Winter in Bhutan is beautiful, the skies always blue and the distant snow capped Himalayan peaks easily seen during the winter dry season. Temperatures dip to the 30's at night, and warm to 60's during the day. The impressive high altitude Phobjikha Valley with its wintering population of black-necked cranes, and the colorful and exuberant Punakha Festival are highlights of this journey, though all our stops promise to be interesting as we travel from Paro to Thimphu, onward to sub-tropical Punakha, and then to the Phobjika Valley, and then traverse the spectacular Black Mountains en route to Trongsa. We then retrace our steps to Thimphu and Paro for our finale, an ascent to Tiger's Nest Monastery.
DAY 1: WEDNESDAY, MAR 4
Arrival in Bhutan
Arrive Paro and after a short excursion in downtown, we drive 60-minutes to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. We'll have time to explore Thimphu during the afternoon, then rest up for our welcome dinner.
Overnight at Druk Hotel.
DAY 2: THURSDAY, MAR 5
Thimphu to Punakha
We'll begin the day with an excursion the Thimphu's new and impressive Royal Textile Museum, and continue our exploration with drive to the giant Buddha Statue (one of the largest such statues), and a visit the the 4 century old School of the 13 Traditional Arts, where you can observe young men and women practicing these ancient crafts. Lunch in Thimphu followed by 2.5-hour drive over the 10,300 pass at Dochu La, to arrive in subtropical Punakha.
Overnight at Drubchhu Resort.
DAY 3: FRIDAY, MAR 6
This morning we explore the lovely Punakha Dzong, architecturally and aesthetically one of the most beautiful dzongs. The tsechu, a festival with origins dating back to the 17th century is a colorful festival commemorating Bhutanese victory over invading Tibetan forces. Monks perform stylized dances re-enacting battles. Optional afternoon hike to Chimi Lhakhang, also known as The Temple of the Divine Madman, built in 1499 and one of the most revered temples in Bhutan.
Overnight at Drubchhu Resort (3-4 star).
DAY 4: SATURDAY, MAR 7
This morning we explore more the Punakha Valley and Punakha Tsechu. We make an afternoon drive to the mountain top Talo Monastery, the monks will welcome visitors and provide an interesting glimpse into their lives. Next, we take a gentle downhill hike through forest and villages to return to Punakha town and then relax the rest of the afternoon at the hotel.
Overnight at Drubchhu Resort.
DAY 5: SUNDAY, MAR 8
Punakha to Trongsa
Today's 5-hour drive is considered one of the most beautiful one can experience in Bhutan, as we drive across the impressive Black Mountains, though tiny villages and with virgin forest clinging to the steep mountainsides. Late afternoon arrival to Trongsa, with time to make an stroll into the small yet attractive town.
Overnight at Yangkhil Resort
DAY 6: MONDAY, MAR 9
Morning visit to Trongsa Dzong, the largest of Bhutan's ancient fortified monasteries. After lunch we'll drive 45-minutes into the valley below to explore the seldom visited Winter Palace of the Second King. Late afternoon return to Trongsa.
Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.
DAY 7: TUESDAY, MAR 10
Morning departure for Phobjikha Valley. The 4-hour drive takes us to this broad glacial valley, unique in Bhutan, and renown for its beauty. We’ll have the afternoon free to wander near the hotel, the lovely Dewachen Lodge.
DAY 8: WEDNESDAY, MAR 11
Trongsa to Phobjikha Valley
We'll retrace our route part way to Punakha, then take the turn off to the Phobjika Valley and over another high pass, to descend to the 9000' valley. Considered the most beautiful in Bhutan, this broad glacial valley is home to small villages and farmers, and a wintering flock of endangered black-necked cranes.
Overnight at Dewachen Lodge.
DAY 9: THURSDAY, MAR 12
Phobjika to Thimphu
We depart Phobjikha after breakfast for the 5-hour drive to Thimphu. Before leaving the valley we stop to observe the 5-foot cranes by telescope from the Crane Center and another stop to visit the ancient monastery in the village of Gangtey. Late afternoon arrival in Thimphu.
Overnight at Druk Hotel (4 star).
DAY 10: FRIDAY, MAR 13
Full day to explore Thimphu, visiting the Buddha Statue, Royal Textile Museum, and incense-making factory. It's Friday night in Thimphu, and our Bhutanese friends will join us for dinner and then a night out to Thimphu's enjoyable night life venues.
Overnight at Druk Hotel (4 star).
DAY 11: SATURDAY, MAR 14
Thimphu to Paro
Early afternoon departure for Paro. Afternoon free to explore Paro town and valley, or relax at hotel. Our luxury hotel, The Zhiwa Ling is one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World.
Overnight at Zhiwa Ling Hotel
DAY 12: SUNDAY, APR 7
Hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery
After breakfast we drive 20 minutes to base of mountain where Taksang is located. Also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and probably the most iconic building in all Bhutan, it is perched on a cliff 2,700’ above the valley floor. It is said that the Guru Rimpoche arrived here in the back of a flying tiger is 746 CE, and meditated in a mountain cave for 3 months. The site has since been sacred and a monastery has been constructed to commemorate his visit. It is a pilgrimage site for all Bhutanese who gain merit by making the ascent. You too can gain merit while by making the 3-hour ascent and visiting the monastery seemingly glued to the barest concavity of the cliff face. After descending we’ll have lunch in Paro, then optional hot stone bath at our hotel, Gangtey Palace Hotel, followed by farewell dinner.
DAY 13: MONDAY, MAR 16
Breakfast at hotel, then transport to airport for onward flight.
PRICES & REGISTRATION INFORMATION
(Inclusive of food, beverages, accommodations, ground transportation, entrance fees, services of licensed Bhutanese guide and driver, services of USA based trip leader, Bhutanese visa and airport taxes.)
$6200. (Based on double occupancy)
$7000. (Based on single occupancy)
NOTE: International airfare, gratuities, alcoholic beverages other than local beer with meals, laundry, souvenirs, items of a personal nature and travel insurance are NOT included.
Bhutan is accessed most easily from Bangkok, Thailand from where there are daily flights. Flights always depart in the early morning and participants should give themselves at least 24-hour layover in Bangkok in the event flight to Bangkok is delayed. Fares are subject to change without notice.
BANGKOK-PARO, BHUTAN-BANGKOK, $750. ROUND TRIP, economy class
BANGKOK-PARO, BHUTAN-BANGKOK, $915. ROUND TRIP, business class
Flights are with DRUKAIR, ROYAL BHUTAN AIRLINES, operating Airbus 319 jets.