The annual Black-Necked Crane festival is celebrated at the courtyard of Gangtey Goenpa in Phobjikha valley. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part in their daily lives during the winter months. The annual blacknecked crane festival is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered Black-Necked Cranes. The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by school children.
On arrival at the Paro International Airport you meet your tour guide and driver. Check into your hotel and after a brief rest, start your magical experience of Bhutan by first visiting the impressive Rinpung Dzong/Fortress of Heaped Jewels a fine example of the ostentatious Bhutanese art and architecture. The Dzong is located in the heart of the town and a few minutes walk through Nyimazam, one of the few last remaining traditional cantilever bridges in Bhutan. Dzongs serve as both monastic institutions and district administrative offices.
Located above the Dzong is the National Museum that houses various antiques and artifacts of Bhutan and provides a glimpse into Bhutan’s cultural and religious history.
Visit the 3 storied Dungtse Lhakhang/temple, built in the mid 1430’s by Thangtong Gyalpo, an iron bridge builder, to subdue a demon and the temple is firmly chained to the ground. The three floors of the temple represent hell, heaven and earth and houses some of the finest murals in Bhutan.
In the evening visit a traditional farmhouse replete with paddy fields, vegetable garden and farm animals. Enjoy a hot stone bath in a wooden tub, get some cooking tips and help in preparing your dinner which you will eat in the traditional Bhutanese style with the whole family.
Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan and is one of the last few capital cities without traffic lights and the traffic managed by traffic policemen. Thimphu is the most populated city with about 100,000 people and truly a combination of the ancient and the modern. While strictly maintaining the traditional style of architecture in modern building, there are also very old temples and numerous monasteries in and around the city, and few discotheques and Karaoke.
Soak in the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley from the site of the gigantic Lord Buddha, a 51 meter bronze Shakyamuni Buddha statue gilded in gold
The beautiful Memorial Chorten/stupa in town is another favorite with the tourists and a regular sight for congregation of devout Buddhists circumambulating the Chorten from dawn till dusk. The main statue of the Buddha inside the Chorten is said to grant wishes for the earnest and honest hearted!
If you want to mingle with the Bhutanese people and jostle with local farmers amongst the aroma of organic fruits and vegetables, the Centenary Farmers Market is the place to be. Smiling tourists watch in awe as locals bargain with the vendors and you could even stock up on your organic fruits for the coming days.
Visit the Simply Bhutan Museum which is a living studio showcasing the age old culture and traditional heritage of Bhutan. Walk for a few minutes from the Museum to Changangkha Lhakhang the oldest temple in Thimphu. In the evening visit the Tashichho Dzong/fortress of the Auspicious Religion and office of the Golden throne of the Dragon King of Bhutan. Stroll through the market places and the craft bazaar.
After breakfast, drive towards north of Thimphu till you reach the base of Tango and Cheri Monasteries. Built on adjacent hills both the monasteries are about one hour hike along well maintained pathways. You can visit the Tango Monastery which also serves as a university of Buddhist studies. If you want you can also hike up to Cheri Monastery or return back to Thimphu and continue exploring Thimphu valley.
In the evening walk through the main streets and visit the many shops selling local and imported good.
After breakfast check out of your hotel and drive up to Kuensel Phodrang & soak in the panoramic view of the Thimphu valley from the site of the gigantic Buddha Shakyamuni, also one of the largest statues of Buddha at a height of 169 feet (51.5 meters). Then drive onto Wangdue and Punakha valleys for about 3 hrs approximately. Enroute stop over at the Dochulaa Pass (3150 meters) and enjoy the spectacular views of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains. The 108 small stupas built over a small hill is also a beautiful sight.
The road from the Pass winds down to the warm and fertile valleys and after a brief rest visits the Fertility Temple / Chime Lhakhang. It is a pleasant 30 minutes walk through mustard and paddy fields. Standing on a picturesque hilltop the Lhakhang is famous for its fertility wish grants to couples. Inside the walls of the Lhakhang are beautiful frescoes depicting the colorful life of Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman regarded for his crazy methods of teaching which included blessing women in the form of copulation!
Check into your hotel in Wangdue and in the evening stroll through the valley and market places.
Early morning, your guide will take you for the Gangtey Nature Trail Hike which will take you about one and half hour and get yourselves sync with prestine and least explored nature and enjoy one of the most beautiful landscape of Phobjikha.
Then it’s the highlight of your holiday.
You will witness the black necked crane festival in the courtyard of Gangtey Monastery. It’s a community based festival where all the locals in their best attire come together to celebrate and rejoice arrival of the endangered and majestic bird- the black necked crane.
The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by the school children. The program usually starts by 9:30 am and lasts till late afternoon. Its mostly to create awareness and understanding the importance of coexistence with nature and birds.
Overnight stay at your hotel.
Punakha valley was the old capital city of Bhutan and the Punakha Dzong meaning the fortress of Great Bliss was built by 1673 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the first spiritual & political leader of Bhutan) to commemorate the final victory against numerous Tibetan invasions. Located on a piece of land between two rivers Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu (literally meaning male and female rivers), the Dzong is massive, huge and magnificent in all its architectural grandeur. Although ravaged by flood, fire and earthquake many times, the Dzong was always rebuilt with its original pattern and design. The Dzong has hosted significant events such as the crowning of the first king of Bhutan, The Royal Wedding ceremony of the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema on 13th October 2011 was conducted in Punakha Dzong and important religious ceremonies are still held in the Dzong.Walk for about an hour to Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten stupa. It is a beautiful walk through the pine trees, the stupa is stunning and so is the view from there. Enroute you will also be walking through a suspension bridge over the Puna Tsang Chhu – Punakha River.
After visiting the Punakha Dzong/Fortress of Great Bliss, drive to the Nunnery and enjoy the spectacular views of Punakha and Wangdue valleys. Then drive over to Paro for your Taktsang hike tomorrow, the drive will be a 4 hour drive.
Have a sumptuous breakfast for your hike to Taktsang Monastery / Tiger’s Nest which is about 3 hours uphill and 2 hours down. Riding ponies are also available if you think the hike is a bit daunting. Located around 900 meters above the Paro valley on a precarious almost vertical mountain cliff, Taktsang Monastery is truly a wonderful and spectacular sight in terms of its location, setting and history. In the 8th Century this was one of the major sites where Guru Padmasambhava – the patron saint of Buddhism in Bhutan meditated with his consort Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal. It is believed that Guru flew on a female tigress in pursuit of a demon which he subdued at the current site of the Monastery. It is one of the holiest site in the Buddhist arena and the most important cultural icon in Bhutan.
You can have your lunch, tea/snacks at the cafeteria midway.
Before you drive back to your hotel visit the Kyichu Lhakhang/temple, one of the oldest temples built in the 7th Century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gyembo.
If you wish you can go for a stroll through the valley or rest in hotel.
Breakfast in the hotel, then drive to the airport for flight to your onward destination.