Bhutan Cultural Tour: Paro Festival

Travel to the Edge of the World

Bhutan Cultural Tour: Paro Festival

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$3,295.00

Often called the “Last Shangri-La”, Bhutan is truly unique. It is a tiny Buddhist kingdom tucked in the heart of the Himalayas, sandwiched between the giants of India and China, but seemingly untouched by the outside world. This is a land whose beloved king voluntarily abdicated the throne in order to help the country transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. It is also a land where wealth is measured not by traditional economic measures, but rather by happiness. With its stunning scenery, welcoming people and fascinating culture, a visit to Bhutan is guaranteed to increase your Gross Personal Happiness.

Bhutan is a place where the mountains, rivers and valleys are abodes of the gods. The constant scenes of hills dotted with ancient temples, monasteries and prayer flags are testament to this, whilst in streams prayer wheels powered by the natural water flow turn day and night.

We’ve timed this 10-day tour to coincide with one of Bhutan’s largest Buddhist festivals (Tsechu) held in Paro! The Tsechu draws hundreds of Bhutanese people in a spirit of reverence, blessing, festivity and celebration, and is one of the best ways to discover the rich cultural heritage of Bhutan. The Tsechu comes to life with colour, music, dance and drama as villagers and townspeople gather to witness the masked dances, sword dances and other sacred rituals.

DATES: MAR 23 – APR 1st, 2018
Please note that this itinerary can be customized to include other festivals at another time of year.

Description

Highlights Include:

  • Viewing sacred dances and rituals performed by monks and laymen in elaborate costumes
  • Exploring Bhutan’s central valleys, rich with ancient historical and sacred Buddhist sites
  • Challenging your taste-buds with fiery hemadatsi, Bhutan’s favourite dish
  • Visiting many cultural attractions including medieval fortresses (Dzongs), markets and museums
  • Trekking up to the stunningly located Tiger’s Nest Monastery
  • Learning about the unique history, customs, and traditions of Bhutan
  • Admiring the incredible scenery of the valleys below the Himalayan peaks
Day 1: Arrival in Thimphu

The flight to Paro is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world, with a constantly changing panorama of some of the highest mountains on earth.Welcome to Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Before your plane even touches down in Paro, you will know you have arrived somewhere special. A land of high mountains and lush forested valleys, Bhutan is dotted with dzongs, imposing fortresses built to protect the valleys and also serve as administrative and religious centres for each region. Each dzong is unique and stands as testament to the nation’s enduring independence and devotion to Buddhism. Tourism in Bhutan is closely regulated to limit its impact on the local culture and environment, and national styles of architecture and dress have been carefully preserved. Even the airport is built in distinctive Bhutanese style.On arrival we will be met by our Bhutanese guide and driver, and we will transfer to Thimphu (2320m), the national capital (approx 1.5 hours drive), getting our first taste of Bhutan’s stunning natural scenery along the way. En route we pass the Tamchog Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo (saint from the 14th /15th century) who introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains.

Meals: Dinner (if applicable)
Overnight: Thimphu

Day 2 Thimphu Tour

Thimphu is a unique blend of modern and traditional and one of very few capitals in the world with no traffic lights. This morning we explore the city with a guided tour of Thimphu’s highlights.During our tour, we have the opportunity to visit the weekend vegetable market. Located below the main town, near the Wangchhu River, Thimphu’s weekend market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Visit the Folk Heritage Museum featuring an exhibition of items and artifacts of Bhutanese villages and rural households. After visiting the museum we will walk to School for Arts & Crafts; one of the most interesting schools where young boys & girls learn 13 different skills of arts & crafts in Bhutan.

Additional sightseeing at the Folk Heritage museum which documents traditional life in Bhutan. The indigenous hospital uses age old Buddhist techniques to heal and offers a tour of its premises. The wonder herb cordycep has deep popularity in eastern remedies.

