Bhutan is a kingdom and a landlocked state in the Himalayas between India to the east, south and west, and China to the north. Population is only about 700.000. The country is to some extent economically and politically dependent on India.
The predominant part of the country is an alpine plateau that runs from approx. 4,000 meters and higher. The country’s highest mountains are Kula Kangri (7,554 m) and Gangker Punsum (7,570 m).
Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan, and the authorities attach great importance to stimulating traditions, such as the use of national dress and architecture.
Until 1961 the country was closed to visitors. Tourism is strictly regulated, maintaining a balance between the traditional, development and modernization of the country.
3-16. October 2023: 14 days tour with Carpe Diem to Nepal and Bhutan
We flew into Kathmandu in Nepal and stayed overnight before continuing to Paro in Bhutan. I was impressed by this country with traditional housing and costumes with less people and traffic than in Nepal. The valleys were green and beautiful, and the temples colorful. We continued over a cloudy mountain pass to Punakha were we visited several temples. Unfortunately we did not see the tall snow-covered mountains because of low clouds. We returned across the mountain pass to the capital Thimphu for more sightseeing. After a week in Bhutan we returned to Kathmandu for our second week.
(For days 1 and 8-14, see Nepal page)
Day 3: Arrival in Paro
We started early from Kathmandu airport and flew along the snow covered Himalaya mountains. I had a seat on the wrong side, but a person on the other side took a few photos for me. At least I got a glimpse of Mount Everest! Perhaps on the return the flight…
The decent through the clouds to Paro was something special. The aircraft maneuvered down between the high mountains in a narrow valley, and after turning around a low hill with a monastery we reached the Paro airport, one of the most beautiful airports in the world.
After arrival our luggage was loaded on top of minibus and we drove up through the town center to the Tenziling Resort hotel.
Day 3: Paro – Kyichu Lhakhang Temple
After leaving our luggage in the Tenziling Resort hotel we headed for the colorful Kyichu Lhakhang temple. Our local guide showed us around, and we were allowed into the temple. It was very colorful with sculptures, artefacts, paintings, burning incense and candles. We were told the history of the temple and about Buddha. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take photos or video inside the holy room. Afterwards we walked in the beautiful garden and turned the large praying wheels.
Day 3: Paro – Rinpung Dzong (Paro fortress)
Next stop on our sightseeing was the impressive fortified monastary on a hill above the town. Before going into the fortress we were fascinated by the large bihives hanging under the roof. In the upper courtyard our guide told us the story of how a Tibetan monk established the monastery. From the lower level we visited a large prayer room with a Buddha sculpture (we were not alloed to take photos or video of). The view from the terrace, overlooking the Paro valley, was breathtaking.
Day 3: Paro – Lunch in a local house
When it was time for lunch we drove to a local house further down the valley, crossing rice fields. We arrived at the impressive multi-story traditional Bhutanese house, and were welcomed by the family. After looking around we were invited into sitting room where we were first served butter tea with roasted rice, and a taste of the local rice wine. We were also invited to watch the women prepare a few dishes – a potato, cheese and garlic pot. Finally were presented with several Bhutanese tasteful dishes. When everyone was stuffed we headed out for a small archery competition – their national sport.
After saying goodbye we returned to our hotel where the rooms were ready. It was nice to take a shower after a long day.
Day 4: Climbing up to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ (Takthsang)
“Tiger’s Nest” is the most famous monastery in Bhutan. It hangs on an almost vertical cliff 3120 meters above sea level, 700 meters above the bottom of the Paro valley.
The monastery complex was built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave, and has seven temples, all of which can be visited, are decorated with colorful paintings and artefacts.
You can get to the monastery on foot or by mule, and the climb from the parking area at about 2500 meters will take you a couple of hours. About half way is a view point with a cafeteria to provide refreshments. The trek beyond this point is very scenic. To reach the monastery you have to descend to a bridge below a 60 meters water fall before climbing the last steps on the other side.
