Bhutan Cross Country Cultural and Festivals Itinerary

Fall Itinerary Overview

Click on the Day for detailed daily events.

Arrive Paro, check in to Nak Sel Resort, full day photographing and touring popular and little-known sites around Paro, including the our first dzong, centuries old temples and just strolling through the small market town of Paro. Since we are two-to-a-car there is no rush to get to the bus, just take your time getting comfortable in your room and then your own personal guide and driver will make suggestions for a great day of cultural exchange and photography according to your personal schedule.

Hike to Tiger's Nest with Bhutanese guide by your side to carry gear and urge you on, and if he is there you will meet with Robin's friend, the Taktsang Lama. Picnic lunch in the forest (not the crowded "cafeteria) on the way down." Second night at Nak Sel (edge of forest) Botique Resort.

Paro to Thimphu: Early picnic breakfast in CheleLa Pass overlooking Mount Jomolhari then spread out in cars around Thimphu to Robin's favorite places: School of 13 Traditional Arts, handmade paper factory, etc., then meet-up for riverside picnic lunch next to the covered bridge beneath Cheri Monastery. Afternoon Thimphu touring.

Thimphu to Wangdi: Halt at DochuLa Pass (108 chortens), lunch overlooking Divine Madman's Temple, on to Punakha Dzong—the Vatican of Buddhism in Bhutan—then on to Wangdi, stopping whenever your photographic eye catches a good scene and to interact with locals.

Wangdi to Phobjhika: Through the Black Mountains—a forest of oak and rhododendron—to one of the most scenic landscapes in all of Bhutan, Phobjhika Valley. Herein lies Gangtey Monastery, established in 1613. One-hour hike through the forest to lunch at a farmhouse and then visit Khewa Temple (built in the 14th century) for private puja (ceremony) to bless the tour. Rainbow is a sponsor of this temple so interior photos are allowed—monks chanting, horns blaring, cymbals clashing, etc. Then visit the monastery’s incense “factory.”

Phobjhika to Trongsa: Robin’s favorite drive in Bhutan, through PeleLa Pass draped in prayer flags, dense forest, past a Nepalese-style chorten with smiling eyes, and dramatic rivers at the bottom of green gorges where no man has ever set foot because of the deities that reside there. At Trongsa visit the Dzong and Royal Museum and walk the quaint streets of the village.

Trongsa to Domkhar: Via YotongLa Pass, destination Domkhar Village—many stops along the four-hour drive. Arrive Chumey Valley Nature Resort for lunch and two night stay, then each car visits a different farmhouse for tea, cultural exchange and explanation of Bhutanese life in a farmhouse. Then time permitting on to Tharpaling Monastery for royal treatment by the Domkhar Lam.

Morning back to same farmhouses for breakfast, help milk cows and get kids ready for school. Then a full day in Domkhar Village with our own exclusive tsechu (festival) with masked dances in the temple courtyard, photography allowed in the temple, villagers invited to our lunch. Except for villagers we have the place all to ourselves! Afternoon archery match (with plenty of beer! So hide behind a tree) between our crew of guides/drivers and local farmers, evening bonfire to award archery prizes with folk dancing and singing by villagers. Feel free to explore the village and nearby monastery.

Domkhar to Jakar: Just an hour’s drive from Domkhar we will stop at the local Yathra (cloth) co-op outlet, visit the Beer/Cheese Factory, several temples including Bhutan's oldest temple—with your guide by your side, plenty of cultural exchanges with elderly pilgrims—and stroll the shop-lined street of Jakar Village. Check into hotel for two nights.

Full free day at Jakar: Day of leisurely exploring the local area. Rise early to catch sunrise on the Dzong from across the valley. Visit the Dzong and many other authentic Bhutanese places.

Jakar to Mongar: Only 200 foreign visitors a year venture beyond here. Spectacular white-knuckled six-hour drive stopping whenever you like in villages, forests, and riversides. Picnic lunch and tea/coffee breaks wherever the scenery appeals to you—guide and driver at your service with folding chairs. The cars will "leap-frog" from cultural exchange to scenic overview, to "I need to find a bush!" bathroom breaks. Check into hotel for two nights.

