Tour DetailsDestination: Bhutan
Dates: Fall 2013
Bhutan Tour for Women
Number of days: 12
Itinerary dates: October 15 – 26, 2013
Tour Leader: Joslin Fritz
WanderTours Giving Program – A portion of your tour cost will go to supporting RENEW, a women’s program in Bhutan dedicated to the relief and empowerment of women in Bhutan. The group will visit their offices to present the donation and to learn more about the organization.
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HIGHLIGHTS of the Bhutan Tour for Women
* Hike to Tiger’s Nest, the country’s most photographed monastery
* Attend the Jambay Lhakhang tsechu (festival) – known as the sacred midnight naked dance
* Take light hikes in the peaceful beauty of the Himalayan foothills
* Visit stunning Punakha Dzong – considered the most beautiful monastery in Bhutan
* Walk through the Gangtey Valley, where black-necked cranes migrate from the Tibetan plateau
* Every participant on a tour with a departure date in 2013 and 2014 will receive a free Donner Bag ($65 value!) from Overland Equipment in her choice of color. See details here.
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The group will meet in Bangkok for the flight to Paro, Bhutan. A welcome dinner will be arranged the night prior to departure (October 14) for all who can attend. Flights leave Bangkok very early on the morning of the 15th (usually 5:30 am) so it’s best to arrive in Bangkok at least 24 hours prior to departure to Bhutan in the event of flight delays.
October 15, 2013 – Arrive from Bangkok – Paro (Meals: L, D)
The plane flight into Paro is a spectacular introduction to the breathtaking Himalayas. In clear conditions, you’ll have impressive views of the highest peaks in the world before descending into the Paro Valley. Your first experience will be breathing in the fresh, clean air. Once you’ve cleared customs and visa control, the group will be met by the in-country guide and taken to your hotel.
Following lunch, you’ll tour Rinpung Dzong (monastery) and also spend some time strolling Paro’s main street, lined with small shops. Later, if there is time, you’ll see Ta Dzong a monastery converted into the National Museum. Here you’ll see traditional thangkas, fabrics, weaponry, armor, household objects as well as historic items. Overnight at Tenzinling Hotel or similar in Paro.
October 16, 2013 – Paro – Thimphu (Meals: B, L, D)
After breakfast, you’ll depart for the capital, Thimphu (population 86,000; 7,520 feet), which is located approximately one hour away.
After lunch, you’ll visit sights around this small city. This might include a nunnery, handicraft emporium, handmade paper factory, the National Memorial Chorten, the National Zoo (more like a preserve, the only animal there is the national animal, the extraordinary Takin) and Trashi Chhoe Dzong. Overnight at Hotel Riverview or similar in Thimphu.
HIGHLIGHT! Though Thimphu is considered a bustling city compared to the rest of Bhutan, it is the world’s only capital without a traffic light! It is also a great place to learn about the nation’s thriving arts and crafts.
October 17, 2013 – Thimphu – Punakha (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you will leave for Dochu La Pass (10,000 feet), ascending steeply through pine and cedar forests with hanging lichen. The group will then take a short downhill hike through the woods and board your vehicle when you meet up with the road again. You’ll then drive onward to the Punakha Valley. Lunch will be served at the hotel.
In the afternoon, the group will tour nearby Punakha Dzong. Dinner and overnight at Meri Puensum or similar in Punakha.
HIGHLIGHT! Punakha Dzong is likely the most beautiful of all dzongs in Bhutan. You will have a chance to meander through this complex of architectural structures which are home to hundreds of monks half of the year. You’ll see the magnificent main temple that contains massive Buddhas at the altar as well as thousands of small statues placed in the walls.
October 18, 2013 – Punakha – Trongsa (Meals: B, L, D)
Today after breakfast, you’ll depart for the 5-hour ride to Trongsa. Along the way, you will cut through the Black Mountains on Bhutan’s “Central Road.” This highway essentially opened central Bhutan to the rest of the world.
