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BHUTAN

Experiencing Gross National Happiness

DECEMBER 09–21 | 2018

 

Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, is known for its monasteries, fortresses and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. In the High Himalayas, peaks such as Jomolhari are popular trekking destinations. Paro Taktsang monastery (also known as Tiger’s Nest) clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley. The capital, Thimphu, is home to a bustling weekend market and the ornate Tashichho Dzong, which serves as the government seat

 
 

 
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DECEMBER 09–21 | 2018

BHUTAN

 

 

Nestled deep in the eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet, as recently as 1961 all entry into Bhutan was still on horseback.

Druk-yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon is now only just emerging from the mists of its self-imposed seclusion. This last Shangri-La is an exotic land of high mountains and lush valleys, snow clad peaks with clear running springs, a pristine ecology and an incredible wealth of wildlife.

A most striking feature of Bhutan is its architecture. The style and color, which characterize every building and house in the kingdom, is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The Dzongs are imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without drawings and without a single nail, are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture.  Patterns of rich colors adorn every wall, beam, pillar and door in traditional splendor.

Trip Highlights

  • Craft Bazaar
  • Tashichhoe Dzong
  • Tango and Cheri Monasteries
  • Devine Madman’s Monastery
  • Tiger’s Nest Monastery

ACCOMMODATIONS

Prices are based on the sharing of rooms and single members of the group will be put together in a twin room with 2 separate beds. (If you wish to have a private room to yourself, there is a single supplement available.) Accomodations are generally at 3-star hotels.

PHYSICAL LEVEL

While the tour itself is not very strenuous, please note that it can involve the following: somewhat long days, a good amount of walking (sometimes with luggage - for this reason it is recommended to pack light - and sometimes up and down varied elevations or over uneven surfaces), being in the sun in potentially hot temperatures, long journeys by bus or train (including overnight trips), early morning wake-ups and other similarly challenging scenarios. If you have any medical conditions, there will be opportunity for you to make us aware of them, and than we can determine if the trip is appropriate for you.

WHAT'S INCLUDED

  • Bhutan Government Royalty of US$ 65/person/night
  • Twin sharing hotel rooms at 3 star hotels
  • All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner & light refreshments) at 3 star hotels/tourist standard restaurants
  • English speaking tour guide service
  • All transfers and excursions by private vehicles
  • All entrance fees to museums and monuments
  • Bhutanese Tourist Visa fee of US$40/person (payable in advance to the tour operator)
  • All internal taxes and fees
  • Mineral drinking water

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

  • Single room supplement of US$40/room/night during low season and US$ 50/room/night during high season (optional)
  • Airfares, international and domestic.
  • Travel/health insurance (recommended)
  • 4 star and 5 star accommodations and meals (optional)
  • Other personal expenses like overseas calls, laundry,etc

CANCELLATION POLICY

Tour programs booked and subsequently cancelled shall be subject to cancellation charges as follows:

Notice of cancellation and refund request must be received in written form.

Cancellation fee structure has been listed below:

  • 180 days prior departure: No penalty.
  • 90 days prior departure: US$ 150 (Administrative Fee)
  • 60-89 days prior departure: US$ 300 or 25% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • 45 days to 59 days prior departure: US$ 450 or 50% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • 30 days to 44 days prior departure: US$ 600 or 75% of the land cost whichever is higher.
  • Less than 30 days: 100%

Airfare cancellation fee will be as per respective airlines policy. Some hotels may ask a non refundable deposit which will be communicated to you accordingly.

 
Bhutan (2018) Reservation
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Bhutan (2018) Reservation
250.00
Quantity:
Purchase Reservation

full trip price - $3999.00

TRIP SIZE: MAXIMUM OF 16

This purchase and the associated trip is made available via a close partnership with Kuentshok Bhutan–an RPCV recommended operator.

Full Ticket orders available 90 days before departure. Reservation fee will be credited towards full ticket.

