Bhutan: the Last Himalayan Kingdom
Bhutan has sweeping mountains, towering fortress-monasteries and a rich Buddhist culture expressed in its multitude of festivals. The reclusive kingdom has started to open its doors to the world while maintaining its vibrant traditions.
With breathtaking architecture, dramatic landscape and a thriving artistic culture, the land of the Thunderdragon is like no other. Myth and legend intertwine in a place where monks dance and tigers are said to fly, where rice is red and men don traditional robes with argyle socks.
Autumn is an ideal time to visit Bhutan when the monsoon is over, the fields are green, the weather is mild and several colourful monastery festivals take place.
Limited numbers: This tour is a small group tour and is limited to 14 passengers
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia for Bangkok on Thai Airways (ex- SYD, MEL, BNE, PER). Arrive in Bangkok late afternoon and transfer to the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel.
Return to Bangkok airport for midday flight (12:00) direct to Paro with Druk Air.
Upon arrival, travel to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu (55km, approx. 2 hours), an exciting blend of tradition and modernity.
Tonight enjoy a welcome dinner and cultural performance with Joyce Morgan and your fellow travellers.
(B, L-in flight, D)
After an introductory talk by Joyce, drive to the Big Buddha, known as Buddha Dordenma. The enormous – 52 metre – statue is on top of a hill which affords a good view over the Thimpu Valley.
Visit the National Memorial Chorten, where many Thimpu residents come each day to pay respects. Then continue to the National Textile Museum which showcases Bhutan’s achievements in fabric arts.
Enjoy some free time after lunch to explore Thimphu before visiting Tashichho Dzong, an impressive fortress monastery that now houses the secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty the King, as well as various government offices. We will arrive there in time to watch the flag ceremony and the March of the Guards.
In the morning, visit the Institute for Zorig Chusum. Commonly known as the Painting School, the institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.
Continue to the National Library, which holds a vast collection of Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years.
After lunch, visit the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, to see how the paper traditionally used for scriptures, lampshades and other handicrafts etc is created. Continue to the Nado Poizokhang Incense Factory, Bhutan’s finest incense is produced here from juniper and other natural ingredients. Finish the day with a visit to the Folk Heritage Museum, a restored mid-19th century traditional farmhouse.
An early departure this morning for a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La located at 3,140 metres and marked by colourful prayer flags known as Lung Dhar. Along the way visit the Druk Wangyal Chortens (Buddhist Shrine), where we will witness a sacred flag hoisting (Lung Dhar).
The Lung Dhar, meaning ‘Wind Horse’, consists of coloured square cloths strung together. The colours represent the five elements – yellow (earth), green (wood), white (iron), blue (water) and red (fire) – while the prayers and mantras are written on the cloth. The Lung Dhars are usually hung outdoors in higher places where the winds are stronger. The wind is considered an expression of the mind and mental energy so when the wind moves the prayer flags, it activates the blessings.
Continue through dramatic landscapes of terraced farmland and cross the Black Mountain Range that divides western from central Bhutan. Ascend the Pele La pass (3,420m), which is also marked by prayer flags. Crossing Pele La pass, the road then descends through hillsides of dwarf bamboos, lush pasturelands and evergreen forests to the small village of Kgebji. Continue down the valley to the village of Rukubji, and the large Chendebji Chorten. This chorten was built in the 19th century in the style of the great Boudhanath Chorten of Nepal.
Arrive in Trongsa in the late afternoon. (Total distance of day’s journey: 200km, about 6-7 hours’ drive)
Begin with a visit to Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s monarch, where you will often find novice monks reciting mantras or practising on sacred red horns, flutes or drums.
Visit the Ta Dzong, a watchtower built to defend Trongsa Dzong and now housing the splendid Tower of Trongsa Museum.
After lunch in a local restaurant, drive to Bumthang (70km, 3 hours), the nation’s religious heartland. Travel over the picturesque Yotong La pass and down into the Chhume Valley, home of Bhutan’s famous Yatra weaving and traditional textiles. There may be an opportunity to see the weavers create their intricate handiwork.
