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Bhutan

 

 

INTRODUCTION TO BHUTAN TOURS AND TREKS     [ top ]



Hi Flying Tour and Treks is one of the largest and most experienced Tour Operators to Bhutan .

Equipped with a team of dedicated professionals and supported by an excellent infrastructure, we are committed to offer you the very best. This booklet contains details of our various programs of Cultural Tours, Treks and Special Interest Tours, through which we hope to acquaint you with mystical Bhutan . Whatever your choice, we are confident of delivering the best. We will guide you to experience all that is special about Bhutan , whether it be awe-inspiring mountain views, colorful religious festivals, or simply the charm and gracious hospitality of the people.

Hi Flying Tour Guides
All Hi Flying tours are escorted by well trained and knowledgeable English-speaking guides, certificated by the Tourism Authority of Bhutan. The services of guides speaking other languages (e.g. Japanese, German, French) may also be provided with sufficient prior notice and at additional cost.
Our group leaders are well versed in their different fields. From trekking to culture, and ornithology to botany, we have the best informed tour leaders in the country. They work with the single-minded objective of acquainting you with Bhutan to the best of their ability. They will open the doors of this last hidden kingdom to you and bid you welcome.

SPECIAL INTEREST TOURS

Listed below is a selection of our special interest group tours, detailed itineraries for which are available on request. Tours for groups with other special interests can also be arranged – just send us your requirements.

  • Agricultural practices & rituals
  • Alpine flowers
  • Bird watching
  • Botanical tours
  • Buddhist teaching & meditation (introductory & refresher)
  • Fishing trips
  • Handicrafts & textiles
  • Mountain bike touring
  • Rafting & kayaking

BHUTAN – MOUNTAIN KINGDOM OF ENCHANTMENT         [ top ]

The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas , bordered by China ( Tibet ) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh , Assam , West Bengal and Sikkim on the east, south and west respectively.

With an area of 38,394 square km., Bhutan is comparable to Switzerland both in its size and topography. The mighty Himalayas protected Bhutan from the rest of the world and left it blissfully untouched through the centuries. The Drukpa Kagyupa school of Mahayana Buddhism provided the essence of a rich culture and a fascinating history. The Bhutanese people protected this sacred heritage and unique identity for centuries by choosing to remain shrouded in a jealously guarded isolation.

The kingdom is peopled sparsely, with a population approaching 700,000. Four main linguistic groups constitute Bhutan 's population: the Sharchopas, who are held to be indigenous inhabitants, the Bumthangpas and the Ngalongpas who originate in neighboring Tibet , and the Lhotshampas, recent immigrants of Nepalese origin. The inhabitants of Bhutan are gracious, gentle and very hospitable. They are peace loving and possess a lively sense of humor.

The history of the kingdom dates back to the 8th century, with Guru Padmasambhava's legendary flight from Tibet to Bhutan in 747 AD on the back of a tigress. The Guru, also considered as the second Buddha, arrived in Taktsang (Tiger's Nest), on the cliffs above the valley of Paro, and from there began propagation of the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. In the ensuing centuries many great masters preached the faith, resulting in the full bloom of Buddhism in the country by the middle ages. Although sectarian at first, the country was eventually unified under the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in the early 17 th century, by the religious figure, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Shabdrung codified a comprehensive system of laws and built dzongs which guarded each valley during unsettled times, and nowadays serve as the religious and administrative centers of their respective regions. In the next two centuries, the nation was once again fragmented into regional fiefdoms with intermittent civil wars.

At the end of the 19th century, the Tongsa Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck, who then controlled the central and eastern regions, overcame all his rivals and united the nation once again. He was unanimously accepted as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan in 1907.

Bhutan is the only extant Mahayana Buddhist kingdom in the world of today, and the teachings of this school of Buddhism are a living faith among its people. The air of spirituality is pervasive even in urban centers where the spinning of prayer wheels, the murmur of mantras and the glow of butter lamps are still commonplace features of everyday life. Bhutan 's religious sites and institutions are not museums, but the daily refuge of the people.
One of the most striking physical features of Bhutan is its architecture. The characteristic style and color of every building and house in the kingdom is a distinct source of aesthetic pleasure. The dzongs - themselves imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without the help of any drawings and constructed entirely without nails - are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture. Patterns of rich colors adorn walls, beams, pillars and doors in traditional splendor.

As with its architecture, art and painting are important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they bear testimony to the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Whether it is on a wall, or one of the renowned thangkhas, painters use vegetable dyes to give their work an unparalleled subtle beauty and warmth. Bhutan also boasts a wealth of cottage industries, and the skills of its wood carvers, gold and silversmiths, and weavers (to name only a few) are all representative of highly developed art forms.

One of the main attractions of the kingdom is its annual religious festivals, the tsechus celebrated to honor Guru Padmasambhava (more commonly referred to as “Guru Rinpoche”). For local people, tsechus are an occasion for reverence and blessing, feasting and socializing. Two of the most popular tsechus are held at Paro and Thimphu , in spring and autumn respectively, but others are held all the year round at temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan . Attendance at one of these religious events provides an opportunity for the outsider to experience the extraordinary.
Nowhere in the Himalayas is the natural heritage more rich and varied than in Bhutan . In historical records, the kingdom is referred to as the “ Valley of Medicinal Herbs ”, a name that still applies to this day. The country's richly diverse flora and fauna result from its unique geographic location in the eastern Himalayas where the Tibetan plateau meets South Asia, its annual rainfall which is significantly higher than in the central and western Himalayas, and its considerable altitudinal variation, from 200m above sea level in the south to over 7,000m above sea level in the north, and consequent dramatic climatic variations. Because of the deep traditional reverence which the Bhutanese have for nature, the kingdom is one of the leading countries in environmental conservation. Over 70% of Bhutan 's land area is still under forest cover. Many parts of the country have been declared wildlife reserves, and are the natural habitats of rare species of both flora and fauna.

