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Bhutan: Inside the Dragon Kingdom

Bhutan, Asia

from $6,595* per person 11 Days April, October
Luxury accommodations Exertion level: 2
Operator: Asia Transpacific Journeys 18 people max
  • Paro airport, paro, bhutan
  • Culture & Nature trips
Largely isolated from the outside world for centuries, closed off to visitors until three decades ago, Bhutan is one of the world's most captivating destinations. On this definitive Bhutan tour, explore its main fortresses, make the pilgrimage to iconic Taktshang Monastery, walk through remote villages and delve into the philosophical underpinnings of Mahayana Buddhism.

    Travel to remote central Bhutan, the destination for only 20% of Bhutan's annual 17,000 visitors
    Tour leadership by an expert on Bhutanese culture
    Attend the dazzling Jakar (fall) or Ura (spring) Festival
    Make the pilgrimage to iconic Taktshang Monastery
    Receive our famously detailed information and personalized service with every
    aspect of this trip, from beginning until end

Locations visited/nearby

Bhutan, Asia

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1 testimonial about the provider, Asia Transpacific Journeys:

  • Reviewer:
    We had a superb time and it couldn't have gone more smoothly. We had excellent guides everywhere-they met us on schedule, they took great care of us and showed us the personality of their own counries. Thanks again for putting together a trip that gave us a lot of people contact. It was truly memorable!

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Day 1 Paro/Thimphu
Welcome to Bhutan. Paro is astonishingly pastoral
for the seat of an international airport:
the airport road terminates in an archery field.
Houses built in traditional style are painted with
colorful designs. The sense of tranquil serenity
that defines this land is apparent at once.
Explore the National Museum (Ta Dzong), housed
in an ancient watchtower. Its well interpreted
collection of historic artifacts makes for a great
prologue to the journey yet to come. Next, visit
the impressive Paro Dzong (fortress monastery)
that dominates the valley. It represents perhaps
the finest example of distinctive Bhutanese
architecture. This beautiful structure, like all
dzongs in Bhutan, is both a religious institution
and the seat of government affairs—a uniquely
Bhutanese melding of church and state.
Then drive to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan.
Thimphu has a population of approximately
100,000, composed of monks, the royal family,
government and civil service, and a growing
middle class. Small and secluded, the city is
quiet and notably without traffic lights. Enjoy a
welcome dinner tonight. Overnight at the
glorious Taj Tashi Hotel (L,D)

Day 2 Punakha
Transfer to Punakha, across Dochula Pass at
an altitude of 10,300 feet, cutting through the
majestic Himalayan range. Visit the Punakha
Dzong, the winter residence of the central
monastic body. The dzong was damaged by fire
in 1986, and recently renovated using traditional
building techniques that
eschew the use of nails,
plans or power tools.
Visit a small riceproducing
village. Then
take a short walk to Chimi
Lhakhang, a fertility shrine
built in the 15th century.
Hopeful young couples
wanting children may be
seen making offerings to
the shrine and its builder,
the notoriously playful and
beloved saint Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known
as the “the Divine Madman.” His humorous and
shocking antics and many sexual exploits were
meant to shake up a stodgy clergy and reveal
the true nature of Buddhism to the people. The
cheerful flying phallus that one sees painted on
homes throughout Bhutan is a tribute to this
saint, whose presence distracts and thus repels
evil spirits. Overnight Damchen Resort (B,LD)

Day 3 Wangdue/Jakar
Today drive to Jakar, stopping along the way at
Wangdue Dzong. This dzong is dramatically set,
at one with an undulating ridge. Explore the
area, then drive to Jakar. Overnight Yozerling
Lodge. (B,L,D)

Days 4-5 Jakar Tsechu Festival (Fall)
or Ura Yakchoe Festival (Spring)
Attendance at a tsechu (Bhutanese festival) is a
rare and wonderful experience, and we’ll be welcomed
as we unobtrusively join in the authentic
local celebration. Dancers wearing ancient,
magically charged masks and streaming costumes
will perform throughout the day amidst
swirling incense. The
dances depict compassionate
and wrathful deities,
and are thought to bring
blessings and protection to
audience members.
In addition to the festival,
we’ll have an opportunity
during these two days to
explore the bucolic valley
of Bumthang. According
to Bhutanese history
books, Guru Rimpoche, the
central figure in Tantric
Buddhism, visited this valley in
the 8th century. He hid treasures of
enlightenment, called terma, throughout the valley
and Bhutan. Once these terma are found by
a “revealer,” the benefit inherent in the treasure
is dispersed and a monument commemorates
the great event. Kurjey Lhakhang, the monastery
where Guru Rimpoche meditated, is one such
place, and according to local lore, one can see
the imprint of his body in the rock where he sat.
Then visit Tamshing Gompa, founded by the
great “revealer of treasures,” Pema Lingpa. It
contains exquisite paintings and statuary said
to date back to the time of the great revealer
himself. Visit the Jampa Lhakhang complex,
then onto the Swiss Dairy Project to sample
some fine cheese and barley beer. Overnight
Yozerling Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 6 Trongsa/Wangdue
Drive back toward Thimphu, stopping at Trongsa
Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal
family and perhaps the most stunning dzong in
the kingdom. The landscape around Trongsa is
spectacular. Overnight Kyichu Resort (B,L,D)

