NIMALUNG FESTIVAL

Our trip coincides with a festival in central part of Bhutan under Bumthang district at Jakar Dzong. At this Jakar Festival, Mask Dances are performed by both monks and lay person in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the courtyard. During the intervals, young women in their best of dress perform the folk dances that they believe is another way of offering which enables them to receive blessings and earn good karma.  Crowds of people gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned cloth for which Bhutan is renowned, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries. Local people attend this festival to be blessed and to earn good karma and are also an occasion to see people and to be seen. This festival usually held in July.

This trip allows the travelers to enjoy the daily lives of friendly Bhutanese people by visiting villages, temples, monasteries, and gigantic fortresses. It gives you a chance to meet people, enjoy the pristine forest with rare glimpse of wildlife and observe the ancient old traditions of arts and crafts. We would be traveling through the less frequented areas of Bhutan. Our journey starts from Paro Valley where our flight from Bangkok will land and continue by road through the lush valley of Thimphu and to Punakha.  Continue our overland journey to the enchanting valleys of Trongsa and Bumthang, which played a key role in influencing Bhutanese history, culture and religion. In the Bumthang valley we spend three nights to attend the Nimalung festival.  And then to Phobjikha valley, a winter habitat to the rare black-necked cranes that migrate from Tibetan plateaus in winter. This route will take us through the temperate zone with great biodiversity, ranging from lush forest of conifer, rhododendron and magnolia to orchid draped oaks, banana trees and cactus plants. During clear weather, the high passes we cross, provides spectacular views of high snow capped peaks that go up to 25,000 feet.  There will be ample opportunities to interact with the friendly people of Bhutan and learn their philosophy of “GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS”.

DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 1: Kathmandu Arrival
Kathmandu arrival and transfer to hotel. Check-in and refresh. In the evening, enjoy Nepali dinner with cultural program.
Overnight at hotel in Kathmandu.

Day 2: Fly to Paro and drive to Thimphu (54kms/1.5 hours)
After breakfast, fly to Paro (1 hour). From the left seat, you can see mountain range including Mt. Everest (8848 m, highest peak in earth) and the spectacular view of Bhutan’s snow capped peaks as you approach Paro. On arrival you will be received by our representative and drive to Thimphu, which will be approximately 1.5 hrs drive. Thimphu is situated at an elevation of 2500 meters / 8200ft.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.

Day 3: Thimphu Sightseeing
Visit King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Memorial Chorten, Dupthop Lhakhang ( Monastery for the nuns), National Library, the Painting School where traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting Thangkhas ( sacred Buddhist religious scrolls), and the Medicine Institute where traditional medicines are prepared according to ancient practices. After lunch you will visit Lungtenzampa to observe the traditional silver smiths plying at their crafts and tour the Bhutanese traditional paper factory. Return back to town to visit the handicraft stores and stroll around the tiny capital city. Lunch will be served at a local restaurant. (B/L/D).
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.

OPTION: If you are in Thimphu during Friday Saturday and Sunday then the sightseeing will be Visit Thimphu weekend market, which is in a permanent set of stalls, vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and remain selling their goods until Sunday night. It’s an interesting place to visit, where village people jostle with well-heeled Thimphu residents for the best – and cheapest – vegetables and foodstuffs. This is the only time that fresh produce is easily available and the shopping is enhanced by the opportunity to catch up on the week’s gossip. Continue your sightseeing to Zangdopelri temple, the Changlimithang where you can witness young Bhutanese practicing their favorite archery game. Return to hotel for lunch, after lunch visit the Memorial Chorten built in honor of the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, Dupthop Lhakhang (Monastery for the nuns) and other places of interest.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.

