Bhutan Gateway Travels

Crane festival, cultural visits and day hikes

Highlights:

Discover Bhutan’s enchanting beauty photography tour covering Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, and Wangdiphodrang. Capture majestic landscapes, ancient monasteries, and the vibrant culture. Guided by experts, create an enduring visual narrative of this Himalayan treasure.

ITINERARY
Day 1 Arrive in Paro

paro airport

Upon your arrival visit the following places at Paro:

Paro National Museum: The museum provides an excellent overview of Bhutanese history and culture. Shaped like a conch shell, it was completed in 1656. The museum holds the largest collection of artifacts, textiles, and antiques in Bhutan.

Paro Dzong: standing high over the Paro Valley, this fortress is a landmark in Bhutan. In1644 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal initiated construction of this massive temple-fortress on the foundation of a monastery earlier built by Guru Rinpoche. 

Paro Dungtse Lhakhang: Dungtse Lhakhang, the little three storied chorten-shaped temple, was built in 1421 by Thangtong Gyelpo to subdue the ogress on the top of whose head it is said to be built. It was restored in 1841 by the 25th Head Abbot of Bhutan, Sherab Gyeltshen and the names of the Paro donors can still be seen written on the wooden pillars of the ground floor. It is said that on the day of construction, the founder himself appeared in the form of five vultures, and circled the temple showering his blessings before taking flight to Tibet. One can also see the central tower (utse), the pinnacle of the temple, chained from four directions to the roof of the temple. It is believed that while the consecration was being performed the central tower moved, attempting to fly to Tibet. Thus to stop it from its flight the central tower was chained down.This temple is unique in Bhutan as its paintings show the progressive stages of Tantric Buddhist philosophy as well as the most important deities and figures of the Drukpa Kagyudpa School

Overnight hotel at Thimphu

Day 2 Cultural Day Excursion at Thimphu (Capital City)

BUDDHA POINT

After breakfast, you have options to visit the following places in Thimphu.

Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan. Thimphu is the commercial hub and also where all the central government agencies are located.

1.Changgangkha Monastery:

The temple is one of the oldest in Thimphu, built in the 12th century. The site was chosen by Lam Phajo Drugom Zhipo. After the death of his son Nyima, his descendants took care of the monastery. Its silhouette, perched high on a spur, is a landmark of Thimphu.The monastery houses Chenrizig (Avolokitesawara), an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation as the central statue. The prayer books in this monastery are larger than the usual Buddhist texts. There are large prayer wheels inside the monastery and small wheels on the walls outside the monastery. The main guardian deity is named Dom-Tshang.

2: Buddha Dordenma is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the mountains of Bhutan celebrating the 60th anniversary of fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The statue houses over one hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Great Buddha Dordenma itself, will be made of bronze and gilded in gold. The Great Buddha Dordenma is sited amidst the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the thirteenth Desi Druk, overlooking the southern approach to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Construction begun in 2006 and was planned to finish in October 2010, however construction did not conclude until 25 September 2015. The completed work is one of the largest Buddha rupas in the world, at 169 feet (52 m) and contains 100,000 8-inch-tall and 25,000 12-inch-tall gilded bronze Buddhas.

If you prefer, spend some quiet moment and pray for the wellbeing of the entire sentient beings.

3. Fortress Tashichhodzong – It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa where Dechen Phodrang now stands above Thimphu.In 1641 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal acquired it but finding it too small, he built another one, known as the lower Dzong. The original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and everything was moved to the lower dzong. The new building was later expanded several times over the years. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck had it completely renovated and enlarged over five years after he moved the capital to Thimpu in 1952 in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans.

Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby.The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens. 

4. Bhutan Postal Museum : The Bhutan Postal MuseumEvolution of Communications Systems in Bhutan, was established in November 2015 to celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

The main objective of the museum is to tell the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the lens of the evolution of communications and postal system in the country.  The story is told through anecdotes, artifacts and the rich assortment of stamps the country has produced over the years.

You will not find much about Bhutan Postal Museum either online or in guide books because this is a pretty new museum inaugurated in Nov 2015 only.

The exciting thing about visiting the museum is because, you can get yourself printed on Bhutan stamps at this museum. Yes, you can get your personalized stamps here. Get clicked your picture then and there or give a picture of your near and dear ones and in 10 minutes, you will have your own stamps in your hand. You can put these stamps on picturesque Bhutan postcards and send to your family and friends back home.

This museum is operated by Bhutan Postal Department and you can also get postcards and envelops with beautiful pictures of Bhutan and its culture and heritage. Though you can get the same postcards from any shop in Bhutan but there are various envelops and other postal souvenirs which you will not get anywhere else.

 

Overnight in Thimphu – Hotel Tashi Yoedling

Day 3 Thimphu – Punakha

punakha dzong

After early breakfast, drive towards Punakha crossing Dochula Pass. On a clear day, from Dochula pass you will be able to get spectacular view of the great Himalayan ranges.

After reaching Punakha, beautiful hike takes one to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. The village of Nezigang is the starting point for our gradual ascent through cultivated fields and little hamlets to the Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten, a shrine recently built by the royal family. The shrine is an elaborate structure with a rainbow of Guru Rimpoche images and superb views of the Punakha Valley.

Hike back down and follow ancient riverside trails amid whitewashed farmhouses, en route visit Punakha Dzong Built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King. The Dzong is open for visitors during Punakha festival and in summer months when the monk body moves to Thimphu.

While returning from the Hike- you can experience walking on the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan” – Punakha Suspension Bridge. This160 meters Suspension Bridge is the longest in Bhutan. The bridge is stable and provides a good view of the river and valley, with the mountain as background.

 

Overnight at Punakha 

Day 4 Punakha – Wangdiphodrang – Phobjikha

punakha dzong

After breakfast, drive towards Phobjikha Valley. On the way, stopover to visit Chimmi Lhakhang – a short walk from the road point (have the option to drive but recommend to walk from the road point).

Chimi Lhakhang is a very popular and revered temple that lies on the periphery of the fertile valley of Lobesa, Wangdiphodrang where the borders of Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdiphodrang districts meet. Being dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman, the temple is popularly considered to be a temple of fertility. Lama Drukpa Kuenley lived in Bhutan around the 1500s. He was a highly accomplished buddhist master. As a buddhist master, Drukpa Kuenley is placed among the highest levels of sainthood. But he is remembered more vividly for the outrageous nature of his teachings, which were administered in the most unexpected ways, often with a strong sexual overtones and inclinations. It was because of his peculiar styles that he is remembered with much fondness to this day by Buddhists in the Himalayas as an eccentric saint.

Continuing your journey along the way, enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges. You can stopover anytime to take pictures at your convenience. After reaching Phobjikha visit Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and recently extensively renovated).

You will be able to see the endangered bird, black-necked crane in Phobjikha – Every year the birds arrive on their wintering grounds between mid-October and remain until March through mid- April. Visit Phobjokha village and meet with locals and see the typical Bhutanese lifestyle. Phobjikha people take the black-necked cranes very seriously and have been peacefully coexisted for many years. Phobjikha people take great pride talk fondly of the endangered birds. 

 

Overnight at Phobjikha

Day 5 Day Hike – Gangtey Natural Trail

trail

For a full day hike around Phobjikha valley start your walk from the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre, the Centre has lots of information on the valley and its famous migrating birds. From there walk to Beta Village where there is a small school.

Continue your walk towards Gangtey Gompa. The day hike will pass via Semchubara village through forests of blue pine trees covered with lichen (known as old man’s beard).  Continue on from the end of the nature trail to Kingathang village where you can visit a temple built by the Queen Mother- of the Fourth king of Bhutan.  

In the olden days, these are some of the strategic routes people have used for trading. Ancient routes typically passes through villages for safety and also to up keep the collaboration and community vitality. Village people lead a hard life. With the advent of modernization and easier accessibility to motor able roads, electricity and rural water supply have made the life much easier for villagers.

If two of you wish, visit house of some locals and interact with them. Bhutanese people are very hospitable and it will be a privilege to invite you to their homes.

From Kingathang, you can walk via Yusa village back to your hotel.

Total distance 12 to 13 Km (6 to 7 hrs).

Overnight at Phobjikha

Day 6 Attend Black-Necked Crane Festival

black necked crane

The annual black-necked crane festival is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes; to strengthen the linkages between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community; provide an avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the black-necked cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage and skills.

The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by the school children.  The program usually starts by 9:30 am and lasts till late afternoon.

The festival is organized by the Phobjikha Environment Management Committee (PEMC), a local group composed of elected local leaders (with a strong female component), Government representatives, business community representatives, monks and Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) representative.  The festival has become a part of the local culture in Phobjikha valley ever since it was first initiated by the RSPN in 1998.

Overnight at Phobjikha

Day 7 Phobjikha –Trongsa - Bumthang

bhutanese food

After breakfast, drive towards Bumthang via Trongsa. On the way, you’ll visit Trongsa Dzong, the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture, and you’ll also visit Ta Dzong museum, there are many rare things in the museum such as the first kings Gho, a sliver stupa, the original raven crown the king wore, a zenith radio the third king used to keep up with the affairs outside world, a Gau (small prayer box) the king wore around his neck, scrolls written in gold, etc.

In the afternoon, you’ll drive to Bumthang. Along the way you will stop at a Yathra (textile weaving) factory, where the Yathra’s are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms.

After reaching Bumthang, later in the evening if time permits, visit the following nearby places:

Jakar Dzong:

Jambay Lhakhang: This monastery was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits at the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.

Kurje Lhakhang:Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.

Overnight in Bumthang

Day 8 Hike to Kunzang Drak (literal meaning Drak means “Cave”)

buddha

Kunzangdrak Goemba is two hours walk above Chel Tang Valley. It is one of the most important sites related to Pemalingpa the great treasure discoverer in Bhutan, who also constructed the Goemba in 1488. Most of his sacred relics are kept here including the gilded stone bearing his footprint.

It is a beautiful hike up hill in the midst of wide valley of Bumthang. The gust of fresh air and walk through the forest is gratifying.

Later in the afternoon visit Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery located above the main town, about 3 km from Chamkhar town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage dates back to the nearest disciples of the great 9th century master. Since then the monastery has developed considerably with increase in number of monks to almost four hundred.

The monastey has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture. The monks regular curriculum include reading, memorizing the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandalas, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments and the art of making sacrificial objects, grammer, poerty, karika along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.

Overnight in Bumthang 

Day 9 Day Excursion to Tang Valley

drangon handcraft

Tang Valley: Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Lingpa, the famous saint, was born in the Tang valley of Bumthang. The people of this valley raise sheep and at higher elevation, yaks as the soil in this region is not so rich for agricultural activities. From Bumthang central, it is a short drive past the Dechenpelrithang sheep farm to an unpaved road that leads to the north. Just under a kilometer ahead, there is a rough track on the left and another kilometer ahead, there is junction where vehicle can be parked. From parking, it is a short walk down to the river. The path is lined with prayer flags and ends up above a gorge where the river forms a pool before it rushes on. Images of Pema Lingpa and his two sons are carved on a rock here.

 

Membartsho (The Burning Lake) in Tang valley is a wide spot on the Tang Chhu (chhu – water / river) and is considered to be one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of Bhutan. Pema Linga found several of Guru Rinpoche’s hidden treasures here. The importance of this site is indicated by the extensive array of prayer flags and the small clay offerings called ‘Tse Tsa’ in rock niches.

 

Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang valley is another attraction. Restored in 19th century, it is now housing the Family Museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The visitors will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan’s history truly unfolds here.

 

Tang Rimochen Lhakhang in the valley is a sacred place of Guru Rimpoche. A rock in front of temple bears a body print of the Guru and two khandroms (female celestial being). The site is named after the tiger stripe markings on the cliff. Footprints of the Guru and his consorts Mandarava and Yeshe Chhogyal are found below the lhakhang. Two large boulders nearby are said to be male and female jachungs (garudas).

 

Overnight in Bumthang – Hotel Jakar Lodge

Day 10 Bumthang – Thimphu
prayer wheel
prayer wheel

 

After early breakfast drive from Bumthang to Thimphu. You can stopover on the way to take rest and take pictures at your convenience.

After reaching Thimphu if your energy permits you can leisurely visit The CENTENARY FARMER’S MARKET

Located below the main town, near the Wangchhu River, Thimphu’s weekend market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Located below the main town, near the Wangchhu River, Thimphu’s weekend market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. With its wide assortment of fresh, organic produce, the Farmer’s Market has become a favourite spot for tourists and a recreational place for people from all walks of life.

Nearby, across a cantilever footbridge, Kuendeyling Bazaam to the west bank is a collection of stalls selling clothing, textiles and handicrafts.

Overnight in Thimphu

Day 11 Day Excursion Thimphu OR Day Hike to Tango Buddhist College

buddhist tempal

After breakfast you have the options to visit the following places in Thimphu:

  • Radio tower to for the view of Thimphu valley

  • Folk Heritage Museum and Textile Museum

  • Weaving center in Changzamtok

  • Traditional paper factory

National Library:

Located in the cultural Centre of Thimphu, the capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, we are a major scriptural repository and research facility dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich literary, cultural and religious heritage of our country. The scripture and document collection held in our library and archives is a national treasure and a fundamental source for Bhutanese history, religion, medicine, arts and culture.

Institute of Traditional Arts and Crafts:

Commonly known as Arts & Crafts School or Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. On a visit, one can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.

                      Or

Day Hike to Tango Buddhist College

After breakfast you will drive 12km north of Thimphu to hike to Tango monastery. It will take about 45 minutes to hike to the monastery. Tango Monastery is a Buddhist college, and it’s the residence of the Desi Tenzin Rabgye, a young boy who is the reincarnation of the 16th-century monk who built Tango.

It is not a tedious hike. You will encounter with langur and get to see different birds. The hike is refreshing and it will be a good treat for your eyes to see some breathtaking views.

Later in the evening you can talk a causal walk around the clock tower and visit local book / souvenir shops.

Overnight in Thimphu

Day 12 Day Excursion to Haa

mountain

After breakfast drive to Haa Valley via Che-le-la pass (approximately 3,998 meters above sea level). Birds view of Mt. Jhomolhari where you have camped at the base. It will give you a sense of achievement and give you a nostalgic feeling of missing and being part of that great mountain!

 

On the way you will visit Kila Gonpa – Nunnery. Kila Gonpa has close to 100 nuns, seven little temples surrounded by wood made residential built for nuns. Some nuns go for long self-imposed isolation into meditation.  It has great views of Paro, and Jele Dzong across on the far ridge and also seen to the north are Mt Jhumolhari and Jichu Drake on a clear day. Haa has only recently opened to tourists and the town is still very small – as yet there are only one or two basic restaurants and local lodges, so the area remains quite remote. You will have a good opportunity to view this beautiful rural scene. From Haa you can drive to Katso village and from there you can visit Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo. After lunch drive back to Paro for the night.

 

Overnight at Paro

 

Day 13 Hike To Taktshang (Literal meaning - TIGERS NEST)

tiger nest

After breakfast drive to Taktsang base. Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley. It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.

Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of 3,120 meters. In order to arrive at the temple visitors must trek for around 2-3 hours through beautiful, shady pine forests. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.

Upon return from Taktsang, visit Paro Kichu Lhakhang: Kichu Lhakhang: This temple was built in 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. It holds down the left foot of an ogress whose body covers Bhutan and most of Eastern Tibet. This temple is one of the most spiritual places in Bhutan.

In the evening you can explore Paro town.

Overnight at Paro

Day 14 Depart Paro

 

All that starts well must end well. In the morning your guide will accompany you to the Paro International Airport to see you off onto your flight and wish you Tashi Delek (Goodbye and Good luck).

Price Includes

Price Excludes

FAQ related to visa

Your visa will be taken care by Bhutan Gateway Travel. You are requested to email us a clear valid passport with validity of six months or more prior to your visit to Bhutan.

Once approved, Bhutan Gateway Travel will email you the electronic visa (e-visa) approved by the Department of Immigration. You will print and hand carry a copy of the approved e-visa.

In case of emergency, based on the merit of the case, we will pursue with the relevant authority and get it extended. However, under normal circumstances, it is not possible to get the visa extended.

Three to five government working days.

FAQ related to SDF

The new SDF of US$100 per person per day will become effective from 1 September 2023.

The new SDF shall remain effective for four years until 31 August 2027.

Any guest who already paid the SDF for their upcoming visit to Bhutan is eligible for a refund of the excess SDF amounts paid.

When applying for a visa to enter Bhutan, you will need to pay the SDF. Visas can be applied for at the Department of Tourism’s website.

No, the incentives introduced in June 2023 have been revoked and are no longer applicable. However, the 24-hour SDF waiver for border towns in Bhutan remains valid.