Become immersed in the cultural and natural wonders of the last remaining Himalayan kingdom
Become immersed in the cultural and natural wonders of the last remaining Himalayan kingdom
As the last remaining Himalayan kingdom, Bhutan boasts magnificent mountain scenery, incredible architecture, and a sacred culture. Embark on an eight-day odyssey through this enchanting realm, where ancient traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes converge to create an experience of a lifetime. Cherish the enchanting mystics of this magical kingdom, a land that will undoubtedly etch indelible memories in your heart and soul. A blessed and transformative journey awaits.
Upon your arrival at Paro, your adventure officially begins after a three-hour scenic drive to &Beyond Punakha River Lodge in the Punakha Valley. Each day unfolds a tapestry of experiences that allow you to delve deeper into Bhutan’s rich heritage. Journey to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten for panoramic valley views, navigate the exhilarating rapids of the Mo Chu, and explore the Buddhist monastic school, Nalanda Buddhist Shedra, and the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery.
From here, enjoy a picturesque drive to Phobjikha Valley, where you’ll discover Chimi Lhakhang, the famed fertility temple en route. In Phobjikha, often referred to as Gangtey, you will visit the revered Gangtey Goemba, trek the Gangtey Nature Trail, and observe the endangered black-necked crane at the Black-necked Crane Information Centre.
Continue your adventure to Paro Valley, where you’ll explore the Ta Dzong, now a captivating National Museum, visit a traditional farmhouse to gain a glimpse into the daily lives of the Bhutanese people, and hike to the iconic Taktsang Monastery perched precariously on a cliff.
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Your journey begins in the historical town of Paro. Your flight into Bhutan will offer dazzling scenic views of some of the world’s highest glacial peaks as you pass through the Paro Valley. You will observe forested hills with the silvery Paro Chu, as well as the iconic Paro Dzong and Ta Dzong from above.
Upon arrival at Bhutan’s only international airport, Paro International Airport, you will be warmly welcomed by your guide and transferred to your lodge in the Punakha Valley, &Beyond Punakha River Lodge, which is an approximate three-hour drive. This is where you will be staying for the next three nights.
As you cross the outskirts of Thimphu, the road climbs steeply through a scenic forest of pine and cedar trees to Dochu La. An incredible Bhutanese mountain pass peaking at 3,140 m (10,301 ft) above sea level, it boasts exceptional views of the snow-capped eastern Himalaya on clear days, linking Thimphu and Punakha. Make sure to stop to see the Druk Wangyal Chortens, where 108 memorial stupas and chortens stand in honour of the fallen Bhutanese soldiers. The shrine was commissioned by the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck overcame the insurgents. Upon arrival, check in to the lodge and enjoy your evening at leisure.
More about Punakha
Punakha, once the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government, has witnessed some of the most important moments in Bhutanese history. The very first National Assembly was held here in 1953, and in 2011, the royal wedding between King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema took place in the Punakha Dzong.
Located at an elevation of 1,200 m (3,937 ft) above sea level, the valley is a rich agricultural area producing rice, vegetables, and fruit. Two of Bhutan’s precious rivers, the Mo and Pho Chu, converge here, and at their confluence stands the majestic Punakha Dzong. The riverbanks of Pho Chu are also home to the last surviving population of the critically endangered white-bellied herons.
Your day will begin with an early morning hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten. An approximate 45-minute hike from the Punakha Suspension Bridge (this is where your hike will start), this three storey Lhakhang is a recent addition to Bhutan’s string of architecturally splendid buildings. Built by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon, the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten houses representations of the tantric form of Buddhist deities that subjugate enemies and ward off harmful influences on the people of Bhutan. Constructed for the protection of the country and the present King, the Chorten also offers impressive views of the valley below. Enjoy a pre-packed picnic breakfast in this serene hilltop setting, before any other guests arrive. Following breakfast, savour a tour of the sacred temple.
