Black Necked Crane is a migrant bird in Bhutan, flying from Tibetan Plateau to Bhutan in mid fall season. There are several winter roosting places; Phobjikha Valley in Wangdue District and Bomdelling in Trashi Yangtse (eastern Bhutan) in the Kingdom. The crane is an endangered species in the world, which is being protected by Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Bhutan.
The crane is well associated with Bhutanese folklore; the crane festival is showcased ever year at Gangtey Goemba in mid October during their first arrival in Bhutan.
Paro Dzong: Its official name, Rinchenpung Dzong (fortress on a heap of jewels) was built and consecrated in 1645 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on the site of five storied castle built in the 16th century. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a bastion against invasion from the north. It is regarded as one of finest Bhutanese architecture – with intricate wood work, large beams slotted into each other and held together without nails. It houses the giant 30m x 45m Thangka (scroll painting), commissioned in mid 18th century, display on the last day of Paro Tshechu (Festival). As of now the Dzong functions as the administrative and judicial headquarters of Paro district and residence for the 200 monks of Paro Rabdey (district monastic body).
Road From Paro to Thimphu: The distance of about 65kms from Paro town takes one and half hours. Drive south following Pachu River to the confluence at Chuzom, which is also the hub of road network going to Paro, Haa, Thimphu and Phuntsholing. From Chuzom, the drive takes about an hour, staying close to Wangchu River in the valley floor, as we pass through villages and suburbs to the capital, Thimphu. En-route we can stop to view Tachogang temple and the nunnery at Wangsisina.
Thimphu: (El. 2250m) is Bhutan’s capital city and center of government, religion and commercial activities. About one and half hour drive east from Paro is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development with ancient traditions. Home to civil servants, expatriates and monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style. It was a wooded farming valley until 1960s, when it became Bhutan’s official capital. The massive Tashichoe Dzong, about 700 yrs old, was carefully revamped in the 1960s by the Late Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to house the Royal and main government offices. Even today, it still has a few streets and no traffic light with estimated population of 100,000 people. Thimphu has many places and sights to visit, in addition to several days excursion possibilities. It has relatively more choice in terms of the accommodation.Tashichoe Dzong: The fortress built in the 17th century serves as the office of the King, Ministers and various government organizations. It also is the headquarters for Central Monastic Body of Bhutan. Bhutan’s spiritual leader, Je-khenpo or Chief Abbot and the monks of both Thimphu and Punakha reside here during summer. It is also the venue for Thimphu festival in the fall season.
Weekend Market of Thimphu: It resembles the farmers’ market in the west. However since there are no big super markets, Centennial or Weekend Market is the main source of fresh and organic produces. It is an interesting place to visit, where village people jostle with well heeled Thimphu residence for best and cheapest vegetable and other food products.
Tango Monastery: The hike starts at an elevation of 2600m and takes about 45 minutes uphill. The monastery was founded in the 13th century by Phajo Drugom Zhipo, the founder of Drukpa Kagyupa School in Bhutan. It was enlarged to the present form in 1688 by Gyelsey Tenzin Rabgay, the 4th Temporal Ruler of Bhutan, similar to a Dzong. Now is the residence of young reincarnation of Gyelsey Tezin Rabgay.
Semtokha Dzong: the oldest Dzong built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal at the end of the valley looks quite new and fresh, houses National Institute and Cultural Studies. The Dzong was renovated couple of years back with the funding from Indian Govt.
Zhilukha Nunnery: is housed in Drubthob Goemba (monastery) built in 15th century by Dubthob Thanthong Gyelpo, popularly known for his great work of building Iron Bridges in Bhutan. There are about 50 nuns who live and pray every day in the monastery. There are good views of the Tashichoe Dzong, Golf course and upper Thimphu.
Textile Museum: The National Textile Museum which was opened in June 2001 is worth a leisurely visit to get to know the living national art of weaving. Changing exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques and style of local dress and textiles made by women and men. The small shop features works from the renowned weaving centers in Lhuntshe Dzongkhag, the ancestral home of the Royal family in north-eastern Bhutan. Each item is leveled with the name of the weaver and price.National Memorial Chorten was built by Royal Queen Mother, Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck in 1974 in memory of her son, His Majesty Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as ‘Father of Modern Bhutan’. The stupa now stands as a symbol of peace, where people of all age come to pray and circumambulate for merit.
Buddha Doderma is one of the largest sitting statues of Buddha Shakyamuni measuring 169ft (51.5m) on hilltop overlooking the Thimphu valley. The building of the statue was started in 2006 and finished in September 2015, commemorating the birth anniversary of Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Ground floor houses temple with over one hundred thousand smaller statues of Buddha itself, made of bronze and gilded in gold.
Takin Reserve: Takin (Budorcas Taxicolor) has been chosen as the national animal of Bhutan based both on its uniqueness and association with country’s history and mythology. It is said that Divine Madman, a popular Tibetan saint has said to have created the beast with his magical power at a large congregation of devotees. It resembles a calf from back, a goat from the front and continues to befuddle Taxonomists, who cannot quite relate to other animals. However, the animal looks like a Canadian Moose.
Road from Thimphu to Punakha: The drive from Thimphu to Punakha or Wangdue Phodrang (75kms) takes about 2½ hrs. The road climbs from Thimphu to Dochula Pass (3100 m), and then descends through ever changing forest into the semi-tropical valley of Punakha and Wangdue at about an elevation of 1250m. Dochula Pass en-route, provides spectacular view of snow-capped mountains of Eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan’s one of the highest mountains (Gangkar Phuensum – 7570m), on a clear day. The pass is marked with 108 stupas which were built in 2004 commemorating victory of Bhutanese Army over Indian group of militants; ULFAs, Bodos and KLOs.
Chimi Lhakhang: A fertility temple dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as ‘the Divine Madman’ and considered a folk hero in Bhutan for his unconventional ways. Lama Drukpa Kuenley originally built a black Stupa at the site; the temple was later built in the 15th century by his cousin, Ngawang Chogyal. The temple, flanked by nearly 100 tall prayer flags, sits atop a picturesque hill. It has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples. This easy walk takes about less than 1 hr.
Punakha Dzong: or Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, “ palace of great happiness” is located on the confluence of two rivers ( Pho-chu and Mo-chu). It was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in accordance to the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master of the 8th century. The dzong still follows the ancient traditions; it serves as winter residence for chief abbot (Je-khenpo) and the monks of Central Monastic Body and Thimphu as the summer residence. The Building was damaged and rebuilt several times, due to flooding, fire and earthquake. The most impressive dzong of Bhutan is believed to be exact architecture of Zangtopelri (the Guru’s Paradise). It is an exemplary masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture. Annual 3 day festival is held here with Thongdrol, unfurling of huge painting on the last day in early spring.
National Museum: White conch shaped building above the Paro or Rinpung Dzong (fortress) on hilltop used to be Ta Dzong or watch tower, built in the 17th century by Chogyel Minjur Tempa, governor of Paro. Later in 1968, under the command of the Third hereditary Monarch of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the Watch Tower as National Museum. Unfortunately, the building was damaged in 2011 by earthquake and is still under renovation. Nevertheless, the artifacts are kept outside the main building.
Khamsum Yeulley: drive to the idyllic countryside north of Punakha to the village of Nyizergang, starting point for an hour gradual hiking ascent through cultivated fields and little hamlets to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a shrine recently built by the Royal family. The shrine is an amazingly elaborate structure with a rainbow of Guru Rinpochhe’s images of his thoughts and superb views of the Punakha valley. The hike uphill takes about 1 hour and return through different route following ancient river side trail through white-washed farmhouses and Aman Resort to Punakha Dzong.
Phobjikha Valley: (El. 2900m) is a wide and beautiful valley, designated as conservation zone within the Black Mountains National Park, a natural habitat for wildlife, including nesting black-necked cranes from Central Asia (mid autumn till early spring). Because of the conservation measures, electricity was not provided in the valley for very long time. The lodges used solar power cells to light which is turned off after the dinner. However, now every household is provided with power supply.
Gangtey Goemba: Sits atop a hillock that overlooks the Phobjikha valley. It is headed by the ninth Gangtey Trulku (reincarnation) and is the largest Nyingma monastery in western Bhutan. It was founded in 1613 AD by Gyelse Pema Thinley, a grandson and reincarnation of influential treasure discoverer, Pema Lingpa. An incarnate line of Pema Thinley, representing the body aspects of Pema Lingpa, contrasted with mind and speech emanations. The monastery has been recently renovated and surrounding the monastery are village homes and hermitages.
Taktsang Monastery: Taktsang (Tiger’s lair) – or Taktsang Pelphug is one of the most venerated and famous monasteries of Bhutan. It is located on the face of a sheer cliff above the Paro valley. It is an impressive sight but accessible only by trek or pony. The walk to the Tea-house is a steep one hour uphill (about 350m ascent). From the Tea-house (El. 2795m), one can get a close-up view of Taktsang and most actually return from here. After tea, snacks and rest, we will trek further uphill to a high observation point (El. 3140m). Continue down the flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the great Buddhist tantric master, who had spread Buddhism across the entire Himalayas is said to have flown here in 8th century on the back of a Tigress. During his visit he meditated in the cave here for three months. In 1692, Gyesey Tenzin Rabgye built a two storied temple here, which over a period of time was expanded and refurbished. In April 1998, tragically, two of the three temples were completely burnt down by fire. It has now been restored to its original splendor.
Kyichu Lhakhang: is one of the most important Buddhist temples similar to Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang, before the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan. Tibetan King, Songtsen Gempo built the temple in 7th century, in order to pin down an ogress, obstructing him in flourishing Buddhism in the Himalayas.
Peak Season ( March, April, May, September, October and November) – USD 1750/person
Lean Season (January, February, June, July, August, December) – USD 1400/person