Visiting the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon' is a true bliss and if you are short on time, this is the perfect itinerary for you. Of precariously perched monasteries and a forest cover of over 70 percent, Bhutan is truly pristine. The cultural richness of Thimphu comes alive with its monasteries and the art of thangka paintings. The birding paradise of Punakha and the glacial valley of Phobjikha stir up the best of emotions in you. The stunning Tiger's Nest at Paro will make your heart skip a beat or two.
Arrival in Thimphu
Arrive in one of the most stunning airstrips in the world at Paro. Hop into our taxi and take a beautiful drive towards Thimphu. Rest and refresh yourself before heading out for an afternoon tour of Thimphu.
Start with the Kuensel Phodrang or the Buddha point which is considered to be the world's largest sitting Buddha statue, the statue is 167 feet high. The statue is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city of Thimphu, it can be accessed by road and is about 15 minutes away from the city's center. The word 'Kuensel' means 'everything is clear' and from this place you will sure enjoy a great view of the Thimphu Valley on both sides. On the drive to the statue the steep winding hill road offers an unparalleled view of the city of Thimphu and is an excellent place to capture a view of the city especially after dark. A journalist once described the view as ?seeing an oasis of light in the desert of darkness ?as the city light of Thimphu shine very bright in an otherwise dark Thimphu valley.
We move on to the Motithang Takin Preserve also known as the Thimphu Zoo by many is a small natural preserve for the Takin, Bhutan's national animal. It was originally a mini zoo, but it was converted in a preserve later on as the Takin. The mini zoo contained a small number of Takin but the King of Bhutan later decreed that it was improper for a Buddhist nation to keep an animal in captivity. The animals were set free and the zoo was shut down, but for some reason the Takin refused to leave the area for the forests nearby. Instead the animals were frequently found roaming around the streets of the capital city in search for food. As a result, the government decided to demarcate an 8-acre fenced location as the Motithang Takin Preserve. In addition to the Takin there are a few musk deer and barking deer that live inside the preserve.
Later in the evening, head to the Tashichho Dzong. This dzong is a Buddhist monastery cum fortress at the northern edge of Thimpu the capital city of Bhutan. The Dzong was built on the western bank of the river Wang Chu, and has historically served at the seat of the Druk Desi or the Dharma Raja of Bhutan's government. The Dzong has been seat of the Royal government since 1952 and presently houses the Throne room and the King's secretariat. The monument welcomes visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu festival which is held in autumn each year. The Dzongs main structure is a two striped quadrangle with 3 storied towers on each of its four corners.
Tour of Thimphu
A short visit to the Immigration office in Thimphu after breakfast to extend your permit till Punakha. Post this, head for a tour of Thimphu.
Head to the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory. This is a private factory and they manufacture a special watermark paper as well as products such as lampshades, envelopes and other objects made of traditional Bhutanese paper. They make great gifts to take home with you and are genuinely unique. It is not just the texture of these handmade paper products that will intrigue you, but also their unique earth tones and natural hews. Bhutan protects its environment through long-term sustainability, and they follow it because they do not destroy the plant when they extract the raw material required.
Next on our list is the Folk Heritage Museum. This museum treasures troves of culture and rich Bhutanese heritage provide rich insights into the Bhutanese ethos. The tour of this almost living museum will also give you a glimpse onto how many rural folk of the country live today following the ancient Bhutanese ways.
From here we go to the Memorial Chorten also known as the Gongzo Chorten or Gyaldren Chorten. The chorten (stupa) is a chief landmark in the capital city and is also a most sacred place of worship for local people. The idea of the chorten was conceptualized by the Third King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to ward-off negative energies. After His Majesty's demise, the chorten was built in his memory by the 4th King and the then Queen Mother in 1972. Many old people come here early in the morning to circumambulate and say their prayers in the hopes of garnering enough good karma for their afterlife; they are joined by the middle and the younger generation in the evenings who also come to do either the same thing or to just relax their mind.
The last stop in Thimphu is Changangkha Lhakhang. It is a 12th century temple sitting on top of a hill overlooking Thimphu valley with the main statue of Chenrizig (The Buddha of Compassion). This temple is often mistaken for a dzong by visitors because it looks like one, and apart from the temple it also houses a monastic school. Most of the couples here go to this temple soon after birth to get blessings for their child.
