Bhutan Culture and Walking Holiday
13 day holiday from - £2,655 per person based on 2 adults in twin/double rooms. Excluding international flights to Kathmandu.
Return to Bhutan Holidays
- The hike to the sacred Tiger’s Nest Monastery with its spectacular location
- Walking in the beautiful valleys and mountainous landscapes of Bhutan
- The opportunity to observe the enduring traditional lifestyle and rituals of the local people.
- Stunning Bhutanese architecture, in particular the imposing Dzongs of Punakha and Paro
Suggested Bhutan Culture and Walking Holiday Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrive Kathmandu
Arrive in Kathmandu and transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city. Spend the rest of the day at leisure. Overnight Kantipur Temple House.
Day 2 – Kathmandu
Enjoy a tour of the most interesting sites of Kathmandu including the historic area of Bharatpur which continues to be a bustling and atmospheric part of the city despite extensive damage from the earthquake a few years ago. Head outside the city to Swayambhunath, an important Buddhist stupa which has views right across the Kathmandu Valley. This evening is at leisure for you to find a restaurant and try a few local delicacies or of course you can eat at the hotel. Overnight Kantipur Temple House (BL)
Day 3 – Arrive Paro (Bhutan) – Thimphu (Driving time around 1 hour)
Transfer to Kathmandu airport for the flight to Paro. The flight into Bhutan on a clear day has to be one of the most spectacular in the world (ask for a seat on the left hand side of the plane – pre booking is not possible). Arrive at Paro International Airport which is situated in a beautiful valley at 2280 metres and is a fitting introduction to this charming kingdom. Meet the guide and drive along the Paro and Thimphu river valleys to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. Stop en route to take in the magnificent Tamchhog Lhakhang, the hereditary place of worship for Thangtong Gyalpo, who organised the building of Bhutan’s iron bridges. Take a late afternoon walk around town and soak in the atmosphere of this magical capital with its busy shops and bazaars and photogenic citizens in national dress. Also visit the archery ground where local teams demonstrate amazing skill with bow and arrow as they practice the national sport of Bhutan [weekends only]. Overnight Norbuling Hotel (BLD)
Although Bhutan’s capital has developed over recent years and now exhibits many of the recognisable features of other cities, it still retains many of its traditional sites and attractions. While there are now vehicles, bars and restaurants, you will still mingle with local people in traditional dress and crimson clad monks, lending an enduring charm.
Day 4 – Walking in the Thimphu Valley
Today enjoy a moderate hike to Dodeydrak Monastery. The hike starts by the main gate of Samteling Palace. After around 1.5 hours walking reach a viewpoint with excellent views of Dechenphodrang monastery and Buddha Dordenma and also the town of Thimphu below. Continue for another half an hour towards Dodeydrak Monastery which was built in the 17th Century. After visiting the monastery walk back to the viewpoint for lunch before continuing the walk passing a football and volleyball ground for the monks of Dodeydrak. Continue mostly downhill for about an hour down to the 3rd Kings mother’s palace where the walk will finish. Continue to the revered Chorten Memorial and the Changangkha temple. Perched on the hilltop overlooking the town, devotees flock to the temple throughout the day to turn the prayer wheels. It also contains beautiful wall paintings and hundreds of religious scriptures written in gold. If time allows also visit the Simtokha Dzong which is one of the oldest fortresses in Bhutan dating from 1629. Overnight Norbuling Hotel (BLD)
Walking guidance - (Approximate Duration - 4 hours, 10 km, moderate level hike (by Bhutan standards) – 1 hour of the ascent is very steep, then 30 minutes more gentle ascent but still quite steep until the viewpoint to the monastery. From the viewpoint there is a gentle slope down for about 15 minutes (gently up for 20 minutes on the return until the viewpoint of Thimphu valley). From here the rest of the descent is gently down apart from one part where it descends steeply for about 20 minutes.)
