Few places can truly call themselves the Kingdom of Happiness and live up to the name. Bhutan is a very special place, in the foothills of the sacred Himalayan Mountains. Its people are proud of their culture and live everyday according to the number one ideal of the country: Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Wealth. This trip takes in the lesser travelled east region of the country and then moves to the treasure of the western regions.
All airfares & taxes (Flying Singapore Airlines)
Stopover in Singapore
– Accommodation in 2-star, 3-star, 4-star & 5-star hotels
– 17 breakfasts, 15 lunches and 16 dinners
– Visas for India and Bhutan
– Group tipping
– Services of English-speaking local guide
– Assistance of your Tour Leader, Mark Windsor
– Land Only price on application
– Extending your stay – before or after Tour Dates
– Deposit: $750 per person
– Group Size: 14 travellers (max)
We start our adventure with a Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore.
This morning we will board our Druk Air flight from Singapore to Guwahati in north-east India. From there we’ll set off on a fascinating three-hour drive to the India-Bhutan border at Samdrup Jongkhar, which unlike most of Bhutan is decidedly semi-tropical.
It’s a full day of new sights as our bus winds its way high into the heart of the Himalayan foothills. We’ll pass through small towns and villages giving us our first real glimpse of traditional Bhutanese life, and architecture. Trashigang has a mild climate and a relaxed atmosphere, and an intriguing mix of people.
This morning we will drive to Radhi Village, famous for textile production.
Bhutanese textiles are rich, vibrant, and colourful and are a complex art form as well as an integral part of the culture. We will visit one of the private homes.
We will then drive up to visit the Rangjung Woesel Choeling Buddhist Monastery, a thriving community with four retreat centres and more than 300 resident monks studying the Buddha dharma and carrying out activities for the benefit of the Buddhist community.
This morning before we travel to Mongar we will visit the Gomphu Kora temple. The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site.
Today we will travel over the 2450m Kori La (a low pass by Bhutanese standards!) towards Mongar, a district headquarters with its own dzong.
Early this morning, we will travel to Lhuentse, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s kings and hosts several of the sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. On our drive back we will take a side road that takes us to the beautiful village of Khoma. This village is known throughout the country for its signature woven textile, the Kushuthara. The women sit in a row in a makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. It takes weavers about a year to complete weaving such textiles.
We will have lunch in one of the local farm houses and in the late afternoon we will drive back to our hotel in Mongar.
Not only will we reach more than the height of Aoraki-Mt Cook today but we’ll also come to appreciate firsthand the enormous effort that went into building the highway that links western and eastern Bhutan. The climate will become more temperate as we leave the far east and head towards central Bhutan.
We travel over the pass and through the valley of Ura, and wind our way through the forest and fields to Jakar; the township that lies at the centre of the Bumthang district, and a favourite with all visitors (and a place of special spiritual significance to the Bhutanese).
A chance to get the legs moving today! We’ll start a leisurely day’s sightseeing visiting three historic and fascinating temples – Jampey Lhakhang, Kurjey and Tamshing. There are easy walking tracks between the three that take us past fields and grazing animals, and picturesque farm houses. You’ll also have time to explore Jakar town, and its mix of craft and grocery stores.
Today we’ll visit one of the neighbouring valleys, depending on road and weather conditions. If possible, we may visit the high, and exceptionally beautiful valley of Tang, where there is a superb museum created from the former home of the local ruling family. The museum is set high on a hill and the walk takes us through well tended fields before climbing steeply (but only for about 20 minutes!) to the small cluster of buildings. The view and the contents of the museum make a little puffing well worth the effort.
We’re heading west again today, as we say goodbye to Jakar and pass through the last of the Bumthang valleys – Chumey, where we’ll stop to see the local weavers and their unique woollen products.
Then it’s over a small pass to Trongsa and the longest, and for some travellers, the most spectacularly-sited dzong in Bhutan. We’ll be visiting the dzong and finding out how once the main highway actually passed through its very centre!
Back on the road again we’ll wind our way through forest-covered hills and past tiny villages. Then it’s high into the rhododendron and dwarf bamboo forests of Pele La into the serenely beautiful and expansive valley of Phobjika.
We have a full day to relish the peace and beauty of the valley. We can visit the black crane centre and walk the nature trail that takes us high into one of the side valleys. Or you can simply relax at the lodge.
After leaving Gangtey we’ll descend the other side of Pele La and follow the snaking road and rushing rivers to the bustling recently relocated town of Wangdi. From Wangdi we’ll head up the valley to Punakha. Punakha was once the capital of Bhutan and its dzong is a masterpiece, both in terms of its setting and architecture. Tonight we’ll be back in balmy conditions, as Punakha is much lower at 1350m.
We’ll visit the dzong today and then enjoy a stroll through the rice paddies along what is known in Bhutan as the Mad Monk Walk.
Today we’ll have lunch high on Dochu La, the last of the passes to be crossed on our epic journey across Bhutan. Then it’s only a short drive to Bhutan’s capital Thimpu. Welcome to the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights – the local version, the pointsmen are much more fun to watch.
Over the next two days we’ll be offering you a mix of sightseeing and time to explore friendly, compact Thimpu on your own, or simply find a café, or quiet corner and relax for a while. Our plans include checking out Bhutan’s weird national animal, the takin, watching young craftsmen and women at work at the National Handicraft Centre, visiting the papermaking factory and visiting the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world (51 m tall). We would also like to take you on a good walk from Kuenselphodrang Park along the valley side through pine trees and bushes and then gradually descend to the Buddha statue. It is a quiet and tranquil walk. (About 1.5 hrs).
Bhutan’s fast-flowing, clear rivers will accompany us as we head for Paro, the last few kilometers of our amazing journey across this wonderful country.
Today we’ll also visit the National Museum that not only includes fascinating collections but is also housed in the dzong watchtower, a little architectural gem of its own. We’ll walk from the dzong, downhill and across the cantilever bridge bedecked with prayerflags.
Takstang, the Tiger’s Nest monastery is the country’s shining spiritual pinnacle and a highlight of any trip to Bhutan. There’s no hiding the fact that the climb to the tea house and then on to the monastery itself is hard work for all but the supremely fit, but it is worth every ounce of effort.
Takstang is perched in the cleft of a cliff, about 10,000 feet up, with a sheer drop thousands of feet into the valley below. The monastery itself is deeply significant to the Bhutanese and a revered pilgrimage site. We’ll be taking our time to enable everyone who wants to and is able to make the climb as far as they can.
Then it’ll be back to the hotel with time to relax.
Few visitors manage to leave Bhutan without a lump in their throat. So be prepared to experience the same as we take the spectacular flight out of Bhutan (if we are very lucky there are views of the Himalayas as we fly south).
We fly to Singapore where we transit through to our flight home.
We’ll arrive back in New Zealand after a journey that few other Kiwis have made, and with a host of stories, photographs and memories from one of the most unforgettable countries on earth.
Mark has enjoyed the outdoors all his life. He has done lots of hiking, particularly in the Himalaya. He and his wife, Annie also cycled down the full length of New Zealand to raise money for a charity.
Mark loves meeting new people and hearing about their life stories. He also reads avidly, indulging his interest in new science and technical discoveries as well as a wide range of historical topics.
Mark is warm, intelligent and very well travelled.
Excellent problem solver. Well organised
Always has something interesting to talk about and unique perspective on things.