The Bhutanese pride themselves on a sustainable approach to tourism in line with the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Firstly, to bust a myth: there is no limit to tourist visas. Visitors famously pay a minimum tariff of US$250 per day, making it appear as one of the world's more expensive destinations. However, this fee is all-inclusive – accommodation, food, transport and an official guide are all provided. You don't have to travel in a large group and you can arrange your own itinerary. What you won't find is backpacker-style travel.
Bhutan holds many surprises. This is a country where the rice is red and where chillies aren't just a seasoning but the main ingredient. It's also a deeply Buddhist land, where monasteries are part of the mainstream, and where giant protective penises are painted beside the entrance to many houses. While it visibly maintains its Buddhist traditions, Bhutan is not a museum. You will find the Bhutanese well educated, fun loving and vibrant
When you visit Bhutan, you will become one of the few who have experienced the natural charm of the first country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. By law, at least 60% of the country must remain forested for all future generations. You will experience Bhutan's natural wonders first-hand when travelling the mountain passes – resplendent with rhododendron blossom in spring. Botanical riches and unique mammals and birds are protected in several national parks, and a mountain trek is one of the best ways to experience the Himalaya
So why spend your money to come here? Firstly there is the amazing Himalayan landscape, where snowcapped peaks rise above shadowy gorges cloaked in primeval forests. Taking up prime positions in this picture-book landscape are the majestic fortress-like dzongs and monasteries. This unique architecture embodies Buddhist culture and sets the scene for spectacular tsechus (dance festivals). Then there are the textiles and handicrafts, outrageous archery competitions, high-altitude trekking trails, and stunning flora and fauna. If it's not 'Shangri La', it's as close as it gets.
As a former conservation biologist, for me there's lots to love about Bhutan. The mountains are carpeted in diverse forests that sing with birds, and it's the opportunity to explore this relatively untouched corner of the Himalaya that keeps me coming back. A highlight of my recent trip was a pair of rufous-necked hornbills feeding right beside the road. Bhutan's Buddhist tradition of respect and reverence for nature plus its amazing festivals and engaging people are the headlines to a rewarding and complex story about a beautiful Himalayan kingdom with a unique outlook on progress.
Day 01: Arrive Paro by Druk Air
Druk Airways flight to Bhutan is one of the most spectacular in entire Himalayas. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu or over the foothills from Kolkatta, each flight is a mesmerizing aeronautical feat and offers an exciting descent into the Kingdom.
On arrival at Paro airport, immigration and custom formalities and then received by our representative and transfer to the hotel.
Evening take a stroll around town's main street. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 02: Paro
After breakfast, visit Ta Dzong (National Museum) and then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong which has a long and fascinating history.
Afternoon visit Drukgyel Dzong, the ruined fortress from where Bhutanese repelled several invasion by Tibetan armies. Then visit a traditional farm house which offers good insight into lifestyle of local people.
In the evening, visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom.
Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 03: Paro / Thimphu (60 km, 2 hours)
After breakfast proceed to Thimphu, the modern capital town of Bhutan. Enroute stop at Chuzom (confluence) where Paro river joins Thimphu river. Nearby Thimphu, visit Simtokha Dzong, the oldest fortress of the Kingdom which now houses the School for Buddhist studies.
Afternoon, in Thimphu, visit King's Memorial Chhorten and Trashichhodzong, beautiful medieval fortress/monastery.
Then, visit Handicrafts Emporium, Textile and Folk Heritage Museum followed by visit local market.
Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu.
Day 04: Thimphu - Punakha (70 km, 3 hours)
Morning, Thimphu sightseeing, visiting National Library, Painting School and Traditional Medicine Institute.
After lunch, drive to Punakha, the old capital town of Bhutan. Stop enroute at Dochula pass (3,050m) that heralds the most enchanting views of Bhutan.
On arrival, check into the hotel. Evening visit Punakha Dzong, the fortress of 17th century and later visit Khamsm Yulley Namgyal Chhorten.
Overnight at the hotel in Punakha.
