2018 TRIP PREVIEW
A Private Journey for Abby & Paulo
On this page: breakfast for two with a view of 13th century Gangtey monastery
Experience some of Bhutan’s infectious happiness quotient, receive a ‘beginning-of-wedded-life’ blessing from the chief abbot of Bhutan’s sacred 7th-century Kurje temple, hike quiet Himalayan trails, participate in a ritual lighting of 108 butter-lamps to bless your life together, meditate in a 13th-century shrine guided by a resident monk and plant a Buddhist prayer flag for world peace. All this and more as you discover Bhutan and begin the beautiful journey of your shared life with each other.
Consecration at Gangtey Shedra, the valley's main monastic school
Traveling through Bhutan’s magical landscape, we walk to beautiful gold-roofed monasteries and hike to prayer flag-covered hilltops; navigate endless lush valleys and ancient forests backed by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. At the end of each day, enjoy the comforts of some of Bhutan’s most spectacular lodges built in the traditional style of Dzongs, the kingdom’s majestic 17th-century fortresses.
The wood and stone architecture traditional to 17th-century Bhutanese Dzongs or fortresses have been updated for the discerning traveler at some of Bhutan's top lodges
As you fly and travel overland, our dedicated guide and driver for your trip ensures your every comfort and takes care of all your logistical and sightseeing details. Shortly after your arrival, your journey begins with a dramatic flight that takes you halfway across the country to jewel-like Jakar valley where our central Bhutanese family welcomes you with warmth and affection at our beautiful lodge built from native cypress, pine and river rock.
After settling in, embark on a series of hiking explorations of beautiful Jakar and the network of surrounding valleys known collectively as Bumthang or “Treasure Vase Plain,” a reference to the shape of this region, which is considered one of the most beautiful in Bhutan. Each evening or afternoon, as it pleases you, return to the comforts of our lodge where most evenings, you’ll meet and eventually get to know various family members who manage and run different aspects of the lodge. Ask for cousin Tenzin who manages and runs the front of house, and her brothers Thinley, Nono and Ugyen, who are usually on hand in addition to the staff (most of whom are extended family members and native to Jakar). The mother, Ashi, is queen of the kitchen and daily serves up old regional favorites such as the hearty sichuan-and-black-pepper-laced puta or locally-grown stone-milled buckwheat noodles; jambuley, a made-from-scratch gnocchi-like dish traditional to the region, Himalayan dumplings or momos and, for breakfast, flat buckwheat pancakes with excellent Bumthang honey collected from hives a few minutes down the road. The younger family members at the lodge can always be counted on for some extra fun especially, if you're so inclined, for an impromptu round of traditional Bhutanese archery played with bamboo bows and arrows.
Cousin Kunzang, Head of Housekeeping, brings tea at our family-owned lodge in Jakar
During your stay in Jakar you also meet one of our family patriarchs, Head Abbot or Lama Dorji Wangchuck, the royal family's special appointee to oversee the spiritual treasures and teachings contained in the valley's 7th century Kurjey temple, one of the holiest sites in Bhutan. Lama Dorji is also a renowned master of the Zhung tradition, the practice of imbuing holy objects — such as Buddha images for temples and shrines — with their sacred ‘soul.’ In a private meeting in his chambers inside the temple Uncle Lama will perform special Nyendrok Phuensum Tshogpa blessings for the couple. Nyendrok means “Auspicious Union,” Phuensum can be translated as “with the blessings of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha,” and Tshogpa means “great fruition.” In Bhutan, the Nyendrok is a traditional ceremony meant to confer good emotional and spiritual grounding for couples at the start of their lives together.
Below: 7th Century Kurjey, one of the holiest and oldest relic temples in the Himalayan Buddhist world
From Jakar, you transfer to the high, gently rolling valley of Phobjikha, also known as the “Valley of the Cranes,” for its recognition as one of the world's best endangered Black-necked Crane viewing sites. Your award-winning lodge has a wide open viewing area where, on any given morning or evening, you may be able to enjoy the occasional sighting of some of the rare and elegant cranes soaring over the valley. If you don't see them while breakfasting or sipping evening tea back at the lodge, we have a special guided hike along the flanks of the valley to blinds where you can observe the beautiful cranes fairly close at hand. If you are looking for a more challenging trek, our staff will take you up close to 12,000-ft on an incredible day-trip that offers some of the most unforgettable views of the entire valley. During your stay here, we have also arranged a meditation in a sanctum of the 13th century Gangtey Gonpa (monastery) with instruction from a resident monk. Later, you will be able to raise prayer flags at a favorable location in the valley for world peace.