Sightseeing at Punakha
After an early breakfast today, drive down to Punakha which takes around 2-3 hours. Stop en route at Dochu La Pass for spectacular views Bhutan's highest mountains. The pass sits at an altitude of 3100 metres. Another striking feature at the pass are the 108 Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens, that were built for the well-being of all sentiment beings on earth. The 108 Chorten were built as a tribute to the Kings of Bhutan for their selfless service and leadership they offer to the people of Bhutan.
Continue the drive towards Punakha and stop at Lobesa village for a short hike to Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility). It is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley (Divine Mad Man) and is the place from where Phalluses originated as the symbol of fertility and protection and can be seen everywhere in Bhutan, on house walls and roofs and altars. Childless couples usually go to this temple to get blessings so that they conceive and are blessed with a child. (Note: The temple and has some sexual depictions. You may want to reconsider visiting this place if you are not comfortable with children seeing these).
The warm valley of Punakha is a birding paradise, so keep your eyes peeled for the elusive white-bellied heron here. Visit the serene Punakha Dzong at the confluence of the Po and Mo Chu Rivers, fascinatingly picturesque whitewashed walls with woodwork surrounded by jacaranda trees, set against clear blue skies. It is the second largest and the second oldest dzong in Bhutan. Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup, on the ridge beside Punakha and Wangdue, is a tranquil temple and nunnery with a majestic bronze statue, and worth a visit as well.
Sightseeing at Paro
Post breakfast drive down to Paro, crossing the Dochu La again. On the way visit Tamchog Lhakhang. It is a temple that is dedicated to the 13th century saint Thangthong Gyalpo, the iron bridge builder. This temple is located across the river about 15 kilometres from the Paro towards Thimphu. In order to get to the temple one must cross an iron chain bridge, one of the few remaining of the many that Thangthong Gyalpo built. This is a private temple however tourists are allowed to visit if they are given permission. Crossing this very old bridge with its swaying and undulating movements can be quite an experience. The temple's location on the ridge and the high rocky barren hills which serve as its backdrop makes this a good location to take pictures.
Next on our list is the Ta Dzong (National Museum). The name Ta Dzong translates to 'watch tower' and it served the function of a watch tower for the Paro Rinpung Dzong. Back in the day, similar look-out points were built for other dzongs (fortresses) to counter any approaching hostilities, for those were the days of frequent strife. These towers were specifically built high atop hills and other vantage points during the old days. Presently serving as the national museum (since late 60's), it houses an array of antiquities such as ancient thangka (exquisite scroll painting), mural paintings, original textiles of the kingdom, weapons and armour.
Hike to Taksang Monastery
Hike up to the fascinating Taktsang, ''Tiger's Nest'' Monastery, after an early breakfast. A nearly 3-hour hike one way, this precariously perched monastery lies where it is believed meditating here gives one greater blessings than meditating anywhere else. Named after the legend that has Guru Rinpoche' arriving here on the back of a tigress, meditated for three months in the cave vanquishing evil spirits and thereby leading to the valley's conversion to Buddhism. Given that taking a tigress up is not really an option today, there are still horses that take you three-quarters of the way up (a mere 5-minute walk up stairs to the monastery from there), if you aren't fit enough for the hike uphill. You'd still have to walk down, however. The present structure was built in1998 when a fire had damaged much of the original monastery. Taktsang Cafeteria halfway up does a decent Bhutanese lunch served as well, on your way back.
End your day with a visit to Kyichu Lhakhang. It is considered to be the oldest temple along with Jampa and Kenchosum Lhakhang in Bumthang. It dates back to the 7th century when a Tibetan King ordered 108 temples to be built in a single night to subdue a huge ogress. It was later renovated in the mid 19th century and in the late 1960's by the Grand Queen Mother. It is also considered by many to be one of the holiest places in the country. Inside the compound is an orange tree which always has oranges no matter what the season.
A beautiful trip across the mountains and valleys o Bhutan comes to an end. Drive to the airport to catch a flight out of the 'happiest country in the world'.