The Thimphu festival goes from Sept. 21 to 23, 2007
Day 1: Arrive Paro international airport by Druk Air
The flight to Paro crosses the Himalaya Mountains, affording spectacular views of the awesome peaks, including the sacred Jumolhari and Jichu Drake peaks in Bhutan. Upon arrival in Paro, you will be greeted by our representative and transferred to your hotel.
In the afternoon you can visit the Paro Dzong. It was built in 1646 and now houses government offices and religious institutions, as do all the dzongs (forts) currently. You'll cross a traditional wooden bridge on the way to the dzong. You can then tour the National Museum, formerly the watchtower for the dzong. It now houses a collection of fine arts, paintings, thankas, statues, and antiques. Afterward you will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the country. In the evening you can stroll through the Paro market and town. Overnight in Paro.
Day 2: Paro - Thimphu, morning hike to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
After breakfast hike to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery, which is Bhutan's most famous monastery. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. It is perched on the edge of a steep cliff, about 900 meters above Paro Valley. The hike to reach the viewpoint to the monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion. After lunch, drive to Thimphu. In the evening you can explore Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and absorb the lifestyle of the people. You can also visit some interesting handicraft shops. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 3: Thimphu sightseeing
After breakfast you will visit the King's Memorial Chorten (built in memory of the third King of Bhutan who reigned from 1952-1972), Changgangkha Monastery, the radio tower (for a great view of Thimphu Valley and the Thimphu Dzong), and the zoo, which contains the national animal of Bhutan: the takin. From there you will visit the nunnery temple, the National Library (which houses ancient manuscripts), and the School of Arts and Crafts (also known as the painting school). After a relaxing lunch, you will visit the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, the Folk Heritage Museum, a traditional paper factory, and the Simtokha Dzong (the oldest fortress in the kingdom). Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 4: Thimphu - Wangduephodrang, with afternoon excursion to Punakha (3-hour drive)
After breakfast you will drive to Wangduephodrang, with a stop en route for tea at Dochu La (3,100 meters), where on a clear day you can get spectacular views of the Himalayas. After lunch you will drive to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, and visit Punakha Dzong, which is noteworthy both for being one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan and also for having been built by the first Shabdrung in 1637. On the way back from Punakha, you will stop at Metshina Village and take a 20-minute walk through the rice fields to Chimi Lakhang, which is a fertility temple. Overnight in Wangduephodrang.
Day 5: Wangduephodrang - Bumthang (6-7 hour drive)
You will begin the day by driving to Gantey. You'll pass through dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons and arrive at Gantey village, where you'll visit Gantey Gompa, the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan. From Gantey, you can see the picturesque Black Mountain range as well as Phobjika Valley, the winter habitat of the black-necked cranes. From there you'll head to Bumthang. The route is along a spectacular winding road, crossing 3,300-meter-high Pele La and 3,500-meter-high Yutong La (pass), and at certain times of year it's possible to see yaks. Along the way you will stop at a yethra (textile weaving) factory, where the yethras are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 6: Bumthang sightseeing
After breakfast, you will tour the beautiful region and visit sights including Jakar Dzong, the administrative center of the valley; the Udee woodcarving factory in Jakar; Jambey Lhakhang, one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, dating from the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan; and Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places, because Guru Rinpoche left his body imprint on the cave when he was meditating. After lunch you will have a chance to tour Tamshing Lhakhang, which houses interesting religious Buddhist paintings, and you will make a stop at the Swiss cheese factory. You will also see Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), where some of Guru Rinpoche's treasures were found in the 15th century by the famous treasure discover Pema Lingpa. It's a good place to meditate. You can spend the evening strolling through Bumthang town. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 7: Bumthang - Wangduephodrang
You'll begin the day at the Bumthang market, and then head to Wangduephodrang, with a brief stop in Trongsa to visit the Ta Dzong. In Wangduephodrang you can stroll through the town and visit the shops. The nearby villages are known for their slate and stone carvings and bamboo work. Overnight in Wangduephodrang.
Day 8: Wangduephodrang - Thimphu, attend festival
Head back to Thimphu. In the afternoon, you will attend the Thimphu festival! It is believed that if you attend a festival, your sins will be washed away.
This is the only time of year that families from all around Thimphu gather together in a festival, all wearing their finest dress. There will be lots of celebrating, dancing (by monks and lay people), and feasting, and you will notice the Bhutanese carrying their food (such as dried pork, red chilies, red rice, and green chilies and cheese) in traditional bamboo containers (bangchung), along with the most famous Bhutanese beverage, ara--a spirit distilled from rice, wheat, or corn. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 9: Thimphu, attend festival
You will have a full day to attend the festival and further enjoy this unique and exciting celebration! Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 10: Thimphu - Paro, in the morning you will hike to Tango Monastery
After breakfast, you can hike to Tango Monastery, which was built by the "Divine Madman" in the 15th century. It's a center of study for monks, and it affords a great view of the Thimphu Valley. On the grounds of the monastery is a "sin-testing" tunnel--it is said that if you have sinned, you will get stuck in the tunnel. In the afternoon, you will head to Paro. In the evening you can visit a traditional farmhouse and, if you wish, enjoy a hot-stone bath and a typical Bhutanese dinner. Overnight in Paro.
Day 11: Depart Paro