Time permitting, we visit the Changangkha monastery which offers a bird’s eye view of the valley and is also the guardian monastery of the valley.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: Punakha

Day 3 Punakha

This morning we begin the scenic drive to Punakha (1200m). The winding highway takes us over the Dochu La pass (3150m); if the weather is clear, we will enjoy excellent views of the eastern Himalayas. The drive will give you an insight into a medieval way of life that has changed little over the centuries. Modern development has brought better education, health care and electricity to these remote areas but the local small farm-based economy that has kept the local people self sufficient over the years is largely unchanged. Dochula pass is also the site of the Druk Wanggyel Chortens and the botanical garden where time (and weather) permitting, participants can take a scenic hike through forests of rhododendrons.

From there we descend through leafy temperate forest to the Punakha valley, passing prayer wheels run by flowing water.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: Punakha

Day 4 Punakha

Punakha was the historic capital of Bhutan and also the winter residence of the Central monastic body as it is a climatically a warmer valley than Paro and Thimphu.Today we visit Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1637 by the Zhabdrung, the ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava). It is situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers) and is the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo and hundreds of monks who move en masse from Thimphu to this warmer location. The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned.

This afternoon we have the opportunity to trek to a traditional Bhutanese village to catch a glimpse into life in rural Bhutan.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight: Punakha

Day 5 Haa

Picturesque and quaint villages dot the hillsides of our drive to Haa. The “Haa Valley” was only recently opened to tourism and has remained beautifully quaint and untainted by the influences of modern development. En route we have the opportunity to visit the Dobji dzong which used to serve as a prison and has been renovated. Development in this area is very sparse, but is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the Bhutan of years gone by. There are also numerous options for hiking in Haa in the bucolic countryside.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: Haa

Day 6 Haa
Haa remains one of the least visited areas in the country and retains the air of an unspoiled, primeval forest. This valley only opened to foreigners in 2002 due to its proximity to the border with Sikkim and Tibet. This unspoilt valley harks back to a simpler, more traditional time, and its wooded hills give us an ideal setting for hiking and mountain biking. There are several pleasant walking trails in Haa and biking on the virtually traffic free valley to visit local areas of interest and village homes is an enjoyable way to spend the day.Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: Haa
Day 7 – 9 Paro Festival & Sightseeing

This morning we depart from Haa to Paro through Chelela which is one of the highest passes in Bhutan. The drive is magnificent and one can hike along the ridge at Chelela – the area where the national flower, the blue poppy, grows.Festival (Tsechu): Over these three days, you will have the opportunity to participate in the Paro Festival as well as sightsee. The festivities generally take place from the morning until late afternoon. During this time, you will see locals dressed in their finest clothes who have walked from miles around to attend the festivities. They come to watch masked dances, to pray, and to feast. While the underlying purpose of the festival is spiritual, dances are more often like plays, telling stories where good triumphs over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rimpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socializing as well.

Some of the sightseeing will include:
Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Monastery: A hike of approximately 1.5 to 2 hours uphill takes you almost a kilometre above the Paro Valley floor through alpine forests (for those who cannot hike we will arrange a horse for transfer up to cafeteria). The astonishing view of Taktsang Monastery built on a sheer cliff face is a spectacular sight. The Monastery is also an important pilgrim site for the Buddhists. The great Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) is said to have flown here on the back of a tigress when he brought the teachings of the Buddhist Dharma to Bhutan in the 8th Century.

The monastery was partially destroyed in a forest though restoration works are almost complete. The local people have provided the labour for restoration as the Bhutanese believe that participating in the restoration of holy places helps in the accumulation of good merit.

Paro Dzong: The official name of the Dzong is Rinchen Pung Dzong, which means fortress on a heap of jewels. The Dzong was built in 1646 by Shabdung Ngawang Namgyel and was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly. The Dzong is located on a vantage point on the hillside and has two Lhakhangs (monasteries) and a Central Utse (Central tower). As with all Dzongs the local administrative and monk body are housed on the premises.

Choeten Lhakhang: A monastery situated in the centre of the town and is built in the traditional Bhutanese style. Dumtse Lhakhang is a temple believed to have flown from Tibet and is hence held by chains to the ground to prevent it from flying away.

Evening drive to Drugyel Dzong: A pleasant 14-km drive from Paro town takes us to the site of the ruins of Drugyel Dzong. Drugyel Dzong was built to commemorate a Bhutanese victory over Tibetan invaders in the seventeenth century. It is situated at the point where the trail form Tibet enters Paro. The Dzong was destroyed by fire in this century. On a clear day there is a magnificent view of the imposing Mount Jumolhari (7300 metres) from the site.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Overnight: Paro

Day 10 Departure

Today is departure day; it’s time to say farewell to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Thank you for travelling with Finisterra!

Bhutan Visa

In order to process the visa we require a clear readable colour copy of passport(page containing passport number and face picture in JPEG or PDF format) at least 30 days prior to date of entry into Bhutan. Remaining validity of passport should be at least 6 months from the date of exit from Bhutan. Bhutan’s tourism sector is regarded as one of the most exclusive travel destinations in the world. Bhutan enjoys a reputation for authenticity, remoteness and a well-protected cultural heritage and natural environment.

Your visa clearance letter will be issued to you along with your Drukair (or Bhutan Air) ticket prior to your departure. At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport.

Please note: All passengers must enter on the same day from DELHI. The price is approximately $620-720 USD per person.

Environment

The natural environment is mostly in an undisturbed and pristine form. Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and deep valleys are rich with spectacular biodiversity, making it one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity ‘hotspots’.

The Royal Government of Bhutan has committed to maintaining a 60 percent forest cover for the future. Currently the total land under forest cover is 65 percent and more than 26 percent of the land is under the protected areas, comprising of four national parks and about 9 percent of the land fall under biological corridors so that the wild life sanctuaries and nature reserves connect protected areas.

People

The people of Bhutan can be divided into three main ethnic groups: The “Sharchops”, who live in the east of the country and are believed to be the original inhabitants. The “Ngalongs”, who live mostly in western Bhutan and are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from the 9th century, The “Lhotshampas”, settled in the south of Bhutan in the late 19th century. The Lhotshampa (meaning Southern Bhutanese) represent Nepali-speaking groups.

Bhutan is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with 79 percent of the people living in rural areas.

Religion – Buddhism

Buddhism is practiced throughout the country. Most of the Bhutanese are Buddhist. In the south, most Bhutanese people of Nepali and Indian origin practiced Hinduism.

The official state religion of Bhutan belongs to the Drukpa sect of Kagyudpa, school of tantric Mahayana Buddhism, the Great Vehicle. It is similar to the Tibetan Buddhism, yet it has its own set of unique beliefs and practices.

The religion in Bhutan is strongly supported by all walks of life. Monks, nuns and gomchens (lay priest) play a very important role in the people’s daily lives. Bhutanese people are very pious and the importance of Buddhism is evident in every aspect of life in the Bhutanese people.

Art

Bhutanese art reflects major Tibetan influences, though it has developed many of its own derivations. It has three main characteristics: it is anonymous, religious, and performs no independent aesthetic function. Intricate wall paintings and thankas (wall hangings), most historical writing and fine sculpted images all have a religious theme.

There is an overall style of tradition which permeates most aspects of the Bhutanese lifestyle. This is most overtly reflected in the style of dress and architecture. All Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: the gho for men and the kira for women. Generally colourful apparel, the fabrics used range from simple cotton checks and stripes to the most intricate designs in woven silk.

Architecture

The Bhutanese architectural landscape is made up of chortens, stonewalls, temples, monasteries, fortresses, mansions and houses. Associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts and building types rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong association between state, religious and secular forms. What makes it quite unique is the degree of uniformity, with all structures corresponding to traditional designs. Thus ancient monasteries and fortresses appear to merge with more modern popular dwellings to create a setting that is consistent.

