PARO (alt. 2200m/7,500 feet)
Most of the tour normally begins and ends at Paro. As you get off from your Drukair flight and take your first breath of Bhutanese air, you will be amazed by the scene and tranquility of Paro’s Valley. The beautiful valley is dotted with toddle-like English homes and turquoise –colored glacial rivers plunge through the valley forming Paro River. It is home to many of Bhutan’s ancient temples and monasteries, and the place where Bhutanese have fought their medieval wars with the Tibetans.
WHAT TO SEE IN PARO
Tiger’s Nest: Tiger’s Nest or the Taktsang is the most sacred site for the Buddhists. The monastery is precariously hanging at the 30000 ft. sheer rock face 700m above the Paro Valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche (great spiritual master), is believed to have come to meditate here riding on the back of a legendary flying tigress. Visitors can take a closer look at the monastery by hiking either on foot or by pony for about three hours.
Drugyal Dzong Ruin & Mount Jumolhari: This Dzong, with a cluster of farmhouses nestling at its foot, was built in 1646 to commemorate Bhutanese victory over the Tibetan invaders. Strategically standing on the old caravan route, this Dzong was featured in National Geographic magazine in 1914. The glory of Drugyal Dzong still remains even after it was razed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can capture spectacular views of Bhutan’s sacred mountain Jumolhari (7314m, 23,996 ft.).
Rinpung Dzong: The “fortress of the heap of jewels” was built in 16th century. Located at a strategic point overlooking the longest stretch of the Paro Valley, Paro Dzong now functions as the center of religious and secular affairs of the valley. It is also venue of a famous Paro Festival, which is being held once in every year.
The way to the Dzong is through a traditional wooden bridge, which was also caught briefly in Bertulluci’s film the “Little Buddha”. Walking over a stone inlaid path up to the Dzong offers a good insight into Bhutanese architecture, which Bhutanese have preserved for centuries.
Ta Dzong: Above the Dzong is the castle-shaped old watch tower, which has been converted into National Museum of Bhutan. It houses a vast collection of ancient Bhutanese arts and artifacts, old weapons and stamps, remains of birds and animals, fascinating collection of silver tea and earthen wares.
Kichu Lhakhang: One of the oldest and most sacred shrines of Bhutan is believed to have been built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 7th century. It is one of the 208 temples built by this king in the entire Himalayan regions to subdue demons.
Farm House: Paro is adorned by farmhouses which resembles toddle-like English homes. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colorful, decorated with traditional motifs, and built without the use of single nail. A traditional hot-stone bath and meals in a local farmhouse offer a good insight into the life of a Bhutanese farmer.
Kila Gompa: The nunnery nestled in a craggy patch on the mountain side below the Chele La pass is perched on a rock face. It is the home of Buddhist nuns who dedicates their life for religious studies, prayer and meditation. From the road-point, you can hike for an hour up to the nunnery and extend till the Pass.
Chele La Pass: The highest pass in the western Bhutan is the Chele La Pass (3810m), which separates Paro and Haa Valley. For the adventurous, you can hike along the ridges till the sky burial – on the clear weather you can have stunning views of Mount Jumolhari and other peaks. Chele La pass is also the best place where you can spot Blue Poppy in summer.
THIMPHU (alt.2, 400m/ 7600 feet)
Thimphu, the biggest city of Bhutan sits in the center of the Thimphu Valley. The bustling capital town of Bhutan, and the centre of government, religion and commerce, it is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. It is inhabited by roughly about 95000 people comprising of civil servants, expatriates, farmers and monk body.
Over the years, the skyline has changed drastically with new buildings and construction making it one of the fastest growing capital cities in the world. Thimphu also offers a glimpse of Bhutanese metropolitan life with night clubs, disco-theaques and other entertainment centers. The other ways of passing time in Thimphu is by strolling through the town, which is full of wonderful restaurants and shops stocked with items from all over Bhutan. Hand woven textiles, woodcarving, tailor made clothing and jewelries.
WHAT TO SEE IN THIMPHU
Memorial Chorten: This stupa was built in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan’s third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is popularly regarded as Father of Modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the stupa provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Trashichhodzong: Bhutan’s most impressive building, Trashichhodzong on the banks of Thimphu River houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat and central monk body.
Simtokha Dzong: Six kms from Thimphu from the city limits, on a low ridge stands kingdom’s oldest Dzong. Built in 1627, the Dzong contains a fabulous series of slate carving.