Day 05: Punakha / Wangduephodrang / Gangtey (70 km, 3 hours)
After breakfast drive to Gangtey via Wangduephodrang. Visit majestic Wangdue Dzong and interesting local market.
Further ahead pass through dense forests and oak, rhododendron tress, reaching at Gangtey (Phobjikha).
Evening take a walk around Gangtey village and visit Gangtey Gompa, the only Nyingmapa monastery in this region.
Overnight at Camp / Guest House.
Day 06: Gangtey / Trongsa (120 km, 4.1/2 hours)
Morning explore Phobjikha valley which is famous for Black Necked Cranes. The cranes migrate here from Central Asiatic plateau to escape its harsh winters.
After lunch drive to Trongsa crossing 3,300m high Pele la pass. Evening visit Trongsa market.
Overnight at the lodge in Trongsa.
Day 07: Trongsa / Bumthang (68 km, 3 hours)
Morning visit Trongsa Dzong, the master piece of Bhutanese architecture and see Ta Dzong, the watch tower, built to defend this Dzong and surrounding region.
After lunch, proceed to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation. Evening at leisure. Dinner and overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.
Day 08: Bumthang
Bumthang is the general name given to combination of four valleys – Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura with altitude varying from 2,600m to 4,000m. It is home to many of prominent Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Visit Tamshing Lhakhang, the treasure house of interesting religious Buddhist paintings. Then visit, Jakar Dzong, the administrative centre of the valley.
Afternoon visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places. Later visit Jambay Lhakhang, the ancient monastery dating from the introduction of Buddhism in the country.
Evening visit local shops. Overnight at the lodge in Bumthang.
Day 09: Bumthang / Wangduephodrang (205 km, 7 hours)
Morning after visiting Bumthang market, drive to Wangdue . Lunch would be served enroute at one of the famous restaurant in Trongsa town.
Evening take a stroll around Wangdue town, visiting shops, local market and mingling with people.
Overnight at the hotel in Wangduephodrang.
Day 10: Wangduephodrang / Paro (77 km, 3 hours)
Morning excursion to Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behaviour to dramatise his teachings and due to this also known as ‘Divine Madman'. This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. It is about 30 minute walk across field from the road to the temple. The trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning 'field'. It then follows a tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang.
Afteroon drive to Paro. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 11: Paro (Excursion to Haa valley)
Start the day early for drive to Haa via Chele-la pass. 4 Km away at Bondey village the road to Haa diverts towards the right hand side and the climb up towards the chele-la pass starts. After driving through blue pine & rhododendron forest for 45 km, reach Chele-la pass ( 4200 meters). From this point one can have a superb views of Mount. Chomolhari & Jichu Drakey. This is a very good place to walk around for few minutes enjoying the view. Drive on to Haa, descending all the way for another 22 km (under an hours drive), finally reaching Haa. The Haa Dzong is presently occupied by military, but the view from outside is stunning. After picnic lunch visit the famous Monastery Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) followed by visit Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to have no difference with that of Lhasa JOWO in Tibet. The construction of the Lakhang Karpo is believed to have been assisted by the locality. As a result the place came to be locally known as 'Hay' meaning' surprise' which later became 'Haa' due to the differences in interpretations and pronunciations of different people over time.
The three giant hills looming over the fringes of Haa valley were called 'Me Rig Puen Sum' especially after the incidence of the Lhakhang Kdarpo construction. Today the three hills are popularly known as 'Rig Sum Goenpa' signijfying three deities-Jambayang Chana Dorji and Chenrizig.
Later, other Buddhist saints like Guru Rinpoche and 'Machi Labdorn' came to the Jungney Drag in Haa and blessed the locality. The principal religion followed is Drukpa Kagyud.
After the arrival of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the chief guardian deity of Haa became Ap Chundu.
Later in the afternoon drive to Paro same way back. The drive will be under 3 hours. Overnight at the hotel in Paro.
Day 12: Depart Paro
After breakfast transfer to the airport for flight to onward destination.