- Duration 15 Days
- Difficulty 4/5
- Group Size 10
The Tiger’s Nest, Wildlife & Festivals
11 – 25 November, 2023
Join us on a trip to Bhutan, known as ‘Druk Yul’ or ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, one of the most interesting countries in the world. A tiny Himalayan kingdom, of less than 800,000 souls, Bhutan is famous for a statement made by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.
This is mostly a cultural trip where we intend to fully immerse ourselves amongst the wonderful people. Most of the country practices Buddhism and our plan is to attend two separate and remote religious festivals. While the vast majority of visitors to Bhutan concentrate on either of the two major festivals in the capital of Thimphu or Paro in the west of the country our trip deliberately avoids this over-abundance of foreign tourists. Most trips indeed only concentrate on the more developed western region whereas we intend to cross the country from west to east exiting into Assam in India. It is truly spectacular to do so. As we travel east, on the precipitous mountain road, we appear to go further and further back in time to reach the more traditional and ‘real’ Bhutan, where the past is still the present, escaping the influences of our more familiar ‘western’ world. We will head into a region evermore rural where farm houses are decorated with huge painted phalluses on their walls in the hope of a blessed fertility to the home-owners. Our thinking is that rather than finishing the trip where accommodation becomes gradually more comfortable, but tradition less so, we wanted to ‘acclimatise’ to the culture in Paro and environs before heading east where we will have better understanding and appreciation of where we are and whom we are among. Our aim is to leave Bhutan with a deeper, more indelible memory of the incredible place that it is.
Bhutan is a country of abundant and diverse wildlife and with little heavy industry the air quality and natural areas are both vast and pristine. It is a small but burgeoning economy based on agriculture, forestry, tourism and the sale of hydro-electric power to India. Agricultural products include the famous Bhutanese red rice, the ubiquitous red chillies and dairy products, mostly from yaks. However, despite developments, traditional dress is still required in many venues which consists, for men, of a gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist with a cloth belt and knee-length socks. Women wear an ankle-length dress, the kira, held in place at the shoulders by two identical brooches. The people are very friendly and easy to interact with, they are often seen in the countryside enjoying the national sport of archery, something we will get to try out for ourselves.
We first visited Bhutan more than 20 years ago and have been there another 4 times since. It will be fabulous to be back! Although this is centred around being a cultural trip we will also see a host of wildlife, especially birds, which may include the rare ibisbill, green magpies, mountain hawk eagles, wallcreepers, red-vented bulbuls and scarlet minivets. We may see grey langurs and barking deer while there is always the chance too to spot a rare red panda! There has recently been mandated (July 2022) an official surcharge, the ‘Sustainable Development Fee’ of US$200 per person per day to be paid to the government for visitors. This has been included in the trip cost.
Join us in a country often referred to, as the last Shangri-La
NB Flights into Paro, Bhutan currently arrive from Kathmandu, Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Bangkok and Singapore
USD $9,750.00 Per person sharing estimated cost
Single Supplement: USD $ 900.00 (limited to two)
Arrival: Paro Airport, Bhutan
Departure: Guwahati Airport, Assam, India
Arrival Time: Afternoon of 11 November, 2023
- Land transportation as indicated in the itinerary.
- Accommodations in a standard room at hotels and lodges based on double occupancy.
- Airport arrival and departure transfers.
- Meals throughout the expedition.
- All entry fees.
- Tips to guides and drivers.
- Bottled drinking water.
- Local English-speaking driver/guide.
- One Pete Oxford Expeditions trip leader.
- International airfare to arrive in Paro, Bhutan.
- International airfare to depart Guwahati, India.
- Personal laundry and drinks not mentioned in the itinerary.
- Travel insurance.
- Excess baggage charges.
- Any other services not mentioned as included.
- Any other COVID 19 related costs or tests.
ADay 1, November 11th, 2023: Arrive to Paro, Bhutan
The expedition begins at the gateway town of Paro, home to the countries only international airport, where we transfer to our hotel for check in. If time allows we will then head out to visit the Drukgyel Dzong, a fortress, considered one of the most famous archaeological sites in Bhutan and offering magnificent views of Mount Jomolhari (7,300m). The Paro Valley is one of Bhutan’s most fertile regions producing the bulk of the well-known red rice in the terraced paddies.
Overnight in hotel. Dinner will be in a local restaurant followed by a briefing about the trip.
BDay 2, November 12th, 2023: Paro and The Tiger’s Nest – Taktsang
Today begins with breakfast at the hotel followed by a slow but strenuous hike to the world-renown Tiger’s Nest monastery (Taktsang). The site clings to the cliff edge 3,000 feet above the valley floor at 10,00 feet in altitude. There are 700 steps but it is worth it! The site is where a great tantric mystic flew on the back of a tiger and brought the teachings of the Buddhist Darma to Bhutan. On the way we will rest to hang prayer flags to redress our inner imbalance in the search for happiness! Lunch will be at the cafeteria in the monastery before we slowly begin our descent.
In the afternoon what better place to visit than a local micro-brewery! For a welcome glass of red rice lager.
Overnight and dinner at the hotel.
CDay 3, November 13th, 2023: Paro to Punakha
After breakfast we take a road trip to Punakha approximately 115 kilometers from Paro. As always, when on the road, we will stop for anything interesting where time allows. En route we drive over the mountain pass of Doch La, where, weather permitting, we have a clear panoramic view of the Himalayan peaks. Near the top of the pass we will visit the Lamperi Botanical Garden where we might have a short hike or visit the small lake. The gardens are home to an unprecedented 46 rhododendron species (which unfortunately will be past their blooming season).
Punakha is in a sub-tropical valley, and once served as Bhutan’s capital. Once here we will visit two monasteries, the first an auspicious fertility monastery and the second, the Nalanda Monastery, with a chance to see the monks partake in their evening prayers.
Overnight in a Punakha hotel.
CDay 4, November 14th, 2023: Punakha
After an early breakfast we will visit the 400 year old Punakha Dzong. Bhutan’s second largest fortress it is regarded as the most artistic and aesthetically pleasing in the country. We will interact with the local people as we explore the area. Later we will drive to Gyatshothang farm house where Aum Karma Yangchen will be our host. We will spend the full afternoon with her on the farm helping and learning about what goes on there. We might even get involved in a team effort to cook her organic produce before we eat it! Karma also happens to be an expert textile designer and dyer. Her biggest honour being to design the Royal Gho for His Majesty the King of Bhutan’s 2008 coronation.
Overnight in Punakha hotel.
DDay 5, November 15th, 2023: Punakha to Gangtey
After breakfast we drive to the beautiful glacial valley of Gangtey. The valley is best known as home to the rare black-necked cranes which arrive from Tibet to spend November through March in Bhutan. The valley is a protected area and apart from the cranes we will search for a wide variety of other species that live there. Moving on we will visit the Gangtey monastery seated atop a hill overlooking almost the entire Phobjikha Valley. The monastery is one of the most pious sites in the kingdom and houses many ancient relics as well as the monk’s ‘hostel’, a butter lamp house and a meditation centre.
Overnight in Gangtey hotel.
DDay 6, November 16th, 2023: Gangtey
After a hearty breakfast we will set out on a nature walk, hiking the Gangtey Nature Trail. Beginning just north of Gangtey Gompa we walk through a mix of pine and bamboo habitat for a couple of hours or so. Views are also beautiful from the trail. The afternoon takes us to another local farmhouse where our plan is to mix it up with the locals in an archery contest.
Overnight in Gangtey hotel.
EDay 7, November 17th, 2023: Gangtey to Bumthang
Today we have a spectacular drive on the only east/west highway in Bhutan. Here we really feel that we are heading in to little explored territory. The road is carved out of the mountain face and offers spectacular views overlooking deep river valleys, terraced farmland and across to precariously perched traditional farm houses. We head to Bumthang via Trongsa which takes us across the Black Mountain Range dividing western from central Bhutan. Our winding road takes us through oak and rhododendron forest and across the Pele-la Pass. Arriving at Trongsa we will visit the centuries old watchtower standing on a promontory above the town. It houses a fascinating museum. Onward into Bumthang and over the Yotong-la Pass we head down into the home of the locally famous Yatra weavings. What is left of the day will see us exploring the area and searching out some of the traditional weavers.
Overnight Bumthang hotel.
EDay 8, November 18th, 2023: Bumthang
Bumthang is the general name given to four valleys, namely Chume, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, ranging in altitude from 2,600 to 4,000m. The area is home to many Buddhist temples and monasteries. Today we will do a walking pilgrimage of the three main temples. The first, dating back to the seventh century, was one of 108 temples built by king Songsten Gampo of Tibet to subdue a demoness. Our walk takes us through farmland, small villages and across a suspension bridge to arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang with its very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple. On to the Red Panda Brewery and cheese factory (Swiss/ Bhutan collaboration) and back to the hotel for a wee bit of downtime.
Overnight Bumthang hotel.
EDay 9, November 19th, 2023: Bumthang
Today we range in to the seldom visited Tang Valley, where the locals are extremely proud of their sacred shrines and spiritual heritage. We will explore the valley, including the ‘Burning Lake’ where pilgrims and visitors float lighted butter lamps on the water, taking time out for lunch at the Ugenchhoeling Palace.
Overnight at Bumthang hotel.
FDay 10, November 2oth, 2023: Mongar festival
Today is our longest drive of 177km. It is spectacular. Our journey takes us through dense forests with waterfalls a national park and good opportunities for wildlife viewing. There are beautifully built traditional villages en route as we cross the Thrumsingla Pass where, on clear days, we might see Mount Gankghar Puensum (7500) a strong candidate for the world’s highest unclimbed peak. The Mongar region is also known for its weavers and textiles but the dominant language, now that we are in the east of Bhutan is Sharchop, very different from Dzongkha (the national language) spoken in the west. Here also eastern towns are built on the tops of hills and ridges whereas in the west they were in the valleys.
Overnight in a rustic hotel in Mongar.
FDay 11, November 21st, 2023: Mongar festival
After breakfast we drive to the Mongar Dzong for the festival. This will be a packed lunch day as we immerse ourselves in the bustling comings and goings as well as the colourful spectacle of the festival itself. Entire communities, in their best dress, will visit the festival to receive blessings, socialize and watch monks performing the famous mask dances. A photographers dream.
Overnight in a rustic hotel in Mongar.
GDay 12, November 22nd, 2023: Mongar to Trashigang
After an early breakfast we will take an 80km drive to Trashigang passing extensive corn fields, rice terraces and tropical fruit trees. We will make stops en route as usual. Trashigang is Bhutan’s easternmost and largest district. Its namesake town is set on a scenic hillside and is the bustling junction of the east/west highway with access to assam in India. It is the principle market place for various semi-nomadic peoples such as the Merak and Sakteng who each have their own unique dress code. There is a reputed college in town which is part of the royal University of Bhutan.
Trashigang is home to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, created in part to protect the migoi, a yeti-like creature in which many Bhutanese believe.
Overnight in Trashigang hotel.
GDay 13, November 23rd, 2023: Trashigang festival
Today we witness Trashigang festival. Again it is a feast for the eyes and an immersive experience par excellence. People from all over eastern Bhutan come to attend the celebrations and watch the incredible dances. The highlight will be the unfurling of the large thongdrel (thangka), forming a magnificent backdrop of a canvas painted with the depiction of a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche. Again a packed lunch day!
Overnight in Trashigang hotel.
HDay 14, November 24th, 2023: Trashigang to Samdrupjonkghar
Back on to a better road we drive the 170km (only 59 km as the crow flies) to the border town of Samdrupjonkghar, the oldest town in Bhutan. A bustling little town packed with shopkeepers and hawkers from across the border. We will notice a very dramatic change in vegetation to sal and teak forest a little before we arrive at the lowland community. We explore the settlement before settling down to dinner and rest in our hotel.
Overnight in Samdrupjongkhar hotel.
IDay 15, November 25th, 2023: Guwahati
We say goodbye to our Bhutanese guide and driver as we board our Indian transfer vehicle which will take us the three hours across the border and into the amazing state of Assam in north east India, back down close to sea level, where we will be taken to the airport in Guwahati for our onward flight home. Here the trip ends.
Day room in Guwahati hotel for those with a later flight out.
Discover the world with experienced travelers
Photographer | Owner | Trip Leader
Pete Oxford lived in Ecuador, for 34 years from 1985, but now resides in Betty’s bay, South Africa with his South African wife Renee Bish. He works as part of a professional photographic and tour leading team, usually with his wife Renee as part of Pete Oxford Expeditions. They specialize in wildlife and indigenous cultures. Pete began in tourism in 1987 while living as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands. He has been to Bhutan five times and is well known for his ability to ‘break the ice’ with the locals – a talent much appreciated by his guests.
He brings a depth of knowledge, experience and humour to each destination.