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Bhutan Spiritual Pilgrimage Tour is a complete package that visits the important and religious landmarks in Bhutan. The history of Bhutan began when in the 7th century AD the Tibetan king Songtsen Gompo build the first two Buddhist temples, one in Paro ‘Kyichu Lhakhang’ and another in Bumthang ‘Jampa Lhakhang’.
Paro International Airport (Google Map)
3 Hours Before Flight Time
The flight to Paro, on a clear day, is one of the most spectacular of all mountain flights. Whether flying along with the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over the foothills from Kolkatta, the journey offers fascinating views and an exciting descent into the Kingdom.
The first gift from Bhutan will be cool, clean fresh air as you step out of the aircraft. On arrival at Paro airport, you will be received by our representative with a ‘Tashi khaddar’ (white scarf offering to the guest which is an auspicious way to welcome guest) and transfer to Thimphu, the modern capital town of Bhutan.
Shortly before reaching Chuzom, you will see on your left Tamchog Lhakhang, the temple built by Thangtong Gyalpo, a pioneering engineer who introduced the construction of suspension bridges into Bhutan and Tibet (several of which are still in use today). The present bridge to Tamchog Lhakhang was restored in 2005 in the design of a traditional style with iron chains and crossing this iron bridge is a wonderful experience. (approx. 50 min, roundtrip walk).
Evening welcome dinner with a local family. An eventful evening with a local Bhutanese family who welcome the guests with a hearty smiles.
Here guests can also try learning to wear the National dress of Bhutan which is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of Dragon Kingdom’s unique character. Men wear Gho, a long robe while women wear, ankle-length robe called Kira. The Bhutanese textile is made from fine, hand-woven fabric, with colorful distinctive patterns.
The dress-wearing session is followed by a sumptuous local Bhutanese dinner in ‘the real Bhutanese way’. Bhutanese cuisine uses a generous amount of chili as well as significant amounts of Red Rice – one of the few varieties that grow at high altitude, along with buckwheat and maize. Mountain people’s diet generally includes poultry, yak meat, dried beef, pork, pork fat, and mutton. Soups and stews are very popular and incorporate meats, rice, ferns, lentils.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
Early morning take a short drive to Buddha Dordenma, located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. This massive statue of Shakyamuni made of bronze and is gilded in gold, measures 51.5 meters in height, making it one of the largest statues, in Bhutan. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, each of these also has been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall. Meditation session at a designated area at Buddha Dordenma.
Then visit Memorial Chorten, the stupa built-in memory of Bhutan’s third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as the Father of modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Continue on to the National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion.
After lunch, meditation at Tamdrin Nye, one of the important pilgrimage sites, situated at about 2,600m. This sacred site was discovered by Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal as per the prophetic instruction of Guru Rinpoche. According to a local account, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal spent 13 years, meditating at this site. A ‘Ney’ actually refers to a ‘space’ for abiding and it is usually a sacred and spiritually powerful area.
Then drive to Pangri Zampa for an Astrology session. Founded in the early 16th century, this complex is a college for traditional astrology. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lived here after he arrived in 1616 because this temple appeared in the vision that directed him from Tibet to Bhutan. Buddhist Astrology is a form of archetypal astrology that helps us understand the role of the cosmic cycles in relation to our understanding and identification with Buddhist philosophy and mythology. It helps us understand the role of interdependence, a primary Buddhist belief, with our personal genetics, family history, education, and other social and cultural influences. Buddhist Astrology recognizes that there is a critical need to balance the physical world around us with conditions we were born into, from a karmic or cosmic perspective. The interdependence of these factors makes us able to live in a world full of choices while honoring the basic dynamic trends pulling us in one direction or another.
Evening visit Trashichhoedzong. This impressive fortress/monastery houses the Secretariat building, the throne room of His Majesty, the King, and various government offices. It is also the summer residence of Chief Abbot and the central monk body.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
The morning after breakfast, drive to Dochula pass (3,088m). The pass offers the most spectacular view over the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas and 108 majestic chortens (stupas).