 
 

Itinerary

DAY 1 - PARO

Arrive Paro by Drukair (Royal Bhutan Airlines) or Bhutan Airlines (Private Airlines).You will be received at the Paro International Airport by the representative of Kuentshok Bhutan Tours (local Bhutan tour operator)who will be your guide throughout your tour. You directly travel to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhutan. The road runs down through the Paro valley, to Chuzom (Confluence) at the entrance to the valley, where the Paro and Thimphu rivers meet. The road passes along a narrow valley with high, rocky cliffs on the left, and then the valley opens out into farmland on the approach to Thimphu. On arrival at Thimphu, check into your hotel and after a refreshment or lunch visit the following:

Centenary Farmers’ Market (open from Thu-Sun only): Most of the Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held by the side of Wangchu River. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon till Sunday evening. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people.

Archery Match (National Game of Bhutan) at Changlimithang National Stadium Kuenselphodrang (commonly known as Buddha Point) where the largest Buddha statue in the country is perched on the hillock overlooking the Thimphu Valley. You may take a nature hike through Kuenselphodran Nature Park for about 20-30 minutes.

Tashichhoe Dzong, a fortress of the glorious religion. It was built in 1641 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and was reconstructed into present structure by the late King, His majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the year 1962-1969. It houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the office of the king, and the central monk body.

The National Memorial Chorten (stupa) which was constructed in 1974 as a memorial for the third King of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is widely regarded as the father of modern Bhutan. The term ‘chorten’ literally means ' seat of faith' and Buddhists often call such monuments the 'Mind of Buddha'. Meet the elderly generation in circumambulation, especially in the evenings, at the National Memorial Chorten.

Craft Bazaar – A one stop place to witness Bhutanese culture and buy Bhutan made art and craft product. The Bazaar in its 80 stalls covers all aspects of the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.At this Bazaar craftsmen and artisans from across the country display and sell their handicrafts. And also visit other handicraft stores. Dinner and overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 2 - THIMPHU SIGHTSEEING

After breakfast visit the following:

School of Traditional Painting of Arts and Crafts where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Traditional Bhutanese paper making factory. The handmade paper making in Bhutan stemmed from the age-old tradition originated in the 8th century of Bhutanese history. The handmade paper constitutes as valuable National heritage of Bhutanese cultural identity and is preserved through all the ages. The Traditional paper is recognized and held high esteem both in the home and outside world. Jungshi Paper Factory was established in November 1990 as an undertaking of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The unit now boasts as a major and sole dealer in handmade paper and its products. National Textile Museum which is a good place to see the art of traditional weaving being kept alive and preserved through exhibition and has a good collection of old textiles which are rich in colors and designs.You will also see people weaving with intricate designs. Bhutan Post Office Headquarters to get personalized Bhutanese postage stamps with your photo on them. You can bring along your favorite photo to put on the stamps and put these stamps on your postcard to send to your family and friends. After lunch visit the following:

Takin Preserve, which houses the national animal the Takin that is only found in Bhutan. This is an extremely rare member of the goat family. Found in herds in the very high altitudes (13,125ft and over). They live on a diet of grass and bamboo. It can weigh as much as 550 pounds. Simply Bhutan - a living museum: Simply Bhutan is a unique project that aims to conserve our culture and tradition while generating employment opportunities for young job seekers. The infrastructure portrays ancient Bhutanese architecture which is being lost to modernization. The project is one of its kind in the country. The uniqueness of the structure is in its composition of the materials used. The structure is built reusing old timber, window and door frames and other items from traditional and old demolished houses. The best part is the portrayal of the age-old life styles of the Bhutanese people. The project is targeted for youth with the following objectives;

At least 70 % of the youth trained in the photography can be employed to run the project Youth find job opportunities part-time jobs for youth who otherwise are idle Encourage trainees to look at entrepreneurship positively To preserve and promote the Bhutanese culture and tradition To provide a unique experience to visitors /tourists in an innovative way To raise fund to support other youth programme and activities of Youth Development Fund Dechenphodrang (meaning ‘Palace of great bliss’) Monastery located at the north of Thimphu valley. It is a monastic school for about 500 young monks enrolled for 8 years courses. You will visit the monastery and have free interaction with young monks who are mostly from the poor family ground and some even orphan. The ‘Palace of Great Bliss’ serves as a home and learning center for these young monks. You will spend some time interacting with young monks. In the evening stroll through Thimphu downtown.