Opened for tourism in 1974, after the coronation of the present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan is perhaps the world's most exclusive tourist destination. The country still retains all the charm of the old world, and travelers experience the full glory of this ancient land as embodied in the monastic fortresses, ancient temples, monasteries and stupas which dot the countryside, prayer flags fluttering above farmhouses and on the hillsides, lush forests, rushing glacial rivers, and – perhaps most important of all – the warm smiles and genuine friendliness of the people. Each moment is special as one discovers a country which its people have chosen to preserve in all its magical purity.

Bhutan : A short background

Bhutan (Bhhu Uttan- meaning high land in Sanskrit) is also known as DrukYul, The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Bhutan is an ancient Himalayan Kingdom with India to the south and China to its north. Little has been known about Bhutan , mainly due to its rugged terrains and thick forest cover. With the difficulties of nature overcome, Bhutan is yet to be discovered!

With a size of 46,500 sq km and a population of roughly 600,000, it has left most of Bhutan 's nature unscathed by humans. It was befittingly declared as one of the ten global hotspots for environmental conservation.

The National flag is rectangular and divided diagonally into two parts with a white dragon across the middle. The upper yellow half signifies the country's secular authority of the King in fruitful action in the affairs of religion and state. The lower saffron-orange signifies the religious practice and spiritual power of Buddhism manifested in the Drukpa Kagyud and Nyingma traditions. The dragon symbolises the name of the country, Druk Yul and its white colour signifies purity and loyalty of the Bhutanese people. The snarling mouth of the dragon expresses the strength of the male and female deities protecting Bhutan while the jewels in its claws represent the wealth, prosperity and perfection of the country and the people

The National Emblem , contained in a circle, is composed of a double thunderbolt placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunderbolt represents the harmony between the secular and religious power; which results from the Buddhist religion in its Vijrayana form. The lotus symbolises purity; and the two dragons, male and female, stand for the name of the country- the Thunder Dragon (Druk Yul).

Religion: Bhutan is the only country in the world to retain the Vajrayana form of Buddhism as it state religion. The Buddhist faith plays a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. Annual festivals known as the Tshechus and Domches are spiritual occasions that are held in various parts of the kingdom. Other than being a religious occasions, it also acts a social occasion bringing people from various districts to view celebration dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche and other deities

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan . High spirited competitions are a part of all festive occasions. A team of archers shoot at targets from a distance of 200 meters. Each team has a crowd of supporters who encourage their own side and try to put off their opposition .

PLACES OF INTEREST & EXCURSIONS    [ top ]

 

PHUENTSHOLING (300m/985ft)

The gateway to the south, this town is a thriving commercial center on the northern edge of the Indian plains. Situated directly at the base of the Himalayan foothills, Phuentsholing is a fascinating mixture of Indian and Bhutanese, a perfect example of the mingling of peoples and cultures. Being a border town, Phuentsholing is a convenient entry/exit point for visiting Bhutan and also the neighboring Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam .

What to see in Phuentsholing

Kharbandi Gompa :   This beautiful monastery situated in a garden of tropical plants and flowers at an altitude of 400m /1,300ft above the town, was founded in 1967 by the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron.  The monastery contains paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha and statues of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. From the monastery garden there is a splendid view of Phuentsholing and the plains of West Bengal with their tea gardens beyond.

 

Zangtho Pelri:   This small temple built in the center of Phuentsholing town represents the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. At ground level there are statues of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche and paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The floor above contains wall paintings of the eight Bodhisattvas and statues of Avalokiteshvara and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. On the top floor, the main statue is of Amitabha.

PARO (2,200m/7,218ft)


This beautiful valley encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan 's oldest temples and monasteries, the country's only airport, and the National Museum . Mt. Chomolhari (7,300m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley, its glacial waters plunging through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro river). The Paro valley is one of the kingdom's most fertile, producing the bulk of Bhutan 's famous red rice from its terraced fields.

What to see in Paro

Drukgyel Dzong : This dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt. Chomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.

Rinpung Dzong :   The “fortress of the heap of jewels“ was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on a hill above the township. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. The valley's annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.

Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong. (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a dzong is always called a “Ta dzong”). On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paro's Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum , and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan 's exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.

Farm Houses: The natural beauty of Paro valley is enhanced by picturesque farm houses dotted about the fields and on the hillsides. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farm houses are handsome in appearance, with colorfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow the same architectural style. A visit to a farm house gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family.

Kyichu Temple (Paro)     [ top ]

Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro is one of the two oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan . The Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built it in 659.

According to a legend, Songtsen Gampo found out that he has to build 108 temples to subdue an ogress who had spread over the areas of Tibet and Bhutan . Songtsen Gampo was said to have magically multiplied himself and to have sent all of his emanations into the various areas of Tibet and Bhutan so as to erect 108 temples in one day. Kyichu Lhakhang was built to pin down the left foot of the ogress. The monument marked the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan .

The original building was rebuilt after a fire with large statue of Sakyamuni as the main figure. Other houses were constructed in 1839 by the Penlop of Paro and 25 th Je Khenpo.

The adjacent new temples was built by H.M Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuk, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, in 1968. this Lhakhang houses a 5m high statue of Guru Rinpoche and another of Tara, who represents one of the wives of king Songtsen Gampo.

Druk Choeding : This temple in Paro town was built in 1525 by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Raling in Tibet , and an ancestor of the Shabdrung, Ngawang Namgyal.

Day Hikes:

Kila Gompa (Paro)

This gompa, nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside below the Chele-la pass, is surrounded by numerous huts, perched precariously along the rock face. Kila Gompa is the serene home for 32 anims (Buddhist nuns) who lead an undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer and meditation.

Bhutan has seven nunneries, of which Kila Gompa and Buchung Karma Nunnery in Punakha are the oldest. It was initially established in the early 9 th century by Dupthob Chhoeje Norbu and Dupthob Temba as a meditation site. After being destroyed by fire, the lhakhang was reconstructed by the 25 th Je Khenpo, Sherab Gyaltshen. In 1986, Kila Gompa was officially established by the Government as a nunnery. This monastery is historically significant as a sacred meditation site for renowned saints including Dupthob Chilkarwa, of the Drukpa Kagyupa school.

