DAYS 5 – 14: BHUTAN
Your first drive in your overland truck will take you from Siliguri to the Bhutanese border at Phuntsholing where you will meet up with your local Bhutanese guide before staying the night in a local hotel in Phuntsholing.
The following day your tour leaders and guide will finalise your Bhutanese visas and then you will start your journey into Bhutan with a drive from the warmer climes of Phuntsholing up to the capital of Thimphu, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. You will have time in the evening to take a stroll around Thimphu and start to take in the atmosphere and culture of this beautiful country and its gentle way of life. The next day you will have an included city tour of Thimpu from your local guides including the Changangkha Temple, Memorial Chorten and the Takin Preserve, and there will also be plenty of time for free exploration and visiting the Thimphu markets.
From Thimpu you will drive to the old capital Punakha, via the Dochu La Pass at 3050m, where you will stop for a hot drink and to enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Eastern Himalaya ranges. You will be able to notice the change of climate and vegetation as you approach the low-lying Punakha at 1250m altitude.
This afternoon you will visit the imposing Punakha Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness). Built in 1637 CE, it is strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, the Po Chu and the Mo Chu. After this, you will take a pleasant walk for an hour or so across the terraced fields to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) built in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drukpa Kuenley).
In Punakha you will stay in a local farmhouse, where you will experience a genuine slice of Bhutanese life and hospitality. The facilities here will be rather basic, but the accommodation is exactly how a typical Bhutanse family live, and the food is in no way adapted for tourists.
Your overland tour will then take you to Trongsa, the gateway to central Bhutan at 2180m. Set amidst spectacular scenery, Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, commands the eye from miles away. You can also visit Ta Dzong – the newly opened museum in the watchtower is dedicated to the Wangchuk dynasty, tells the stories of the Dzong and the valley, and features personal belongings of the kings and queens of Bhutan.
You will then continue through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful landscapes to Bumthang, an area of high valleys at 2580-3100m. In Bumthang you will again stay in a local farmhouse with basic facilities.
The following day will be spent sightseeing in Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, with its many legendary monasteries, temples and palaces. Bumthang is the collective name for an area of 4 valleys – Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume.
Your guide will take you on a fascinating walking and/or driving tour of a variety of sacred sites including Jamba Lhakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang and Tamshing Lhakhang. You can also visit Bhutan’s largest Dzong, Jakar, with its picturesque location overlooking the Chokhor valley.
Your next stop will be Gangtey, located at an altitude of 2,900m.
On arrival you can enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges.
You will visit Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries which has recently been extensively renovated) and explore the valley where the villagers continue to live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle. This is the site where black-necked cranes visit in their hundreds in November each year after spending the summer in Tibet.
The following day you will head out for a day walk in the valley known as the Shasila Trail. The trail is used by the people of Sha Ngawang and Chitokha to migrate between their summer and winter homes in Gangtey. It was also an important trail used by the Gangtey Truelku and his followers in the past while migrating between his winter residence in Sha Chitokha and Gangtey Gompa.
The walk takes approximately 6 hours for casual trekkers to reach Kheylaykha from Phobjikha. This trail is especially recommended for bird lovers. Your overland truck will meet you at the road and take you back to your campsite in Gangtey for the night.
After a morning trek up to the hill-top village of Rinchengang where you will learn about its fascinating history, you will continue your drive to Paro where you will have an included visit to the impressive Paro Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture.
The following day you will take a day walk to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, the sacred Taktsang monastery which clings to the rock face 900m above the valley floor. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress, and subsequently meditated here for 3 months. It is one of Bhutan’s most holy sites and draws pilgrims not only from Bhutan but also from neighbouring Buddhist countries. You can have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria, from where you get a spectacular view of the monastery.
In the afternoon you will visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong (Fortress of Victory), constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644 CE, and destroyed by a butter lamp fire in 1951. Nearby you will also visit the 7th-Century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan.