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Charm of Central Bhutan

Central Bhutan is an exciting destination. Plan Holidays offers the Charm of Central Bhutan Tour for those travellers who wish to explore its beauty an array of excitement. The most ancient historical sites& places of religious importance are found in this area. Visit Kurje lahakhang (1652) , Guru Rimposche meditated in this Temple, Tamshing Lhakhang (1501) , most religious treasures, Mebar Tsho A sacred Lake ,The watch Tower of Trongsa Museum . The highlight of this trip is Bumthang- the wide Central Valley, which is ancestral home of Buddhism in Bhutan and is a place of pilgrimage for Bhutanese people. Central Bhutan covers Bumthang and Trongsa in the North and Zhemgang, Sarpang, and Gelephu in the South. Its many important monasteries and temples contain a wealth of valuable religious artifacts. The visit of Punakha Dzong at Punkha, Wangdiphordang is the central district of Trongsa, is one of the, historically and ecologically extremely important and fragile Dzongkhag in the Kingdom ,it is the ancestral home of Bhutans royal family and Gangtey Gompa at Phubjika are all worth of visit. Of course Thimpu-the capital of Bhutan and Paro valley will fascinate you with their cultural heritage and natural beauty. You will be able to explore an array of ancient fortresses (dzongs), monasteries and temples, including the dramatic Tigers Nest or Taktshang monastery in Paro. Paro and the capital, Thimphu, are home to an impressive number of fascinating museums and other places of interest, such as the Institute of Traditional Medicine in the west. Trongsa is the capital of Trongsa District, Trongsa means new village Dzongkha. It is a picturesque village. In this region the landscape is separated by lovely forested scenes, which are considered to be the cultural heartland of this wonderful country and look like beautiful water color paintings that have come alive. This 8 days central Bhutan tour will give a life long memory.

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6 March 2016 Day 01: Fly Kathmandu – Paro Drive to Thimphu (LD)
17 March 2016 Day 02: Thimphu Sightseeing (BLD)
18 March 2016 Day 03: Thimphu – Trongsa (BLD)
19 March 2016 Day 04: Trongsa Sightseeing and Drive to Bumthang (BLD)
20 March 2016 Day 05: Drive to Punakha (BLD)
21 March 2016 Day 06: Punakha Sightseeing and Evening Drive to Paro (BLD)
22 March 2016 Day 07: Paro Tigers Nest hike and Sightseeing (BLD)
23 March 2016 Day 08: Departure (B)

Thimpu view (8)

Day 01: Fly Kathmandu – Paro Drive to Thimphu (LD)
Arrive in Paro by flight. On a clear day the panoramic views of the Himalaya are sensational, including Everest, but particularly exciting is the approach through the Bhutanese foothills and the landing, including a few steep turns to land at the tiny airstrip of Paro. In Paro you will be received by your Bhutanese guide and transferred to the capital town of Thimphu (1 hr). Road from Paro to Thimphu. The distance of about 55kms from Paro town takes little less then 1 hr. with recently broadened road. Drive south following Pachu river to the river confluence at Chuzom, which is also the hub of road network going to Paro, Haa, Thimphu and Phuntsholing. From Chuzom, the road follows Wangchu River upstream as you pass through villages and suburbs to the capital, Thimphu. En-route, you can stop to view Tachogang temple and the nunnery at Sitsina.

Tashichho Dzong (2)

Thimphu: (at 2300m) is Bhutan’s capital city and center of government, religion and commerce. About two hours drive east from Paro is this a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Home to civil servants, expatriates and monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style. It was a wooded farming valley until 1961, when it became Bhutan’s official national capital. The massive Tashicho Dzong, about 700 years old, was carefully revamped in the 1960s by the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk to house the royal and main government offices. Even today, it still only has a few streets and no traffic lights with estimated population of 70,000 people

. Tashichho Dzong (12)

Thimphu has many places and sights to visit, in addition to several day excursion possibilities. It has relatively more choice in terms of the accommodations. Tashichho Dzong: This fortress serves as the office of the King, ministers and various government organizations. It also is the headquarters for central monastic body of Bhutan. Bhutan’s spiritual leader Je-Khenpo and the monks of both Thimphu and Punakha reside here during summer. It is also the venue for Thimphu Festival in the fall season.

