DAY 1, MAY 5th: Drive To Thimphu
After touching down in Paro, we'll be driving to Thimphu where we'll be visiting hereditary places of worship and mingling with the people of the local markets.
DAY 2, MAY 6th: Exploring Thimphu
Today we'll be visiting the National Memorial Chorten, and the National Institute of Zorig Chusum where students will be undergoing a training course on the 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan. We'll be visiting the temple of Changangkha Lhakhang where we'll see the rare national animal of Bhutan, after which we'll drive through to the BBS tower where we'll witness a breathtaking birds eye view of the capital.
DAY 3, MAY 7th: Thimphu Continued
Today's journey will begin with a hike to the 17th century Cheri Monastery. It serves as a school of higher learning for graduate monks who go to practice inner meditation. A walk back to Thimphu through the countryside will take us through Bhutanese villages and spectacular scenery, after which we will walk through ancient ruins before driving back into town.
DAY 4, MAY 8th: Punakha Valley
Our journey takes us east through some of the Kingdom’s richest agricultural land and most dramatic river valleys. We'll hike up to Hongtsho Goemba to view the stunning 15th century wall paintings, before heading through the Dochu La pass where snow capped mountains can be seen to the east on a clear day. We'll be stopping at Mitsina Village to visit the Chimi Lhakhang monastery of fertility, followed by an afternoon visit to the Punakha Dzong, one of the most outstanding artistic structures in all of Bhutan.
DAY 5, MAY 9th, Punahka Valley Continued
Today we'll drive north of Punakha to hike up to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a spectacular display of Bhutanese architecture and art.
DAY 6, MAY 10th: Off To Trongsa
The journey today begins with a 6 hour drive to the Trongsa passing. Trongsa forms the central hub of the kingdom, and is where the first attempts at the unifying the country were made. We'll visit the enormous architectural wonder that is the Trongsa Dzong, after which we'll head through the forest into the valley accross the Mangdi River.
DAY 7, MAY 11th: Arrival At Bumthang
After breakfast, we'll take a 2 hour drive to Bumthang through the Yotong La pass. Here we'll pass hundreds of prayer flags as we get our first glimpse of the Black Mountains and Himalayan Mountains. Our journey will continue through lush vallies and hilly forests, and we'll stop by at a local handloom to witness the design and weaving of yahtras that are unique to Bumthang.
DAY 8, MAY 12th: Exploring Bumthang
Today will be all about exploring the vallies of Ura, Chumey, Tang and Chokhor. They are said to be some of the most sacred and beautiful valleys in all of Bhutan. The area is home to several temples and monasteries like the Jambay Lhakhang which is one of the oldest in Bhutan, dating back to the introduction of Buddhism where many saints and masters have meditated throughout history. We will then hike 30 minutes to the Mebar Tsho (Lake Of Burning Fire), a sacred lake for the Bhutanese who believe that Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures at its base.
DAY 9, MAY 13th: Bumthang Continued
We begin today with a 2 hour drive to Ugyen Cholling, stopping by at a roadside temple and nunnery before continuing on to Tang Valley and the village of Kesum. From there, we'll hike for one hour accross a suspended footbridge, through farm fields and clusters of villages, until finally we'll reach the Ugyek Choling Palace where we'll spend a night in the owner's guesthouse. The palace is a national treasure, privately owned by the same family for hundreds of years. Its remote location makes it one of the most rarely visited sites in Bhutan, hosting fewer than two hundred guests per year. Traditional living quarters are recreated to capture the essence of ancient lifestyles.
DAY 10, MAY 14th: Day of the Domkar Tshechu
Between the 12th and 14th of May, Bumthang comes alive with hundreds of people that gather to dance and prayer in exotic masks and clothing. We'll have the whole day to explore and partake in the festivities.
DAY 11, MAY 15th: Festivities in Ura Yakchoe
After an early breakfast, we'll drive to Ura where we'll find a medieval atmosphere full of cobblestone streets and clusters of old houses. The women in Ura cover their faces with white cloth to protect their skin from the harsh cold winds, and wear sheep skins on their backs to help protect them from the loads they carry. The festivities in Ura are said to focus more on the local spirites and deities who protect the valley's cattle and yaks, involving traditions that are believed to date back to a time before Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan. A symphony of monastic music will fill the streets as the first mask dances take part on the roof tops of the local temples, while villagers will gather in the streets in their finest clothing to partake in the festivities.
DAY 12, MAY 16th: Phobjikha Valley
Today will commence with a drive into the glacier valley of Phobjikha, one of the most important wildlife reserves in the country, and home to the Nyingmapa monastery that dates back to the 17th century. After lunch, we'll take a short walk downhill north of Gangtey Goenpa, descending into Semchubara Village where we'll visit the community school.
DAY 13, MAY 17th: The Return to Thimphu
After a visit to the Crane Observation and Information Center, we will take a hike to Rinchen Gang Village where the people are of Indian decent and the houses are made largely from mud and stone. We'll have lunch at Dochu La with a beautiful view of the Himalayan ranges before continuing our drive back to Thimphu. In the evening, we'll be free to explore the town of Paro and mingle with locals.
DAY 14, MAY 18th: Excurssion to Haa Valley
Today we will venture into the Haa Valley. We will drive through the Cheley Laa pass past an abundance of blue pines, firs and oaks. We hope to see the Jhomolhari mountain if the weather is kind, nearby mountains covered with prayer flags and dwarf rhododendrons. After a picnic lunch, we will drive down into Haa Valley which is blessed by the presence of Meri Piensum. We'll explore the remote village before driving back to Paro in the evening.
DAY 15, MAY 19th: Hike from Paro to Taktsang
Our last day will begin with a drive through the beautiful Paro Valley, after which we'll take a hike through the pine forests to Taktsang Goemba viewpoint. The Goemba, which clings to an enormous granite cliff, is believed to have sheltered the great saint Padmasambhava in the 7th century who flew in on a tigress to meditate for 3 months. In the afternoon, we will visit the auspicious Kyichu Lhakhang, a sacred monastery that dates back to the 7th century. In the evening, we'll experience the lifestyle of a Bhutanese farmer and enjoy a traditional Bhutanese dinner at a farm house near Paro.