Bhutan, a small country between India and China, is recognized as the last remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. The country’s iconic dzongs, temples, and monasteries, with traditional architecture, are synonymous with its Buddhist heritage. Perching on high mountain cliffs and overlooking the stunning landscape, these religious sites are the place of daily worship and also where the most important festivals of Bhutan – Tshechus are held.

The most celebrated Tshechus in Bhutan is the Thimphu Tshechu festival, Paro Tshechu festival, Punakha Tshechu festival, Gangtey Tshechu festival, Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival, and Jakar festival. Tshechus are the grand ceremonies held on the tenth day of a month (lunar calendar) to honor Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. Yet the month of celebration will depend on the region and the temple that the Tshechu will take place at.

The highlight performance of Tshechus is the mask dances of monks, wearing colorful brocade attire and reading Buddhist scripts. And the laity will also join in the dance. Each dance has its own meaning and story behind it, and many tales are based on the stories from the 8th century, the time of Guru Rinpoche. By telling the ancient stories through the mask dances, Tshechu is the oral traditional way of Bhutanese to pass on the history, values, and beliefs from generation to generation.

Tshechu is also a social gathering for the locals to take a break from their work and simply enjoy the excitement of the festival. Bhutanese believe that by witnessing the performances, they will receive blessings.

TOUR DETAIL

Tour duration – 12 days/ 11 nights.

Tour destination – Thimphu, Gangtey, Bumthang, Punakha, and Paro.

Tour overview – Jambay Lhakhang Drup is one of the most significant festivals in Bhutan. It is a unique and enchanting festival held to commemorate the establishment of Jambay Lhakhang (the temple) in the 7th century and to honor Guru Rinpoche, the saint who introduced the Tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan. The next festival will be held from 21st – 23rd October 2021.

The festival takes place for 4 days with a variety of traditional and masked dance performances. Each dance bears a very special meaning, from purifying the ground to instilling faith in the deity and the teaching of Buddha, and also tells of myths and tales of the Bhutanese.

This tour offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Bhutan – the last Shangri-La and the Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival with intriguing sacred dances. From the lush valley of Thimphu, scenic trails in Gangtey to the ancient constructions in Bumthang, the imposing monasteries, and breath-taking landscapes in Trongsa, Punakha, and Paro, all of the best destinations in Bhutan are included in this 12-day tour. You will spend an entire day observing and join the Jambay Lhakhang Drup in Bumthang. So this journey to Bhutan will show you beyond the incredible nature of the country, it will give you the chance to understand the history, the belief, and life of the people on the high Himalayas.

ITINERARY DETAIL
Day 01: Arrival in Paro and travel to Thimphu
  • Altitude in Paro: 2,280m
  • Altitude in Thimphu: 2,320m
  • Distance: 55km
  • Estimated travel time: 1.30hr

Welcome to Bhutan – the hidden treasure of the Himalayas!

You will arrive at Paro International Airport. Once you are close to landing, take a few moments to marvel at the absolute beauty of the Himalayas with snow-capped mountains and lush valleys that slowly roll out before your eyes. As soon as you walk out of the Arrival Gate, our guide will be waiting to drive you to Thimphu. Enjoy the fresh air of the Himalayas and let’s begin your wonderful journey in Bhutan!

Midway to Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan, there will be making a short visit to Tachogang Lhakhang (Temple of The Excellent Horse). This beautiful temple is one of the most impressive constructions of Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464), a great figure in Bhutanese culture.

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and a memorable destination with a juxtaposition of ancient sites and modern houses. The first site we will visit in Thimphu is the National Memorial Chorten. To pray for world peace and prosperity, the Chorten was erected followed the order of Bhutan’s Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The Tibetan-style building became a memorial to the Third King after he passed away.

Next, we will head to Buddha Point (Buddha Dordenma Statue), a Buddha statue with a height of 51.5m. The figure watches over the green valley of Thimphu from atop of the hill. People believe it was built to fulfill a prophecy from a long time ago and that it emanates an aura of peace of prosperity to the world. Inside, there are 125,000 smaller Buddha statues, all cast in bronze and gilded.

Before returning to the hotel to rest, we will walk the Wangditse Nature Trail (2,400m) in Motithang, a north-western suburb of Thimphu. On the 2.5km hike, we will cross an apple orchard and then to a dense forest of oaks, blue pines, and rhododendrons. It will take about 2 hours to finish the hike. The trail is adorned with colorful prayer flags. And you can take time to enjoy the untouched beauty and soothing feeling of being with nature. As we look back, we will be offered a breath-taking view of Thimphu. We will also pay a visit to Motithang Takin Reserve to see Takin – Bhutan’s national animal. They have the body of a cow and the head of a goat and are known as powerful animals in the region of the Himalayas.

