Exotic Bhutan Tours and Treks

Ura Festival Cultural Tour *Optional Bumthang Trek

May 1 to May 14, 2009

Ura Valley Festival TourEnter the Land of the Thunder Dragon for an extraordinary journey into Bhutan, "Druk-Yul". Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan ranks among the top ten hot spots in the world for biodiversity. In the month of April nature spreads a feast to delight your senses. Bhutan hosts 600 species of wild orchids, 50 different types of Rhododendrons, Blue Poppy (the national flower), medicinal plants, high-altitude plants and tropical trees. Over 70% of Bhutan is blanketed in virgin forests of richly diverse flora, with rippling pristine rivers meandering alongside terraced rice fields. Land-locked and surrounded by high Himalayan Mountains the essence of Bhutan is serenity and beauty distilled through the ages of time. This unique and custom itinerary gives you the best of Bhutan. Cultural hikes to ancient century-old Dzongs, (forts) Temple and Buddhist monasteries as well as week-end markets; remote villages and Bhutanese hospitality at its finest; Highlighting our tour is the Ura Valley Tsechu Festival; invocations of local blessing and religious purification. Tsechus are spiritual, exotic arrays of color, medieval and breathtaking. The four valleys of Bumthang, Ura, Tang, Chumey, and Choekhor defy words with their beauty. To appreciate you must go. Please be in good physical and spiritual condition.

Day 1: Your flight descending over the final Himalayan ridge brings you to Paro International Airport, elevation 7500 feet. Your Druk Air experience has been highlighted with breathtaking views of Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mount Jumolhari and Jitchu Drake in Bhutan. Your excitement mounts and you are received at Paro Airport by representative; visas are now processed. Your ‘Adventure into the Land of the Thunder Dragon begins’.

Departing Paro airport in our small vans, we enjoy conversation with our expert English speaking Bhutanese guide and marvel at the beauty of the Paro Valley. We proceed to the quaint village of Paro and enjoy our first Bhutanese style lunch. After lunch, we take a short stroll in the tiny village to enjoy traditional architecture and rows of shops which line the main street. We then visit the National Museum (Ta-Dzong). Once the watchtower for the Rinpung Dzong, it was converted into the National Museum in 1968. The conch shaped museum stands on a promontory overlooking the Paro valley in all its glory. On the way back visit the Paro Rinpung Dzong; "Fortress of the heap of Jewels". A flagstone path rises gradually from a beautiful wooden bridge with shingle roofing and abutted by two guardhouses. Today the Dzong is the seat of the district administration as well as the home for the monastic school.

We now depart Paro towards Thimphu (2 hour drive). Thimphu is the capitol of Bhutan and our visit in Thimphu will be full of touring and fun filled excitement. Arrive hotel and check in for rest and evening dinner.

Day 2: Enjoy leisure breakfast and we then visit the Thimphu Bank to exchange currency as well as the post office to view and perhaps purchase collector item exquisite Bhutanese stamps and begin our exciting day with a most delightful shopping experience at the famous “weekend” market; not to be missed in Bhutan. Here you will find friendly Bhutanese locals displaying in their stalls fresh produce, rice, chilies, jewelry and local art; converse with enchanting local shoppers. Kodak moments here abound! Make sure to ask permission first. Returning to our hotel to refresh and following lunch, we proceed to visit the Takin Zoo to see the National animal of Bhutan; tour the House of Paper;(exquisite paper made from the Daphne Tree in Bhutan) plus tour the Home of Incense; Bhutanese incense is the highest grade of incense made by hand in Thimphu. This afternoon we stroll and explore Thimphu village; converse with locals and be immersed into enchanting Bhutanese culture. The Folk Heritage museum is interesting as well as a visit to the Zilukha nunnery. Tonight we attend a reception dinner with our Bhutanese host, Sonam. Expect to be delighted and to enjoy the finest of Bhutanese hospitality. Overnight at Thimphu hotel.

Day 3: Enjoy a hearty breakfast this morning and then prepare to depart for Tango Monastery. Embark on a vigorous 2-hour hike up to the mountain top where an ancient Buddhist college and Monastery is perched hill on top. Here is one of my favorite experiences in Bhutan. Tango is one of the most important Buddhist colleges in Bhutan and its name means “horse head”; derived from the horse-head rock near by. An 18th century Dzong built by the 8th Desi Druk Rabgye. Today Tango is the home of the 12 year old reincarnate Lama, Gyaltse Tenzin Rabgye. Perhaps you will be honored to meet and be blessed by the young lama. Here you will meet with monks for discussions. Returning down the path to our vehicle we drive back to Thimphu; perhaps an archery match along our route; Bhutan holds Olympic gold. . We will visit the Three Memorial Chortens and Bhutan’s National Library with hundreds of ancient manuscript on display. Overnight at Thimphu hotel.

