Paro Tshechu (festival) tour
Day 1 - Arrive Paro
On arrival at Paro airport our representative will welcome you at the entrance to the terminal building and escort you to your hotel. After checking into your hotel you have time to freshen up and have lunch before beginning your tour of Paro. We will begin the tour with a drive up through the Paro Valley to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, (Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa) an old fortress from where the Bhutanese repelled Tibetan invasions in the 17th C. The road passes many small villages and settlements and serves as a good introduction to the Bhutanese countryside. We may also be able to watch an archery match at one of the several archery ranges that are near the road. Before returning to Paro we will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. It is one of the 108 temples built simultaneously by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo in the 7th century.
In the evening we can stroll through Paro’s main street and visit the “Fairground” which is held during the festival.
Day 2 - Paro Tshechu (3rd Day of the Tshechu)
Today we will experience the color, spectacle and excitement of the Paro Tshechu as we join hundreds of people dressed in their best traditional finery, heading to the festival to proclaim and renew their faith and seek the blessing of the gods. To the haunting sounds of horns, trumpets, cymbals and drums, monks as well as laymen in elaborate silk and brocade costumes perform dances signifying the triumph of good over evil. Most of these dances are re-enactments of visions seen by Buddhist saints and the choreography as well as the costumes have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The dances are interspersed with folk songs and dances and the irreverent, and sometimes bawdy, antics of traditional clowns called “atsaras” who are the only ones who are permitted to mock religion. Throughout the festival there will be plenty of opportunities for photos and for interaction with the local people in the audience. For lunch we can either return to the hotel or go to one of the restaurant in town. In the afternoon, depending on your interest we have the option of going back to the festival or doing some sightseeing around Paro. Spend the evening at leisure.
Day 3 - Excursion to Haa valley (65km; 1½ - 2hrs.)
We make an early start for the drive to Haa valley which lies a mountain range away. As it is located close to the undemarcated border with China (Tibet), Haa was a restricted area and opened to tourists only recently. As a result, it still retains much of its charm and authenticity and is quite different from other places in Bhutan which have had longer interactions with outsiders. From Bondey village which is about 4 km from Paro town, we begin the ascent to Chele-la pass (3,810m/12,573ft.) which we reach after a 45 km scenic drive through pine and rhododendron forests. If we are lucky we may encounter some wild animals and birds on the road. On a clear day we can get very good views of Chomolhari and Jichu Drakey mountains-two of Bhutan’s highest peaks from the pass. From here we descend 22 km and reach Haa valley (2670m/8,811ft) after about an hour. We can relax and enjoy a picnic lunch by the river near the new Dzong. Afterwards we visit the two famous temples in Haa which are Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo, literally meaning the “white temple” and the “black temple”. There are It is said that the statue of “Jowo” or historical Buddha in the black temple is almost identical to the one in the Potala in Tibet.
We begin our return journey to Paro in the late afternoon, travelling by the old road which follows the river and goes past two dzongs, Betikha and Dobji. We reach Paro in the evening and have an early night in anticipation of the early start the next day.
Day 4 - AM: Paro Tshechu PM: Paro-Thimphu ( 55 km, 1 and ½ hrs. )
After an early breakfast we make our way to the festival ground for the highlight of the entire festival - the unfurling of the “Thongdrel” - a very large applique scroll which is displayed only once every year. (Thongdrel can be translated as “liberation on sight” as it is believed that just seeing it liberates one from the cycle of birth and rebirth.) The scroll which measures 30 meters by 45 meters has the images of Guru Padmasambhava in the centre flanked by his two consorts and also his eight manifestations. Devotees file past to offer obeisance in front of the Thongdrel and seek its blessings. Folk songs and dances are performed in front. Before sunrise, the Thongdrel is rolled up and taken back to the Dzong where it will be stored until the same time next year. This being the last day of the festival it is considered to be the especially auspicious and the mask dances include some of the most sacred ones. In the afternoon we can make a visit to the National Museum of Bhutan which is located above the festival ground. Here we can see a collection of artifacts which provide a wonderful insight into the rich cultural and natural heritage of Bhutan.
Late afternoon we drive to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city which is the next destination on your tour of Bhutan. Evening at leisure.