Taktsang Monastery (Paro )

This most famous of Bhutan 's monasteries is perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said the Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress, and meditated at this place, hence the monastery is also called “Tiger's Nest”. This site, which has long been recognized as a most sacred place, was visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646. It is a place of pilgrimage which Bhutanese try to visit at least once in a lifetime. In April, 1998 a fire severely damaged the main structure of the building. Restoration work is now completed. The excursion up to the cafeteria which is situated on a rocky outcrop across a ravine from the monastery, takes about five hours round trip. Though the climb is steep, the journey is most worthwhile on account of the superb views en route and especially from the cafeteria viewpoint itself.

Jele Dzong (Paro )

Towards the end of the 19 th century, the power of Bhutan 's temporal head of government (known as “Desi”) weakened, and there were clashes among regional Governors. This internal strife was ended by the first king's father, popularly known as the Black Regent on account of the color he favored in his attire. The Black Regent traveled all over the country and led his army to the southern border when troops from British India threatened Bhutan . The Black Regent had a glorious victory and the battle headgear he wore then become the “Raven Crown” worn by kings of Bhutan on ceremonial occasions.

In those days, people traveled about the country by foot or on horseback, and Jele Dzong was one of several famous night halt places. In medieval times, the caretaker of Jele Dzong used to give shelter and food to both horses and riders.

The trek to Jele Dzong passes through the village of Jeshigang , and is a fairly gradual uphill climb of about five hours duration. Most of the walk is through mixed coniferous forest, and you will often glimpse white langurs, Himalayan musk deer and monal pheasants from the path. The campsite is a wide grassy ground. It is advisable to arrive here before dusk, for a magnificent view of sunset over the mountain peaks.

THIMPHU (2,400m/7,875ft)

The capital town of Bhutan , and the center of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu is a lively place, an interesting combination of tradition and modernity. Home to civil servants, expatriates and the monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.

What to see in Thimphu

National Memorial Chorten : The building of this chorten was originally the idea of Bhutan 's third king, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan ”), who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. After His Majesty's untimely death in 1972, the Royal Family and Cabinet resolved to fulfill his wishes and erect a memorial that would perpetuate his memory and also serve as a monument to peace. The National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974 . The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

Tashichhodzong : The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty's secretariat, and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu (held in autumn) and while the monk body is resident in its winter quarters in Punakha.

Simtokha Dzong : This dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands on a low ridge 8 km. down the valley from Thimphu . The Institute for Language and Culture Studies is located here. The most noteworthy artistic feature of this dzong is the series of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.

National Library : The National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan 's cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. This collection, known as the Choekey Collection, mainly comprises Buddhist literature written in Choekey, the religious script of Northern Buddhism, but also includes works written in Tibetan and in Dzongkha , Bhutan 's national language. There is also a small Foreign Books Collection, stock of which mainly comprises works written in English, with subject interest on Buddhist studies, Bhutan , the Himalayan region and neighboring countries.

Institute for Zorig Chusum: Commonly known as the Painting School , the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan . On a visit one can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.

National Institute of Traditional Medicine : In Bhutan , equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners.

The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around and view it from the outside.

Changangkha Temple ( Thimphu )       [ top ]

It's one of the oldest temple in Thimphu valley, built by a descendant of Phajo Drugom Shigpo, the founder of the Drukpa school in Bhutan . The main figure here is an image of sitting Avalokiteshavra. Facing the entrance the murals also include an authentic depiction of Tsangpa Gya-re, the founder of Drukpa Kagyed School in Tibet 12 th century. It has superb view overlooking entire Thimphu Valley with prayer flags floating in the wind.

Drubthob Monastery (Nunnery)    [ top ]

The monastery was founded by a later emanation of Drubthob Thangthong Gyalpo (1361 – 1485) who built temples and iron-chain bridges in Bhutan and Tibet . At present there are about sixty nuns residing in the small complex. It has fantastic view of Tashichhodzong and National Assembly building, especially in the afternoon.

Zoo (Takins )      [ top ]

The national animal of Bhutan, traditional lore says that Drukpa Kuenley, also popularly known as divine madman, created this strange looking animal from the leftover of different animals parts. It does looks like cross between goat and moose. If time permits, you can take a 30 minutes easy walk around the fence, where you can also see few barking deer and sambar deer.

Folk and Heritage Museum

It gives you complete picture of rural life in Bhutan . The museum is three-storied traditional farmhouse of typical constructions with all homemade accessories and subsistence farming. It tells us how farmers are self-sufficient and self-reliance in isolated far-flung interior ragged terrain. Little mechanization with no competition but much stronger social ties in the community.

Textile Museum

It highlights the traditional weavings from different parts of Bhutan . It houses a series of changing exhibitions especially from east. The pattern designs and colours sometimes signify different religious elements. Especially appliqué and embroidery are ceremonial purposes. Live demonstration of weaving and embroidery is available at all times during working hours.

Handicrafts shops : A wide assortment of colorful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller crafts shops around the town.

Weekend Market : Most of the Thimphu 's population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the river. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy souvenirs.

Archery: Archery is the national sport of Bhutan . High spirited competitions are a part of all festive occasions. A team of archers shoot at targets from a distance of 150 meters. Each team has a crowd of supporters who encourage their own side and try to put off their opposition.

Archery practice is played on every weekend and on National Holiday everywhere

PUNAKHA  (1,300m/4,265ft)

Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. There are splendid views from Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) on the Thimphu - Punakha road.

What to see in Punakha

Punakha Dzong : Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch. The dzong is open for visitors during the Punakha festival (early spring) and in the summer months, after the monk body has returned to Thimphu .

Chime Lhakhang: Located 45 minutes hike from the Lobesa village is this Monastery . Famous Trantric Monk Drukpa Kuenley visited Bhutan in the 15 th century , He was better known as, the “divine madman”. His outrageous nature of teachings often involved strong sexual connotations and used his phallus as the most important symbolic tool for all his teachings, and to destroy demons and evil spirits. Under the guise of thoughtless womanizing, one of the Lam's greatest gift to countless beneficiaries was children.

