Mystical Bhutan and Sikkim
Mystical Lands of the Himalayas
An sojourn through the beauty and majesty of these two Himalayan Worlds
- Duration:20 days
After taking for many years discerning Adventure Associates' travellers to the beautiful and intriguing country of Bhutan, we have created, what we believe to be an even more tantalising adventure with the inclusion of the mystical Himalayan state of Sikkim.
Take advantage of both the Spring and Autumn festival periods in Bhutan, each offering their own authentic spotlight on traditional and cultural origins dating back to the 11th century. Enjoy a taste of Victorian colonial life as you venture into the hill country of Darjeeling and Gangtok, to marvel at sunrise over the mighty Himalayas from the vantage point at Tiger Hill.
To ensure ease of travelling and also of necessity you will be mainly staying in charming smaller hotels in Bhutan with limited accommodation.
Australia - Bangkok
Depart today on your flight to Bangkok, arriving this afternoon. Those leaving from Melbourne will leave late afternoon and arrive Bangkok mid-evening. On arrival transfer to the hotel.
Bangkok - Paro - Thimphu
Transfer to the airport this morning for your early flight to Paro, Bhutan. You will be met in the traditional way before driving to Thimphu. The capital town of Bhutan and the centre of government, religion and commerce. Thimphu is a lively place, an interesting combination of tradition and modernity. Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.
Weekend Market: Most of Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend markets, held by the river. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market.BLD
During sightseeing excursions in Thimphu you will marvel at the colour, design and beauty of the temples, monasteries and dzongs.
National Memorial Chorten: The building of this chorten was the idea of Bhutan’s third king, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (the father of modern Bhutan) who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity.
Tashichhodzong: The ‘fortress of the glorious religion’ was initially constructed in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s.
Institute for Zorig Chusum: Commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine: In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made from medicinal plants abundant in the country are prepared and dispensed here.
Changangkha Temple: It’s one of the oldest temples in the Thimphu valley, built by a descendant of Phajo Drugom Shigpo, the founder of the Drukpa school in Bhutan.
Drubthob Monastery: (Nunnery) The monastery was founded by a later emanation of Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo (1361-1485) who built temples and iron-chain bridges in Bhutan and Tibet. BLD
Thimphu - Punakha
You drive to Punakha (70km) via Dochula pass. Punakha served as capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Afternoon sightseeing will include a visit to Punakha Dzong, placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. You then visit Wangduephodrang located south of Punakha and the last town before reaching central Bhutan. Wangduephodrang Dzong stretches along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers, the imposing Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. BLD
Punakha - Gangtey
After breakfast, you drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forests and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan's few glacial valleys and chosen winter home of black-necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. You explore the valley and also visit Gangtey Gompa (monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan. BLD
Gangtey - Trongsa
This morning you drive to Trongsa across Pele-la pass. The pass is traditionally considered the boundary between western and central Bhutan. Further down the road you stop to visit Chendebji Chorten constructed in the 18th century by a Tibetan lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. It is built in the Nepalese style with painted eyes at the four cardinal points. On arrival, check in at the lodge.BLD
Trongsa - Bumthang
Perched on steep slopes above a river gorge, it forms the central hub of the nation and is the place from where attempts at unifying the country were first launched. Sightseeing in Trongsa includes:
Ta Dzong: This watchtower which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion stands majestically above the town. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong that now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling.
Trongsa Dzong: Built in 1648, 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 the five 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.
After lunch you continue to Bumthang, in one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism. A most pleasing journey in the soft, late afternoon light.BLD
The day’s excitement starts when you set out on your drive to the Ura Valley. The road crosses Ura-la pass and on the approach there is a magnificent view of Mt Gangkar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, quite unusual in Bhutan. Above Ura village there is a new temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, it contains a huge statue of the Guru and remarkable wall paintings of the cycle of his teachings. During the past 25 years Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley. BLD
This lovely valley is home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the Tertons (religious treasure-discoverers) still linger in this sacred region. Sightseeing in Bumthang today includes:
Jambey Lhakhang: This monastery was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. One of 108 built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region.
Kurje Lhakhang: Located further along the valley, comprises three temples. The one on the right built in 1652 against the rock face. The middle temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru’s body, and is therefore considered to the most holy. The temple on the left was built in the 1990s by H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Tamshing Lhakhang: Located across the river was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple.
