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Sacred Spaces Bhutan A cultural & walking journey

YOUR JOURNEY AT A GLANCE

Oct 22 to Nov 02, 2020

Kila nunnery & Chelela pass: Chelela pass, at 13,083 feet is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. From Chelela pass one can have superb views of Haa Valley and surrounded by tranquil mountain peaks such at the majestic Mt. Jomolhari (24,035 feet) & Jichu Drakey (22,930 feet). Bhutan's oldest nunnery, the Kila nunnery, dates to the 9th Century. The Nunnery is situated along the mountainside, at 9,800 ft.

Kila Nunnery

Central Bhutan - Jakar, Bumthang (8,464 feet): Central Bhutan is an exciting destination for all visitors. It includes some of the most significant historical and religious sites in the country. Some of the important landmarks in central Bhutan are: Kurje Lhakhang (monastery) built in 1652 at the site where the great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche meditated. Tamshing Lhakhang, the great religious treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa built dating back to 1501. Mebar Tsho: A sacred lake from which Terton Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures hidden by Guru Rimpoche.

Jakar, Bumthang

Jakar Tsechu (Festival). The Jakar Dzong or “the Dzong of the white bird” is perched on the hillock overlooking Chamkhar town & places surrounding it. The interesting thing about the Dzong is that there is a water tower four stairs down behind the Dzong leading to a water reservoir used for drawing water during battle times in olden days. The three-day festival displays several sacred mask dances. The festival also hosts different types of folk songs and dances. People visit the festival dressed in their finest clothes and the festival is also popular among travellers.

Tsechu

The Phobjikha Valley (9,482 feet): Nestled in the inner Himalayas at about 9,842 feet above sea level, Phobjikha is a wide alpine wetland valley that is considered the largest and the most significant wetland in the country. It is often cited for the harmonious co‐existence of its inhabitants with nature and the valley also holds great cultural significance. The valley is the most significant wintering ground of the rare and endangered Black‐necked cranes in Bhutan and has been protected since time immemorial by the local people’s traditional respect for all living beings. Every year, over 300 of the estimated 500 cranes that migrate to Bhutan, spend their winter months (late October to mid February) in this valley.

Punakha (4,265 feet) The Ethereal Ancient Capital: Punakha has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. On October 13, 2011 the district of Punakha was home to the auspicious and historical Royal wedding. Punakha served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. The Punakha Dzong (Fort) is the second oldest and second largest in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.

Buddha Dordenma Statue, this massive statue of Shakyamuni Buddha - measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world.

Thimphu (7,800 feet): The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000, including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country. One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity makes Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese.

Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery (10,200 feet) Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This monastery is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face about 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley. It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.

The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”

Day to Day Itinerary

THU Oct 22. Arrive Paro (7,382 feet): The flight into Paro, Bhutan provides opportunities to see spectacular views of the great Himalayan peaks – The highlight being Mt. Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet) the world’s third tallest mountain. As you enter Bhutan airspace, you will see many of Bhutan’s majestic peaks such as the sacred Mt. Jomolhari & Mt. Jichu Drake – for unobstructed views, try to get a seat on the LEFT side of the plane. Upon arrival into Paro, and after completing your visa & customs formalities, a representative of The Noble Traveller Bhutan will be there to receive you. Explore Paro Valley - Paro Dzong (fort), built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional wood covered bridge called Nyamai Zam. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

FRI Oct 23. Day trip to Chelela Pass & Kila Nunnery: Your journey to Chelela Pass will take you thorough blue pine & rhododendron forest for about an hour to reach Chelela pass (13,083 feet). Chelela pass is the highest motor pass in Bhutan and from here, weather permitting; one can have superb views of Mt. Jomolhari (24,035 feet) & Mt. Jichu Drakey (22,930 feet). Enroute to Chelela Pass, visit Bhutan's oldest nunnery, the Kila Nunnery, dating back to the ninth century; the Nunnery is situated along the mountainside, at an altitude of over 9.800 feet. From Chelela pass embark on a short walk (optional) up the ridge to see Haa Valley. Return to Paro, time permitting explore Paro cultural sites. Paro Dzong, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional wood covered bridge called Nyamai Zam. The National Paro Museum (Ta Dzong) - One time watchtower built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century. Since 1967 Ta Dzong is serving as the National Museum of the country. It holds fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan's exquisite postage stamps. Drukgyel Dzong (under restoration) - built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when its was destroyed by fire in 1951. Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). The Lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, built the first temple and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in original pattern. (Overnight 3 Star hotel - All meals, no drinks).

