15 days 14 nights cultural tours
From rural hinterlands in the east to the semi-urban towns in the west, from extensive paddy fields, meandering rivers, the sacred snow-clad mountains to monumental fortresses, from Tiger’s Nest to exquisite culinary adventures – this trip is set to give you Bhutan’s ultimate splendour. This itinerary is unique to The Bhutan Memorable Travels as we begin this trip, unlike others, from the eastern gateway to deliberately surprise you with the sudden drop of civilisation by propelling you into some of the remote parts of Bhutan. The journey will start at Guwahati, the commercial hub of North-East India and introduce you to the pristine valleys of Trashigang and Mongar and thread your way towards a culturally-rich Bumthang. Together with discovering new places and lifestyles, you will also be visiting some ancient temples, Dzongs (fortress) and art centres that houses Bhutan’s rich heritage and history. Further on the lateral highway, savour the hotspots of Trongsa, Phobjikha (home of the black necked cranes in winter), Wangdue and Punakha until you arrive to the capital-Thimphu. The trip ends at Paro after an invigorating visit to the Tiger’s Nest. While flying back, you may be amazed by the realisation that Bhutan indeed remains to be the last Shangri-La on Earth.
Traverse the whole country from Samdrup Jongkhar in the East to Paro in the West on the lateral highway, visit ancient monuments, witness myriad art and architecture, enjoy local delicacies and culture, learn Bhutanese history and lifestyles, stay in high quality hotels and scenic valleys, visit the spectacular Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s nest), interact with locals, visit local markets, schools, farm houses etc.
Day 1 : Arrival at Guwahati and drive to Samdrup Jongkhar (110 km, 3-hour drive)
Upon arrival at Guwahati airport you will be received by our certified tour leader and drivers who will usher you into the comforts of your luxury vehicle and continue to Samdrup Jongkhar, a small bordering town which is the only entry point in eastern Bhutan. The place will provide a glimpse of indo-Bhutan relations across the border and how the people of Bhutan and India have juxtaposed each other to create a place called Samdrup Jongkhar.
Day 2 : Drive to Trashigang (180 kms, 7 hrs)
Driving to Trashigang, you’ll pass by Sherubtse College –It is almost legendary as it has been greatly written about by well-known alumni members and you could do a campus tour if you are interested. Trashigang town is a cramped-up square where locals from near and surrounding villages gather with their precious agricultural produce. Normads from Merak-Sakteng attired in their traditional costumes come here to barter and sell their dairy products. You’ll then visit the Trashigang Dzong (fortress) built in 1659 perched on a hilltop overlooking the vast underlying valleys. Your hotel also provides you with a spectacular view of the town and the verdant nature around you.
Day 3 : Drive to Mongar (96 km, 4 hours)
After breakfast, proceed to Gom Kora, an ancient 17th century temple known for its religious treasures and a rock garden. It is believed that you’ll be liberated in this life if you carry a particular stone around the garden for three rounds and also reach the heaven of Guru Rinpoche if you are able to surmount the biggest rock in the garden. Think it is the easiest way to get to heaven? Well, we doubt you can make it!! So our advice is to continue driving onto Mongar and continue with life. Every year, Gom Kora comes alive with the annual Gom Kora festival, a picturesque festival attended mainly by people from the eastern regions of Bhutan.
Day 4 : Drive to Bumthang (195 km, 7 hours)
On the way to Bumthang, you’ll see the ancient Zhongar Dzong which actually is in ruins after an earthquake and a fire outbreak that destroyed it. Our guide will narrate the mythical story of Zhongar Dzong to mesmerize you and at the same time make you realise that these mythical stories are a huge part of our everyday life. After a day’s drive through hinterland, we’ll make sure you are treated to some local speciality combined with fresh trout fish from the local river. If you are of the adventurous type, your dinner will be complete with some ara (home brewed alcohol) that fits perfectly with the Bumthang culinary.
Day 5 : Bumthang Sightseeing
This is a day that will make you almost feel like a hermit in the lost valleys of the world. The valley is dotted with some of Bhutan’s most important and sacred pilgrimage sites and you’ll witness some amazing sites and stories that go with it. We recommend exploring the valley on foot as the temples are strategically located to be able do a loop to your hotel. Visit Kurje lhakhang (temple) built in 1652 which contains one of Bhutan’s biggest statues of Guru Rinpoche and more importantly his body imprints in a cave. Jambay Lhakhang (temple), most probably is one of the oldest temple that is believed to be one of the two in Bhutan, out of 108 temples that King Srongtsen Gembo of Tibet built across the entire Himalayan region in the 7th century. Finally to Tamzhing Lhakhang (temple) built by Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501. We can also arrange a visit to the local cheese factory, the beer factory and the bee keeping farmers if any of these may interests you.