Dinner and overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 3 - HIKE TO TANGO/CHERI MONASTERIES

After breakfast, travel to the base camp of Tango Monastery which lies north of Thimphu city with packed picnic lunch. From the base camp which is the end of motor road you hike up to the Monastery is through the forest filled with oak and pine trees as well as Rhododendron flower trees which will be in full bloom during spring season. The Tango Monastery site has had religious significance since the 12th century when it was the home of the highly revered Buddhist monks who brought the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism to Bhutan. The Tango Monastery was built in 1689 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgyal. The three-storied monastery was built with the help of the locals and was completed within two months. At present Tango Monastery is the center for higher studies for monks. The view from Tango Monastery is breathtakingly beautiful. You will experience complete peace and serenity in this area. After visiting the monastery, walk back to the road and drive to the base of Cheri Monastery where you will eat your packed picnic lunch by the side of the river.

After lunch hike to Cheri Monastery through the forest filled with oak and Rhododendron flower trees. This is the place where monks undergo meditation/retreat with a duration ranging from 4 months to 3 years. Therefore, this place is so peaceful and you will experience complete serenity at this place. The hike up will take approximately 50 minutes. The view from Cheri Monastery is breathtakingly beautiful. You can sit in one of the temples of this monastery complex and meditate for some time if you would like to do so. Then walk back to the base where your car will wait for you and then travel back to Thimphu.

OR

After breakfast, hike to Phajoding Monastery

Phajoding Monastery, which is a 3 hours hike from the nearest road, is located above Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. It was once one of the richest and most decorated monasteries in the country however due to years of neglect and the encroachment of development, it was watch listed in 2010 by the World Monuments Fund as one of five endangered cultural monuments that need the most help in the world. It is home to many very sacred Buddhist artifacts.

Phajoding takes its name from the saint Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, who meditated there in the 13th century and is considered to be one of the most sacred meditational sites in Bhutan. The monastery itself is an open complex that comprises many holy buildings and relics and a State monastic school that currently houses just over 80 monks. The monk body (Dratshang) is almost totally financed by the Government and given the numerous Buddhist institutes and monasteries across Bhutan, resources are limited. Less than a half of the monks at Phajoding receive a minimal Government stipend, which subsequently has to be shared across all the monks. As a result, these monks live in the most basic of conditions and since they all come from impoverished backgrounds, their families often do not have the financial means to provide for their basic needs. Many sent to this Monastery have been orphaned.

Things to do:

special english classes at the monastery sports classes community services to construct toilets/playground In the evening relax and overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 4 - THIMPHU PUNAKHA WANGDUEPHODRANG

After breakfast, travel to Punakha & Wangdue through Dochula Pass (3140 m). In the clear sky; enjoy the panoramic view of the Himalayan Mountain ranges. Then pass by the beautiful 108 chortens built on the hill by Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck (Queen Mother of Bhutan) for the security and wellbeing of His Majesty, the King of Bhutan.

Also visit Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple). The temple was built to honor His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appear to merge in the details of the lhakhang that tells the story of a supreme warrior figure whose vision pierces the distant future.

Then drive into Punakha. Punakha has been inextricably linked to some of the most momentous events in the Bhutanese history. Punakha had served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907 and the 1st National Assembly was held there.

On the way, stop at Metsina village and take a 20-minute walk through the paddy fields to visit the Devine Madman’s Monastery-Chhimi Lhakhang, famously known for its fertility shrine, where one can receive a special fertility blessing.

After lunch visit the Punakha Dzong, located on the island of the Pho - Chu (male river) and the Mochu (female river). The dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (the person who unified Bhutan) to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At the dzong, you can see the highest standards in woodwork.