Jakar Dzong: Constructed in 1549 by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative centre for Bumthang valley and also houses the regional monk body. BLD
Bumthang - Punakha
Today you set off on the drive back to Punakha enjoying a picnic lunch en-route at the famous Chendeji Chorten. You will then drive on through the mountains and down to Wangduephodrang, where you take a short break before reaching Punakha. BLD
Punakha - Paro
The beautiful Paro valley is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s only airport and the National Museum. Mt Chomolhari reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley, its glacial waters plunging through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro river). The Paro valley is one of the countries most fertile, producing the bulk of Bhutan’s famous red rice from its terraced fields.
Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Drong. Due to their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum and holds a fascinating collection of art, relics and religious Thangkha paintings. Also samples of Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection, are housed here.
Rinpung Dzong: The ‘fortress of the heap of jewels’ was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on a hill above the township and reached by passing through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. BLD
Paro, Tiger’s Nest
The most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, Taktsang is perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said the Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this place, hence the monastery is also called ‘Tiger’s Nest’, a site which has long been recognised as a most sacred place and was visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646. It is a place of pilgrimage where Bhutanese try to visit at least once in a lifetime. Although the climb is steep, you will be rewarded by the sight that awaits!
Drukgyel Dzong: This dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commenorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. BLD
Paro - Phuntsholing
You drive to Phuntsholing, the frontier at the foothills of the Himalayas. It serves as the exit point to cross into India. BLD
Phuntsholing - Darjeeling
You drive to Jaigaon for immigration formalities and then to Darjeeling enroute passing through Assam Tea and rice fields. BD
Darjeeling - Ghoom - Darjeeling
Early this morning you enjoy an excursion to Tiger Hill, Ghoom Monastery and Batasia Loop. From Tiger Hill you may see the magnificent sunrise over the Himalayas; Kanchandzonga, Mount Everest and other majestic peaks.
After breakfast you continue to Ghoom on the UNESCO World Heritage Listed ‘toy train’ established in 1881, or more correctly known as - the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. You return by jeep. Ghoom monastery is the oldest monastery in the area and was built in 1875. After lunch you will visit the Tibetan Self-Help Centre run by refugees to preserve their handicrafts and one can see the making of Tibetan carpets, leather - work, paintings and wooden work. You continue to the Himalayan mountaineering institute and zoo. The institute was started in Darjeeling to train and instruct mountaineers after Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest and today it contains many pieces of equipment used by Tenzing Norgay. The zoological park, attached to the institute is a marvellous environment to see first hand many Himalayan animals. Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Tibetan Yak, Himalayan Black Bear and many species of birds. Later this afternoon you return to the hotel. BLD
Darjeeling - Gangtok
Today you drive to Gangtok (approx 6 hrs). Little is known about the early history of Gangtok. The earliest records date from the construction of the hermitic Gangtok monastery in 1716. Gangtok remained a small hamlet until the construction of the Enchey Monastery in 1840 that made it a pilgrimage centre. After the defeat of the Tibetans by the British, Gangtok became a major stopover city of trade between Tibet and India at the end of the 19th century. Most of the roads and the telegraph in the area were built during this time. Trade between India and Tibet continued to flourish through the Nathula and Jelepla passes, offshoots of the ancient Silk Road near Gangtok. These border passes were sealed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962, which deprived Gangtok of its trading business. In 1975, the monarchy was abrogated and Sikkim became India’s twenty-second state, with Gangtok as its capital. On arrival this afternoon you proceed to your hotel. BLD
This morning you visit Rumtek monastery. Built by his holiness Gyalwa Karmapa the 14th upon his migration from Tibet in 1962. Tibetology, the Buddhist Institute is a treasure trove of rare Lepcha, Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts, statues and ancient Thankas (tapestries). It has over 200 Buddhist icons and is known worldwide as a centre of study of Buddhist philosophy and religion. After lunch you visit Enchey Monastery and important seat of the Nyingma order built on a sacred site blessed by Llama Druptob Karpo, a Tantric master known for his power of flight. After your visit you have time to discover the state’s traditional cottage industries- arts and crafts, hand woven woollen carpets, shawls in Lepcha weaves and many other traditional items. BLD
Gangtok - Bagdogra - Kolkata
This morning you drive back to Bagdogra to join your early afternoon flight to Kolkata. On arrival you are met and transferred to your hotel. B
Kolkata - Bangkok - Australia
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Bangkok where Sydney and Perth passengers transit until their respective flights back to Australia later in the evening. Melbourne and Brisbane passengers may have to overnight in Bangkok and depart for Australia the next day. B
Sydney and Perth passengers arrive home early morning. Melbourne and Brisbane passengers may depart Bangkok during the day and arrive home the same day.