1. Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery
Legends say that Guru Rimpoche (Saint Padmasambhava), flying upon a Tigress landed on a cliff where the cave of Taktsang Pelphug stood. In 1692, Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgye visited the place and built a temple dedicated to the great Saint. Taktsang is perhaps the most renowned monastery in Bhutan. Perched on a cliff at 900 meters above the Paro Valley, Taktsang is a truly magnificent structure. Your Bhutan tour cannot be complete without a visit to the Tiger’s Nest. The monastery building consist of four main temples interwoven by stairways made within rocks. The monastery today is a combination of four caves, one of which was where Guru Rimpoche had actually meditated! You can view the monastery from afar but a close look will reveal the beautiful structure and its interiors adorned with ornate Buddhist motifs and idols. To reach Taktsang, you will need to drive for about 30-40 minutes to the Taktsang base and then hike for about 2 hours to reach a ridge from where the monastery comes in full view. Every Bhutan tour includes a hike to the Tiger’s nest because of its austere beauty that quite bedazzle the eye and the senses.
2. Bumthang Travel
Bumthang is one of the most beautiful districts of Bhutan. Known for its four valleys Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume and the scenic views they command, Bumthang is at the core of any Bhutan tour that combines a scenic and spiritual experience. In this realm of surreal beauty and wilderness, you can relish the infrequency of pure stillness and the captivating essence of Bhutanese hinterlands. Bumthang invites to visit its intensely striking outdoors to experience its religious roots and incredible scenery that give you a whiff of what Bhutan’s natural heritage is all about. You can reach Bumthang from Thimphu via road in 4 hours. From Trongsa, it will take about 2 hours. While in Bumthang you can revel in its beautiful villages or visit the famous monasteries like Kurjey Lhakhang, Tamshing monastery and Jambay Lhakhang. The name Bumthang actually means “flat land” in Dzongkha (Bhutanese state language) and rightly so, because Bumthang’s natural richness is found through villages perched above dramatic hillocks mingled with meadows, forests, medieval religious centers and the sounds of exotic Himalayan birds. Other attractions in Bumthang include the imposing Jakar Dzong which was a medieval fortress now serving as a monastery as well as an administrative centre. Your Bhutan tour must include an excursion of Bumthang.
3. Phobjika Valley with Gangtey
People who take a tour of Bhutan describe Phobjikha as a place where "nature lives in full glory". This is a beautiful land dotted with valleys that are encircled by mountains and which completes your Bhutan travel with a serene experience. At 3000 metres above sea level, Phobjikha stands at the border of the Jigme Singye National Park. It is also famous for Gangtey, one of its valleys where migratory Black Necked Cranes arrive every winter. In Phobjikha, you can explore a resplendently unharmed natural expanse, with its enormous wildlife settlements, ornate green countryside, and soaring mountains sheltering small villages where Bhutanese culture flourishes. While at Gangtey, you can aslo visit the 17th century Gangteng monastery from which the valley gets its name. Phobjikha is renowned for its similarity and the unique culture of its populace. It is a bio diversity hotspot that attracts thirteen globally endangered species along with the famed black necked cranes. In Phobjikha you can visit the Nyelung Dechenling, a 14th century monastery perched on a hill overlooking the valley. You can also visit the Kumbhu Lhakhang, set across a beautiful meadow. Other attractions include the Black Necked Crane Information Centre and the Wangmo Carpet Factory. You can reach Phobjikha from Punakha in about 3 hours and a similar amount of time is required to reach from Thimphu.
As the winter seat of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955. Located at an elevation of 1,200m, Punakha sits in a sumptuous, fertile and beautiful valley at the junction of the Mo Chu (Mother River) and Pho Chu (Father River). With a rich history that combines cultures steeped in tradition and religion, Punakha makes up a fascinating center of your quintessential Bhutan tour, where you can witness a pristine wonderland of jaw-dropping land, water, and hill expanses that take your breath away. It is 72kms away from Thimphu and is the administrative centre of 20 districts of Bhutan. A tour of Punakha also demands visiting the imposing Punakha Dzong, a fortress that serves as a monastery as well as an administrative building standing at the confluence of two Rivers. Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang was built in 1637 by Tuebi Zaow Balip at the instructions of the great Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of modern Bhutan. The Dzong, surrounded by beautiful peach blossoms, keeps the most sacred relics of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu School and also the sacred remains of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Tertön Padma Lingpa. Bhutan tour invariably skirts along Punakha and is a delightful stop for excursions.
5. Haa Valley
If your Bhutan tour demands an observation of rustic charm, from villages and farms to temples, forests and valleys, in their natural situations, a tour of the Haa valley is a must. Haa Valley, situated in the farthest corner of Western Bhutan is one of the most scenic valleys in the country. Whatever your motive for a Bhutan tour, reaching and exploring the Haa valley must always be the primary reason. This secluded region is situated behind the mountain ridge of Chele La and is incidentally the smallest district of Bhutan with the lowest population in comparison to other provinces. People of Haa valley are commonly known as “Haap” and depend on agriculture for survival. The distance from Thimphu to Haa is 114 km and it will take you 3 to 4 hours to reach there. From the border town of Phuntsheoling, at a distance of 223 km, the drive will take you about 6 hours. If you are arriving at Paro Airport, you can reach Haa valley in about 2 hours. While you are in Haa, you can also visit a few exotic and old temples and monasteries like Kapro Lhakhang and Nagpo Lhakhang (Black), the white and black temples, respectively. You can also visit a century old Tagchu Goemba monastery which stands at the centre of the valley and adds to the aesthetics of its surroundings, perfectly.
A Bhutan tour encompassing a stop at Trongsa is an enchanting exploration of this intensely Buddhist land where we come across pilgrim paths between spectacular hilltop villages. This is the ancestral land of the Wangchuk Dynasty, a dig into the fascinating history of Bhutan. Trongsa, situated at an elevation of 2300m is tucked away in a tiny corner of Bhutan—an isolated realm of ancient hill-top fortress, monasteries and scenic views. Trongsa is at a distance of 192km from Thimphu. If you choose to travel from Bumthang, it takes about 2 hours. The picturesque splendor of Trongsa is accentuated by the Trongsa Dzong, a fortress built in 1644 A.D. Until 1907. Even today, the Crown Prince first has to become the Trongsa Penlop or Governer to make a claim to the throne of Bhutan. Constructed on a mountain top over the Mangde Chu River, the Dzong once acted as a protective building overlooking all sides. High above the Trongsa Dzong is a watchtower, called "Ta Dzong. You can also visit the Thruepang Palace, the birthplace of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Other attractions in Trongsa include the Karma Drubdey Nunnery and Kuenga Rabten, a palace that has an enormous collection of books and is the venue of exciting archery tournaments.
With so much to see and do in the Thimphu, the capital amazes and astonishes every visitor. As a part of the Bhutan tour experience from a sensational road trip across the hills of Bhutan, you may feel surrounded by adventure, were it not for stable street walks, gracious hospitality, the historical and religious attractions of the capital of Bhutan. Thimphu is unlike any other capital in the world. It is sombre, relaxed and utterly beautiful, a perfect stop during a Bhutan tour. In Thimphu, you can visit the Tashichoo Dzong, the official Dzong of Bhutan, built in the 12th century. Other places to visit are Changangkha Lhakhang, a 12th century temple built high above on a ridge chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, and National Memorial Chorten, a large Central Stupa built in 1974 as a memorial to the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. You must also visit the National Textile Museum, which displays Bhutan’s unique handloom textiles famed across the world. About 5km south of Thimphu, on the old road to Paro is the magnificent Simthokha Dzong built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Many travellers also prefer making a hike to the Tango and Cheri monasteries. The ornate Tango monastery was built in the instructions of Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman in the 15th century while Cheri monastery was constructed in 1620.
8. Jigme Dorji National Park, Gasa
Trekking around the Jigme Dorji National park lets you in on the wild side of Bhutan, an absolute treat for adventure, wildlife and nature lovers. Located in the North-western part of Bhutan and covering an expanse of 4,316 km2, this is the second largest natural preserve in the country. Many important and acclaimed treks in Bhutan are routed along this area, reaching maximum elevations to get to astounding views of the Bhutan Himalayas. This is the only park in the world where the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Snow leopard cohabit. All four of Bhutan’s national symbols, the Cypress tree, the Blue Poppy flower, the Raven bird and the Takin are found here. The park also has numerous hot springs and medicinal baths. Located at a distance of 122 km from Thimphu, the national park is well connected by road but getting to the innermost portions of the park, one must embark on a prepared trekking adventure. Over 37 species of Himalayan mammals and 300 species of birds have been recorded within the park. These include animals like the Snow Leopard, Takin, Tiger, Black Bear, Blue Sheep and Red Panda. The park is also known for the exhilarating views of Mount Jomolhari and Mount Jitchu Drake among a host of other colossal peaks. Trekking in Bhutan is a glorious experience that must be on the bucket list of every adventure enthusiast.
9. Dagala Thousand Lakes
Boasting of many striking views, there is no other short adventure in the list of Bhutanese ramblings that packs in such a diversity of epic highlights. Combining the remote corners of Bhutan with views of Everest (8,848m), Kanchenjunga (8,586m), Jomolhari (7,326m) , Jichu Drake (6,662m), Tserimgang, Kangbum, Masagang, Tsendegang and Gangchenta, the richest combination of cultural and natural history imaginable, Dagala is an amazing hiking experience in short span of time. This trek begins at the village of Genekha which is about an hour’s drive from Paro. It then takes you to Gur, Labatama, Pankha, Talakha, Chamgang and ends at the capital city of Thimphu. The trail ascends along the western side of Dala Tsho up to a ridge at 4520m which is the highest point in the trek. This is the spot that gives you crystal clear mountain views. The trek encompasses exploring Bhutan's ancient routes, the secluded steep walks, and jaw-dropping forest and mountain views, and spend five days in the wilderness encountering wondrous wildlife. This takes you across diverse landscapes that include lakes and alpine forests, and to the unimaginable heights of mountain passes that will always remain a part of your memory.
10. Lungchutse Monastery
Getting to Lungchutse monastery involves a short hike that can be done as a loop starting from Dochula and ending at Hongtsho village, though there are many routes to get there and now many itineraries have sprung up around this region. Brilliantly scenic and extremely compelling, the view from Lungchutse monastery is a traveller’s dream. Himalayan views of mountains and Buddhist sutra banners mingle beautifully on your hike to the monastery. Snow-capped mountains and terraced fields share the landscape with Rhododendron, Bamboo and Juniper forests. You get exquisite views of Mount Jomolhari (7,326 m) among a host of other mountain peaks including Masanggang, and Gangkhar Puensum (7060m) which is the highest mountain peak in Bhutan. The hills and mountains burst with colour and shades from the view point. Far away you can see the Gasa Dzong and other tiny settlements. During your Bhutan tour, you must definitely try this hike because while it may be short but the elevated heights you gain is very rewarding to the eyes. This carefully crafted journey introduces you to Bhutan’s unique vistas and striking geography revealing our some of the best views in the Himalayas that are otherwise hidden during a short Bhutan tour.
Before you Travel
- All Westerners must hire a tour company to get their visas to Bhutan approved. You cannot make a Bhutan tour without hiring a proper company.
- During your Bhutan tour, there are checkpoints between provinces where your visa is verified
- Many places in Bhutan might require you to get zonal permits but you can tour any part of the country.
- Tobacco is banned in Bhutan so if you are a smoker, bring your own cigarettes but only up to 200.
- While Cannabis plants grow invariably, smoking weed is a public offense.
- Do not disrespect the Royal family.
- You can bring US dollars or Indian Rupees and change them into the local currency, Ngultrum
How to reach Bhutan
- You can fly into Bhutan to the Paro International Airport
- Take an overland journey from India to Phuentsoling
Culture & Norms
- You can find many restaurants serving western food but in rural regions you will get local cuisines which are normally very hot.
- You can see a lot of phallic symbols during your Bhutan tour. It is a symbol of fertility revered by the Bhutanese.
- Mountaineering is forbidden in Bhutan as the mountains are considered extremely sacred.
- Carry a set of proper clothing because you will have to wear long pants, shoes and long sleeved shirts while visiting a Dzong.