Following a talk by Joyce, visit Tamshing Monastery, recently submitted for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Heading up the valley, take in the grand Kurjey Lhakhang, built in 1652 by Mingyur Tempa and considered one of Bhutan’s most auspicious monuments.
Enjoy some free time in the afternoon to explore Bumthang.
Today explore the Bumthang district with a drive to the stunningly beautiful Tang Valley. This seldom-visited valley has some off-the-beaten-track lhakhangs (temples) and monasteries. Visit the museum at Ogyen Choeling Palace and its cultural treasures.
After lunch, visit the valley’s unique cottage industries – Red Panda Brewery, Bumthang Cheese Dairy Facility and the Bumthang Distillery, home to numerous distinctive spirits.
This morning drive to Gangtey (130km, 4-5 hours). On arrival visit the striking Gangtey Goemba, one of the oldest Nyingmapa monasteries in Bhutan, sitting at the head of the Phobjika Valley, one of Bhutan’s most beautiful valleys. Enjoy a walk through the quaint village of Gangtey.
Travel from Gangtey to Punakha (85km, 3-4 hours). Punakha is located in a tropical valley with warm summers and pleasant winters. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 when the seat of government moved to Thimphu. After arriving in the early afternoon, visit the impressive Punakha Dzong, home to the remains of Bhutan’s first ruler, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal.
Depart early this morning for the drive to Paro (125km, 4-5 hours). Stop en route and hike (optional) about 30 minutes to Chimi Lhakhang temple on a small hilltop. The temple was dedicated in the 14th century to the great yogi known as Drukpa Kuenley, the “Divine Madman”, for his unconventional Buddhist teachings.
Arrive in Paro in the late afternoon.
Following a talk, visit the National Museum, where an impressive collection of artefacts and thangkas (religious scroll paintings) provide a wonderful display of the kingdom’s rich culture and heritage.
Visit Paro Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese historic architecture. Continue across Nyamai Zampa, a traditional cantilever bridge, to the town temple, built in 1525, housing ancient wall paintings.
After breakfast, if you wish, enjoy a pleasant hike up to one of Bhutan’s most revered monuments, Taktsang Goemba, more commonly referred to as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This optional four-hour trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched on a cliff face 900m above the valley floor.
In the late afternoon, visit the auspicious Kyichu Lhakhang, a sacred monument said to pin down the left foot of a treacherous ogress. This is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan dating back to the 7th century.
This evening celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a farewell dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to Paro airport for an early morning (07:00am) flight to Bangkok.
Arrive at Bangkok International airport and transfer to the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel.
Return to the airport for an early morning flight with Thai Airways to Australia.
Arrive in the evening.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Airfare payment (4 months prior 08 June 2017)
Reduction without Thai Airways flights
– AUD 900
Final Payment due
08 August 2017
This tour is a small group tour and is limited to 14 passengers
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.
Obtained on arrival
Thai Airways and Druk Air
Tour price includes
- Accommodation as noted below with daily breakfast (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner). Drinks with farewell dinner in Bhutan
- Return International economy airfares with Thai airways, Ex – SYD, MEL, BNE, PER
- Return International economy airfares with Druk Air (20kg applies) Bangkok – Paro
- Coaster bus for touring
- All transfers if travelling on group flights
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Lectures and talks with your tour leader throughout
- Bhutan visa
- Bhutan government royalties and taxes
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- Additional cost for earlier departures or later returns
- Transfers on arrival and departure in Bangkok and Bhutan if not travelling on group flights
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, mini-bar etc.
- Drinks with meals, except Farewell dinner in Bhutan
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance
Bangkok – Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel ****
Thimphu – Druk Hotel****
Trongsa – Hotel Yangkhil ***
Bumthang – Yu-Gharling****
Gangtey – Hotel Dewachen***
Punakha –RKPO Green Hotel****
Paro – Nak Sel Hotel****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted