Bumthang Cultural Odyssey

Summary

This itinerary covers Bhutan’s main cultural centers including the central district of Bumthang which is often referred to as the country’s “cultural and spiritual heartland.” A two day trek through the beautiful valleys of Choekor and Tang in Bumthang lets you see and experience rural Bhutan. The trek route passes through some remote villages and ancient temples and ends at an old manorial house which now also houses an eco-museum. The route covers part of the popular Bumthang Cultural Trek which is so named because it provides more opportunities to visit villages and communities than most of the other treks.

Day 1: Arrival

On your arrival at Paro you will be received by our representative at the entrance to airport terminal and transferred to your hotel. After lunch you can start your Bhutan exploration with a visit to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s holiest temples. This ancient shrine is one of the 108 temples that are said to have been built concurrently by a Tibetan King in the 7th century in order to subdue a demon who was preventing the spread of Buddhism. Then drive up the valley to the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong which was once an important and strategic fortress that withstood many invasions from Tibet. Later return to Paro town and spend the rest of the day at leisure exploring the shops along the main street.

Day 2: Paro - Thimphu

After a leisurely breakfast you will continue your exploration of Paro with visits to Dungtse Lhakhang which is probably the only ancient temple built in the shape of a chorten (stupa); the National Museum of Bhutan which provides an insight into the history, religion and culture of Bhutan; the Paro Rinpung Dzong, the fortress monastery originally built in 1644 and which today serves as the district administration center. If time permits you can also visit a nearby farmhouse to interact with a local family. In the afternoon travel to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Rest of the day is at leisure.

Day 3: Sightseeing in Thimphu

Today you will spend the day visiting some of the capital’s landmarks such as the National Memorial Chorten, the Buddha Dordenma statue a gigantic statue of the Buddha overlooking the southern approach into Thimphu city; National Institute of Zorig Chusum which is a school where the 13 traditional crafts of Bhutan are taught; the Royal Textile Academy which showcases Bhutan’s rich and unique tradition of hand woven textiles; the Folk Heritage Museum, a traditional Bhutanese house that has been preserved to provide Tashichhodzong the central government Secretariat building which also houses the Throne Room. For lunch, try a traditional Bhutanese meal at the Folk Heritage Restaurant. In the evening you can shop for souvenirs at the Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar, the Government Handicrafts Emporium and other handicraft shops.

Day 4: Thimphu - Trongsa

After an early breakfast we set out for the central district of Trongsa. Our first stop is at Dochula pass to view the 108 stupas that were built in memory of the lives lost during Bhutan’s low intensity conflict with Indian militants in 2002. In clear weather you can enjoy a panoramic view of the eastern Himalayan range. The road passes many small villages and settlements as it winds its way through the mountains and valleys with constantly changing vegetation and superb views of the Himalayan landscape. At Pelela pass (3,420m) you are likely to encounter herds of yaks grazing along the roadside. Don’t hesitate to ask the driver to stop whenever you see a photo opportunity, or just want to take a break.

Day 5: Trongsa - Jakar (Bumthang)

Before setting off for Jakar, visit the Tower of Trongsa museum. This excellent museum which is housed in a former watch tower, was set up with the assistance of the Austrian government. It displays some of the best examples of Bhutanese artifacts to highlight and explain aspects of Bhutan’s religious, cultural and historical heritage. Afterwards drive over Yutong-la pass (11,000ft./3354m.) before descending into the wide valleys of Bumthang. In the afternoon we visit some of the local places of interest such as the Kurjey and Jambay Lhakhangs, the Jakar dzong. In the evening you can either relax at the hotel or stroll through the small and quaint Chamkhar town.

Day 6: Jakar – Ngang Lhakhang Trek begins. (12km/4-5 hours) 170m ascent

After breakfast we will drive for half an hour until we reach Toktu Zampa which is the starting point of our trek. The trail follows the Chamkhar Chu a river that is well known for trout, and goes through meadows, forests of blue pine and scrub bamboo. On this relaxing and easy first day we will pass by many villages, shrines and temples as we make our way to Ngang Lhakhang where we will camp for the night.

Day 7: Ngang Lhakhang - Ugyen Choling (16 km/ 6 hrs)

Today we start our trek across meadows with views of the valley below and then ascend through juniper forests up to Phephe-la (3,340m), the highest point of the trail. From here, the path descends into Tang valley passing through beautiful forested areas where many stops can be made to enjoy the natural beauty. The trek ends at or below Tahung village where our vehicles will be waiting to take us to Ugyen Choling village for the night.

Day 8: Ugyen Choling – Jakar

After a leisurely breakfast, we take a tour of the charming eco-museum. The well preserved building and the various exhibits reflecting the everyday lives of a landed household until the middle of the last century provides a fascinating insight into Bhutan’s social and cultural history. The large temple with its outstanding mural paintings is also well worth a visit. This estate is not only a museum but continues to serve as a religious and cultural centre for the local community. Later participate in a prayer flag hoisting ceremony and send your prayers on the wind to spread harmony, peace and good fortune to all sentient beings. After lunch drive to Jakar. Enroute visit the Pema Choling nunnery and Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), which is closely associated with a famous 14th century Bhutanese saint.

Day 9: Jakar – Punakha

Today we start our return journey, passing through Trongsa and Wangdue Phodrang until we reach the small village of Lobeysa in Wangdue district where we turn off from the main road and head to Punakha, the old capital which lies just about 12 km from there. If time permits we can stop at Lobeysa and take a short walk to Chimme Lhakhang a fertility temple dedicated to Bhutan’s favorite saint, the “divine madman” Lam Drukpa Kuenley.

Day 10: Punakha- Paro

In the morning we will visit Punakha Dzong, a magnificent structure which straddles the confluence of two rivers. This dzongs is held in great reverence in Bhutan as it still contains the embalmed body of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, Bhutan’s founding father who died here in 1651. It was here that Bhutan’s first King was crowned and many important national events such as the coronation and the royal wedding of the King were held here. Later a short drive up the valley followed by 30-45 minute hike will take us to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten which took nine years to complete and showcases some of the finest Bhutanese architectural craftsmanship.

After lunch we set out for Paro, and if time permits, we have the option of visiting the botanical garden located at Lamperi, the site of the annual rhododendron festival, or take a short walk through the rhododendron forests at Dochula. In spring, when the trees are in bloom, the forests are filled with pink, red and white rhododendrons and magnolias.

Day 11: Excursion to Taktshang monastery

On the last day of your Bhutan adventure, we go on an excursion to Bhutan’s most famous monastery Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest). This amazing monastery sits perched on the side of a cliff 2,952 ft. (900m) above the floor of Paro valley where the only sounds are the murmurs of wind and water and the chanting of monks. For an average walker, the hike to the top can take between 2 to 3 hours, and for those who may not feel up to the challenge, there is the option hiring a riding pony for most of the way up. This is the highlight for most trips to Bhutan and the spectacular views combined with the spiritual vibrations of the place will give you a sense of exhilaration that you will seldom experience anywhere else.

Day 12: Departure

After breakfast drive to the airport for your onward journey.