The first night we will stay at a hotel in Thimphu.

Day 02: Thimphu sightseeing

Today, we will hike to Tango monastery in the morning. This is a moderate hike with an elevation gain of 400m, and it will take about 1 hour to reach our destination. The trail will pass through unspoiled forests of blue pine, oak, and rhododendron. Not only that, but we will also walk among verdant alpine woods.

In Bhutan, the Tango monastery is a very well-known university of Buddhist studies. Tango is the highest level in Buddhist studies, equivalent to the academic master's degree. The monastery was built in the 15th century by the ‘divine madman’, Lama Drukpa Kunley, at an elevation of 2,800m. But more importantly, this place was the residence of Gyalse Rinpoche – an important tulku (reincarnated lama).

To learn more about the life of the Bhutanese and their beautiful traditional weaving art, we will visit the Folk Heritage Museum and the National Textile Museum after the Tango monastery. The Folk Heritage Museum will show us how life in Bhutan was in the mid-19th century. Even its design is special, replicating a rural house in the old days, built with rammed mud timber. Inside, there are numerous daily objects like the leopard-skin bags and Brokpa yak-hair ‘spider’ hats, all were used by the locals. And in the National Textile Museum, we will be able to observe the art practicing of thagzo (weaving). This Bhutanese traditional art is performed with different styles and on various materials.

The next destination – the National Institute for Zorig Chusum is a place not to be missed when you are in Thimphu! The institute is commonly called the Arts and Crafts School, or Painting school. This is where the traditional arts of Bhutan are taught and practiced by young students. You will get to see the students sharpening their skills with great discipline under the instructions of their masters. The 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan taught in the school are thag-zo, tsha-zo (bamboo weaving), shagzo (woodturning), lha-zo (painting), shingzo (carpentry), do-zo (mansory), par-zo (carving), lim-zo (clay work), lugzo (bronze casting), gar-zo (ironwork), troe-ko (ornament-making), and de-zo (paper-making).

Tashichho Dzong (Fortress of The Glorious Religion) is one of the most iconic sites in Thimphu, and this will be our last stop for today. The striking dzong was built in 1216 A.D and later moved to Thimphu after the city was chosen as Bhutan’s new capital. It sits next to the banks of the Wang Chhu river and is surrounded by picturesque gardens, plus an unrivaled view of the river. At 5 pm, there is a flag-changing ritual in the courtyard, make sure you will catch the interesting sight when visiting the place!

After getting back to the town, we can roam around the center to explore more of the local life in Thimphu. Walking between shops and bazaars, cafes, restaurants, and bars, you will see a vibrant side of the capital, with bustling shops and bazaars. Stroll among these lovely shops, and you may find an item that you would love to take home as a souvenir for this amazing trip to Bhutan.

We will stay the second night at a hotel in Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimphu to Gangtey
  • Altitude in Gangtey: 2900m
  • Distance: 160km
  • Estimated time: 6hrs

Leaving Thimphu in the morning, Gangtey (or ‘Phobjikha valley’) will be our next destination. On the way to Gangtey, we will have time to enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery at Dochula pass at 3,050m.

Dochula pass is certainly one of the most scenic mountain passes you will ever see. Even better, it is one of the few locations that visitors can have an amazing panoramic view of the eastern Himalayas. The sight of 108 Chortens gracing along the green hillside with the backdrop of the snow-laden Himalayas is unforgettable! On clear days, from Dochula pass, you can even catch sight of the high mountain peaks like Gangkar Puensum (7,564m), Gangchen Singye (7,205m), Jongphu Gang or Table mountain (7,094 m), Jejekangphu Gang (7,190 m), Tari Gang (7,304 m), Tshenday Gang (6,994 m), Masang Gang (7,194 m), Gangchey Ta (6,784 m), Gangchen Dhagang (6,563 m), and Khang Bum (6,494 m).

Arriving in Gangtey, we will take a short break and then visit Gangtey Goemba (Gangtey monastery). The renowned monastery stands on the crest of a hill atop the fertile Gangtey valley. The legendary treasure finder Pema Lingpa had a vision that a goemba named Gangteng (hilltop) would be erected here, and his teaching would be spread from this place. Following the prophecy, Pema Thinley, the grandson, and reincarnation of Pema Lingpa had built a Nyingma temple here in 1613.

Not only known for its mesmerizing landscape, but Gangtey valley is also the winter home of the rare Black Necked Cranes. The birds migrate from late October to March, so you can see them in Gangtey if you are traveling in Bhutan during this time.

We will stay at the first night at a hotel in Gangtey

Day 04: Gangtey to Bumthang
  • Altitude in Bumthang: 2800m
  • Distance: 158km
  • Estimated time: 6hrs

The region of Gangtey boasts various lovely trails, so it’s impossible to miss out on this experience. Thus, we will start the 4th day with the scenic Gangtey Nature Trail. The pleasant walk will begin at the hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goemba, descend to beautiful flower meadows, and trail towards the village of Semchubara. Following the trail, we will walk through a blue pine forest before heading down to a point with an exceptional view of the valley. The hike will end once we reach the astonishing Khewang Lhakhang (Khewang temple).

Later, we will visit the Black-Necked Crane Visitor Centre, where you will find out more about the rare bird species of Bhutan. It has an observation room equipped with high power telescope and spotting scopes for catching the best view of the cranes

We will head to discover the religious heartland of Bhutan – Bumthang, comprised of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor, and Chumey. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. Bumthang not only boasts a scenic landscape, but this region is also where some of the most ancient palaces, Buddhist temples, and monasteries in the entire kingdom are situated!

En-route, we will stop at Yathra Weaving Center. At the popular weaving center, you will find the intriguing process of weaving yathras, the local’s unique woven textile with deep colors and eye-catching designs. You will have a lot of time to sightsee as we will be driving slowly and taking breaks as well.

Tonight, we will stay at a hotel in Bumthang.

Day 05: Discover Bumthang

The first place to explore today is Jambay Lhakhang (or Temple of Maitreya), one of the sacred temples built by the 7th-century Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. It is believed the temples were erected in the year 659 in only one day to subdue a Tibetan demoness, and Jambay Lhakhang was to pin down her left knee. The ancient temple was later visited by the great Guru Rinpoche and renovated by the Sindhu Raja after the Guru restored his life force. Because of its history, the temple is a very important pilgrimage place for the Bhutanese and people from all over the Buddhist Himalayas.

After that, we will visit the imposing and important temple complex Kurjey Lhakhang. The sacred site is where the body (kur) print (jey) of Guru Rinpoche is preserved, located in a cave in the oldest of the three buildings of the complex.

Another site to visit near Kurjey Temple is the holy spring Kurjey Drupchu. Kurjey Drupchu is believed to have been blessed by Guru Rinpoche himself. Everyone may drink and soak their body parts in the water from Kurjey Drupchu for healing. The belief in the healing of diseases is famous in the Bhutanese context.

From Kurjey Drupchu, we can either drive or walk to Tamshing monastery. The walk to the monastery is a nice one to enjoy and will be only for 1 hour. The building formally called Tamshing Lhendup Chholing (Temple of the Good Message), is the most important Nyingma Goemba in Bhutan. Established in 1501 by the great spiritual master Pema Lingpa, the site remained privately owned by his descendants until 1960. The unusual structure of the building was erected by Pema Lingpa himself, with the help of Khandromas, who made many of the statues.

We will stay the second night at a hotel in Bumthang.

Day 06: Bumthang sightseeing

Enjoy your breakfast before we drive to Tang valley, Bumthang’s most remote area, and visit the holy Mebar Tsho (The Flaming Lake). It is located along the way to Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley. Legend says that Pema Lingpa had jumped into the lake with a butter lamp in his hand, and later emerged from the water with a paper scroll and a chest hidden by Guru Rinpoche, while the lamp still burning brightly. Beautiful prayer flags are placed around the small sacred lake and there is also a small altar dedicated to Pema Lingpa. And on auspicious days, people will offer butter lamps at the lake.

Later, let’s take the Bushman hike to fully immerse in the pristine nature of this land. From the beautiful village at Tang valley, we will walk to the end at the imposing Lhodrak Kharchu Monastery. It will take us through a forest of blue pine and also offer the mesmerizing view of Bumthang Valley and the great Jakar Dzong, which overlooks Chamkhar Valley.

The sacred Lhodrak Kharchu Monastery was blessed by Guru Rinpoche and it was also the seat where Nub-ben Namkhai Nyingpo became an accomplished Yangdag master. The edifice was established in the 1970s and you will find many statues of Guru Rinpoche, Chenresig, and Sakyamuni in its Tshokhang (assembly hall).

We will stay overnight at a hotel in Bumthang.

Day 07: Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival 

Today we will join in the Jambay Lhakhang Festival with the locals. The name of the festival is taken after the sacred temple Jambay Lhakhang, where it is held annually. Not only we will experience one of the most unique festivals in the nation but also have the chance to visit one of its most ancient Lhakhang. Out of the 4 days of the festival, only the first day of the festival takes place in the evening, the rest is held during the day.

Depends on the day of the Jambay Lhakhang Festival, people can observe different dance performances. And several of these dances are seen as the highlights of the festival, including Mewang – the fire dance (on the 1st day of the festival) and the drum dance of Drametse – Drametse Ngacham (on the 3rd day).

Mewang – the fire dance is held in the evening to bless infertile women so that they may bear children. The festival dances were composed mostly by Terton Pema Lingpa, the great treasure discoverer of the 15th century, who lived in the valley. An arch of pine is set on fire, and the ones who can run across the burning arch get cleaned off the sins. This act is called Mewang (blessing of the fire).

During the performance of Drametse Ngacham, there are 16 dancers who wear different masks of real and mythical animal faces and hold a Nga (drum) and a drumstick in their hands. The dancers visualize the outer world as pure land and the inner world as a manifestation of peaceful and wrathful deities. Drametse Ngacham is considered a didactic way to impart the sacred teachings of the Mahayana Tantric Buddhism in the form of dance to the commoners.

Day 08: Bumthang to Trongsa
  • Altitude in Trongsa: 2,216m
  • Distance: 80km
  • Estimated travel time: 3hrs

Leaving the picturesque Bumthang valley, we will drive to Trongsa – a charming town situated on a sheer ridge. The historic town is known as the gateway to the eastern region of Bhutan and also loved by visitors for the spectacular scenes of the deep valleys surrounding it.

Trongsa Dzong, our first stop in the town, sits high above the roaring Mangde Chhu river. The complex is perhaps the most spectacular sited dzong in the country. From afar, Trongsa Dzong is a remarkable architecture with a sheer drop to the south that disappears behind the thick veils of cloud. The dzong’s buildings trail down the ridge and are connected by a succession of alley-like corridors, wide stone stairs, and lovely paved courtyards. The massive structure, built-in 1644, is a captivating sight to behold from anywhere in the town. During December or January, the famous Trongsa tsechu is held annually in the dzong’s northern courtyard.

Just a short distance from Trongsa Dzong is the historic Ta Dzong. It once guarded Trongsa Dzong against internal rebellion. Standing on a promontory above Trongsa town, it is now the National Museum with impressively large collections dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty. We will visit Ta Dzong to learn more about Bhutan’s history.

Next, we will drive to Kinga Rabten, the winter palace of Bhutan’s 2nd King. The visit will show us how the early days of Bhutan’s monarchy were like. Not only that, but the drive itself is also a memorable experience as we will pass below Takse Goemba, a huge waterfall, and the fertile rice paddles of the lower Mangde Chhu valley.

From the palace, we will hike or drive to Karma Drubdey Nunnery, home of about 127 Buddhist nuns. Because the nunnery is located high up on a hilly area, surrounded by mountains on all sides with plenty of fresh air, it makes a perfect place to study and retreat for the nuns. The nunnery will be the last stop for today, we will return and rest in the hotel in Trongsa town afterward.

Day 09: Trongsa to Punakha
  • Distance: 150km
  • Estimated travel time: 5hrs
  • Altitude in Punakha: 1,300m

Parting with Trongsa town in the morning, we will drive to Punakha – Bhutan’s old capital. It is where you will see many important sites which have been inextricably linked with momentous times in the history of Bhutan.

We will go and see the renowned Punakha Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness). Asides from its purpose as a dzong, this place was the former seat of the Bhutan government until the 1950s. The grand building was built in 1637 and was the second dzong erected in Bhutan.

Just passing the magnificent Punakha Dzong is the Pho Chhu suspension bridge. With 160m length, it is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, and you will see the charming sight of colorful prayer flags gracing the bridge. From the bridge, we will be rewarded with the fantastic view of Punakha Dzong and the alluring land of Pho Chhu valley.

Enjoy the lunch break and we will have a scenic walk through rice fields and pine trees to get to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten. It will take about 1 hour to hike to the stunning Chorten, which sits on a ridge above the lush valley at an altitude of 1,500m. The site is ranked as a high point in Bhutanese architecture. The unique structure was established by Her Majesty the Queen Mother for the wellbeing of the whole country as well as for the long life of our beloved King. The Chorten also offers a magnificent view of Punakha valley that should not be missed.

