DAY 1: Welcome to Bhutan!
Bhutan’s first gift as you disembark from the aircraft will be the cool, clean, fresh mountain air.
After immigration formalities and baggage collection, you will be welcomed by our Learning Journeys Ambassador with a “tashi khaddar,” that is, a white scarf offering to the guest, which is quite the auspicious way to welcome a guest.
After the welcome ceremony, board your transport and drive to Thimphu, the capital town of Bhu-tan. The road leads through the Paro valley to the confluence of Paro and Thimphu rivers at Chu-zom (confluence).
Shortly before reaching Chuzom, you will see on your left Tamchog Lhakhang, the temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, a pioneering engineer who introduced the construction of suspension bridges to Bhutan and Tibet (several of which are still in use today).
The present bridge to Tamchog Lhakhang was restored in 2005 in a traditional style of design with iron chains. Crossing this iron bridge is a wonderful experience. (approx. 50 min, roundtrip walk).
On arrival in Thimphu check in at the hotel. As the capital of Bhutan, and the center of government, religion, and commerce, Thimphu is a unique city with an unusual mixture of modern de-velopment and ancient tradition and is perhaps the world’s only capital city without one single traffic light.
Later in the evening walk around the National Memorial Chorten, a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monu-ments.
This is the most ideal spot to interact with locals who gather in great number to circumambulate the chorten, whirl large red prayer wheels and pray at a small shrine inside the gate. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide deep insight of Buddhist philosophy.
This evening, there will be a presentation and interaction by a local expert on Gross National Happiness!
Gross National Happiness, or GNH, is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which balances material and non-material values with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness.
The objective of GNH is to achieve a balanced development in all the facets of life that are essential for one’s happiness.
Later, there will be an exploratory walk around Thimphu main street and market area.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. Hotel Druk, Norkhil Boutique Hotel & Spa or similar (Alti-tude 2,320 m.)
Learning Experience: Presentation & interaction by a local expert on Gross National Happiness.
DAY 2: Thimphu
The statue fulfils an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Religious Treasure Discoverer Terton Pema Lingpa, and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
This massive statue of Shakyamuni, made of bronze and gilded in gold, measures 51.5 meters in height, making it one of the largest statues in Bhutan. There are 125,000 smaller Buddha statues, each also cast in bronze and gilded, which have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue.
Afterwards drive to Choki Traditional Art School, for a visit and learning session on Thangka Paintings.
This school was founded in 1999 by Thrimdep Choki Dorji, a veteran artist, and commemorate the silver jubilee coronation celebration of His Majesty the Fourth King. While visiting, one may see young students learning traditional arts such as thangka paintings, wood carving, weaving, embroidery, and clay art.
The school is also recognized as a formal private training institute by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, Royal Government of Bhutan, and has won several accolades for the promotion of traditional arts and crafts in the country.
After lunch, you will drive to Pangri Zampa, founded in the 16th century and one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan located just north of Thimphu. This monastic school is where Buddhist student monks learn Lamaism and astrology based on Buddhist philosophy. An interaction and astrological prediction with monks will be a most gratifying experience here.
The day’s sightseeing will conclude with a visit to Trashichhoedzong, ‘fortress of the Glorious Religion.’ This is the center of government and religion, site of the monarch’s throne room, and seat of Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed during the 1960s without nails or architec-tural plans, in the traditional Bhutanese manner.
Before returning to the hotel, take a leisurely walk to the Authentic Bhutanese Craft Bazar. Es-tablished under the patronage of the Department of Cottage and Small Industry and in collabora-tion with the Department of Culture, Tourism Council and the Department of Agriculture Mar-keting and Cooperatives, this market offers genuine Bhutanese arts and crafts, thus contributing to promotion, protection, and preservation of traditional arts.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2320m)
Learning Experience: Choki Traditional Art School-learning session on Thangkha Paint-ings
DAY 3: Thimphu
This monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century and the present building was constructed in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman,’ Lama Drukpa Kunley.
