Trip Length: 9 days
Activity Level: Moderate
This cultural tour has an emphasis on traditional Bhutanese cooking. Along with visits to many cultural and historic sites, you will experience three evenings with Bhutanese families for an in-depth look at regional Bhutanese cooking. You can share western cooking too, but remember there will be no facilities for baking or cooking that requires a long time or modern equipment.
• A family in Paro will share the art of making salted butter tea, Hontay (a vegetable dumpling), wind-dried meat with vegetables, and sweetened rice desert.
• A Wang family in Punakha will show us how to make Mengay (a sort of Bhutanese pizza made from kneaded red rice, seeds of the amaranth plant, eggs, spring onions, oil of the local simpliocas tree, and other local ingredients) and a special chile dish. They will also demonstrate the traditional churning of milk. After churning we will use the butter and cheese in the dishes and drink the whey with dinner.
• A Bumthap family and make Puta, a dish of buckwheat noodles, and a varietiy of buckwheat pancakes and vegetable dishes.
• Cooking demonstrations of local dishes will also be arranged in the hotel kitchen in Thimphu or on a traditional wood stove in Paro.
• Family immersion & remote villages
• Cooking and weaving demonstrations
• Punahka Dzong
• Paro Dzongs & Museum
March – June & September – November
Temperatures will vary greatly based on our altitude and current weather. Ranges from high 70’s, low 30’s. Days are normally warm. Nights can at times be very cold and in winter temperatures can go below freezing point. There is monsoon showers in summer, (heaviest in July and August) and sometimes even in spring and autumn.
Day 1 – Arrival by Drukair to Paro Airport
During the flight in to Paro Airport, enjoy the view of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan Mountains including the sacred Mt. Jomolhari and Mt. Jichu Drakey. Upon arrival at Paro Airport, you will be greeted by a representative of Bhutan Himalayan Experience and transported to your comfortable hotel.
After lunch at a local restaurant in Paro, we will sight-see and visit Rinpung Dzong, Drukgyel Dzong (17th century), and Kyichu Lhakhang (8th century) as well as the National Museum which houses Bhutanese cultural and religious artifacts. This serves as a great orientation to Bhutan.
Paro sits at an altitude of 7,500 feet in a valley ideal for growing rice. The special red rice from this valley has even made its way to American restaurants. The valley is also known for strawberry, apples, pears, plums and peaches, too. In the evening, we will take an hour drive to the capital-Thimphu. Overnight Hotel Ser-Nya or Riverview Hotel.
Day 2 – Thimphu to Punakha/Wangdi
Today’s sightseeing includes a visit to the arts and crafts school more commonly known as the painting school, traditional papermaking factory, the textile museum, museum of folk heritage, the national library. We will have lunch in town and towards evening we well drive to Punakha. Along the way, we will stop at Dochula Pass (10,300 ft) for evening tea. From here, weather permitting, we get a superb view of the high Himalayan mountain peaks of Bhutan. Then, we’ll drive 2 hours to the warm and fertile Punakha Valley at 4,500 feet. Overnight at Zangtopelri or YT Hotel or Damchen Resorts or Baps.
Day 3 – Punakha/Wangdi to Bumthang
Today is our longest day in the car as we travel 135 miles in about 7 ½ hours due to the terrain. On this scenic drive, we cross Pelela Pass and will see the dwarf bamboo which shelters lots of rare bird species. The bamboo shoots also serve as fodder for yaks in winter and early spring. We will lunch at Trongsa. Then proceed to Bumthang stopping at Hurchi village of woolen fabric and watch a weaver on the traditional pedal loom. The villagers here weave colorful fabrics from sheep wool. Overnight at Mountain Lodge or Riverlodge or Gomkhar Lodge or Swiss Guest House.
