutan. Evening visit to local shops. Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.
Day 07: Bumthang – Punakha
After an early morning visit to Bumthang’s market, we will set off on the 7 hour drive back to Punakha, taking lunch en route at a famous restaurant in Tongsa town. We will then drive on through the mountains and down to Wangduephodrang, where we will take a short break for tea/coffee before proceeding on the final stage of our journey to Punakha.
Day 08: Punakha – Paro
After breakfast drive to Paro, visiting Simtokha Dzong en route. This dzong, built in 1627, is the oldest in Bhutan. It now houses the Institute for Language and Culture Studies.
Arrive Paro and check into the hotel. Afterwards, walk down a hillside trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, which has a long and fascinating history. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 09: Paro
The valley of Paro contains a wealth of attractions. After breakfast, drive up the valley to view the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, 18 km. from Paro town on the north side of the valley. It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century. Afterwards visit Ta Dzong. Once a watchtower, built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century, Ta Dzong was inaugurated as Bhutan’s National Museum in 1968. Also visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the kingdom.
In the evening, visit a traditional farmhouse for an opportunity to interact with a local family and learn something of their lifestyle. Later on, take an evening stroll along the main street, and perhaps visit a few handicrafts shops, or take refreshments at a local café or bar. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 10: Paro to Phuntsoling/Jaldapara
After early breakfast in the hotel, drive to Jaldapara in India via Phuntsoling. Jaldapara is a famous wild life sanctuary for one horned rhino and Indian elephant. We check in at the tourist lodge at Jaldapara.
Day 11: Jaldapara to Bagdogra / NJP
Early morning elephant ride/car safari inside the grassland of Jaldapara to watch the great Indian Rhino in their natural habitat. Back to the rest house for breakfast and drive to Bagdogra/NJP Station to catch the return flight/train.