Every year hundreds of people from all corners of the Bhutan make pilgrimages to Chhime Lhakhang, an ancient monastery near Punakha, dedicated to fertility and founded by Lam Drukpa Kuenley, to pray for children. They get blessed by a symbolic phallus which represents the sign of fertility and other relegious objects of the Lam. It will take only few stories of the Lam to understand why everyone in this magical kingdom believes that the Lam's blessings will help a woman concieve.

WANGDUEPHODRANG (1,300m/4,265ft)

Located south of Punakha and the last town before central Bhutan , Wangduephodrang is like an extended village with a few well-provisioned shops. The higher reaches of the Wangduephodrang valley provide rich pastureland for cattle. This district is famous for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, and slate which is mined up a valley a few km. from the town.

What to see in Wangduephodrang

Wangduephodrang Dzong : Stretched along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers, the imposing Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town's most visible feature. The dzong is open for visitors during Wangduephodrang Tsechu, celebrated in autumn.

Gangtey Gompa / Phobjikha (3,000m/9,845ft): In the mountains east of Wangduephodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha Valley , on the slopes of which is situated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km. down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate.

TONGSA (2,300m/7,545ft)

This town, perched on steep slopes above a river gorge, forms the central hub of the nation and is the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched in former times. The landscape around Tongsa is spectacular and its impressive dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding, mountain road leads you into the town itself.

What to see in Tongsa

Chendebji Chorten : En route to Tongsa is Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu 's Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet , to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.

Tongsa Dzong : Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan . Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four kings were invested as Tongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne, and the present Crown Prince now holds the post. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong's highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Tongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.

Ta Dzong : This watchtower, which once guarded Tongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a steep slope above the town. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Tongsa in Bhutan 's history.

BUMTHANG (2,600-4,500m/8,530-14,765ft)

This lovely valley is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.

What to see in Bumthang

Jambey Lhakhang : This monastery was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of 108 monasteries which he built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20 th century.

Kurje Lhakhang : Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 against the rock face where Guru Padmasambhava meditated in the 8th century. The middle temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru's body, and is therefore considered to be the most holy. The temple on the left was built in the 1990s by H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.

Tamshing Lhakhang : Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple, which was restored at the end of the 19th century.

Jakar Dzong : Constructed in 1549 by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. It was upgraded in 1646, after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative center for Bumthang valley, and also houses the regional monk body.

MONGAR (1,600m/5,250ft)

The journey from Bumthang to Mongar, crossing over the 4,000m high Thrumsing-la pass, is scenically spectacular. Mongar marks the beginning of eastern Bhutan . The second largest town in the subtropical east, Mongar is built high on a gently sloping hillside.

What to see in Mongar

Mongar Dzong: Although built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan 's newest dzongs, it is constructed in the same way as all earlier dzongs, without plans or nails. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.

LHUENTSE (2,323m/7,621ft)

Lhuentse is 77 km. from Mongar (3 hours' drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan . The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. The Kurtoe region of Lhuentse is the ancestral home of the monarchy.

TASHIGANG (1,100m/3,610ft)

Tashigang lies in the far east of Bhutan , and is the country's largest district. Tashigang town, on the hillside above the Gamri Chu (river), was once the center for a busy trade with Tibet . Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam . This town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan .

What to see in Tashigang

Tashigang Dzong: Built in 1659, the dzong serves as the administrative seat for the district as well as the home of the monk body. The dzong commands a remarkable view over the surrounding countryside.

Gom Kora : 24 km. from Tashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the river. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of banana trees, it looks like an oasis in an arid landscape. It is one of the famous places where Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue a demon which dwelt in a huge black rock.

TASHIYANGTSE (1,700m/5,580ft)

Tashiyangtse is a rapidly growing town and administrative center for this district. Situated in a small river valley, it is a lovely spot from which to take walks in the surrounding countryside. The dzong overlooking the town was built in the late 1990s when the new district was created. Tashiyangtse is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful mementos of a visit to this remote region. The Institute for Zorig Chusum, where students study the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan , is also worth a visit.

Chorten Kora: This dazzling white stupa is situated on the riverbank below the town. Constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday, it is built in the same style as Bodnath Stupa in Nepal , with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. During the second month of the lunar calendar there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora'.

Bomdeling: A pleasant walk of about three hours from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is an annual migration place for black necked cranes, which fly over from nearby Tibet to pass the winter months in a warmer climate.

SAMDRUP JONGKHAR (280m/920ft)

The road from Tashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar, completed in the 1960s, enables the eastern half of the country to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as across the Indian border. There is little to see in this area, other than the busy market which straddles the border. Samdrup Jongkhar is a convenient exit town for tourists who have arranged to visit the neighboring Indian state of Assam .

VISITING BHUTAN : Formalities    [top]

Tourism has been strictly limited in Bhutan so that traditional culture can be preserved and nurtured. The Bhutanese are highly religious people and therefore it is important to show respect and understanding for local customs and way of life, especially while visiting places of religious significance.

The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable, and also economically viable. For these reasons, tourism is carefully monitored and the number of tourists visiting Bhutan is kept to an environmentally manageable level.

Visitors may experience Bhutan only on all-inclusive package tours for which a fixed daily tariff is set by the Royal Government of Bhutan . This tariff covers the following services: accommodation & all meals, transport, guide, entrances fees to museums, monuments and cultural sites, and additionally a cultural program for visitors traveling in a group of three or above.

Tours Reservation

* All tours must be booked through a recognized Bhutanese Tour Operator such as Etho Metho, with entire land arrangements provided by one and the same operator.

* For Cultural Tours , booking arrangements must be completed 4 weeks in advance, but for Cultural Tours during festivals, arrangements must be completed 6 weeks in advance. The spring and autumn festivals are our peak times for tourism, and without early reservations it can be difficult to confirm flights and hotels.

