Hidden Lands of the Himalayas
Uncover Bhutan, the last Himalayan kingdom, with its breathtaking architecture, dramatic landscape and rich Buddhist culture, expressed in its remarkable masked sacred dances and rituals at the Punakha Festival.
With towering fortress-monasteries, sweeping mountains, fertile valleys and a thriving artistic culture, the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is like no other. Learn about Bhutan’s unique benign monarchy and experience the vibrant living culture of Bhutan during the enchanting Punakha Festival where under sounds of trumpets and cymbals, monks perform masked sacred dances in a festive yet spiritual atmosphere.
Then, venture into picturesque central Bhutan and explore the country’s cultural and religious heartland in the Trongsa and Bumthang regions.
**LIMITED NUMBERS – EARLY BOOKING RECOMMENDED**
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 or New Zealand on suggested Thai Airways flights to Bangkok. Arrive in Bangkok and transfer to airport hotel (included in tour price). Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Depart Bangkok in the early morning on a Druk Air flight to Paro in Bhutan (flight included in tour price).
Upon arrival in Paro, travel by coach to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, an exciting blend of tradition and modernity.
Then, visit a handicraft centre to observe the many students learning traditional arts and learn about Bhutan’s living medical culture at the nearby Traditional Medicine Institute.
In the evening, join Alex and fellow travellers for a special welcome dinner.
After a morning talk by Alex, visit the Takin Reserve and meet Bhutan’s national animal, the takin. Continue to the National Textile Museum, which showcases Bhutan’s achievements in fabric arts. Visit the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory to see how the paper traditionally used for scriptures, lampshades and other handicrafts is created.
After stopping at a contemporary art gallery, visit the majestic Tashichho Dzong, an impressive fortress-monastery that now houses the secretariat building and throne room of HM King Jigme Khesar, the 5th Dragon King of Bhutan, as well as various government offices. Dzongs are large fortress-monasteries which dominate every major town in Bhutan. They are the administrative and religious centres of the district and were once the mainstay of that district’s defences against the invading Tibetans.
Depart Thimphu in the morning for a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La, located at 3,100 metres, and visit the Royal Botanic Park at Lamperi to admire the wealth of Bhutanese flora. Weather permitting, enjoy panoramic views of the eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s highest mountain, Gangkar Punsum (7,570m). The road then drops down through lush forest, finally emerging into the highly-cultivated Punakha Valley, the old winter capital of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 when the seat of government was moved to Thimphu under the modernising reforms of the 3rd Dragon King.
After a talk by Alex, experience one of the most popular dance festivals in Bhutan, the thrilling annual Punakha Tshechu. Tshechu commemorates Guru Rinpoche, who came to Bhutan around the 8th century and brought Buddhism to the country. For a few days, monks and laymen perform masked sacred dances and rituals in elaborate silk costumes under sounds of trumpets, cymbals and flutes. Dances and costumes have survived unchanged as any changes in rituals would be considered a sacrilege. Devotees travel from across the country to witness these colourful masked dances, receive blessings and celebrate. Tshechu is also an annual social gathering for the Bhutanese and a special occasion to wear their most refined costume.
The Punakha Festival is performed in the wonderful Punakha Dzong, where Bhutan’s kings are crowned. Situated at the confluence of two major Himalayan rivers, the Punakha Dzong is one of the most magical sights of Bhutan and is the resting place of Bhutan’s first ruler, the 17th century lama Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who unified the country 250 years before the rise of the present Dragon kings.
Note: The Punakha Festival program
The Punakha Festival program will be released a few weeks prior to the event. Therefore, while we undertake to operate the visits to sites and events in Punakha as published, the order of visits is subject to change.
Depart Punakha and journey through dramatic landscapes of terraced farmland before crossing the Black Mountains range that divides western from central Bhutan and then ascending the Pele La pass, 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 Trongsa.
After lunch, visit Trongsa Dzong and the Ta Dzong Museum. Trongsa Dzong is 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. Admire the solidity and strength of the Dzong’s traditional architecture and its superb wall-paintings.
The Ta Dzong Museum is located in the former regional governor’s watch-tower. Established with Austrian technical assistance, the museum houses examples of royal “Raven crowns”, the symbol of Bhutan’s monarchs, and depictions of the highest ranks of Buddhas.
This morning, travel to Bumthang, 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.
After exploring the local bazaar, visit the Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird”, overlooking the town and dominating the Chamkhar Valley. Constructed in 1549, the dzong played an important role as the fortress of defence of the whole eastern region and also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
Today, explore the Bumthang district with a drive to the stunningly beautiful Tang Valley, the most remote of Bumthang’s regions. This seldom-visited valley has some off-the-beaten-track lhakhangs (temples) and monasteries. Visit the museum at Ogyen Choeling Palace, an aristocratic mansion that has been transformed into a folk museum with a fascinating collection of domestic and defensive artefacts. This is the ancestral home of Kunzang Choden, among Bhutan’s most celebrated writers and intellectuals.
Depart Bumthang on a morning flight to Paro, Bhutan’s second largest town (flight included in tour price).
In the afternoon, visit the small Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang, an unusual Buddhist temple in the form of a chorten. Dating to the 14th century and attributed to Chaksampa, the “Iron bridge builder”, it features an outstanding range of wall-paintings of early Indian Buddhist “magicians”.
After a talk by Alex in the morning, discover Paro town and visit the National Museum, arguably Bhutan’s finest museum. Located in the former Paro dzong, the museum provides a wonderful display of the kingdom’s rich culture and heritage with an impressive collection of artefacts and thangkas (religious scroll paintings).
In the 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.
Today, take the opportunity to hike up to one of Bhutan’s most revered monuments, Taktsang, more commonly referred to as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, one of the great Himalayan architectural masterpieces. Built on the side of a mountain overlooking Paro Valley, it is an ancient site connected to great Buddhist masters such as Milarepa and Guru Rinpoche. This optional four-hour trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched on a cliff face 900m above the valley floor. Please note: this is a strenuous activity and should only be undertaken if you are confident about your physical ability to do this.
The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to continue your exploration of Paro at your own pace.
Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Alex and fellow travellers.
After breakfast, transfer to Paro Airport for a flight to Bangkok with Druk Air (flight included in tour price). Tour arrangements conclude upon arrivals in Bangkok.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
26 December 2019
Due to local conditions, this tour is limited to no more than 15 tour members.
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa to visit Bhutan. Renaissance Tours will co-ordinate and assist you obtain your Bhutan visa application prior to departure.
Please contact Renaissance Tours for current airfares and flight reservations.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in good quality 3-star superior hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including drinks with welcome and farewell dinners
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
- Return Economy class from Bangkok to Paro with Druk Air (30kg luggage allowance)
- Economy Class flight from Bumthang to Paro with Druk Air (20kg luggage allowance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
- Lectures and talks with your tour leader, Alex McKay
- Visa fee for Bhutan for Australian and New Zealand passport holders
- Bhutan government royalties and taxes (approx. USD 250 per day)
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares from Australia/New Zealand to Bangkok (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, minibar etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Bangkok – Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport****
Thimphu – Namgay Heritage Hotel***+
Punakha – Drubchbu Resort ***+
Trongsa – Yangkhil Resort***
Bumthang – Hotel Ugyenling***
Paro – Gangtey Palace Hotel***
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.