Day 5 – Thimphu – Dochu La Pass hike – Punakha (Driving time approximately 3 hours)
Today enjoy a scenic drive of approximately 3 hours to the old capital, Punakha, via the Dochu La pass at 3050 metres, where on a clear day you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Eastern Himalaya ranges including peaks well over 7000m. From here we take a 3 – 4 hour walk from Dochu La to Lungchuzkha Gompa. From the 108 chortens that marks the top of the pass the route gradually climbs into rhododendron forest (in bloom usually in March and April) for around 1.5 hours with some steep sections before branching left to Lungchuzkha and right to Tashigang. The walk affords excellent views of the Bhutanese Himalayas on a clear sunny day. We descend with good views of Hongtsho village below. Continue to the village where the vehicle will be waiting. Then descend through cool forest. You will notice the change of climate and vegetation as we approach low lying Punakha at 1250 metres situated in a fertile valley. Overnight at Hotel Lobesa (BLD)
Walking guidance - (Approximate Duration 3-4 hours, 7 km, to Lungchuzekha and back to Dochu La – if you add Tashigang Goempa and on to Hongtsho it will be around 10 km and 4 – 5 hours. Ascent is around 470m to Lungchuzekha and 550m to Trashigang Gompa, maximum elevation is around 3500 metres
Day 6 – Walking in the Punakha Valley
After breakfast hike to Chorten Ningpo, dating from the 17th century. The Chorten is a little-known spot with a magnificent statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha) and images of the great lamas of the Drukpa lineage. This magical spot was once a dense forest inhabited by evil spirits. The magnificent great oak tree outside the monastery is said to have grown out of the blazing log that the ‘Divine Madman’ threw (the tree’s bark is still black from where it was burnt). In 2005 the monastery began to house orphans from the nearby village, and founding a small Buddhist educational institution where the children can study traditional Buddhist scriptures and texts as well as Western subjects. Then you can take a hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten via the village of Yebisa. The walk starts from the suspension bridge below Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten. Hike at a gentle pace for around 10 minutes from the bridge through the paddy rice fields of Yebisa village. Then continue the hike for around 40 to 50 minutes up to the temple. The walk is still fairly gentle but there are some steeper parts. From the top you will see a beautiful view of the valley and surrounding villages. The temple is 30 metres tall and is dedicated to the fifth King. After visiting the temple descend for around 30 minutes until you reach the suspension bridge where you will be picked up by the vehicle. The rest of the afternoon will be at leisure to relax after the walking. Overnight Hotel Lobesa (BLD)
Note – rafting is an optional extra this morning instead of the hike to Chorten Ningpo. Rafting on the Mo Chu (Mother River) is a low grade of difficulty with some gentle rapids. The majority of the ride down the valley is nice and calm with opportunities to soak up the views and watch the many species of birds playing on the riverbanks. At the end of the 1.5 hour rafting you will cruise past the impressive Punakha Dzong. A unique perspective of this historic building. Please let us know at the time of booking if you wish to do the rafting. Lifejackets and helmets will be provided. You may get wet so wear appropriate clothing.
Walking guidance - Chorten Ningpo – 1 hour up and 30 minutes down – the distance is short, hiking up a track that leads from the main road to the temple and back down again. For Khamsum Yuelley – see description in the daily description. Ascent is about 250 metres.
Day 7 – Punakha – Phobjikha Valley – Gangtey (Driving time approximately 3 hours)
After breakfast visit the imposing Punakha Dzong ‘Palace of Great Happiness’. Built in 1637 it is strategically and beautifully located at the confluence of two rivers – the Po Chu (Father River) and Mo Chu (Mother River). After exploring the courtyards of the Dzong take a walk across a spectacular suspension footbridge for great views of the river. Continue to Sopsokha village for a leisurely 1 hour walk across terraced fields to Chimi Lhakhang (the Temple of Fertility) built in the 15th Century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drupka Kuenley). We then drive for 3 hours through beautiful scenery to the stunning Phobjikha valley. On arrival in Gangtey, visit Gangtey Gompa, one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries which has recently been restored, and explore the valley where the villagers live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle. This stunning valley is the area where Black-Necked Cranes visit in their hundreds in November each year after spending the summer in Tibet. They usually remain in the valley until late February or early March. Overnight Dewachen Hotel (BLD)
Day 8 – Walking in the Phobjikha Valley
Today is an opportunity to truly enjoy the clear air and magnificent sweeping views of this valley on a scenic walk. Start the walk from your hotel and walk from here to the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre, which has lots of information on the valley and its famous migrating birds. From here walk to Beta Village, then continue to Gangtey Gompa from where we take the Gangtey Nature Trail, past Semchubara village, through forests of blue pine trees covered with lichen (known as old man’s beard, an indicator of the pristine environment) and where you can hopefully see some nice birds. Continue on from the end of the nature trail to Kingathang village where you can visit a temple built by the Queen Mother. From Kingathang, you can walk via Yusa village back to your hotel. Overnight Dewachen Hotel (BLD)
Walking guidance – The total distance of the walk today is 12 – 13km and will take around 6 hours with stops. This is a relatively easy grade trek in the valley and very scenic.
