Bhutan remained isolated from outside cultural influences for centuries. It has always maintained a strict policy on maintaining and preserving its culture and heritage. Only in mid 1970s foreign visitors were allowed to visit the country but it still maintains limited numbers of visitors. These helped Bhutan preserve many aspects of its culture that dates back to 17th century and before.
Discovery Bhutan will take you to the modern ancient Bhutan and showcase the culture which our forefather has carefully guarded in its purest form. Bhutanese believe that other than the preservation of the culture and revered values.
The cultural tour organized by Discovery Bhutan gives you insight into the people, the culture, tradition, ecology and religion of the country. Cultural tours into Bhutan will take you to the picturesque arts and architectures of Bhutan. One will witness the unique festivals of Tsechus which are conducted in almost all the dzongs, monasteries and in important cultural places. The dzongs, monasteries, chortens and traditional Bhutanese houses provides you the spectacular splendor of Bhutanese architecture.
The cultural tours with Discovery Bhutan will take you close to the unique and vibrant Buddhist ways of life. Out cultural tours cover Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. Bhutan is virtually untouched, by the external influences, in terms of religion, architecture and lifestyle despite opening its doors to outside world in mid 70’s.
Outline of the itinerary
Day 01 – Arrival and Transfer to Thimphu
Day 02 – Thimphu sightseeing
Day 03 – Thimphu to Punakha
Day 04 – Punakha to Paro
Day 05 – Paro Sightseeing
Day 06 – Paro hike to Tiger Nest
Day 07 – Departure
Flying in to the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression.
After clearing customs and visa control then you will meet our guide at the arrival gate. Then you will drive about 1 hour to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital (population 100,000): still the world’s only capital city without a traffic light! En-route visit Tachog Lhakhang which is located on the way to Paro valley, and one must cross one of DrupthobThangtongGyalpo bridges to get to the Lhakhang.
After lunch drive to Buddha Dordenma site;The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfils an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 m, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue; 100,000 statues of which are 8-inches-tall and 25,000 statues of which are 12 inches tall. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
We will also stop at National Memorial Chorten; the building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme DorjiWangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace.You will find elderly Bhutanese people circumambulating the Chorten throughout the day. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. The Chorten is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures.
You can also visit Bhutan Craft bazaar: The private stalls had a variety of high-end quality products from places across the country such as wood carved national symbols, bags and western wears with touch of traditional designs, wooden and clay utensils, Bangchung, Dhapa, key hanger of jewelry boxes, bookmarks and handmade packing papers (Deysho) in different patterns, antique items and etc. The stalls have a distinctly rich outlook with fine tones of elegance, and a warm and inviting atmosphere. The craft bazaar is also an exemplary of how bamboo can be used to construct houses in the country.
Later on, take an evening stroll along the main street, and perhaps visit a few handicrafts shops, or take refreshments at a local café or bar.
Today sightseeing includes visit to The National Post office;Our tour start with the visit to the National Post Office, along the Chang lam, is an institute itself where the most famous Bhutanese export is exhibited and sold: the various stamps. Stamp collectors all over the world know that Bhutan is the first country to diversify and export quality stamps. Interesting thing is that you can make your own personal stamp with your photo and then can sent to your friends and family.
The National Library; Established in 1967, National Library of Bhutan (NLB) has extensive collection of about 6,100 Tibetan and Bhutanese books, manuscripts and xylographs and about 9000 printing boards and the wood printing blocks for religious books. The stock of books is growing. The library boasts of one the largest holdings of Mahayana Buddhist literature in the world, originally written in classical language of the lamaist world, called choekadchoekad (chosskad). It also has a sizeable and rich collection of English or Western books related mostly to Himalayas, Bhutan and Buddhism. It is dedicated to the collection, preservation and promotion of the cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan, especially its ancient written and printed resources related to Bhutanese history, religion, social traditions and culture.
