Bhutan Explorer

Punakha Dzong in Bhutan

Trip Length: 14 days
Activity Level: Moderate to Strenuous

This itinerary offers the experience of Bhutan culture and community balanced with a variety of day hikes.


Trip Highlights

• Great day hikes and cultural excursions
• Trashigang Monastery
• Tiger’s Nest
• Remote villages
• High Mountain Passes
• Paro Dzongs & Museum

Trip Details

Season

April – June and September – November

Weather

Temperatures will vary greatly based on our altitude and current weather. Ranges from high 70’s, low 30’s. Climate is normally warm during daytime but nights can be pretty cold in winter with temperatures falling below freezing level. Monsoon does shower in summer (heaviest in July, August) and sometimes even in spring and autumn.

10-Day Itinerary

Day 1Arrival 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.

An hour’s drive takes you to the nation’s capital, Thimphu. This bustling town is home to Bhutan’s Royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects. Check in and have lunch at the hotel. After lunch your tour of Thimphu includes the following sights:

• National Memorial Chorten – a monument built in the heart of Thimphu as a memorial to the Third King and is also dedicated to world peace.
• A private weaving center.
• Weekly farmer’s market.
• A visit to the Takin Reserve (endangered national animal) and then Tashicho Dzong which houses the King’s throne room, the finance and home ministries and the summer residence of the Chief Abbott and monk body. (visit after 5pm)

Thimphu being the capital has lots of choices when it comes to restaurants. Some of the notable places are Bhutanese Restaurant for some fiery local cuisine; Plums cater assortments of continental cuisine and has been the oldest standard restaurant in town. Baan Thai is the place if you want to try some Thai cuisine. Swiss Bakery, Ambient and Karma Coffee are great for light meals. Dinner and overnight at Hotel Ser-nya or Riverview in Thimphu.

Day 2 – Thimphu sightseeing
Your tour of Thimphu includes the following sights, open on working days only:

  • The Folk Heritage Museum – a restored mid 19th century house which gives one insight into the average household & lifestyle in the region during that era.
  • The textile museum, display of traditional and modern weavings and attire, watch a weaver at a loom.
  • The Painting School where students learn the 13 arts & crafts of Bhutan

After lunch in we drive 40 minutes north of Thimphu and enjoy a hike to a sacred monastery. It is an hour and half’s hike to Chari temple and 800 ft climb. This is the highest Buddhist learning centre in the kingdom. Monks meditate here and the peaceful nature of the place invites wild goats too. This is a place where the illusive Goral (wild goat) can be seen. Overnight at the Hotel Ser-Nya or Riverview Hotel.

Day 3 – Drive to Dochhula Pass & trek to Toeb Eachel
Drive from Thimphu to Dochula pass is close to 45 minutes. The pass situated at 10,300 feet is a wonderful view point. If the weather permits, you can see the Bhutanese Himalayas. Treat yourself with a great view of the high snow clad peaks of Bhutan. The panoramic view, that includes many of world’s unclimbed peaks, is guaranteed mostly in the winter months. Do not be disheartened because the colourful prayer flags will be there all year round. The beautiful 108 chortens is an ideal break for any purpose. Chortens are stone monuments and werebuilt in 2003 by Her Majesty the Queen mother- Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. Yaks are seen grazing by the roadside throughout the winter months.  Dochhu-la area is identified as tiger habitat and numerous folklores and jokes on tiger hunts do abound. To watch other big animals, walk the old trade route bypassing Lamperi Botanical Garden. Summer months are ideal to watch wild dogs and Himalayan black bears. However; bear sightings are easier in autumn, just before they go for hibernation.

We will take a descent today through cold temperate vegetation to upper sub-tropic forests. We follow the old cattle trail that traverses near the Royal Botanical Garden at Lamperi. This garden supports numerous species of temperate plants. We will be trekking through the forests for next two hours before we hit the highway at Menchhuna. After a picnic lunch our trail is more through terraced rice fields than forests. We will descend to almost 1900m above sea level. Our camp will be near some farmhouse in the upper Toeb village. Camp or farm stay.

Hiking  5-6 hours covering around 8.5 miles. Descent 2560 ft Approx.

Day 4 – Trek to Laptsakha
We will take picnic lunch and head towards Laptsa-kha.  There are two trails to reach our destination. To make it more interesting we will use the upper trail which goes through the Begap village. The trail starts through many farm houses and terraced rice fields. At some point we cross the Toebi-ronchhu (stream) and then climb up until Begap village. We will have picnic lunch here with great views of the whole Toeb village. The afternoon trail is more gradual through Chir pine forests. The views of Toebi-ronchhu valley are beautiful throughout the trek.

Some popular places are the woodlands around upper Toeb and Thinleygang villages. Along the trail you may see  wild boars and rhesus monkeys. For birds, listen vigilantly, in particular, for calls of Hill partridges and Kalij pheasants. Muntjac deer is normal and easy sighting in these areas. This area is also home to the Indian wild dogs and leopards. Red pandas, Himalayan weasels, Yellow-throated marten, Himalayan palm civet, Linsangs and leopard cat, Jungle cats, flying squirrels, bats and porcupines are some wildlife listed in the Punakha region.

Camp or farm stay at Laptsakha at 1900m above sea level.

