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Altitude: 2,320 m/7710ft
Flying into Paro by Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines on a clear day, you will have an impressive view of the snow-capped peaks of the Inner Himalayas and possibly a glimpse of Everest. As the plane approaches Paro, little farmhouses dotting the hillsides and the meandering Paro Chhu River form a picturesque scene. After landing and completing immigration procedures, your Red Stag guide and driver will pick you up at the exit and drive you to Thimphu. It is an approximately one hour scenic ride through the countryside along the Paro River. Local farmhouses, stupas, monasteries and fluttering prayer flags dot every hilltop. You can clearly feel by the nature of the air why Bhutan is a Carbon Neutral country. THIMPHU DZONG: Thimphu Dzong or Fortress is a massive building constructed by Zhabdrung Rinpoche in the 17th century when the country was unified under Buddhism. Today the dzong is the center of both civil and religious administration. Half of the dzong is used for government and royal purposes and half is used by the Central Monastic Body. Most importantly, the dzong contains the Golden Throne Room of the King. Tourists may visit the dzong only after office hours on weekdays and on weekends. The massive golden image of Buddha Sakyamuni in the inner sanctum of the dzong however is only open to tourists after weekday office hours and not on weekends.
This modern white stupa was built in memory of His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan who passed away in 1972. In 1974 his mother built this stupa in memory of her son and for the blessing of world peace. The stupa does not enshrine the remains of the King though his portrait adorns the hall on the first floor. A prominent landmark of the capital city with its golden spires and bells, it is a focus of daily worship. Throughout the day people circumambulate the stupa and spin the gigantic prayer wheels photograph of him in the main hall.
National Library of Bhutan: The National Library was initially established in 1977 within the central tower temple of Tashichho Dzong. In 1984 it was moved to this four-storied eight-sided building that resembles that central tower. The Folk Heritage Museum: Established in 2001, the museum is set inside a 19th century three-storied traditional farmhouse. The museum contains displays of different tools, materials, objects, equipment and artefacts from rural Bhutanese households and provides good insights into the traditional rural lifestyle. National Institute of Traditional Medicine: Bhutan has a rich history of traditional plant-based medicines which is carried on and maintained in the Institute of Traditional Medicine. This institution was established in 1988 with the premise of merging allopathic and traditional systems of healing. It is a training school for traditional medicine practitioners and produces traditional Bhutanese medicines as well as treating patients and conducting research. The course to become traditional doctors, called drungtsho, entails six to eight years of strenuous study after high school. Handicrafts Emporium and local crafts shops: Here you will find many examples of Bhutan’s fine traditional arts – handwoven textiles, thangka paintings, masks, ceramics, slate and wood carvings, jewelry, and other interesting items made from local materials. Note: The Museum and the National Library will be closed during weekends and national holidays.
Overnight Thimphu: Select 3*/4*/5* hotels.
Time: 3 hours approx. Altitude: Punakha: 1,310 m / 4,300 ft. Dochu La Pass: An hour’s drive from Thimphu brings us to Dochu La Pass (3140 m/10300ft) where there is a breathtaking panoramic view of the Eastern Himalayas. Set up against the crisp blue sky and majestic mountains, the pass is the site of the 108 Chortens also known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens. It was constructed by the eldest Queen Mother, Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk to honor the Fourth Druk Gyelpo and to ensure world peace. The pass also serves as a spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of the pass. You can take a short walk around the pass to the temple above the parking lot and around the adjoining park created to mark the 60th birth anniversary of the former king. Here you will find interesting flora and man-made caves and have the opportunity to hang prayer flags.
Chimmi Lhakhang: This monastery sits atop a round hillock in Sopsokha village flanked with hundreds of prayer flags. Built in 1499, it is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kinley, also known as ‘the Divine Madman’ or the ‘Mad Saint” because of his unconventional ways of teaching the Dharma. The tradition of painting phallic symbols on walls and hanging carved wooden phalluses from housetops to ward off evil spirits arises from his famous technique of using his “thunder bolt” to suppress evil. Chimmi Lhakhang also serves as a fertility temple for Bhutanese couples and is gaining popularity among foreigners for this as well. Punakha Dzong: The majestic Punakha Dzong, also known as ‘the palace of great bliss’ is the second oldest and said to be the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan, Even more so when surrounded by blooming blue jacaranda trees in the spring. Strategically set at the merger of two main rivers, it was built by Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1637 in response to a prophecy of Guru Padmasambhava Ripoche . Construction began on the 8th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar in the Fire Ox year in 1637. The way it was written suggested it was built in one day. The Zhabdrung initiated the dual spiritual and secular system of government conjointly housed within the walls of the Dzong. Punakha Dzong served as the administrative center and seat of government until 1955 when the capital was moved to Thimphu and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is still the winter capital of the Chief Abbot and the Central Monastic Body, which migrates to Thimphu in summer. This historic dzong is one of the most important venues for national events such as the coronations of the kings and their wedding ceremonies. It houses many sacred relics the most venerated and revered of which is the Rangjung Kharsapani ( the self-created image of Avalokettesvara, the Buddha of compassion). Within the dzong is the sacred Machen containing this sacred relic and the embalmed bodies and relics of the Zhabdrung and Terton Pema Lempa. At their coronation, all the monarchs of the Wangchuk dynasty receive the Dar Na-Nga, five sacred shawls in auspicious colours, from the Machen as well as the Raven Crown of the Wangchuk line. On 6th November 2008, the Blessing of Coronation ceremony of the Fifth King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk was held at the Dzong and in 2011 his wedding to Jetsun Pema took place here. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the Fourth King after the latest fire in 1987.
Overnight Punakha: Select 3*/4*/5* hotels.
Distance: 143kms/ 88 miles
Paro Valley: This ancient glacial valley is one of the most prominent valleys of Bhutan. It is home to about 155 ancient temples and famous for its signature small flat farm houses dotting the hills and for Bhutan’s best and tastiest chillies.
The National Museum of Bhutan: This unique circular building also known as Ta Dzong was the watchtower of Paro Dzong in the olden days when Bhutan was plagued by frequent Tibetan invasions. Paro Dzong: Known locally as Ringpung Dzong which means ‘the fortress on a heap of jewel’, this impressive dzong is one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. It is also one of the most popular and well known dzongs of Bhutan. Note: The museum might be closed during national holidays.
Overnight Paro: Select 3*/4*/5* hotels.
Hike Duration: Approximately 4.5 hours (back and forth) Taktsang Monastery: On the northern side of Paro valley, the monastery hangs precariously from the side of a vertical cliff at 3000 m altitude. It has become the unofficial symbol of Bhutan due to its appearance in various travelogues, newspapers, and websites around the world. The beautiful Taktsang monastery is also known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest’. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava Rinpoche flew here on a flaming tigress, the manifestation of one of his consorts.
Kyichu Lhakhang; Close to the Paro Airport, the Kyichu Lhakhang monastery is a very important ancient Mahayana Buddhist temple. Built in the 7th century, it is one of Bhutan’s oldest religious sites, It is believed to be one of the 108 temples built within one night by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to subdue a gigantic demoness who was plaguing Tibet and Bhutan. Its sister temple, Jambe Lhakhang i, stands in Bumthang in eastern Bhutan. Inside there is a great golden image of Buddha Shakyamuni.said to have been cast at the same time as the Jowo Shakyamuni in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
Overnight Paro: Select 3*/4*/5* hotels.
Transfer to the airport after breakfast