General Information About Kingdom in the Sky Tour
“Kingdom in the Sky” provides an insight into Bhutan’s Buddhist culture at a deep and comprehensive level. This trip combines spectacular drives to three historically important valleys: the bustling capital of Thimphu; the tropical Punakha valley; and the open valley of Paro. We take a fabulous day camping trek to Bumdra monastery which includes a night in a wilderness campsite high in the Himalaya and a visit to the Taktsang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Our circuit uses less trodden mountain paths, where few foreigners have ever set foot, to eventually approach the monastery from our campsite above the clouds.
DAY 01: ARRIVE PARO – THIMPHU
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport exit doors following customs formalities.
Following lunch, visit Kyichu temple, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan which was built in 7th century. Attend a special purification ceremony at the temple performed by monks. This ceremony is mainly performed to purify and to bring good luck to you for your trip in Bhutan. Afterwards, drive to the capital, Thimphu (1.5 hours) following the Pachu River. Before dinner at the hotel there will be an orientation on Bhutanese etiquette by your guide. Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 02: THIMPHU
Begin your day with a short drive to Kuenselphodrang, a popular vantage point, with the biggest Buddha statues in the world. This site offers a panoramic view of the capital below and also has several walking trails, which ranges from leisurely to moderate.
Then visit the National Memorial Chorten, built in the memory of the Third King and for world peace. Continue on to the picturesque 12th century Changangkha Temple and Nunnery at Zilukha.
Afterwards visit the Folk Heritage Museum featuring an exhibition of items and artifacts of Bhutanese villages and rural households. After visiting the museum we will walk to School for Arts & Crafts which is located close to the museum. This is one of the interesting schools where young boys & girls learn 13 different skills of arts & crafts in Bhutan. If your visit to Thimphu coincides on a weekend, you can visit the weekend vegetable market (open from Friday To Sunday). Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
DAY 03: THIMPHU – PUNAKHA
Depart for Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. The road takes you over Dochu-La pass (3,100m) where you will stop to walk around the 108 stupas and, if the weather is clear, enjoy an incredible view of Himalayan peaks. enroute we will stop on the pass for hoisting prayer flags.
Before reaching Punkha, visit Royal Botanical Garden in Lamperi. The park (47 square kilometers) serves as biological corridor connecting Jigme Dorji National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and features a variety of forest types, spectacular scenery, natural rhododendron groves, endangered wildlife and a lake.
Continue your drive towards Punakha through beautiful countryside offering a glimpse of everyday life in this most remote of Himalayan kingdoms. In the Dochu-La area there are vast Rhododendron forests that grow to tree size and bloom in late April/early May covering the mountains in a riot of glorious spring colour.
Check into your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang. Afterwards, visit Lhawang Tshering’s small incense making factory, the most successful and leading incense exporter in Bhutan. Incense, (poi) is one of the most essential elements in religious offerings. Its aroma, it is said, can help to soothe and calm a restless mind. After visiting the incense factory we will visit the small town of Wangduephodrang. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 04: PUNAKHA
Morning visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness”. It was built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers) and is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. After visiting the dzong we will walk about 10 minutes to see the swing bridge built over Pho Chu river connecting people from Shengana village with Punakha Dzong. This is one of the longest suspension bridges in Bhutan constructed around 2001.
After lunch, take a short walk across rice paddies takes us to Chimmi Lhakhang, a fertility temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as the Divine Madman.
Then enjoy exploring a the villages in and around Lobesa valley where you will have the opportunity to interact with local people and learn more about rural life style in Bhutan.
If you are interested we can arrange a home stay in one of the villages in Lobesa, with an opportunity to learn how to prepare some Bhutanese dishes and also try out local alcohol brewed from rice and wheat known as “ARA”. Overnight at your hotel in Punakha/ Wangduephodrang.
DAY 05: PUNAKHA – THIMPHU – PARO
Today you will retrace our steps over the Dochu La for a second view of the wonderful Himalayan range (clear weather permitting). In Thimphu, visit the National Library housing the collection of Bhutanese scriptures dating back to the 8th century, the Institute of Traditional Art & Crafts, and a small factory that produces handmade paper. This paper, made from the bark of the Daphne plant, has long been used for Buddhist manuscripts. Later in the afternoon, drive back to Paro visiting Semtokha Dzong (17 C), the oldest dzong enroute. Returning to the Chuzom (river conﬂuence) we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward off evil spirits near the checkpoint.
On arrival Enjoy a stroll through downtown Paro before checking into the hotel. Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
DAY 06: PARO – BUMDRA MONASTERY
Hike from Sang Choekor Buddhist College (2,800m) to yak pastures below Bumdra Monastery (3,800m).
The adventure begins with an early morning drive up to the Sang Choekor to meet our ponies and while they are being loaded we may pay our respects at the college.
Above and ahead the Chhoe Tse Lhakhang (temple) nestles in the mountainside 1-2 hours walk away. Our home for the night is tucked in under Bumdra Monastery (cave of a thousand prayers) making the most of the awesome views of the Himalayan range. After lunch we can visit the monastery (if it is occupied) and also climb the peak to the north (about 4000m) for even better views, returning in time for a slap up dinner.
Duration: 4-5 hours to camp 2-3 hours return trek to peak (optional)
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard. Overnight at Bumdra Wilderness Camp.
DAY 07: BUMDRAK – PARO (via Tiger nest Monastery)
Hike from Yak pasture below Bumdra Monastery (3,800m) via Zangtopelri Monasteries to Taktsang Monastery (2,900m).
After a hearty breakfast, we either head straight back into the valley or linger a while soaking up the view and perhaps hang some prayer flags of our own. Eventually we have to drop back into the ancient pine and rhododendron forest on the monks’ winding trail.
After a couple of hours of descent we begin to catch glimpses of the golden temples below. The path snakes across the mountainside between these monasteries before reaching the gardens of Zangtopelri (Heaven on Earth) from which you can peer over the edge and straight down onto the ornate rooftops of Taktsang Monastery, perched against the cliff-face far below. An hour later and we are at the gates of Taktsang looking across the gorge; a steep descent to a waterfall then up some steps and we pass into Tiger’s Nest itself. The Monastery is an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Guru Rimpoche is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century. He then mediated in a cave there for three months where the monastery was later built. The cave is said to be the origin of Buddhism in Bhutan.
Retracing our steps we begin the final descent of about 45 minutes to reach our vehicle and drive further up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1644 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to control northern route to Tibet (from here, it is only a two-day hike to the border with Tibet, China dominated by Mt Jhomalhari ).
Overnight at hotel in Paro.
DAY 08: DEPART PARO
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.