The four day visit to Bhutan shows the western part of the country, the prominent region. Thimphu, the capital city gives an impression of tradional architecture and modern development of the kingdom. Paro has the only international airport in the country, being one of the smallest international airports in the world.
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.
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.
Folk Heritage Museum: A century old building is converted as museum to show the folks that how our forefathers used to live in the mid 19th century with all household belongings. The three-storied house is built with ramped mud wall and shingled roof.
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.
Road from Thimphu to Dochula Pass: The drive from Thimphu to Dochula takes about 1 hr. The road climbs from Thimphu to Dochula Pass (3100m), descends through ever changing forest into the semi-tropical valley of Punakha and Wangdue at 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.
Semtokha Dzong: 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.
Paro Dzong: official name, Rinchenpung Dzong (fortress on a heap of jewels) was built and consecrated in 1645 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on the site where five storied castle was built in 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 (Thongdrol), commissioned in mid 18th century, display on the last day of Paro Tshechu (Festival). Nowadays, it functions as the administrative and judicial headquarters of Paro district, residence for the 200 monks of Paro Rabdey (district monastic body).
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.
Taktsang Monastery: (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: 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) – 750/person
Lean Season (January, February, June, July, August, December) – USD 600/Person