Day 4: Drive to Punakha (71kms/3 hours)
After breakfast we will start our drive to Punakha early before the clouds come in and bloke the views of the Bhutan’s Snowcapped Mountain seen from the Dochula Pass. Leaving Thimphu the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (10,460 feet / 3,140 m). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges, as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,162 feet). Before proceeding further to our hotel we will hike up to the Chimi Lhakhang temple on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as “Divine madman” to the westerners. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility; it is about one hour of round trip walk. We proceed to hotel; check in, lunch will be served here. After lunch we will proceed to Punakha town to view the majestic Dzong (fortress), situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (male and Female River). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). In the past this Dzong was the capital seat of the Kingdom. Return to hotel.
Overnight at hotel in Punakha.

Day 5: Drive to Trongsa (143 kms/6 hours)
We will have a heavy breakfast today as our lunch will be late and simple. The drive to Trongsa takes approximately 6 hours. We start early for the fabulous drive to the central valleys of Bhutan through the breathtaking beauties and serenity of Bhutan’s rich flora and fauna.  As we cross the fertile valley of Punakha and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang, we take an opportunity to photograph the majestic fortress of Wangdue Dzong, which stands on a spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers. We then climb steadily passing through semi-tropical vegetation and then to Pele la Pass (3,300 m/ 10,989 ft.)  With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo, the Pass is traditionally considered the boundary between West and East Bhutan. During the clear weather we can view the high snow capped peaks specially the Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.). From here we continue our drive to Chendebji Chorten, where we will make a brief stop. This Chorten or Stupa was built in 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to nail into the ground a demon that had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley and the Ada valley just over the ridge. Continue your drive to Trongsa, as you enter Trongsa valley, the huge fortress of Trongsa makes you wonder if you will ever reach it. Backing on mountain and built on several levels, the Dzong fits narrowly on a spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde River and overlooks the routes south and west. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in former times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen.
Overnight at hotel in Trongsa.

Day 6: Drive to Bumgthang (Jakar) (71kms/2.5 hours)
After breakfast we will drive to visit the majestic Trongsa Dzong, built in 1647, by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal, this Dzong was the source of many important historical events in making of Modern Bhutan. Our car will drop us at the junction of the road to Bazaar and the dzong, you will walk from here to the Dzong. After the visit the car will pick you up at the Bazaar. We will than resume our drive to Bumthang crossing the Yotongla Pass and into the first four valley of Bumthang known as Chumey, we will visit Domkhar Palace, this palace was used as the summer residence of 2nd king Jigme Wangchuk. Lunch will be served here in the open ground. We will make another stop at Tsungney village, where we will observe the weavers weaving the famous Bumthang fabric known as Yathra. Continue our drive for an hour and arrive at the Chokhor Valley, if time permits your car will drop you at the Chamkhar Bazaar, from where you can walk back to the hotel on your own before dark.
Overnight at hotel in Bumgthang.

Day 7: Attend Nimalung Festival
After breakfast we will drive to witness the ongoing festival, The festival is celebrated annually by the people of Bumthang valley. During the festival various spiritual mask dances are performed and local people with their picnic lunch participate the festival in their finest dress. This is a season when you would like to see and be seen.  Evening return to hotel at Jakar.
Overnight at hotel in Bumgthang.

Day 8: Bumgthang Sightseeing
After breakfast we will start our sightseeing around Chokhor valley. We begin our walk around the valley from our Lodge carrying our day pack towards the Jambay Lhakhang temple through scattered and clustered villages of Jakar. A Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo, built this temple in the 7th century. Your next stop will be Chakar Lhakhang, which was built in the 8th century. This House was a castle of the King Sindhu Raja who used to rule the Bumthang Valley. Continue your hike to Kurjey monastery, it is here, the great tantric saint Padmasambhava had meditated and subdues a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Continue your hike north and cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension bridge and we will arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang. Terton Pemalingpa built this temple in 1500s.
Overnight at hotel in Bumgthang.

