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CULTURAL IMMERSION AND THE PARO FESTIVAL
On this cultural adventure, you will be living with the villagers of Dorhika. This is a special invitation as few people visit this valley, long inhabited by the Dorip People. Unlike many villages in Bhutan, the Dorips maintain two home villages: one for winter and one for the summer. The summer village is at a higher elevation and there they grow potatoes, peas, barley, and buckwheat. In the warmer, lower elevation winter village they grow red rice, oranges, cardamom and other subtropical produce. This is where you will stay and learn from the Dorip about their culture and way of migratory life. You will also have a chance to do some trekking, which offers fantastic views of the Himalayas.
Also a highlight of this itinerary is the chance to witness one of the biggest festivals in Bhutan, the Paro Tsechu. Performed by monks, a Bhutanese tsechu recounts the history of Buddhism in Bhutan. For Bhutanese, performing and watching a tsechu is an act of merit building honor.
BANGKOK - PARO
Depart Bangkok very early and fly to Paro, Bhutan. (Get a window seat on the left! The views of the Himalayas are fantastic.) Your Crooked Trails guide will greet you upon your arrival at the Paro airport (7590ft). We will head to our hotel and get checked in, shower and relax for a bit, followed by lunch.
After an introduction to the program we will drive through town and up the valley to visit the National Museum, now housed in a new location next to the ancient watch tower, which visually introduces Bhutan’s history and culture. The museum provides a good introduction to Kingdom’s rich culture and heritage.
PARO - HAA VALLEY
After lunch you will have 2.5 hours of adventurous driving to the Haa Valley (8580 ft) over the Chele La Pass (12,540ft) which is marked by colorful prayer flags. (Take Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness!) On a clear day, which will most certainly be the case, you can get a spectacular view of Mount Jhomolhari (24,1362 ft), the second highest mountain in Bhutan. We will take a short hike along the ridge amidst alpine flowers and prayer flags; soak up the stunning views of the Paro and Haa Valleys. The drive then descends into the Haa Valley, which has been open to tourism only since 2004. Driving down the countless switchbacks, you will be treated with panoramic views of the entire Haa Valley, including the locally famous Meri Puensum, the Three Brothers Mountains.
We will head off the main road onto a brand new spur road constructed in 2008 that leads to the village of Dorikha, the home of your guide. You will be set up in homestay, enjoy dinner and get settled in.
DAY 3 & 4
During these days we will be spending time living with and learning from the people of the village. We will learn about the amazing Bhutanese architecture, be involved in the agricultural processes of the spring time, and get involved in domestic chores such as making cheese and butter by hand, grinding grains with stone wheels and gathering wood. Most of the families will have arrived back from their migration from their winter village. There will be informal daily language lessons and plenty of time to hang out with the children, laugh with elders and visit the local sites. It is during this time that your understanding of true Bhutanese culture and life will be forged. You will not be on the tourist circuit seeing dzongs and sleeping in hotels but rather eating and living in the local way. You must be prepared for bucket baths, squatter toilets and little privacy as well as the experience of a lifetime.
The second day will be a trekking day for those interested. We will drive to the top of valley to Tego La, a high mountain pass (12,071 ft) with breathtaking views of the plains in the south and Mt. Jhomolhari in the northwest and the Haa Valley. You can also see Kachenjunga to the west in Sikkim. Here we will begin a 4 hour trek and enjoy a traditional lunch of savory buckwheat pancakes with chili sauce. For those who wish they can trek down the valley back to Dorikha; otherwise we can drive.
HAA - PARO
This morning is the last one in Dorikha. After breakfast and goodbyes we will begin a morning drive to Paro. The drive takes you through numerous villages known for their quality cabbages and potatoes. On arrival in Paro, check-in at hotel followed by lunch. In the afternoon, visit the 7th century Kichu Lhakhang temple built by Songtsen Gambo, the first Tibetan Buddhist king to spread Buddhism across the Himalayas. We may spot a game of archery near town. Overnight at hotel.
We are in the midst of the Paro Festival. Visit the festival ground near Paro Dzong to be a part of the Paro Tsechu festival, one of the biggest in all of Bhutan. Spend the day at the festival viewing masked dances and ritual activities. Be amongst throngs of Bhutanese from the Paro Valley and from outlying villages of Bhutan all dressed in their traditional finery. Witness the age-old, wonderfully colorful and esoteric religious masked dance performed by specially trained groups of Buddhist monks. Visit the Paro Rinchen Pung Dzong (meaning ‘fortress on a heap of jewels’); on numerous occasions it was used to defend the Paro Valley from Tibetan invasions. In the evening drive through town and up the valley to visit the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, which has a famous past as the protector of Bhutan, having stopped an invasion from Tibet. The dzong is at the end of the road and the beginning of the trek to Jhomolhari. Overnight at hotel.
PARO - THIMPHU
Early morning visit the festival ground to view the “Thongdrel” – the great Buddhist Thangka scroll dedicated to Guru Padmashambava. This is truly a great climax to the most revered yearly festival of Bhutan. After lunch drive to Thimphu.
Thimphu has over 100,000 people sitting at almost 8000 feet representing a vibrant mix of the old and new- and the citizens like it that way. Traffic moves around a white gloved policeman (there are no traffic lights in the whole country) and monks and tourists mix in its lively streets.
Explore the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, commonly referred to as “the painting school” and learn about the 13 forms of traditional arts and crafts. Visit the National Institute of Traditional Medicine founded in 1988. The Bhutanese government encourages both allopathic and traditional medicine. We then visit the Folk Heritage Museum, housed in a three-story traditional building built of rammed earth and timber. Enter the museum and you will be taken a century back in time. This museum recreates a 19th century traditional Bhutanese farmhouse. A tour of this almost-living museum will give you a glimpse into the way Bhutanese lived back then (relate it to what you have seen in the villages) and how many rural people still live. Bring a flashlight as some of the rooms are quite dimly lit.
In the evening, stop by the National Memorial Chorten, built in the mid 1970’s in memory of Bhutan’s third King, his late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, popularly known as the father of modern Bhutan. We then drive up to Changgangkha Lhakhang, a monastery located on the top of a small ridge overlooking the Thimphu town. It was established in 12th century on a site chosen by Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, a lama who came from Ralung in Tibet to spread Buddhism in Bhutan. Inside the temple the central statue is Chenrizig (Compassion Buddha) in an 11-headed manifestation. Overnight at hotel.
Take a pleasant early morning hike from Sangaygang, a hill overlooking Thimphu Valley. We will also be sure to visit the takin reserve, which was a former zoo but closed down because the king did not think a zoo was in line with the country’s Buddhist philosophies. The animals were set free but the takins were too tame and wandered the streets, and so they were put back in the reserve where you can visit them at close range. Takins are the national animal of Bhutan and look like a strange mix of yak, camel, moose and shaggy dog. You have to see one to believe it.
In the afternoon, visit Thimphu Tashichhodzong, which houses administrative headquarters of the government of Bhutan. It also serves as a summer home to the central monastic body. Later take a pleasant drive to Kunselphodrang (Buddha Point) – feel the grandeur of the world’s largest sitting Buddha (which is nearing completion). Enjoy a great bird’s eye view of the Thimphu Valley. In the evening, we visit weekend farmers market. Overnight at hotel.
THIMPHU - PUNAKHA VALLEY
This morning we drive up and over Dochu La Pass at over 10,000 feet. The chortens and stupas at the top are outstanding and the views of the Himalayas even better. We will stop to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Descending down the other side is to truly understand what hairpin-turn means. Have cameras ready as you are likely to see monkeys and many species of birds. We will descend down to the green flower filled valley to Punakha which was the capital for over 300 years (until 1955). The fortress located here is called Punakha Dzong and is situated at the confluence of two rivers that represent the feminine and masculine. Punakha Dzong is one of the most impressive buildings in Bhutan. It was built in 1637 and has 6 stories and astonishingly intricate decorative paintings and wood work. Your guide will explain the significance of the wheel of life and you will have plenty of time to explore this amazing structure. The fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan).
Drive up the valley and have lunch by the banks of the beautiful Mo Chu River. A pleasant 40-minute hike will lead us to Khamsum Yuley Namgey Lhakhang (temple) which presents a great view of the Mo Chu Valley below. Overnight in Punakha.
PUNAKHA - PARO
Early morning, before we drive back to Paro over Dochu La pass, we will hike to Chimi Lhakhang (temple) which sits on a small hilltop. It is a pleasant 30-minute hike through rice paddies and a small village. This temple is dedicated to the great 15th century Yogi known as Lama Drukpa Kuenley, or popularly known as the “Divine Madman” in the west. He preached in a way that is unlike the stiffness of clergy and society of the time; he dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are a common sight in Bhutan, confirming his influence to date. The symbols are believed to ward off the evil spirits. It is also believed that this temple blesses couples having fertility problems. A popular pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese, it is frequented by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children from across the world. Evening for shopping. Overnight at hotel.
TAKTSHANG MONASTERY (TIGER'S NEST)
Early morning, we will visit Bhutan’s most famous monastery -Taktshang, the Tiger’s Nest. History has it that Guru Rinpoche’s consort Yeshe Tsogyal meditated here, achieved enlightenment then turned herself into a tigress and flew east with Guru Rinpoche on her back and brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. The monastery is perched precariously on the side of a cliff almost 3000 feet above the valley floor. There is only one way up to Tiger’s Nest and that is to walk. The hike will take about 5 hours roundtrip with time to visit the monastery. After lunch, we will return to our hotel with time for shopping and relaxing before dinner. Overnight at hotel.
PARO - BANGKOK
After a morning breakfast at the hotel, you will drive to Paro Airport for a sensational take-off and scenic Himalayan flight past Mt. Jhomolhari. There will be a 40-minute stopover in Dhaka, Bangladesh and your flight arrives in the afternoon in Bangkok. You will overnight there. We recommend you spend a few days in Thailand and can help set up some fun activities.
$3,875 based on 2 people
12D / 11N
Spring 2021 or custom dates outside of the Paro Festival
Paro - Dorikha - Paro - Thimphu - Punakha - Tiger's Nest - Paro
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