* For Trekking groups, booking arrangements should be completed at least 8 weeks in advance, as this activity requires detailed forward planning. Etho Metho has built up impressive resources over the last 20 years, and can offer your clients a choice of the finest and best organized trekking experiences in the entire Himalayas

Visa

* Visas are required for traveling to Bhutan , and applications are processed through Etho Metho in conjunction with tour booking. The visa fee is US$20 for unlimited duration of stay, paid on arrival. No foreign mission abroad grantsBhutan tourist visas.

* All information as mentioned on the visa application form  must be forwarded to us for processing with the concerned authorities at least three weeks prior to date of travel, but note that for all FITS / GITs traveling during festivals, details should be sent at least 6 weeks prior to date of travel, as this is the peak time for tourism.

Please submit the required information by fax or email. A Bhutan visa application data form is included at the end of this section. We do not require any additional photos or visa forms in advance.

* Whether entering Bhutan by land or by air, each client should bring two passport size photographs with name/ passport number printed clearly on the back, and US$20 in cash for the visa fee. Visa applications are cleared in advance, and visa clearance numbers issued, and clients' passports are stamped on arrival at the port of entry.

* For travelers entering Bhutan by Druk Air, visa clearance is required for the issuing of Druk Air tickets. The visa clearance number is forwarded to the Druk Air station at which the flight originates. Travelers without a visa clearance number on record will not be permitted to board their flights.

* For travelers entering the country by land from India , through the southern border town of Phuentsholing , the visa is stamped on arrival, as per visa clearance number. Travelers without a visa clearance number on record will not be permitted to enter the country.

Tariff

The INTERNATIONAL TOURIST TARIFF is set by the Royal Government of Bhutan and is valid for all-inclusive packages. The daily tariff is in the US$140-US$240 range, varying according to season and size of group and also nature of tour (i.e. trekking or cultural).

A daily surcharge is applied for groups of fewer than three people. Children under five years of age travel free, and those aged 6-12 travel at a much reduced daily rate. Discounts are available for students under the age of 25 and for diplomats from foreign embassies/missions accredited to Bhutan . Discounts are also provided for stays of more than 10 nights in the country.

Please contact Hi Flying Charters for specific costing for your requirements.

Tour Payment

Advance payment in full for the entire tour must be sent to Etho Metho by Bank transfer, within the specified time frame. Services are confirmed subject to advance payment only. We will provide full information on remittance of tour payment when we cost your requirements.

For high season travel (March, April, May, Sept, Oct, Nov), it is advisable to remit payment for Druk Air flights 3 months in advance. This will help us to obtain confirmed seats on the requested flights.

Accessibility

The most convenient way of entering Bhutan is by Druk Air, the country's national (and so far only) carrier. As flights can be delayed due to weather conditions (particularly during the summer months), it is advisable to allow 24 hours before any onward connection.

Druk Air flies regularly between Bhutan and the following countries:

Bangladesh ( Dhaka ); Burma ( Yangon ); India (Kolkata, Delhi ); Nepal ( Kathmandu ); Thailand ( Bangkok )

Arrival/departure by land is also possible, through the southern border town of Phuentsholing . The nearest airport is at Bagdogra, West Bengal , about 4 hours drive away. Phuentsholing is a convenient entry/exit point for travelers wishing to visit the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal along with Bhutan .

It is sometimes possible to arrange land exit from Bhutan through the southeastern border town of Samdrup Jongkhar , which is approximately 3 hours drive from Guwahati, capital of the Indian state of Assam . Please check with Etho Metho if you are interested in this route out.

Flight Frequency & Airfares

Our national airline flies several times a week between most of its destinations, but flight timings and frequency vary according to season. Druk Air's website www.drukair.com.bt includes details of current flight schedules and airfares. Please check the website or contact Etho Metho for the latest information when planning your travel arrangements. If you would like the current flight schedule sent to you, please let us know.

Sample airfares below are current at time of printing. Prices are in US dollars, for a round trip journey. One way travel is half the cost of the round trip fare.

Delhi / Paro: $760 / $630 (J class / Y class)
Bangkok / Paro: $880 / $720 (J class / Y class)
Kathmandu / Paro: $460 / $380 (J class / Y class)

The spectacular mountain scenery en route is seen at its best in the winter months, when skies are generally very clear. The flight between Kathmandu and Paro gives the most extended view of the Himalayan massif, including the Everest region. Given suitable weather conditions, Mt. Kanchenjunga will be visible for some time on all routes. Flying in and out of Bhutan is an unforgettable experience, whatever route you take!

Customs

Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempt from duty: -

(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor;

(b) 2 liters of alcohol (spirits or wine);

(c) 400 cigarettes, 150 gms of pipe tobacco, 2 boxes of cigars (or 50 pieces);

(d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use;

(e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.

The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Customs authorities.

Import/export restrictions

Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:

(a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives;

(b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs;

(c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species;

(d) Antiques.

Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. Etho Metho's advice should be sought before committing to such purchases.

BHUTAN VISA APPLICATION DATA FORM

Please complete the details requested below. There must be a separate form completed for each person proposing to travel. All visitors to Bhutan must hold passports valid for at least 6 months.

Forms may be completed online and returned as e-mail attachments, or completed manually (typed, or printed in block capital letters) and faxed to us. If you wish to complete the form online, please contact us on emtt@druknet.bt and request Bhutan visa application data form . Passport photos are not required when applying for the visa.

Please note that if any particulars furnished below are found to be incorrect or if any information is found to have been withheld, the visa, if granted, may be cancelled at any time.

1. Full Name: ( exactly as given in passport: underline surname/family name)

Mr / Ms / Mrs *

2. Permanent address:

3. Place of birth: Date of birth:

4. Nationality:

5. Nature of Passport: Diplomatic / Official / Ordinary / UN Laissez Passer *

6. Passport Number: Date of Issue:

Place of Issue: Date of Expiry:

7.Occupation / Profession:

8. Period for which visa is required: From: To:

9. Points of entry & exit traveling to & from Bhutan : Entry: Exit:

10. Reason for visiting Bhutan :

tourism / business / visiting friends or relatives / employment / study *

11. Is this your first visit to Bhutan ? Yes / No *

If not, give date(s) of previous visit(s) & places visited:

Date of application:

* please mark as appropriate

VISITING HUTAN : General Information   [ top ]

Climate: The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general the eastern region of the country is warmer than the central valleys. However, bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the cooler the weather, and that with a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly.

The central valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuentse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whilst Paro, Thimphu , Tongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate, with summer monsoon rains and winter snowfalls which may block passes leading into the central valleys for days at a time. Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November till mid-March, and at this time of the year the climate is dry and sunny for the most part, temperatures peaking at around 15c. in the daytime and falling below zero at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. At the end of September, after the last of the big rains, autumn suddenly arrives, and is a magnificent season for trekking until November.

Language: Dzongkha, “the language of the Dzong”, belongs to the Tibetan linguistic family. Originally spoken only in western Bhutan , Dzongkha is now Bhutan 's national language. English is commonly spoken in the main towns and is the principal medium of instruction in schools throughout the kingdom.

Time: Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.

Health: No vaccinations are currently required for traveling to Bhutan . However, visitors coming from an area infected with yellow fever are required to have had a yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before their arrival. Cholera vaccinations are strongly recommended for visitors coming from a cholera infected area. Anti-malarial medication is also recommended for all travelers who will be visiting rural areas of districts bordering India .

Money : Bhutan 's currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.), with 100 Chetrum = 1 Ngultrum. The Ngultrum is fixed to the value of Indian rupee. Tourists are advised to carry their money in the form of traveler's checks (preferably American Express) with some cash (US dollars would be best) which might be used for incidental purchases/expenses. There are bank branches in all major towns.

Electricity: In Bhutan , electricity runs on 220/240 volts, with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. If you bring electrical appliances, also pack appropriate adapter plugs. Thimphu electrical appliance shops stock adapter plugs, but they are unlikely to be available elsewhere.

Communications: Clients will be able to check their email and make international telephone calls from most towns while touring Bhutan . While internet cafes are more widespread in the western region, even in the far east there are public IDD calling booths. IDD calls may be made and received at most accommodations used by Etho Metho, and at least in Thimphu , hotel internet access is assured also.

Etho Metho guides carry satellite phones on the Laya and Lunana treks, where groups are away from regular means of communication for extended periods of time.

Accommodation: There are comfortable hotels, lodges and guesthouses at our tourist destinations. Generally speaking, hotels in western Bhutan are better appointed, while accommodation establishments in the central and eastern part of the country are more modest, with fewer amenities. There is no star categorization of hotels and five star luxuries are not available.

Etho Metho has carefully selected the list of accommodation units with the best of location, service and ambience. Away from the towns and villages, there are purpose-built cabins on some of the principal trekking routes. But there is nothing like camping out in the forest or at the foot of a mountain!  Wherever you spend the night, the warm Bhutanese hospitality will make you feel welcome.

Food: Bhutanese delicacies are rich with spicy chillies and cheese. All hotels and lodges on Etho Metho's selected list of accommodations offer delicious Chinese, Continental, Bhutanese and Indian cuisine.

For trekking groups, Etho Metho's own trained cooks will prepare dishes suitable to western taste in the above range, and every effort will be made to accommodate the individual dietary preferences of your clients. Please give some advance notice of any special dietary requirements so that we can make appropriate arrangements when the catering team assembles provisions.

Clothing: Due to the wide range of temperature and climatic conditions it is advisable to dress in layers. For protection against cold, layered clothing is better than one or two thick garments. Clothing should preferably be made from natural materials, which allow the body to breathe.

You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight fitting clothes. Shorts are not welcomed and women are advised to wear below the knee skirts or fairly loose trousers. Do not wear sleeveless T shirts (singlets, vests) as outer garments. Dress modestly and respectfully for visits to monasteries, dzongs and other religious institutions, and refrain from smoking while on the premises. Hats, caps etc. should be removed before entering the premises.

What to Pack: The following is fairly exhaustive list of what you should pack for the trip: Clothes as per season, sunglasses/spare glasses, pair of casual shoes, knife, hat, umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries), insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, torch or flash light with spare batteries, mirror, scissors, sun cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhea pills, a preparation for the relief of sunburn, and any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically recurring condition, such as asthma.

Bring about twice as much film as you are expecting to use, and plenty of spare camera batteries, as these are unlikely to be available locally.

Photography: The photographic opportunities on all trips are immense. The natural scenery is superb, and you will also wish to record the local people, their houses and shops etc. Always ask by a gesture if it is ok to do so. Don't take your destination as a living museum! Also, note that photography in shrine rooms of dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions is generally not permitted. Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but when visiting such places, please check with your guide before taking any photographs.

Shopping: Hand-woven textiles, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, thangkha paintings and Bhutan 's exquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travelers in Bhutan . The buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden.

Gratuities:Tipping is a purely personal matter. The bottom line in determining whether or how much to tip is to ask yourself how much Etho Metho team members did to make your Bhutan travel experience more enjoyable.

MORE FASCINATING EXCURSIONS [ TOP ]

Apart from visiting places in main touristic towns, there are fascinating out of town excursions which offer good insights into the traditional Bhutanese culture which has remained intact through the centuries.

Tango Gompa ( Thimphu )

This monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in the 12 th century. The present building was erected in the 15 th century by the “Divine Madman”, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. In 1616 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tango and meditated in a cave near the monastery. The picturesque three-storied tower and several surrounding buildings were built in the 18 th century by the eighth temporal ruler of Bhutan , Druk Rabgye. The hike up the trail to Tango Gompa takes about an hour.

Cheri Gompa ( Thimphu )

This monastery was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1620. A silver chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of the Shabdrung's father. This trek trail starts by crossing a lovely bridge that spans the Thimphu river, then climbs steeply to the monastery. The journey takes about an hour.

Phajoding Monastery ( Thimphu )

The complex is situated high on the hills overlooking Thimphu valley. It was founded by Phajo Drugom Shigpo who introduced the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism in Bhutan in the 13 th century. Phajoding was in former times one of the richest monasteries in the country. It is a wonderful hike of about 4 hours from Thimphu to the monastery.