Day 4: After breakfast we check out of our hotel and depart to tour the Textile Museum of Bhutan. This exceptional Textile Museum features masterpieces from the Royal Family of Bhutan and splendid fabric and exquisite Thangkas. We now begin our drive to Wangduephodrang (3 hour) across Dochula Pass (10,500ft). Prayer flags send prayers on the wind. Enjoy spectacular views of the Eastern Himalayan Mountains. Stop at Lobesa for lunch. Early afternoon visit the Punakha Dong, "Palace of Great Happiness". Punakha Dzong is the former winter Capital and at present day hosts the administrative seat of the district; also, the winter residence of the central monastic body and its Chief Abbot. The Dzong lies between two rivers, the Pochu and Mochu, male and female rivers; the location is strategic. It was built in 1637 AD It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan's first king was crowned. We will visit the Fertility Temple Chimi Lhakhang and in the evening tour the Wangdu Dzong courtyard. Overnight at Resort.

Day 5: After an early breakfast we depart for Bumthang, Central Bhutan a long drive on a scenic and breathtaking highway rewarded by a stop at the Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of the royal family. An architectural wonder built by Chogyel Minjur Tempa, the Third Desi, in 1648 it is presently the administrative seat of the district and home of the monastic school. Built at split-levels on a narrow spur, the Dzong is an architectural wonder. Views from here are extensive creating the strategic location of this Dzong. Enjoy lunch in Trongsa town. Continue to Bumthang. Overnight River Lodge and enjoy enchanting Bhutanese hospitality.

Day 6: Today we sightsee and tour in Bumthang. Visit Jakar Dzong, Jambay Khakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang, and Flaming Lake, (Membar Tsho). Shopping is a delight in Bumthang. Textile weaving prevails in this area and we visit weavers utilizing the back and toe strap looms. Here you will find the best price for textile purchase. After lunch we will visit a Bhutanese schoolhouse and be entertained and delighted by wonderful Bhutanese children; this is a favorite experience for many guests in Bhutan. Overnight at River Lodge.

Day 7: Today is our first day of URA Yakchoe in Bumthang. Load the camera! Ura is considered one of the holiest valleys in Bhutan. Today Bhutanese from many different areas will gather to pay respect and to be blessed at this social gathering. Bhutanese dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry attend this celebration of purification and religious blessings. Here we can truly appreciate the essence of Bhutanese people and a preserved steadfast culture. Arrays of colorful brocades whirl through the air as the dancers spin and dance the “thunderbolt step”. Masks of glorious demonic demons and animals arouse your senses as you watch the purification take place. The intensity goes on. Overnight at hotel in village of Ura.

Day 8: Returning to URA Festival Meet with Ura Head Lama. Watch for the Atsara (clown) this dancer, unique in his own style, mimics dancers and entertains onlookers. Festival deities are invoked through benediction and luck is increased and misfortunate gone. Tashi Delek! Overnight at River Lodge Guest House.

Bumthang Trek Begins: May 9, 2009 (see below)

Day 9: "Visit the Ugyenchholing Palace; a Family Museum, located on a hill top in beautiful and remote Tang Valley. Enjoy a scenic hike through a beautiful meadow dotted with Bhutanese farmhouse and water turned flour grist mills. Here you will experience time that will transport you back into medieval Bhutan. You will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. Bhutan's history unfolds. This is a most interesting and unique museum and the location of the museum and architecture at this site are most intriguing. We will visit a local farmhouse for tea and conversation while in Tang Valley. Return to Jakar Valley for overnight at River Lodge.

Day 10: Departing central Bhutan we begin our drive toward the west. Stopping once again in Trongsa we take time for lunch and a stroll thru the tiny village. Look for archers at the Trongsa Dzong archers field; a favorite archery field for Bhutanese archers; Overnight at Resort; listen for the jackals tonight.

