Fall Festivals of Bhutan

Celebrating the harvests of the full moon with traditional dance and pageantry
Overview

overview

There is no better time to visit Bhutan than during the Buddhist Tsechu temple festivals. The annual celebrations around Bhutan are marked by incredible colors and exhilarating festivity. The adventure begins before your plane even touches down as you are treated to breathtaking views of the Himalayas on your descent into Paro. Explore some of the memorable sites, such as the Taktsang Monastery built into a sheer mountain face 3,000 feet above Paro, before heading toward Thimphu for one of the largest Tsechu festivals in the land. Savor the drum and horn energy of the traditional dances, dramas, and other rituals as you immerse yourself in the spiritual drama. Carry on to Bumthang for a similar, yet distinctly different, experience and enjoy  other classic Bhutanese sites, Himalayan views, and forested valleys along the way. You may conclude you are witnessing the most spectacular religious festivals anywhere on earth. (Note that festival dates sometimes vary on short notice and the itinerary may require amending at the last minute. Ask about other temple festivals held throughout the year and available on a private departure basis.)

Book early! Space is limited and flights at this time may sell out within four to six months of departure.

itinerary

itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive Paro
    Your adventure begins on your flight in, with amazing Himalayan views

    Fly to Paro from Bangkok, Delhi, or Kathmandu (arrival dates into Paro may vary according to city of origin). During this journey, you will experience breathtaking views of the Himalayan range, including Mt. Jichu Drak and Chomolhari. After your arrival in Paro (7,380 ft), you will be welcomed by your guide at the airport and then transferred to your hotel, where you will have a briefing by your guide. You'll then head out on a guided tour of Paro that may include the Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the holiest and oldest temples in Bhutan. This temple, built in the seventh century A.D., dates back to the time of the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. You also visit the National Museum and the Paro Rimpung Dzong, both very unique and beautiful structures. The museum houses an exceptional collection of art and ceremonial objects. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. While in Bhutan, you'll savor the feeling of a country that seems to exist in an earlier century. From the dress of the people to the traditional architecture, you know you are in a different kind of place than exists anywhere else on earth. You will be amazed at the fresh, clean air, and peaceful environment.

    Meals
    Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 2: Paro/Thimphu

    After a leisure morning, drive about two hours to Thimphu (7,656') for your overnight. Thimphu is a charming town that sits in the heart of the Himalayas. Thimphu's development is strictly monitored and buildings cannot exceed a certain height, nor can they be designed in anything but the traditional Bhutanese style. 

    This afternoon, spend some time exploring in and around Thimphu including the Tashichho Dzong, built in 1216 and completely renovated between 1962 and 1969 without the use of nails or written plans. Also visit Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Bliss), an active monastery with 500 monks. Earn a fantastic view at Changangkha Lhakhang, an old fortress temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu.

    Other sites may include the Folk Heritage Museum, National Library of Ancient Texts, National Textile Museum, or National Institute of Traditional Medicine.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 3: Thimphu Festival
    Take in the color and pageantry of the festival

    Enjoy the colorful dances of the Thimphu Tsechu Festival. This is a festival in honor of Guru Rimpoche and is highlighted by 12 events of the Buddha Sakyamuni's life. The dances are performed by monks as well as lay people taking on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes, demons, and animals.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 4: Thimphu/Punakha
    Take in the Punakha Dzong (photo by Steve Evans)

    You'll spend some time this morning visiting sites you didn't have time to see on your first day in Thimphu. Afterwards, make the estimated three to four hour drive (about 50 mi) to Punakha (3,936'). Blessed with temperate climate and fed by the Pho-chu (male) and Mo-chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country.  Until 1955, Punakha served as the capital and today is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and central monk body. The Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of the Pho-chu and Mo-chu Rivers in 1638 by Shabdrung and renovated from 1994-2003 with detailed arts and crafts. Punakha is also home to many different types of Himalayan birds, including the heron, kingfisher, lapwing, ibis bill, shell duck, and cormorant, which all migrate in the winter.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 5: Punakha/Trongsa
    See explosions of rhododendron blooms in the spring

