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We’d like to let you in on a little secret – The Kingdom of Bhutan. Typically people we tell about Bhutan ask "Where is Bhutan?" and that’s just the way we like it. It is this anonymity that Bhutan has preserved so well, for so many years, that makes it special. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a hidden gem that is often compared to Tibet before the Chinese invasion, and Nepal without the budget backpackers.
Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the Himalayas – a remarkable land where the well-preserved countryside, architecture, and culture appear lost in time. The capital city, Thimphu, is said to be the only capital in the world without traffic lights. Our walks in Punakha reveal impressive dzongs, while Paro’s location along ancient trade routes has created a rich culture, encapsulated by its unique monasteries, such as the striking Tiger’s Nest. Let us introduce you to Bhutan, a truly peaceful kingdom!
Arrival in Bhutan; transfer to Thimphu and city exploration by foot
Our flight into Bhutan provides spectacular views of the country's landscape as we approach the airport in the Paro Valley. The valley is a green bowl surrounded by jagged Himalayan Mountains and forested hillsides, crossed by beautiful rivers and dotted with medieval fortresses. The first thing that we notice as we disembark in Bhutan is the absence of noise and a feeling of peacefulness that is rare in most other Asian cities. The Paro Valley has kept its bucolic nature, and is one of the most scenic valleys in Bhutan. The houses are considered to be among the most beautiful in the country, and Paro is believed to be one of the first valleys to have received the imprint of Buddhism.
We are greeted with a warm Bhutanese reception and transfer to Thimphu (approximately 1 hour and twenty minutes), home of the royal family. Before becoming Bhutan's official national capital in 1961, Thimphu was a simple rural farming valley. Small and secluded, it is unlike any other world capital. The city is quiet, and there are still only a few streets with no traffic lights.
Thimphu is a city ideally explored on foot, and our walk today takes us to many interesting sights. If time allows this afternoon, we may visit the National Textile Museum, the Thimphu Dzong (seat of the government and main monk body), the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum (museums and schools are closed on weekends and holidays), and the Giant Buddha above town to give us some excellent views of the Thimpu Valley.
Dinner this evening will highlight Asian-Bhutanese cuisine, either at our hotel or one of Thimpu's fine restaurants.
Hotel DrukThimpu, Bhutan
Hotel Druk is located in the center of the city’s landmarks, near the famous Thimphu clock tower and within walking distance of the main markets. Constructed in traditional Bhutanese style, this distinctive, four-star deluxe hotel is relaxed yet elegant, with all the necessary comforts and amenities. Hotel Druk offers newly refurbished, modern guestrooms with spacious accommodations; a soothing spa; and a stylish bar and restaurant.
Cheri Gompa and The Choki School of Arts
This morning a short drive through the countryside surrounding Thimphu brings us to the boundary of Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area in the country. The park is home to several endangered species, including: the takin, snow leopard, blue sheep, tiger, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. More than 300 species of birds have been catalogued within the park.
Our walk begins from the small village of Dodena. The trail starts by crossing a covered bridge over the Wang Chhu (river), and from here we climb steadily to Cheri Gompa, a small monastery perched on the hill with a view of the Thimphu Valley. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620, and this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. The monastery is considered very sacred, as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints.
After our visit to the monastery, we descend on the same route, keeping our eyes open for the goral (wild goat) that are often spotted on the cliffs nearby. Back at the village of Dodena, we drive to Cabesa, home of the Choki School of Arts (closed on weekends and holidays). The Choki School is private and provides free, skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan to Bhutanese children who are unable to complete their formal education. After visiting the school, we return to Thimphu.
This evening before dinner, we will enjoy a Bhutanese cultural teaching delivered by an expert from Thimpu.
Transfer to Punakha (approximately 4 hours*); Temple of the Divine Madman
This morning, after an early breakfast, we say goodbye to Thimpu and transfer to the Punakha Valley, our home for the next two nights. The road to Punakha crosses the Dochula Pass (10,230'), offering a great view of the eastern Himalayan mountains. From the pass, our road descends through magnificent pine and rhododendron forests, and wanders through some of Bhutan's most picturesque countryside.
