SOLO TRIP TO THE HIGHLAND THEATRE OF BHUTAN

What is it, that is so exciting about a Solo trip – that you travel at your own pace!!, or you explore things that inspire you!! or you just pick a lush resort, take a dip at the pool sipping your favorite cocktail? 

What if I share with you a solo trip that I recently did which combines all of the above and within short period of 7 days. 

NESTLED IN THE HIMALAYAN MOUNTAIN RANGE, this small yet rich kingdom of Bhutan is blissfully untouched and ideal for a GREAT SOLO TRIP. Here you can step back in time and experience a life of ancient tradition or step forward in time and experience unbeatable luxury at some of the finest resorts. Bhutan’s location in the mighty Himalayas has protected it from the rest of the world and left it unspoilt through the centuries. For example, the Bhutanese people still wear traditional dress while archery is a national sport. What you might most enduring in the country is the architecture. All buildings whether large monasteries, private houses or even gas stations, are made in the same traditional design. 

You will witness that Bhutan is very protective of its natural environment and the culture of its people. It was only in 1999, the ban on television and the Internet was lifted, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. 

FOR THIS 7-DAYS TRIP YOU MAY IDEALLY COVER 3 MAIN CITIES-

 

THIMPHU, PARO, PUNAKHA

The best part is that Bhutan has really controlled its tourism with just one international airport at Paro and only 2 airlines flying in and out of the country – Royal Bhutan and Druk Air. You may choose to either fly to Delhi or Kathmandu and then take a flight further to Paro.

Day 1 – Land at Paro airport and drive from Paro to Thimphu– As you land in Paro, to start this trip I suggest you further drive to Thimphu, the Himalayan country’s capital and the largest city. The road to Thimphu first follows the Pa-chu (river) till the confluence where the Thim-chu joins. After reaching, check into your hotel, head over for lunch in one of the local restaurants (I love to try the local food of the places I visit so, I highly recommend Zombala2) in Thimphu. 

Then visit the Memorial Chorten (Stupa) built in memory of the Late King and walk around on the main street of Thimphu. Later, visit the Buddha Dordenma Statue, the gigantic statue of Shakyamuni Buddha erected on a mountain top is considered one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. It will amaze you if I tell you that there are 125,000 miniature Buddhas preserved inside of Dordenma statue’s bronze chest, ranging from 8 to 12 inches tall. This means that in Thimphu there are more Buddhas than there are human beings as the population of the city is just around 100,000 

Suggested Hotels – Taj Thimphu, Le Meridian

Day 2 – Drive from Thimphu to Punakha –   After breakfast, the choice is yours you may like to take a dip in the hotel pool, or get a Spa therapy, or do traditional Bhutanese prayer ceremony, or explore Thimphu a bit more with places like  National Library that houses an immense collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and the world’s largest book; the Painting School, where students keep alive the traditional art of painting sacred religious scrolls, the Folk Heritage Museum or the Textile Museum where we see a demonstration of traditional weaving; and Tashichhoe Dzong, the historic monastery that today houses government offices and temples.

After a nice Bhutanese lunch at one of the local cafes, drive to your next destination, Punakha via the Dochula Pass (10,000ft/3,050m), which offers stunning views of the Himalayas. Here you may sit and hear different versions of the same legendary stories from the locals and you may also follow the sacred tradition of raising prayer flags in the name of peace and wisdom. Continuing on to Punakha, you may like to visit a rice farming village where you can stop for a cup of tea and literally engage all your senses. Punakha sits at the confluence of the “Mother” river and the “Father” river in a sub-tropical valley and is home to my favorite ‘the Punakha Dzong’. I was lucky to stay at a homestay (Dhumra Farm Resort) on a hill top with a direct view of the Dzong situated between the Father river and the Mother river.

Suggested hotels – Como Uma Punakha, Dhumra Farm Resort, Dhensa Boutique Resort

Day 3 – Explore Punakha – Start your day with a hearty breakfast as there will be a lot walking and trekking involved today. Take a short trek through rice fields to visit Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple of the Divine Madman perched on a hill above a traditional village. The temple is a pilgrimage site for couples struggling with problems of fertility. After lunch at a local café on the trek back, you can visit the Punakha Dzong, winter home of the central monastic community and one of the country’s most attractive and historic monasteries, set on a small of land between the 2 rivers. It is a sight to behold but my crazy memory of the Dzong is when I was crossing the bridge to reach the Dzong I heard loud running sound coming from behind me and as I turned I saw a herd of cows rushing in my direction with some monks draped in red and orange running behind them trying to shoo them away.. After you explore the Dzong, head back to your hotel and relax. I personally loved to end my days with a glass of mulled wine, interesting conversations with the estate manager or other guests sitting around a bonfire and eating local delicacies.
Day 4 – Drive from Punakha to Paro – After a light breakfast begin your drive to the historic Paro. You will reach Paro around lunch time, so depending on your mood you can choose from restaurants like Sonam Trophel Restaurant, Mountain Café or Tye Ling. After lunch, visit Paro Dzong and Ta-Dzong, the national museum showcasing Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage dating from at least 2000 BCE to the present day. Built in 1648 as a watchtower, the cylindrical museum houses a fine collection of Bhutanese art and artefacts. You can continue the tour to Rinpung Dzong, a historic Buddhist monastery and fortress housing local government and monastic offices; and Kyichu Lhakhang, an important place of pilgrimage and ceremony for Bhutan’s royal family along with one of the kingdom’s oldest and most sacred temples. 

You can visit all the sites or stick to a selected few and choose other activities of your own like meditation, get to know the city on foot as you walk through the market area or cross a 700 year old bridge, connecting with locals with some butter tea and noodles, check out freshly brewed beer at the Namgay Artisanal Brewery that sits on a ridge with a view of the valley and a bunch of traditional houses spread across on the opposite side.

Suggested Hotels – Como Uma Paro, Le Meridian

Day 5 – Explore Paro – Believe me, I saved the best for the last. After breakfast at your hotel in Paro, drive to the foot hills of Taktsang Monastery, also called the Tiger’s Nest. From here hike up to the viewpoint of the sacred monastery, which is approx. 2,000ft/610m above Paro valley. I suggest you wear comfortable hiking shoes as there might be frozen ice on the ground covered with sand, pack a backpack with sunblock, chap stick and water, buy a walking stick or 2 from the vendors for support and balance and start climbing. For me this hike has a whole depth of meaning as I chose to start my new year with this hike and it was like meditation for me. It might sound crazy but the more I stopped to gasp for air because of the altitude the more I enjoyed this hike. Another option is to take a pony ride till half way and then climb up, but I chose to do the whole thing on foot.

This is a sacred place for the Bhutanese and every Bhutanese from far- away places try to visit, at least once in their lifetime. 

Lunch will be served at the Taktsang Cafeteria, which is approximately half way. This whole hike is about 5 kms round trip.

Later if you wish to visit the ruins of Drukyel Dzong, a victory fortress dating to the 17th century and to make it more experiential you may also choose to visit a Bhutanese farmhouse and meet the family, dive into their culture and traditions head on and geta first hand experience of this beautiful and a happy kingdom (this experience can be arranged by the tour operator managing your travels or you may speak to your local guide or request at the hotel)

DAY 6: DEPART PARO– After breakfast. Transfer to the airport for your flight to either Delhi or Kathmandu for your flight back.

As per the fight availability you may have to stay a night either in Kathmandu or Delhi

Kathmandu – I recommend staying at the Hyatt hotel as it in close vicinity to the airport

Delhi – I recommend staying at any of the hotels at Aerocity like J W Marriot. 

 

This is purely a suggested idea of an itinerary; you may choose to extend your trip for another 3 days and explore Kathmandu or stay in Bhutan and drive further to Bumthang. Hope you give this classic yet experiential journey a try and do share with me how it went for you.