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  • The Heart of Happiness - Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions

    LEARN MORE SIGNATURE JOURNEY The Heart of Happiness Trip Photos Accommodations Peace of Mind Dates & Prices What's Included Itinerary Practical Details Trip Overview Ask A Question Or call 1-855-4-BHUTAN RESERVE TRIP The secret to Bhutan's pandemic success story? Science, Religion, and faith in the monarchy 10 best mask dances to see on a Bhutan trip during the Spring & Fall Tshechu festival travel seasons Bhutan: The Little Kingdom that Could The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ 1/1 The Bhutan Mountain Resort - Wangdicholing, Bumthang, central Bhutan Set against a sacred cloud forest a short distance below Bumthang's Jakar Dzong (fortress), our family-run lodge in Central Bhutan features the best elements of traditional architecture, including flagstones of river rock, the beautiful wood-and-stone masonry construction of Central Bhutan, and spacious rooms with wood paneling and post and beams of fragrant pine. Guests can enjoy a healing soak in traditional "hot stone" baths enhanced, in accordance with indigenous practices, by mugwort and other medicinal herbs. It's our perfect base for exploring the ample beauties and blessings of the central highlands of Bhutan. 2/2 Zhingkham Resort - Punakha, western Bhutan Overlooking the monumental Punakha Dzong, and the fertile agricultural valley cut by the Pho and Mo rivers, this lodge some of the best views in the country from its wide windows and plush, modern rooms. 3/3 The Olathang Hotel - Paro, western Bhutan The grande dame of Bhutanese hotels and lodges, this sprawling property dotted with pine trees throughout its well-manicured grounds exudes an atmosphere that is at once comfortable and ceremonious. 4/4 City Hotel - Thimphu, capital of Bhutan This elegant and tasteful modern tower is located in the heart of the city and steps away from the bustling and colorful Centenary Farmer's Market. ACCOMMODATIONS HEALTH & SAFETY HEALTH & SAFETY We are following strict national and international safety guidelines and protocols (Royal Government of Bhutan, WHO, and CDC (US) recommendations) to keep you, our staff, and the Bhutanese people safe. This includes new measures for maintaining personal health and hygiene, social distancing best practices, face covering requirements, cleaning, handwashing and more. UPDATED BOOKING & CANCELLATION POLICY UPDATED BOOKING & CANCELLATION POLICY With global travel resuming, we have changed our booking and cancellation policies back to normal. Normal cancellation policies are now in effect and final trip payment is due (4 months/120 days before trip start date, whichever is earlier). Trip cancellation policies are outlined in our trip confirmation emails and available by request. PEACE OF MIND August 19 - 30, 2024 $6,840 Per Person (US$5,400 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) $6,640 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) $6,440 Per Person (US$5,000 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) November 28 - December 9, 2024 $8,040 Per Person (US$5,400 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) $7,840 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) $7,640 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) DATE 2 PEOPLE* 4 PEOPLE* 6 PEOPLE* *When signing up together as part of the same group Prices are per person based on double occupancy and DO NOT include international airfare to/from your destination or regional flights to Bhutan from Gateway Cities such as Bangkok or Delhi, and internal flights in the country during the expedition. We will arrange such regional flights for our guests and fares will be quoted at airline cost as a courtesy to our guests with no extra booking or reservation fees. Regional flights from Bangkok start from $980 per person & from $175 per person for internal domestic flights where a short-duration flight is included on your itinerary. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. Single Traveler supplements will be assessed in addition to our published trip price, and are available on request. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. If you'd like to travel with your own special group of friends or family on dates different from the ones shown above, this expedition can be arranged March through May & October through February. TRAVEL SEASONS REQUEST RESERVATION $6,840 Per Person (US$5,400 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) $6,640 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) $6,440 Per Person (US$5,000 per person + US$1,240 Bhutanese government SDF fees, & US$200 monument and entry fees) $8,040 Per Person (US$5,400 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) $7,840 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) $7,640 Per Person (US$5,200 per person + US$2,640 Bhutanese government SDF, monument and entry fees) November 28 - December 9, 2025 August 19 - 30, 2025 DATE 2 PEOPLE* 4 PEOPLE* 6 PEOPLE* *When signing up together as part of the same group Prices are per person based on double occupancy and DO NOT include international airfare to/from your destination or regional flights to Bhutan from Gateway Cities such as Bangkok or Delhi, and internal flights in the country during the expedition. We will arrange such regional flights for our guests and fares will be quoted at airline cost as a courtesy to our guests with no extra booking or reservation fees. Regional flights from Bangkok start from $980 per person & from $175 per person for internal domestic flights where a short-duration flight is included on your itinerary. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. Single Traveler supplements will be assessed in addition to our published trip price, and are available on request. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. If you'd like to travel with your own special group of friends or family on dates different from the ones shown above, this expedition can be arranged March through May & October through February. TRAVEL SEASONS REQUEST RESERVATION 2024 Dates & Prices 2024 Dates & Prices 2025 Dates & Prices 2025 Dates & Prices DATES & PRICES WHAT'S INCLUDED Flight and airfare costs to and from Bhutan, such as your international flights to a regional Gateway City (e.g., Bangkok or Delhi); roundtrip flights to Bhutan from the regional gateway cities (which will be arranged by us at cost) and internal airfare where applicable for domestic flights in the country (which will also be arranged by us at cost) Trip cancellation insurance or any other travel insurance Alcoholic beverages Gratuities All ground transportation, visas for Bhutan and airport transfers All Accommodations All meals, including excursions to try well-known local restaurants The expertise and services of your Bhutanese Trip Leaders, Guides & dedicated trip field staff Courtesy booking services & arrangements for round-trip regional flights from gateway cities (such as Bangkok) to Bhutan & any internal domestic flights (airfare is additional). Sightseeing, special events & receptions, visits, and entry fees All environmental national parks & conservation fees and permits All Trek Arrangements (if you signed up for a trek), including expedition-grade high altitude, sub-zero sleeping bags, community camping and commissary equipment (comfortable and roomy two-person tents, kitchen and dining tents, and other community equipment), camp, cook and support staff (we reccomend you bring your own fitted hiking poles and personal sleeping bag liners ) WHAT'S INCLUDED WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED ITINERARY PRACTICAL DETAILS | RECOMMENDED POSTS TRIP PHOTOGALLERY REQUEST ITINERARY Bhutan is often described as a “happy place,” a reference to the government’s stated goal of “Gross National Happiness” for its citizens. The beautiful Himalayan landscape, the overarching cultural and spiritual sensibilities, and the philosophical outlook of the people make Bhutan’s quest for a meaningful human existence more than mere Utopian lip service. SHARE: Travel to Bhutan’s spiritual & cultural interiors to learn about a government in the service of human happiness DAY 1: BANGKOK/BHUTAN, PARO/THIMPHU VIEW DAY BY DAY Depart from Bangkok or another gateway city and arrive in Paro Valley. Stroll into Paro town, visit the national museum and 7th century Kyichu Temple. Settle into your comfortable, well-appointed lodge. Meals included: Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Olathang Hotel or comparable DAY 02: MOUNTAIN FLIGHT TO BUMTHANG Take the beautiful mountain flight to Bumthang valley in central Bhutan and relax at our beautiful family lodge across the street from the historic Wangdicholing Palace. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 03: JAKAR PILGRIM’S HIKE Take the mostly-level loop hike (est. 6-8 miles) around the valley, exploring a string of legendary Buddhist temples dating to the 8th-century en route. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations:Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 04: THE SACRED JAKAR TSHECHU FESTIVAL Join the people of Bumthang at their annual mask dance festival. The spectacular religious pageantry, performances and deep spiritual symbolism of the proceedings provide a unique window into the vibrant local culture and Bhutan's ancient Buddhist traditions. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 05: HIKE TO TANG VALLEY Enjoy a second day at central Bhutan's remarkable annual festival, or explore the beautiful trails of Chamkhar on foot (optional) or alternately explore some of the valley's more remote temples and monasteries. Explore the beautiful Tang valley, gateway to Eastern Bhutan. Learn about traditional life as it has existed for centuries; visit a hilltop Buddhist nunnery. Meals included:Breakfast, lunch, dinner Accommodations:Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 06: DRIVE TO TRONGSA, VISIT THE MUSEUM OF ROYAL ANTIQUITIES, Drive from the scenic highlands Bumthang into the lush gorges and valleys of Trongsa; visit the royal museum and the magnificent fortress of Trongsa, the longest of its kind in Bhutan. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 07: DRIVE TO PUNAKHA VALLEY Drive over the high pass of Pele-La (11,220 feet) and descend into the warm valleys of Punakha, with scenic stops enroute. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Mountain Resort or comparable DAY 08: EXPLORE PUNAKHA, BHUTAN’S BEAUTIFUL ANCIENT CAPITAL Visit beautiful Punakha Dzong, and wander its ancient corridors and magnificent shrines . See the ancient Bo tree, a descendant of the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha is said to have become enlightened. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Zhingkham Resort or comparable DAY 09: SCENIC VALLEY HIKES; CULTURAL EXPLORATIONS Today's hiking options include visits to scenic villages, a hike past ancient rice terraces, or a short uphill stretch to a moutaintop pagoda followed by a riverside picnic. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Zhingkham Resort or comparable DAY 10: MEET BHUTANESE LEADERS & EXPLORE THE CAPITAL Cross the high pass of Dochu La (10,200 feet) to enter the nation's capital, Thimphu, with views of snowcapped Himalayan peaks; explore the busy markets and monuments of Bhutan’s premier city; evening dinner with Bhutanese dignitaries, thought leaders and artists for an exchange of ideas. Take advantage of the opportunities to gain first-hand insights from the people who face the challenges of translating Bhutan’s national happiness philosophy into reality. Explore the downtown Thimphu, its museums, markets and monuments. Meals included:Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The City Hotel, Thimphu, or comparable DAY 11: TIGER’S NEST HIKE FAREWELL DINNER Cap your journey across Bhutan with an early hike to the famous cliffside monastery at Taktshang, or the “Tiger’s Nest.” Complete the strenuous hike to the monastery, perched on a steep rock face more than 2,000ft above the valley floor, or rest at the halfway viewpoint to admire the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the magnificent temple, and meditation retreats that sit above the famous site. Return to the Paro’s for a delicious lunch at a special friend’s busy restaurant before walking along the shops and windows to people-watch or pick up last-minute gifts and reminders of your trip. This evening we have a special farewell feast at a surprise location featuring some familiar and some new Himalayan delicacies. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations:Olathang Hotel or comparable DAY 12: BANGKOK, THAILAND/DELHI, INDIA | DEPARTURE This morning/afternoon we bring you back to the airport in time for you to catch your flight to Bangkok or another gateway city, from where you can connect with your international flight home, or travel to other destinations. In a world driven by consumerism and ego politics, Bhutan begs the question: “What are the secrets to happiness in a country where human well-being, described as Gross National Happiness, is held in higher esteem than GDP?” To answer this question, we explore the spiritual underpinnings that shaped the Bhutanese government’s GNH philosophy. We meet well-known personalities and local thought leaders familiar with Bhutan’s Great Social Experiment. Taking a dramatic Himalayan flight from the western center of Paro to the cultural heartland, Bumthang, we visit exquisite temples and monasteries dating from the 8th to 17th centuries. We decode Vajrayana Buddhist art and cosmology. We learn about Bhutan’s ancient customs and traditions. We attend a colorful mask dance festival that opens a vibrant window into the people’s communal lives. Finally, we close with an early morning trek up to “Tiger’s Nest,” Bhutan’s holiest of holies, a magnificent Buddhist shrine perched 2,000-foot-high on a vertical cliff! If you’re a traveler who likes to make the world better and loves to positively impact lives around you, this is a carefully curated journey that ensures you’ll return with not just happy memories but valuable life-lessons you can use in your day-to-day. CUSTOM TRIPS If this trip or schedule doesn't meet your needs, we also arrange private journeys throughout the year with flexible dates. WHAT TO EXPECT The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ACCOMMODATIONS The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. EXPEDITION STAFF Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ABOUT CULTURAL EXPEDITIONS Our cultural expeditions are bespoke itineraries designed for active travelers that combine guided excursions, cultural insights, art and customs, with distinguished accommodations featuring a traditional ambience. Our journeys are small group adventures of usually 8 to 12 travelers, with a maximum of 16 guests per group. Unlike most tour providers who think nothing of a single guide leading an entire busload of travelers, we maintain a maximum of 4 guests per Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions guide, not counting support staff. This ensures that our journeys feel more like a shared adventure with local friends than a tourist's jaunt through the countryside. GETTING THERE Fly from your home city to Bangkok, Singapore, New Delhi Kolkata, or Kathmandu (Main Gateway Cities)* Overnight Fly from Gateway City to Paro, Bhutan. IMPORTANT: Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions makes round-trip flight arrangements from the Gateway City of your choice to Bhutan as a courtesy to our travelers. Airfare is not included in trip price. For further details please email us contact us using the Reserve Online button on this page. *Bangkok is the primary Gateway City and offers the most frequent and most reliable flights to Bhutan. OUR TRAVEL EXTENSIONS (with optional Bangkok Transit arrangements) If you're thinking of traveling to some of the other interesting destinations in the region before or after Bhutan you may like to consider our travel extensions. That way you can spend less time juggling and coordinating multiple bookings and more time experiencing the magnificent World Heritage site of Angkor Wat, a peaceful Laotian sojourn, discovering Vietnam or experiencing India. For further details, and to see past travel extensions, please visit our Regional Extensions page. WHAT TRAVELERS ARE SAYING “A wonderful trip made all the more special by the personal touches of the excellent guides and staff. ...it was like traveling with a really close and fun group of friends.” ~ Karen H., USA See all posts > ACCOMMODATIONS High-end Lodges & Hotels Small Group Travel See Dates and Prices ACTIVITY LEVEL Easy to Moderate RESERVE TRIP Or call 1-855-4-BHUTAN (248826) TRIP TYPE ACTIVE ● CULTURE ASK A QUESTION EXPLORE OUR STUNNING LANDSCAPE WITH BHUTAN HIMALAYA EXPEDITIONS Sign up to receive travel updates and offers, tips & insights from Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions Thanks for subscribing! Yes I want to receive travel updates, announcements and offers from Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions. By signing up, I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Bhutan Himalaya Privacy Policy . Sign Up Search Travel Bhutan Abundance: A summer journey DEPARTURES Blessings of Bhutan Bhutan's Jomolhari Trek Heart of Happiness Trek to Treasure Lake On the Wings of Prayer Punakha's Pageant of Warriors Bhutan in the Time of Rhododendrons SEE ALL JOURNEYS Stories Hidden Lands of Happiness SPOTLIGHT Wild Wild East: How an ancient matriarch led her people to Bhutan Our top 10 reasons why you should visit Bhutan in 2023 How the brown trout came to Bhutan's lakes and rivers The top 10 mask dances to see in Bhutan Pomp & circumstance at Bhutan's warriors festival A journey to learn about Gross National Happiness SEE ALL STORIES Us The Bhutan Himalaya Difference ABOUT US Who we are The Bhutan Himalaya Difference What our travelers say Our Team Meet our latest hires CONTACT US

  • The Eternal Knot: Connecting East & West with the celebration of Yeetsho & Joey's Bhutanese wedding

    Search Travel Bhutan Abundance: A summer journey DEPARTURES Blessings of Bhutan Bhutan's Jomolhari Trek Heart of Happiness Trek to Treasure Lake On the Wings of Prayer Punakha's Pageant of Warriors Bhutan in the Time of Rhododendrons SEE ALL JOURNEYS Stories Hidden Lands of Happiness SPOTLIGHT Wild Wild East: How an ancient matriarch led her people to Bhutan Our top 10 reasons why you should visit Bhutan in 2023 How the brown trout came to Bhutan's lakes and rivers The top 10 mask dances to see in Bhutan Pomp & circumstance at Bhutan's warriors festival A journey to learn about Gross National Happiness SEE ALL STORIES Us The Bhutan Himalaya Difference ABOUT US Who we are The Bhutan Himalaya Difference What our travelers say Our Team Meet our latest hires CONTACT US LEARN MORE PRIVATE WEDDING PARTY & FRIENDS Perkins International ACCOMMODATIONS High-end traditional lodges GROUP SIZE Private DURATION 08 days ACTIVITY LEVEL Easy to Moderate RESERVE TRIP Or call 1-855-4-BHUTAN (248826) TRIP TYPE ACTIVE ● CULTURE ASK A QUESTION Trip Photos Accommodations Peace of Mind Dates & Prices What's Included Itinerary Practical Details Trip Overview Ask A Question Or call 1-855-4-BHUTAN RESERVE TRIP The secret to Bhutan's pandemic success story? Science, Religion, and faith in the monarchy 10 best mask dances to see on a Bhutan trip during the Spring & Fall Tshechu festival travel seasons Bhutan: The Little Kingdom that Could The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ​ Accommodations The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. ​ Expedition Staff Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ​ The lounge at the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp The courtyard at the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp The dining space at the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp Accommodations at the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp View from the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp The Dewachen Lodge restaurantt The Dewachen Lodge bedroom The Dewachen Lodge exterior The Dewachen Lodge rear view ACCOMMODATIONS HEALTH & SAFETY We are following strict national and international safety guidelines and protocols (Royal Government of Bhutan, WHO, and CDC (US) recommendations) to keep you, our staff, and the Bhutanese people safe. This includes new measures for maintaining personal health and hygiene, social distancing best practices, face covering requirements, cleaning, handwashing and more. UPDATED BOOKING & CANCELLATION POLICY With global travel resuming, we have changed our booking and cancellation policies back to normal. Normal cancellation policies are now in effect and final trip payment is due (4 months/120 days before trip start date, whichever is earlier). Trip cancellation policies are outlined in our trip confirmation emails and available by request. PEACE OF MIND June 03 - 10, 2023 $7,865/- Per Person Land and Air All inclusive (includes all expenses in country and flights from Delhi roundtrip with $1,200 group total private fees waived) ________ (includes roundtrip flights from Delhi to Bhutan; $1,860 per person Bhutanese government SDF fees and taxes, monument fees and taxes; all lodges; accommodations; transportation guides; monument and entry fees and private guide and driver services for full travel duration) *** Private services/Small Group charge of $1,200 per person waived. *** ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ DATE ​ ​ ​ *When signing up together as part of the same group Prices are per person based on double occupancy and DO NOT include international airfare to/from your destination or regional flights to Bhutan from Gateway Cities such as Bangkok or Delhi, and internal flights in the country during the expedition. PLEASE ADD: $1,400 per person (business class) roundtrip airfare from Bangkok for this travel program & $375 per person for the One-Way internal domestic PRIVATE CHARTERED flight requiring a minimum of 12 passengers for chartered flights. Airfares are subject to change by airline, and surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. We will all arrange such regional flights for our guests and fares will be quoted at airline cost as a courtesy to our guests with no extra booking or reservation fees. Single Traveler supplements will be assessed in addition to our published trip price, and are available on request. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. If you'd like to travel with your own special group of friends or family on dates different from the ones shown above, this expedition can be arranged March through May & October through February. TRAVEL SEASONS REQUEST RESERVATION $7,865/- Per Person Land and Air All inclusive (includes all expenses in country and flights from Delhi roundtrip with $1,200 group total private fees waived) ________ (includes roundtrip flights from Delhi to Bhutan; $1,860 per person Bhutanese government SDF fees and taxes, monument fees and taxes; all lodges; accommodations; transportation guides; monument and entry fees and private guide and driver services for full travel duration) *** Private services/Small Group charge of $1,200 per person waived. *** ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ DATE ​ ​ ​ *When signing up together as part of the same group Prices are per person based on double occupancy and DO NOT include international airfare to/from your destination or regional flights to Bhutan from Gateway Cities such as Bangkok or Delhi, and internal flights in the country during the expedition. PLEASE ADD: $1,400 per person (business class) roundtrip airfare from Bangkok for this travel program & $375 per person for the One-Way internal domestic PRIVATE CHARTERED flight requiring a minimum of 12 passengers for chartered flights. Airfares are subject to change by airline, and surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. We will all arrange such regional flights for our guests and fares will be quoted at airline cost as a courtesy to our guests with no extra booking or reservation fees. Single Traveler supplements will be assessed in addition to our published trip price, and are available on request. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. If you'd like to travel with your own special group of friends or family on dates different from the ones shown above, this expedition can be arranged March through May & October through February. TRAVEL SEASONS REQUEST RESERVATION 2023 Dates & Prices 2023 Dates & Prices ​ ​ DATES & PRICES WHAT'S INCLUDED Flight and airfare costs to and from Bhutan (UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED ON YOUR TRIP INFORMATION), such as your international flights to a regional Gateway City (e.g., Bangkok or Delhi); roundtrip flights to Bhutan from the regional gateway cities (which will be arranged by us at cost) and internal airfare where applicable for domestic flights in the country (which will also be arranged by us at cost) Trip cancellation insurance or any other travel insurance Alcoholic beverages Gratuities All ground transportation, visas for Bhutan and airport transfers All Accommodations All meals, including excursions to try well-known local restaurants The expertise and services of your Bhutanese Trip Leaders, Guides & dedicated trip field staff Courtesy booking services & arrangements for round-trip regional flights from gateway cities (such as Bangkok) to Bhutan & any internal domestic flights (airfare is additional). Sightseeing, special events & receptions, visits, and entry fees All environmental national parks & conservation fees and permits All Trek Arrangements (if you signed up for a trek), including expedition-grade high altitude, sub-zero sleeping bags, community camping and commissary equipment (comfortable and roomy two-person tents, kitchen and dining tents, and other community equipment), camp, cook and support staff (we reccomend you bring your own fitted hiking poles and personal sleeping bag liners ) WHAT'S INCLUDED WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED ITINERARY PRACTICAL DETAILS | RECOMMENDED POSTS TRIP PHOTOGALLERY REQUEST ITINERARY Click map to enlarge Connect from western Bhutan on a private domestic charter flight to attend the royal palace event, its adaptive use reincarnation as a modern museum that celebrates the rich culture and heritage of the kingdom. Next, we drive by car to another ancestral region of the royal family, to Trongsa, a lush forested region that encompasses parts of the Black Mountain Range and the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Here we stay as guests of Khedrup Rimpoche, spiritual leader of the Riphel Mebar monastery. Next, we trade car seats for inflatable rafts under the care of the River Guides of Panbang. An exhilarating freshwater navigation follows, bringing you to the confluence of the kingdom's two major rivers: the Drangme-Chhu and the Mangde-Chhu. Spend a few days exploring the ecologically rich Panbang region, then take a drive up from the kingdom's tropical southern borders to the capital Thimphu. A day of meetings and a final return to Paro for the flight home completes this comprehensive itinerary that's sure to leave you with many rich memories. SHARE: A journey to celebrate the Bhutanese-American wedding of Yeshey Tshogyal & Joe Arcangelo JUNE 03: DELHI/PARO, BHUTAN VIEW DAY BY DAY Depending on your flight preferences there are two options for the flight in. If you choose Delhi as your option your flight KB201 departs Delhi at 12:30 p.m. and lands 03:20 p.m. If flying from Bangkok instead, your flight from Bangkok, KB0131, departs at 05:00 a.m. and arrives in Paro at 08:40 a.m. via a brief stop at Bagdogra, India. After pick-up at the airport we drive you to your hotel, the Le Meridien Paro Riverfront, just a few minutes down the road. Meals included: Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Le Meridien Paro Riverfront JUNE 04: VISIT PUNAKHA & GANGTEY-PHOBJIKHA Today we take the short (25-minute) flight to Bumthang, in central Bhutan, and check in at the Mountain Resort across the road from Wangduechhoeling Palace. Our domestic chartered flight from Paro lands at Jakar Airport late morning. After pickup, we make the short drive to the lodge, followed by welcome refreshments and lunch. Later, we take a short drive up the valley past imposing Jakar Dzong to hike a central section of the new Trans Bhutan Trail from Lamai Goempa, built in the 1800s as a palace for the first king, now home to the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research (UWICER), a Bhutan Foundation project site that supports environmental education, ecological studies and forestry conservation services in Bhutan. JUNE 05: NATURE TRAIL HIKE/EXPLORE GANGTEY Palace Event: The Bhutan Foundation-supported palace renovation for adaptive use is formally unveiled today. Its dynamic new incarnation is a museum that's more than just a repository of unique and rarely-seen historical artifacts, manuscripts, and religious objects. It stands as a cultural and historical institution that intersects with the present and sends its visitors— Bhutanese and international—on a journey of inquiry and exploration into the origins of Bhutan and the modern Bhutanese state. Attended by the members of the royal family and Bhutanese dignitaries, today's fitting ceremony launches it into its new role as an exciting place to learn about the rich narratives drawn from the annals of Bhutanese history. A sneak peak of the exhibitions and programs of the Palace will be presented at this event along with the traditional ceremony of installing the Gyaltshen of the Palace. Future visitors to the museum will also enjoy audio- visual galleries and exhibits that bring the palace's unique history to life, and children and youth will be able to participate in hands-on activities that educate, inform, and stoke their learning. JUNE 06: DRIVE TO THIMPHU/EXPLORE THIMPHU/PARO Today, after breakfast, we drive back down the Black Mountain Range, some 4-4.5 hours, to the capital Thimphu. For lunch we head over to Chuniding Organics for a traditional treat: meat or vegetarian "Tomza," which is a full course meal that's wrapped up hot, tied up in a bundle, and served central Bhutanese style on plantain leaves. It's fun to unwrap the Tomza and dig into the hot and spicy meal, (which can be made milder on request). Afterwards, we explore the capital, stopping at the local monuments and attractions including the National Textile Museum, where we are introduced to Bhutan's ancient and contemporary weaving traditions. Later, we walk around the giant brass Buddha on a hill overlooking the busy capital, a landmark similar to Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue, before a stroll through the busy city center and an evening return to Paro. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp or comparable JUNE 07: DAY TRIP TO HAA/PARO This morning we drive the two hours to Haa to participate in an ancient blessing ritual that Yeetsho’s family has been performing for centuries. The Soelkha is an old ceremony honoring the ancestral spirits and the mountains that watch over the family. Like the ancient native ceremonies of North America, this ritual pays homage to the primal forces of nature that have strengthened Yeetsho’s family down the generations. During the proceedings, the great protector spirit known as Agay, or “Grandfather,” Chhundu, is invoked to bless the couple, setting the stage for the weddings to come. After lunch, we take a scenic walk along the valley floor and, crossing a suspension bridge, go by car to visit spectacular Jungney temple, a local, well-kept secret. After climbing to the temple, we squeeze through two large boulders with barely enough room for an adult to push through. There we meet the local lama for a tour of the temple and its history. Of particular note is the rare wall-to-wall mural of the three goddesses of Longevity, Wisdom, and Protection. At day's end we make the return drive to Paro. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp or comparable JUNE 08: HIKE TO TIGER'S NEST MONASTERY/ARTISAN BREWERY/EVENING COMMUNAL FEAST Wake early this morning for the culminating hike to 8th century Tiger’s Nest monastery, perched on a cliff 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Today, on the trail, we hike past the tremendous waterfall named for Yeetsho's namesake, the divine spiritual figure revered across the Himalayas: Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal. The iconic waterfall and temple are two of the kingdom's most sacred treasures, making the day a fitting tribute to this journey uniting our two beautiful children from the two opposite ends of the world—East and West. Lunch is at Namgay Artisanal Brewery, serving a variety of onsite craft beers on tap. The menu here is a modern Bhutanese-American fusion brew-pub fare such as burgers, fries, spicy wings and pizza baked from scratch. Back at the Tiger's Nest Camp, we have a pre-wedding celebration around around a communal bonfire. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp or comparable JUNE 09: TRADITIONAL WEDDING CEREMONY/EVENING RECEPTION & FUN The Big Day!! We begin with a fabulous morning traditional wedding ceremony and an exchange of vows on the grounds of the National Geographic "notable lodges of the world property," Zhiwa Ling. This is followed by a reception including all guests, family and friends. In the evening, since it’s Friday night, all the youngsters can go clubbing, which will be a most interesting, eye-opening experience in an ancient land whose youth walk the line between their old family traditions and the irresistible pull of new global trends and fashions. Alternately, the youngsters can join the elders in inter-generational traditional festivities. Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Accommodations: The Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp or comparable JUNE 10: FLIGHT TO DELHI/DEPARTURE This morning we bring you back to the airport in time to catch your return flight. Your flight to Delhi KB204 departs at 7:10 a.m. and lands in Delhi at 10:40 am in time for your connecting flight onward home or on to other destinations. FEATURED LODGES & DISCOUNTS & FEES WAIVED Your featured lodges on this trip are: Paro: The Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp More at https://www.bhutanhimalaya.com/lodges-and-accommodations/tiger's-nest-camp Phobjikha: The Gangtey Dewachen Lodge More at https://www.bhutanhimalaya.com/lodges-and-accommodations/gangtey-dewachen-lodge Discounts: Total private group fees waived: $1,200/- NOTES ON INDIAN VISAS INDIAN E-VISA You can apply for an e-Visa before traveling via a simple online form *. This is the Indian government e-visa issuer, although there are commercial brokers who can also arrange visas, this is the recommended (Indian) government portal. You’ll want to choose the Tourist e-Visa for 30 days, not the other kinds. The 30-day visa allows two entries into India, which is handy since they count each transit as a trip. All e-Visas take at least 72 hours to process, so be sure to do it well ahead of time! Their email contact if needed: indian-evisa@gov.in Please see their sample Evisa form by downloading it from our secure dropbox at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/tu2po6xkb3b09np/IndianEvisa2023SampleForm.pdf?dl=0 _____ *If you get a page in the e-visa application (see link below) asking for a "Reference Name in India"—apparently someone in India who can serve as a point of reference—please enter a hotel name, address and phone number as your reference. You do not need to provide a hotel confirmation and you may enter the address information of the hotel you propose to stay at. If you are traveling with a tour group in India please contact that tour company for that information. If you're staying at the airport/airport lounge, you should be able to get away with providing the airport name and address (Indira Gandhi International Airport) with the word "transit" next to it. FLIGHT NOTES & REMINDERS You can fly into Bhutan from one port of call, and fly back out to a different city. There are fare differences if you do that. This trip is priced for a flight from Delhi and a return back to Delhi. SPECIAL NOTES & DISCLAIMERS ITINERARY Please note that all trip and itinerary descriptions are accurate at the time of publication. While we strive to keep the actual running of the trips as close to our original description as possible we cannot rule out changes or modifications and, or, variations on the ground as a result of factors that may be beyond our control. If such circumstances occur, we always strive to do better, or at minimum match the trip described but this may not always be possible. ACCOMMODATIONS Infrequently, we may also have to swap out the lodges and accommodations listed on your trip as a result of seasonal overbooking; in such instances we will always find a comparable hotel of the same category and amenities as replacement/s. AIRFARE COSTS Please note that while we make every endeavor to accurately price our trips, airfares subject to change by the airline are outside our control . As a result, current charter flight costs currently included the trip trip may change and we may be forced to generate a final additional invoice to make up any such potential differences in cost. While we don't expect this to happen in this case, a reduced number of travelers may result in a per-individual fare increase for which we will send out an addendum invoice if the occasion arises, within reason, to cover any such potential shortfalls. Guests will be notified of any such changes well before trip departure. After landing in Bhutan, find your feet at Paro's newest glamping lodge, the Tiger's Nest Tented Safari Camp. Then, head east to Bhutan's ancient capital Punakha, to experience the majestic Punakha Dzong before continuing on to one of Bhutan's loveliest valleys, Phobjikha. On the return, expolore the highlights of the capital and return to Paro before making a day trip to the bride’s ancestral home of Haa. Participate in a centuries-old blessing ritual that her parents and grandparents have been performing down the generations. Return to Paro for the Big Day, and hike to Bhutan’s magnificent cliff-top shrine, the photogenic Tiger’s Nest, before a beautiful traditional wedding on the grounds of the award-winning Zhiwa Ling, capping off this journey uniting two young souls and two heartwarming families from the opposite ends of the globe. CUSTOM TRIPS If this trip or schedule doesn't meet your needs, we also arrange private journeys throughout the year with flexible dates. WHAT TO EXPECT The activities on this trip are rated as moderate and suits a wide range of interests and physical fitness levels. The hikes on this trip can range from moderate to challenging, depending on your abilities. Trip members should be in good health and comfortable standing or walking for extended periods of time and confident navigating mixed and steep terrain that may include rocky trails, slippery conditions and, or, steps and stairs. Daily activities include city walking tours, hiking to and entering monasteries, temples and fortresses, driving over winding mountain roads and easy to moderate hiking with some strenuous options where possible. The general elevations in the valleys will mostly range from 6,800 