11 December 2016
Bhutan is no ordinary place. The Land of the Thunder Dragon is a country where buying cigarettes is illegal, where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just for 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 considered more important than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is also unique as you will find out on this fascinating six day discovery tour. It straddles the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as traditionally dressed noblemen chat on mobile phones. Visiting this mountain Kingdom, you will become one of the few who have experienced the charm and magic of one of the world’s most enigmatic countries – the ‘last Shangri La’
On arrival at the airport you will be met by one of our tour representatives and driven to your hotel which is about 10 minutes away. After settling in and unpacking your first foray into the Kingdom begins with sightseeing in Paro town and a visit to a local temple. In the afternoon you have the 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.
Today you take a winding walk through pine forests high above Paro to the pretty grounds of the fortress-like monastery of Zurig Dzong. Traverse across to Ta Dzong, housing Bhutan’s National Museum with magnificent views over Paro, and on down to Rinpung Dzong (Fortress on a Heap of Jewels). The trail then leads across Paro Chhu river via the traditional covered bridge and then past the main archery ground and into Paro town. Then drive a few miles north of Paro, and pay your respects at Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magical orange tree that bears fruit all year round. Later drive further up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong.
Start early for the drive to Chele La Pass which, is the highest road pass in Bhutan, snaking up through blue pine and rhododendron forests for 30 miles. The view sweeps away to the snow-dome of Bhutan’s second highest peak, Mt Jhomolhari, and down to the unspoilt Haa Valley. Striding out along the Edelweiss covered ridge, you pass a sky burial site before descending for a two-hour hike through dense forest, possibly sighting shaggy yaks, to Kila Goemba, an ancient nunnery nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside. This is a serene retreat for nuns who lead a life of religious meditation. The nunnery is one of the seven oldest in the Kingdom. For those who prefer a more leisurely time, you can drive from Chele La Pass down to the Haa Valley.
The capital of Bhutan sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu. The centre of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a bustling town where traditional ways mingle with modern life. The drive from Paro to the capital takes about one hour and there are lots of spectacular sights along the way. In Thimphu wander among the colourful stalls and visit the Fortress of the Glorious Religion, National Institute of Traditional Medicine and National Institute of Arts and Crafts among other places. Return to Paro in the evening.
One of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan is Taktsang Goemba. Legend has it that this cliff side was where Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. Make an early start 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 retrace your steps or head further up to visit several remote temples and monasteries. Return to Paro in the afternoon with time to rest and relax and enjoy the facilities including the steam rooms, swimming pool or a Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath.
Today your wonderful discovery tour of Bhutan comes to an end. Time for some last minute sightseeing or souvenir shopping in Paro before you are picked up at your hotel and driven back to the airport to catch an onward flight or begin your journey home, taking with you a lifetime of memories from Shangri La.
Superior Forest View fr £2251pp
Deluxe Valley View fr £2488pp
Como Suite fr £2882pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated