Paro Festival is one of the biggest and popular festivals in Bhutan. As you embark on this festival trip during the colorful spring season in Bhutan, you will see several flowers in bloom including different types of Rhododendrons, Magnolia, Primula etc. The whether in April is really pleasant with mostly clear sky during the day, and the temperature too is moderate at night or in the morning. It’s one of the best time to travel through Bhutan.
Arrive Paro International Airport. Your tour guide will meet you and take you to your hotel. Go for a stroll around Paro town and visit the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. You can also visit Ta Dzong (‘the watch tower’) now housing the National Museum. Drive to Thimphu and overnight at hotel.
After breakfast drive to Thimphu for some sightseeing. Some sights may be closed at festival time in which case your guide will suggest an alternative plan. You can visit the National Memorial Chorten, the National Library, the School of Painting or the Folk Heritage Museum. In the afternoon you can take in more of the sights and culture of the capital, or take a drive out of town to view Simtokha Dzong (one of the oldest in Bhutan, dating from 629 AD). If you prefer to stay closer to town you can browse the striking collection of intricate textiles at the National Textile Museum, or drive up to the Radio Tower (offering splendid views of the city from a hilltop festooned with prayer flags) and visit the Takin Reserve showcasing the unique national animal, the Takin.
Thimphu to Punakha. In the morning drive to the old capital, Punakha, via Dochu La pass at 3050 metres, where we will stop for a hot drink and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Eastern Himalaya ranges. In the afternoon visit the imposing Punakha Dzong, and Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility) built in the 15th century by the ‘Divine Madman’ (Lama Drukpa Kuenley).
Drive to Gangtey (at 3500 metres). Enjoy the views of the immense and remote Phobjikha valley and the black mountain ranges. Visit Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and currently under renovation). Overnight in Gangtey village where the villagers continue to live a traditional Bhutanese rural lifestyle. This is the site where black-necked cranes visit in their hundreds in November each year after spending the summer in Tibet. As a result no electricity is run to the valley to avoid disturbing their habitat.
Today we return to Thimphu via Wangdi, originally considered Bhutan’s secondary capital and commanding an important central position. We will stop for lunch or a drink in Wangdi although sadly the Dzong, built by the Shabdrung in 1638 on an auspicious site where four ravens were seen flying in four different directions, was badly damaged in a fire in June 2012 so there is not much to view until renovations works are complete. After lunch continue on your way. You should see plenty of flowering rhododendrons, orchids and magnolia to enhance the drive.
Today would be a good time to visit the local handicraft shops and purchase some souvenirs. After lunch we will drive back to Paro and visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong (fortress of victory), constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644 and destroyed by a butter lamp fire in 1951. Nearby we will also visit the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan.
This morning you will visit Paro Festival. You will see locals dressed in their finest clothes who have walked from miles around to attend the festivities. They come to watch masked dances, to pray, and to feast. While the underlying purpose of the festival is spiritual, dances are more often like plays, telling stories where good triumphs over evil, or depicting significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socialising as well. The occasion provides an opportunity for people to relax and forget the daily routine, and to dress in their finest clothes and jewellery, but it is also an occasion for prayer and blessings.
Early in the morning visit the Festival again to see the excitement of the thongdrel ceremony, where a large religious painting made of cloth is unfurled on the side of the Dzong, an event that only takes place on the last day of the annual festival. In the afternoon, visit Ta Dzong (‘the watch tower’) now housing the National Museum. Built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong, it was originally used to defend Rinpung Dzong and the Paro valley during times of war. Its unusual circular construction resembles a conch shell and it now contains a magnificent collection of Bhutanese artefacts – costumes, religious paintings, arms, textiles and a fascinating collection of Bhutan stamps.
After breakfast, drive for half an hour and start the hike, which is about 5 hours (round trip.) The trail is along an ancient path marked by river-powered prayer wheels. As you reach Taktsang you will be struck by the architectural wonder of this most pious Buddhist shrine in Bhutan. Perched some 1000m, 3000ft on a cliff overlooking the valley; it would justifiably qualify as one of Bhutan’s wonders. Tragically wrecked in a fire early in 1998. It has been rebuilt to its original glory. It is said that the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padma Sambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tigress to tame five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan in 746 A.D. Hence the name, Taktsang, or the “Tiger’s Lair.”
Descend back to Ramthangka. If the time permits, drive further north to visit another symbolic structure, which is now under reconstruction. Drugyel Dzong, or “”Castle of the Victorious Drukpa,” which was also built by the Shabdrung to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetans in the 16thcenturies. From here, the Jomolhari Peak (“Mountain of the Goddess”) can be seen on a clear day (Alt. 7,329m/24,029ft.). Overnight at hotel.
After breakfast, drive to Paro international airport for your onward flight. The representative of Shugyarin Trips and Travel will see off and bid farewell.
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