    In the morning, visit Punakha Dzong, the second of Bhutan's dzongs, which served as the seat of the government for many years. Today's drive will be about five and a half hours (85 mi) across the Pele La (10,930') region to Trongsa (7,596'). Along the way you can see many different species of rhododendrons in bloom (April and May only) and many other plants. Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. It is from here the first monarchy was elected and the crown prince still traditionally takes the position of governor before he takes the seat of the throne. The landscape for many miles around Trongsa is spectacular. This afternoon, visit the Kuenga Rabten village and its waterfall. Just above the king's second palace, there is a nunnery where hundreds of nuns practice Buddhism. Overnight at a hotel in Trongsa.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 6: Trongsa/Bumthang (Jakar)
    Admire traditional Bhutanese architecture

    After breakfast, visit Ta-Dzong, the most impressive dzong in the kingdom and possibly one of the most aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture. Afterwards, you will drive to Jakar, the major trading center of this region. If you have time, you may wish to walk along the road in the beautiful surroundings for part of the way. This estimated three-hour drive will be across the Yotong-La Pass at an altitude of 11,685 feet and down the Chumey valley until you finally arrive in Jakar (9,184'). In the afternoon, visit the Jakar Dzong, built in 1667. The dzong itself may not be as impressive as other dzongs throughout Bhutan as there are few carvings or paintings, but the views overlooking the Chokhor Valley are spectacular. There are plenty of hiking opportunities while in Bumthang. Overnight at a Bhutanese-style lodge.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 7: Bumthang
    Explore monasteries, villages, and valleys on this activity-filled day

    After breakfast you will visit the sites around Bumthang, including the Namkhe Nyingpo Goemba Monastery, built in the 1970s with over 300 monks residing there. In the Chokhor Valley, there are opportunities for hiking and visits to interesting sites and monasteries, including the monastic school of Sey Lhakhang, which holds about 25 students; Jampey Lhakhang, though to have been built in 659 by the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo in order to subdue a Tibetan demoness; Charkhar Lhakang (Iron Castle), originally a palace made of iron in the eighth century; Kurjey Lhakhang, a large and important temple complex containing the preserved body of Guru Rinpoche; the yellow-roofed Thangbi Goemba, founded in 1470; Ngang Lhakhang, which is several hours walk up the Chokhor Chhu and contains some impressive statues and paintings; Tamshing Goemba, the most important Nyingma goemba in the country; and Konchogsum Lhakhang, built in the sixth or seventh century but renovated in 1995, making it appear new. At Tang Valley, the most remote valley in the Bumthang region where sheep and yaks are raised, you can visit Membartsho (Burning Lake), a picturesque pool and a relaxing place to spend some time meditating. There is also Kunzangdrak Goemba, which is a difficult, one-hour hike uphill if you enjoy the challenge. The Ogyen Chholing Palace is another 45-minute climb uphill, but has an interesting collection of studies and research offering insight into the lifestyle of a Bhutanese noble family. Alternatively, you can make the 1.5-hour drive to Ura, the highest valley in Bumthang, and probably one of the most interesting villages in Bhutan. Here you will enjoy seeing the closely-packed houses along cobblestone streets, which give this town its medieval atmosphere.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 8: Bumthang Festival
    Take in the color and excitement of the Bumthang Festival

    You spend the day witnessing the Bumthang Festival at Tamshing Monastery. The festival is celebrated in honor of Pema Lingpa, and you will have the rare opportunity to watch the mask dances performed by the monks of the monastery. This is a much smaller monastery and festival than the one you saw in Thimphu, but the monk-dancers are spirited and the setting is wonderful. During your stay, you may also be able to see a Thangkha unveiling at another monastery.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 9: Bumthang/Gangtey
    See small towns on your drive to Trongsa

    In the morning you depart for Gangtey (approx. 6 hr drive - 9,845'), a beautiful valley located near Phobjikha Valley, winter home to the black-neck cranes that migrate here. This area is particularly a great place to take a walk. Overnight in Gangtey.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel or lodge
    Show on a map
  • Day 10: Gangtey/Paro
    Explore Paro on your last night in Bhutan

    After breakfast, visit Gangtey Gompa, a monastery that dates back to the 17th century and overlooks the Phobjika Valley. Its complex includes monks' quarters, meditation centers, a school, and a small hotel. Afterwards, return to Paro for your overnight (approx. 6 hr drive). The rest of the day is free to do some last minute shopping or exploring places you want to see again.

