22 October 2016
Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is certainly no ordinary place. This is a country where buying cigarettes is illegal, where the rice is red and where chillies are not just a seasoning but the entire dish. And on this fascinating eight day tour you will appreciate that it is also a deeply Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, and where Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is truly unique, as you will find out in so many ways as the tour unfolds.
You will be welcomed at the airport by our tour representatives who will drive you to your accommodation which is barely 10 minutes away. After settling 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.
Today you walk through pine forests high above Uma Paro to the pretty grounds of the fortress-like monastery of Zurig Dzong. Traverse across to Ta Dzong, home to 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 the Paro river via the traditional covered bridge, and then past the main archery ground, and into Paro town. Driving a few miles north of Paro, you pay your respects at Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magical orange tree that bears fruit all year round.
After a short drive from Uma Paro start a 90- minute easy acclimatisation walk to Drakhapo Monastery, which has a small community of monks living nearby. The main temple room is precariously perched on the edge of a rock cliff and there are some sacred sites to view. In the afternoon, you are invited to try Bhutan’s two most popular sports on Uma Paro’s own archery ground. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, and every village has it own range. Kuru is another very popular traditional Bhutanese game played in most villages.
The capital of Bhutan sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang River. The centre of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a bustling town where traditional ways mingle with modern life. The drive from Uma Paro to the capital takes about one hour and sights worth seeing include village markets, the Fortress of the Glorious Religion’, the National Textile Museum, where weavers demonstrate their skills, and the Institute of Arts and Crafts.
Start early for the drive to Chele La Pass, which is the highest road pass in Bhutan, snaking upwards 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 Haa Valley, which only opened to foreigners in 2002. This unspoilt valley harks back to a simpler, more traditional time. You then descend for the two-hour hike through dense rhodendron forest, possibly sighting shaggy yaks, to Kila Goemba, an ancient nunnery nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside. This sacred place has a timeless quality which is ample reward after the effort of the hike.
Riding out from Uma Paro, you drop to Paro Town then turn north past Dungste Lhakhang, a chorten-like temple built in 1433, and up the Do Chhu Valley. Pass archery grounds, large prayer wheels and houses, heading for Aotsho Lhakhang temple. From here you leave the graded track and head upwards on a logging trail reaching the trail head deep in the forest after a challenging ride. Returning to Aotsho for a fun and exciting descent back to Paro.
One of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan is Taktsang Goemba, or Tiger’s Nest Monastery. 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 during 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. Returning to Uma Paro in the afternoon, relax and enjoy the steam rooms, swimming pool or a Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath.
Today your remarkable tour of Bhutan comes to an end. Time for some last minute souvenir shopping or sightseeing before you are taken to the airport at Paro for you onward flight or to begin your journey home, taking with you so many wonderful memories from this mysterious mountain kingdom.
Superior Forest View fr £3142pp
Deluxe Valley View fr £3463pp
Como Suite fr £3997pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated