Bhutan Active Tour - A cycling, hiking and cultural sightseeing adventure in The Land of the Thunder Dragon - Day-by-Day Itinerary
Day 01: Arrive Paro
- Rinpung Dzong
- National Museum
- Zuri Hike (for those arriving on early flight from Bangkok)
The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular air journeys in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth. Paro International Airport is situated in a beautiful valley and sits at an altitude of 2235 metres, the highest of its kind in the world. Our representative will be waiting for you on your arrival and will take you to the group hotel, just a few minutes drive away.
After lunch, enjoy an afternoon of sightseeing in and around Paro including a visit to the National Museum which houses many religious relics and works of art, before paying a visit to the magnificent Rinpung Dzong, which looms majestically over the city. A highlight of this former fortress is the huge painting of the Saint Milarepa, considered to be the master of meditation by the Bhutanese and was believed to have attained enlightenment in his lifetime. Dzongs are large monasteries and district administrative centres, which once served as strategic forts.
Time allowing, take a 2 hour walk along the forested hillside to Zuri Dzong, before descending to the road where our driver will be waiting. The walk passes the beautiful Gonsaka Lhakhang (Buddhist temple) and provides wonderful views of the valley and Rinpung Dzong. Zuri Dzong dates from 1352 and is home to the valley’s local protector gods.
Overnight at the tour hotel in Paro.
Day 02: Paro – Thimphu
- Cycle from Paro to Thimphu on dramatic, paved roads
- Visit Tamchhong Lhakhang
- Buddha point walk till Changangkha
Today marks the first leg of our cycling adventure. The road from Paro to Thimphu is spectacular and winds alongside emerald-green rivers and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Despite its lofty altitude, the route is relatively flat with few demanding climbs or descents. The total distance is 39kms and will take 3 to 4 hours, including breaks. A support vehicle and mechanic will be on hand at all times.
On arrival in Thimphu we will have lunch at a local restaurant, before driving to Kuensel Phodrang, a gigantic statue of Lord Buddha with an adjoining temple. From here, we can take a 90 minute hike along narrow paths to Changangkha Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the Thimphu Valley. The route undulates gently and offers fantastic views over the nation's capital.
Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.
Day 03: Thimphu
- Memorial Chorten
- Painting School
- Textile Muesum
- Takin zoo
- Wangditse hike
Start the day with a visit to the Memorial Chorten, a beautiful and colourful stupa built in memory of the Third King of Bhutan. Later, visit the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, commonly known as ‘the painting school', to witness the students diligently learning Bhutan's 13 traditional arts. Next up is The National Textile Museum, which has generated national and international attention and boasts a substantial collection of antique textile artifacts, exclusive to Bhutan.
After lunch, we will take a short drive to the Takin Zoo, a modest breeding and conservation centre for the takin, Bhutan’s National animal. Just a few minutes drive from the zoo, we will start the 2 hour Wangditse Hike. We will first head up to the sacred Wangditse Temple, before heading back downhill until we reach the road where our vehicle will be waiting for us.
Overnight at hotel at Thimphu.
Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha
- Dochula Pass
- Hike to Lungchutse
- Cycle towards Punakha
After breakfast, we drive up to the stunning Dochu-La pass (3,100 metres) which on clear days offers an incredible view of the Himalayan peaks. From the pass we begin our hike to Lungchutse Monastery. The hike (which passes through forest containing moss-covered rhododendron the size of trees, giant hemlock and juniper) is one of the most spectacular and picturesque walking courses in the region. A small trail leads you the last 50 meters past a row of fluttering prayer flags up to Lungchutse Temple. The 360 degree view of some of the highest mountain peaks in the world, including Jumolhari (7314m) and Masang Gang ((7150m), is guaranteed to take your breath away. On our return to the road at the pass, we mount our bikes and freewheel 40kms all the way to Punakha. The road winds its way through mountain villages and offers a glimpse of everyday life in this most remote of Himalayan kingdoms.
Overnight at our hotel in Punakha.
Day 05: Punakha
- Cycling on valley-floor
- Khamsum Yulley hike
- Punakha Dzong
- Nunnery visit
- Chimi Lhakhang
A full day exploring the wonderful Punakha area by bicycle, on foot and by private vehicle. We start the day by cycling along the beautiful Punakha-Wangdue Valley-floor for around 15 kilometres, before hiking approximately 1 hour through the fields and a pine forest to the Kamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten. The temple inside the chorten is famous for its examples of tantric Buddhism and philosophy.
We mount our bikes again for the ride along the banks of the Mo Chhu (Mother) River until we reach the magnificent Punakha Dzong. Constructed by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. After lunch, we will head by bus to the serene Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery, where we can enjoy views of the valley and meet some of the nuns.
