Bhutan: Kingdom in the Himalayas

Guided Walking Tour, Bhutan: Kingdom in the HimalayasGuided Walking Tour, Bhutan: Kingdom in the Himalayas

Bhutan

Kingdom in the Himalayas

overview

Closed to outsiders for years, Bhutan finally opened its borders to reveal a timeless Buddhist culture and joyful land. Nestled in the Himalayas, it offers countless gifts: exuberant cities flowing with colorful life; rich history; centuries-old mountain monasteries steeped in tradition. Explore the heritage of time-honored crafts in Thimphu’s museums and shops, then head deep into the countryside to encounter rare Himalayan wildlife. Surrounded by 20,000-foot summits, you might take part in ceremonies honoring the black-necked crane, or enjoy a picnic lunch among grazing yaks. In medieval-era temples and rural markets, monks and nuns perform their rituals while villagers play games of khuru (traditional darts). Experienced local guides fill every day with surprises; personal introductions to their fellow Bhutanese will help you grasp the Buddhist ideal of living in the moment.

 

Activity Level
Moderate;
4-7 miles daily
Meet
Bangkok, Thailand
Depart
Paro, Bhutan
Daily Itinerary
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itinerary
Reading List
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From our blog

Guided Walking 
10 days, 9 nights Trip Includes 

Trip Includes

  • Two expert, local guides (for groups of 8 or more), with you 24/7
  • All meals included; local wine or beer included with dinner
  • All accommodations while on tour
  • Transportation from the meeting point to the departure point
  • Entrance fees and special events as noted in the itinerary
  • Bhutan visa (you will receive the visa in the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport prior to the Bangkok to Paro flight)
  • Basic travel insurance coverage
  • The unbeatable and cumulative experience of the CW staff
per person double occupancy
Single supplement + $475
 

Solo surcharge + $0
 

Airfare additional + $950 (2014) $995 (2015)

Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION
Number of Travelers
Total in your party
Price From
per person double occupancy

Airfare additional + $950 (2014) $995 (2015)

Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION

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Itinerary and Accommodations

Days
Destination
1
Thimphu
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2
Thimphu
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3
Wangdue/Punakha
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4
Wangdue/Punakha
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5
Wangdue/Punakha
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6
Wangdue/Punakha
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7
Paro
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8
Paro
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9
Paro
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10
Paro
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Day 1

Thimphu

Transfer from Bangkok to Paro to Thimphu. City walking tour of Thimphu; 3-5 miles, easy

The flight into this spectacular part of the world is like no other. The green wall of hills, known as dooars, is a gateway into Bhutan from the plains; the hills climb continually higher as you fly north toward the Tibetan border. Silvery rivers thread the valleys, waterfalls plunge down the forested mountainsides and, to the north, the great snowcapped peaks of the inner Himalayas rise up into the sky. Upon arrival, you are transferred to Thimphu. Once a rustic village, it is now the capital of Bhutan, and sits in a broad, fertile valley of the Wang Chu River. Compared to Paro and Punakha, Thimphu is a bustling city, although a relaxed one, with a population of only 50,000; it’s the world’s only capital without a single traffic light.

After checking into your hotel, which is surrounded by a towering pine forest and situated just outside Thimphu, you enjoy a traditional lunch before exploring Thimphu on foot. Your walk takes you among its many interesting sights; Thimphu Dzong (seat of the government and main monk body), the policeman directing traffic, a local archery match, crimson-robed monks, Indian laborers, and gho-clad (traditionally dressed) professionals. Thimphu has a youthful exuberance and a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new. Afterward, continue your quest for the perfect traditional weaving in local handicraft shops.

Returning to the hotel, you gather for an orientation meeting and welcome dinner of Bhutanese cuisine—selections include red rice, fresh asparagus, momos (dumplings), and, for those wanting a spicy option, there is ema datsi (cheese and chilis).

Chuniding Resort

Bhutan: Kingdom in the Himalayas

This property is nestled among beautiful towering pine woods and is quiet and comfortable. It is a family-run establishment with a multi-cuisine restaurant and bar.

Day 2

Thimphu

Jigme Dorji National Park and Cheri Goemba; 3 miles, moderate with an elevation gain of 750 ft.

A short drive up the Thimphu Valley to the road’s end at Dodena brings you to the entrance to Jigme Dorji National Park, one of Bhutan’s revered wildlife sanctuaries. From here you cross the Thimphu Chu over a covered wooden swing bridge, adorned with hundreds of prayer flags. You then begin the ascent to Cheri Goemba, a small monastery perched on the hill with a view over the Thimphu Valley. This monastery was built in 1620 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the man responsible for many of Bhutan’s most historic dzongs and monasteries. Here, he established the first Bhutanese body of Buddhist monks, and scattered across the hillside are many small meditation huts where the devout monks and their students can seclude themselves for extended periods of meditation. Take off your shoes and visit the tiny temples and shrines within the complex. Feel the spiritual atmosphere and ambience.