You’ll first stop in Wangdue, a small village and the district headquarters of Western Bhutan. The road then climbs through tropical vegetation to Pele La Pass (10,900 feet), surrounded by towering rhododendron and dwarf bamboo. You’ll likely see yak, which often graze in this area and, if clear, you might see impressive Mt. Jhomulhari (24,140 feet). Coming down from the pass, you will continue on to Trongsa, where you will visit the striking Trongsa Dzong. Dinner and overnight at Hotel Yangkhil Resort or similar in Trongsa.
October 19, 2013 – Trongsa – Bumthang Valley (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you will head eastward to the Bumthang Valley, where it’s believed Buddhism in Bhutan got its start. You will have time to see a number of sites including: Kurjey Lhakhang and Jambay monasteries, Tamshing Gompa, Jakar Dzong and possibly the Swiss Farm, where they make cheese, honey, beer and local fruit spirits. Overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! It’s believed that Buddhism in Bhutan started in Bumthang. The valley is home to the two oldest temples in the Kingdom and a number of sacred sites. A spiritual vibe fills the air of this idyllic valley.
October 20, 2013 – Bumthang – Festival Day (Meals: B, L, D)
In the morning, the group will attend more festival dances that are part of the tsechu. This will include the popular mask dance as well as many other performances by traditional singers and dancers. There will be craftspeople from around the country set up with booths to sell jewelry, clothes, Buddhist treasures and other souvenirs. On this day, you may also have time for more sightseeing around the Bumthang Valley including a walk to a nearby village.
After dinner, the group will attend Jambay Lhakhang Drup, where, very late, the sacred naked dance is performed by local men. (Yes, they are naked. No, photos are not allowed.) This is the beginning of the tsechu and this dance is performed in order to purify sins and to receive a good harvest. It’s believed to be very good luck to watch these dancers, giving yourself the chance to be absolved of a lifetime of sins (phew)! Overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! The midnight dance on this night is quite a secretive affair. It’s usually held in the wee hours of the morning when most tourists have gone to sleep. But, it is WELL worth it if you are able to stay awake .
October 21, 2013 – Bumthang – Ura – Bumthang (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, the group will drive to the Ura Valley, about 25 miles from Bumthang. The road traverses Ura Shelthang-la where, in clear whether, there is a magnificent view of Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (24,600 feet). The road then descends into the Ura Valley. The group will hike down through a lush forest and through the village of traditional homes. Overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! The people of Ura mainly raise sheep and yaks, and the introduction of potato farming has brought a certain degree of prosperity to the people. This is an ancient village where you’ll be able to meander through its narrow streets.
October 22, 2013 – Bumthang – Gangtey (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you will start the drive back toward Paro. You’ll have a chance to stop at Yotong La Pass and continue on via Trongsa, to Pele La Pass, and then onward to the Phoblika Valley (10’000 feet), deemed the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas. There will be a lunch break along the way. Dinner and overnight at Dewachen Hotel or similar in Gangtey.
HIGHLIGHT! The Phoblika Valley is the winter home to the endangered black-necked cranes which migrate from the Tibetan Plateau. While they are usually only here from November through March, sometimes you will find some early arrivals around this time.
October 23, 2013 – Gangtey – Wangdue (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you’ll visit Gangtey Gompa, which was built in the 17th century and renovated just a few years ago. From the gompa, you’ll walk back to the hotel along a path that cuts through a beautiful forest and then across the valley floor. Lunch will be served at the hotel.
In the afternoon, you’ll drive about 2 hours to a riverside hotel near Wangdue (4,000 feet) and enjoy some leisure time before dinner. Dinner and overnight at Dragon’s Nest Hotel or similar in Wangdue.
HIGHLIGHT! You’ll enjoy the morning’s walk in the Phoblika Valley which is one of the easiest and most beautiful on the tour. This region is breathtaking and you’ll likely see horses and cows meandering around the valley floor which is ringed by low mountain ranges.
