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Hike Time: 2 hoursThimphu is the capital of Bhutan with a population of approximately 150,000 people. Perhaps the only capital city in the world without a traffic light. With the country’s rapid socioeconomic development, Thimphu has grown from a village to a town to the buzzing cultural and financial hub of the nation. Strolling around the town, gives you a sense of how modernization is taking its toll on this little fairy tale country.
Chari Buddhist Retreat Center: After breakfast, we will drive north from Thimphu for a hike and picnic lunch. From the base of a hill, we will head off on a 2 hour round trip hike to the Chari monastery on the hilltop. Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Buddhism in Bhutan, is said to have visited the site in the 8th century. One of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, it was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century after he spent 3 years here in strict retreat then remained here for the rest of his life. From the monastery, he established the first Drukpa monastic order in Bhutan. The monastery is considered sacred as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of Shabdrung. On 10th April 2016, His Majesty the King offered six sandalwood boxes to the Chari monastery. The boxes will be used to store precious relics in the monastery, including treasures of the Zhabdrung. His Majesty personally carried one of the 55kg boxes to the monastery causing Tshugla Lopen of the Central Monastic Body to state that the act of a King carrying an object that would be used for holy purposes is in itself most sacred and extraordinary.
Kabesa : After our visit to the monastery, we will hike back to the base where a picnic lunch awaits you at the riverside. On the way back to Thimphu, we may stop for a hike to the village of Kabesa. Here we can visit a privately run Choki handicraft school where the students are taught the thirteen Arts & Crafts of the Kingdom. Or we can visit the Pangrizampa School of Astrology and have the option to consult an astrologer to give readings of one’s life, business and well being.
Royal Textile Academy and Museum: The institute is dedicated to preserving and promoting Bhutanese textiles in particular and the thirteen arts in general under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuk. Depending on time, we will stroll around a bazaar to see traditional indigenous Bhutanese handicrafts
The drive from Phobjikha to Trongsa is very exciting with the crossing of Pele La Pass ( 3450m ) and then entering the beautiful Mangde River valley. On the way to Trongsa from Pele La, we will pass through Rukhubji village in the shape of a giant snake and see Chendebji Chorten situated at a river confluence. Trongsa sits in a strategic central location for control of the whole of the country and has played a vital role in Bhutan history. We will have lunch and then visit the Ta Dzong and Trongsa Dzong
Trongsa Ta Dzong: A visit to this former watchtower built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the 1st Governor of Trongsa, in 1652 provides visitors with insights into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan history. It stands on a promontory above the town and once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion by feuding warlords. It has four observation points resembling ????or representing Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon and houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. Today the Ta Dzong of Trongsa is the most fascinating National Museum in Bhutan having been converted into a state-of-the-art museum with technical and financial support provided by Austria.
Trongsa Dzong: The massive Trongsa Dzong stands on a spur overlooking the gorge of the Mangdi Chuu River and is the largest fortress in Bhutan. It is one of the most aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture in the country. Beyond any doubt its size, and position and intricate maze of buildings descending down successive levels make it the most impressive Dzong in Bhutan. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty of penlops or governors who effectively ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and who have been the elected Kings of Bhutan since 1907. All the Wangchuck Kings are first invested here as the Trongsa Penlop before ascending to the Raven Crown Throne. The Dzong continues in the present as an important administrative building, providing the headquarters of the Government of Trongsa District.
After visiting the dzong , we head to Bumthang Valley, considered to be the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. Approaching and entering the valley seems like entering the inner sanctum of a sacred temple. Here myths and legacies of the great Buddhist saints Guru Padmasambhava Rinpoche, the spiritual master of Vajrayana teachings and Terton Pema Lingpa of the Nyingma tradition and many other sacred Buddhist sites are spread across the valley. The whole place is blessed.
Jakar Dzong: Arriving at Bumthang, we will first visit Jakar Dzong built on a ridge overlooking the Chamkhar Valley. It is believed that lam Ngagi Wangchuk had chosen a different site for the construction of a dzong in the lower valley. While performing a ritual however a white bird flew up and landed on the higher ridge where the current Jakar Dzong is built. Considering this as an auspicious sign, a small Dzong was built and named Jakar as ja means bird and kar means white.
Jambay Lhakhang: After lunch we will visit Jambay Lhakhang built in the 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. It is one of many temples built overnight in Tibet and Bhutan to pin down an ogress who was obstructing the spread of Buddhism.