Day 7 Thimphu
Drive to Thimphu. Visit the School of Arts and
Crafts while in session, where government
scholarships support the talented who attend
this academy to learn traditional arts. Nearby,
the National Library holds ancient sacred texts
in both Dzongkha (Bhutanese) and Tibetan
languages. There will also be a visit to the
Folk Heritage Museum and the Handicrafts
Emporium. Overnight Taj Tashi Hotel (B,LD)

Day 8 Thimphu
This morning, explore Thimphu’s wonderful
weekend market. Alive with noise and color,
this is a great opportunity to see daily life in
the town, and a feast for the senses. See the
Memorial Chorten (sacred place for offerings),
built in honor of Bhutan’s beloved third king,
Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who abolished serfdom
and is generally credited with encouraging the
modernization of Bhutan in the 1970s.Then see
the Takin Sanctuary, home to the moose-like
national animal. Next visit the Zilukha Nunnery
and the excellent Textile Museum.
To finish the day, visit the Tashichhodzong, seat
of royal, administrative and religious power in
Bhutan. This capitol building is the office of the
reigning king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk.
Here the king and the Je Khenpo (supreme religious
leader) rule side-by-side to provide for the
welfare of their people’s secular and spiritual
well being. Recent democratic elections and
reforms mandated by the last king are propelling
Bhutan into the modern era as a constitutional
democracy. The king is still the head of
the state, while the elected Prime Minister is the
head of the government and occupies a office in
the parliament building, located just across the
river. Bhutan’s unique approach to governance
advocates a new paradigm for measuring the
wealth of nations in terms that go beyond consumable
goods as measured in Gross National
Product. This concept is distilled into what the
last king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, termed
“Gross National Happiness,” which champions
individual and environmental wellness over
materialism. The Economist magazine, in a
2009 issue, gave a nod to the remote Himalayan
land as being on the forefront of a new way of
thinking. It would thus appear that a journey to
Bhutan signifies not a so much a peek into the
past as a glimpse of the future. This evening
enjoy a traditional dinner. Overnight Taj Tashi
Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9 Paro
Drive to Paro. En route visit Simtokha Dzong,
housing the School of Language and Cultural
Studies. Then explore the ruins of the Drukgyel
Dzong that once provided protection from a
northern invasion. From here one can see sacred
Jhomolhari Mountain. Then make a pilgrimage
to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the most sacred
temples in Bhutan. Bhutanese history holds
that this temple was one of 108 temples built
in a single day in 659 AD by Songtsen Gampo of
Tibet, for the specific purpose of pinning down
an ogress who, covering all of Bhutan and Tibet,
was impeding the spread of Buddhism in the
area. Pilgrims come from all over the region to
worship at this sacred site. Indeed, there seems
to be a spiritual gravity about this special place,
so revered by the Bhutanese. We’ll enjoy lunch in
town at a favorite restaurant. The afternoon and
evening are free to relax or explore on your own.
Overnight at the lovely, traditional Zhiwa Ling
Hotel (B,L)

Day 10 Paro
Transfer to Satsam Chorten and begin the hike
to Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, icon of
Bhutan (ponies can be arranged for the upward
journey for those who would rather not walk).
This magical monastery clings to a vertical
granite cliff 3,000 feet above the valley floor.
Enjoy lunch at the monastery’s cliff-side café.
(Note: A less strenuous option will be offered as
well. Drive to the remote Haa valley, only recently
opened to tourists, to experience traditional village
This afternoon, visit the home of a local farming
family who grow wheat, barley and millet. Learn
of their daily life, see their traditions and enjoy
conversation, local snacks and tea. Tonight,
enjoy a special Bhutanese farewell dinner.
Overnight Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 11 Home or Extend
This morning fly home, or begin a customized
extension program or begin an extension to other
incredible locales in Asia. (B)

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