In the secluded Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Buddhism permeates every aspect of daily life, hidden valleys shelter ancient fortress-monasteries, and the king decrees “Gross National Happiness” as the standard by which to measure the country’s wealth. On our journey through this magical Shangri La, you’ll hike to tiny villages and spectacular mountainside shrines, explore lively artisan markets, and meet red-robed monks in the chanting halls of majestic dzongs. Each departure features a Tsechu festival, with its wildly colorful masked dances, and our November trip attends the Wintering Crane Festival in the Phobjikha Valley. And no matter what time of year you go, you’ll get a chance to try your hand at archery, Bhutan’s national sport!
This was an amazing trip and there is no way that I could possibly think of anything to complain about. The scenery was stunning, the people were gracious and friendly, the culture and festivals were fascinating, and the hikes were glorious.
— Jennifer T., Guttenberg, NJ
Paro / Thimphu / Punakha Valley (Paro Festival Departure)
From Paro, set in an emerald-green valley at 7,500 feet, we head to Thimphu, where we visit the Arts and Crafts school and the sanctuary sheltering a herd of takin, a goat antelope endemic to the Himalaya. Crossing the Dochu La (10,200'), whose summit is festooned with fluttering prayer flags and more than 100 chortens (stupas), we reach the Punakha Valley, a tranquil region of farming hamlets and rice terraces. One of our walks brings you to the Nunnery Vocational School, where young nuns train and study Buddhist text and meditation, and we visit the stunning 17th century Punakha Dzong, an architectural wonder and seat of the head abbot of Bhutan.
Heading over the Cheli La (13,000'), we arrive at the mountain-ringed Haa Valley in westernmost Bhutan. Renowned for its deep cultural traditions, the Haa Valley is a beautiful pastoral realm of ancient farmsteads flanked by steep, forested mountains. Here we hike to exquisite 8th century temples nestled on wooded hillsides, share butter tea with the locals, and taste traditional Bhutanese dishes in a family farmhouse. Our overnights are in newly-built cottages at Rigsum Lodge. When it first opened its doors in 2004, Wilderness Travel had the honor of being their very first guests!
Paro / Paro Festival
In the Paro Valley, our hike brings you through pine forests festooned with Spanish moss to breathtaking Taktsang Monastery, the “Tiger’s Nest.” Later, try for a karay (bulls-eye) during your lesson in archery (we can arrange a friendly competition to test your newfound skills!). At the Paro Festival, we witness an exuberant multi-day event that is both a community gathering and a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony during which locals watch elaborate masked dance-dramas and receive blessings. On one morning, we witness the unrolling of a giant thongdrol (sacred tapestry). Depart on Day 10.