On the road to Punakha we stop in a small village where a short walk brings us to Chime Lhakang, a temple dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley. Drukpa Kunley is one of Bhutan's favorite saints, and is more commonly known as the "Divine Madman." He traveled throughout Bhutan and Tibet using songs, humor, and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings, believing that the stiffness of the clergy and social conventions were keeping people from learning true Buddhism. This site is still believed to hold fertility powers for women wanting to conceive.
*Estimated based on actual driving times. The total transfer time is longer when taking rest stops, road construction or other possible delays into account.
Drubchu ResortPunakha, Bhutan
Overlooking rice paddy fields and farmhouses, Drubchhu was constructed on the ruins of a former, 100-year-old granary. Today, the family-owned property boasts modest and comfortable accommodations, a fine restaurant, roadside café, and cozy bar plus its own natural spring, believed to be a Drubchhu (healing, miraculous water). Modern amenities such as goose down bedding and walk-in showers add comfort to your journey.
Khamsung Yuley Namgyel Temple to Punakha Dzong
Following breakfast and a drive through the Punakha Valley, our walk today begins by ascending a series of switchbacks to the Khamsung Yuley Namgyel Temple. From here, we are afforded grand views of the Mo Chu River Valley below, before descending on a well-worn path down the valley, passing through rice fields and small villages.
After enjoying a picnic lunch along the river, we continue to the Punakha Dzong. Constructed in 1637, the Punakha Dzong was the second of Bhutan's dzongs, and for many years served as the seat of the government. Today, it is home to Bhutan's spiritual leader, Chief Abbot Je Khempo, who, along with 1,000 monks, resides here during the winter months due to Punakha's relatively low altitude (by Himalayan standards) of 4,000'. From this imposing dzong we can look back to see the Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple, perched on a hillside far in the distance. A short walk from the dzong takes us back to the road where we meet our driver and return to our hotel.
Following our hike, we have the special opportunity to visit the Nalanda Buddhist Institute, just outside of Punakha. There we meet the resident monks and learn about their lives (please note that this may also take place in the morning, depending on the monastery's schedule for the day).
Transfer to Paro (approximately 5 hours*); visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the Paro Dzong, and Bhutan’s National Museum
This morning we return by road to Paro, catching another glimpse of the mighty Himalaya over the Dochula Pass. Upon our arrival in Paro, we visit Kyichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang, meaning "twin temples," is believed to have been built in 659 AD by King Songtsen of Tibet, and reflects the introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan. The temple is one of 108 that were built throughout the Himalayas in one day in an effort to subdue a mighty ogress; it is still believed to hold her left foot in place.
We then make our way by vehicle to the National Museum (closed on government holidays), housed in the round, multi-storied Ta Dzong, built in 1775. The Ta Dzong was once the watchtower for the massive Paro Dzong, built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The museum's collection includes ancient artifacts, weapons, a collection of antique thangkha (painted or embroidered religious pictures), textiles, and stamps.
Finally, we head (either by foot or vehicle, depending on timing) to the valley's magnificent Rinpung Dzong. If we are fortunate we may have the opportunity to explore within the dzong's mighty walls. However, if the Administrative Body is in session, we must admire from the outside.
Raven's NestParo, Bhutan
Raven’s Nest Resort is situated in the upper Paro Valley, set amidst farmhouses and rice fields, and very near to the trailhead for Tiger’s Nest Monastery and the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong. Featuring 21 spacious rooms with ensuite baths and balconies, the hotel also has a library, meditation room, spa with a sauna, steam bath and massage services, and a restaurant serving Bhutanese, Indian and western style dishes. Your stay here is the perfect place to unwind and will be a welcome respite in a tranquil, rural setting.
Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery
This morning we enjoy a hike to the famous cliff side hermitage called Taktsang - "Tiger's Nest" - a monastic retreat built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro Valley. Our hike begins on the valley floor and is a steady uphill climb on a wide hiking trail that switchbacks through pine forests, with glimpses of Tiger's Nest along the way. We pass water-powered prayer wheels and mani stones (sacred stone walls with Buddhist prayers etched into them), as well as a shrine where a high lama was supposedly born - all reminders that this is not just a hike, but a spiritual pilgrimage for many.
As we near the monastery, we stop by a small teahouse for snacks and tea and take in our first up-close view of Taktsang. From here our hiking trail levels out for a short while, before we begin climbing down steps and cross a bridge, eventually leading us to this most impressive sacred site.
Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava, flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Entry into the monastery feels like stepping back in time and we have the chance to visit several shrines that comprise the temple complex. During our exploration, our guide brings Tiger's Nest to life with the tales of Buddhism that make this one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in all of Bhutan.
We return to the valley floor, where we enjoy a trail-side picnic lunch before heading back to our hotel. We have some time this afternoon to unwind and relax after our hike, or you may stroll the Paro market before dinner.
We have some time this afternoon to unwind and relax after our hike. There will be the option to stroll the Paro market, or you can simply rest at the hotel before dinner.
Cheli La Pass to Kila Gompa
The day's adventure starts early as we set out on a road that climbs almost 5,000' above Paro's valley floor to Cheli La (12,500'). Towards the end of our scenic hour and a half journey, we emerge from the blue pine and rhododendron forest into windswept highlands favored by yaks. Here, we'll enjoy a view of Himalayan wild flowers, with fields of azaleas, edelweiss, and perhaps even the famous blue poppy at certain times of the year. If the weather is clear, we'll enjoy tantalizing glimpses of some of Bhutan's highest peaks. Upon reaching the pass, western Bhutan appears before us, with its unspoiled Haa valley, the mountains of Sikkim to the west, Mt. Chomolhari and Tibet to the north, and the patchwork fields of the Paro Valley to the east.
Leaving the prayer flag-swathed col and our vehicle behind, we strike off along the ridge, passing through meadows, before reentering forests of larch, spruce, hemlock, fir and rhododendron. After a little under two hours, we see the Kila Gompa, seemingly suspended in rock crags. Home to approximately 30 nuns, this place has served as a retreat for mediation since the 9th century. Kila means "spiritual dagger," and a visit to the temple is often thought to tame the negative emotions of anger, ignorance and greed.
Following our visit and picnic lunch, we descend on a dirt road that winds its way through conifers and rhododendrons, catching occasional glimpses of Cheli La, where we began. After about 45 minutes, we arrive at our private vehicle to return to Paro. Along the way, if time allows, we'll break our journey with a short walking detour to Dzongdrakha Gompa and its fine stupa (a dome-shaped Buddhist monument). This rocky aerie is the site of the annual and more intimate local Paro dromoche (masked dances), the precursor to the grander Paro Tsechu, or festival. Here, we may also have the opportunity to see some of the local residents: Grey Langur monkeys.
This evening, we celebrate our journey through this magical kingdom, and the kind welcome we have received from the generous people of Bhutan.
Departure from Paro
We are transferred to the airport for an early morning departure from Paro. From here we say farewell before our journey home, or continue on to other exciting destinations.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary due to weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these or the order visited should the need arise.
Oct 10-17, 2019
Nov 4-11, 2019
Take over a date for your group! See "Make It Private" on Dates & Prices tab.
From $4,195 Per Person
$995 Per Person
Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok; subject to change
First two reserved:$0
See single supplement policy below.
Mar 4-11, 2020
Apr 1-8, 2020
Sep 27-Oct 4, 2020
Oct 12-19, 2020
$4,195 Per Person
10+ Guests: $4,195 per person
9 or Fewer: from $4,495 per person
Make it Private price is based on Land Cost only, and a guarantee of the specified number of guests in double occupancy. For groups smaller than the numbers shown, or those requiring single occupancy, we reserve the right to adjust the per person price. Additionally, some trips have minimum group sizes. Please call 1-800-941-8010 for details.
