With a 10-day cultural trip to Bhutan, you'll get to explore central Bhutan - the heart of spirituality in the Kingdom. The lush greenery in central Bhutan will provide you with the most ideal environment to recharge yourself. This 10-day cultural tour will have a good balance of learning about the cultures and traditions of Bhutan while visiting some of the prominent sites of the Kingdom.
Arrival in Paro
Upon your arrival at Paro International Airport, you will see your tour guide waiting for you at the arrival hall. From Paro, you will take a one hour drive to the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu. In Thimphu, you will check in to your accommodation and have your first Bhutanese meal!
The city will provide you a glimpse into the local cultures and you will quickly notice Bhutanese in their traditional costumes, Kira for the ladies and Gho for the men. You will also realise that unlike other cities in the world, you will not see any traffic light on the roads!
On the first day, your itinerary will be light to ensure that you have sufficient rest from the flight and are ready to explore Bhutan! Your first stop will be the Buddha Dordenma (also known as Buddha Point) to learn more about Buddhism in Bhutan. The scenic view from Buddha Dordenma makes great photo opportunities for travellers. It’s located near Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and the 169 feet bronze Buddha statue is considered one of the largest in the world. The night view from Buddha Dordenma is absolutely magnificent.
After that, you will visit one of the largest ancient fortresses in Bhutan known as Tashichho Dzong or Thimphu Dzong. It is the office of the King as well as other government buildings nearby. Be awed by the architectural feat of Bhutan!
Subsequently, you can take a stroll to check out the Thimphu Town and visit the Craft Gallery to learn more about the different arts and crafts available in Bhutan.
You will visit the National Folk Heritage Museum. The museum will provide you insights into traditional Bhutanese cultures and lifestyles. You will be able to see the kind of traditional houses of Bhutan and the museum will transport you back in time as you browse through the many artifacts. You can also learn more about the traditions, customs and habits of the Bhutanese cultures.
Then, you will proceed to the National Textile Museum to learn more about this ancient craft that is very prevalent in Bhutan. The traditional weaving methods are preserved by the Royal Government to ensure its posterity. At the museum, you will also be able to understand more about the different kinds of textiles used in the country to create those beautiful national costumes that you will see the locals wear on a day to day basis.
After that, you will visit the beautiful National Memorial Chorten located at the heart of the city. The chorten was built in honour of the late third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. You can see elderlies gathering, chatting and also offering prayers. Locals will be circumambulating the chorten in a clockwise direction. There are also huge gigantic prayer wheels where locals will spin in clockwise direction to accumulate merits.
At Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, you will learn the traditional art of papermaking. The traditional Bhutanese papers (desho) were made using the bark of Daphne trees and these papers were traditionally used for sacred texts and religious scriptures using Bhutanese ink or sometimes, in gold.
After your induction about the Bhutanese cultures, you will head to Simtokha Dzong, the first ancient fortress to be built in Bhutan and the first building to incorporate both monastic and administrative centres. The central tower is three storeys high with prayer wheels surrounding the courtyard. There are also more than 300 slate carvings depicting Buddhist figures.
You will also visit one of the largest ancient fortresses in Bhutan known as Tashichho Dzong or Thimphu Dzong. Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and currently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. As a tourist, you will not be allowed to visit the Royal and government offices, but you can certainly visit the monastery and admire the marvellous architecture and surroundings of the dzong. One of the most prominent things you will notice upon arriving at the dzong would be the Bhutan national flag flying splendidly outside the building. If you visit Bhutan from April to July, you will see a stretch of colourful rhododendron flowers greeting you along the pathway.
THIMPHU TO PUNAKHA
On the way to Punakha, you will drop by Dochula Pass, one of the most beautiful mountain passes in Bhutan. Dochula Pass comprises 108 chorten built by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the Assamese insurgents from India. If you are lucky, you can also get a clear view of the gorgeous Himalayan range from Dochula Pass!
You can visit Druk Wangyal Lhakhang located near the Dochula Pass. This beautiful temple was built in honour of the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck who led the battle against the Indian rebels. You will be able to see locals offering butter lamps at the temple.
Upon reaching Punakha, you will first visit the Punakha Dzong, one of the most beautiful fortresses in Bhutan. It used to be the seat of the government until the capital shifted to Thimphu. The dzong continues to be a winter home for the clergy, headed by the Chief Abbot (Je Khenpo). The dzong is strategically located at the fork of two rivers, Mo Chhu and Po Chhu and beautiful jacarandas can be seen blooming at the courtyard during spring.
You will explore one of the most popular temples in the Punakha District, Chime Lhakhang (also known as Temple of Fertility). You will start your journey from Sopsokha Village where you can witness traditionally built houses and shops. Do not be surprised by the amount of phalluses you will see around the village! You will get to learn more about the significance as you reach Chime Lhakhang after taking a 20 mins stroll across a serene terraced field. Travellers from all around the world visit Chime Lhakhang to receive fertility blessings.
Then you will visit the Po Chhu Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan measuring 160 metres long. You can feel a sense of calm as you stand atop the suspension bridge admiring the picturesque lush green valleys. The bridge offers you a spectacular view of the rivers and Punakha district.
PUNAKHA TO BUMTHANG
You will take a four hours drive from Punakha into central Bhutan, Bumthang and visit Trongsa along the way.
Enroute to Trongsa, you will visit Chendebji Chorten, a unique chorten that resembles the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. You will see eyes painted at the four cardinal points. Next to the chorten is a long prayer wall adorned with Buddhist scriptures. The chorten is a popular tourist spot especially during Sambha Lhundrup Molam Chenmo Festival.
The magnificent Trongsa Dzong is your first stop. This beautiful ancient fortress is easily noticeable from anywhere in town. This ancient fortress was built in 1644 and used to be the seat of the Wangchuck Dynasty before they became the rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Historically, the King of Bhutan first became the Trongsa Penlop (governor) before becoming the Crown Prince and eventually the King. This massive dzong is the largest fortress in Bhutan located on a spur overlooking the gorge of the Mangdi Chuu river. The size, strategic location and grand architecture of the dzong renders it one of the most impressive dzongs in the country.
You will also be able to visit the Trongsa Museum that stores Buddhist artifacts as well as royal artifacts. It was originally built as a watch tower in 1652 by the first Governor of Trongsa. Some of the items on display include a bronze statue of the popular treasure revealer, Pema Lingpa, ritual objects, ancient prayer books, and sacred scrolls. There is also a 20 minutes video showcase for you to learn more about the Bhutanese monarchy. The panoramic view from the top of the tower is fabulous.
Bumthang is a spiritually rich district in Bhutan. It was here that Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan.
Today, you will visit Kurjey Lhakhang, nestled on the side of a hill, surrounded by 108 chorten walls, the complex houses three revered temples, namely: Guru Lhakhang, Sampa Lhundrup Lhakhang and Ka Gon Phor Sum Lhakhang. This large temple complex is filled with great religious significance. The main attraction of Kurjey Lhakhang is the upper floor of the temple where it houses 1000 small statues of Guru Rinpoche. It is also said that behind a wall on the floor leads to a meditative cave that is prohibited for public access where Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months in the 8th century. There is also a huge cypress tree near the entrance of the temple which is believed to have sprouted from Guru Rinpoche’s walking stick.
Thereafter, you can visit Tamzhing Lhündrup Monastery. This monastery was built by the famous treasure revealer in Bhutan, Pema Lingpa. It is believed that on the inner walls are original unrestored images painted by Pema Lingpa himself. This monastery is the most important site for the Nyingma Buddhist sect in Bhutan.
You will then visit Jakar Dzong or Jakar Yugyal Dzong is the dzong or fortress of the Bumthang district. It is located on a ridge above Jakar town in the Chamkhar (Chokhor) valley of Bumthang. Jakar means ‘white bird’ and Jakar Dzong is known as the Fortress of White Bird. It is said that a white bird flew and perched on the ridge of where Jakar Dzong is situated. A lama took this as a good omen. Traditionally, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defence of the eastern districts. It was also the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
Next up, you can pay visit to the micro-brewery and Swiss Farm in Bumthang was founded by a Swiss national, Fritz Maurer in 1996. Fritz married a Bhutanese and went on to set up the first of its kind brewery in Bhutan, producing draught beer, apple cider, wine, apple brandy and juice. This is also the brewery that produces the famous Bhutan beer “Red Panda Beer”, an unfiltered, preservative free brew. The beers are prepared in an old school manner. Both the brewery and cheese factory are located next to each other, so feel free to pop over for some beer and cheese when you are in Bumthang.
Today, you will be visiting Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), a very pristine holy lake. It is considered one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. Myth has it that the famous treasure revealer, Pema Lingpa once dived into the lake while holding a burning butter lamp and when he came out of the lake, the butter lamp was still burning. Thus, the lake got its name, Burning Lake.
You get to enjoy an excursion to Ura valley, driving through sheep farms. It is one of the most tranquil and beautiful valleys in the Kingdom. The lush green nature will provide a relaxing time for you. You will be treated with beautiful landscapes such as meadows, buckwheat and barley fields.
Subsequently, you will be able to visit Könchogsum Lhakhang, one of the country’s oldest temples. The temple was severely damaged by fire in 2010. Part of the original temple dates back to as old as 6th or 7th century. However, the modern structure is highly impressive. You will be able to see mandala-painted ceilings and monks quarters inside the courtyard.
BUMTHANG TO PHOBJIKHA VALLEY (GANGTEY)
The journey from Bumthang to Gangtey will take approximately 5 hours.
Phobjikha Valley (aka Gangtey) is a beautiful U-shaped valley and is winter home to the endangered black-necked cranes that fly from Tibet. Gangtey is truly a paradise for nature lovers.
You will be visiting Gangtey Goemba, a 17th century monastery overlooking the stunning views of Phobjikha Valley. The temple was founded by one of Bhutan’s famous treasure revealers, Pema Lingpa in 1963. It is not just the locals who visit this humble and simple temple but even the black-necked cranes can be seen circling around the temple clockwise three times each year when they arrive and before they depart from their winter home. How sacred and mystical!
You can also opt for a homestay in Gangtey to experience the lifestyle of the Bhutanese. Through the homestay, you will also get to mingle with Bhutanese families to better understand the local culture. Simply let our Travel Consultant know and they will be happy to arrange it for you!
GANGTEY TO PARO
From Gangtey, we will head back to Paro district. Here, you can experience a blend of modernity meets traditional.
In Paro, you can visit the Rinpung Dzong that is located near the town. This 15th century massive fortress is the administrative centre of the district. It was built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan. The dzong is literally known as Fortress on a Heaps of Jewels. It is one of the country’s finest architecture. Scenes from Bernado Bertolucci’s 1993 film ‘Little Buddha’ were filmed in Rinpung Dzong!
You will also be able to visit Tachog Lhakhang, a small traditional temple located 15km from Paro Town. To reach the temple, you will need to cross one of the iron bridges built by Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo, the great iron bridge builder. Crossing this ancient iron bridge has proved to be quite an adventure for many travellers.
Subsequently, you can explore and chill around the Paro town. There are plenty of shops selling handicrafts, eateries and souvenirs.
You will be embarking to visit one of the most popular and iconic landmarks of Bhutan - Taktsang Monastery also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery! The monastery is located 2,600 feet above the Paro Valley. Your day will begin early in the morning. The entire hike can take approximately 3 and half to 5 hours depending on your pace. You will reach a cafeteria after one hour hike where you can enjoy the stunning view of the monastery. You will be able to see many locals of all ages, from kids to the elderlies making their way up to the monastery - sometimes in sandals. Do not be surprised!
Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) flew from Tibet to the monastery on the back of a tigress in the 8th century. He meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days before subduing a demon that was terrorising the inhabitants of the valleys. This monastery is considered one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. A trip to Takstang is a holy pilgrimage for the locals.
*Do remember to pace well and enjoy the views along the way!
One of the most authentic Bhutanese experiences you can have in the Kingdom is definitely pampering yourself with a hot stone bath! Aum Choden Homestay is a two storey traditional Bhutanese house that is 108 years old. It has a rustic charm that will leave you feeling rejuvenated. The locals usually soak themselves in hot stone baths once or twice weekly and it is believed that the hot stone bath has healing properties. Stones are fire-roasted and plunged into the wooden bath tub. Medicinal hot stone bath can help to alleviate some health issues such as stomach ache, hypertension, arthritis or joint pain.
DEPART FROM PAROThe day that you will say goodbye to this amazing Himalayan Kingdom and vow to be back again to explore more of it someday! You will be departing Bhutan from Paro International Airport. Hopefully you would have made some great memories and new friends that will last you a lifetime. We certainly hope that you will come back to discover more charm of Bhutan in some other parts of the country!