ft to 9,000 ft, with drives that will take us over higher passes before descending to the average elevations mentioned above. The final hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery is 10,000 ft. ACCOMMODATIONS The high-end accommodations on this journey feature traditional Bhutanese style with modern elements. The lodges are handpicked for regional character, comfort, and hospitality, including our beautiful family lodge in the central highlands of Bhutan, the Mountain Resort (see more on the Mountain Resort below). In peak season, depending on availability, we may use lodges comparable to the ones we have listed or advertised. EXPEDITION STAFF Every expedition is curated by expert native-born guides and trip leaders who also facilitate meetings and learning experiences with other locally knowledgeable people along the way. Our experienced team shares valuable insights and local expertise to ensure a culturally rich adventure of discovery through the Himalayan landscape and traditions of Bhutan. ABOUT CULTURAL EXPEDITIONS Our cultural expeditions are bespoke itineraries designed for active travelers that combine guided excursions, cultural insights, art and customs, with distinguished accommodations featuring a traditional ambience. Our journeys are small group adventures of usually 8 to 12 travelers, with a maximum of 16 guests per group. Unlike most tour providers who think nothing of a single guide leading an entire busload of travelers, we maintain a maximum of 4 guests per Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions guide, not counting support staff. This ensures that our journeys feel more like a shared adventure with local friends than a tourist's jaunt through the countryside. GETTING THERE Fly from your home city to Bangkok, Singapore, New Delhi Kolkata, or Kathmandu (Main Gateway Cities)* Overnight Fly from Gateway City to Paro, Bhutan. IMPORTANT: Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions makes round-trip flight arrangements from the Gateway City of your choice to Bhutan as a courtesy to our travelers. Airfare is not included in trip price (Unless otherwise noted). For further details please email us contact us using the Reserve Online button on this page. *Bangkok and Delhi are the primary Gateway Cities and offer the most frequent and most reliable flights to Bhutan. OUR TRAVEL EXTENSIONS (with optional Bangkok Transit arrangements) If you're thinking of traveling to some of the other interesting destinations in the region before or after Bhutan you may like to consider our travel extensions. That way you can spend less time juggling and coordinating multiple bookings and more time experiencing the magnificent World Heritage site of Angkor Wat, a peaceful Laotian sojourn, discovering Vietnam or experiencing India. For further details, and to see past travel extensions, please visit our Regional Extensions page. WHAT TRAVELERS ARE SAYING “Karma and his team perfectly orchestrated a wonderful series of valuable insights into Bhutan and Bhutanese culture. My particular area of interest was to learn about Bhutan’s challenge of balancing the goals of their Gross National Happiness Policy with the need to grow their economy and promote industry in the kingdom, which Karma addressed by arranging fascinating meetings with Bhutan’s Economic Affairs Ministers and other Bhutanese dignitaries and media personalities. A fantastic trip all-around with great hiking, culture, current affairs, insights into Buddhism and everything in-between.” ~ Heinrich Karl Friedrich Eduard Pierer von Esch, ex CEO, Siemens AG-Germany (front, third from left) See all posts > EXPLORE OUR STUNNING LANDSCAPE WITH BHUTAN HIMALAYA EXPEDITIONS Sign up to receive travel updates and offers, tips & insights from Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions Thanks for subscribing! Yes I want to receive travel updates, announcements and offers from Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions. By signing up, I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Bhutan Himalaya Privacy Policy . 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  • Traveling to learn about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness policy - Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions

    Traveling to learn about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness policy FIELD NOTES July 21, 2010 Karma Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Travel Programs Coordinator Children in Lobeysa playing amid the harvested stubble of their ricefields © Karma Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions With thoughtful itineraries honed since 1999, we unveil the depths of Bhutan's happiness philosophy, the daily physical adventures through the beautiful Himalayan landscape complemented by the intimate and in-depth cultural experiences sensitively curated for you every day. Questions? Get in touch with us Through the eyes of a select few informed leaders we saw the dilemmas of a culture: A hitherto sheltered nation discovering the arguments for and against remaining a cloistered society in this 21st Century. I loved the adventure, and I loved the discovery. Unlike anything else I have ever experienced! ​ Lola W., California Get similar features & travel information straight to your inbox with the Bhutan Himalaya Newsletter Share Share Bhutan’s Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck (center), often told the Bhutanese people to think of the country as one big family © Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper “We are all part of one big Bhutanese family,” Bhutan’s Fourth King (and father of the current king), His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, chief architect of the kingdom’s Gross National Happiness policy, was fond of saying. I heard these words so frequently during the early 1990s—on my multiple assignments covering the monarch’s frequent royal tours crisscrossing all 20 districts of the country—that they are etched in my memory. I mentioned this fact nearly two decades later to New York Times writer Seth Mydans and Times videographer Mariko Takayasu during their assignment to cover Bhutan and Gross National Happiness. The pair were joined by Mariko’s son, Dylan, on break from high school. We traveled together, meeting and interviewing Bhutanese people from different walks of life: government leaders, farmers, professionals, and private individuals, anyone who might have the key to understanding Bhutan’s happiness policy. We arranged for Seth and Mariko to meet the Prime Minister, the Secretary for Gross National Happiness—yes, that’s a major arm of the Bhutanese government! —and some other high-ranking officials along the way. But the true insight came from a source more deeply rooted in the Bhutanese way of life. At one point in an interview with the (then) Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, Seth interrupted him in the middle of explaining government policy and asked, somewhat unexpectedly: “What makes you personally happy?” The PM’s instant reply: “My family.” Farmers relax in Lobeysa, Bhutan, where time to socialize and enjoy deep family bonds are important ingredients for human happiness, the ultimate goal of government. © Karma Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions The prime minister said his strong family bonds were part of the secret sauce for his happiness and that the same was true for most average Bhutanese citizens. Therefore, extrapolated, it was an essential indicator of Gross National Happiness. The prime minister’s words made sense to me, and it explained the fourth king’s habit of reminding people to work together “like one big family.” It was, after all, the strongest representation of unity and strength in the culture. The word ‘family’ appears 45 times in the most recent national questionnaire for a survey of Gross National Happiness created by the Bhutanese think tank, the Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research. Seth and Mariko nodded and took notes at the interview, but I couldn’t help wondering if my worldly journalist friends would be satisfied with the prime minister’s response. They were visitors with a limited time in Bhutan, working under tight international deadlines; how could we best share the truth of the prime minister’s words with them? We meant to find out. Some days later, driving over the 10,000-foot-high Dochu-La pass, we descended precipitously into the fertile cleft valley of Lobeysa. Our timing could not have been better. We arrived during the first harvest of the year when some fields are partially stubbled with squat golden yurts of harvested rice, but there are still fields full of tall, swaying paddy stalks, heavy with golden ears of grain. Most tours go on to the folklorically colorful village temple, Chimi Lhakhang, a.k.a “the Temple of the Divine Madman.” We decided, instead, to follow the aroma of roasted rice. In a smoky kitchen in Lobeysa, a woman roasts rice over a roaring fire. © Bhutan Himalaya archives It came wafting on the air from the bamboo thatch lean-to beside a traditional two-story home belonging to an elderly farmer, Thoeba, and his wife, Choengyim. As they saw us approaching, the couple stepped out to greet us with a large wok of freshly roasted rice, the newly puffed grains looking like cherry blossoms in miniature. Delighted, we fell to munching the still sizzling rice as the couple’s precocious grandchildren played underfoot. Soon, other family members and neighbors stopped by, some helping with the roasting while others dropped armloads of firewood on the hut’s mud floor, squatted, and began to stoke the flames in the open fire pit. Cheerful banter flowed back and forth; there was good-natured ribbing, punctuated by laughter. The couple’s older son, responsible for the heavy lifting on the farm, joined us sometime later. Then Thoeba and Choengyim