A small little kingdom, Bhutan has done wonders in terms of both conservation and a monarchy that has changed with changing times. The 'land of the thunder dragon', is interestingly rich when measured by its citizens 'gross national happiness'. Of precariously perched monasteries and a forest cover of over 70 percent, Bhutan is truly pristine.
Arrival at Thimphu
The 'land of the thunder dragon', interestingly rich when measured by its citizens 'gross national happiness', arrive at Paro airport and drive to your hotel in Thimphu. Probably the only place on the planet where the quality of life takes precedence over financial success, every tree cut here requires three more to be planted in its place, and you can certainly see the difference this makes.
Head over to the The Centenary Farmer's market, if you're lucky enough to be here on the weekend, for the amazing Bhutanese farmers stalls with local vegetables and food products. Pick up a ball of 'datse', local cheese, as you move along past stalls with dried fish, fresh fruit and even yak meat here. Walk down Norzin Lam with for the fascinating capital city's main street without the malls and rush-hour traffic. Visit TashichhoDzong that houses the government and offices of the king, where you could visit the monastery wing in the evening.
Sightseeing at Thimphu
A charming capital city, quite like none other, wake up to fresh mountain air at 7874 feet, stark mesmerizing buildings against clear blue skies and warm smiling locals. Begin at the National Memorial Chorten in the middle of town with its exquisite gold spires and mandala patterns, built in memory of Bhutan's third King. Get to the heart of Bhutanese Deh-sho paper making at Jungshi handmade paper factorymade with the bark of the daphne bush. Move on to the National Library and Archives of Bhutan, a treasure trove of priceless Buddhist manuscripts. Head over to the 'painting school', the Institute for ZorigChusum, to watch students at work on elaborate thangkas (on canvas), masks, embroidery, or statue making.
Head back to Norzim Lam for a traditional Bhutanese lunch with EmaDatshi (chilli stew) and cheese. Buddha Point, on top of KuenselPhodrang,offers spectacular views of Thimphu valley with the Great Buddha Dordenma statue standing tall at 51.5-m. Move on to the picture-perfect Chang Gangkha Monastery, the valley's oldest. Motithang Takin Preserve, home to the fascinating Takin (Bhutan's national animal) is a 15-minute drive away from Thimphu. Legend has it that the origins of the Takin date back to when a monk joined the head of a goat to the body of a cow. The ZilukhaAnimDratshangNunnery, with panoramic serene views, also ThakchoKunzangChoden Nunnery, is worth a visit as well. The Institute of Traditional Medicine is worth a visit as well for age-old healing practices. It should be noted that most government institutes are closed over the weekend, so you could always head over to BBS Tower &Sangaygang Hill view point for panoramic views of Thimphu Valley; Changlimthang Stadium & Archery ground, and if you're lucky enough to be there in time for an archery tournament, there's nothing like it.
Get your permit (remember permits are not issued on weekends) and drive to Punakha/Wangdue, 2-1/2 hours away. Stop en route at Dochu La Pass for spectacular views Bhutan's highest mountains. The warm valley of Punakha is a birding paradise, so keep your eyes peeled for the elusive white-bellied heron here. Visit the serene PunakhaDzongat the confluence of the Po and Mo Chu Rivers,fascinatingly picturesque whitewashed walls with woodwork surrounded by jacaranda trees, set against clear blue skies.
SangchhenDorjiLhuendrup, on the ridge beside Punakha and Wangdue, is a tranquil temple and nunnery with a majestic bronze statue, and worth a visit as well.
A day trip to Bhutan's most fascinating glacial valleys, Gangtey & Phobjikha, deserves to begin early. Considered a part of conservation zone within the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park (the erstwhile Black Mountain National Park), this is the natural nesting grounds for numerous birds including the black-necked cranes that migrate in. These amazing birds are the subject of most Bhutanese folktales and songs. Head back to Punaka later in the evening.
Experience the Bhutanese way of life at Tshering Farmhouse with a traditional game of 'khuru' for an hour or a hot stone bath 'dotsho'. The dotsho is apparently a cure for a whole load of medical problems, but you do need to book in advance.
The drive to Paro would take at least 4 hours.
Sightseeing at Paro
Begin your day with a visit to Ta Dzong, Bhutan's National Museum, that just reopened last year after damages from the 2011 earthquake. Stroll down the trail to Paro (Rinpung)Dzongor visit Pema House for some interesting pictures dressed in traditional Bhutanese Gho and Kira clothes. Stop for lunch on Paro's main street, walking past brightly painted wooden entrances to quaint shops and restaurants. Visit DrukgyelDzong, the ruined fortress originally built as a line of control en route to Tibet. KyichuLhakhang, a short drive away is one of the Himalayan kingdom's most beautiful Buddhist temples. Tread softly as you pass pilgrims spinning prayer wheels in silent prayer. Head back to town for some souvenirs on your last evening here in Bhutan.
Chele Le Pass Or Taktsang Monastery
Chele La Pass
An hour and a half away from Paro, the drive to Chele La Pass, at 13084 ft. above msl is one of Bhutan's highest motorable passes. Pass blue pine and rhododendron forests to get to Chele La Pass with its panoramic views of Mount Chomolhari & Jichu Drakey. Return to Paro later in the evening to stroll down its main street for some of those interesting souvenirs and eateries.
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. Taktsang Cafeteria halfway up does a decent Bhutanese lunch served as well, on your way back.
Leave Paro, more at peace with the world than when you first arrived with images of precariously perched monasteries, gently swirling prayer wheels and smiling faces.