Chelela Pass

SAT Oct 24. Paro to Jakar, Bumthang (8,464 feet): Depart Paro for Jakar, Bumthang on Druk Air KB010 (11:50-12:25). With gorgeous scenery, magnificent temples, and elegant homes, Bumthang valley is a lovely place to admire the beauty of Bhutan. Bumthang is steeped in its own unique culture and history, different from Western Bhutan. Begin your cultural journey of Jakar by visiting some of its most iconic cultural landmarks such a the Jambay Lhakhang (Temple), one of the oldest temples in the Kingdom - Founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The King was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro; the Kichu Lhakhang also built on the same day. Continue on to visit Kurjey Lhakhang, built in 1652 at the site where the great Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche meditated. Prior to returning to your hotel, visit Wangduechhoeling Palace, the Birthplace of Bhutan’s Monarchy. As the birthplace of the first king of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo (King) Ugyen Wangchuck, the Wangduechhoeling Palace serves as an important landmark in the history of the monarchy in Bhutan. In addition to its historical importance, the palace is also an extraordinary example of traditional Bhutanese architecture, painting, and craftsmanship that continues to influence Bhutanese architecture today. The Bhutan Foundation is currently spearheading the restoration of the Wangduechhoeling Palace. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

SUN Oct 25. Explore Jakar, Bumthang & Attend Jakar Tsechu: Today you will start your day by first visiting the Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” which dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. Spend the morning attending the Jakar Tsechu. In the afternoon, you may visit Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), which is considered the premier institute for research and training in forestry and environmental science for Bhutan and the Asian region. After lunch you have the option to rest or embark on nature walk, relax or visit another key cultural sites. Tamshing Lhakhang, a temple built by the Buddhist Saint Pema Lingpa, contains some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

MON Oct 26. Day Trip to TANG Valley: Tang is one of the four valleys of Bumthang, it is higher than Choekhor(Jakar) valley. The road from Jakar follows the west-east towards Ura for about 10km until it diverts towards North ascending uphill towards the narrow gorge of Tang. You will spend the day visiting the Tang Valley starting with a short hike to Mebartsho (The Burning Lake) where Pema Lingpa, one of Bhutan’s most revered saints and Tertons (Discoverers of Hidden Treasures), dove into the lake with a lighted lamp, only to emerge back with the lamp still burning holding a statue and a chest containing sacred Buddhist texts. You will then continue up the valley to Ogyen Chholing Palace, now converted into a museum which houses permanent exhibits on three floors of the main building. Traditional living quarters are recreated to capture the realistic ambiance of the ancient lifestyles and conditions of the households. Everyday kitchen and weaving utensils, war weapons--including petrified yak dung to make gunpowder--tools and farming implements are the main part of the exhibits. After lunch at Ogyen Chholing Lodge, return to Jakar. Drive time 1.5 hours each way. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

Trongsa Dzong

TUE Oct 27. Jakar, Bumthang to Phobjikha Valley (9,842 Feet): After breakfast, you have the option to participate at the Jakar Tsechu. Begin your journey westward to Phobjikha Valley (Via Trongsa). Drive time today is about 5 hours. Upon arrival, visit the Trongsa Dzong and the Ta Dzong, which has been made into a museum covering the history of the monarchy of Bhutan. 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 (“governor”) 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. Because of the dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here. Ta Dzong: This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It was built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the 1st Governor of Trongsa in 1652. It has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong, which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history. From Trongsa, continue your journey to Phobjikha Valley, crossing the Pele La Pass (11,250 feet) where on a clear day you can see Mt. Jhomolhari, Mt. Jichu Drakye and Mt. Kang Bum, three of Bhutan’s prominent peaks. From Pele La Pass, Phobjikha Valley is a short distance away. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

Phobjikha Valley

WED Oct 28. Explore Phobjikha Valley: We will spend the day exploring the Phobjikha Valley. You can start your day attending the morning prayer which takes place every morning from 05:15-06:15. The day starts very early at 05:00, to get ready for the morning prayers; these prayers are referred to as the Tara Ceremony. Prayers are offered in the early morning as the Buddhists consider the body and mind to be most pure at this time of day. After breakfast, you have the option to go hiking on the Gantey Nature Trail, followed by a visit to the Black Necked Crane Centre and meet with officials of the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN). Prior to returning to your hotel, visit the Gantey Goenpa (monastery) founded in 1613. The current Gantey Tulku is the 9th reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, the famous Buddhist saint from whom the Royal Family is descended. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

Black Necked Crane

THU Oct 29. Phobjikha to Punakha (4,265 feet): After breakfast, depart for Punakha at a leisurely pace. Begin your journey to Punakha by heading across Lawa La pass, then descend for about three hours into the Punakha valley. Prior to arriving in Punakha, visit Chimmi Lhakhang - Temple of the Divine Madman. Prior to checking into hotel, visit Punakha Dzong, the most spectacular Dzong in Bhutan, built at the confluence of the Mo Chhu (Female river) and Pho Chhu (Male river) in 1637. This huge fortress/monastery was the national capital until 1966 and is the place where the country’s kings have been crowned and the site for the 5th King’s Royal Wedding in Oct. 2011. After visiting Punakha Dzong. Rest of the afternoon is open for personal time at hotel or if you would like to go for a leisurely exploratory walk. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

Punakha Dzong

FRI Oct 30: Explore Punakha Valley - Drive to Thimphu: Start your day with gradual walk by crossing the Mo Chhu (Female River) over a local suspension bridge – after crossing the river, walk through paddy fields, as you begin your gradual hike, for about an hour, to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. Built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, this temple is dedicated for her son Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and for the well being of the Kingdom and the benefit of all sentient beings. Khamsum Yulley stands majestically on a strategic ridge above the Punakha valley. Built over a period of 9 years, Bhutanese craftsmen including carpenters, painters, and sculptors consulted Holy Scriptures rather than engineering manuals, to construct this 4-story temple. It is a splendid example of Bhutan’s fine architectural and artistic traditions and the only one of its kind in the world. After lunch at hotel, drive to 2 hours to Thimphu. Enroute, stop by Dochula Pass (10,100 feet) - this pass is a popular location among visitors as it offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of Bhutanese Himalayan range. The view is especially scenic on clear day with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens (Stupas) gracing the mountain pass. The eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, commissioned the 108 Chortens. From Dochula, you will then descend into the Thimphu Valley passing the Simtokha Dzong, the oldest Dzong in Bhutan, on the way and arriving in the Capital in the mid to late afternoon. Upon arrival in Thimphu, explore Thimphu sites. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

Dochula Pass (10,100 feet)

SAT Oct 31. Explore Thimphu: Start your day with a hike (about an hour) to the historic Cheri Monastery; built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1620, this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. Upon return from your hike, visit many of Thimphu’s cultural sites. The Buddha Dordenma Statue, this massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. Visit the Centenary Farmers Market; located below the main town, near the Wangchhu River, Thimphu’s weekend market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. With its wide assortment of fresh, organic produce, the Farmers Market has become a favorite spot for travellers and a recreational place for people from all walks of life. In the late afternoon, depart for Paro - I hour drive (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

SUN Nov 01: Hike to Taktsang Monastery (10,100 feet): Begin our journey to Taktsang (Tigers Nest) by 8am. At a very moderate pace, you can be up at the monastery by noon and back at the base by 3:00pm. Taktsang Monastery is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This monastery is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 2952 feet above the Paro Valley. At about an altitude of 10,100 feet, Taktsang was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rinpoche (learned reincarnate monk) meditated in the 7th century A.D. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site. Upon returning from Taktsang, you may explore Paro town for some handicraft shopping. (Overnight 3 Star - All meals, no drinks).

MON NOV 02: Depart for Paro Airport to catch your flight back home.

Eastern Himalayan range enroute to Paro, Bhutan

Activities and Local Cultural Experiences

Crafts & Traditional Cooking: Experience local craft making and try your hand in this age old tradition. How about learning to prepare some hot and spicy local Bhutanese cuisine? The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillis are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy.