invited us next door into their home, an ancient rammed-earth Bhutanese farmhouse with thick walls, heavy wooden beams, and new corrugated metal roofing (a recent change from the traditional slate and wood-shingle common to the region). There they proudly introduced us to a picture of their second son, a Buddhist monk, hanging in a frame beside the family altar. They proffered homemade khabzay , the mildly-sweet fried dough eaten during celebrations, followed by a simple meal of suja , or butter-tea, the newly roasted rice, and the fiery local rice-brew, ara , similar to the Japanese sake wine. Soon, Thoeba and Choengyim made us feel like extended members of the family. They ate shyly, fed us more, and between mouthfuls of the roasted rice soaked in butter-tea, spoke with quiet pride about their children like parents everywhere. When Seth and Mariko finally asked them if they were happy, they looked at each other and nodded. “What more do I need?” Thoeba said to Mariko, explaining. “The government takes care of us by providing agricultural subsidies [for seeds and farming equipment], free healthcare, and education [pointing to the grandchildren]. I work as long as I can. I stop when I need to. My fields provide for my family, and we rely on each other in times of difficulty. I pray if I have time left in the day, and if I’m tired, I cover my head and go to sleep.” Choengyim laughed, nodded her agreement, and said, “Yes, that is the way it is with us.” Farmers in Lobeysa winnowing rice. They 'invite' the wind to blow the chaff by means of whistling sharply in the air. © Karma Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions A farmer in central Bhutan at her daily prostrations when the day's work of cultivation is done. © Bhutan Himalaya archives As we made our way back through the rice fields in the gathering dusk, other members of Thoeba and Chongyim’s family appeared at the door. Their farm work done for the day, they stood around the two elders in a tight cluster, silhouetted against the whitewashed walls of their ancestral home, where so many of their generations had lived and died, waving us goodbye. Looking back toward the couple and their brood, I thought again about what the Prime Minister had said earlier about his family and personal happiness. Then I remembered His Majesty’s words about seeing the entire Bhutanese nation as one large family and, somehow, the two ideas melded in my mind and became one. Watch the New York Times video, Measuring Happiness , which includes footage of the Lobeysa farmer, Thoeba, and the Bhutanese Prime Minister’s interview. Credits: Mariko Takayasu & Christopher Flavelle, for the New York Times. Read the New York Times article of this journey: Recalculating Happiness in a Himalayan Kingdom, by Seth Mydans. ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ NEW YORK TIMES journalists get a taste of Bhutan's happiness, in these reflections by Bhutan Himalaya's Travel Programs Coordinator. To receive similar updates in your inbox, please subscribe to our newsletter Email* Yes, subscribe me to your newsletter. Submit Swipe left above for more See our upcoming journeys In-depth cultural exploration of Bhutan A luxe spiritual sojourn in Bhutan Discover a primal springtime festival and journey overland from central to west Bhutan Hiking Bhutan's majestic Gangkhar Puensum with the western trek to Treasure Lake Explore Bhutan when wild rhododendrons bloom Bhutan Beckons Opening Your Heart to Bhutan Discover Bhutan’s vibrant Warriors Pageant Celebrate the annual return of Bhutan’s endangered Black-necked Cranes Bhutan Abundance Circling the mandala The pristine high trek to Treasure Lake View all journeys Search Travel Bhutan Abundance: A summer journey DEPARTURES Blessings of Bhutan Bhutan's Jomolhari Trek Heart of Happiness Trek to Treasure Lake On the Wings of Prayer Punakha's Pageant of Warriors Bhutan in the Time of Rhododendrons SEE ALL JOURNEYS Stories Hidden Lands of Happiness SPOTLIGHT Wild Wild East: How an ancient matriarch led her people to Bhutan Our top 10 reasons why you should visit Bhutan in 2023 How the brown trout came to Bhutan's lakes and rivers The top 10 mask dances to see in Bhutan Pomp & circumstance at Bhutan's warriors festival A journey to learn about Gross National Happiness SEE ALL STORIES Us The Bhutan Himalaya Difference ABOUT US Who we are The Bhutan Himalaya Difference What our travelers say Our Team Meet our latest hires CONTACT US

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  • The secret to Bhutan's pandemic success story? Science, Religion, and faith in the monarchy

    Posted 08/14/2021 KARMA DORJI, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions In a breathtakingly rapid response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the kingdom's health services covered nearly the entire eligible adult population with the first two doses of the vaccine, drawing widespread international media attention and earning its young health minister an executive chair at the World Health Assembly. Here’s the inside scoop of how that happened. The chief Buddhist abbot of Bhutan, His Holiness Je Khenpo, blessing Covid-19 vaccines in the kingdom’s eastern Lhuentse province. Photo: Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan By July 2021, 90 percent of Bhutan's eligible population was vaccinated with only 21 reported deaths from the pandemic. Faith in the young king’s leadership, the government's belief in science, and the support of the revered Buddhist clergy all played critical roles in the success of Bhutan’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. In a little over 16 days the kingdom’s first nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign launched March 27, 2021, covered an astounding 475,651 people, which may not sound like much until you consider that the number is more than an estimated 93 percent of everyone eligible to receive the vaccine in the country (figure last updated April 12, 2021). To boost coverage, the nation’s beloved young king, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, vowed to take the vaccine only after it was offered to every eligible Bhutanese citizen, spurring citizens to get their shot as quickly as possible. The landlocked Himalayan nation of approximately 800,000 people first acquired the early shipments of the UK-and-Sweden-based AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in India under the name Covishield, in January. But they were put on ice, literally, because February was deemed an inauspicious ‘Black Month’ according to the astrological calculations of the kingdom’s revered Buddhist clergy, the Dratshang Lhentshog. Bhutanese people routinely consult such astrological charts, released annually by the national religious body, for matters personal and official. Those recommendations can range from favorable dates to convene the National Assembly to opening times for government building projects, wedding and engagement planning, setting travel dates, and choosing the proper days to raise religious prayer flags to boost one’s karma and spiritual merit. Once those favorable dates are set, matters usually proceed at a fast clip, buoyed by the religious blessings and seemingly propitious celestial alignments. Monks and medical professionals gather for a ceremony to consecrate Covid-19 vaccines surrounded by portraits of Bhutan’s kings past and present. Photo: Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan. Bhutan first received the Covishield vaccines from the Indian government through a vaccine-diplomacy program called Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship). In the run-up to the nationwide vaccination program, the young king—who was the rallying face of Bhutan’s fight against the pandemic—made acquiring COVID 19 vaccines a top national priority. Other members of the well-loved royal family; religious figures such as His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the kingdom’s chief Buddhist abbot; Bhutan’s democratically-elected prime minister; the health minister; prominent citizens; and young social media influencers all threw their collective weight behind the vaccination program. Such endorsements assuaged fears, quelled rumors, fake news and conspiracy theories seeping in through the internet. The Prime Minister, a practicing medical surgeon, and the Health Minister, a brilliant young graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, immediately took to national television. They outlined the vaccination program, the process, timing and locations of the vaccination rollout, what to expect before and after the first shot. The government flew shipments of the vaccine to remote valleys across the kingdom’s challenging mountainous terrain on domestic flights and emergency service helicopters. Above: Covid-19 vaccines are loaded on an emergency recue helicopter to be flown over the country’s remote mountainous terrain, in preparation for the nationwide campaign to inoculate everyone over 18 years old. Photo: Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan On March 24, as the final consignment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the far-flung eastern Lhuentse province, completing distribution to all 20 districts of the country, the chief abbot, Je Khenpo, arrived with his entourage of monks and religious elders. They performed televised purification and consecration rites over the vaccines, setting devout Buddhist minds at rest about the efficacy of the vaccines. On the morning of March 27, vaccinations opened across the country with the first jabs given, where possible, to 30-year-old women born under auspicious astrological signs in the Monkey Year, prescribed by the Buddhist clergy. In Thimphu, the nation’s capital, vaccinations began at the religiously predetermined stroke of half-past nine in the morning, western time, chosen from the state astrological