10 days - 9 nights
Price: 3499 euro (Flights exclusive)
Bhutan is very committed to sustainability. So the Himalayan kingdom allows only a limited number of tourists each year, so as not to put too much pressure on the ecology of the country.
Bhutan is the last remaining Himalayan kingdom, ruled by the Buddhist philosophy of the Gross National Happiness. It tries to find a balance between spiritual and material.
'In search of happiness' is also the theme of a very special trip that is organized once a year by our friend Ugyen, who is a well-known Bhutanese nature photographer and a very experienced travel guide.
We know Ugyen from a first Bhutan journey, ten years ago now, when he guided us through his country. It was thanks to this very likeable, eloquent young man that our trip became unforgettable. Bhutan is one of the most beautiful and unique countries we have ever visited. Since then we have a bit of a trip to Bhutan. When Ugyen - who has now become a father and runs an ecolodge - recently asked us if we wanted to come back with a group, we did not hesitate for a second. We would like to share our experiences in this wonderful country with friends and acquaintances. So last year we went to Bhutan with a group again and the enthusiastic response to this means that we plan a new trip in 2019.
During this tour he is our guide and he will introduce us to his friends, consisting of students, monks and policymakers who will tell and show how in this unique country a balance is struck between tradition and progress, between prosperity and well-being.
As pilgrims we will travel around, visit the literal and figurative heights, visit temples and monasteries, learn about the Buddhist legends and the philosophy of the Drukpas (the spiritual leaders of Bhutan), make nature walks and spend time with local residents in mountain villages. It will also be a relaxing journey with time for both vistas and insights, in this timeless, small mountain kingdom of which some think it is a myth, but that really exists and where happiness not only has a place but a place.
Arrival at Paro airport and transfer by comfortable minibus to Thimpu. We start with a visit to the great Buddha and the memorial stupa in Thimphu. We then take a walk to Sangaygang with a view of the Thimphu valley. In the evening there is time to explore the center of Thimphu. Dinner in an authentic Bhutanese restaurant in the city.
Hotel in Thimphu.
From Thimphu we drive to the beautiful Phobjika valley, located at 3000 meters altitude. This is a u-shaped glacial valley, also known as Gangtey Gemba, named after the impressive Gangtey Gemba Temple.
Early in the morning we drive to the Dochula pass where we have breakfast and a personal meeting (a satsang) with a Lama (monk) who tells us more about (Bhutanese) Buddhism. The pass offers fantastic views of the highest mountain peaks on the border between Bhutan and Tibet. We drive to the Lampelri botanical park and take a short walk around the lake. We continue our drive and lunch in Lobesa, after which we continue our journey to the Phobjikha valley through the picturesque landscape.
Accommodation in homestay.
After breakfast we visit the Gangtey monastery and then there is time for a nature walk through the valley. The wide valley with its most famous swamp area in Bhutan is popular because of its scenic vistas and cultural uniqueness. The valley is rich in faunal biodiversity and is famous for the worldwide threatened black-necked cranes Grus nigricollis, which come to the valley during the winter season to rest.
Within the valley, an area of approximately 163 square kilometers (63sq mi) has been declared a protected area, which is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN). This valley is one of the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. We have lunch in a farm, after which we visit the information center for the cranes that come here from Tibet to breed.
Accommodation in homestay.
After breakfast we drive to Wangdue, a ride of about two hours. We stop at the Nezergang monastery, then we explore a village and see how the locals live and work here (rice growing). We walk through the rice fields to the Eco-lodge where in the afternoon we play a traditional game of dart and in the evening we get a Bhutanese cooking class from the lovely Ecolodge kitchen staff.
Accommodation in Ecolodge.
In the morning we visit the famous Punakha Dzong which is beautifully wedged between two rivers - an absolute must-see - after which we move on to Gasa, a ride of about 3-4 hours. We picnic on the way.
In Gasa we visit the Tashi Thongmon Dzong. This fort served as a defensive barrack in the 17th century. It is named after the protective deity of the region, Tashi Thongmon. The fort is unique with a round shape and three watchtowers placed at strategic points. The beauty of the Dzong is enhanced during clear days by the view of the Gangboom mountain.
Gasa's hot spring is located at the bottom of the valley, on the river, and is very popular for the Bhutanese people. They believe that bathing in this source can cleanse you of diseases and disorders. Of course we make time for a visit and a bath in the hot springs!
Accommodation in a farm.
Today we have time to explore Gasa and surroundings.
Gasa is one of the highest districts in terms of height (1500 to 4500 meters). This is the northernmost district of the country, which borders the districts Punakha, Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang and Tibet in the north. This rough, unspoilt region has extremely long and cold winters and short but beautiful summers.
It is the least populated part of Bhutan with about 3000 inhabitants, most of whom live from breeding yak. This region is inhabited by the Layaps, nomadic shepherds with a unique culture. Their main source of income is the trade in products made from their yaks, such as yak wrappers, cheese, butter and yak meat. They also harvest and sell Cordyceps (a very popular mold with an extremely high sales value that is often used in Eastern medicine).
We will stay with a local family because there is no hotel or lodge in Gasa, but this gives us the opportunity to communicate with the locals and offers a unique insight into their daily life.
We drive from Gasa back to Wangdue and after lunch at the lodge we take a walk to the Chimi lhakhang, the temple of Drukpa Kuenley, an illustrious Lama from the Middle Ages who had a very special lifestyle and in whose name the many fertility symbols on the doors and walls of the surrounding houses (in the form of huge phalluses with all details) are painted. People from all over the world come here with a desire to be blessed by the abbot of the temple. A book with letters of thanks and photos of newborn babies testifies to the success of the temple of blessings, in which the mother has to walk with a big wooden penis around the temple. An absolute hightlight of the trip!
From Wangdue we travel back to Paro. This is a fairly long, but beautiful road through the mountains. In the afternoon we pay a visit to the Paro Dzong.
Accommodation in a hotel in Paro.
Early in the morning we leave north for a visit to the 7th-century Kyitchu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, built by the Tibetan emperor Songtsän Gampo. After lunch it's time for the sturdy, but magical walk to the magnificent Tiger's Nest, an emblematic temple of Bhutan with its spectacular location, 1000 meters above a valley against a mountainside, and where you will find the spectacular images in every publication about Bhutan. . This is an absolute must-see.
In essence, the 'Tigers Nest' (Paro Taktsang) is the origin of Bhutan's history dating back to the 8th century. Here on this spot Guru Padmasambava meditated for three years, three months and three days without interruption. It was only later that Gyalsey Tenzin built a temple on this blessed site that is now being used by young monks who study Buddhism here. Bhutanese go to Tiger's Nest to offer prayer offerings, meditate, or liberate themselves from negative karma in the various small temples.
Accommodation in a hotel in Paro.
After breakfast we drive to the airport and we say goodbye.
Those who opt for the extension program travel with us to the east of the country for the week-long Merak-Sakteng trek.
Included: All meals, accommodation in very comfortable hotels, bus with driver, experienced local guides and 2 English speaking guides (Alain and Jakobien).
Not included: Flights, alcoholic drinks. Supplement single room: 25 euros / night
Level: During this trip we make two long walks (4 to 5 hours, Phobjikha Valley and Tiger's Nest) and two short (2 hours) walks, suitable for people with a normal physical condition.