March 31 – April 16, 2013
From Guwahati City, Assam State, India
Overview: Take off for a cross country adventure tour across magical Bhutan! Stunning mountain vistas and the well preserved, inspiring Bhutanese culture create a magical, once in a lifetime expedition. Unlike our rugged wilderness treks, this mild tour enjoys short day hikes with road travel to witness Bhutan's wonders from east to west. Our small group size, no more than eight, helps us better experience local culture and meet local families. Facilities in Bhutan are good and this will be a comfortable and rewarding travel exploration.
Leadership: The Bhutan East to West Tour Leader is Effie Fletcher. For many years Effie led Sierra Club backpacking trips and is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School's course for Outdoor Educators. She maintains her certification as a Wilderness First Responder. In the last two decades, she's led many overseas tours and treks to Nepal, Burma, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Tibet and Vietnam. A practicing Buddhist, Effie is the coordinator of the Dharma Journeys Pilgrimages, and is a graduate of Goddard College in Vermont. Note that with an undersubscribed group of four or less, our experienced local staff will lead this trip.
Pre Trip Days: Fly from your home country to meet in Guwahati City, Assam State, India. Those in the Americas lose one day crossing the international date line to Asia. Please review your air itinerary with us early to ensure you arrive on time as strict government guidelines can limit Bhutan entry and travel. You must arrive in Guawahati no later than March 31, 2013. If you wish to arrive early or depart late, we can arrange any needed transfers and accomodation with an early request.
Day 1: Arrive at Guawahati International Airport in Assam, India where you will be met and brought to your hotel in Guawahati City. In the early evening visit the famous Kamakhya Temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess who symbolizes a "fusion of faiths and practices." Karnakhaya is associated with different forms of the Mother Goddess including Tara and Kali. Offerings to the goddess are usually flowers, but can sometimes include animal sacrifices as well. It is a beautiful Tantric and Hindu temple perched high on Nilachal Hill — well worth a visit! Overnight at our Assam hotel. (No meals)
Day 2: Gauwahati (India) to Samdrup Jongkhar.
This morning our Bhutanese guide arrives at our Indian hotel and will accompany us into Bhutan. We stop for lunch at an Indian restaurant and if time allows, we might visit an Assam tea plantation before crossing the India border. Dinner and overnight is enjoyed after our crossing at the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 3: Samdrup Jongkhar to Trashigang. After an early breakfast, our Bhutanese driver escorts us to Trashigang (1100m) in seven to eight scenic hours. Our route travels slowly through subtropical forests along a rustic road. We'll make brief stops to photograph great views and enjoy a picnic lunch along the way. You may see small scattered villages amid the hilltops but most of our route passes through wilderness. With good timing (if they are open) we will visit the Khaling Handloom Center, where young girls learn to weave textiles of intricate, richly colored traditional patterns made in the ancient way. The Kanglung Zangtopleri Lhakhang temple will be another stop before dinner. Our overnight stay is at a comfortable, well located Trashigang hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 4: Radhi and Phongmey Villages Day Trip.
Start the day with an exciting visit to a traditional fortress,Trashigang Dzong, before a short drive to Radhi and Phongmey villages. Radhi is called the "rice bowl" of eastern Bhutan, famous for its raw silk called Bura. On reaching Ranjung, we'll visit Yozerchholing Monastery and at Khardung you'll find Anim Dratshang, a nunnery where women pursue a religious life. You'll have non-stop photo opportunities with the picturesque scenery of eastern Bhutan. Evening is at leisure for a walk through town. Dinner and overnight stay at a Trashigang hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 5: Day trip to Trashi Yangtse. Following breakfast, we ride two to three hours to Trashi Yangtse with its Gom Kora and Chorten Kora stupas, built in traditional Nepali style. We'll see prized village craftspeople whose functional and artistic woodworking as well as weaving are a treat for the eyes. We return to Tashigang for dinner and our hotel after a memorable day at this remote village. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 6: Trashigang to Mongar. Shortly after leaving Trashingang we cross the Cha Zam ("Iron Bridge"). Following along the Gamri Chu river, we arrive at Ngatshang village and visit a small temple, Tashichoepheling Lhakhang. Here you experience the lives of Bhutan's monks and can interact with them — a special opportunity to learn details about a monk's life that you will long remember.
Our journey continues as we climb over the Kori La Pass (2400m) to Mongar (1600m) in three to four hours. Mongar is the first town constructed on a mountainous slope instead of a flat valley. Eastern Bhutan's valleys are often little more than wide riverbeds flanked with mountain slopes rising abruptly to their summits. In the evening visit the Dzong (fortress) for fine views over the village. Some of our staff attended school here so they'll know interesting places to show you too! Dinner and an overnight stay at our comfortable Mongar hotel tonight. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 7: Day trip to Lhuntse. After breakfast we first visit Mongar Dzong, constructed in 1950. Then we ride along the scenic road to Lhuntse, following Kurichu Stream, Bhutan's biggest river. After two hours, we reach Tsa Zam for a worthwhile stretch. We'll hike about one hour to Khoma, a remote village renowned for its unique Kishu Thara textiles. Following a leisurely visit to the village and its craftspeople, we retrace our steps back to the road. If you don't feel like hiking, Lhuntse Dzong is nearby where you can see the creation of an image of the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche. Return to Mongar for dinner and our overnight stay at a Mongar hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 8: Mongar-Bumthang. Leaving Mongar we enjoy a scenic, six to eight hour drive to reach Bumthang. Our route first descends for 30 minutes through bucolic corn and potato fields. Then it's time to shift gears and fasten our seat belts for what lies ahead. We soar through Sengor and later Namling along the most hair-raising road in Bhutan. Hold tight! As we follow this breathtaking road clinging to the hillside, we're surrounded by plunging waterfalls before we cross two passes — Thrumshing La at 3800m and Sherthang La at 3573m. This spectacular road rises 3200m in only 84km. With good weather we can have incredible views of Bhutan's highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (7540m), before we descend.
We'll enjoy a picnic lunch before we reach Tang to visit Mebar Tsho (the burning lake) and stroll around the classic Bhutanese town of Jakar (2600m). The Bumthang Valley is home to the country's holiest pilgrimages and most-sacred monasteries. After this breathtaking day, you'll be ready for a comfortable evening at our Bumthang hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 9: Bumthang Exploration. We'll first pay a morning visit to Jamba Lhakhang, a temple built in the 7th century. Built in 1667, Jakar Dzong (castle of the white bird), is later found on a point overlooking the Choskhor Valley. Nearby we'll find Wangdichholing Palace, the first palace not designed as a fortress. Built in 1857, it is found on the battle campsite of Jigme Namgyal, the Penlop of Trongsa. Not far away is Kurjey Lhakhang Temple, named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche. The print is preserved in a cave within Kurjey, the oldest of three structures in the temple complex. Kurjey Lhakhang was built in 1652 by Mingyur Tenpa, when he was Penlop of Trongsa. Another temple was built by Ugyen Wangchuk (Bhutan's first king) in 1900 and the third temple is an elaborate, three-storey lhakhang built by Ashi Kesang Wangchuk in 1984, under the guidance of Diglo Khyentse Rimpoche.
Crossing a suspension bridge to Tamshing, we arrive at ancient Tamshing Monastery. Established in 1501 by Pema Lingpa, this is the most important Nyingma Gompa in the kingdom. Legend says Pema Lingpa built the Monastery with the help of female celestial beings, Khandroms, who made many of his statues. For a more modern and earthly Jakar detour, we savor a special dinner at a local farmhouse — complete with the local brew (Aarak liquor) and a traditional stone bath. You'll sleep soundly overnight at your Bumthang hotel! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 10: Bumthang to Phobjikha. Today, our roads lead us through the Phobjikha Valley. After about three scenic hours from Bumthang, we arrive in Trongsa to find the Tower of Trongsa. Its museum illustrates fascinating Bhutanese culture and history with its beautiful artwork. We'll pause for lunch at the Tower of Trongsa's cafe with time for photographs at Trongsa Dzong's viewpoint. In about more three hours we arrive in the village of Phobjikha. The Phobjikha Valley was carved by glaciers and today is the winter home of the famous Black Necked Cranes. We have time to visit Gangtey Gompa and enjoy the pine forest found along Gangtey Natural Trail before dinner and our overnight stay at a Phobjikha hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 11: Phobjikha to Punakha. About three hours after breakfast, our road crosses the Black Mountains as we make our way to Punakha, Bhutan's old winter capital. Reaching Lobesa, we'll stretch with an easy half hour hike to Chhimi Lhakhang, the temple of fertility. Passing through farms and fields, we'll spot the temple perched high on a hilltop. The friendly abbot may be available to describe his important work in the local community and we should also meet children who come here for their education. Lunch will be served at the temple before we continue on our journey to Punakha. At Punakha, you'll find Punakha Dzong, the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan. Before we settle in for the night, it's good to visit Kabesa Village for the view found at Khamsum Yule Namgyel Chhorten. There'll be free time in the evening to relax before dinner and overnight stay at a Punakha hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 12: Punakha to Thimphu. Today we're headed over Dochu La Pass (3,048m) as we make our way to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital city. You'll be stunned by the panorama of the eastern Himalayas, featuring Bhutan's highest peak, Gangkar Punsum (7,550m). Dochu La Pass is studded with 108 small stupas, countless prayer flags and also happens to be a fine vantage point for our lunch!
After we take in the panorama with some great food, we continue to Thimphu to enjoy its city life. Depending on our travel time, we can also visit Mothithang Reserve to view the Takin, a goat-antelope which is Bhutan's national animal. Nearby is the memorial stupa, a shrine built in the memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It's overnight at our Thimphu hotel after dinner and a walk through town. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 13: Thimphu. Explore the capital starting with a visit to Changgangkha Lhakhang, a nunnery on the outskirts of Thimphu. The School of Arts and Crafts is another must see. At the school, Bhutanese children follow an eight-year program in the traditional arts — drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture. After this inspiration, it's a natural transition to visit Thimphu's wonderful Folk Heritage Museum with its interpretive collections highlighting traditional Bhutanese life! After a stop at the national library, it's lunchtime! This afternoon we visit a traditional hospital as well as workshops for gold, silver and hand-made paper artisans. Our last stop is a handicraft emporium before it's time for dinner and a return to our Thimphu hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 14: Thimphu to Haa. Today we'll make a picturesque drive to Haa Valley, only recently open to visitors. Lunchtime will be the ticket as we arrive in Ha. After lunch we have time for a short hike above tonight's hotel to Khatsho Village where we visit Lhakhang Karpo (white) and Lhakhang Nagpo (black) temples. Our evening stroll is around small Haa, with dinner and our overnight stay at a Haa Hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 15: Haa to Paro. Today we head to Paro across Chelela Pass along Bhutan's highest motorable road! Surrounded with an abundance of prayer flags on this pass, we have great views of the famous Cholmolhari and Jichu Drakey peaks.
Reaching Paro, we relish our lunch in one of its fine restaurants before visiting the National Museum and Paro Dzong. Stroll around Paro before dinner and an overnight stay at our Paro hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 16: Tiger's Nest. You won't want to miss the ultimate day hike this morning! We're bound for Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery, perched 600m above a sheer cliff overlooking the valley. Legends say that on this spot, Guru Padmasambhava (an Indian saint) flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons who opposed the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The first section of trail to the teahouse takes about one hour, where we'll have lunch. You can choose to hike further up the trail to reach the monastery, taking about ninety minutes more. Either way, you'll have majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro Valley below.
Before returning to our hotel, we'll stop at the ruin of Drukgyel Dzong and Kyichu Lhakhang, some of the oldest temples in Bhutan. A farewell dinner awaits us before our final Bhutan sunset and some packing at our comfy Paro hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 17: Paro to Airport. After our breakfast, there's time for goodbyes before a transfer to Paro's International Airport for your departure flight. Some may choose to linger nearby and enjoy more days in nearby Nepal or India before heading back home. (Breakfast)
Important Notes: This description is meant only as a guide to our planned itinerary. Changes may be made as we go along depending upon local conditions, our acclimatization and health and safety. Good health, an inquisitive mind and a positive attitude make it enjoyable. Sturdy vehicles will be provided, however, this kind of travel is not for those who are prone to car sickness or who are afraid of heights. All of the areas to be visited are remote and there are no reliable sources of medical care outside of Thimphu.
Travel Details: If you arrange your own air travel, remember to arrive in Guwahati, India no later than March 31, 2013 and not depart from Paro, Bhutan until April 16, 2013. Advise us of your itinerary before you purchase tickets to ensure you arrive and depart on schedule! If you have time, we can arrange additional accommodations and area tours anywhere in the region (India, Nepal, Thailand) along with guides and transportation. Advise us early and ask about all the options we can offer for your trip. Please refer to the booking information section of our application form for more information.
¹Bhutan Itinerary Note: The only air carrier into or out of Bhutan is Druk Air, Bhutan's flagship airline. Druk Air is a small carrier with limited availability offering service from several Asian cities — but may operate some routings only certain days each week!
This trip is based on a departure from Paro to Bangkok, Thailand, the easiest and best served flight hub for Druk Air. Depending on their future scheduling, there can be options to fly Druk Air via Singapore, Calcutta (Kolkata), Bagdogra, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Kathmandu as well as some other area cities. If you have any stopover needs, based on Druk Air's availability, we can help assist you with arrangements. Ask us early for any details and we are happy to assist with the best options on your trip plans.
Bhutan East To West Tour • Administrative Details:
(+) Land Cost (land cost as itinerary has described):
(+) In-Trip Airfare Estimate (air during itinerary program):
(=) Total Program Cost (Land & In-Trip Air costs combined):
Trip Deposit (submit with application):
Single Supplement (optional single accommodation):
Maximum Group Size:
Other Cost & Need Considerations:
Passport, Visa(s), Physicians Visit, Emergency Medical & Evacuation Insurance, Travel to/from Bangkok (Thailand)¹, Meals Beyond Above Itinerary, Beverages, Spending/Personal Money.
Mild: Accommodations are in comfortable guest houses and four–star hotels. Activities are mild and can include day hikes of less than four hours in length. Vehicle time can include fatigue with long travel along rough roads.
January 31, 2012 ($100USD late fee thereafter)
Bhutan East To West Tour Printable Itinerary:
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