The ZorigChusum: the traditional institute of Arts and Crafts above the town will provide you with an insight into the different arts and craft works practiced in Bhutan. The institute started a few years back and with support from the Government, trains many school dropouts in the arts and crafts. Student learn paper making, stonework, blacksmithing, clay arts, paiting, bronze casting, wood, slate and stone carving, woodturning, woodworking, weaving, silver and goldsmith, cane and bamboo work, needlework
Paper Factory:Jungshi handmade paper factory; The Paper Factory is situated on the other side of the river, about a 10-minute drive from the city. The art of handmade paper in Bhutan dates back to the 8th century, although usage was limited mainly to religious purposes. Today it is considered an important element in the preservation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. The factory allows guests to view the papermaking process and purchase samples and gift items from their shop.
The Trashichodzong: the fortress of the glorious religion is the seat of government and the headquarters of the clergy in the capital Thimphu. The original dzong was built in 1216. It suffered three major fires over the centuries and was rebuilt three times. It was enlarged in the 1960s to become the symbol of the new capital after Punakha. This dzong housed the original National Assembly of Bhutan in one of its temples. It still houses the secretariat and throne room of the King of Bhutan and the headquarters of the Royal Government’s Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs. The Dzong is the summer residence of the clergy.
Zoo: A short distance up the road to the BBS tower viewpoint is a trail leading to a large fenced enclosure that was originally established as a zoo.Motithang Takin Preserve, located in the Motithang district of Thimphu, Bhutan is a wildlife reserve area for takin (Budorcastaxicolor), the national animal of Bhutan. The reason for declaring takin as the national animal of Bhutan is attributed to a legend of the animal’s creation in Bhutan in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as the Divine Mad Man.
It’s worthwhile taking the time to see these oddball mammals.
The Centenary Farmers Market (Open: Friday, Saturday & Sunday); Located below the main town, near the Wang Chhu River, Thimphu’s weekend market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. With its wide assortment of fresh and organic produce, the Farmer’s Market has become a favourite spot for tourists and a recreational place for people from all walks of life. Across a cantilever footbridge, KuendeylingBazaam, to the west bank is a collection of stalls selling clothing, textiles and handicrafts.
After breakfast, depart to Punakha valley. En route, stop at Dochula pass, located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Known as the DrukWangyalChortens– the construction of these108 chortens was commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty AshiDorjiWangmoWangchuk. The pass is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
The DrukWangyal Lhakhang (temple): was built in honor of His Majesty the fourth DrukGyalpo, Jigme SingyeWangchuck. The past and future appears to merge in the details of the lhakhang (temple) and its structure tells the story of a supreme warrior figure, whose vision pierces the distant future in a fine blend of history and mythology.
Then continue your drive to Punakha and enjoy the scenery of land escape. On arrival stop for a stroll up to the Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the ‘monastery of the Mad Monk’. This auspicious fertility monastery built in 1499 enjoys a very colourful history, which your guide will explain to you. It is still a place of important cultural significance today where females come to receive a ‘wang’, a fertility blessing to aid pregnancy.
In the evening visit to SangchhenDorjiLhendrup nunnery, which was founded by Yab Ugyen Dorji, the father of the Queen Mothers. It sits astride the top of a hill high above Punakha and combines harmonious architectural proportions with carefully designed interiors, full of lovely traditional carvings and paintings.
At an altitude of 1,300 metres (4,265 feet), Punakha Valley is one of the lowest lying valleys in Bhutan and enjoys a warmer climate.
Today bit early, we begin our hike by crossing the Mochu River and ascending a numerous switchbacks to the NamgyelKhamsumYuely Chorten. Looking downstream, the viewpoint here affords grand views of the Mochu River Valley below. We descend from the temple and follow a well-worn path down the valley through rice fields and small villages. Along the way we are rewarded with stunning views, the terraced rice paddies providing an exotic backdrop to the river below.