We will stay at a hotel in Punakha.

Day 10: Punakha to Paro
  • Distance: 125km
  • Estimated travel time: 4hrs

After exploring the old capital, we will return to Paro. On the way, we will spend time taking a scenic walk to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility). The trail will lead through green hillock fields. The temple is popular with the locals as women will come here to pray for children and receive a wang (blessing or empowerment). The hike will be only for 25 minutes and we can also see the farmers at work when we pass by the farmlands of Lobesa village.

Later, we will visit the astonishing Paro Rinpung Dzong (Fortress of The Heap of Jewels), built-in 1644 under the order of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The prominent dzong is the administrative seat of the Paro district. The complex is seen throughout the whole valley with its captivatingly giant buttressed walls and is one of the greatest examples of Bhutanese architecture that we have the chance to visit.

The next site is situated right on the side of Paro Dzong. It is the former watchtower of Paro – Ta Dzong, or as it is known today – the National Museum of Bhutan. We will see that the building has a strange design in the shape of a conch shell. The museum houses a fascinating collection, from some of Bhutan’s finest art specimens to daily objects, masks, weapons, and armor. This is a great destination for visitors to understand about the Bhutanese and their life.

We will stay overnight at a hotel in Paro.

Day 11: Paro sightseeing

“If you have never been to the Tiger Cave Temple, your trip to Bhutan is not complete.” This statement emphasizes the importance of the sacred Taktsang Monastery (or ‘Tiger’s Nest’) is to the Bhutanese, and it is completely true.

Clinging to a steep cliff at more than 3,000m, the hike to Taktsang Monastery will be approximately 4-5 hours. The trail is 4.5km one way and has an elevation gain of 600m. We will start hiking in the morning. During the trip, there will be many stops for us to marvel at the incredible views of Paro’s pristine landscape, from the untouched dense forests to the snow-covered Himalayan peaks in the distance. After sitting down and watching over the picturesque landscape below, you will feel energized again to finish the hike.

Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most impressive temples in the country, will be the next site we head to. Kyichu Lhakhang was one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. The purpose of these temples was to pin down an evil demon that tried to block the teaching of Buddhism to people. Visitors are captivated not only by the majestic temple’s extraordinary structure but also by the beautiful scene of the pilgrims constantly shuffling around the temple and spinning its many prayer wheels. It is a wonderful sight that you would not want to miss out on!

For dinner, we will have a special meal with a local family. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to interact with the locals, to listen to their stories while tasting the authentic and delicious Bhutanese dishes.

Because we had a long day of hiking, it is recommended to enjoy a nice hot stone bath to relax your body. On the other hand, you can spend some time exploring the cool pubs and shops in Paro. The town’s nightlife is full of things to do with amazing live music and tasty snacks and local alcohols for one to try out. This is the best way to celebrate the last night of your unforgettable adventure in Bhutan.

We will stay at a hotel in Paro for the last night.

Day 12: Depart Paro

After a good breakfast at the hotel, your guide will accompany you to the airport for a flight to your onward destination. Tashi Delek (goodbye and good luck) and we hope to welcome you to Bhutan again!

TOUR COST

PEAK SEASON

March,  April,  May,  September,
October  and  November
  • Single traveler: US$ 3,132 per person
  • Group of 2 people: US$ 3,022 per person
  • Group of 3 people: US$ 2,692 per person

OFF PEAK SEASON

January,  February,  June,  July,
August  and  December
  • Single traveler: US$ 2,582 per person
  • Group of 2 people: US$ 2,472 per person
  • Group of 3 people: US$ 2,142 per person

If you are planning to travel Bhutan with a group of 4 people and more, please feel free to contact us to get the cost for your group.

INCLUDED/EXCLUDED
Bhutan visa fee (US$ 40 per person). Laundry/beverages/ telephone calls and any personal expenses.
3 star categories hotel twin sharing room or double sharing room. Travel insurance.
Accommodation in the best 3 star hotels in Bhutan. Airfares.
All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in day. Airport taxes if any.
Bottled water, tea, and coffee on the trip. Excess baggage charge.
A sustainable development fee of $65 per night. Tips to guides and drivers.
Museum fees and other special entry fees. Services not mentioned.
Internal transportation with experienced driver throughout the trip.
Sightseeing as per itinerary with qualified and licensed English speaking guide.
Gho or Kira (traditional and national dress of Bhutan) for your use during your stay in Bhutan.
Bhutanese sim cards.
Archery.

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