Day 6 : Drive to Trongsa (69 km, 2 hours)
Enjoy the scenic drive to Trongsa, where you’ll visit the ‘Tower of Trongsa’ which served as a watchtower during the ancient times and now developed into a museum that houses some of Bhutan’s most prized possessions including the ‘Raven Crown’ used by the first two Kings. Now that is a must-see. Visit the Trongsa Dzong built in 1644. Trongsa dzong is the ancestral home of the present royal family. After lunch you could either go for a hike along the ancient trade route which descends rapidly to the river and then ascends to exit at a view point from which you could take good picture of the Dzong and the surrounding houses. You’ll be picked up at the view point and driven back to the hotel.
Day 7 : Drive to Phobjikha ( 90 kms, about 4 hours)
We at ‘The Bhutan Travelclub’ call Phobjikha ‘The winter guests’ roost’. This valley is only one among the only two places in Bhutan which is host to the endangered ‘black necked cranes’ (Grus Nicorocolis) in the winter who migrate from Tibet and parts of China. The government has given much importance to the black necked cranes by preserving its part time migratory habitat by designating its roosting areas as restricted areas. Development of industry and electrification in the valley has been stalled lest it might disturb the birds, and the locals are unperturbed as the valley is gifted with large land area where potato is grown as the main cash crop. Before you reach your hotel, we recommend you to take a walk through the village to get a feel of the rural life. If the weather is good, you also have the option to camp next to the river with a bonfire as many of our guests likes combining their cultural holiday with camping.
Day 8 : Phobjikha Sightseeing
You will visit the Observatory for some information on the endangered Black Necked Cranes and if you are here towards late fall and winter, you can have a close-up on the birds aided by a telescope. Lunch will entail a pleasant 4 km hike around the periphery of the roosting area which eloquently ends into the entrance of the Gangtey Gompa monastery sitting atop a hill overlooking the whole valley. After visiting this special temple that has been renovated recently with fine examples of Bhutanese architecture, you will be picked up by your driver and driven back to your hotel or your camp. The hike is a recommended activity as we ourselves enjoy it every single time we are there as the weather is usually superb for a photographers and the object to be captured is an underlying valley that probably prompted the early visitors to Bhutan to compare the country with Switzerland. We can also augment this day with mountain biking and motorcycles as they valley offers some good collection of dirt roads.
Day 9 : Drive to Wangdue (80 km, about 4 hours)
Notice the changes in vegetation from a relatively high altitude of Phobjikha valley that is home to small bamboo shrubs to the lower altitudes of the Wangdue Phodrang valley covered with temperate broad-leafed forests. If it’s towards the fall, yaks are a guaranteed sighting along this part. You’ll arrive to Wangdue Phodrang town which is unlike any other towns in Bhutan. The small incongruous square is a hullaballoo of activities; cab drivers yelling names of nearby towns for customers, a gas station queued up with vehicles and power-tillers, vegetable vendors, dairy products on sale, smiling old faces of out shop windows with dripping betel from their mouths. Visit the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong perched on a steep slope. The fortress is a fine example of ancient Bhutanese architecture replete with fabulous artwork. It stands on a spur commanding a spectacular view of the valley and the emerald river.
Day 10 : Punakha Sightseeing
Take a short hike to Chhimi Lhakhang, the fertility temple of the ‘Divine Madman’. Legend has it that many couples who couldn’t conceive were blessed with a lucky child. Our guides will narrate the entire story during a short hike up to the temple. Continue to Punakha valley and visit the most beautiful fortress of Bhutan-the Punakha Dzong, juxtaposed in between a confluence of two mighty rivers. You’ll be amazed by the fabulous woodwork that represents the richness of Bhutanese architecture. On the way you’ll be taken to Nalanda Buddhist Institute where you can interact with little monks. If you have a penchant for pedagogy, you can actually try a hand in teaching a few words of English to the little monks in a real teaching session and we swear it is going to be fun. BT also volunteer’s to teach English to the monks so during off business seasons. You’ll contribute to our small bid to encourage volunteerism. You’ll be driven back to your hotel in Wangdue or option to camp next to the river with a bonfire.
Day 11 : Drive to Thimphu (70 km, 2 hour)
Before reaching Dochula pass (3140 m), we’ll take you to the Dochula cafe for a break of tea and snacks and at the same time enjoy the breathtaking view of the eastern Himalayan ranges through a telescope. Then you’ll continue and reach the top of the pass where the ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’, a collection of 108 chortens (stupas) that stand at the backdrop of a spectacular view over the Himalayas. Upon reaching the capital, our guests are treated to some of the urban charms. Dine at a very fine restaurant with choice of Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese or Thai culinary as Thimphu has it all. Your hotel will be located in the outskirts of the city to evade the barking of nocturnal dogs to ensure utmost comfort and relaxation as many of our earlier clients had complained about the incessant barking at night.