Finally, we will head to the very special and very strange Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the fertility temple. After the site was blessed by the "Divine Madman", the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529), Chimi Lhakhang was built in 1499 and sits atop a small hillock. The surrounding buildings are adorned with the images of colourful erectile penises, mid-ejaculation. These are a feature throughout Bhutan, but nowhere are they quite as prevalent and graphic as here!
Overnight at hotel in Punakha.
Day 06: Punakha – Phobjikha
- Cycle from hotel
- Lawa-la Pass
- Cycle from pass to Gangtey Goemba
- Gangtey Nature Trail
We start the morning on our bikes, as we head down and across the river for about 20kms until we reach Tikazampa, where the road is under construction. After lunch, we continue on the bumpy road by private vehicle until we reach Lawa-la Pass. From here we get back on our bikes again for the incredibly beautiful downhill journey (around 5kms) to the Gangtey Gonpa monastery which is perched atop a small hill that rises from the valley floor.
The history of this splendid monastery traces back to the early 17th century and to the prophecies made by the well-known Terton (treasure finder) Pema Lingpa in the late 15th century.
From the monastery, we walk for about 2 hours on a stunning nature trail across the Phobjikha Valley-floor. At 3000 metres, Phobjihka is an incredibly beautiful (and incredibly green) grassy plain that has to be seen to be believed.
Overnight at hotel in Gangtey.
Day 07: Phobjikha – Thimphu
- Crane information center
- Lunch at Thimphu
- Afternoon walk to the monastery
- Overnight stay at monastery
We start the day in the best possible way with an early morning walk for about an hour in the beautiful and peaceful Phobjika Valley. The air is clean and fresh and there is an abundance of wildlife to keep an eye out for. If we are lucky, we may catch a glimpse of an elusive clouded leopard or perhaps the majestic black-necked cranes coming into land. After a hearty breakfast, we can make a short visit to the nearby Crane Information Centre and learn a little about the conservation efforts being carried out in the area. From here, we will drive directly to back to Thimphu in time for lunch. After eating at a local restaurant and following a further short drive, we will begin our afternoon hike above Thimphu to the incredible Dodedrak Monastery.
On arrival at the 12th century Dodedrak temple, we can enjoy tea and attend evening prayers with the monks. Later, explore the monastery grounds at your leisure.
Overnight at monastery.
Day 08: Thimphu – Haa
- Morning ceremony with the monks
- Drive to Haa Valley
- Lhakhang Karpo
- Farmhouse visit & cooking with a Bhutanese family
This morning we have a chance to join the monks for the morning prayer ceremony and meditation. After a simple breakfast, we begin our walk back down towards the Thimphu valley-floor where our private vehicle will be waiting. After lunch in Thimphu, we will drive towards the Haa Valley, one of the most picturesque places in Bhutan. On arrival in Haa, we will visit the beautiful and historic Lhakhang Karpo, or White Chapel, which is the official residence of Haa monastic body. The ceiling of the chapel is beautifully painted, as are the many thin supporting columns made from composite pieces of wood.
This evening we can visit a traditional farmhouse, enjoy dinner and perhaps even try our hand at cooking with the family that lives there!
Overnight at hotel in Haa.
Day 09: Haa – Paro
- Drive to Cheli-la Pass
- Hike to Kila nunnery
- Picnic lunch
- Cycle to Paro valley
Roughly midway between Haa and Paro lies the Cheli-la Pass. At 3810 metres, Cheli-la is the highest point reachable by road in Bhutan and on clear days offers views of Jhomolhari (7314m), a mountain sacred to both the Bhutanese and Tibetans. From here we hike up a little further to around 4000 metres, before descending on open paths and through forest to the ancient Kila Nunnery. With a history dating back to the 9th century, the nunnery is the oldest of its kind in the country and is home to around 50 nuns, each of whom diligently study Buddhist texts.
We will return to the Cheli-la pass by private vehicle, where a delicious picnic lunch will be served. From here we mount our bikes and roll effortlessly all the way to our hotel in Paro. The route is around 35 kms long and passes through pine forests and mountain villages on quiet, picturesque roads.
Overnight at hotel in Paro.
Day 10: Paro
- Paro Taktsang
- Kyichu Lhakhang
- Leisure time in Paro
After a hearty breakfast, we will begin our hike to the world famous Taktsang Lhakhang, Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to "Tiger’s Nest”. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred metres above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 in a cave entrance, where the Guru Rimpoche is believed to have meditated sometime in the 7th century. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
After lunch we drive back into Paro to visit the historic Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. We can also enjoy some free time in the town to do some final souvenir shopping, before returning to our hotel for one last feast with our fellow group members.
Overnight at our hotel in Paro.
Day 11 - Departure
A guide and driver will take you the short distance to the airport in plenty of time to catch your flight.