In the evening, visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendup Lhakhang Nunnery and enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful view of Punakha and Wangdue valleys from there.

DAY 5 - WANGDUEPHODRANG / TRONGSA

After breakfast, drive to Trongsa through Wangdue Phondrang and lunch will be served enroute. Trongsa is the ancestral home of the royal family.

The drive will take you through dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons and through the tropical vegetation through the village of Nobding and Pele la pass (11,000ft). Throughout your trip you will come across the beautiful sceneries of rural Bhutan, with scattered settlements far from the road which makes for good photographing.You will also pass through open meadows, and valley of yak herders and several other villages via Chendebji Chorten (Stupa) and drive for another 2 hours to Trongsa.

On arrival at Trongsa and after the refreshment visit the National Museum which is housed in the Ta Dzong (watch tower). A museum in which aspects of Bhutanese culture and history are explained by beautifully objects. Documentary will be shown too which explains a great deal about Bhutanese history and history of monarchy. You will also visit Trongsa Dzong, which is the most impressive dzong in Bhutan. Built in 1644 by the Shabdrung, the dzong is an architectural masterpiece.

In the evening visit Trongsa town.

Dinner and overnight at a hotel in Trongsa.

DAY 6 - TRONGSA / BUMTHANG

After breakfast drive to Bumthang, this is one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the heartland of Buddhism. Here the great teachers meditated and left in their wake many sacred grounds. The Guru and his lineage of Tertons, treasure finders, have led to the sprouting of many temples in the valley.

On the way, visit the “Yathra” Weaving Centre at Zugney. Yathra is the name for the colorful, hand-woven woolen cloth (often with geometric designs) that is produced in this region and wool used for this type of textile is sheep wool as the sheep is reared in the Bumthang district. Yatra is made into jackets or bags, etc.

Then drive onto Bumthang. On arrival at Bumthang Check into your hotel and after lunch visit the following:

Jambay Lhakhang, built in the 7th century by the King Songtsen Goempo of Tibet. In his effort to propagate Buddhism he had a plan to build a total of 108 temples in Tibet and neighboring kingdoms. Kujey Lhakhang (Kujey means, "Body imprint"). The temple to the right is the oldest and was built by Minjur Tempa in 1652. It was built around the cave in which Guru Rimpoche meditated and left his body imprint. Jakar Dzong, "castle of the white bird". According to legend, when the lamas assembled in about 1549 to select a site for a monastery, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of a hill. This was interpreted as an important omen, and the hill was chosen as the site for a monastery and for Jakar Dzong. The fortress is now used as an administrative center of the valley and summer residence of Trongsa monks. In the evening visit one of the farmhouses in Bumthang valley to get an insight into the village life in Bumthang Valley. You may enjoy typical Bhutanese dinner at the farmhouse.

Overnight at a hotel in Bumthang.

DAY 7 - BUMTHANG TANG VALLEY EXCURSION

After breakfast start your day excursion to beautiful lush but remote Tang valley. Visit the century old Ugyencholing Heritage Museum, which once belongs to the Royal Family of Tang valley. Lunch will be served at a farmhouse. After lunch drive back to Bumthang, on the way you may like to have a glimpse of Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), where some of Guru Rinpoche’s treasures were discovered in the 15th century by the famous treasure discoverer- Pema Lingpa. It is a serene place to meditate.

In the evening stroll around Bumthang town and dinner at local restaurant in the town.

Overnight at a hotel in Bumthang.

DAY 8 - BUMTHANG

After breakfast, drive to a beautiful village named Jalkhar. Bumthang is a cold place and this village never grew paddy/ rice until decade ago. People in this village make their livelihood through farming. They mostly do subsistence farming- grow just enough to sustain.

Meet members of farmers’ association formed under the patron and guidance of the Queen of Bhutan and interact. The association liaise with the Ministry of Agriculture in trying to produce local cakes, biscuits etc from buckwheat and also sell rice. The association partakes in national food festivals held in Thimphu almost on yearly basis.

