25 September 2016
Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is no ordinary place, as you will discover on this fascinating six day tour. It is a country where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just a seasoning but the entire dish. It’s also a deeply Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. Bhutan is a truly unique kingdom and is guaranteed to make a great impression on you. Beginning in Paro, you will travel to the Punakha Valley, and on to Chele La Pass where you will hike to Kila Nunnery. Evey day is packed with adventure and you will see never-to-be-forgotten sights along the way.
You will be welcomed at the airport by one of our experienced tour representatives and driven the 10 minutes to your hotel. Once you have settled in your first foray into the Kingdom begins with sightseeing in Paro town and a visit to a local temple. This afternoon provides an opportunity to acclimatise to the rarefied air at this altitude and to get to know your guide, who will offer some additional sightseeing options for the rest of the day depending on your interests and energy levels.
The capital Thimphu sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu and is the centre of government, religion and commerce. Today you can shop, or drive to the town viewpoint at the Big Buddha statue. In Thimphu, the sightseeing begins with a tour which will include the National Memorial Chorten, Trashi Chhoe Dzong, a market and folk heritage museum. The drive on to Punakha is truly awe-inspiring as it zigzags up to the 3,140m-high mountain pass of Dochu La with its forests of fluttering prayer flags, maze of memorial chortens and sweeping views of the main Himalayan range. Up river, deep in the verdant terraced hills past Punakha Dzong is your home for the next two nights at Uma Punakha.
Spend today exploring the scenic Punakha Valley, which is low enough to allow bananas and oranges to grow. In the morning walk up through whitewashed homesteads and farmland to Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten, a shrine recently built by the royal family. This ornate and elaborate structure has a rainbow of Guru Rinpoche images and superb views. Heading down along the riverside, the massive architectural edifice of the 17th-century Punakha Dzong looms into view. In the afternoon a short walk across rice paddies takes you to Chimmi Lhakhang, a fertility temple which has long been a pilgrimage site for couples hoping to start a family.
Today you have time to retrace your steps back over the Dochu La for a second chance of that wonderful view of the Himalayan range. Returning to the Chuzum you catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward of evil spirits near the checkpoint. Break the journey with a visit to Tamchog Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo (the so-called Iron Bridge Builder). This former saint from the 14th century introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains and the only way to reach his temple is by one of these bridges. On the final leg the road snakes alongside the Pa Chhu river, through apple orchards and rice paddies, past quaint homesteads to your home in the mountains, Uma Paro.
One of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan is Taktsang Goemba, or Tiger’s Nest. Legend has it that this cliffside was where Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. You start early to avoid the hot sun for the two-hour climb to the Tiger’s Nest viewpoint. Descending steeply, you then climb up to the monastery, passing a waterfall and entering through the main gates which are decorated with murals. Then head further up to several remote temples and monasteries. Return to Uma Paro in the afternoon for some time to rest and relax and enjoy the facilities including the steam rooms, swimming pool or a Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath.
Your short but exciting tour of Bhutan comes to an end today. Druk Air normally departs in the morning, so after breakfast make the most of your time in the spectacular and picturesque Paro Valley by doing some more sightseeing or shopping for souvenirs before you are picked up at your hotel and driven to the airport to catch your onward flight or begin your journey home.
Valley View fr £2413pp
One Bedroom Villa fr £2988pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated