Essence of Bhutan

Essence of Bhutan

Bhutan’s snow-capped mountains, verdant valleys, dense jungles and crystal-clear rivers seem perfectly suited to its calming ancient Buddhist culture.

On this tour the highlight will be attending the Punakha Drupchen, a unique festival that defines the heritage of Bhutan. We’ll visit the major historical and religious sites in Paro, Thimphu and Punakha; watch the dawn break over the High Himalayas; hike to the top, or perhaps ride a mule to the iconic Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) monastery; visit the Buddha point to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Thimphu valley and walk in the valley of the Black-neck Cranes.

Let the wonders of Bhutan captivate you on this exciting 9 day cultural tour.

9 DAYS
FROM £2185
Group Tour
Themes:
Activity Levels
Moderate
WHAT'S INCLUDED
  • Activities and excursions as specified
  • Entrance fees/tickets for the above
  • In-destination transfers & transport
  • Accommodation & Meals as specified
  • English speaking guides
  • 24/7 support while you travel

Explore this itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Paro

On your fight into Bhutan you will have breath-taking views of the High Himalayan peaks. At Paro airport you will be greeted by our representative.

We begin with a visit to Paro Ta Dzong, the 17th century monastery. Its 7 storey watchtower houses the Bhutanese National Museum Paro Dzong. The central tower incredible wood carvings.

After a late lunch in Paro, we continue driving east to Thimphu (2 hrs) on well maintained roads, through the beautiful Paro valley. Check in to your Thimpu hotel.

Lunch, Dinner
Day 2: Thimpu

An early morning drive to Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, with its huge bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma and magnificent panoramic views of the valley. Back in Thimphu, visit the Memorial Chorten built in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan’s third King. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

The Zorig Chusum, is the school of 13 arts. Here, we will hand block silken material and watch students practise their arts. Based on time and your preferences, you may also visit the Textile museum, Folk Heritage museum, paper and incense workshops, the Post Office for traditional and unique Bhutanese stamps, the National Library and Institute of Traditional Medicine.

Before returning to the hotel, we’ll visit a private house to see the intricacy of Bhutanese silk on silk weaving, followed by a final stop at the national archery ground where we hope to see the Bhutanese practicing.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3: Thimphu - Punakha over Dochu La

An early morning drive (3hrs) east to the milder and warmer climate of Punakha climbs through apple orchards and forests of blue pine before entering pristine mixed forests. The pass at Dochu La (3,116m), is an awe-inspiring sight; with prayer flags strewn across its width. Sip warm tea until dawn breaks over the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Proceed down to the green terraced fields, famous for growing red rice around Punakha. A gentle walk to the temple of Chemmi Lhakhang; perhaps in time to hear the monks at prayer in this tranquil rural landscape. In the afternoon walk around Punakha Dzong (1637). This pristine environment is also a nature-lovers paradise where we may catch sight of the rare and endangered White-bellied Heron.

Punakha Dzong is considered to be one of the most beautiful Dzongs in Bhutan. Inside the dzong is the Kuenrey, a beautiful temple housing the ‘hundred-pillar’ assembly hall with exceptional murals, enormous 18th century golden statues, and most surprising of all is the high ceiling, exquisitely painted with hundreds of dragons. We have chosen the afternoon when the light is perfect to bring the richness of the paintings and a quieter time to enjoy the ambience of this remarkable dzong.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4: Punakha Drupchen

Today we visit Punakha Dzong for a commemorative battle re-enactment. The 17th century was a turbulent time and many battles were fought between the Bhutanese and Tibetan armies. On many occasions the Tibetan forces invaded trying to seize a very precious relic, the Rangjung Kharsapani. However, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel devised a plan and duped the Tibetans, allowing the Bhutanese soldiers to be victorious.

The Punakha Drupchen is the commemorative re-enactment of the battle. In this elaborate ceremony, villagers dress in red and black representing the local military men (pazaps) and their commanders (magpoens), enact the events that took place. The ceremony ends with the unfurling of the Punakha Thongdrol (thangka). This master piece is 83ft x 93ft in size and required over 50 artist two years to create the image on almost 6,000m of brocade. Watching the spectacular enactment helps the visitor understand how religion, culture and heritage are interwoven in everyday Bhutanese life.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5: Punakha to Phobjikha

We travel east though through beautiful oak and rhododendron forests, to Phobjikha valley (3.5hrs) on the western slopes of the Back Mountain National Park.

Phobjikha is the biggest wetland in the country where approximately 270 globally endangered, black-necked Cranes arrive each winter to feed in the farmlands. Walking in the valley will give you an insight into rural life and, as the endangered Black-necked Cranes fly overhead it is truly a spectacular event.

Locals consider these magnificent birds an auspicious sign and eagerly await their arrival in late October from their breeding grounds on the Qinghai – Tibetan Plateau in China.

After check-in at our hotel, we’ll visit the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre, which has informative displays about the cranes and the valley environment. Here there are powerful spotting scopes for you to use. As time permits we will walk in the valley to have a closer look at the cranes before they return to their roosting nests.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6: Phobjikha-Punakha

Following breakfast we will follow one of the trails through the wetlands where the black-necked Cranes forage.

Then proceed to Gangtey Goempa, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan. It has recently been renovated using traditional skills enabling Gangtey to become the centre for wood-working skills, with many little shops now centred on sales of this intricate craft. The monastery is an inspiring building with many intricate paintings and carvings. We will spend time exploring the beautiful Goemba and the town before continuing through the pristine forests up to Lawa La at 3,360m, where we might see yak grazing on clumps of dwarf bamboo – their favourite food.

Gangtey to Punakha is a dramatic journey as from 3,360m at Lawa La the road twist and turns through mountains dense with oak and rhododendron forests, a pristine landscape that is home to yak, barking deer and red pandas, down through the little hamlet of Nobding to Punakha and our hotel for the night.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 7: Punakha-Paro

Situated at the confluence of the Punatsang Chhu and Dang Chhu, Wangdue is an ideal spot for walking, birding and photography, so we will spend a little time exploring here. Then we drive out of Wangdue through more pristine landscapes up to Dochu La.

Following lunch, visit the impressive ruins of Drugyel Dzong, commemorating a victory over a Tibetan invasion in 1644. This picturesque ruin stands on a hillside above the lovely village of Drugyel with imposing views of Jhomolhari (7,219m). It is a photographer’s dream where we can spend a little time.

Proceed one of the oldest and most important religious sites: Kyichu Lhakhang. The temple has many relics which date from the 7th century, the oldest of which is the statue of Lord Buddha Sakyamuni.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8: Tiger's Nest & Paro

Today, we visit the Taktsang Monastery, Tiger’s Nest! This is probably the most iconic Bhutanese image. We will walk up the steep uphill walk through the shade of dappled woodlands for approximately 1½-2hrs to reach the cafeteria and have refreshments before continuing to the top. Should you not wish to continue to the top, you will be able to wait in this area. There are mules available if you wish to ride to the top, but you’ll have to walk down on foot.

A further half hour’s ascent above the tea house brings you to another viewpoint directly across from the monastery. The final section of the walk takes you from this viewpoint steeply down 100m/330ft into the gorge that separates you from the monastery and then climbs back up to reach the gate – Taktsang was designed to be isolated!

The monastery has four main temples and several buildings to house monks. Painted white with golden roofs, with interconnected steps carved into the rock and balconies with breath-taking views. The temples are extremely impressive with gold-plated domes, flickering light that dances off the golden images of Buddha, the paintings and sculptures of the Bhutanese saints. Perhaps the most impressive of all is the Hall of One Thousand Buddhas, carved into the rock with a large statue of a tiger, the respected symbol of Taktsang and the legend of that this location was chosen by the tigress that brought the Padma Sambhava to the country.

Returning to the tea-house, we will stop for lunch and enjoy the magnificent view of Taktsang before continuing down through the wooded hillside to our waiting vehicles and drive into Paro town where you will have some free time to wander around quaint shops that sell everything from groceries to textiles.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 9: Departure
Today we will say goodbye hoping you have had a wonderful stay in this magical kingdom and that one day you will visit Bhutan again.
Breakfast
Day 1: Arrival in Paro

On your fight into Bhutan you will have breath-taking views of the High Himalayan peaks. At Paro airport you will be greeted by our representative.

We begin with a visit to Paro Ta Dzong, the 17th century monastery. Its 7 storey watchtower houses the Bhutanese National Museum Paro Dzong. The central tower incredible wood carvings.

After a late lunch in Paro, we continue driving east to Thimphu (2 hrs) on well maintained roads, through the beautiful Paro valley. Check in to your Thimpu hotel.

Lunch, Dinner
Day 2: Thimpu

An early morning drive to Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, with its huge bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma and magnificent panoramic views of the valley. Back in Thimphu, visit the Memorial Chorten built in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan’s third King. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

The Zorig Chusum, is the school of 13 arts. Here, we will hand block silken material and watch students practise their arts. Based on time and your preferences, you may also visit the Textile museum, Folk Heritage museum, paper and incense workshops, the Post Office for traditional and unique Bhutanese stamps, the National Library and Institute of Traditional Medicine.

Before returning to the hotel, we’ll visit a private house to see the intricacy of Bhutanese silk on silk weaving, followed by a final stop at the national archery ground where we hope to see the Bhutanese practicing.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3: Thimphu - Punakha over Dochu La

An early morning drive (3hrs) east to the milder and warmer climate of Punakha climbs through apple orchards and forests of blue pine before entering pristine mixed forests. The pass at Dochu La (3,116m), is an awe-inspiring sight; with prayer flags strewn across its width. Sip warm tea until dawn breaks over the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Proceed down to the green terraced fields, famous for growing red rice around Punakha. A gentle walk to the temple of Chemmi Lhakhang; perhaps in time to hear the monks at prayer in this tranquil rural landscape. In the afternoon walk around Punakha Dzong (1637). This pristine environment is also a nature-lovers paradise where we may catch sight of the rare and endangered White-bellied Heron.

Punakha Dzong is considered to be one of the most beautiful Dzongs in Bhutan. Inside the dzong is the Kuenrey, a beautiful temple housing the ‘hundred-pillar’ assembly hall with exceptional murals, enormous 18th century golden statues, and most surprising of all is the high ceiling, exquisitely painted with hundreds of dragons. We have chosen the afternoon when the light is perfect to bring the richness of the paintings and a quieter time to enjoy the ambience of this remarkable dzong.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4: Punakha Drupchen

Today we visit Punakha Dzong for a commemorative battle re-enactment. The 17th century was a turbulent time and many battles were fought between the Bhutanese and Tibetan armies. On many occasions the Tibetan forces invaded trying to seize a very precious relic, the Rangjung Kharsapani. However, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel devised a plan and duped the Tibetans, allowing the Bhutanese soldiers to be victorious.

The Punakha Drupchen is the commemorative re-enactment of the battle. In this elaborate ceremony, villagers dress in red and black representing the local military men (pazaps) and their commanders (magpoens), enact the events that took place. The ceremony ends with the unfurling of the Punakha Thongdrol (thangka). This master piece is 83ft x 93ft in size and required over 50 artist two years to create the image on almost 6,000m of brocade. Watching the spectacular enactment helps the visitor understand how religion, culture and heritage are interwoven in everyday Bhutanese life.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5: Punakha to Phobjikha

We travel east though through beautiful oak and rhododendron forests, to Phobjikha valley (3.5hrs) on the western slopes of the Back Mountain National Park.

Phobjikha is the biggest wetland in the country where approximately 270 globally endangered, black-necked Cranes arrive each winter to feed in the farmlands. Walking in the valley will give you an insight into rural life and, as the endangered Black-necked Cranes fly overhead it is truly a spectacular event.

Locals consider these magnificent birds an auspicious sign and eagerly await their arrival in late October from their breeding grounds on the Qinghai – Tibetan Plateau in China.

After check-in at our hotel, we’ll visit the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre, which has informative displays about the cranes and the valley environment. Here there are powerful spotting scopes for you to use. As time permits we will walk in the valley to have a closer look at the cranes before they return to their roosting nests.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6: Phobjikha-Punakha

Following breakfast we will follow one of the trails through the wetlands where the black-necked Cranes forage.