Punakha Dzong;The Punakha Dzongkha has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country. Punakha Dzong has also countless monastery inside the Dzong.
Punakha Suspension Bridge: This is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, which is built on Po chu river. It connects to the nearby village. It allows villagers to cross the river to go to the other side. The view from the bridge is stunning and extremely scenic.
OPTIONAL ACTIVITY AT PUNAKHA VALLEY (White Water Rafting)
PHO CHHU (MALE RIVER) Samdingkha Bridge to River Confluence): The Pho Chhu (located in Punakha Valley) is the most popular river for water sports; it is easily accessible by road and has a couple of class III rapids. Furthermore, you can sight the world’s most rare bird, the White-belled Heron, which is a common sight on the Pho Chhu River. This river is little technical and a few rapids on the river have names, the Wrathful Buddha and Strainers Paradise. The river is aqua blue and is much clearer compared to the Mo Chhu, which is the river, located in the adjacent valley.
Duration: 1hours on the water, depending on river state (up to 45 minutes shorter during monsoon season, July to August).
Difficulty: Class II – III+
Flow: 2000 – 3000 cfs
Season: 12 Months (Tips: with good scouting, runs at higher flows possible)
Additional Cost: US$ 200 per boat (up to five people).
Duration: 1 hours on the water, depending on river state (up to 45 minutes shorter during monsoon season, July to August).
MO CHHU (FEMALE RIVER)KhamsumYulay Bridge – Changyul Village:If you are looking for a peaceful morning in the Punakha Valley our scenic float past the Punakha Dzong is recommended. This section of the Mo Chhu River is graded as class II and I; the total distance of this section of the river is 6 km. The Mo Chhu is the female river of the Punakha Valley. The starting point is at the base of the KhamsumYulley monastery, a picturesque spot with a suspension bridge joining the opposite village with terraced rice fields with the road head. Kingfishers who make their presence felt with sharp cries and flash of brilliant blue across the river is the only movement apart from the river flowing down stream.
Duration: 1hour30 minutes on the water, depending on river state (up to 1 hours shorter during monsoon season, July to August).
Rafting Stretch Length: 10 km (1.5 hours)
Difficulty: Class I – II
Flow: 800 -1000 cfs.
Season: 12 Months (Tips: with good scouting, runs at higher flows possible)
Additional Cost: US$ 150 per boat (up to five people)
Note: Rafting is subject to availability. While our outfitter takes all possible precautions to ensure a safe journey, white water trips entail an element of risk. It is recommended that all participants are able to swim and are in good health. All Safety equipment
– Including life jackets, helmets, dry bags for valuables is supplied
After early breakfast drive back to Paro valley, which take around 4hours’ drive to reach there. Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom up to Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a beautiful, crystalline river meandering down the valley.
After lunch visit the National Museum; The museum is set in Paro Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower that now displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artifacts and artwork including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snap-shot of the rich cultural traditions of the country.
Then walk down to the Rinpung Dzong; the Dzong continues its age-old function as the seat of the district administration, district court and the monastic body. The southern approach to the Dzong has a traditional roofed cantilever bridge called NemiZam. A walk across the bridge offers a wide view of splendor of the Dzong’s architecture.
Farm House Visit – A cluster of quaint farmhouses embroiders the beauty of Paro valley. A visit to farmhouse is very interesting and offers a good glimpse into the life style of the farmer. If you interested our guide will present our national game to you and you can get opportunity to learn how to play archery.
Today, we hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest.” This day hike is not only historically and culturally interesting, but also incredibly scenic! It takes about one hour to reach the cafeteria, which gives a breath-taking view of the Tiger’s Nest. From Cafeteria, it takes another an hour to reach the main temple.This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 meters above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 months in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.
In the evening, visit drive to Drugyel Dzong, which is built by ShabdrungNgawangNamgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On clear days, you can see the splendid view of Mt. Chomolharithe second highest mountain from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort from Discovery Bhutan will bid you farewell and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.