Day 12 : Thimphu Sightseeing
Visit some of the treasures of the capital – the National Folk Heritage Museum, the Zorig Chusum school of 13 traditional arts/crafts, the Textile Museum, the Memorial Chorten (stupa) and the Simtokha Dzong. You will also visit the colourful vegetable market where proud villagers behind pyramids of their agricultural produce greet you with stone weights in their hands and smiles on their faces. It is interesting to see what may seem to you as ‘weird vegetables and forest products’ that actually enriches the Bhutanese Palate. After dinner, we’ll take you to some of the most interesting bars for some drink, music and conversation. After all these days of showing you our rich heritage and culture, you may most probably be surprised to meet outspoken, friendly and gregarious urban dwellers who are keen to give your their perspective of the current affairs and the general observations of the world. If you are interested in dancing (no age restrictions), we may as well hit the dance floors of Thimphu for some taste of local choreography.
Day 13 : Hiking in Thimphu
It is a day for relaxation and flexing your thigh muscles a little bit. We’ll take you for a short drive to Begana, a small village in north Thimphu. Then you’ll hike to Tango monastery, a temple which was build in 1659 continue hiking to Cheri Gompa, another half an hour hike to the first monastic school built by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan in 1620. Look out for wild gorals and deer along the way as they’ve unwittingly found shelter around the temple that offers visitors an open zoo experience! Stroll around the Takin Reserve Centre in the evening to meet the national animal of Bhutan- the Takin. We can also arrange other evening activities depending on your interests like a cooking session with reputed Bhutanese chefs in private homes, a meditation session with a Buddhist institute, swimming in the only pool in Thimphu, some sporting activities like tennis, basketball, golf, biking, motorcycling etc. We can also arrange a music session jam-up with local musicians as some of us at ‘The Bhutan Memorable Travels’ are not too bad ourselves. If you have a burning desire to share your story with the locals, we can also have the FM radio stations invite you as their guests for an exclusive interview session.
Day 14 : Drive to Paro (55 km, 1 hour)
Drive to Paro and visit the Kyichu Lhakhang, the sister temple of the Jambay Lhakhang you saw in Bumthang which was built by King Srongtsen Gembo of Tibet built in the 6th century as part of the 108 temples he built across the entire Himalayan region in one night. In the afternoon, visit the National Museum, the largest museum of Bhutan that showcases some of the most valuable arts, artefacts, historical transcripts, statues, stamps etc.
Day 15 : Paro Sightseeing and Taktsang
Definitely the best for the last, we will drive north for a short hike to the famous Taktshang monastery (translated Tiger’s nest). A two-hour hike up will bring you to the temple perched on a 1000 feet cliff – truly a modern marvel which defies all engineering theory. The view of the temple as our clients have been saying is “nothing short of spectacular”. Your guides will complement the experience with its history. Lunch will be served at the temple cafeteria. An exclusive feature of ‘The Bhutan Memorable Travels’, we have teamed up with a local theatre company to provide you a cultural evening at the hotel which will showcase some of our traditional music and dances, mask dances and folklore at the hotel. After dinner, a dip in the traditional hot-stone bath may help you unwind and reflect about your journey before departing.
Day 16 : Depart for onward journey
After a few thanksgiving and words promising to keep the new found friendship, your guide, who is now your friend will fare you well at the airport. If it is a bright sunny day, your holiday fades out with panoramic views of the Mt. Everest and Mt. Kanchenjunga, and our very own Mt. Jomolhari and Mt. Jichu Drakey. Please do not hesitate to unbuckle yourself and lean over other passengers on the window side to take some pictures!!
Additional Activities that can be included: Specialised language guides, Cycling, Mountain biking, Motorcycling, Swimming, Fly fishing, Cultural Performances, Cooking classes, Art classes, Attending rituals in private homes, Meditation sessions with reputed lamas, Yoga sessions, Buddhism talks, volunteerism like being part of a house construction, fruit-picking; a game of Tennis, Squash, Golf, Basketball and even a football match; Music Jam-up sessions with local musicians. If you have a burning desire to share your story with the locals, we can also have some FM radio stations or local newspapers to talk to you – you name it and we will make it possible!!
Inclusions and Exclusion
- Bhutan Royalty ($65 per person per day).
- Visa Fees ($40 per person).
- All necessary permit fees.