Day 5: Driving across a cloudy mountain pass to Punakha
We left Paro in the morning, stopping at the Tachogang Lhakhang monastery to see the suspension bridges. At the end of the Paro valley we continued up the Thimphu valley, passing through the capital on our way up to the Dochula mountain pass to see the impressive view to several 7000+ meters snow covered peaks. A low cloud/fog covered the pass so we continued down 2000 meters to the Punkhara valley where we stopped for lunch in a small village near the fertility temple Chimi Lhakhang. We visited the temple before continuing to the Punkhara fortress (see next video). At dusk we checked into our River Valley Hotel.
Day 5: The Punakha Dzong Fortress
Constructed in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second-largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. It was the administrative center and the seat of the Government of Bhutan until 1955 when the capital was moved to Thimphu. In view of the healthy climate in the region, Punakha is the winter capital of Bhutan. A covered wooden bridge crossing the Mo Chu River was built together with the Dzong in the same ancient tradition of crafts in wood carving, masonry, metal work, painting, and several other skills. Notable images, statues and paintings are displayed in the Dzong, including murals with the life story of Buddha, and over 200 new religious images, and several other treasures.
Day 6: Punakha Valley and the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal stupa
Located at an elevation of about 1,200 meters, Punakha valley is famous farming both red and white rice along the Pho and Mo Chu rivers. The valley it is quite warm in winter and hot in summer. The Punakha Dzong located at the confluence of the two rivers is the main tourist attraction.
The Khamsum Yulley Namgyal stupa is located high up in a hillside less than 10 km up the Mo Chu River from the Punakha Dzong. It was built in 2004 with the intention of bringing peace in the world in general, and to clear obstacles for the country of Bhutan in particular. Its exterior is in the form of a pagoda-like stupa while the beautifully decorated interior consisting of four stories with colorful images of deities.
Day 6: Back across the mountain pass to Thimphu
After our visit in the Punakha Valley we headed back across the mountains to Thimphu, the countries capital. After climbing up about 2000 meters on the winding road with a ‘thousand’ bends, through the dense rain forest, we reached the Dochula mountain pass in fog – again! The 7000+ meters snow covered mountains that we hoped to see in the distance were still not visible. After a short break we headed down to Thimphu a thousand meters lower.
On arrival in Thimphu we had lunch before checking in to our Druk Hotel. In the afternoon we had a short walk in the shopping street before relaxing and dining in the hotel in the evening.
Day 7: Thimphu – Giant Buddha, and a ceremony
On a hill above Thimphu there is a 54 meter tall Buddha statue. On this day there was a ceremony/prayer going on in connection with the visit of the 7th Namkhai Nyingpo, a holy person in Bhutan’s Tibetan Buddhism. We heard the monotonous sound of the monk’s horn blowing and chanting/prayers. In a room under the large statue we saw colorful sculptures and paintings. Photography was not allowed inside. On a stage below the statue the 7th Namkhai Nyingpo received hundreds of people queuing up to be blessed.
Day 7: Thimphu – The Royal Takin Reserve (zoo)
In a valley high above Thimphu we visited the Royal Takin Preserve – a small zoo with some of Bhutan’s larger animals, especially the Takin, which is a type of wildebeest-goat. Some believe it is related to the musk ox, but it is probably more related to sheep. The subspecies Bhutan Takin is the country’s national animal. Inside, green-painted steel walkways were built a few meters above the enclosures with deer, Takin, Yak bulls, wild boar, etc.
Day 8: Morning flight from Bhutan to Nepal
We started very early from our Thimphu hotel for an hour drive to Paro airport. After a cloudy week in Bhutan, were we did not see the snow-covered high mountains, we looked forward to fly along the Himalaya mountain range back to Nepal. I did not get a window set, but from the aisle seat on the right side I managed to take a few movie clips. The person at the window took a few clips for me also.
Finally I got a good look at Mount Everest!
After landing in Kathmandu we drove straight through the city heading for the mountain village of Bandipur. (See my Nepal page).