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 11: Paro

    Enjoy a morning hike to Taktsang, (10,240') the famous "Tiger's Nest" Monastery, a very sacred monastery built in the 17th century in memory of Guru Rimpoche. The monastery was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in April 1998. This is a fairly vigorous hike, and the trail may be a bit muddy. If you are unable to make the hike, we can hire a pony for you to ride, or you can view the monastery from the road below. Afterwards, visit more of Paro's local sites including the Drugyel Dzong, now in ruins, built to commemorate the victory of war against the Tibetan invasion. 

    Meals
    Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
    Lodging
    Bhutanese style hotel
    Show on a map
  • Day 12: Paro/Onward
    Bid farewell to this enchanting land

    Transfer to the airport for your flight back to Bangkok.

    Meals
    Breakfast
    Lodging
    None
Price and Date Details

Price and Date Details

Sep 21-Oct 2, 2015
Or Privately on Request
Land Cost:
$3,950
- $4,350
Group size 2-3 cost: $4350 Group size 4+ cost: $3950 Druk Airfares to/from Paro; add $550-1000 (estimate)
Single Supplement:
$350
The single supplement is applicable if a roommate is not available or if single accommodation is specifically requested. While single accommodation is not available on all trips, we will try and honor this request whenever possible.
Need to Know

Need to Know

BOOK EARLY! Flights and hotels for this time of year fill very quickly.

Druk Air operates on a “daylight restricted” basis only and is totally dependent on weather. Therefore, flights can sometimes be delayed. It is highly recommended that passenger’s allow at least 24 hours transit time for connecting flights from Bangkok, Kathmandu, or Delhi. It is also recommended that you travel on non-restricted tickets so that if a connection is missed, it can be rerouted or endorsed onto another carrier.

Duration:
12 days
The number of days, or duration, in a destination corresponds with the itinerary as published. This is the time period covered by the land cost. The total number of days includes the time required to travel between the USA and the destination country.
Comfort Level:
2
Guesthouses & hotels
Group Size:
2-12
The stated range indicates minimum required for guaranteed departure and maximum accepted on the scheduled dates. Exceptions can often be made for private departures.
Activity Level:
2
Guesthouses & hotels
Terms & Conditions: 

Standard

Included in costs: Meals as noted, each night in double occupancy accommodations, land transfers between components, English speaking guides, park or site entry fees, surface transport, equipment other than personal gear, government tax, airport transfer assistance, in-country ticket reconfirmation and check-in assistance (where permitted), complete pre-departure packet, toll-free pre-departure phone assistance.

Not included in costs: Meals not noted as included, gratuities, beverages (except tea or coffee at meals), international or domestic airfare unless specified, airport departure taxes not included with air tickets, visas, itinerary changes after confirmation, any services not included in itinerary, any costs incurred due to canceled or delayed flights, acts of nature or other happenings beyond our control, or other costs as are more fully described in JOURNEYS Terms & Conditions.

Deposit and payment schedule: $500 per person per trip or the applicable amount based on the trip and the proximity of the departure date. A second deposit of $800 per person is due four months prior to departure, and final payment for land arrangements is due 60 days prior to departure.  Any applicable permit fees required in advance are non-refundable as well.  Airlines require full payment when tickets are issued. The deposit may be made by Visa, Master Card, American Express, or check, and the Reservation Form may be submitted by fax, mail, or via our website. Full payment schedule and cancellation penalties are described in our Terms and Conditions as noted in our Global Expedition Catalog, on our website, and elsewhere. Please request these if you do not have them before advancing a deposit.

Air fares: JOURNEYS can make complete air arrangements applicable to your trip as noted in this itinerary. If you wish to redeem frequent flyer mileage or arrange flights directly with the airline, you may do so on your own at no penalty. If you do, please consult with us on exact arrival and departure dates and times before having your tickets issued to avoid errors.

Insurance: When you make your application, we strongly recommend the purchase of comprehensive travel insurance in case of emergency situations. Please contact us for a recommended policy.

Itinerary Change Fee: There will be a $40 fee for changes once an itinerary has been confirmed and approved. Additional cancellation penalties or change fees may apply as per our terms and conditions. The passenger is responsible for such fees.

Resources

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