Day 1: Tuesday, 7 April, 2020 Delhi to Thimpu
We’re off and coming, as distinct from going…! Checked in early this morning for our flight (two and a bit hours) to Paro, Bhutan, 2500m above sea level. Travelling with the Bhutanese National Airline, we’ll get an early visual experience of Bhutan. If the weather is clear we’ll get terrific views of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains before landing at Paro Airport. Once through immigration and customs we’ll be met by our local guide and coach. Driving from the airport we’ll enjoy fantastic views of the Paro Dzong (fort), then we’ll be bussed into the capital, Thimphu. After checking in, there’ll be time to rest in our rooms before enjoying a welcome “getting to know your fellow travellers” banquet evening.
GEORGE COMMENT: “Safe flight, steady comfortable landing from our topof- the range pilot who, by the way, was one of only 11 pilots in the world certified to land in Bhutan! I also read from a local article about air-safety rules in Bhutan that “all flights landing or leaving Bhutan can only happen in the daytime, in good weather!” Any idea why Bhutan – our temporary homeland for seven days – is called ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon’? There’s a curly one for you! Who among you can come up with a plausible, sensible – or even the real answer – over tonight’s banquet dinner together?”
Day 2: Wednesday, 8 April, 2020 Thimpu
This morning, George and Kirsty will take us for an overview of Thimphu, a growing town of 40,000 people, and the hub of most of Bhutan’s government activity. Bhutan’s total population of just over 800,000; they call themselves Bhutanese. The city’s Folk Heritage Museum is housed in a traditional threestoried Bhutanese House. We get to see the genuinely bizarre Bhutanese national animal, the Takin, a rare, and fascinating creature believed to be made up of an ox, antelope, a sheep and a goat, all endemic to the Western Himalayas. It herds, apparently, in steep, thick woods at an altitude, would you believe, of 4000 metres.
GEORGE COMMENT: “No wonder the Takin was long thought to be mythological! Or have we and any number of other curious visitors to Bhutan “been taken in,” as it were…? First of many similar Dad jokes, folks! Oh – almost forgot! The Takin is also supposed to have mysterious medicinal properties and its name in Bhutanese is the “Dong Gyem Tsey”! No further comment?”
Day 3: Thursday, 9 April, 2020 Punakha
This morning we’re off to the still quite remote town of Punakha, 1500 metres above sea level and once actually the capital of Bhutan. We take the 3050m Dochula Pass, from where there is a fabulous view of the Himalayas, according to George’s totally necessary research. We visit the dramatic Punakha Dzong (fortress) for many years Bhutan’s seat of a monastic government. Built in the 1600s, it remains the winter residence of the Dratsheng (Central Monk Body). The congregation hall has exceptional examples of Bhutanese painting and statues of their deities.
Day 4: Friday, 10 April, 2020 Punakha
Today is a relaxing day in the Punakha Valley. We’ll take a picnic lunch and visit some of the area’s small villages and monasteries, plus short walks in the area. In the late afternoon we return to our hotel. GEORGE COMMENT: “Thought it might be appropriate at this point in our journey to remind ourselves of the remarkable differences between Bhutan and many other countries, not just in the Asian Himalaya. To be honest, your brochure’s introduction to this small, remote, independent mountain nation jammed between China and Russia, pretty much sums it up, not just as a stunning place to visit, but also a place to thoughtfully ponder!” “Bhutan is a country of ancient traditions coming to grips with the modern world. A fascinating, peaceful Buddhist country, Bhutan is modernising carefully. The King (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck), regarded as a benign ruler, has introduced a number of innovative programs to develop and preserve the country. At least 60% of the forests have to remain as forests while tourism and development is restricted. The King is more interested in his country’s GNH, Gross National Happiness than its GDP, Gross Domestic Product.” GEORGE COMMENT: “Bhutan’s philosophy on modernisation and development is based on Buddhist values. According to a local monk: ‘Buddhism in Bhutan is not a religion; rather, it’s a way of life! The reason Bhutan is so peaceful is because Buddhism is engrained in the society’s mentality and meditation.’ The Gross National Happiness is a measurement of their ‘quality of life, based on the spiritual and mental well-being’ of its people. While they don’t reject conventional economic methods of measuring GDP development, GNH is pursued as an alternative philosophy.”
Day 5: Saturday, 11 April, 2020 Gangtey Valley
Today we travel west to the vast U-shaped glacial Gangtey (Phobjikha) Valley with its broad meadows that become the winter home to the globally endangered Black Necked Cranes, on their annual migration from the Tibetan Plateau. We stay overnight in this beautiful valley.
Day 6: Sunday, 12 April, 2020 Paro
Today’s travel is to the major town of Paro and visit the National Museum of Bhutanese cultural and religious treasures. We’ll break for lunch before taking a walk to a nearby typical teahouse overlooking a spectacular monastery temple known as the ‘Tigers Nest’ that clings to a 1000 metre sheer rock face. It has a great yarn to go with it…! By the way, also, as you’d expect, plenty of traditional hand-made Buddhist prayer flags fly everywhere, waiting to be purchased by the likes of ourselves – to promote peace, good-will, compassion and wisdom. As well, by now, we would’ve become used to the repetitive local mantras, chants meant to motivate and inspire us “to become our best selves.” Good chat!
Day 7: Monday, 13 April, 2020 Paro
Today, a short drive north of Paro to the historic ruins of Drukgyal Dzong, built in the 17th century by, the unifier of medieval Bhutan, a guy called Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – a name almost unpronounceable unless you speak Tibetan which, by the way, you will have realised most Bhutanese do. The Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951, but it remains a ruin as a symbol of past military victories. We end our last full day in Bhutan visiting a stunning 7th-century Buddhist temple, Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest in Bhutan. As legend has it, a giant demoness laid her body across the Himalayas to prevent the spread of Buddhism. This evening, our last evening in enchanting Bhutan, George and Kirsty will host a final dinner to celebrate our seven unforgettable days in the fairy-tale kingdom. GEORGE COMMENT: “To say the least, Bhutan is definitely no ordinary place! And the Bhutanese are no ordinary people! They are clearIy striving to maintain their centuries-old uniqueness. Let’s hope that so-called modern progress doesn’t get in their peaceful ways!”
Day 8: Tuesday, 14 April, 2020 Paro
Airport Today are taken to the airport for our flight back to Australia.
Day 9: Wednesday, 15 April, 2020 Arrive Australia