In 1616, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tango and meditated in a cave near the monastery. His meditation is said to have helped ensure the defeat of an invading Tibetan army. Situated north of Thimphu, through shaded rhododendron forests to reach the monastery (approximately a 2-hour round-trip walk).
After lunch, it’s time to visit to the National Textile Museum.
With the opening of the Textile Museum, under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Sangay Choden, Bhutanese textiles have reached new heights as one of the most visible distinct art forms.
The textile museum has opened its exhibition on six major themes: warp pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textiles from indigenous fibers, and the royal collection.
The crowns of Bhutan's Kings, namzas (dresses), the first version of Royal Crown and other ac-cessories used by members of Royal family can be found in the museum. The goal of the museum is to gradually become a center for textile studies that will carry out documentation, research, and studies on Bhutanese textiles.
Afterwards, explore a wide assortment of products and picturesque setting of the Centenary Famers Market. The market is a favorite gathering spot for farmers who come from different parts of the country to sell their farm products.
This evening, you will experience a local Dress Wearing session at the hotel, followed by dinner. The national dress of Bhutan is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of Dragon King-dom’s unique character.
Men wear Gho, a long robe similar to Tibetan Chhuba, that is raised to the knee, folded backwards and then tied around the waist by a Kera (belt). Women typically wear an ankle-length robe, called a Kira. The Bhutanese textile is made from fine, hand-woven or milled fabric with colorful distinc-tive patterns.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2320 m)
Learning Experience: National Textile Museum-National Dress Ceremony
DAY 4: Punakha-Prayer Flag Hoisting
If the skies are clear, a multitude of peaks may be seen from this pass. Left to right, they are: Masa-gang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana, and finally, Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,570m.
At Dochula Pass, 108 chortens or stupas known as Druk Wangyal Chortens, have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. These chortens are built in three layers. The lowest level layer has 45 chortens, the second has 36 and the top layer has 27, built around the main chorten.
Prayer flag hoisting at Dochula pass:
Prayer flags are an integral part of Bhutanese landscape and also the cultural and religious herit-age of the country, especially the textile and weaving craft.
These are ubiquitous in Bhutan, located in and around monasteries, chortens or stupas, dzongs, lhakhangs, homes, on the railing of bridges and mountain roads, and invariably on or near the summit of the mighty peaks that preside over the country.
Red, blue, green, yellow, and white, they add a splash of rainbow colors to the rugged land-scape. Deeply religious, the people of Bhutan believe that with each flutter, a flag releases the prayer printed on it into the air which in turn carries it to the heavens.
The more the flag flaps, the greater its divine value. It is for this reason that prayer flags are positioned that catch the wind – high up on the forested slopes of mountains, across bridges, near rivers and streams that tumble down the valleys, and anywhere there is wind or a tunnel effect.
Later, you will drive onward to Punakha. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955. It is still the winter seat of Je Khenpo, the chief abbot.
Blessed with temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the fertile Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. Located at an elevation of 1300m above sea level, Punakha enjoys mild winters and is popular year-round destination.
After lunch, visit Punakha Dzong, the Palace of Great Happiness; built at the junction of the Phochu and Mochu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
This majestic dzong served as both the religious and the administrative center of Bhutan in the past. Measuring 600 by 240 feet with a gold-dome tower, its interior boasts courtyards and reli-gious statuary that hint at the depth of history and spiritual tradition embodied here
Your guide will illuminate your understanding of this intricate culture that may be exotic to us, but long established here.
Then, it’s a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang.
The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the center of the valley, is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples desirous of children are usually blessed with a child soon after praying at this temple.
The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field.’ A walk through the village near the temple provides a rare glimpse into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha. Dhensa Boutique Resort or similar. (Altitude 1,300m)
DAY 5: Punakha
The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. (Approximately a 2-hour round-trip walk).
Following lunch, visit Rinchengang Village. The picturesque village is revealed after a 20-minute walk up a gentle gradient that mesmerizes, featuring traditional mud houses located on the opposite hill facing Wangdue Dzong.
The village houses are built close to one other with whitewashed walls and wooden window frames. Enjoy the wonderful experience of taking a stroll in the village, meeting and interacting with villagers in this locale known for its skill in the traditional method of stone masonry.
Later in the afternoon, you will get to cook like a local during a cooking session on Bhutanese cuisine. This is a special cooking session held at local restaurant where chef will instruct and demonstrate to you how local Bhutanese delicacies are prepared.You can also try your culinary skills.
Bhutanese food is heavily seasoned with red chilies and can be quite spicey. Tasty and fiery ‘Emma Datshi’ made with chilies and local Bhutanese cheese is the national dish of Bhutan. Guests can have fun participating in the preparation of local Bhutanese delicacies.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha. (Altitude 1,300m)
Learning Experience: Cooking session on Bhutanese cuisine!
DAY 6: Punakha - Paro
On arrival in Paro, you will first check into the hotel. The beautiful valley of Paro encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty, and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the National Museum and the country’s only international airport.
Mount Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley. Its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fer-tile valleys in the Kingdom, producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its terraced fields.
After lunch, there will be a visit to Ta Dzong, originally built as Watchtower, which now houses National Museum. An extensive collection includes antique thangka paintings, textiles, weapons and armor, household objects, and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Afterwards, attend an archery session. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and every village has its own archery range.
Using bamboo bows (although modern compound bows are now common in cities) a team of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimeters in diameter from a distance of 120 meters. Archery competitions are among the most picturesque and colorful events in the country and are an inte-gral part of all festivities.
This evening, you can take a stroll around picturesque Paro city center.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. Haven Resort, Tenzinling Luxury Tent Villa or similar (Altitude 2,280m).
Learning Experience: Archery Session
DAY 7: Paro-Tigers Nest
One of Bhutan’s most famed monasteries is perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery, hence its name.
This site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646. It is now visited by all Bhutanese at least once during their lifetime.
In the afternoon, you will have time to enjoy the hotel facilities including the spa.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2,280m)
DAY 8: Paro Neyphug Monastery
The drive along the rough road also holds the Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo School, nestled among the forest, which is a refuge for unprivileged children. The school is led by Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, who founded of the school.
In 2005, he returned to Bhutan as a Professor of Buddhism and saw much suffering among the poor. He was witness to the rugged daily life and those living in remote areas with little means of support, surviving under extreme poverty and threats of chronic illness.
Rinpoche came across orphans and abandoned children. Their desolate conditions, helplessness, and hopelessness touched him deeply and inspired him to start the school.
This rarely visited monastery is about 7 kilometers deep into the mountains over Paro Valley. The monastery is a beautiful, peaceful place, but is in very poor conditions and in need of restoration.
There will be a prayer ceremony at the monastery and lighting of 108 butter lamps. Also, a game of Khuru with orphans and residing monks can be a heart warming experience.
Khuru is a traditional game played in Bhutan. Similar to darts, ‘Khurus’ are carved out of hard-wood and there is no restriction on the weight or the size to be played.
This afternoon, visit a traditional farmhouse and have tea or coffee with a local family. The beauty of Paro valley is embellished by a cluster of quaint farmhouses. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colorful, decorative, and traditionally built without the use of a single nail. All houses follow the same architectural pattern. A visit to farmhouse offers a rewarding glimpse into the lifestyle of village folks.
Evening at leisure / independent activities.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2,280m)
Prayer ceremony at the monastery and lighting of 108 butter lamps.
Learn the game of Khuru with residing monks.
DAY 9: See You Again!
We look forward to welcoming you back on another Learning Journeys immersion. Perhaps you’re interested in visiting India to experience the diverse spiritual essence of the land.
Study the art of the Singing Bowl and immerse in the Buddhist lifestyle in Nepal. Enjoy a cultural immersion in Sri Lanka. Whatever your interest, Learning Journeys can assist you with finding the perfect program to fulfil your dreams.