October 24, 2013 – Wangdue – Thimphu – Paro (Meals: B, L, D)
From Wangdue, you’ll drive to Thimphu where you’ll have lunch at a local restaurant and one last opportunity for sightseeing and shopping in the capital. You will then head to Paro where you’ll have dinner and overnight at Tenzingling Resort or similar in Paro.
October 25, 2013 – Paro (Meals: B, L, D)
On this last full day in Bhutan, you’ll get an early start in order to hike the 2+ hours to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest), the country’s most photographed and well-known monastery. You’ll tour the few temples at the top and have time to enjoy the view from here. On the way down, you’ll stop at the tea shop/cafe, located midway, where you’ll see exceptional views of Tiger’s Nest up above. You will then proceed down for lunch.
Upon returning to Paro, you may have time for relaxing or going to town for last-minute souvenir shopping. Final dinner and overnight at Tenzingling Resort or similar in Paro.
HIGHLIGHT! The hike up to and visiting Tiger’s Nest could quite possibly be the highlight of your time in Bhutan! This iconic site, perched on the side of a mountain, is revered by the Bhutanese – and you’ll soon see why.
October 26, 2013 – Paro – Bangkok (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you’ll leave for the airport for the sad farewell to the Kingdom of Bhutan and your flight to Bangkok. Flights usually arrive into Bankgok late in the afternoon. Though you can connect with an international flight that night, you might consider staying in Bangkok for one night in case flights out of Paro are delayed (not uncommon).
** Itinerary subject to change without notice.
Flight from Bangkok to Paro:
Interested in sharing the cost with another traveler? We do our best to pair up travelers so as to avoid the single supplement. However, priority is given to the first deposits received. If you’re interested in sharing, please send in your deposit as soon as possible in order to take advantage of this benefit. (Why a single supplement charge? See this FAQ page for an explanation.)
Final payment due no later than August 15, 2013.
Price includes: Transportation in Bhutan, all meals, hotels, bottled water, visa, airport tax and tourist development fund charge. Also includes entrance to monasteries and festivals.
Price does not include: Flights to and hotel in Bangkok, evacuation insurance (highly recommended), souvenirs, personal purchases (such as books and snacks), beverages other than water and tips.
We recommend World Nomads for travel and/or evacuation insurance.
This trip is limited to 12 women and requires a $900 deposit on a first come, first served basis.
Minimum required: 5 people (minimum reached!)
Registration Form Bhutan Culture and Festival Tour 2013 (PDF)
For deposit and payments, please make payable and mail check to:
PO Box 16102
Seattle, WA 98116
For questions, please contact Beth at:
beth (at) wandertours (dot) com
Bhutan Culture and Festival Tour Packing List: Provided upon registration
An international traveler for the past 14 years, Joslin has a substantial background in adventure travel and tour leading. She has led tours for WanderTours for the past three years to such destinations as India, Vietnam & Cambodia, and Seattle. When not leading tours in Asia, Ecuador, or Cuba, she can be found in Seattle. If not abroad, chances are she is on a distant river in Oregon, Alaska, or British Columbia, where she works as a river guide in the summer months. She finds Bhutan to be a fascinating destination and she can’t wait to share this adventure with you in October.
Few travelers go to Bhutan because of the country’s insufficient infrastructure and the government’s desire that the country sustain its extraordinary culture. Accommodations are quite comfortable, usually in the 3 – 4 star range (5-star hotels can be upwards of an additional $1,000/night!), and have private bathrooms, heat, and hot water. Meals are usually served buffet-style at the hotel and include plenty of cooked vegetables, rice, and meat. Vegetarians will have no issues finding enough to eat.
Bhutan is situated high in the Himalayas. The altitude shouldn’t be a problem for most, but sometimes people react to it with minor headaches or stomachaches. Participants should be fairly fit and expect to do light hiking throughout the journey. Consult your doctor and consider high altitude medication.
For those vulnerable to motion sickness, please bring medication or natural remedies in the event the twisty roads get to you.