- All transfers and sightseeing with entrance fees.
- All meals including evening tea.
- All accommodation in our partner hotels, which are some of the best in the country on twin sharing basis.
- All trekking equipments and logistics including cooks, camp personnel, horsemen and ponies.
- English-speaking tour leader, guide and driver.
- Trekking Insurance (Our value-added service).
- Cultural Performance (our value-added service).
What’s Not Included
- Airfare for flights into and out of Bhutan.
- All personal expenses like laundry, telephone, tips, shopping expenses.
- Meals and Beverages other than the ones mentioned above (see inclusions).
- Spa Charges.
- Travel and Medical insurance.
Accommodations and facilities:
There are limited choices of accommodations in Bhutan. With a few exceptions of highly over priced international chain properties, hotels in Bhutan are small with 15 to 20 rooms. The hotels have been categorized by local authorities as Star 1, 2 and 3, with 3 Star being on the top level 1Star at the bottom and naturally we have pick the 3 Star category hotels and resorts which are local architecture with Bhutanese décor, well maintained and staffed with the friendly locals. There is disparity in the rooms in most of the hotels and travelers of the same group may end up in two different types of rooms although you have paid the same amount. You will have private bathroom with 24 hour running cold and hot water. They provide some fundamental toiletry supplies but hair dryers, iron and ironing board etc may not be available.
Hotels in Paro and Thimphu do have internet access in office or reception areas. There are some new deluxe properties and international chain resorts which are above the traditional classification criteria and in the higher side in terms of price and can be booked with supplemental cost. Hotel listed on the itinerary are suggestions only and during peak season and tours timed with festival, we may not get the same hotels and in that case, we will book you in the similar property or upgrade you to the higher level.
Guide and Escorts
Our Tour Guides are local individuals with college degree, government certification, experienced and with knowledge on the destination, history, culture and religion and most importantly they are easy going, detailed oriented, patient and high level of customer service skills. They will uncover the wonders of the destinations for you which you would never find on your own. They ensure that everything goes well with your tour without a hitch.
We use good condition Toyota SUV and Toyota Coaches for all transfers and tours. Driver and guide is not the same person. Driver may speak little or no English but they know the road and are skillful to fix the problem in case of mechanical breakdowns. Depending on group size, we will use Japanese made Sedan cars, SUVs or minivan for entire transfers and tours.
International and Internal Flights:
All internal flights are part of travel plan and are locally booked by us. You will be emailed e-ticket receipts once the reservation is booked and tickets issued. But you have liberty to book your international airfare on your own. We can certainly help you book international flight if that originates from the city that you live in. Once you receive itinerary, it’s your responsibility to verify the itinerary and reconfirm the schedules.
Visa and Permits:
Passport should be valid for 6 months or more at the time of travel. We will take care of Bhutan Visa and permits. Bhutan Visa Fees of USD 20 which will be collected with the Tour Payment in advance. You will need to provide a copy of your passport which should be sent to us by email for Bhutan Visa Processing. Bhutan visa is preprocessed by us and we will provide you a copy the Visa Approval Letter before your trip which you will need to present at Druk Air counter at the time you check in for flight to Bhutan. You will get actual visa seal on your passport upon arrival at Paro airport.
Trip Activity Level:
This trip is basically motor vehicle based sightseeing with some short hikes and village visits and suitable for all travelers with regular health conditions. When we are driving from one city to another, we will be driving from 3-6 hours with occasional stops for photography and for refreshments. Roads are narrow and some portions may be rough and damaged. The itinerary allows enough acclimatization for you and it’s advisable that you should keep physically fit and start mild exercises like jogging, swimming, cycling or practice some aerobics about 2-3 months ahead of the trip. It’s your responsibility to determine that you are fit for this trip and if you have any health conditions, please consult with your physician before you sign up for this trip.
Note on Itinerary:
We do our best to adhere to the itinerary but it should be taken as a generic guideline in terms of what you expect to do or see during the tour and may differ in the practical ground from exact sequence or order of the sights to the overnight places depending on the local conditions.
When you are sure you are traveling, please don’t delay in booking so that we can confirm you in preferred hotels and flights. A 100% of both the Tour and Airfare is requested along with a completed trip application form plus copy of the photo page of your passport.
100% Refund if tour canceled within 60 Days from the start of the tour.
50% Refund if tour canceled within 45 Days from the start of the tour.
25% Refund if tour canceled within 30 Days from the start of the tour.
No Refund if tour canceled less than 30 Days from the start of the tour.
Final Trip Dossier:
A final trip dossier with local contacts, hotel lists, check lists, travel notes and relevant information will be sent about a month ahead of the trip.