Thimphu to Punakha to Wangdi
Arise at 0700 (if you wish—just inform your guide and driver the night before) and go to the Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in memory of the third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died in 1972. Local residents flock here in the morning to chant their daily prayers as they walk clockwise around the chorten (temple), spinning prayer wheels as they pass fragrant columns of smoke from smoldering juniper branches that carry a stream of prayers to the mountain deities. Bring a tripod and shoot high ISO because sunlight doesn’t hit here ‘til late morning.
Breakfast at 8 a.m., then pack and meet your guide and driver in front of the hotel at 9 a.m. We then begin our journey to the East, en route stopping at 10,500 ft. DochuLa pass for tea and biscuits and enjoy our first view of the eastern Himalayan mountains. Here we can spend some time photographing the Druk Wangyal Chortens. Built in 2004 to "...celebrate the stability and progress that His Majesty has brought to the nation," this hill of 108 religious buildings in the middle of the pass reflect Bhutan's spiritual and artistic traditions. Then we drive to Punakha Dzong stopping for lunch overlooking the Divine Madman's Temple. (You can walk there if you like, 1.5 hrs round trip.) Next we visit Punakha Dzong where we can photograph the colorful exterior, the new covered foot bridge which is the longest cantilevered bridge in the world, and interior courtyards with colorful and intricately painted doorways and temple exteriors. Built in 1637 between the confluence of the Po Chu (male river) and Mo Chu (female river,) this fortress monastery is the winter residence of Bhutan's spiritual leader, the Je Khenpo or Head Abbot, and the central Monk Body—350 monks in total.
Beyond Punakha and Wangdi, both at 4,260 ft., we check in at Kichu Resort on the edge of the rapids of the Dangchu River. We always get a good night's sleep there, listening to the water tumble over boulders the size of Volkswagens. Kichu is a private resort and there is the slight chance we would be bumped by their own guests, but if that happens the alternative hotel is Dragon's Nest, a classy place overlooking the wide and calm river at Wangdi.
Overnight: Kichu Resort