Following a transfer back to Thimphu and lunch at a local restaurant, you have the opportunity to visit the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the National Library, the newly built Textile Museum, the Heritage Museum, and the Handicrafts Emporium, displaying the rich traditional crafts of the kingdom. Dinner this evening is Asian-Bhutanese cuisine at one of Thimphu’s finest restaurants.

Chuniding Resort

Bhutan: Kingdom in the Himalayas

This property is nestled among beautiful towering pine woods and is quiet and comfortable. It is a family-run establishment with a multi-cuisine restaurant and bar.

Day 3

Wangdue/Punakha

Transfer to Punakha. Temple of the Divine Madman; 4 miles, easy to moderate

The first stop, after approximately 1½ hours of driving, is at Dochula Pass at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, where, depending on the cloud cover, you may have initial views of the high mountains. Here a short walk leads past rare Himalayan plants, flowers, and birds, especially in the spring, and perhaps even a grey langur or red fox may be spotted.

Punakha, situated at an altitude of 4,430 feet, served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and is still the winter capital for the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the main monk body. Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in Bhutan. The climate allows for two rice crops per year, and is also suitable for growing fruit, with oranges, bananas, and guavas in abundance.

This afternoon you walk through a small village to Chimi Lakhang (the Temple of the Divine Madman). Lama Drukpa Kinley, more commonly known as the “Divine Madman,” is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints. He traveled throughout Bhutan and Tibet using songs, humor, and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings, believing that the stiffness of the clergy and social conventions were keeping people from learning the true Buddhist teachings. This site is still believed to hold fertility powers for women. From the vantage point of Chimi Lakhang, you take in the spectacular views of the Punakha Valley.

Punatsangchhu Hotel

Punakha, Bhutan

This hotel has a delightful location with views down the valley and over the river. It is decorated aesthetically in traditional Bhutanese style. The rooms have balconies with views and are clean and comfortable with en suite bathrooms.
Day 4

Wangdue/Punakha

Chorten Nebu Temple; 6 miles, moderate with an elevation gain of 1,200 ft.

The walk this morning begins on a quiet country road, before climbing steeply over a rough trail as you make your way through terraced rice fields to the local Chorten Nebu Temple. Perched high on a hilltop with spectacular views of the Mo Chu Valley below, Chorten Nebu is over 200 years old and houses the images of the future Buddha and the statues of Kagyupa monks, Guru Dorji Chang and Mahakala. It is believed that long before the Chorten Nebu Temple was built during the time of the Divine Madman, this area was the meeting place of demons. One day when the Divine Madman passed by, he saw a meeting of all the demons and evil spirits. He picked up a burning piece of firewood, with which he was able to scatter them, never to be seen again. From the burning firewood grew the old oak tree, which still stands today near the temple. From this tree sacred talismans are made to adorn the necks or the belts of children and livestock to keep them healthy.

After lunch you continue descending through small villages. With magnificent views from the temple, it is easy to understand why many consider the Punakha Valley to be one of the most beautiful in Bhutan. Although steep in places, the trail from Chorten Nebu towards the valley floor is wide and well defined, as it is frequently used by local people visiting the temple, as well as children walking to and from school.

Punatsangchhu Hotel

Punakha, Bhutan

This hotel has a delightful location with views down the valley and over the river. It is decorated aesthetically in traditional Bhutanese style. The rooms have balconies with views and are clean and comfortable with en suite bathrooms.
Day 5

Wangdue/Punakha

Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple to Punakha Dzong; 7 miles, easy to moderate

Following breakfast and a drive through the Punakha Valley, your walk begins with a series of switchbacks to the Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple. From the viewpoint at this majestic temple, you are afforded grand views of the Mo Chu River Valley below.

Your walk descends from the temple and follows a well-worn path down the valley through rice fields and small villages. Along the way are stunning views, with terraced rice paddies, providing a lush backdrop to the river below. You continue walking to the Punakha Dzong, which was constructed in 1637 and was the second of Bhutan’s dzongs and for many years its seat of government. From this spectacular setting you can look back to see the Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple perched on the hillside far in the distance. After a picnic lunch on the lawn of the temple, or perhaps in a local farmhouse, you continue with a short walk from the dzong to your waiting bus, and the return trip to the hotel. Dinner tonight is in a local restaurant where you can sample many of the traditional dishes.

