Punakha: Festivals of Bhutan
DAY 1 Bangkok-Paro-Thimphu
Fly to Paro, Bhutan, on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan. If you get a seat on the left side of the plane and the weather cooperates, you might have spectacular views of the high peaks of the Eastern Himalaya, including peaks in Bhutan such as Chomolhari, Jichu Drakye, and Tsering Kang. After visa formalities at the Paro airport, we drive to Paro town for lunch and after lunch, visit Kichu Lhakhang, built in 659 A.D by the Tibetan King Srongsen Gampo. This Monastery is one of the 108 monasteries built across the Himalayan region by the Tibetan King to subdue the Demons that lay across the Himalayan region. The rest of the monasteries lie in other neighboring countries. After a short break we will continue driving to Thimphu, check in at hotel and then the rest of the evening is free to rest and relax.
DAY 2 Thimphu
Our morning tour will include a visit to the School of Arts and Crafts (or “painting school”), where Bhutanese children can follow a six-year program in traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture. We’ll also visit the Textile Museum, National Institute of Traditional Medicine, and the Folk Heritage Museum.
In between, around 11:00 am we will be going to visit the Thangka perseveration project, located next to Tashichodzong. After that we will have lunch and drive to our trailhead where we set out on our hike: a steep, hour-long climb to Tango Goemba, a Buddhist institute originally founded in the 12th century.
On our way back we will visit the Zoo, where you can witness the National Animal Takin.
DAY 3 Thimphu-Punakha
After lunch we drive across the Dochu La (“La” means “pass”) at 10,000 feet, where we might view the snow-covered peaks of the eastern Himalaya (weather permitting). The pass is marked by hundreds of colorful fluttering prayer flags and is an awesome sight. We then Continue to Punakha, the winter seat of the highest lama in Bhutan till the 1950s. We will visit the ancient Punakha Dzong (a dzong is a fortress-monastery) dating back to the 17th century, which is spectacularly situated at the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers.
DAY 4 Punakha
This morning we visit the magnificent Punakha Dzong, which guards the southern end of the valley at the confluence of the Pho (male, or father) and Mo (female, or mother) rivers. Here we will witness the Punakha Festival (Tsechu) a religious festival honoring Guru Rinpoche—“one who was born from a lotus flower.” Both monks and laymen perform rituals and colorful ceremonial dances in front of the monastery, with swirling costumes and elaborate headdresses that may include scarves, hats, gold crowns, and full head masks depicting animals. People travel from all around to attend the festival, dressed in their finest clothing and jewelry. This is a unique opportunity for us to meet with the local people and witness one of their important religious festivals. The festival not only plays an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provides devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special in the eyes and hearts of both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.
DAY 5 Punakha-Paro
Morning after breakfast We will take an short hike across the rice paddies to visit nearby Chimi Lhakhang (temple), built by Lama Drukpa Kunley. Legend has it he subdued the demoness of the Dochu La with his “Magic Thunderbolt of Wisdom.” A wood effigy of the lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the Lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to receive a wang (blessing) from the saint. After the hike we will start our drive back to Paro, on the way we will have lunch at Dochu La Cafeteria. After lunch we will continue our drive back to Paro.
We will visit the National Museum, housed in an old watchtower above Paro Dzong (a dzong is a fortress-monastery). The museum’s collections include displays of spectacular Thangkas (religious scroll paintings), bronze statues, Bhutan’s beautiful stamps, and the Tshogshing Lhakhang (Temple of the Tree of Wisdom), with its carvings depicting the history of Buddhism.
DAY 6 Paro
Today we will take a steep, 1½-hour hike to a teahouse, where we enjoy a great view of Taktsang Monastery (its name literally means “tiger’s nest”), perched on a cliff 2,700 feet above the floor of Paro Valley. Our hike follows a steep switchback trail through the forest. After a break with tea and cookies, you have the option to sit outside the building and admire the monastery and its beautiful surroundings or, if you feel energetic, to continue another thirty minutes to a closer viewpoint. Much of Taktsang was destroyed by a fire in April 1998, but it is now completely rebuilt.
Or we will drive above the town of Bondey to a trailhead where we can walk about 40 minutes to Dzongdrakha, a small monastery/retreat center overlooking the Paro Valley. Built in the 16th century by the first local king, Chogay Dragpa, this monastery is one of five in the area. There is also a large stupa (shrine) similar to that of Bodhnath in Kathmandu, Nepal. We then return to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for rest or shopping.
DAY 7 Bangkok
Transfer to the airport for the flight.