2020 PRICING GUARANTEE
Please note that we are holding our 2019 pricing for 2020 dates. For bookings received prior to 2020 pricing being set, Boundless Journeys will cover the first 5% of any increase in pricing, and will only ask travelers to pay any amount beyond a 5% increase.
Our festival departure dates are based on the festival calendar when trips were scheduled. Festival dates may be subject to change, as the local authorities have the right to change the festival dates at any time. If this is the case we will do our best to adjust the itinerary so that we can attend the festival. Call 1-800-941-8010 for details and sample itineraries.
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 120 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement* (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary). Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This may not apply to certain trips with unique accommodation arrangements. Please see specific trip information for more details.
Boundless Journeys trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active and have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Hidden Kingdom in the Himalayas is rated 2, easy to moderate, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The walks and hikes on this trip are easy to moderate, generally from 2-5 hours in length, with minimal vehicle support. Some of the hikes will involve some steep ascents and descents, however the terrain is not technical. A few days involve drives on narrow, winding roads.
The guide will meet you at the Paro, Bhutan International Airport upon arrival of your flight on Day 1.
Paro, Bhutan International Airport in time for your departing flight on Day 8.
Most Convenient Airport: Bangkok International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand (airport code BKK)
Meeting Time and Place:Your Boundless Journeys guide will meet you at the Paro, Bhutan airport upon the arrival of your flight from Bangkok (other regional airports upon request).
Departure Time and Place:Paro, Bhutan in time for the departure of your flight to Bangkok (other regional airports upon request).
The mountainous areas of Bhutan have pronounced rainy and dry seasons. The driest weather and clearest skies are typically in October and November and it is the harvest season. During March through May, beautiful flowers are in bloom and it is the panting and ploughing time of year. The months of December through February are clear and cool (can be below freezing at night) and it is the shoulder season, so you will encounter fewer visitors. June through August is the monsoon season and it is generally not recommended to travel to Bhutan at this time of year. You may obtain more detailed weather information at www.weatherbase.com.
Bhutan is generally delightful for hiking in the spring and fall. The driest weather and clearest skies are typically in late September, October and November. In the months of March, April and May, beautiful flowers are in bloom, and you will encounter fewer travelers.
Our trip begins and ends in Paro, which is situated at 7,300' in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our hotel in Thimphu is at approximately 7,500'. We then move to the Punakha Valley, which offers a relatively low elevation of approximately 4,300'. Our walks and hikes will take place at elevations from 4,300' to 12,500'. There is time to move at a comfortable pace, allowing the group to adjust to the altitude and mountain air. Staying well-hydrated, avoiding excessive alcohol, eating frequent, light meals, and getting plenty of rest will help with any effects of altitude that you may feel.
This itinerary includes a combination of the standard and deluxe hotel options available in Bhutan. Although the hotels in Bhutan cannot be compared to international standards, they are comfortable and offer all necessary facilities. We believe that any inconveniences due to these modest accommodations are far outweighed by the unforgettable experience of visiting Bhutan. If you prefer to stay in luxury hotels, please contact us to discuss a private journey.
Due to the unique tourism policy in Bhutan, we are unable to confirm which hotels we will be using until four weeks prior to departure. The accommodations listed will most likely be what we can expect, but may alter due to availability.
It is important to reserve your trip early, as the airlines flying into Bhutan will only accept reservations with the full payment of the ticket. Therefore we are unable to hold group seats in advance of reservations. Seats can only be confirmed upon receipt of your deposit, as well as the payment of $850 for these flights (subject to change). Please contact our office with any questions regarding these important policies.
