Uma Paro will be our base, as we immerse ourselves in Bhutan’s extraordinary landscape and cultural heritage. Uma’s experienced guides will lead us through the Paro valley on day hikes, including Taktsang ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery, the National Museum, Drukgyel Dzong and a visit to the ancient temple of Kyichu Lhakhang. Enjoy blessings in a local monastery and spend a day exploring underground caves, or try your aim at Archery, the national sport on Uma’s private Bha Cho ground!

All levels encouraged. Yoga practice will accommodate daily excursions: leg focus for hiking, back focus for jeep journeys, breath awareness for altitude.

8 Days in the Kingdom of Bhutan, Land of Thunder Dragons

From the alpine valley of Paro to the bustling capital city of Thimpu, the magnificent Dzong at Punakha and the remote Phobjikha Valley, this journey takes you across the whole Bhutanese landscape, giving you a glimpse into a land that time seems to have forgotten. Thimphu, home to Bhutan’s young King, is the starting point of this journey and one can see modern influence merge with traditional culture in this small capital city. Striking eastwards the modern world quickly gives way to progressively more rural and traditional scenes where village life has remained largely unchanged.

DAY 1 Saturday, Nov 17: Arrival at Paro International Airport and Thimphu Sightseeing.

Our guide will welcome us at the airport for the 90-minute scenic drive to Thimphu, winding alongside two snaking rivers and passing countless fine examples of the quaint, traditional farmhouse architecture of Bhutan.

The drive to Thimphu will be through some of the most beautiful terrain in Bhutan. You will see southern Bhutan as we wind up the Himalayas with spectacular views of waterfalls, lush vegetation and far flung villages. The capital sprawls up the  wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu and is the centre of government, religion and commerce.

After checking in to the Taj Tashi, we are at the gateway to a land steeped in mythology and magic. The mountain kingdom of Bhutan remains one of the old world’s last few strongholds, as yet unspoilt by civilization. In the charmed isolation of the Himalayan heights, Bhutan’s ancient and alluring ways of Mahayana Buddhism continue richly intact to this day, and permeate every aspect of Bhutanese life and art. We will be in Thimphu town center, an ideal base to explore spectacular monasteries, centuries-old street festivals, scenic mountain passes and pristine wilderness, all within easy reach.

The Thimphu Chorten temple (Gelay Jamtsho / Flickr)
By afternoon we arrive at the King’s Memorial Chorten, continuously circumambulated by people murmuring mantras and spinning prayer wheels. This landmark was built by His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the Father of modern Bhutan, who wished to erect a monument to peace and prosperity. It serves as memorial to the beloved King and as a monument of world peace.

This is the center of government and religion, site of the throne room and seat of Je Khenpo, Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans.

Thimpu offers many wonderful places to visit (exact itineraries are dependent on opening times and interests): The National Memorial Chorten, Trashi Chhoe Dzong, the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, the National Textile Museum, the weekend market, and Folk Heritage Museum. You may wish to just go window shopping or try the one-hour walk up to Tango Monastery at the head of the valley. The day ends with Tashichhodzong, “Fortress of the Glorious Religion”.

Thimphu Farmer’s Market
DAY 2 Sunday, Nov 18: Thimphu Sightseeing, Punakha Valley via Dochu La, Chimmi Lhakhang.

Breakfast at hotel and opportunity to look around Thimpu in the morning, before heading off along a scenic mountain route towards the former capital of Bhutan, Punakha.

We will pass through Dochula ( 10,000ft) where a large Chorten and forest of prayer flags greet us high up on the Himalayan range! On a clear day you can see an endless chain of Himalayan Peaks including Gangar Punsum (24,000 ft), the highest unclimbed peak in the world, Ganchenta, Teri Gang, and others all above 20,000 ft. From there we descend 5,500 ft through temperate forests coloured with rhododendrons and magnolias down to the semitropical zone of oranges, banana and cacti.

There is time to stretch the legs with a short walk across rice paddies to Chimmi Lhakhang, a fertility temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as the Divine Madman. The temple sits atop a picturesque hill surrounded by rice fields. Drukpa Kuenley built a chorten on the site in the 14th century, and it has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples.

Upon arrival check–in at hotel and dinner.

DAY 3 Monday, Nov 19: Punakha Dzong, Khamsan Yuley Namgay Chorten Walk, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong and Bazaar.

We have a full day for further exploration of the scenic Punakha Valley, which is low enough (1,200m) to allow bananas and oranges to grow.

Contemplation in the Mountains
The destination for this morning’s walk up through whitewashed homesteads and farmland is Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten, a shrine recently built by the royal family. It is a startlingly ornate and elaborate structure with a rainbow of Guru Rinpoche images and superb views. Heading down along the riverside the massive architectural edifice of the 17th-century Punakha Dzong soon looms into view. The fortress-monastery was built in 1637 by Shabdung Nawang Namgyal in a commanding position at the confluence of the mighty glacial rivers, Po Chhu and Mo Chhu (Father and Mother rivers), which descend from the lofty heights of the Himalayas..

It once served as the seat of the Kingdom’s government and is now the winter home of Je Khempo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of 1,000 monks. The day finishes with an afternoon stroll through the quaint bazaar at Wangdue Phodrang to visit its dzong. Founded in 1638 by the Shabdrung, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is located on a high promontory overlooking the Punak Chhu river. Afternoon visit to Punakha Dzong, the winter residence of Je Khenpo and monks of Tashichhodzong.

DAY 4 Tuesday, Nov 20: Punakha Valley to Paro, Chuzom, Tamchog Lhakhang to Paro.

THE Himalayan Range!
We have time to retrace our steps back over the Dochu La for a second chance of that wonderful view of the Himalayan range!

Returning to the Chuzum or confluence we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward of evil spirits near the checkpoint. Time permitting the journey can be broken with a visit to Tamchog Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo (the so-called Iron Bridge Builder). This former saint from the 14th century introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains; the only way to reach his temple is by one of these bridges.

On the final leg the road snakes alongside the Pa Chhu river, through apple orchards and rice paddies, past quaint homesteads to our home in the mountains, Uma Paro. After check-in and a show round, we invite you to spend the rest of the day relaxing around the property, enjoying the facilities or perhaps trying some other activity like the Bhutanese national sport of archery or a traditional Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath.

DAY 5 Wednesday, Nov 21: Drakhapo Monastery and Adventure Cave.

Young Monks say Hello
After a short drive from Uma Paro, start your 1.5 hour easy walk to Drakhapo Monastery. This has a small community of monks living nearby.

The main temple room is precariously perched on the edge of a rock cliff and there are some sacred sites not to be missed such as the body-imprint of Vajrayogini or a stone boot belonging to Guru Rinpoche. The monastery is built on a mountain which is dotted with underground caves. One of these caves has a small ladder leading to a large cavern that soon turns into a very narrow crevasse. The cave is only recommended for those who are keen on adventure caving.

Archery at Uma Ba Cho
In the afternoon, come and try your hand at Bhutan’s two most popular sports on Uma Paro’s very own archery ground (Bha Cho). Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. High-spirited competitions, usually accompanied by a banquet, feature in all festive occasions. Using bamboo bows (although modern compound bows are finding their way into the kingdom) teams of archers shoot at targets only 30cms in diameter from a distance of 140 metres. Each team has a noisy crowd of supporters (‘jeerleaders’). Kuru (darts) is another very popular traditional Bhutanese game played by men and women.

DAY 6 Thursday, Nov 22: Highlights of the Paro Valley–Taktsang Walk

Taktsang Monastery ~ Tigers Nest
After breakfast, we hike up to Taktsang monastery (The Tiger’s Nest). For people unaccustomed to the altitude it takes about three hours at an average walking speed to reach the temples. Enroute up the mountain, a stop at teahouse for refreshments and a classic view of the monastery. The path may appear somewhat hair-raising at times, but it is well groomed and worth the views!