Prayer Flag Hoisting at Dochula pass:
Prayer flags are an integral part of the Bhutanese landscape and also the cultural and religious heritage of the country. They are ubiquitous in Bhutan, in and around monasteries, chortens or stupas, dzongs, Lhakhang, homes, on the railing of bridges and mountain roads, and invariably on or near the summit of the mighty peaks that preside over the country. Red, blue, green, yellow, and white, add a splash of rainbow colors to the rugged landscape. Deeply religious, the people of Bhutan believe that with each flutter, a flag releases the prayer printed on it into the air which in turn carries it to the heavens. The more the flag flaps, the greater is its divine value. It is for this reason that prayer flags are positioned that catch the wind – high up on the forested slopes of mountains, across bridges, nearby rivers, and streams that tumble down the valleys, and anywhere where there is wind and tunnel effect.
Prayer Flag hoisting is followed by meditation at small sanctuaries that resemble Hobbit homes, tucked away into the hills, just above the Dochula pass. Built to commemorate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the 11 man-made caves with 11 different paintings of god and goddess, are the perfect sanctuary to meditate.
From Dochu-la pass, it is a long, winding descent into the Wangduephodrang valley, which is about 1,700m below the pass. After lunch in Wangdue valley, drive onto Gangtey (Phobjikha). The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the hard climb through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, an extremely rare experience in Bhutan where most of the valleys are tightly enclosed.
Evening visits the Gangtey Gompa. Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountains and also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. The Monastery is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery.
Then take a stroll around lovely Gangtey village.
Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Phobjikha).
Early morning visit Monastic School to witness prayer ceremony.
Then a walking excursion to Gangtey Nature Trail. This pleasurable walk will give you a nice feel of Phobjikha valley. From the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goemba, you head downhill through flower meadows to Semchubara village and from here through beautiful forests and into the open valley. The trail ends at a local community school after passing a chorten and Khewa Lhakhang. (approx. 5.5km, 2 hours walk).
Lunch with monks at Damchen Lhakhang, followed by meditation sessions at the monastery. Damchen Lhakhang was founded by Terton Trulku Palior Gyeltshen, one of the sons of great omniscient Kunkhen Longchen Rabjam in the 14th century. This small ancient monastery was mainly the seat of the master used as his retreat center.
After the meditation session, explore the fascinating Phobjikha valley. This place is the winter home of black-necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climates. The valley boasts two beautiful meandering rivers, Nakay Chhu (Chhu Naap-black water) and Gay Chhu (Chhu Karp-white water).
Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey (Phobjikha).
The morning after breakfast drive to Bumthang via Trongsa.
The drive to Trongsa crosses Pelela pass (3,300 m), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large prayer flag and the ground is covered with high altitude dwarf bamboo. Stop en route at Chendbji Chorten, the stupa built in the 18th century by a Lama named Shida. It is Nepalese in style with eyes painted at four cardinal points.
Trongsa town, perched on steep slopes above a river gorge, forms the central hub of the nation and is the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular.
After lunch in Trongsa, proceed to visit Trongsa Dzong. Built-in 1648 it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four Kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (‘governer’) prior to ascending the throne. The Dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built.
Then continue to drive to Bumthang across Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass from Trongsa then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley.
Take a short stop at Chumey, a wide fertile valley where wheat, barley, potatoes, and buckwheat are cultivated. Chumey is particularly known for its famous wool weaving called ‘Bumthang Yathra’. Visit Yathra weaving center, enjoying tea/coffee with weaving family.
Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang.
After breakfast meditation session at Lhodrak Kharchhu monastery. Located about 3 km from Chamkhar town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage dates back to the nearest disciples of the great 9th-century master. Since then the monastery has developed considerably with an increase in the number of monks to almost four hundred. The monastery has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture. The monk’s regular curriculum includes reading, memorizing the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandalas, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments and the art of making sacrificial objects, grammar, poetry, karika along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.
Afterward, visit Jambey Lhakhang. This monastery was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
Then visit Kurje Lhakhang, consisting of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rock face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. The second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the holiest. The third temple was built in the 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Post lunch visit Jakar Dzong. Founded by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as the administrative center for Bumthang valley and houses the regional monk body.
Later visit Tamshing Lhakhang, the temple founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.
Evening butter lamp lighting ceremony at a village monastery.
Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang.
Bumthang is composed of four broad, glacier-carved valleys: Ura, Chumey, Tang, and Choekhor. Captivating in its rustic tranquility, the Bumthang district is often referred to as Bhutan’s religious and cultural heartland.
After breakfast, a full-day excursion to pristine Tang valley. Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Linga, the famous saint was born in Tang valley. En-route visit Membartsho (The Burning Lake) which is a wide spot on the Tang Chhu (chhu – water/river) and is considered to be one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of Bhutan. Pema Linga found several of Guru Rinpoche’s hidden treasures here. The importance of this site is indicated by the extensive array of prayer flags and the small clay offerings called ‘Tse Tsa’ in rock niches.
Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang valley is a prominent and interesting attraction. Restored in the 19th century, it is now housing the family museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The visitors will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambiance of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as a retreat for those engaged in religious history.
Late afternoon return to the hotel for meditation session under the guidance of learned monk.
Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang.
After breakfast at hotel, drive to Punakha across Yutong-la pass (3,400m/ 11,155 ft) & Pelela pass (3,300 m). These mountain passes offer the most spectacular view over the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas on a clear day.
En route stop at Ta Dzong, a recently opened fort in Trongsa. The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five stories, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.
The evening can be spent exploring Punakha village located right on the bank of the river.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
After early breakfast, a beautiful hike takes one to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability, and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
Then visit Punakha Dzong or (Palace of Great Happiness), built at the junction of the Phochu and Mochu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This majestic dzong served as both the religious and the administrative center of Bhutan in the past. It measures some 600 by 240 feet and has a six-story, gold-domed tower. Inside are courtyards and religious statuary that hint at the depth of history and spiritual tradition embodied here. Your guide will illuminate your understanding of this intricate culture that is exotic to us, though long established here.
Picnic lunch by the riverside.
Post lunch a short excursion to Chimi Lhakhang.
The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the center of the valley, also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, are usually blessed with a child very soon. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field’. A walk through the village near the temple will give you rare glimpses into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers.
Then drive to Nalanda Buddhist Institute for a meditation session. Locals call this place ‘Dalayna’ and the monks call it Nalanda Buddhist College. The name Nalanda means ‘insatiable giving’.
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm, and stable state. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self-realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life. Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-concept, and well-being.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha
After breakfast, drive back to Paro descending back down from Dochu La, following the way back up the dramatic Wang Chhu and Paro Chhu river valleys. Visit en route, Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress of the country which now houses the School for Buddhist studies.
On arrival check into the hotel and later proceed for a short tour:
The beautiful valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty, and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the National Museum, and the country’s only airport. Mount. Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial water plunge through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fertile valleys in the Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its terraced fields.
Visit Ta Dzong, originally built as Watchtower, which now houses National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique Thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects, and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Later visit Sangchen Choekhor Buddhist Institute. This beautifully located temple is home to the community of 100 monks who study here Buddhist philosophy. The temple was originally built in the 18th century but later rebuilt after damage due to a massive fire. The original temple was built by the first speech reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The lower altar room has a striking statue of Guru Rinpoche and unique wall paintings while the upper altar room is dedicated to the Zhabdrung lineage. Here, you’ll also have the opportunity for an interactive session with monks on spirituality and Bhutanese Buddhism.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
After breakfast, take a short drive to Satsam Chorten (trailhead point) for a walking excursion to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery). This most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries is perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress, and meditated at this place, hence the monastery is also called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. This site, which has long been recognized as a most sacred place, was visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, the religious and temporal ruler of Bhutan. It is a place of pilgrimage which Bhutanese try to visit at least once in a lifetime. In April 1998 a fire severely damaged the main structure of the building but now it has been fully restored to its original grandeur. The excursion up to the cafeteria which is situated on a rocky outcrop across a ravine from the monastery takes about five hours round trip.
Meditation session nearby monastery.
Afternoon, visit Kyichu Lhakhang. It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating back to the 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). The Lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in the original pattern.
Evening, blessing ceremony at a village monastery aiming at peace, prosperity & happiness.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Morning, after breakfast transfer to the airport for flight to onward destination.