National Library: Repository of history of Bhutan in the form of imprinted archaic texts, which are preserved at the National Library. Besides thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts, the library also has modern academic books and printing blocks for prayer flags.
Art School: Is the famous traditional school of arts and crafts of Bhutan. On a visit, one can see students working on different arts.
Traditional Medicine Institute: In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines abundant in Kingdom are prepared here. The Institute also imparts the art of herbal medicines to would be practitioners.
The Textile and Folk Heritage Museum: Both these museums opened in the year 2001 and are fascinating testimony of the Bhutanese material culture and living traditions.
Handicrafts Shops: Government owned Handicrafts Emporium displaying a wide assortment of beautifully hand-woven and crafted products. There are other shops along Thimphu city.
Weekend Market or Centenary Farmers Market: Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, most of the Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers flock on the banks of the river where the weekend market is held. It is an interesting place to visit and offers good opportunity to mix with the local people.
Broadcast Tower & Mini Zoo: The broadcast tower is 3 kms north of Thimphu. It provides a spectacular view of whole Thimphu city. Little below, is the mini-zoo where you can see ‘takin’, the national animal of Bhutan.
Tango Monastery: After crossing a lovely bridge that spans over Thimphu River and climbing steeply for an hour, you will arrive at the Monastery. The first two foreigners, the Jesuit priests have spent 3 months with Zhabdrung, the founder of the monastery.
Cheri Monastery: Hike for an hour to arrive at Tango Monastery. The monastery was founded in 12th century and now houses on higher learning center for Buddhist philosophy.
Phajodhing Monastery: Situated on a commanding height overlooking Thimphu Valley, the 13th century old monastery was founded by Lama Phajo. From Thimphu, one can make a wonderful hike through a wooded area with a picnic lunch for 4 hours to the monastery.
PUNAKHA (alt. 1, 300m/4,430 feet)
Punakha is 76 kms, 3 hours drive from Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. The journey takes you through picturesque Dochula Pass (alt.3, 100 m), from where you can descend through the forests of fir, rhododendron and hemlocks to the temperate Punakha Valley.
Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still it is the winter residence of the central monk body. Blessed with temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Many scenic villages surround the Punakha Valley where you can make interesting village tours.
WHAT TO SEE IN PUNAKHA
Punakha Dzong: Built strategically admits the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the Dzong looks like an anchored ship. The visitors can enter the prayer hall which has exquisite paintings of maldalas and life history Buddha.
The Dzong serves as the religious and administrative centre of the region and it is the venue for the famous Punakha Tschechu, the only festival in the kingdom that depicts the war with Tibetans.
Limukha Village: Walk across the 200m long suspension bridge through absolutely fresh breeze and fascinating view of the Dzong. After climbing gradually through the farm houses towards Dompola Hills and then for two and half hours, you arrive Limukha. These people were known as the peace-makers at the time of wars.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten: Driving for 12 kms north of Punakha Valley and hiking from the road point through farms and pine forests, you will arrive at the Monastery which is situated at the spur overlooking the valleys and hills around.
Talo Village: Situated at 2, 800m is scattered along the hill slopes where corn and sweet peas are grown in abundance. One can take a ride to the Village and then hike down the village to the Valley.
WANGDUEPHODRANG (alt.1, 300m/4,430 feet)
17 kms drive towards the south of Punakha is the Wangduephodrang, which is the last town before central Bhutan. The higher reaches of the Wangduephodrang valley provide rich pastureland for cattle. This district is also famous for its fine bamboo work and its slate, stone carving.
WHAT TO SEE IN WANGDUEPHODRANG
Wangduephodrang Dzong: Standing on top of the hill at the confluence of Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers is town’s most visible features.
Gangtey Gompa/Phobjikha (alt.3000m/9,840 feet): In the east of Wangduephodrang, the great monastery of Gangtey is the only Nyingmapa Monastery in western Bhutan dates back to the 17th century. On the valley floor is the village of Phobjikha, which is the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter harsh winter conditions.
Wangdue Town: A typical little Bhutanese town with slate roofs is the most unique town in Bhutan.
Rinchengang Village: A cluster of red houses on the slope on the other side the Wangdue town, is Rinchengang Village. This people are supposed to the Indian descendents who came to Bhutan for the construction of the Dzong.