Day 5 - Thimphu Sightseeing
We start the day with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, the huge whitewashed stupa which was constructed as a memorial to Bhutan’s third King who is popularly known as the Father of modern Bhutan. The driving further up the hill we visit the Buddha Dordenma Statue. This statue which overlooks the southern approach into Thimphu city is the biggest statue of Lord Buddha in the sitting position. Next we visit the National Institute of Zorig Chusum (School of 13 Traditional crafts). Here you can walk into the classrooms to observe and even take photos of the students as they learn the various traditional crafts such as wood carving, clay statue making, embroidery, painting etc. Right next door is the Folk Heritage Museum, an old style Bhutanese house which has been preserved as a showcase of a traditional Bhutanese household and way of life. Afterwards, we can settle in at the Folk Heritage Restaurant for a traditional Bhutanese lunch. After lunch we spend some time at the Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar and the Government Handicrafts Emporium to shop for Bhutanese handicrafts. Finally we end the day with a visit to Tashichho Dzong, the main Government Secretariat building as well as the summer residence of the central monastic body. This impressive building also contains the Throne Room of the King.
Day 6 - Thimphu-Punakha (71 km/ 2 ½ -3 hrs.)
After breakfast we set out for Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan. Enroute we stop at Dochula Pass (10,150 ft.) to see the 108 chortens (stupas) known as “Druk Wangyal Chorten” which were built as a memorial to those who lost their lives during Bhutan’s brief conflict with Indian separatist militants in 2002. In clear weather, we can enjoy a panoramic view of the eastern Himalayan range. Next stop will be for lunch at the small village of Lobeysa where the road to Punakha branches off from the main road to central Bhutan. Afterwards we take a pleasant 30-40 minute walk through cultivated fields to Chhime Lhakhang which is famous as a fertility temple for childless couples. It was built in 1499 by Lama Drukpa Kinley, who is popularly known as the “Divine Madman” and who popularized the use of the phallic symbol which still remains much in evidence throughout the country. Later we take a tour the historic and magnificent Punakha Dzong which sits on the confluence of two rivers and contains the embalmed remains of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the founder the Bhutanese state. It was here that the first King of Bhutan was crowned and many important state occasions such as the Coronation of the King and the Royal Wedding are held in thie Dzong.
Day 7 - Punakha-Phobjikha (78km/3hrs)
We start the day with a scenic drive up the valley and take a 45 minute walk to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten which sits perched on a hill on the opposite bank of the river. The 30 meter tall chorten took 9 years to complete and is an excellent example of Bhutanese craftsmanship. We can also get a spectacular view of Punakha valley from here. Later we set out on the drive to Phobjikha valley. The 65 km drive which transport us from just 1,342ft. to over 9,500 ft. provides a dramatic range of scenic beauty along the route. Phobjikha valley is a beautiful bowl shaped glacial valley on the western side of the Black Mountain range. It is the wintering ground of the endangered black crane and therefore, one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country.
Day 8 - Gangtey -Thimphu (135 km/6-7 hrs)
Phobjikha is peppered with small villages and there are a number of trails for short hikes around the valley. Our first stop will be at the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) Black Necked Crane Information Center which has informative about the cranes and the valley environment. Later we will visit Gangtey Goemba a 17th century temple that sits atop a small hill and was extensively renovated a few years ago. Besides the temple there are several schools, and meditation centers where monks undertake the three year, three months and three day meditational retreats. There is also a Buddhist college nearby that offers a nine year course in Buddhist studies. After lunch we retrace our steps back to Thimphu.
Day 9 - Thimphu–Paro (Excursion to Taktsang)
On your last day in Bhutan, after an early breakfast we drive to Paro for the excursion to the famous Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery. The climb from the car park up to the View Point cafeteria takes about 1½ hours. From here you can catch a bird’s eye view of the monastery clinging to the face of the cliff while enjoying a welcome rest and some refreshments. It takes another hour of climbing to reach the monastery. It is said that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan to this place and meditated in a cave here for 3 months. The principal Lhakhang (monastery) of the present monastic complex dates from 1692. Taktsang was damaged severely by fire in 1998 but has now been fully restored to its former beauty. After visiting the monastery, walk back down to the road on the way stop for lunch at the view point cafeteria and then walk further down to the road point. Then drive back to hotel and relax.
Day 10 - Departure
After breakfast, you will drive to the Paro Airport for the flight to your next destination.