Day 9 – Phobjikha Valley – Paro (Driving time approximately 6 hours)
Today we return to Paro via Wangdi which was originally considered Bhutan’s secondary capital and it commands an important central position. Unfortunately Wangdi Dzong was destroyed by fire in 2012 and is due to reopen after reconstruction in 2018 but we do not know the exact date for opening. If it is possible to visit we will otherwise we will just break to stretch our legs in Wangdi. Continue to Paro and on arrival you can take a stroll in the town and check out the many handicraft shops. Alternatively relax on the inviting terrace of the Gangtey Palace Hotel soaking up the views. Overnight Gangtey Palace. (BLD)
Day 10- Walking in the Paro Valley and Paro Sightseeing
This morning visit the National Museum which was previously housed in the Ta Dzong (watch tower), built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong to defend it and the Paro valley during times of war, in an unusual circular construction resembling a conch shell. Unfortunately, an earthquake in September 2011 damaged the Ta Dzong and the contents of the museum were moved to a neighbouring building, although it is still possible to see a magnificent collection of Bhutanese artefacts – costumes, religious paintings, arms, textiles and a fascinating collection of Bhutan stamps. The National Museum is due to reopen in the Ta Dzong in the near future. From the museum take a leisurely 1 hour walk along the forested hillside to Zuri Dzong providing wonderful views down over the valley and the Paro Dzong. After the walk visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You also visit the National Museum which was previously housed in the Ta Dzong (watch tower), built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong to defend it and the Paro valley during times of war, in an unusual circular construction resembling a conch shell. Late this afternoon if you wish visit the archery ground to watch local people taking aim with bow and arrow in the national sport [weekends only]. Overnight Gangtey Palace (BLD)
Hiking Option – It is possible to start your adventure to Tiger’s Nest Monastery today by taking a hike out of Paro and spending an adventurous overnight in a fixed camp and then unlike most visitors actually descend to the Tigers Nest Monastery the next day. Please contact us if you wish to explore this exciting alternative option.
Day 11 - The Tiger’s Nest Monastery
This morning embark on the amazing hike to the ‘Tiger's Nest’, the sacred Taktshang monastery which clings impossibly to the rock face 900 metres above the valley floor. It is the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan and Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress and He subsequently meditated here for three months. It is one of Bhutan’s most holy sites and draws pilgrims not only from Bhutan but also from neighbouring Buddhist countries. You can have lunch at the Taktshang cafeteria from where there is a spectacular view of the monastery. On the way back you may be interested to visit Dumtse Lhakhang, a temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, who was responsible for building many of the iron bridges in Bhutan. Overnight Gangtey Palace (BLD)
Walking guidance - The ascent to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is very steep in places and you should be sure that your level of fitness will allow you to take this hike. It is possible to rent a stick at the start of the hike. Expect the entire hike with stops including at the cafeteria to last between 5 - 6 hours and at an easy pace to enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Speak to our team for personal experience account of the hike if you have any concerns. The monastery is situated at an altitude of just over 3000m and the elevation gain is around 600m from the start of the walk. Distance is around 6.5km.
Day 12 – Depart Bhutan to Kathmandu
Early this morning your guide will accompany you to the airport and wish you Tashi Delek (Goodbye and Good Luck). Enjoy the scenic flight back to Kathmandu (request a window seat on the right hand side of the plane). On arrival transfer to the hotel in the city and enjoy some final time at leisure to reflect on the trip. Overnight Kantipur Temple House (B)
Day 13 – Depart Kathmandu
Transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK. (B)