. Dachula View

Zilukha Nunnery: is housed in Drubthob Goemba (monastery). There are about 70 nuns who live and pray everyday in the monastery. There are good views of Tashicho Dzong, Golf course and upper Thimphu. Takin Sanctuary: A short distance of the road to the telecom tower is a tail leading to a large fenced area that was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bhutan environmental and religious convictions, and it was disbanded sometime ago. The animals were released into the wild but the takings were so tame (some people say they are simply stupid) that they wandered around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity. It worthwhile taking the time to see these strange, quite ugly animals. The best time to see them is early morning when they gather near the fence to feed. It a five-minute walk from the road to a viewing area where you can take advantage of a dew holes in the fence to take photographs. Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) has been chosen as the national animal of Bhutan is based both on its uniqueness and its association with country’s history and mythology. It is said that Devine Madman, a popular saint is said to have created it with his magical power at a large congregation of devotees. It resembles a cow from back, a goat from the front, and it continues to befuddle taxonomists, who cannot quite relate to other animal. Sangaygang View Point (Telecom Tower): There’s a wonderful view of Thimphu valley from the hillside below the telecommunications tower (elevation 2685m), high above the town at the end of a road that branches off from the approach to the youth center. The complex also houses the broadcasting studios of Bhutan television. Don’t photograph the telecommunications installation, but the valley is worth a few snaps. The area is known as Sangaygang and it becomes a lover’s lane late at night.

 Dachula Pass Memorial Chorten

Memorial Chorten. This white and tall landmark of Thimphu was built in 1974 in the memory of third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of Modern Bhutan. It is a four-storey tall white building, containing statues and iconography of deities from complex tantric teachings and serves as an important place of worship for Thimphu residents, as well as from other parts of the country. Painting School,The National Institute for Zorig Chusum Pedzoe (School of Arts and Crafts) is commonly known as “the painting school”. It operates under the National Technical Training Institute and offers a six-year course that provides instruction in Bhutan’s traditional arts and crafts called Zorig Chuksum – meaning 13 crafts. It follows the regular school schedule (9am-5pm Mon-Fri and 9-1pm on Sat) with exceptions of holidays and breaks.Tourists are allowed to visit the school and take a peek at the classes the boys attend. There is also a small shop at the school that sells the students’ work. Paper Factory

Drive towards Thimpu

Traditional papers were made from the daphne plant, using simple methods. Like rice papers, these papers are said to last longer. National Library,The National Library (1967) built in the style of a traditional temple contains a large collection of religious books and manuscripts in Dzongkha and Classical Tibetan and a collection of English-language books. It also contains a copy of the largest published book in the world. There is a section of the library in which books and prayer flags are printed using wooden blocks. In another section there is collection of these wooden blocks that are used for printing books and prayer flags. An altar on the ground floor, with statues of Bhutan most important historic figures, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Pema Lingpa and Guru Rinpoche, also contributes to the building sacred importance. Changangkha Lhakhang Changangkha Lhakhang is an old fortress like temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu, south-east of Motithang. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. The central statue is Chenresig in a 11-headed manifestations, and the books in the temple are larger in size than usual Tibetan texts. There is an excellent view of Thimphu from the courtyard.

Day 02: Thimphu Sightseeing (BLD)
Thimphu lies in a wooded valley, sprawling up a hillside on the West Bank of the Thimphu Chhu [Chhu means River]. Thimphu is unlike any other world capital. Small and secluded the city is quiet and there are never the traffic jams familiar in other Asian Capitals. It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. Thimphu’s main shopping street is a delight not so much for what you can buy there, but for the picturesqueness of the architecture and national costume. Beautiful weaves in wool, silk and cotton, basketwork, silver jewellery, thangkas and other traditional crafts of the Kingdom are available in various Handicraft Emporiums.

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Visit the Memorial Chorten, a huge stupa built in memory of the third King who reigned from 1952-1972.Visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved.Visit the Painting School where traditional art is still preserved. Artists are taught to paint Thankas here (sacred Buddhist scroll). Visit the Handicrafts Emporium where one can buy Bhutanese textiles and other arts and crafts.Visit the Weekend market where vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and remain till Sunday. Here you will find indigenous goods, handicrafts, locally produced goods, etc. Visit Semtokha Dzong. This is the oldest fortress in Bhutan, built in 1629 A.D. by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It also houses the largest monastic schools in the country.Visit Tashichho Dzong – the main secretariat building. It is from here that the King and other prominent civil servants run the country. The Head Abbot and the central monastic body also reside here during the summer. Visit Pangri Zampa Monastery, situated just beyond Dechencholing Palace (5 km. from Thimphu). This temple was the first residence of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal when he arrived in Bhutan in 1616 A.D. Ngawang Chogyel, the great ancestor of the Shabdrung, built it during the first quarter of the 16th century. Overnight Thimphu.

Day 03: Thimphu – Trongsa (BLD)
In the morning, you have an opportunity to take a self-guided walks in the valley. After breakfast around 9am, we drive back to re-join the east-west highway. Cross Dochula pass at 3080m and stop for tea break. Continue drive to Punakha and Wangdue valley and see ever changing vegetation. From the town of Wangdue Phordang it is another 2 hours to Pele la pass (3400m) and arrive in Trongsa after about 3hr drive. Visit Trongsa Chokhor Dzong, the largest and one of the most impressively situated Dzongs (fortress) in the Kingdom. Take a tour of the Trongsa dzong Take a leisurely stroll in the small town of Jakar in the evening. Overnight at hotel in Trongsa. Trongsa(2,200m) lies at the geographical center of Bhutan. The town of Trongsa has been developing since 1980’s, with many of the shops being owned by Bhutanese of Tibetan decent. This small town is located on the face of the ridge and at the cross-road junction of lateral east-west highway, and the road leading south to Shemgang. Trongsa Dzong: or Choekhor Rabdentse is the largest and most impressively situated dzong in Bhutan, perched high on a cliff above the deep Mangde Chu river gorge. It was built in 1648 on the site of temple which was built in 1543. The huge many-level fortress with its intricate wood carvings has a maze of courtyards and covered passages that follow the contour of the ridge. First and second King ruled the country from this fort and all successive Kings have held the post of Trongsa Penlop, (honorary governor) prior to being crowned as the King.

Day 04: Trongsa Sightseeing and Drive to Bumthang (BLD)
Morning visit places that you have missed yesterday and drive to Bumthang. Drive from Trongsa to Jakar From Trongsa, the drive to Jakar takes about 2 hrs. Climb from Trongsa to Yotong La (3,551m) and descend into Chumey valley (2,700m), the first of four Bumthang valleys. Then it is another 45 minutes, past the villages of Zugney and Prakar, and across Kiki la pass (2,860m) to arrive at Jakar, the administrative center of Bumthang district. Bumthang is justifiably regarded as the cultural heart of Bhutan. Many monasteries, temples, old houses and ancient sites dot the area. The valley is relatively wide, with fields of buckwheat and apple orchards and the hills are covered with mixed confer forests.. During the dinner, we will sample some of the local food such as the buckwheat noodles or Buckwheat pancakes. Overnight in Bumthang.