Day 9: Drive back to Trongsa
After breakfast we will drive to Trongsa which will take little more than 2 hours we will proceed south to Kungarabten. This small village had once served as the winter retreat for the Royal families. Before reaching Kungarabten, you will find a dirt road leading up to the nunnery, we take the dirt road until we arrive at the parking lot. From here we start our walk towards the nunnery; the view from here of the valley below is breathtaking. This monastery is the home to over 100 nuns, who study and meditate here. We will visit the shrine, hostel, and maybe join for lunch with the nuns. After the visit at the nunnery, we will continue our hike downhill to the Palace. We visit the small Palace and then start our drive back to Trongsa.
Overnight at hotel in Trongsa.

Day 10: Drive to Phobjikha or Punakha
After breakfast we will start our drive back towards west taking the same lateral highway from where we drove in. From Pele Pass we will take the left hand road to beautiful glacial valley of Phobjikha. This valley is the designated winter home for 100s of endangered black-necked crane that migrate here from the Tibetan plateaus. This valley is also known for produce of best potatoes in Bhutan. From the Phobjikha Pass we will start walking downhill to Gangtey Monastery. If you enjoy the nature then this is a beautiful walk. If lucky you may encounter the precious Red Panda and many bird species. We will visit the magnificent Gangtey Monastery that overlooks the valley. This monastery has recently under gone a major renovation and has been built into a very magnificent Monastery.
Overnight at hotel in Phobjikha or Punakha.

Day 11: Drive to Thimphu
After breakfast we will start our 2 / 4 hours drive to Thimphu, we will have several stops en route for pictures and leg stretch. If weather permits; we will be able to see the northern snowcapped mountains of Bhutan from here. Continue our drive to Thimphu, Lunch will be served here. Rest of the day free for shopping in the capital city.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.

Day 12: Thimphu Sightseeing
After breakfast our car will shuttle us to the starting point of hike to Tango Monastery. This hike takes only about 45 minutes – 1 hour to reach the monastery that is presently used as the Institute for study of Buddhist philosophy etc. by the monks of Bhutan. From the road head we will drive back south to Thimphu, en route we will visit Pari Zampa Temple, here the young monks are trained in astrology. We will return to Thimphu City, evening free.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.

Day 13: Drive back to Paro and Sightseeing
After breakfast we will drive back to Paro, this will take about 2 hours, check into hotel and then we will start our sightseeing of Paro valley by first visiting Drukgyal Dzong built in 1647 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal, the Dzong was destroyed by fire and left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. On a clear day you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari, alt. 7314 m / 23,990 ft. Go round the fortress, it is a 30 minutes leisurely hike, this is a beautiful walk. Drive south to Satsam Chorten, built in memory of the late Dilgo Khentse Rinpochey, and continue on to Kyichu Lhakhang, built in seventh century by a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo. After lunch visit the National Museum of Bhutan, (Ta Dzong) which contains works of art, handicrafts, costumes, armors and rare stamps. Take a leisurely hike down to Rimpung Dzong. You will walk through a traditional covered bridge across the river to your waiting car and drive to your hotel.
Overnight at hotel in Paro.

Day 14: Excursion to Taktsang Monastery
After breakfast our car will drop us at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair). The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. You stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike (if not tired) for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the remains of Taktsang monastery. Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. The history states that Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tiger. Looking at the monastery flying tigers doesn’t seem so impossible after all. Lunch will be served at the cafeteria. After lunch we start our hike back to Paro valley, if time permits we will have some more sightseeing or a free day for more shopping in the small Bazaar.
Overnight at hotel in Paro.

Day 15: Departure to Kathmandu from Paro
After breakfast, transfer to Paro International Airport for flight back to Kathmandu.
Kathmandu arrival and transfer to hotel. Optional sightseeing or full day rest.
Eve: Enjoy farewell dinner at one of the nice restaurant.
Overnight at hotel in Kathmandu.

Day 16: Departure from Kathmandu or Extend Nepal Tour
Breakfast and timely transfer to airport for departure from Kathmandu.