One of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan, Taktsang Goemba defies logic, gravity, and reason. Taktsang monastery is one of the most venerated pilgrim sites of the Himalayan world and it contains 13 holy places. Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Lair”, gets its name from the story of its birth.

Flying into Tigers Nest
In the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche came to Taktsang in a miraculous manner, flying on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong in the region of Kurteop. According to Bhutanese legend, the tigress was a form taken by one of the Master’s consorts for the occasion. Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months in a cave at Taktsang and converted the Paro valley to Buddhism.

Lunch will be served in Takstang. Return walk is all down hill and takes about 1 1/2 – hour.

Return to Uma Paro in the afternoon for some time to rest and relax and enjoy the facilities such as the steam rooms, swimming pool or a Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath followed by a soothing massage. Dinner will be served in the hotel.

DAY 7 Friday, Nov 23: Daywalk to Zurig Dzong, Rinpung Dzong, Ta Dzong, Paro town, Kyichu Lhakhang and Drukgyel Dzong.

Wind through pine forests high above Uma Paro to the pretty grounds of the fortress-like monastery of Zurig Dzong. Traverse across to Ta Dzong, housing Bhutan’s National Museum with magnificent views over Paro, and on down to Rinpung Dzong (Fortress on a Heap of Jewels). The trail then leads across Paro Chhu (river) via a traditional covered bridge (Nyamai Zam) and then past the main archery ground, Ugyen Pelri Palace and into Paro town.

Farewell Dinner at Uma Paro
Drive a few kilometres north of Paro, and we pay our respects at Kyichu Lhakhang; this is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magic orange tree that bears fruit all year round. Time permitting, we drive further up  the valley to Drukgyel Dzong, built in 1648 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to control the northernroute to Tibet (from here, it is only a two-day hike to the border with Tibet, dominated by Mt Jhomalhari).

Bhukari Restaurant at Uma Paro
In the evening you are invited for a firelit farewell dinner in the courtyard at Uma Paro.

DAY 8 Saturday Nov 24: Breakfast at the hotel and proceed to airport to connect flight home with memories and inspiration to hold in your heart these great Himalayan mountains. I hope the trip leaves you with the lasting love for a kingdom hidden in the Himalayas, and a love for its people in the deepest part of my own heart.

Programme includes:

Accommodation on a full-board basis (excluding beverages) at luxury accommodations of Uma Paro and Taj Tashi in Paro and Thimphu
Double Occupancy sharing for 7 nights. If you do not have a roommate, we may have to assign, or charge a single supplement.
Accommodation for three nights on a full-board basis in locally owned hotel

Yoga at Uma Paro
Seven days of privately guided day excursions with picnic lunches taking in highlights of Punakha and Paro Valleys, including Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, National Museum, Drukyel Dzong and a visit to temple of Kyichu Lhakhang
The services of an experienced English-speaking Bhutanese guide
Private lunch hosted at AmanKora Punkaha Lodge
One COMO Shambhala Massage (60 minutes) per person
Private airport transfers and transport in Bhutan
All Bhutanese Government Visa Fees and Royalties

Uma Paro Suite
Inclusive of 10% service charge and 10% sales tax

All museum and visitor centre entry fees and road permits
Daily Yoga class whilst at Uma Paro
Complimentary use of the library, internet facilities, swimming pool, steam room and gym at Uma Paro
Single Upgrade and Villa Rentals available on request

We made it up the Tigers Nest! May 2010
Not included are any expenses of personal nature such as laundry, table drinks, telephone calls etc. Any tips or gratuities either at airport or hotels or to drivers or accompanied Guides. Airfare on sector Paro – Transfer City quoted separately.

For more information call 408-828-5806.