After your visit to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, begin the steep trek to Giligang. Along the way, stop to admire the myriad views of surrounding temples, rice paddies, mountain tops, and green forests. Giligang is a 300-year-old privately-owned monastery, which has been taken care of by the same family for generations. From Giligang, the trail continues gently downhill until you reach Changyul Bridge, just before the Punakha Dzong. You will be picked up here and transferred back to the lodge for lunch.
Alternatively, if the trek to Giligang is too strenuous, from Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, you can walk directly back to the lodge. This trail will take approximately one hour down a gentle slope and through a beautiful forest along the Mo Chu until you reach a traditional suspension bridge, which serves as the entrance to the lodge grounds. Tuck into a delicious lunch at the lodge.
After lunch, look forward to visiting the Punakha Dzong. Constructed in 1637, the Punakha Dzong was the second fortress Dzong built in the country. Translated to mean ‘palace of great happiness or bliss’, its towering white walls form a beautiful contrast to the surrounding greens and blues. The Dzong holds a sacred place in the hearts of all Bhutanese people. It is also the winter home of the central monastic body, and all of Bhutan’s kings are crowned here before they can take their throne in capital city of Thimphu.
After an early morning breakfast, head to the small village of Bali, an approximate 20-minute drive. This is where you will embark on your whitewater river rafting adventure on the upper Mo Chu. The Mo Chu, which translates to ‘female’ or ‘mother’ river, originates from the northern hills of Laya and Lingzhi. It offers adventurers a 10 km (6.2 mi) route with 10 rapids graded class 2, making this an exciting one-and-a-half-hour rafting experience. After rafting, enjoy a scrumptious lunch at the lodge.
Later that afternoon, you will visit the Buddhist monastic school, Nalanda Buddhist Shedra. Originally built in 1754 as a monastery, it was converted to a Buddhist Shedra in 1991. The site was chosen by the founding monk following a dream he had about eight vultures that were circling this site while the monastic body was on the move from Punakha. These eight vultures were believed to be the original scholars from the Nalanda University in India.
On the way back, visit the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery. Perched on a ridge among the pine trees, this temple houses a 14 ft (4.2 m) bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara, crafted by traditional Bhutanese artisans. Other iconic statues include those of The Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, and the 21 Taras. The temple complex also hosts a permanent school of higher learning and a meditation centre for nuns, where, apart from religious training, provides vocational training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting.
Here you will participate in a traditional Tshewang blessing ceremony held by a Bhutanese monk. The prayer will last approximately 30 minutes, during which you can make an offering by lighting butter lamps at the monastery altar, believed to bring about a long and healthy life.
It is time to bid a fond farewell &Beyond Punakha River Lodge. After an early morning breakfast, you will be transferred to Phobjikha Valley, an approximate three-hour drive.
On your way out of the valley, make a stop en route to hike to Chimi Lhakhang. Located on a round hillock on the edge of the Punakha, Chimi Lhakhang was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by ‘the Divine Madman’ the maverick saint, Drukpa Kunley. Famously known as the temple of fertility, the Lhakhang draws Bhutanese people, from near and far, to receive blessings from the lama.
Upon arrival in Phobjikha, check-in to your lodge, Gangtey Lodge. This is where you will be staying for the next two nights. Soak in the beautiful views of the Gangtey while relaxing over a delicious lunch at the lodge.
That afternoon, take a leisurely stroll through Gangtey Village, visiting the Gangtey Goemba (an approximate 20-minute walk). This temple is perched on a forested hill overlooking the green expanse of the whole Phobjikha Valley. Founded by the grandson and reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, Pema Thinley, in 1613, this Nyingma temple is now known as the Gangtey Goemba and serves as the seat of the ninth reincarnation of the Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Lingpa.
That evening, attend the evening prayers at the monastic Shedra with 300 chanting monks.
More about Phobjikha
Phobjikha Valley is a U-shaped glacial valley and serves as a winter home to a group of globally endangered black-necked crane that migrate every winter from the Tibetan plateau. Located on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, some travellers refer to the entire region as Gangtey, which is well known for its magnificent nature trails. Gangtey also has its own monastery, perched at the head of the valley.