Although visiting Bhutan in many ways is like stepping back in time and has been a longtime favorite of Boundless Journeys’ travelers for this reason, it is important to understand that this evolving society is also eager to keep pace in the modern world. While the government is approaching the development of their country with sensitivity towards preserving the environment and culture, you can still expect to encounter some of the less positive signs of modernization. Some examples include: road construction projects that may hinder driving or cause noise and dust; litter in developed areas; and begging. We ask you to visit Bhutan with an open mind and leave any rigid expectations about the pristine nature of the country behind. It is important to embrace what you see and experience without judgment and recognize that Bhutan, just as any country, is struggling to be a part of this complex and rapidly changing world. We are confident that with this attitude, the Bhutan you experience will be a fascinating and memorable place.
Bhutanese dishes borrow elements of Indian and Chinese cuisine, however it is also unique in its style and tastes. One of the most distinguishing features of Bhutanese cuisine is the ubiquitous chili. The Bhutanese are passionate about chili; you will see them spread all over to dry - on the roadsides, on rooftops and in courtyards. Ema datse, a dish made with chilis and cheese, is a spicy favorite. Some excellent non-spicy options include kewa datse (potatoes and cheese sauce), and shamu datse (mushrooms with cheese sauce). Bhutanese also love momos. Though a Tibetan specialty, these dumplings now occupy a permanent place in Bhutanese cuisine. Chicken or pork momos are favored, but cheese momos are most common. Another important feature of this exotic cuisine is the use of rice, found in various forms in dishes ranging from breakfast to dinner.We do our best to offer a la carte meals at unique local establishments, however, options are quite limited in the smaller towns, so many of the meals will be served buffet-style at our hotels. There are usually continental, Bhutanese, Chinese, and Indian dishes served.
While we do our best to offer our guests the best possible meals and food available in Bhutan, it is important to know that the food there is basic and does not offer the variety and quality that we may be accustomed to at home. Please travel to Bhutan with an open mind and do not have high expectations in this regard and you will not be disappointed. Vegetarians can easily be accommodated with advance notice.
Dawa has led a variety of Boundless Journeys tours from treks in the mountains to festival celebrations in the valleys. He has experience leading groups at high altitude and as a native of Bhutan, he knows the hidden gems and local characters.
Dawa’s local knowledge and amicable personality make him a real treasure to have on the trail, and he always ensures that our guests come away with an outstanding experience and a deep appreciation of his country and culture. Many guests have mentioned his fun sense of humor and described him as “exceptional in every way!”
Kinley (or Kelly, as he is known among his Bhutanese coworkers) joined our local staff of guides after completing extensive training in 2006. Kinley is extremely knowledgeable about the local area and culture and is always determined to make each trip special by taking guests’ personal interests into consideration to make the trip a richer experience.
Kinley has led many tours for Boundless Journeys and is a favorite among our guests for his friendly, down to earth manner. Guests have enjoyed his joyous, enthusiastic nature and commented on his deep love and respect for his country and its people.
Mr. Wangchuk, as his fellow Bhutanese call him, was born in Thimphu and is deeply connected with his family—returning to his ancestral village every winter to attend a ritual ceremony. He has been guiding for more than ten years and has explored many of the rural valleys and villages of Bhutan. An avid hiker, excellent archer, and a passion for acting, he has, in fact, played parts in several Bhutanese films.
Mr. Wangchuk has a passion for facilitating guests’ exploration of Bhutan, and the combination of his local knowledge and good-natured personality makes him a valued member of our Bhutan guiding team.
With a Boundless Journeys guide, your experience is that of friend and local adventurer. We believe strongly in working with local guides, experts in the areas to which we travel, and they hold the keys to unlocking the hidden delights of your chosen destination. Although you will never know they are at work—the mark of a truly great leader—our guides make magical things happen and add a dimension to your trip that you could not experience on your own. Over the years we have forged bonds with some of the best guides in the world, and we typically work with a small team of guides in each region. You will be informed of the guide for your trip one month prior to your departure.
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