Hiking 5-6 hours covering close to 7.5 miles. Descent 900 ft and Ascent 1500 ft

Day 5 – Trek to Talo Village
Today is all uphill though not strenuous. We pass through Chir pine and lower temperate forests. The trail offers great views of Toeb villages and lower Punakha Valley. We will reach Nalanda monastery for lunch. This is a highlight to talk to monks in English. The monks here are pursuing higher Buddhist studies and they will be too happy to practice their English. After lunch we still climb through forests until we reach the outskirts of Talo village. The village is one of the prettiest hamlets in Bhutan. The village is very much part of the Talo temple. This temple served as summer retreat place for one of the great Zhabdrungs whose lineage goes to the present Royal Family. We will  camp or use a farm house this evening at an altitude is close to 8,800 feet or drive to a hotel in Punakha.

Hiking 5-6 hours covering close to 6.0 miles.  Ascent  2600 ft.

Day 6 – Trek to Punakha Dzong
The last day and it is all downhill. We pass through another great village called Nobgang. From here we trek further down towards Yongu village. Have lunch here and then proceed further down.  We will take the trail that goes through the Logodama village school. We will walk through orchards and near kitchen gardens growing Himalayan grapes, passion fruits and pears in the months of May to June. Lemons will be there throughout the year. Mandarin fruits will be in season from October until late December. This is a good place to take your evening tea with a ravishing view of the Punakha valley. Descend another 30 minutes downhill to the car/bus for shuttle to hotel

The riversides in Punakha are famous habitats for the endangered White-bellied heron. Asia’s largest and world’s second largest heron. Ornithologists say that only few hundred are left on this planet. Regular sightings are along the Po-chhu River throughout autumn and winters. Punakha River is also a haven for other migratory birds such as Ruddy shelduck, Greater cormorants and Merganser ducks. Kingfishers, sandpipers, river lapwing, egrets, sea eagles, owls, kestrels are some from the bird list of the valley. Common otters thrive well because of high population of local fish and Brown trout. Overnight at Zangtopelri Hotel, Damchen Resorts or Baps.

Hiking 4-5 hours Today we cover 5-6 miles. Descent 3400 ft.

Day 7 – Punakha sightseeing and drive to Thimphu
We check out early and take a drive to Khamsum Yulley Chorten built for World Peace. There is an uphill hike of close to 50 minutes and pace will be adjusted to group so there is no hurry. Punakha is situated at 4300 feet above sea level. This temple has the most beautiful view of Punakha valley. After this we drive back and visit the Punakha Dzong, the winter residence for the Monk body and the old capital of Bhutan. This Dzong (fortress) has been the capital of Bhutan from1637 until 1950s. All the coronation of Bhutan kings should happen here. Picnic lunch by the river.

After lunch we take the same highway towards Thimphu. On the way we take a leisure hike to the temple of the Divine Madman. Legend says that the Divine Madman (Drukpa Kinley circa 1455-1529) created the National Animal (Takin). The story says that he put a cow’s head on a goat’s body which is how the animals looks. The Divine Madman is very popular in this part of the country. He brought Buddhism to the common man and his phallic stories are quite ubiquitous. Easy hike 1-2 hrs, through the village of Sopsokha to give you a sense of farming livelihood in Bhutan. Dinner and overnight at the Hotel Ser-Nya or Riverview Hotle in Thimphu.

Day 8 – Paro and sightseeing in the Paro Valley
After breakfast an hour’s drive will get us to the hotel in Paro  and then drive 10 minutes to the  trail head as we start our day with a visit to Kyichhu temple. This temple was built in the 7th century and represents the beginning of  Buddhist influence in Bhutan. The inner sanctum and its Buddha statue are dated from the 7th century but other parts have been renovated over time. It is a living temple that is the centre of the community around here. A sacred feeling is felt.

Next we take a walk to the town using the farm road. There is not much sun shade on this close to 2 hours walks. Therefore caps and sun blocks are recommended. This walk offers a nice experience to see some farming activities. The walk also offers a slow but comprehensive insight into your trip. We will reach Paro town for lunch.

After lunch we take a 20-minute drive to the scenic ridge-top of Bonday village. The hilltop offers great views of most part of Paro valley. We will then hike about 2 hours to Dzongdrakha temples. Most temples are built around cliffs and caves. Dzongdrakha is one of these and often times nicknamed the Mini-Taktsang. Enjoy the walk and look out for a troop of gray languor monkeys that frequent this area. Overnight Janka Resort or Dekhyid Resorts or Rema Resorts.

Day 9 – Hike to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang)
Taktsang is a sacred pilgrimage site loved by both visitors and locals. Legend says that the great tantric mystic, Padma Sambhava, flew onto this cliff riding a dakini tigress hence the name tigers nest. Padma Sambhava first brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. The Monastery clings to a cliff perched 900 ft. above the valley floor at an altitude of less than 10,000 ft.  The climb is along a series of well-worn switch back trail. It is 2-3 hours hike uphill with a climb of 1650 ft. The place is very dramatic and you will feel lots of positive energy as you walk along the cliff-face. We will lunch after visiting Taktsang and then walk downhill at leisure. Walk down slowly as the evening sun sets. Overnight at JankaResort, Dekhyid Resorts or Rema Resorts.

Hiking 4 miles, 1650 feet elevation gain, 9,300 feet

Day 10 – Departure
Drive to Paro Airport for departure by Drukair.