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Western Bhutan Explorer

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Western Bhutan Explorer

Experience western Bhutan's best day walks around Thimphu, Paro and Punakha before finishing the trip in great style with a hike to the brilliant Tiger's Nest monastery.

Day 1: Paro to Thimphu

Location : Paro, Bhutan

The flight into Bhutan is wonderful as you descend into the scenic Paro valley, one of the wide flat valleys that typify the western part of the country. The airport itself is built and decorated in traditional Bhutanese style, ornately carved and painted.

Your Rare Air guide and driver will meet you when you exit the airport, after going through customs. Paro airport is very small and easy to navigate.    

From here we transfer to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital, which is tiny by world standards. It is the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights, relying instead on a white-gloved policeman. The drive will take approximately 1½ hours. We will check into our hotel before heading out for lunch.

In the afternoon we will drive to Buddha Dordenma, one of the tallest statues of a seated Buddha in the world, at 51 metres high. From here we will take an easy grade 2-hour walk to Changangkha Lhakang, a temple dating back to the 12th century. The walk itself is through serene pine forest with marvelous views of the city.

Overnight in Thimphu. Altitude: 2,320 metres.

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Day 2: In Thimphu

Location : Thimphu, Bhutan

This morning we will drive north of the city to the start of the walk to Cheri monastery. It is a 2-hour round trip that is steep in parts. As we ascend we will be greeted with more fine views of the valley. If there is time and energy we can also add on the 1½-hour walk to nearby Tango monastery.

After lunch we will check out the skills of the archers at the Changlimithang Archery Ground. Archery is the national sport and it's pretty entertaining, given that a hit of the target is accompanied by singing and dancing. There will also be time to visit the main downtown area of the city.

Overnight in Thimphu. Altitude: 2,320 metres.

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Day 3: To Punakha

Location : Punakha, Bhutan

Today we head to the Punakha valley, via the scenic Dochula. In good weather this high pass has stunning views of the Eastern Himalayas. However the main attraction here are the 108 chortens built on a nearby gentle slope. Chortens contain important Buddhist relics and these particular ones were built to atone for the loss of life during skirmishes on the Assam border.

After this we can walk the Lungste Tsey Pilgrimage trail that leads to a small monastery high above Dochula at 3,569 metres in altitude. It is a beautiful walk, through forests of pine, rhodendron and daphne, with colourful prayer flags strewn through the trees. The hike will take 3 to 4 hours.

After lunch we will explore Punakha dzong, said to be the most beautiful in Bhutan. Dzongs were originally used as fortresses to guard against invading armies and were usually built in strategic locations. In the case of the Punakha dzong it has a stunning location on the confluence of two rivers. The dzong has a numbe rof serene courtyards and great detail in the intricately painted woodwork. Keep an eye out for the enormous bee hives under the eaves.

Overnight in Wandue Phodrang. Altitude: 1,240 metres.

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Day 4: In Punakha

Location : Punakha, Bhutan

Today we will explore the Punakha valley with a number of short walks. First will be the 1-hour easy grade walk to Chime Lhakhang, also known as the temple of the Divine Madman. Drukpa Kunley is reputed to have challenged traditions by teaching Buddhism with outrageous behaviour, most notably wine, women and song. The temple has become a symbol of fertility, as evidenced by the number of painted phalluses and souvenir shops selling phallus shaped trinkets along the route. Bhutanese people come here to seek blessings for their children.

After this we will walk the 1½-hour trail that leads to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. The track winds through the rice paddies up to this stunningly located chorten, with wonderful views over the valley.

Our third walk will take us along the river with more fine views of the valley.

Overnight in Wangdue Phodrang. Altitude: 1,240 metres.

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Day 5: In Paro

Location : Jele Dzong, Bhutan

Today we return to the Paro valley for more exploration on foot. The drive will take around 4½ hours. After lunch we will hike to Jele dzong at 3,540 metres, which is on the first day's walk of the famous Druk Path trek. The dzong has a new section as parts of the original building were damaged by an earthquake. The old section was originally constructed in the 16th century. From the ridge where  the dzong sits we may have good views of the mountains, weather permitting.

Overnight in Paro. Altitude: 2,280 metres.

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Day 6: The Tiger's Nest

Location : Tiger’s Nest, Taktsang Trail, Bhutan

Today we hike to the Tiger's Nest, a brilliant walk to one of the most picturesque monasteries in the world. It is a climb of around two hours to get to the top, with plenty of great spots for stopping and taking photographs of the Paro valley and the monastery itself. The main complex is a series of small temples connected by steep stone staircases. Its location on the side of a sheer cliff at 3,100 metres in altitude is awe inspiring.

After lunch we will visit the incredibly grand Paro dzong. It is one of the larger fortresses in Bhutan and has stunning views over the Paro valley. We will also take a walk through the main streets of downtown Paro for any last minute souvenir shopping.

Overnight in Paro. Altitude: 2,280 metres.

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Day 7: Departure

This morning we will be transferred to the airport by our guide and driver where we will say our last goodbyes to the beautiful Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. The airport has a couple of cafes and a small but well stocked bookshop if you are looking to use up any leftover Ngultrums.

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