Punatsangchhu Hotel

Punakha, Bhutan

This hotel has a delightful location with views down the valley and over the river. It is decorated aesthetically in traditional Bhutanese style. The rooms have balconies with views and are clean and comfortable with en suite bathrooms.
Day 6

Wangdue/Punakha

Optional day in the Gangtey Valley (an approximate 4-hour roundtrip drive), or Pochhu River Trail; 4-6 miles, easy

You rise early this morning for a full-day optional visit to the incredible Gangtey Gompa, also known as Phobjikha—an enormous glacial valley along the western slopes of the Black Mountains. This broad valley is a natural reserve for the endangered black-necked crane, of which only 300 to 400 remain in the world. This species is revered by locals as the “birds of heaven,” and they honor them with ceremonies of “welcoming” in November and “farewell” in early March. As a mark of respect for the cranes, the government decreed that no electric poles should ever be installed in the valley. Because the cranes feed on dwarf bamboo roots growing here, there are also restrictions on building and development in the valley. If the timing is right, there is a chance that you will be there during the welcoming ceremony, which occurs in the courtyard of the 16th-century Gangtey Monastery. As the cranes flying overhead begin to circle down and return to their millennia-old wintering grounds, thousands of people gather, and local children dressed in crane costumes sing and dance to honor the birds. If it not possible to see the ceremony, you can still spot the cranes nesting and flying overhead—an amazing and serene sight. You will take a walk today along a valley trail which passes local farmhouses and affords many opportunities to meet the locals and interact with the children. After enjoying dinner in a local restaurant or farmhouse, you embark on the journey back to Punakha. It takes about two hours to return, so it is a long day, but this valley is so amazing and remote that it is well worth the time spent on the road.

If you do not want to join the excursion to the Gangtey Valley, another option is a walk near Punakha. Follow a trail along Phochhu River, starting near the second-longest suspension bridge in the world, just above Punakha Dzong. This packed-earth trail is also used for mountain biking and continues along for several miles, bringing you through the villages of Nebtenkha, with lovely views of the surrounding valley. You stop for a picnic lunch along the banks of the river, then after lunch cross the Samdinkha Bridge, keeping your eyes peeled for the highly endangered white-bellied heron along the water’s edge. You continue along a flat farm road, where you eventually find your waiting bus. If you would like to extend your walk, an additional two-hour, more moderate option brings you to Thamjee village.

Punatsangchhu Hotel

Punakha, Bhutan

This hotel has a delightful location with views down the valley and over the river. It is decorated aesthetically in traditional Bhutanese style. The rooms have balconies with views and are clean and comfortable with en suite bathrooms.
Day 7

Paro

Transfer to Paro. Royal Botanical Garden to Dochula; 6 miles, moderate

After leaving Punakha, en route to Paro, you enjoy a walk through a forest with temperate vegetation. Arriving at the Royal Botanical Garden, which is 8,800 feet above sea level, you take a short walk around the small lake, where you may spot a red panda, one of the rare animals in the Himalayas. After enjoying a visit through the gardens, you set off west towards the Dochula Pass. The trail takes you along switchbacks and under a canopy of trees where you may even spot an elusive pheasant. After walking for approximately two hours, you reach the pass and arrive at a small teahouse, where you can eat lunch and drink tea. Meeting the van here, you transfer to Paro, our last stop on this incredible adventure.

The Paro Valley is steeped in rich culture, scenic beauty, and hundreds of myths and legends. It is also home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s only airport, and the National Museum.

After settling into your comfortable accommodations, there is time to relax before a dinner of local specialties in the hotel restaurant.

Tiger’s Nest Resort (Eye of the Tiger)

Paro, Bhutan

This is a unique property and is the only resort surrounding Paro that has direct views of the famous Tiger’s Nest. The comfortable rooms are designed in typical Bhutanese style and include all modern amenities.

Day 8

Paro

Chelila to Kila Gompa; 7 miles, moderate to challenging, 700-ft. elevation gain (easier walking options available)

After breakfast, you board the bus for the 1½-hour drive that climbs almost 5,000 feet above the valley floor to the Chelila Pass, one of the highest automobile-accessible passes in Bhutan at over 12,000 feet. From here you can view Mt. Chomolhari (24,000 feet), Mt. Tshering Gang (22,700 feet), and Mt. Jichu Drake (22,300 feet). The more-challenging walking option begins here, with a steady hour-long ascent. For those who prefer an easier route, there are shorter walking options to a traditional spot for hanging prayer flags. Both groups meet for lunch, and then set off on the three-hour (mainly downhill) route. An approximate one-hour walk brings you to the base of Kila Gompa, where a meditation retreat center is perched on the edge of the cliff. There is ample time to visit this nunnery, which is nestled beneath a craggy patch on the mountainside. The nuns here lead an undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer, and meditation. On departing this temple, you walk along an undulating trail that brings you to the rendezvous with the waiting bus.

Tiger’s Nest Resort (Eye of the Tiger)

Paro, Bhutan

This is a unique property and is the only resort surrounding Paro that has direct views of the famous Tiger’s Nest. The comfortable rooms are designed in typical Bhutanese style and include all modern amenities.

Day 9

Paro

Bhutan's National Museum to Taktshang; 4 miles, challenging with an elevation gain of 1,650 ft.

This morning you have the opportunity to visit Bhutan’s National Museum. Situated at the top of the hill above the Paro Dzong, the museum is located in what was originally the dzong’s watchtower. It boasts an interesting collection of thangkhas (painted or embroidered religious pictures), textiles, weapons, armor, household objects, and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.

Following the museum visit, you walk to the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, Taktshang, perched on the side of a cliff, 2,800 feet above the valley floor. The 8th-century historical figure, Guru Rimpoche, is regarded as the second Buddha and believed to have had miraculous powers, including the ability to subdue demons and evil spirits. Taktshang is translated as “tiger’s nest,” and Guru Rimpoche is believed to have flown on the back of a tigress to the site of the monastery, where he then meditated in a cave for three months.

The well-traveled trail ascends a series of switchbacks through juniper and pine forests, leading you to a teahouse, which provides spectacular views of the Paro Valley below and the monastery above. You eat lunch here and follow the trail onward to a viewpoint at the same level as the monastery (approximately 9,950 feet). Conditions permitting, it may be possible to walk all the way into Taktshang, which is truly a highlight.

This evening a farewell dinner will be held in the hotel’s restaurant, where you can chat with your fellow travelers about your wonderful Bhutanese adventure.

Tiger’s Nest Resort (Eye of the Tiger)

Paro, Bhutan

This is a unique property and is the only resort surrounding Paro that has direct views of the famous Tiger’s Nest. The comfortable rooms are designed in typical Bhutanese style and include all modern amenities.

Day 10

Paro

Departure from Paro

This morning your guide(s) will accompany you to Paro Airport, where you bid farewell to your newfound friends after your flight to Bangkok.

Itinerary Disclaimer

Bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual activities, sites, and accommodations may vary due to season, special events, weather, or transportation schedules. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made up to a year in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. If you are currently booked on a CW adventure, an itinerary has been sent to you for your exact departure date. Please call CW at 800.464.9255 if you have any questions about the exact itinerary or hotels selected for any of our tours.

Guides

Kinlay Gyaltshen

A descendant of Bhutan's Wang clan, Kinlay enjoys sharing his love for his country with CW guests. The Wang clan were believers of Shamanism, and Kinley has inherited this legacy of connection with and respect for his natural surroundings. His friendly manner and depth of knowledge make him an excellent traveling companion to the mystical Kingdom of Bhutan.

Sangay Wangchuk

Sangay Wangchuk is an avid mountaineer. He has climbed mountains and trekked in all corners of Bhutan. For over 25 years, Sangay has led walking tours and specialized tours focusing on Bhutanese textiles, anthropology, and architecture. He loves writing and is currently documenting the oral traditions - myths and stories originating in the countryside of Bhutan. He has published a book named “Seeing with the Third Eye. Growing up with Grandma in rural Bhutan”. His favorite pastime is contributing as a columnist for the Business Bhutan newspaper and he also writes for the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s annual magazine.

Leki Phuntshok

A native of Bhutan, Leki Phuntshok speaks fluent English and Chinese. His interests lie in photography, bird watching, and hiking. Having completed every trekking route in northern Bhutan, he looks forward to welcoming CW guests on the trail and showing them his beautiful country.

Guest Comments

H. Seren, Illinois, November 2011

Bhutan is a magical place. Our guides introduced us to this country and made us feel welcome. Kinley, in particular, helped make every day a delight. I would recommend this trip to everyone I know.

T. Ukena, Massachusetts, November 2010

This is a (relatively) pure isolated Buddhist kingdom that still maintains much of its historical traditions. Do not miss this trip….it's a truly unique place in the world. In general with CW it's all about the guides. They are the best!

P. Jaquith, Illinois 2009

10 trips in 10 years and counting…CW guides worldwide are beyond exceptional.
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