Day 11: Today we drive to Thimphu for lunch. Check into your hotel. The afternoon is yours to explore Thimphu and its many unique shops; bookstores are amongst the most popular stores, as well as thangka, glorious mask and textile woven handicraft items. You guide will be glad to assist you in your shopping. Overnight at your Thimphu hotel.

Day 12: We leave our hotel going west towards Paro. Along our route we will drive to a path for our hike (3 hour) leading us upwards towards the famous Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest). The monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800 meters. It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, Guru Padma Sambhava, the saint who converted Bhutan to Buddhism enlighten here upon the back of a tigress. We enjoy picnic lunch at the cafeteria. Our next stop is at Drugyel Dzong, ruined fortress. The Dzong although in ruins, holds great historical significance. It was from this fortress that the Bhutanese repelled many Tibetan invasions. On a clear day this spot offers a magnificent view of Mt Jumolhari, The Goddess Peak (26,000 ft).This is as well the beginning point for many treks. Check into our Paro hotel.

Day 13: Full day excursion to Haa Valley; just recently opened to tourism in 2001... Haa Valley is situated in the north-west of the Bhutan-Tibet border. Our drive is exciting and stimulating over a 13,000 ft pass with prayer flags fluttering and blessing you along your route. We enjoy a picnic lunch along this beautiful drive. Some have said Haa is the Lost Shangri-la; the valley is traversed by the Haa Chuu (river) and its characteristic features are three almost conical hillocks considered to be holy by the local people. The first hillock is dedicated to Ap Chhundu, the supreme local protective deity of Haa. On arrival we stroll through the quaint town. We will take an easy hike of about 1 hour to Katso village (8,840 ft) Here you can see the famous Katso Lhakhang (temple)of Guru Rimpoche built against a rocky ledge. Return to Paro for a farewell dinner at Hotel.

Day 14: Today we drive to Paro airport and say farewell to Bhutan. We hope you have enjoyed your visit with us. Tashi Delek!

(Bumthang Trek Option starting on Day 9 of above Tour)

Day 9: BUMTHANG TREK begins: After a hearty breakfast we drive to embark on our wonderful trek to Nganglhakhang. Today we will hike for approximate five hours passing though villages, fields, forests crossing over suspension bridges. Our trek will follow the Chamkhar River. Here the trout are plentiful! Fishing anyone? We will visit Thangbi Lhakhang enroute before entering “Swan Land” (Ngang Yul) “Swan Temple” (Nganglhakhang). Swans first inhabited this part of the valley. Overnight camp 9,500 ft (2,800M).

Day 10: Today a gradual and steep climb to Phephela Pass brings us to the highest point of our trek. 12,000 ft (3,353M). The trail to the pass leads through one of the most beautiful forested areas of this region, with mini bamboo pasture and forests of rhododendrons and Mixed Conifer. Our seven-hour trek today will allow for many stops to enjoy nature’s rare beauty. Overnight camp near Ta Houng village in Tang valley. Enjoy a wholesome and delicious Bhutanese meal.

Day 11: Today we pass Ugyenchholing in Tang Valley; Beauty again overwhelms our senses. You will visit the Ugyenchholing Palace, now housing the Family Museum, a place that will transport you to another world and time. You will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. Bhutan’s history unfolds. Continuing from Ugyenchholing, we reach the Rimochen Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Guru Rimpoche, the Patron Saint of Bhutan. This is the last point in the trek route from where we drive on through Pangshing village to Jakar, Bumthang, stopping to visit farm house on the way. Overnight at River Lodge Guest House and unwind from the trek over a sumptuous dinner and local Arak. (Bhutanese specialty drink)

Day 12: Departing central Bhutan we begin our drive toward the west. Stopping once again in Trongsa we enjoy lunch and a leisure stroll thru town. We continue our drive today with photo stops along our route. Overnight at Wangdu Resort.

Day 13: An early morning departure; we arrive in Thimphu to shop for those special requests; unique Bhutanese handicraft and artwork, your Bhutanese guide will be pleased to assist you. Lunch in Thimphu village and then depart for Para; along our route we will drive to a path for our hike (3 hour) leading us upwards towards famous Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest). The monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer dropof nearly 800 meters. It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, Guru Padma Sambhava, the saint who converted Bhutan to Buddhism enlighten here upon the back of a tigress.. Tonight we have a farewell dinner in cozy Paro Village, and more time to visit Paro’s delightful shops.

Day 14: Breakfast and departure for airport.

Tashi Delek!