Archery & Khuru (Local Darts): The national sport is Archery (Dha). The bow and arrow play a significant role in many Bhutanese myths and legends; images of gods holding a bow and arrows are considered auspicious. Watch the locals play a game of Archery and try your hand at Bhutan’s National sport. Also indulge in a game of Khuru, another of Bhutan’s traditional sports enjoyed by many.

Prayer Flags Hoisting: Prayer flags are hoisted for happiness, long life, prosperity, luck and merit and to offer karmic merit to all sentient beings. Prayer flags are raised outside homes, hung on hilltops, bridges and places of spiritual importance. Hoisting a prayer flag is considered to bring in good luck and merit to all.

Butter Lamps

Lighting Sacred Butter Lamps: Lighting butter lamps represents relief from suffering and provides you with a guiding light to find enlightenment. A senior monk teacher at a Goenpa (monastery) will be happy to lead this significant ritual for you personally.

Spiritual Cleansing: It is a common belief that every place has its local protective deity or spirit and the fumigation occurs to keep the spirit happy. The ritual is also used to self-cleanse all the bad spirits surrounding us and to be blessed with good luck. Spiritual cleansing involves the burning of selected herbs. This normally takes place in the early morning hours and is in the presence of a senior monk.

Explore Town & Crafts Shopping: A perfect opportunity for those who like to explore Thimphu further and also indulge in some handicraft shopping for loved ones and friends back home.

Happiness

Key terms, phrases & notes:

Dzong: Bhutanese architectural masterpieces built in the past to serve a number of purposes. They served as administrative centers and as houses for the clergy. They were also used as garrisons by the army and people gathered in the dzong courtyards during festivities.

Stupa/Chorten: The stupa is a monument of peace, harmony and love. It symbolizes the essence of the five elements and the qualities of an awakened mind with the qualities of unlimited compassion and deepest wisdom. It contains many Buddhist scriptures and prayers and is built for world peace.

Tsechu: A religious event celebrated on tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize.

Lhakhang/Goenpa: Buddhist spiritual place of worship and learning. Monks reside/receive teachings in the Goenpa.

The Noble Traveller

The Noble Traveller Bhutan. Rooted in Bhutan, The Noble Traveller focuses on developing and executing custom private journeys throughout Bhutan for its guests. According to proprietors Sonam and Dhamey, there are a few rare journeys that we embark on during our lifetime, not simply a vacation, but a journey for personal growth – to enrich one’s inner self through interaction with people and cultures from distant lands – Bhutan is one such destination and we are here to create the right environment for you to experience the best out of your journey. Over the years, the Noble Traveller has hosted many travellers from around the world, some beginning their life journey and discovering themselves, while others who have reached the peak of their career and embarking on a new kind of adventure. However, our greatest reward continues to be the friendships we’ve built over the years meeting fellow travellers.

Map of Bhutan

Mountain views (on flight): The flight into Paro airport, Bhutan provides opportunities to see spectacular views of the great Himalayan peaks – The highlight being Mt. Everest (29,028 feet) and Mt. Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet) the world’s tallest and third tallest mountains. As you enter Bhutan airspace, you will see many of Bhutan’s majestic mountains such as the sacred Mt. Jomolhari & Mt. Jichu Drake – for unobstructed views, try to get a seat on the LEFT side of the plane. Note: Mt. Everest views are great for flights coming in from Delhi and Nepal. Flights from Bangkok and those arriving from the east of Bhutan will likely not get views of Mt. Everest or see it from afar. Most flights into Bhutan make a brief stopover in India to drop off and pick up additional passengers – there is no change in plane, the stop is about 45 minutes to an hour.

Altitude: If you are on a cultural tour, altitude is generally not a concern, as you will be overnighting below 3000 meters (9,842 feet). However, in the past, if you have experienced altitude sickness below 3000 meters, please consult your local physician and kindly inform us.

Note on itinerary: Please note the detailed day to day itinerary is just to give some structure to the day - once you arrive in Bhutan, we can adjust your day to day activities based on your experience once in country - at times, travellers prefer to do more days walks and less cultural activities and others the opposite. Once finalized, the only change we are unable to make is the night halt as hotels in Bhutan are paid for in advance per local norms. Time and distances mentioned in itinerary are approximate only.

Regional Map