Paro Tsechu is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan. Featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes, Tsechus (festivals) are one of the best ways to experience the ancient living culture of Bhutan. A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. A highlight of the Paro Tsechu is the unfurling of the silk Thangka – so large it covers the face of an entire building and is considered one of the most sacred blessings in the whole of Bhutan. The ‘Thangka, known in Bhutan as a ‘thongdroel’ is a religious picture scroll and is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival enabling the people to obtain its blessing. This holy scroll “confers liberation by the mere sight of it” (the meaning of the word ‘thongdroel’ in Bhutanese). This tour also takes advantage of the beautiful springtime growth with stunning hikes through the countryside to a Rhododendron forest in Phobjikha, as well as a visit to the Lamperi a Rhododendron Festival near Dochu La Pass. The sacred sites of Paro, Thimphu and Punakha are also featured.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport exit doors following customs formalities
After lunch, enjoy afternoon sightseeing around Paro, including a visit to the Ta Dzong Museum housing many religious relics, works of art and handicrafts offering a great orientation into Bhutan’s historical, cultural, and religious past. Next, drive to, 7th Century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Kyichu is built in a manner similar to the Jokhang in Lhasa. Inside there is a great golden image of Buddha Shakyamuni.
Before dinner at the hotel, there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 02: PARO
After breakfast hike to Taktsang Monastery. The walk of approximately 1.5 to 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro valley floor (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to the cafeteria). The view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the valley floor is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. Nearby there is a teahouse where you can stop for refreshments before returning to Paro for lunch.
In the afternoon, attend the Paro festival. You will see locals dressed in their finest clothes who have walked from miles around to attend the festivities. They come to watch masked dances, to pray, and to feast. While the underlying purpose of the festival is spiritual, dances are more often like plays, telling stories where good triumphs over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socialising as well. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 03: PARO – THIMPHU
Wake up very early at 2.30am and drive to Paro Dzong to witness the thongdroel ceremony where a large religious painting of Guru Rinpoche made of cloth is unfurled on the side of the Dzong. This event signifies the final day of the annual festival. After some time spent resting back at the hotel, Drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. You can stop on the way to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Bhutan’s iron bridge builder. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 04: THIMPHU
Begin your day with a short drive to Kuenselphodrang, a popular vantage point, with the biggest Buddha statues in the world. This site offers a panoramic view of the capital below and also has several walking trails, which ranges from leisurely to moderate. Then visit the National Memorial Chorten, built in the memory of the Third King and for world peace. Continue on to the picturesque 12th century Changangkha Temple and Nunnery at Zilukha.
Afterwards, visit the weekend vegetable 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. Visit the Folk Heritage Museum featuring an exhibition of items and artefacts of Bhutanese villages and rural households. After visiting the museum we will walk to School for Arts & Crafts; which is located close to the museum. This is one of the interesting schools where young boys & girls learn 13 different skills of arts & crafts in Bhutan. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 05: THIMPHU – PHOBJIKHA
Drive from Thimphu to Phobjikha (5-6 hrs) over the Dochu-La pass (3,100m), which is marked by 108 little Chortens and prayer flags. On clear weather, we can enjoy the view of almost all snow-covered mountains including highest mountain Gangkar Puensum (7740m). We will take a short walk to stretch legs to Chime Lhakhang temple. After lunch at Chimilhakhang café, continue our drive crossing over Puntsangchu River at Wangdiphodrang via old town. In Phobjikha we will visit Gangtey monastery before we check into our hotel. Overnight at your hotel in Gangtey/Phobjikha.
DAY 06: PHOBJIKHA – PUNAKHA (Shasila hike from Phobjikha to Kheleykha)
The three to four-hour Shasi La hike shortens your driving time towards Wangdue by about one hour. The trail is the migration trail for the Gangteps to the lower valleys in the fall. This beautiful hike starts from Gangtey monastery and continues through Tokha village and slowly upwards through Rhododendron forest. It continues across open meadow and bush bamboo towards the Shasi La Chorten (100 vertical meters/330 feet from the lodge).
From here, the trail continues downwards through stunning old-growth Rhododendron forest all the way to Phama Hotel in Khelikha on the main Wangdue Phodrang road. From here, it takes one hour to drive back to Gangtey. Alternatively, you can follow the Shasi La Trail from the lodge up to the Shasi La Chorten and turn around and walk the same way back to Phobjikha Valley.
Time: Gangtey – Phama Hotel, Khelikha: 3 – 4 hours. Please note that the descent from the Shasi La Chorten to Khelikha is very steep and can be hard on the knees. Overnight at hotel in Punakha/Wangduephodrang.
DAY 07: PUNAKHA
Chorten Nebu Temple Trek: 6 miles, moderate with an elevation gain of 1,200 ft
The walk this morning begins on a quiet country road, before climbing steeply over a rough trail as you make your way through terraced fields of rice to the local Chorten Nebu Temple. After lunch, you continue descending through small villages. Although steep in places, the trail from Chorten Nebu towards the valley floor is wide and well defined, as local people visiting the temple, as well as children walking to and from school frequently use it.
Time permitting, we can visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Zhabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers) and is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three-storied main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned.
Overnight at hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 08: PUNAKHA – PARO
After leaving Punakha, en-route to Paro you enjoy a walk through a forest with temperate vegetation. Arriving at the royal botanical garden, which is 8,800 feet above sea level, you will enjoy the Rhododendron festival performed by local people in and around Hongtso and Thinleygang village. A short walk around the small lake, where you may spot a red panda, one of the rare animals in the Himalayas.
After enjoying a visit through the gardens we continue our drive to Paro. After settling into comfortable accommodations, there is time to relax before a dinner of local specialities in the hotel restaurant.
Overnight at hotel in Paro
DAY 09: DEPART PARO
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.