charts. Ninda Dema, a 30-year-old intellectual property rights inspector for the government, had the right star alignments to receive the first jab. A nurse, another 30-year-old woman, born in the same year and under similarly opportune conditions, vaccinated her, kickstarting the kingdom’s ambitious campaign to provide the vaccine to all ages recommended to receive the vaccine under international guidelines. Ninda Dema—the 30-year-old chosen in accordance with the Bhutanese state clergy’s astrological recommendations to receive the first jab of the vaccine—dedicates her Medicine Buddha prayer for universal healing under a smiling portrait of Bhutan’s young king, surrounded by dignitaries. Photo: Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan As the symbolic 30-year-old chosen to receive the first Covid-19 vaccine shot in the country, Ninda prepared herself a day earlier by praying at two famous Buddhist temples in the capital. Her mother, who lives in the neighboring province of Paro, visited and prayed at eight temples on Ninda’s behalf. Shortly before 9:30 am on March 27, the young woman sat on a chair, surrounded by government ministers and dignitaries (including the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan), and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, composed herself, and recited the Medicine Buddha mantra as she received her shot. Tayatha Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Randza Samu Gate Soha. “May all sentient beings who are unwell be liberated from sickness and pain,” she prayed, “and may all forms of illness and suffering disappear, never to return again.” By contrast, an article in the New York Times on April 5, 2021, quoted the leader of a US-based nondenominational Christian ministry who said, “The vaccine is not the savior.” He told the Times that he had received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer. According to data from the Pew Research Center used in that Times article, 45 percent of White Evangelical Christians said they would not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Bhutan’s example should—but likely won’t—be held up in the US as proof that faith and science can coexist for the greater good. Isn’t that, after all, the highest purpose of both Science and Religion? 101-year-old Phurba Deki, receiving her Covid-19 Vaccine in Bhutan's southcentral region of Dagana. To learn more about the future of Bhutan's pandemic response, watch "Prepping for the Next Pandemic," an interview with the Bhutanese Health Minister at the Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Author of Dreaming of Prayer Flags: Stories & Images from Bhutan, Karma Singye Dorji is a writer and former journalist who has led and curated cultural treks and journeys to Bhutan since 1999. SHARE THIS ARTICLE:

  • 10 best mask dances to see on a Bhutan trip during the Spring & Fall Tshechu festival travel seasons

    Karma Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions Bhutan’s fascinating mask dances are exceptional opportunities to learn about Bhutanese culture and deepen your understanding of the profoundly rich Himalayan Buddhist worldview. Here’s our scoop on Bhutan’s top 10 mask dances and what makes them great experiences on any Bhutan travel itinerary. 10. The Dance of the Drums of Dramitse (locally, Dramitse Nga Cham) The Dance of the Drums of Dramitse (pictured above), is among the primary ‘vision’ dances, or Chams, of Bhutan. Recognized as a “Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage” by UNESCO, this dance features 16 performers wearing exotic masks representing real and mythic animals. Among them are the vulture-headed Garuda, the Dragon, the Snow Lion, Tiger, Bear, Pig, and Dog, each one representing a different form of enlightened energy. The dancers wear colorful silk skirts, stylized shoulder mantles, waist-length felt or brocade jackets, and crossed sashes front and back with decorative elements. The ritual music of skin drums—which the dancers beat with a long, curved stick in time to their steps—and monks playing the oboe, longhorns, bells, and hand-held cymbals, adds a rich and layered ambiance to the performance. The dance depicts visions of the heavenly court of Padmasambhava (patron saint of the Himalayas) described by the Buddhist sage Kunga Gyeltshen in the early sixteenth century. Today this regional dance from Dramitse in eastern Bhutan is a familiar crowd-pleaser at most state celebrations and annual Tshechu festivals across the kingdom. 9. The Black Hat Dance (Locally, Zhanak Cham) Ceremonial Black Hat Dancers getting ready for their performance. Bhutan’s answer to Istanbul’s whirling dervishes, the black hat dancers perform this spinning, mesmerizing dance with similar trance-like intensity. The flowing brocade robes, the blaring temple music, and the intricate ritual accouterments make this dance compelling. Although the dancers appear without masks, the vibrant costumes, the somber ceremony, and its deep religious significance for the Bhutanese make the Black Hat Dance a worthy candidate for our list. The gracefully turning dancers gather speed as the performance moves along, their graceful movements and secret hidden meanings purifying the space and generating the dynamic forces of altruism and spiritual liberation. 8. The Dance of the Stags and Hounds (locally, Shawa Shachi) The Dance of the Stags and Hounds is a comic-lyric play drawn from a famous episode in the life of the tenth-century Himalayan yogi, Milarepa. The Dance of the Stags and Hounds is an immensely watchable comic-lyric play with an uncomplicated plot progression. A proud hunter, his manservant, and their vicious hounds chase a frightened stag that seeks the protection of Milarepa, the great tenth-century Himalayan yogi, who gives religious teachings that cause the men to give up hunting and devote their lives to Buddhist compassion. The first act opens with the playful air of a Shakespearean comedy, with the hunter’s obtuse manservant and several jesters causing much of the laughter and the fun. The second half evolves into a lesson on Buddhist morality, sung in poetic verse, that devout Bhutanese Buddhists generally take to heart. 7. Dance of the Noblemen and Ladies (Locally, Pholek Molek) The Dance of the Noblemen and Ladies is a morality play that is earthy, irreverent, and rustic in its humorous take on the follies and foibles of men and women. Played in the vein of a comic farce—think A Midsummer Night’s Dream—this play-dance has two couples (each a nobleman and a lady) who arrive dressed in traditional finery and masks that emphasize the men’s good looks and the pleasing feminine qualities of the women. Other characters include a lascivious crone and an assortment of lewd clowns. The men leave for battle, giving tokens of remembrance and saying tender goodbyes to their wives. As soon as the men go, the clowns stir up trouble, seducing the wives with the rude older woman alternately helping and hindering their attempts to sleep with two young ladies. Confusion and comedy ensue. The men return to learn what has happened. They fly into a jealous rage and fight with the clowns. Finally, the gentlemen and the ladies reconcile. This improvisational, folksy nature of the comedy makes this performance fun to watch, so long as one doesn’t examine the plot too closely. 6. Dance of the Divine Sisters (locally, Achey Lhamo) The Achey Lhamo is an ancient, rarely seen traditional mask dance from the far eastern horizons of Bhutan, including the valleys of Merak and Sakteng. This rarely seen dance from Bhutan’s far-flung eastern regions of Merak and Sakteng makes our list for its fascinating origins and atmosphere. According to legend, the great fifteenth-century spiritual adept, religious architect, and bridge builder Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo gathered seven sisters together and taught them the Achey Lhamo dance. As they danced, Thangthong Gyalpo played on the skin drums and collected fees to help pay for a bridge to improve access in one of Tibet’s remote regions. In time the dancers became so popular that the people began calling them Lhamo, or goddesses. The name stuck and became Achey (Sisters) Lhamo (Goddesses). The staccato beat of the skin drums; the energetic, leaping dancers; the rudimentary masks fashioned from yak hair, wool, and animal skin all serve to heighten this dance’s primal atmosphere. It is among the handful of religious dances performed by the lay population rather than monks. 5. The Dance of the Fearsome Drums (locally, Ging Tsholing) Athletic and vigorous, the fearsome Ging mask dancers of Bhutan are a thrill to watch. As the dance’s local name implies, there are two sets of dancers in this performance. The Tsholing dancers, wearing fearsome masks, represent a class of wrathful deities who take on terrifying aspects to destroy negative tendencies. They wear red and maroon robes and make slow, graceful movements, brandishing long silken banners to summon evil influences in the world before dispatching them. The Ging, in similarly colorful masks, wear leopard print pantaloons and tiger-stripe skirts. In contrast to the slower, more graceful rhythms of the Tsholing, the Ging leap, whirl, and beat their drums vigorously as they run through the crowds, tapping on people’s heads with the drumsticks in a ritual spiritual cleansing. They chase fleeing spectators gleefully through the crowds and lean precariously out of tall windows and balconies while drumming vigorously, a fact that underlines their impressive stamina and prowess. Watching the two sets of dancers and their contrasting performance styles makes for an alternately meditative and thrilling experience. 4. The Dance of the Great Warrior King Gesar of Ling (locally, Gesar Ling Cham) In the titular role of King Gesar of Ling, the Tang Rinpoche (a reincarnated senior Buddhist abbot in central Bhutan) wears a golden crown, royal robes, and carries multi-colored triangular flags symbolizing the auspicious colors of Himalayan Buddhist kings. This dance presents a visually stunning performance of excerpts from the 12th century (oral) epic of the mythic Himalayan King Gesar of Ling. King Gesar and his warriors appear in shining armor, intricately carved breastplates, and royal brocades. Performers play battle scenes in period military regalia. There are the usual ceremonial temple music and chanting of the Buddhist sutras, but the martial drumming, the elaborate orchestration, and the vibrant costumes take center stage. Exciting interludes to the main feature include an energetic Tibetan Snow Lion Dance (Sengye Cham). 3. Lords of the Charnel Grounds (locally, Dhurdag Cham) The Lords of the Charnel Grounds are a class of supernatural beings who aid one’s spiritual growth by destroying the human tendencies of clinging, ego-grasping and attachment-forming that are seen as obstacles to achieving Buddhist enlightenment. A spectacular dance performed in white full-body costumes, the principal dancers appear wearing bony skeletal death masks. They rake long, ghoulish fingernails through the air as they backbend, spin, and dance with agility. In Tantric Buddhism, the skeletons represent powerful spirits and deities who destroy negative human tendencies of fear, attachment, ego-grasping, and judgmental perceptions, which constitute obstacles to Buddhist enlightenment. In this view, the charnel grounds are transformational power spots because, in such spaces, one confronts the body’s impermanence to attain spiritual clarity. Thus a symbolic killing by the Lords of the Charnel Grounds toward the end of the dance represents the ego’s death. Stark and gripping, this dance is a palate-cleanser for the other color-saturated performances you may see at the same event. 2. The Eight Forms of the Precious Guru Padmasambhava (locally, Guru Tshen Gye) Sheltered under silken parasols, the beatific Guru Padmasambhava (in a gold mask) arrives in a procession ahead of the Dance known as the Eight Forms of the Precious Guru Padmasambhava, or Guru Tshen Gye. This dance is among the most anticipated events in what is usually a multi-day Tshechu festival celebration. It begins with Guru Padmasambhava, the great 8th-century spiritual hero and patron saint of the Himalayas. A senior monk playing the role appears on the scene bedecked, bejeweled, and escorted in a regal procession—including silken parasols, shining mystic banners, musical fanfare, crowds monks, and civilians. A reverent hush falls over everyone as the Guru, clad in royal silks, and wearing a beatific golden smile, makes his way through the crowd. The Bhutanese audience members strain to reach for a blessing from the Guru’s heavy golden hand. Making the moment powerful is the Bhutanese understanding that trained practitioners can channel divine presence through rigorous monastic practices, meditation, trance-work, and visualization. Next, dancers embodying the Guru’s eight classical forms appear. They give superb performances in correspondingly impressive masks and costumes. The final dancer enacts the destruction of the hostile energies in the world. Finally, the Guru departs amid a crescendo of oboes, longhorns, cymbals, drums, fluttering flags, and banners, leaving a profoundly moved audience, some of whom appear tearful. 1. Judgment of the Dead (locally, Raksha Mangcham) Performed on an epic scale, the Dance of the Judgment of the Dead begins with the towering Lord of Death's arrival. This dance gets our top billing for spectacle, folksy humor, and spiritual depth. A towering, red-faced figure of the Lord of Death moves in an impressive procession around the performance grounds. Once he is seated, his animal-headed minions go offstage to bring, alternately, two recently dead men for their judgments. The first man in a dark, tortured mask appears dressed as a hunter. His name is ‘The Great Sinner Destined for 100,000 Hells.’ The second dead man arrives wearing a white mask and holding a prayer book in his hand, signaling his virtue. His name loosely translated means ‘The Householder who was a Propagator of Peace and Tranquility.’ Thus begins an object lesson in the karmic fruits of good and evil. A Dark Demon and a White Angel each seek to alternately condemn and save the souls of the two dead men. Ultimately, despite the angel’s best efforts to help the sinner, the condemned man’s lapses far outweigh his good deeds, and, consequently, the demon drags him away by his feet to the lower realms for his punishment. Fortunately for the man in white, his merits outweigh his sins, and he is escorted to the celestial realms with the angel as heavenly music plays overhead. This dance is an excerpted play drawn from the eighth-century classic Himalayan Buddhist text, the Bardo Thodrol, or Liberation through Understanding in the Between (popularly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead). The voice-over narrations to the dance press the audience to practice kindness, compassion, and generosity while they still have time. They encourage the faithful to give up karmically burdensome habits such as killing, self-cherishing, and cruelty. This dance leaves viewers with many stunning impressions and a profound reflection on the perils of an unexamined life. SHARE THIS ARTICLE:

  • Bhutan: The Little Kingdom that Could

    If you’re celebrating International Day of Happiness today, Bhutan is the reason why. March 20, 2021 ______ Karma Singye Dorji, Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions This woman, an elder in the Mongar region of eastern Bhutan, finds happiness in the daily rituals of turning her hand-held mani prayer wheel, the support of her community, and the deeply rooted Buddhist practice she inherited from her own elders, a powerful combination of simplicity and perspective that eludes most of us in the modern world. Back in 2012, we wrote a post that read, “Bhutan brings its philosophy of Gross National Happiness or “GNH” to the world.” That was because the kingdom’s leaders had just brought Bhutan’s unique message of celebrating human happiness to the attention of a wider international audience. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Bhutan's Fourth King (center), chief architect of the kingdom's Gross National Happiness policy. Taking the daring and unconventional step at the time, Bhutan, in 2012, invoked a special meeting at the United Nations to include human happiness in its global agenda. “Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the wellbeing of all peoples,” such was the pathbreaking language Bhutan pushed, “...decides to proclaim March 20 the International Day of Happiness…” Boys in central Bhutan's Bumthang region, returning home from school. That meeting, which took place during 2012’s 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, was attended by a panel of international luminaries such as the economist Jeffrey Sachs and the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, among others. It ended with the resolution that, going forward, March 20 of each year would be observed as what is now the “UN International Day of Happiness.” While the kingdom has convened other earlier international meetings on the topic of human happiness in countries as varied as Thailand, Brazil, Canada, and the Netherlands, the adoption by the UN was, for many Bhutanese, a matter of great pride. It continues to be one of the kingdom’s most laudable international achievements. The secular and the spiritual aspects of life go hand-in-hand in Bhutan. Pictured here: His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King of Bhutan confers with His Holiness the Je Khenpo, spiritual head of Bhutan's Buddhist Monastic Clergy. Bhutan’s desire to push happiness as a key international agenda stems from the kingdom’s homegrown Gross National Happiness policy, the brainchild of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan’s fourth king (father of the current king). Since Bhutan’s illustrious fourth king first proposed the GNH policy in 1972, Bhutanese government intellectuals, thinkers and policymakers have elaborated and expanded the practical definitions of the GNH philosophy under the leadership of the kings and the elected governments. Bhutanese government institutions such as the Gross National Happiness Commission, and local think-tanks like the Centre for Bhutan Studies, continue to push research on the topic, carry out policies based on the findings, and realize the hopes and dreams of the kingdom’s visionary leaders. As increasingly understood now, Gross National Happiness has four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. A further nine sub-domains divide the four pillars in measuring psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. According to the Center for Bhutan Studies, “the [nine] domains represent each of the components of wellbeing of the Bhutanese people, and the term ‘wellbeing’ here refers to fulfilling conditions of a ‘good life’ as per the values and principles laid down by the concept of Gross National Happiness.” The preservation of Bhutan's pristine natural resources, which makes the kingdom a popular destination for travelers, is one of the 'four pillars' of Bhutan's national happiness goals. To further boost the goals of human happiness, Bhutan continues to host periodic international and bilateral events, delegations, academics, researchers, and economists to help the government improve and fine-tune its accuracy in measuring clearly-defined “happiness indicators.” This is an effort that other governments could do well to emulate in other parts of the world, bringing us all ever closer to our common goals of achieving human happiness for everyone. Happy International Day to the world! ___ SHARE THIS ARTICLE:

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