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Jampay Lhakhang: is another one of the geomantic temples (like Kichu in Paro) founded in 7th century by a Tibetan King Songtsen Gompo, this time on the ‘left knee of the Ogrees’, who was hindering the spread of Buddhism across Himalayas. Later in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche is said to have preached the local king Sindhu Raja from the temple roof. Kurjey Lhakhang Complex: is named after the sacred power place where Guru Rinpoche (8th century) left the imprint of his body (kurjey) on the solid rocks, which can be seen from inside the shrine. There are three large temples within the complex surrounded by a perimeter comprising of 108 stupas. Upon entering, the first temple to the right is Guru Lhakhang (which houses the cave) dating from 1652. The middle temple Sampalundrup was built by the first King Ugyen Wangchuk in 1900, during his tenure as Trongsa Penlop. The third temple is recently constructed under patronage of Her Majesty queen mother Ashi Kesang Wangchuk. Tamshing Goempa: Located opposite Kurjey Lhakhang, this temple was founded by Bhutan’s own religious treasure discoverer, Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501. Believed to be the reincarnation of Guru Rinpochey, he discovered many religious treasures around the country. The original murals on the walls still survive, which are considered to be the oldest extant painting in Bhutan. Jakar Dzong: “Jakar Dzong” literally meaning castle of the white bird is located on picturesque ridge overlooking the Chokhor valley. The current structure built in 1667 (refurbished in 1683) is said to be one of the largest dzong in Bhutan, with impressive fortress walls, elegant structure but rather simple interior. Wangdichholing Palace: The extensive palace of Wangdichholing was built in 1857 on the site of the battle camp of the Governor of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyel, father of the first King Ugyen Wangchuk (who was later born here). It was the first palace in Bhutan that was not designed as a fortress. Both the first and second king adopted Wangdicholing as their main summer residence. There are five large water driven prayer wheels inside square stupas, as you approach the gates of the palace. Although you may get inside, it is interesting to see from outside. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 05: Drive to Punakha (BLD)
Head back to western Bhutan, re-crossing Youtong la pass into Tongsa and across Pele La pass to the semi-tropical valley of Wangdi-Punakha. The drive is long one, but we will make occasional pause to take pictures, meet the locals along the way, to ease this long but spectacular journey of diverse landscapes, vegetation, villages capes. Our main stops along the way are Zungey village of Bumthang to see the Yathra weavers and in Wangdiphodrang, we visit its interesting towns and also view the ridge-top fortress of Wangdi. Our accommodations are near the town of Punakha. Overnight in Punakha. Punakha: (sometimes Wangdue) are two separate districts, but they are located in one valley (20km – hr drive apart). The accommodations may be in either one of these two towns but sightseeing generally include visit to both places. Punakha and Wangdue are located at a lower elevation (approx. 1,250m above sea level) and they have pleasant winters. Cactuses, Oranges, bananas and sub-tropical plants are found here. Farmers are able to grow more than one crop in a year. Punakha was once the winter capital of Bhutan, the tradition that is still held by the Central Monks and Jekhenpo, who reside here in Punakha Dzong during the winters and return to Thimphu, which is their summer capital. In Wangdue, there is a small town on the ridge and large Wangdue Phodrang Dzong.

Day 06: Punakha Sightseeing and Evening Drive to Paro (BLD)
In the morning visit the most impressive Punakha Dzong fortress. While on the way to Paro at Metshina take a gentle 25 minutes walk to the temple of divine madman Chimi lhakhang Lama Drukpa Kuenley. After the hike drive 4 hours to Paro. Overnight in Paro. Punakha Dzong: or Pungthang Dechen Phodrang “Palace of Great Happiness” is located on the confluence of two rivers (Phochu and Mochu). It was built in 1637 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal and following the ancient traditions, it serves as winter residence for chief abbot (Je-khenpo) and the monks of Central Monastic Body, who returns to Thimphu in the summer. The building was damaged and rebuilt several times, due to flooding, fire and earth quake. It is one exemplary masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. Chimi Lhakhang: a fertility temple/ monastery dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as “the divine madman” and considered a folk hero in Bhutan for his unconventional ways. Drukpa Kuenley originally built a chorten on the site in the 14th century, on which a temple was later built in 15th century. The temple, flanked by nearly 100 tall prayer flags, sits atop a picturesque hill. It has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples. This easy walk takes about hour each way.

Day 07: Paro Tigers Nest hike and Sightseeing (BLD)
Transfer to the trail head for day trek uphill to Takstang. Riding ponies/mules can be requested on the previous day. The mules will go only as far as the Taktang cafeteria (first view point of Takstang) but for walk further uphill to visit the monastery, and for return downhill, one must be able to walk. Overnight in Paro Taktshang – Tiger’s Nest: Tiger’s Lair or Tiger’s Nest as it often referred to for Taktshang Pelphung monastery, is one of the most venerated and famous of Bhutan’s monasteries. It is located on the face of a sheer 900m cliff above the floor of Paro valley. It is an impressive and un-miss-able sight but accessible only by walk or to ride mules/pony. If you need the riding horse, you must ask your local guide to arrange it on the previous day. From the trail head (2600m), the walk till the Cafeteria is a steep one hour uphill (about 350m ascent). From the Cafeteria (2940m) and areas around it, one can get a good close-up view of Taktshang. Savor views of the monastery over a well-deserved cup of tea and biscuits at the cafeteria. For those who wish to proceed further from here, one must be able to walk. Usually Ponies/horses will not take people beyond this point and neither will they take you downhill. From the cafeteria, trail continues uphill for another 45 minutes to a high observation point (3140m) where there is a Chorten (stupa). From this vantage point, the lookout to the monastery is a very spectacular and seems almost close enough to touch. It is now on the other side of a deep chasm, only around 150m away as bird flies, but takes half hour or even more to reach. Continue down the flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the deep chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage, jammed dramatically into a rock crevice. Then climb up the flight of steep steps to the monastery. At any point on this walk, you can always return if you find it too difficult. Once inside the monastery, there are several shrines or temples to see with few monks in residence. After visiting Taktshang monastery many shrines, most tours schedule lunch at the Cafeteria upon return. After lunch, retrace back to the road-head where you started in the morning. The retrace back is all downhill and always on foot as it is not suitable for riding pony/horse. Please note that proper walking boots is recommended for this hike. Further, if you have more time and ready for more challenging day, there are several monasteries, temples, retreat houses in the surrounding area of Taktshang. The most notable among them are Zangdopelri and Ugyen Tsemo as described  separately.

Thangka being displayed at Tashichho Dzong (27)

According to the legend, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, who spread the Buddhism across the entire Himalayas is said to have flown here in the 8th century on the back of a Tigress, in order to subdue negative spiritual forces that were hostile to spread of Buddhism. In 853, one of his students, Pelgyi Senge mediated here in the main cave. A Stupa inside one of the temples contains his mortal remains and therefore the cave is known as ‘Pelphung ‘or ‘Pelgi’s cave’. Subsequently many great spiritual masters such as Milarepa, Thangthong Gyalpo, Phajo Dugom Zhigpo, Shadrung and many others passed periods here in profound meditation. In 1692, Tenzin Rabgye built a two storey temple around what little may have existed previously. This was expanded and refurbished many times over the period of time. Taktshang and several temples in the area were burnt down in 1951 by fire accident but much of them remained intact and most of the relics were saved. Soon after, it was rebuilt by entire population of Tsento village. Again in April of 1998, a major fire destroyed the main structure of the building and it’s contents. Reconstruction began in 2000 and was completed and consecrated after extensive efforts and financial support of Governments as well as donors. Kichu Lhakhang: Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in the 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The story goes that a giant demoness lay across Tibet and the Himalayas, which was preventing the spread of Buddhism. To overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples in a single day to pin the ogress to the earth forever in 659AD. Of these 108 temples, 12 were built in accordance with precise plans at key points. The temple of Jokhang in Lhasa was built over the very heart of the demoness and Kichu is said to have been built on the left foot. Dungtshe Lhakhang: Dungtse Lhakhang was constructed by the great bridge-builder Thangtong Gyelpo in 1433. It is said to have been built on the head of demoness, who was causing illness to the inhabitants. The building was restored in 1841 and is a unique repository of Kagyu lineage arts. You may or may not be permitted inside but can walk around this three-storey Chorten-type building.

Monks at Rinpunch Dzong

Paro Rinpung Dzong: Rinphung Dzong was consecrated in 1645 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal on the site of smaller fort. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a bastion against invasion from the north. It is regarded as one of the finest Bhutanese architecture – with intricate wood work, large beams slotted into each other and held together without nails. In it houses the giant 30m X 45m Thangka (Thongdrol), commissioned in mid 18th century, displayed on the last day of Paro Tsechu festival. Rinphung Dzong is the district headquarter of Paro and residence of state monks under Paro rabdey.

Day 08: Departure (B)
Departure transfer to Paro International airport to Kathmandu.

Package Includes:

  • 1 Nights superior hotels in Kathmandu on bed & breakfast .
  • Standard Room at A Grade hotels/resorts/guest houses/lodges (twin share basis)
  • All meals (incl. evening tea/snacks) in Bhutan
  • All Hotel Tax & Service Charges
  • Visa Processing
  • All inland travel permits
  • Govt Royalty & Taxes
  • Transportation & Transfers
  • Local Sightseeing with entrance fees where applicable
  • Services of an English speaking local guide
  • Complimentary bottled water in car
  • Bhutan Visa fee
  • Druk Air flights ( Kathmandu-Paro-Kathmandu )

Does not includes:

  • Travel and medical insurance coverage
  • Table drink/beverage
  • Communication charges, laundry, tips
  • Other expenses of personal nature