After breakfast at the lodge, enjoy a beautiful hike along the Gangtey Nature Trail. The trail is approximately 4.6 km (2.9 mi) and takes around two hours to complete. After crossing gentle streams and navigating through pristine forests, you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the valley and marshy conservation area below.
On your way back to the lodge, visit the Black-necked Crane Information Centre. These splendid birds occupy a very special place in Bhutanese culture, and a visit to the centre is a great way to learn about the endangered black-necked crane and the folklore that surrounds them. While typically only seen between November to February when these majestic birds migrate from Tibet to Bhutan, the centre hosts an enclosure, with spotting scopes, where rescued crane are rehabilitated and can be silently observed.
Enjoy the rest of your afternoon at leisure. Mountain bikes are available at the lodge should you wish to explore the surrounding areas on two wheels. Situated just below the main lodge is a cozy and traditional woodshed, with sweeping views over the valley. The ideal space to end your day, enjoying an intimate and personalised private dining experience.
It is time to say goodbye to Phobjikha Valley. After an early morning breakfast at the lodge, you will be transferred to Paro Valley, an approximate five-hour drive.
Upon arrival in Paro, check-in to your lodge, Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary. This is where you will be staying for the next two nights. Once you have settled in, you will receive a private in-house consultation with one of the lodge’s traditional medicinal doctors, who will provide you with a brief demonstration of high and low altitude medicinal herbs.
Afterward, take a drive to the Ta Dzong; a watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dzong during the inter-valley wars of the 17th century. Since 1967, the Ta Dzong has been serving as the National Museum of the country. It holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangka paintings, natural history, and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps.
If time permits, end your day with a visit to a traditional farmhouse. The beauty of Paro Valley is embellished by clusters of old-fashioned farmhouses. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colourful, decorative, and traditionally built without the use of a single nail. All houses follow the same architectural pattern. A visit to a traditional farmhouse is educational and offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of a farmer.
More about Paro
Paro is a historic town, situated at 2,250 m (7,382 ft) with many sacred sites and historical buildings scattered through the area. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the National Museum and the country’s only international airport. Mt Jhomolhari (7,326 m / 24,035 ft) reigns in its white glory at the northern end of the valley. Its roaring glacial water plunges through deep gorges to form the Paro Chu. Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in the Kingdom, producing a bulk of the country’s renowned red rice from its terraced fields.
This morning you will be driven to Ramthankha to begin your hike to the iconic Taktsang Monastery, or Tiger’s Nest.
Built on a sheer cliff face at a height of 2,950 m (9,678 ft), the four-hour trek to Tiger’s Nest offers spectacular views. The trail climbs through a beautiful pine forest, with many of the trees draped with Spanish moss and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, founder of Buddhism in Bhutan, flew from eastern Bhutan on a tigress, bringing Buddhist teachings and meditation to this cliff. This is one of the most venerated and sacred of all Buddhist sights around the world.
Back at the lodge, revel in a traditional hot stone bath – a well-rewarded indulgence after your hike. A therapeutic process unique to Bhutan, a hot stone bath offers a calming and relaxing effect on the mind, body, and soul. Using traditional medicinal water called Menchu (a combination of river water and Artemisia leaves), the water is warmed with river stones heated by fire, helping to relieve ailments.
Today is your last full day in Bhutan, enjoy the rest of your afternoon and evening at leisure, soaking up all that you can in this scared country.
Today marks the last day of your incredible journey.
After breakfast, you will be driven to Paro International Airport to board your flight onward.
It is time to say goodbye to blissful Bhutan, taking with you all the incredible memories you have made.
Find out all about Punakha River Lodge, &Beyond’s new home-away-from-home in the kingdom of Bhutan. &Beyond Asia Managing Director Suhail Gupta talks about the challenges encountered and overcome during the building of the lodge. Renowned travel writer Gisela Williams shares warm and poignant memories from her first trip to Bhutan and delves deeper into the country’s unusual model of tourism. &Beyond Sales & Touring COO Ryan Powell describes the emotions of being one of the first visitors to Punakha River Lodge and expands on how &Beyond plans to make a difference in local communities.
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