Day 4 – Bumthang
Today’s sightseeing includes the Jakar Dzong, Jambey Lhakhang and Kurje Lhakhang (8th century). After lunch, we drive to the bridge above Kurjee and walk to Tamshing Temple where we can see original wall paintings from 1501. At this temple is a chain mail which one wears and circumambulates 3 times around the temple. This action is believed to absolve one of all worldly sins and brings good luck. Near the temple we can see an old water mill where people still make flour from barley and wheat. We will then visit Wangdicholling Palace which used to be a training ground for medieval administrators. Families would send one of their boys at an early age to the court of the king. The boy was trained in manual chores, caring for livestock, reading and writing. At the age of 15 when he enters manhood, he is able to get his sword. Those not qualified for the sword would remain stable boys. This is an old practice which died during the reign of the Third King when modern schools came to Bhutan. Tonight, experience a traditional family dinner at a farm house. You can add one western food item to the Bumthap menu. Overnight at Mountain Lodge or Riverlodge or Gomkha rLodge or Swiss Guest House.
Day 5 – Bumthang to Trongsa to Gangtey
After breakfast, we will drive to Trongsa and visit the Trongsa Dzong. This dzong used to be center of power until 1907 when the first king was crowned and the power shifted to Punakha. The crown prince has to become the Trongsa Penlop, or the Trongsa before ascending to the throne as the king. We then drive 2-3 hours to the Gangtey Valley. After Pelila Pass, we take a detour to Gangtey Gompa, the winter habitat for the endangered Black-necked Crane. This area is a highly-protected natural environment and the government discourages any form of technological developments. As a result, this region has underground power and electrical supply. This is the Royal Government decree to save the last of the 800-900 Black-necked Cranes surviving in the world. In the months of April and May, this region offers great varieties of rhododendron. The best months to view the cranes are November to February, since they winter here. Overnight Thegchen Guest House or Gakiling or similar as there are a 2 new hotels being built.
Day 6 – Gangtey to Punakha
We drive back towards Punakha today which will take about 4 hours. We follow the route of the cranes that migrate all the way from Tibet and China to this beautiful valley. After a 2-hour hike on the 2.5 mile nature trail, we will meet the bus and finish the drive to Punakha. This evening we will make our Mengay, or the Bhutanese pizza, and cook a few other local delicacies at our hotel or in a family farm house. Overnight at Zangtopelri Hotel or YT Hotel or Damchen Resorts or Baps.
Day 7 – Punakha to Thimphu
After visiting the Punahka Dzong, we will drive further north and hike two hours to the Khamsum-Yuelling Namgyal temple. It was built by the Crown Prince’s mother for world peace in her son’s time as King. We will have lunch by the river. Later, we drive to Thimphu with a tea stop at Dochula cafeteria. Overnight Thimphu HotelSer-Nya or Riverview Hotel.
Day 8 – Thimphu to Paro
After breakfast, enjoy free time to shop in downtown Thimphu. After lunch, we will drive one hour to Paro. This evening, enjoy traditional cooking at a Paro farm house for dinner. Overnight in Paro at Janka Resort, Dekhyid Resorts or Rema Resorts.
Day 9 – Taktsang Hike
Taktsang is a sacred pilgrimage site loved by both visitors and local. Legend says that the great Tantric mystic Padma Sambhava flew onto this cliff riding a dakini tigress, hence the name Tiger’s Nest. Padma Sambhava first brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. The Monastery clings to a cliff perched 900 feet above the valley floor at an altitude of 9,300 feet. The climb is along a series of well-worn switch back trail. It is 2-3 hours hike uphill with an elevation gain of 1,650 feet. The site is very dramatic and you will feel a flow of positive energy as you walk along the cliff’s face. We will rest at lunch after visiting Taktsang and then walk back down at our leisure as the evening sun sets. The hike is 4 miles. Tonight we will enjoy our final traditional Bhutanese dinner. Overnight Janka Resort, Dekhyid Resorts or Rema Resorts.
Day 10 – Departure
Drive to Paro Airport for departure by Drukair.