Meet at the check-in desk at Bangkok International Airport for the flight to Paro. Once arrival formalities are complete we will head for morning tea (or lunch, depending on flight timings) after which we will check in to our hotel in Paro. Once settled in we will head off to visit the great Paro Dzong. Dzongs are large monastery fortresses which dominate every major town in Bhutan. They are the administrative and religious centres of the district and were once the mainstay of that districts defences against invading Tibetans and, often, rival Bhutanese clans.We will also take in the Paro Museum, with its excellent collection of art and textiles - a beautifully maintained showcase of Bhutanese history and culture.The evening, like most in Bhutan, is free to relax and enjoy Bhutanese hospitality and the company of your fellow travellers.
Today we will visit a textile weaving centre and the small town of Paro.There will also be time for some local walks as well as a visit to Kyichu Lhakhang - one of Bhutan's oldest and most beautiful temples. The temple is popularly believed to have been built in 659 CE by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet, to pin down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the valley. For those interested we can arrange, on this day, a teaching from the abbot of Kyichu Lhakang -a teaching based on the wisdom of Khyentse Rimpoche, a revered Buddhist teacher who died in 1992 and was cremated nearby. As it is a Saturday we may catch a local game of archery, the national sport, at the field in Paro. It is unlike any archery game you will have ever seen before !
Today we will have the option of making the climb up to the famous Tiger's Nest, or Taktsang Monastery (3120m) which is perched some 900m. up on a cliff overlooking the Paro valley and is said to be the spot where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padma Sambhawa flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan.The climb is on a good path and is a steady (though not vertically steep) ascent to first a café (from where you get good views of the monastery) or onwards and upwards to the monastery itself. It is a full day’s excursion and you will sleep well on this night ! For those who do not wish to undertake the walk there is plenty more to do in the valley.
After breakfast we take the 1½ hour drive to the least-visited of all the Himalayan capitals, Thimphu. The road twists its way gradually up and into the broad Thimphu Valley. The first large monastery fortress you pass in the valley is Simtokha Dzong and like many of these large castles it was built by the first ruler of Bhutan, Nawang Namgyal. Completed in 1629, it is the oldest fortress of its kind and guarded the Thimphu valley. Today is a monastery On arrival we will have lunch then take an orientation walk through this busy town.
A full day to explore the sites of the capital. We will visit the National Textile Museum, the Bhutan Heritage Museum and, time permitting, the local thangkha painting centre and paper-making factory. Once office hours are over we can enter the great Tashichho Dzong - monastic and civil centre of Bhutan.
Today will be free to enjoy this bustling town. Take in some more sights, enjoy a coffee or two at a local café – or just wander the streets or walk along the river to savour some down time in this remarkable place. There may be an exhibition on at one of the tiny art galleries in town. Or perhaps a bit of shopping at the local emporiums. Generally, it is just “time-out” to enjoy this wonderful little town.
After breakfast today we depart for Punakha (approx 3 hours), the old winter capital of the Bhutanese monarchs and clergy. Leaving Thimphu the road climbs via a series of zigzags over the Dochu La Pass at 3,000m. On a clear day panoramic views can be had of the eastern Himalaya, including Bhutan's highest mountain, Gangkhar Puensum (7,550m). The road then drops down through varied forest finally emerging into the highly-cultivated Punakha valley. The majestic Punakha Dzong, arguably Bhutan’s most beautiful, sits in a splendid location at the confluence of two mighty Himalayan rivers – the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother). It was the second to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan's kings have been crowned here. The dzong is still the winter residence of the dratshang (official monk body). The main monastery/fortress here was the power base for the old system of re-incarnate rulers. The remains of the original ruler of Bhutan, Nawang Namgyal, are kept in a small room at the top of the highest tower of the dzong and only the king and the head of the monastic order, the Je Khempo are allowed to enter this room.
Today we drive 3.5 hours (depending on road conditions) to the beautiful Phobjikha Valley, a stunning glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains deep in central Bhutan. It is also one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country and the winter home of the rare Black-Necked Cranes, which spend winters in this serene valley. We may also be lucky enough to see muntjaks (barking deer), wild boars, sambars, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes – all native to this region. Gangtey Gompa sits on top of a conical hill in the middle of the valley with the small township nestling at its feet
Today we will visit the Black Crane Information Centre and take a short nature walk (2-3hrs) in the valley. We will visit the local nunnery, a modern and very beautiful example of how the Bhutanese have retained and cherished their architectural, religious and cultural heritage. Then there will be time to simply relax and wander the village and soak up this special time in this exquisite and remote Himalayan valley.
Today we will retrace our path to Thimphu for an overnight stop en route to Paro. The afternoon will be free to shop, revisit some favourite local haunts or take a walk along the Thimphu River and soak up the last of the Himalayan capital.
After breakfast we will take the short (1.5 hrs) drive back to Paro. The remainder of the day is free to wander into Paro town, take a walk along the river and just take time out to soak up the magic of this extraordinary place. For those who wish to try a traditional hot stone bath we can arrange this on this afternoon in Paro. Our last evening in Bhutan, spent at the stunning Zhiwa Ling Hotel, will feature some local dancers and musicians who will offer us songs which are centuries old and reflect the rich artistic traditions still very much alive in Bhutan.
Today you will depart by air for Bangkok and your onward flight.