Then proceed to Gangtey Goempa, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan. It has recently been renovated using traditional skills enabling Gangtey to become the centre for wood-working skills, with many little shops now centred on sales of this intricate craft. The monastery is an inspiring building with many intricate paintings and carvings. We will spend time exploring the beautiful Goemba and the town before continuing through the pristine forests up to Lawa La at 3,360m, where we might see yak grazing on clumps of dwarf bamboo – their favourite food.

Gangtey to Punakha is a dramatic journey as from 3,360m at Lawa La the road twist and turns through mountains dense with oak and rhododendron forests, a pristine landscape that is home to yak, barking deer and red pandas, down through the little hamlet of Nobding to Punakha and our hotel for the night.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 7: Punakha-Paro

Situated at the confluence of the Punatsang Chhu and Dang Chhu, Wangdue is an ideal spot for walking, birding and photography, so we will spend a little time exploring here. Then we drive out of Wangdue through more pristine landscapes up to Dochu La.

Following lunch, visit the impressive ruins of Drugyel Dzong, commemorating a victory over a Tibetan invasion in 1644. This picturesque ruin stands on a hillside above the lovely village of Drugyel with imposing views of Jhomolhari (7,219m). It is a photographer’s dream where we can spend a little time.

Proceed one of the oldest and most important religious sites: Kyichu Lhakhang. The temple has many relics which date from the 7th century, the oldest of which is the statue of Lord Buddha Sakyamuni.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8: Tiger's Nest & Paro

Today, we visit the Taktsang Monastery, Tiger’s Nest! This is probably the most iconic Bhutanese image. We will walk up the steep uphill walk through the shade of dappled woodlands for approximately 1½-2hrs to reach the cafeteria and have refreshments before continuing to the top. Should you not wish to continue to the top, you will be able to wait in this area. There are mules available if you wish to ride to the top, but you’ll have to walk down on foot.

A further half hour’s ascent above the tea house brings you to another viewpoint directly across from the monastery. The final section of the walk takes you from this viewpoint steeply down 100m/330ft into the gorge that separates you from the monastery and then climbs back up to reach the gate – Taktsang was designed to be isolated!

The monastery has four main temples and several buildings to house monks. Painted white with golden roofs, with interconnected steps carved into the rock and balconies with breath-taking views. The temples are extremely impressive with gold-plated domes, flickering light that dances off the golden images of Buddha, the paintings and sculptures of the Bhutanese saints. Perhaps the most impressive of all is the Hall of One Thousand Buddhas, carved into the rock with a large statue of a tiger, the respected symbol of Taktsang and the legend of that this location was chosen by the tigress that brought the Padma Sambhava to the country.

Returning to the tea-house, we will stop for lunch and enjoy the magnificent view of Taktsang before continuing down through the wooded hillside to our waiting vehicles and drive into Paro town where you will have some free time to wander around quaint shops that sell everything from groceries to textiles.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 9: Departure
Today we will say goodbye hoping you have had a wonderful stay in this magical kingdom and that one day you will visit Bhutan again.
Breakfast

Departure Dates & Prices

The prices below are based on two sharing and exclude international flights. A deposit is required to reserve a place.

For further information about this or any of our other tours, please contact us.

12-Feb-2025
£2696
Group Size: 8 Max
Available

Dates don't work? Want to make changes? Don't fancy joining a group?
All our group tours can be tailored as private itineraries.

INCLUSIONS & EXCLUSIONS

Price Includes

  • Visa, SDF and all other government taxes
  • Experienced, English speaking Tour Guide
  • All activities as mentioned in the itinerary
  • All accommodation (3* standard hotels approved by Tourism Council)
  • All meals
  • Tea/coffee and snacks
  • Bottled water throughout the trip
  • Ground transportation
  • All necessary camping equipment’s if tour involves camping
  • All entrance fees for national parks
  • Religious Monument Entry Fee

Price Excludes

  • Travel insurance (Mandatory)
  • Laundry, phone calls and alcoholic drinks
  • Any other personal expenses
  • Charges incurred as a result of circumstances beyond our control
  • Flights
  • Gratuity/Tips

Our prices do not include international flights unless explicitly stated.

The price shown is per person, based on two people travelling and sharing a room, outside peak periods. Prices may vary depending on the time of travel, and single supplements may apply.