Hiking through the tall and stately forest along the flanks of the Gangtey valley can be an otherworldly and tranquil experience, and one of the best ways to encounter the wintering Black-necked Cranes, of which there are only several thousand left in the wild.
Next, make the steep downhill drive to lush Punakha valley. In the space of a day you will drop nearly 6,000ft, passing yaks munching on dwarf bamboo and high alpine shrubs to arrive at your beautiful lodge for tonight, in a low region where tropical fruits like banana, oranges and guava grow. Settle into the comforts of the lodge built in the wood and rammed earth style popular in the warmer regions of Bhutan. Enjoy a massage or spa treatment to work out the kinks from the drive or simply sit on the terrace with each other, soaking in the views of the wide and forested river valley. Your options in this valley are a beautiful hike to the Khamsum Yuelley Temple overlooking the valley, built by the queen mother to accrue spiritual merit for her son, the crown prince, who is now the king, and a visit to the impressive Punakha Dzong, the winter home of the national Buddhist clergy.
The Khamsum Yuelley Temple, built in the Himalayan Zangthok-Pelri or "Gilded Copper Palace" style is a beautiful day hike through terraced fields to an overlook with dramatic views of the Punakha valley.
Continuing your trajectory west, you arrive in Thimphu, Bhutan's busy capital where you check into the renowned Amankora lodge, next to the Queen Mother’s Palace. You have several options for hiking and sightseeing here including temples, monasteries, traditional art schools and markets. During your stay in Thimphu, we have arranged a meeting, schedules-permitting, with an interesting Bhutanese personality – perhaps even someone from the National Commission for Gross National Happiness – for a free-ranging conversation about the GNH philosophy, Bhutan’s role in advocating for a “happiness economy” and the kingdom’s “Happiness Quotient,” among others. During your time in the capital, you will also meet and share a meal with a close family friend and well-known heritage foods curator who has rescued over 100 old Bhutanese recipes and food traditions from extinction.
The lodge in Thimphu, nestled among tall pines next to a rushing stream, is located in a peaceful area next to the Motithang Palace
Finally, transfer to the Amankora Lodge in Paro and rest amid the serene surroundings for the final hike up to the famous cliff-hugging “Tiger's Nest” temple. Returning from the hike, we close out the journey with a ritual lighting of 108 butter lamps in one of the oldest temples in the valley. With the lighting of each individual butter lamp, or karmey, you invoke a “dispelling of the darkness of ignorance.” By lighting each lamp you offer light to the myriad Bodhisattvas asking them to awaken the enlightened Buddha in yourselves and to strengthen your spiritual bonds as a couple. In the evening, we may be able to invite the Director of the National Library, Buddhist scholar and author Khenpo Tashi (provided he’s in town), for a final informal chat about Buddhism, pilgrimage, journeys in general and the Vajrayana Buddhist ideas surrounding the ‘Nature of Mind.’
Your journey deep into the kingdom’s heartland exploring five distinctly different but important valleys features historic Gangtey Palace - Paro, the Mountain Resort - Jakar, the Gangtey Lodge - Phobjikha, The Uma Lodge - Punakha, The Amankora Lodge - Thimphu and the Amankora Lodge - Paro.
The traditional lighting of the 108 butter lamps is an offering of light and symbolizes the affirmation of understanding and illumination over darkness and ignorance, more of what we need in the world today.
Bath with a view at the Gangtey Lodge
Private Buddhist blessings ceremony
Learn about the GNH ideal
Intimate lodges with traditional character
Set your own pace in each valley
Hike to ‘Tiger's Nest’
Rice terraces in front of the lodge in the low tropical valley of Punakha
Your journey covers the cultural and spiritual heartland of Bhutan, from the rice-bowl of Paro to Jakar, ancient home of Bhutanese nobility and enlightened Buddhist yogis, to Phobjikha, seat of 13th century Gangtey monastery and wintering grounds of Bhutan's rare and endangered Black-necked Cranes. Continuing on to western Bhutan, explore lush Punakha valley, ancestral home of Bhutan's queens, to finally arrive in the bustling capital, Thimphu, where Bhutan's present-day leaders and intelligentsia serve a government based on the progressive ideals of Buddhism. Finally, back in Paro, where you began your journey, a spectacular hike takes you to cliff-clinging "Tiger's Nest" to hear the wind sighing among the branches of gently swaying pines, and to feel the mist on your face from a holy waterfall that seems to cascade from the skies. Your cross-country exploration of the kingdom's precious cultural treasures resembles a devotional circumnavigation commonly known in the Himalayas as a kora which, loosely translated, means "the fulfillment of pure aspirations."
“I loved the fact that there were planned activities but with flexibility built in. On one occasion we got to sit with a monk as he recited his morning prayers and my guide stayed there with me—there was never any pressure to progress—yet he was always ready to move on when I was. I loved every moment of my time with your company and I hope to return again to Bhutan. I am strongly recommending that anyone traveling to Asia should consider discovering Bhutan with your team. Thank you for the great memories!”
~ Tony H., New Zealand
Resisting tourism dollars in favor of local sensibilities, Bhutan zealously guards its 20 peaks above 20,000ft from commercial exploitation. Gangkar Puensum is the tallest of the peaks in Bhutan under royal protection as seen in this photo taken from the cockpit of Drukair, Bhutan's national carrier. Bhutanese believe that the country's tallest peaks are the homes of powerful mountain spirits that protect the kingdom from external harm, and that opening them to climbers would cause great damage to the sanctity of the nation.
Your international flight arrives in Paro from Bangkok, Thailand ● The Bhutan Himalaya team will pick you up at the airport and take you to downtown Paro where we have refreshments and orientation before heading to the lodge ● After checking in and spending some time settling into your new surroundings, we will take you on the first foray into our remarkable Himalayan kingdom, with sightseeing in Paro town and a temple visit. The afternoon trip allows you to acclimatize to the rarefied air at this altitude as well as the chance to get to know your guide.
Overnight: The Gangtey Palace, Paro
While not quite superlative like the other lodges on this journey, the Gangtey Palace still clings to a once-faded (and recently restored) grace. The palace was once a place of such note that it appeared, more than a century ago, in the pages of National Geographic (1914), in a piece authored by the then British Political Officer in India, John Claude White. Its creaky, time-varnished floors seem to sigh with the weight of Bhutanese history while the views across the valley of Paro and its beautiful Dzong make it a worthwhile stay.
Bhutan's greater Himalayan peaks, from the window of the domestic flight from Paro to Jakar
Day 2 ~ 3
After breakfast this morning, the domestic flight (approximately 30 minutes), brings you to the central mountains of Bhutan ● Bumthang, the collective name given to this region of the kingdom, is a collection of four surpassingly lovely valleys centered on the town of Jakar ● The area has great spiritual significance in Bhutan, being strongly associated with various foundational myths and legends of Bhutanese society as well as the birthplaces of renowned meditators and yogis ● It is also famous for the production of honey, as well as cheese, apples, apricots and Red Panda Weiss beer ● There is plenty to see and do during your time here, including some gorgeous hikes, and each day our staff will present you with various options you can choose from for the day ● You will also meet Lama Dorji Wangchuk, a senior member of Bhutan's clergy and participate in a special Nyendrok couple's blessing at the ancient Kurjey temple.
Overnight: The Mountain Resort, Jakar
Explore the beautiful Tang valley today, east of Jakar, with a meal on a traditional Bhutanese farm, featuring home-grown ingredients ● Complete the challenging return trek to Jakar on foot along a beautiful forested trail that crests over a dramatic ridge above the valley with spectacular views of the entire valley ● End the day with slices of the rich and creamy local Gouda cheese chased down by shots of the pungent Bumthang schnapps ● Later, enjoy a private couples hot-stone mineral bath on the rooftop followed by a delicious Bhutanese dinner from Ashi's kitchen.
Overnight: The Mountain Resort, Jakar
A Jakar farmer and her daughter show off their fresh cucumber on their farm
Day 5 ~ 6
Drive to Gangtey, arriving in time for lunch at the lovely Gangtey Lodge ● Crossing the high pass of Pele La, after passing through Trongsa, with its magnificent dzong, you encounter large herds of yak grazing on dwarf bamboo. With its alpine setting on the western slope of the Black Mountains, the valley is famous as the winter home of the rare black-necked cranes ● You will be guided by one of our friends at the 13th-century Gangtey monastery in a meditation and breathing exercise in an inner shrine room ● Enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the lodge and a delicious fireside dinner, and maybe take a relaxing soak in a traditional herbal bath if you feel inclined ● Start your morning the following day by planting prayer flags fro world peace ● Then, follow it up with a Black-necked Crane viewing hike along the flanks of the valley or make the challenging trek to the top of the high pass above the valley with sweeping views of both Gangtey and Phobjikha.
Overnight: The Gangtey Lodge, Phobjikha
A relaxing soak in the lodge's traditional herbal bath with a glass of wine or champagne may be a welcome treat this evening.
The morning drive to Punakha brings you down the Black Mountain range to the widely meandering Puna Tsangchu river with its sultry fertile valley that was once the ancient capital of the kingdom ● After settling into the lodge and enjoying a lovely lunch overlooking terraced rice fields, continue to the river bank for your hike to the breathtaking Khamsum Yuelley temple ● The late afternoon early-evening light makes this hike the perfect choice for this time of day in this valley ● Return to the lodge for a romantic dinner for two set out on the open terrace overlooking the rice-fields and forests surrounding the lodge.
Overnight: The Uma Lodge, Punakha
The majestic Punakha Dzong is the winter home of Bhutan's Buddhist monks and the central monument of the ancient capital of Bhutan.
Day 8 ~ 10
This morning walk across the covered wooden cantilever bridge to the massive Punakha Dzong and visit its shrines and temples including the fantastic Hall of 100 Pillars with the entire life-story of the Buddha illustrated in the beautiful Himalayan temple mural style ● Continue to Thimphu, arriving in time for lunch with our family friend, the Bhutanese food curator, Kesang, at her folk heritage restaurant ● In the afternoon, after time to settle into the lodge, take a late afternoon sightseeing trip into town, or go on a guided hike up to Wangditse temple above the valley or, alternately, the Giant Buddha Dordenma overlooking the capital ● Return to the lodge this evening for dinner and a conversation with a couple of invited guests for a wide-ranging conversation about Bhutan and Gross National Happiness ● The following morning rise early for the hike to Tiger's Nest, one of the most amazing experiences you will have ● Return to the lodge for a late lunch followed by the traditional lighting of 108 butter lamps at the ancient Kyichu Temple for light, and for love ● This evening toast to your wonderful adventures across Bhutan and to the start of your happy and fulfilling lives together.
Overnight: The Amankora Lodge, Thimphu/Amankora Paro
At the close of your auspicious circular journey across Bhutan our staff will bring you back to the airport in time for your departing flight.
Magnificent, magical and deeply unforgettable: the Tiger's Nest clings to a 2,500-foot cliff high above Bhutan's Paro valley
The featured lodges on this trip combine some of the most sought-after high-end lodges in the country, built in the aesthetic style of traditional Bhutanese Dzongs, in keeping with the archetypal styles of the region*. Our lodges are selected for regional character, creature comforts, and the high standards of hospitality. In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have advertised. We also use a selection of other local top-tier partner lodges to offer lower priced trips without greatly compromising the overall quality of the journey. For alternate trip prices featuring these other lower-priced partner lodges, please see the Trip Prices & Details section of this preview itinerary.
*Please click on the gallery images of the featured lodges below for more on the main lodges on this itinerary.
The Amankora Paro, which offers lovely glimpses of the snow cone of Mount Jomolhari's summit (24,043ft). Jomolhari is the second highest peak in the Bhutan Himalaya