Limbukha (Punakha )

Drive to Punakha Dzong, which can be visited from April to November while the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body are at their summer quarters in Thimphu . Stroll across the narrow suspension bridge (about 200m long) above the river and enjoy fresh breezes and a splendid view of this massive dzong. Follow the farm houses gradually climbing towards the Dompala hills. Enjoy superb views of Punakha Dzong and surrounding villages as you climb upwards through the pine forests, to Limbukha, a journey of about two and a half hours.

Limbukha farmers grow Bhutan 's famous red rice, which is supposed to have medicinal values. This particular rice needs clean mountain spring water so that the taste is good and nutritional value maintained. Limbukha is also known for its love of peace and tranquility. According to legend, during medieval wars the “limpus” (people of Limbukha) always volunteered their services as negotiators for peace. Their traditional role is honored on the last day of Punakha's annual religious festival, when Limbukha men taking part in the concluding procession out from the dzong carry peace flags, rather than weapons of war.

Talo (Punakha )

The picturesque village of Talo , scattered along a ridge above the Punakha valley at an altitude of around 2,800m, is known amongst Punakha villages for its neat and clean appearance. Talo Sangnacholing is built on a small plateau at the top of the village, and from there one has a majestic view of the entire valley and surrounding villages and the high hills beyond Wangduephodrang which mark the gateway to central Bhutan . The women here are particularly known for their beauty. Talo is about an hour's drive from Punakha.

Kuenga Rabten (Tongsa )

The 23 km. drive from Tongsa to Kuenga Rabten takes about an hour and passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. The land slopes quite gently in this region, and farming is well developed, so there is much of interest to observe in the fields and in the villages as one speeds along. As one approaches Kuenga Rabten, the Palace is clearly visible just below the road on the right. It was the winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. This pleasant afternoon excursion from Tongsa offers further insights into the early days of Bhutan 's monarchy.

Thangbi Gompa (Bumthang)

A walk of about 30 minutes north of Kurje Lhakhang leads one to this monastery, situated in the middle of a wide fertile plateau overlooking the river. Founded in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyupa religious school, the building comprises two sanctuaries and a temple of terrifying deities. The sanctuary on the ground floor contains statues of the past, present and future Buddhas and three clay statues probably dating to the end of the 15 th century. On the upper floor, the vestibule contains two remarkable paintings of Guru Rinpoche's heaven, and the Buddha Amitabha's heaven.

Ngang Lhakhang (Bumthang)

This temple is a few hours' walk from Thangbi Gompa, situated about 100m above the valley floor in the small region of Ngang Yule (“ Swan Land ”). The site was visited by Guru Rinpoche. The present temple was built in the 15 th century by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. A three day festival is held here each winter, with masked dances in honor of the founder of the temple.

Ura valley (Bumthang )

From Jakar to Ura is 48 km., about one and a half hours' drive. To reach here, the road climbs through amazingly open countryside, only occasionally running into forest. Sheep pastures line the road up to 20 km. behind the southern tip of the Tang valley. The road crosses Ura-la pass (3,600m), on the approach to which there is a magnificent view of Mt. Gangkar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan . Above Ura village (3,100m) there is a new temple is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, it contains a huge statue of the Guru and remarkable wall paintings of the cycle of his teachings. Within the last 25 years Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley.


VISITS TO DZONGS, MONASTERIES, TEMPLES & FESTIVALS   [ TOP ]

A good insight into the kingdom's unique cultural heritage can be gained through visits to any of those dzongs, monasteries, temples and festivals which are open to visitors. Please note that although some of our religious establishments are permanently closed to visitors to ensure that monastic life can continue unhindered, it may from time to time be possible for us to arrange visits to places not included in the selective list given below.

Etiquette: Dress neatly and modestly (covered arms, no shorts or short skirts) and do not wear a hat in the precincts of dzongs or religious complexes. Do not smoke. Walk clockwise around chortens (stupas) and mani (prayer) walls. If you see a prayer flagpole on the ground waiting to be erected, do not step over it, as this is considered extremely disrespectful: walk around it instead.

Photography: Photography is usually permitted in public areas, such as courtyards and dance grounds, but not permitted inside the chapels of religious complexes. Check first with your guide to avoid inadvertently giving offence, and at all times take care not to intrude upon the social space of others when taking photographs. NEVER stray onto the dance ground at a festival in search of the perfect shot – this is the height of bad manners and will definitely give offence to all Bhutanese who see you!

Thimphu : Tashichhodzong (open in winter months when the monks are in Punakha), National Memorial Chorten, Thimphu Tsechu

Paro: Paro Tsechu, Ta Dzong ( National Museum ), Drukgyel Dzong

Punakha Dzong : Punakha Dzong (open in summer months when the monks are in Thimphu ), Punakha Dromche and Serda

Wangduephodrang: Wangduephodrang Tsechu

Tongsa : Tongsa Tsechu, Chendebji Chorten, Ta Dzong

Bumthang: Jakar Dzong, Mebar Tso, Peling Sermon Chorten, Ura Lhakhang, Kurje Tsechu, Nimalung Tsechu, Tamshing Phala Choepa, Tangbi Mani, Jambey Lhakhang Drub, Prakar Tsechu

Mongar: Mongar Tsechu

Tashigang:  Tashigang Tsechu, Zangtho Pelri, Kanglung Lhakhang, Khaling Lhakhang, Radhi Lhakhang

Tashiyangtse: Tashiyangtse Dzong

Phuentsholing:  Zanthopelri Lhakhang, Kharbandi Gompa, Kamji Gompa


FESTIVALS & FESTIVAL ETIQUETTE

At various times throughout the year, annual festivals known as “tsechus” take place around the country, but there are other festivals too. Tsechus are festivals extolling the great deeds of the Buddhist Saint, Padmasambhava, popularly known as “Guru Rinpoche” in our mountain kingdom. All of Guru Rinpoche's great deeds are believed to have taken place on the 10th day of the month, which is the meaning of the word tsechu, and all tsechus do in fact take place/begin on 10th days. All the districts, dzongs and a large number of villages in the east, hold annual tsechus, which attract people from far and wide.

Tsechus are celebrated for several days (usually between three and five, depending on where taking place) and are the occasion for dances that are clearly defined in religious content. They can be performed by monks, laymen or gomchens and the repertory is more or less the same everywhere.

Certain tsechus end with the veneration of a huge appliqué thangkha, called a “thongdroel”. The thongdroel is unveiled at dawn to bring enlightenment to all who view it. Festival goers believe that by simply viewing this thongdroel, they can be delivered from the cycle of birth and rebirth, which is the ultimate aim of Buddhism.

Some tsechus also have a “wang”, a collective verbal blessing given by a high lama. Colored threads are distributed, and people tie them around their necks as witness to the blessing. Sometimes the wang is called “mewang” meaning “blessing by fire” which burns away their impurities.

Atsaras are clowns whose expressive masks and postures are an indispensable element in any religious festival. They confront the monks, toss out salacious jokes, and distract the crowd with their antics when the religious dances begin to grow tedious. Believed to represent Acharyas, religious masters of India , they are the only people permitted to mock religion in a society where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect. For a few days these popular entertainers are allowed the freedom to express a formulaic challenge within an established framework that does not, however, upset the social and religious order.

Some religious festivals include only a few dances and consist mostly of readings from a particular text. On these occasions, villagers assemble in a temple and participate in the prayers while at the same time drinking strong alcoholic beverages. Each village takes pride in its annual religious festival, and any villagers who have gone to live in the city are expected to come back home for it. Such villagers will themselves sponsor a large part of the cost of mounting the festival.

For the Bhutanese, attendance at religious festivals offers an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and to gain much merit. The festivals are also occasions for seeing people, and for being seen, for social exchanges, and for flaunting success. People bring out their finest clothes, their most beautiful jewelry, and enjoy picnics with abundant alcohol and meat. Men and women joke and flirt with one another. An atmosphere of convivial, slightly ribald good humor prevails.

FESTIVAL ETIQUETTE

Festivals are religious events. The ground where they are held is purified and consecrated by lamas, so when you are watching a festival you are, in essence, on the perimeter of an outdoor religious ground. The conduct of the onlooker should be governed with this in mind. The dancers, whether monks or laymen, are in a state of meditation. They transform themselves into the deities which they represent on the dance ground. They generate a spiritual power, which cleanses, purifies, enlightens and blesses the spectators.

With this in mind, it should be clear that obtrusive, disrespectful or discourteous behavior is out of place. The dance ground is not a place to eat, drink or smoke, talk or laugh loudly at inappropriate times, flash cameras or intrude on the dance space. Common courtesy should rule one's action when photographing dances or onlookers.

Festivals are not pageants or entertainment events. They are not held as tourist attractions. They are genuine manifestations of religious traditions thousands of years old which outsiders are given the privilege of witnessing. We would like to see that privilege retained, without in any way impairing or infringing on the beauty and sacredness of the ritual.

Please bear in mind that some past actions of unthinking visitors have caused shock and dismay to the local people. Any recurrence of such unfortunate events may lead to future restrictions on attendance at festivals. We hope that our tour members will always display courtesy, sensitivity and respect to the people of Bhutan who have welcomed them to attend these beautiful and sacred events, and will visibly demonstrate their respect by dressing as well as their circumstances permit on such occasions.

FESTIVAL LOCATIONS & DATES
The dates for annually held festivals vary from year to year, as they are set by the Bhutanese lunar calendar. When planning your tour, please contact us for the current festivals schedule.

Time of year Place Festival
Feb. to March: Punakha Punakha Dromchoe & Serda (5 days)
March to April: Tashiyangtse Chorten Kora (2 days, 2 weeks apart)
  Tashigang Gom Kora (3 days)
  Chhukha Chhukha Tsechu (3 days)
  Paro Paro Tsechu (5 days)
April to May: Bumthang Ura Yagchoe (6 days)
June to July Bumthang Nimalung Tsechu (3 days)
  Bumthang Kurje Tsechu (1 day)
Sept. to Oct.: Wangduephodrang Wandue Tsechu (3 days)
  Thimphu Thimphu Drupchen (7 days)
  Thimphu Thimphu Tsechu (3 days)
  Bumthang Tamshing Phala Choepa (3 days)
  Bumthang Tangbi Mani Cham (3 days)
Oct. to Nov.: Bumthang Jambey Lhakhang Drub (5 days)
  Bumthang Prakar Tsechu (4 days)
Nov. to Dec.: Mongar Mongar Tsechu (4 days)
  Pemagatsel Pemagatsel Tsechu (4 days)
  Tashigang Tashigang Tsechu (4 days)
  Bumthang Nalakhar Tsechu (3 days)
Dec. to Jan.: Tongsa Tongsa Tsechu (3 days)
  Lhuentse Lhuentse Tsechu (3 days)

Village festivals: Many small village festivals are held in the winter months. The weather is very settled across Bhutan at this time of the year. The clear blue skies and crisp air offer splendid opportunities for the committed photographer, especially for those using slide medium. Please contact Etho Metho for dates/places of forthcoming winter festivals. A winter journey to seldom visited eastern Bhutan , with participation in such a festival, would be an unforgettable experience.

CULTURAL TOUR PROGRAMS   [ TOP ]

Opening for tourism only in 1974, Bhutan is one of world's most exclusive tourist destinations. Those few travelers who journey to this magical kingdom will find themselves in a land of pure and exotic mysticism. Our various Cultural Tours introduce visitors to unique aspects of Mahayana Buddhist culture, including visits to religious festivals and pilgrimage sites and on whichever tour you go, there are fascinating excursions to villages, temples and scenic spots for a closer look at a culture and a land which remain the most unspoiled and beautiful example of the traditional Himalayan way of life in existence today. The sample Cultural Tour Programs given below can be modified to meet travelers' individual preferences.





 
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