The group may bring in ideas and innovation in guiding the association on business front

DAY 9 - GANGTEY, PHOBJIKHA

After breakfast, drive to Wangdue/ Punakha via Phobjikha valley. Driving through the dense forests of the Phobjikha Valley you arrive at Gantey village where you see the Gangtey Monastery and visit the monastery. Phobjikha valley is part of the beautiful Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (formerly known as Black Mountains National Park), one of Bhutan’s most important nature sanctuaries. Each winter it is home to a flock of 300 rare and endangered black-necked cranes. The surrounding hills and mountains are home to nomadic shepherds and yak-herders. This is one of the most remote and untouched regions in Bhutan and is only just opening its doors to the outside world. After lunch at Gangtey and explore Phobjikha valley and also visit the Black Necked Crane Center.

Phobjikha Valley and Cranes

Information session by a resource person

Dinner and overnight at hotel in Gangtey.

DAY 10 - PUNAKHA

After breakfast drive to Punakha.

After lunch, drive through upper Punakha valley passing through farmhouses and take a leisure walk through farmhouses to the beautiful Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Lhakhang (temple) built by Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck (the Queen Mother of Bhutan) for peace and stability in this ever-changing world. This temple is situated on the hilltop overlooking the valley below. The leisurely walk up to the temple would take about an hour. Visit the temple and also enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful view from there.

In the late afternoon drive to Thimphu. Dinner and overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 11 - PARO SIGHTSEEING

After breakfast travel to Paro and visit the following:

Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress), built in 1645 to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. The Dzong is now being used as an administration center and school for monks. From the Dzong you will walk down to Rimpung Bridge (Traditonal Cantilever Bridge), oldest bridge in Bhutan. After lunch visit the following:

Dungtse Lhakhang(temple): The unusual and circular lhakhang, reminiscent of the Shanag, or the black hat worn by the Bhutanese Black Hat dancers was, built by the great “Builder of iron chain bridges,” Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. Kichu temple,one of the 108 temples built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. The story goes that a giant demon lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayas and was preventing the spread of Buddhism. To overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples, which would be placed on all the points of her body. Of these 108 temples, 12 were built in accordance with precise plans. Thus, it happened that in about the year AD 638 the temple of Jokhang in Lhasa was built over the very heart of the demoness. drive up the valley to view the resconstruction of Drukgyel Dzong (which was in ruins until now) 18 km. from Paro town on the north side of the valley. It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century. This reconstruction work commended commemorating the birth of the Gyalsay - the Crown Price. Evening at leisure to visit local shops. In the evening stroll around Paro town and you may visit the local handicraft stores.

Overnight at the same hotel in Paro.

DAY 12 - TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY

After breakfast, drive for about 20 minutes to the base camp of Taktsang Monastery and hike up to Taktsang Monastery, also known as ‘Tiger’s Nest’. The climb up to the viewpoint will take around 1 ½ hours and from there you will enjoy a spectacular view of the monastery clinging to the side of the cliff. Stop for refreshment at the View Point Cafeteria.Then walk further up to the monastery, which will take about 1 hour. It is said that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan to this place and meditated in a cave here for 3 months. The principal Lhakhang (monastery) of the present monastic complex dates from 1692. Taktsang was damaged severely by fire in 1998 but has now been fully restored to its former glory.After visiting the monastery, walk back down to the road on the way stop for lunch at the view point cafeteria and then walk further down to the road point. Then drive back to hotel.

In the evening relax after the tiring day in the traditional Bhutanese hotstone bath. Dinner at the farmhouse in Paro valley.

Overnight at a hotel in Paro.

DAY 13 - DEPARTURE

In the morning, your tour guide from Kuentshok Bhutan Tours & Treks (local Bhutan travel agent) will escort you to the airport for your onward destinations.

 

A Note on the Final Itinerary:

Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. If any activity or person that is advertised is missed or not available, it will be replaced with an activity or person of equal interest and value.  A final itinerary and briefing packet will be ready two weeks before the trip.