Traditional Dress

Bhutanese traditional dress is called the gho (men’s robes) and kira (women’s dress). The women’s dress is a length of woven material (kira) that is draped across the body over a blouse, and held in place over the shoulders with silver clasps. A toego (or jacket) is usually worn over the dress.

The man’s gho is a stitched robe, which reaches the ground when first worn. This is then pulled up to knee length and tied in place at the waist with a hand-woven belt. Long socks and shoes, or traditional hand made boots complete the attire. Traditional dress is worn for all formal occasions including working in the office. The Bhutanese wear their best hand-woven ghos and kiras on formal occasions while machine milled traditional clothing is also popular for daily wear.

Food And Drink

Traditional Bhutanese food always features spicy red and green chillies, either dried or fresh. Most Bhutanese love eating spicy food. The national dish, ema datsi, a dish of ema (chilli) cooked in datsi (cheese), is a favourite among Bhutanese. For vegetarians, there are restaurants who serve vegetarian meals and almost all the restaurants have a vegetarian option in their menu. Red Rice is another speciality grown in Bhutan with a sweet nutty flavour. For a culinary change Indian meals are easily available in most eating places.

Political System

The establishment of monarchy in 1907 was the watershed event in the history of modern Bhutan. The country enjoyed peace and progress under successive reformist monarchs. The third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck reformed the old pseudo-feudal systems by abolishing serfdom, redistributing land, and reforming taxation. He also introduced many executive, legislative, and judiciary reforms. The fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, took decentralization to the people, and devolved all executive powers to a council of ministers elected by the people in 1998, besides introducing a system of voting no confidence in the king, which empowered the parliament to remove the monarch.

The national Constitution Committee started drafting the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan in 2001. The Draft Constitution was distributed to the people in 2005, which was followed by public consultation initiated by the 4th and 5th Kings. Its implementation will establish parliamentary democracy in the country.

The people in different villages of the gewog in turn elect the chimis (people’s representatives). The king is now the head of the state. The government is elected by the parliament for a five-year term, with the head of the government or post of prime minister rotating amongst the ministers. At the district level, Dzongda functions as the chief executive officer and the gup (gewog head man) elected by the people is the chief executive officer at gewog level.

Under the policy of greater decentralization and empowerment of the people, the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu and the Geog Yargye Tshogchung have been given full administrative, policy making and financial powers in their respective Dzongkhags. Therefore, the success of development programmes will now be determined by the decisions taken by the people and the quality of their participation in implementing them.

Climate

It is difficult to accurately generalize the climate of Bhutan because of the variations in elevations and seasons. Southern Bhutan has a tropical climate with hot humid monsoons. Spring in the higher valleys (mid-March to May) has warm days (20 °C) and cool nights. June marks the beginning of summer when day temperatures warm up to 27 – 29 °C. By July, the rainy season starts and continues until mid-September. The autumn months of September to November are ideal for trekking with clear skies and mild weather. In December temperatures fall, but the days are warm and the clear, azure winter skies serve a striking background to the snow-capped peaks. On a sunny day, temperatures reach about 16-18 ° C. The nights, however, are cold with temperatures falling below freezing.
Please note: All passengers must enter on the same flight from Bangkok (BKK). The price is approximately $650-750 USD per person and MUST be booked by us.

Tour Inclusions:

  • 9 nights hotel
  • Visas will be arranged approximately 30 days prior to arrival
  • Private transportation
  • Local guides for sightseeing
  • All entrances and sightseeing mentioned above are included
  • All meals mentioned above: 9 Breakfasts, 9 Lunches, 9 Dinners
  • All applicable taxes

Tour Exclusions:

  • International Flights (Flights MUST be booked as a group)
  • Services not specified
  • Mandatory Travel Insurance
  • Optional trip cancellation insurance
  • Gratuities for guides, porters, and drivers
  • Meals not mentioned in the itinerary
  • Personal items

Date: March 23-April 1, 2018

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