Kurjey Lhakhang Complex: This majestic complex is located on the right bank of the Chamkhar Chu River and is made up of three south facing lhakhang surrounded by an enclosure of 108 chortens. Built in the 17th century, Kurjey Lhakhang is one of the most sacred temples and monasteries in Bhutan. According to legend, in the 8th century the King of Bumthang was seriously ill and Guru Padmasambhava Rinpoche was invited from Tibet to heal him. The king had offended a local demon who was causing his illness. Guru Rinpoche meditated in a cave for three months before subduing the demon and the demon and the king became allies and converted to Buddhism. An imprint of Guru Rinpoche’s body was left in the rock of that cave and hence the name kurjey or imprinted of the body. The temple is built around the meditation cave and contains 1000 statues of Guru Rinpoche. Close by is the Sampa Lhakhang built in 1900 by the first King of Bhutan. It contains a towering statue of Guru Rinpoche flanked by his eight manifestations. Nearby are three large stone chortens the burial places of the first three Wangchuck kings . Also in the complex is the Ka Gon Phur Sum or Three Mystic Revelations Lhakhang built in the 1980s by the then Queen Mother. It is dedicated to all previous kings, to the long life and successful reign of her son, the Fourth King and the eternal happiness and wellbeing of all the kingdom.
Across the Chamkar River from Kurjey, Tamzhing and Kenchosum are ancient monasteries each with unique architecture and history.
Tamzhing Monastery: Tamzhing has a direct connection to Terton Pema Lingpa who built the monastery in 1501 and who died there in 1521. His current speech incarnation is invested here. Filled with murals and sacred items, the monastery has deteriorated as its mission is its community work not fundraising. Many exiled Tibetan monks came here after the invasion of Tibet but monks nowadays are more likely to be orphans or boys from poor families. The improvement of the Bhutan economy suggests that this will happen less and less threatening the future of the monastery. Here Pema Lingpa created his sacred dances to spread the story of Buddhism and the original dances are still performed here today. Tamzhing is currently on the World heritage Tentative List.
Kenoshum Monastery: Close by is the site of the Kenchosum Monastery which unfortunately burnt down in 2010. It was notable for its connection to both Guru Rinpoche and Terton Pema Lingpa. The original monastery, designed by Guru Rinpoche was built in the 9th century by the King of Tibet. The Guru himself performed its auspicious consecration. By legend, the Guru had hidden five Treasures of religious artifacts in Tibet and Bhutan and Pema Lingpa is said to have found one of these Treasures in a hidden lake under the monastery. Pema Lingpa renovated the monastery in the 15th century. Along with relics, it housed statues of the Supreme Buddha and the three Past, Present and Future Buddhas and many of these were saved from the fire. Monies are being raised for its reconstruction.
Membartsho After lunch we will drive toward Membartsho or the Burning Lake. Pema Lingpa was originally a blacksmith who became one of the great Finders of Guru Rinpoche’s Treasures. His claims were not believed until after he went into the lake with a flaming butter lamp and came back with the butter lamp still burning. Thus the name of the lake. In the evening stroll around Chamkhar town.
Mongar: After breakfast, we will begin our drive further east towards Mongar, the fast developing hub of Eastern Bhutan. The drive will go through rugged terrain with spectacular views en route. We will ascend into the hills above the Tang valley and then through Serthang La Pass (3506m/11,502ft) before descending down to Ura village. Ura is a clustered settlement and you can walk through the village and visit the main community temple. After Ura, the road climbs sharply to the highest point on Bhutan’s motorable road network, Thrumsing La Pass (4,000m/13,125ft).
From here, the road then gradually descends to the alpine valley of Sengor, Namling with wonderful views of cascading waterfalls. As we drop down to the Lingmithang Valley floor(700m/2,300ft) vegetation changes from alpine to subtropical with bamboo and luxuriant ferns overhanging the road. To reach Mongar Town, we ascend again through pine forests and maize fields.
Mongar Dzong: Ancient Bhutanese dzongs or fortresses all have similar architecture despite being built without formal plans. They were also built in strategic defence positions. Mongar Dzong, one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs built in the 1930s, was similarly built without plans but lies on a gentle slope above the town. In the evening stroll around Mongar town.
DAY 9: EXCURSION LHULENTSE
Khoma Village: After breakfast, we will drive to Lhuentse district and visit Khoma Village famous for producing the best textiles in Bhutan. These silk hand-woven textiles are very beautiful and intricate in design. They are known as Kishu Thara which are worn as a kira, the national dress for women in
Bhutan. There will be an opportunity to observe the weavers, for the most part women and girls, , working on their back-strap looms and to visit a few of the traditional houses and interact with the villagers.
Lhuentse Dzong: This fortress, a few kilometres away from Khoma Village, sits at the end of a narrow valley on a spur over the Kiri Chu River. It is approached by a flagstone path over the cliffs. One of Pema Lingpa’ sons was looking for a ridge that resembled an elephant’s trunk and originally built a monastery here in the 16th century The Dzong itself was later built in the 17th century. Its historical importance lies in its being the ancestral home of the House of Wangchuck. In the late 19th century, Dasho Jigme Namgyal settled longrunning feuds between several warlords laying the foundation for the establishment of the Wangchuck monarchy. He was himself a direct descendant of Pema Lingpa as was his wife and he is the forefather of all the five kings of Bhutan
Guru Nangsey Zlleon Statue: Guru Nangsey Zileon is one of the eight manifestations of the patron saint of Bhutanese Buddhism, Guru Padmasambhava Rinpoche. In the late 19th century, two tertons revealed to the future first King that the Lord Buddha had prophesied that building a statue of Guru Zileon in Bumthang or Kurtey would be most beneficial to the stability, peace and prosperity of the country and the world. The statue project was eventually initiated by Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche in 2005 with support from the Druk Odiyana Foundation, a non-profit organization. Since then, the project has been completed through the raising of funds from across the world from many generous donors and the statue was consecrated in 2015. The157 foot bronze statue sitting on a 38 foot lotus throne on a hill above Takila is one of the largest in the world. The site also contains a spacious prayer hall which can accommodate several thousand devotees who may wish to conduct special ceremonies or prayers. Drive back to Mongar.
Elevation : 1070m/3510ft Driving time : 4 hours
Leaving Mongar, the road climbs past fields of corn to the power substation and then through rhododendron and blue pine forests to the few houses in the scattered settlement of Naling. Soon the road is clinging to the side of a cliff, passing by rhododendron and orchids. After driving through the Kori La Pass (2,450m/8,040ft), marked by a pretty chorten and a mani wall, we descend rapidly through corn fields and banana groves to reach the famous road loops just below Yadi, a fairly recent and now fast-growing settlement. Mani walls are medieval walls of stone topped with slate carved with religious sayings that served as devotion walls and significant landmarks
Drametse: After driving down the hillside, the road east runs along the Gamri Chu River. A turnoff on the left leads up to Drametse. This temple, perched on top of a steep hill above the ????village, was founded in the 16th century by the great-grand daughter of Pema Lingpa, Ani Chorten Zangmo and is the most important monastery of eastern Bhutan. This is the place of origin of the famous Drametse Nga Chham, a masked dance with drums that features in many Tsechu festivals and which was proclaimed a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2005.
Trashgand: About 30 km. onwards lies Trashigang (1,100m/3,610ft), which clings to a steep hillside above the Gamri river. Upon reaching Trashigang check into your hotel for freshen up and rest.
Trashigang Dzong: After we will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. It serves as the administrative seat for the district and part of the dzong is occupied by the local monastic community.
After breakfast we will drive to Tashi Yangtse District for a day excursion through the valley.
Gom Kora: Gom Kora is an extraordinarily picturesque temple. The lush green fields, the red robes of the monks and the yellow roof of the temple combine with the rushing river to create an idyllic scene. Gom Kora is a famous place, as Guru Rinpoche is said to have subdued a demon here, trapping it in a rock.
Doksum Village: Down the road in Doksum village, you can see women busily weaving traditional BhutaDese fabric using back-strap looms. The road turns into the hills here, running up the side of a winding river valley to Trashiyangtse.
Trashiyangtse: In former times, Trashiyangtse was an important center because it lies on one of the ancient caravan routes leading from western and central Bhutan. Trashiyangtse is now a rapidly growing town and the administrative center for this district. The area is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful souvenirs of a visit to this remote region.
Trashiyangtse Dzong: The Dzong overlooking the town was built in the late 1990s when the new District was created. If time permits, we will also visit the dazzling white stupa of Chorten Kora on the riverbank below the town, and the nearby Institute for Zorig Chusum, where students are trained in Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts.
In the evening we return to Trashigang.
Paro Ta Dzong: This fortified watchtower was built in ?????on the promontory of the eastern spur of Paro Valley above Paro or Ringpung Dzong. Its role was to keep close watch on the movements of enemy forces of both external invasion and internal opposition. In 1960, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk decreed that the historic Ta Dzong be renovated to house the National Museum of Bhutan. The museum has unique collections of artifacts and displays that narrate the heritage and traditions of Bhutan.
Paro Dzong: This 17th century fortress is known as the Fortress on a Heap of Jewels because of its large collection of religious treasures. The massive buttressed walls that tower over the town are visible throughout the valley, especially when floodlit at night. Inside there is a complex of courtyards, temples, offices with huge windows with elaborate wooden carvings of traditional Bhutanese motifs. During the 17th and 18th century, Paro Dzong was an important bastion for the Kingdom of Bhutan against invasion from the north. It now houses the administration offices of the monastic body and the district government including the district court.
Kyichu Lhakhang: This temple is one of the holiest shrines in Bhutan and one of the most magnificent places of worship. It is one of the 108 temples built in one night throughout the Himalayas by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to subdue an ogress who was obstructing the spread of Buddhism.The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism into Bhutan. The 7th century chapel contains a statue of Jowo Shakyamuni cast at the same time as the famous Jowo statue in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. These statues are said to be based on a contemporary painting of the Lord Buddha. One of other striking features of the temple are the rows of prayer wheels embedded in the outer walls. A golden roof was added in the 19th century.