Full day touring Mongar: Break into two organized groups for school visits (primary, secondary and pre-K), Tibetan monastery to learn a different Buddhist philosophy, ancient temple known for being an adult day-car center for elderly pilgrims (elderly sitting in room full of huge prayer wheels) and more. Cultural immersion at its best.

Mongar to Trashigang: four-hour drive with plenty of stops--you are the captain of your ship. Picnic lunch where you choose then sightseeing in Trashigang, the second largest city in Bhutan but a place where you will probably not see another foreign visitor.

Trashigang to Phongmey and return: Exclusive full day yak herder festival in courtyard of Phongmey Temple. The Brokpa people trek for two days to get to us! and bring all of their festival costumes including a two-man, four-legged yak. You will be asked to lend a hand in the serving line that feeds over a hundred Bhutanese villagers and yak herders. Photography allowed in temple, join in folk dancing. Second night in Trashigang.

Trashigang to Indian border at Samdrup Jongkhar: six-hour casual drive down out of the Himalayas, very scenic, through the campus at Sherubtse Royal University in Kanglung and stop to meet the students at Bhutan's Institute for the Visually Impaired. (Previous tours have given 12 cameras to students and taught them basic point-and-shoot photography skills.) Picnic lunch and tea/coffee breaks wherever the scenery appeals to you. Check into last hotel for parting dinner with our guides and drivers.

Border to Guwahati airport: Indian cars pick us up early morning and drive three hours to the airport at Guwahati for tour departure back to Bangkok.

Next:  Start reading our fantastic Fall Tour Itinerary from Day 1 all the way across the Bhutan to Day 16! 

Have Questions? Please Email Robin!Email Robin

"I make a living from travel photo-journalism and have covered over 55 countries.  I am always wary of "tours" and normally steer away but this one was different—it is not a tour but more of a guided journey through what must be the most amazing and spiritual country on earth.  When someone asks me which is your most favorite country I do not hesitate to say "Without a doubt, Bhutan". Rainbow Photo Tours, but especially Robin Smillie, is one of the best tour coordinators I have ever traveled with." —TripAdvisor Reviews of Rainbow Photo Tours
Lunch Bhutan-style
Lunch in the Himalayas.
Get up close and personal with festival dancers—we are allowed "behind-the-scenes" at our two private festivals.
Bhutan's National Highway is the only way to cross the country. (They have no railroads, tunnels or long bridges!)
Keen photographers and artists will find amazing colors in Bhutan.
Ultra-rare photo ops: At two private mini-festivals we can photograph practicing ceremonial dancers in two small temples just before they spin and jump across the courtyard re-re-enacting Buddhist history.
Royal Druk Air flies in and out of Paro, the only international airport in the country.
Our guides and drivers have a great sense of humor and enjoy interacting with us as much as we do with them."

So what's the difference between the Spring and Fall tour?

Our 15-day-in-country spring and fall tours are identical in terms of places we visit, hotels and special functions like our two small-village mini-festivals. The differences are seasonal weather and type of farming activity.

Spring will find the fields green (the mountain forests are green year-round) and rhododendrons in bloom in the high passes. Temps are same as fall, mid sixties (f) during the day, mid fifties at night. In the west think southern California, warmer in the east at lower elevations. We will usually not see snow or ice, maybe a 10% chance of snow in the higher passes. There are some mornings when fog banks roll through the mountains making for fantastic landscape photography.

Fall will find the fields are bussing with activity during the harvest, most of it done by hand with hand sickles and winnowing wheat from baskets thrown into the wind. (The Bhutanese love to have foreigners try their hand.) Red chili peppers dry on the tops of roofs. The monsoons have come and gone with little threat of rain—most smaller rivers remain swollen whitewater. There are days when white billowy clouds float in a sea of cobalt skies. Temps are same as spring, mid sixties (f) during the day, mid fifties at night. In the west think southern California, warmer in the east at lower elevations.

So your choice of tour should be more based on your personal calendar rather than trying to pick the best tour in terms of weather and events.

Waitlist If our Spring and Fall 2017 or Spring 2018 dates are not convenient for you, please contact us for personal tour arrangements!  We arrange tours throughout the year.

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