Definitive Bhutan Cultural Tour – 13 Days

Max Altitude : 3,990m/13,090ft,
Accommodation Types : Hotels
Trip Duration : 13 Days
Maximum Group Size : 12
Meal Arrangement : Bed and breakfast in Kathmandu, all meals on trek and in Nepalganj.
Difficulty : Moderate
Land Only Joining City : Kathmandu

Trip Overview

Many years of isolation have left the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon a truly unique place. The towns of Bhutan are dominated by enormous monastery-fortresses, or dzongs, that have stood for centuries and are still in use today. The architecture is unlike anything else found in the Himalaya – houses are painted with magic symbols to keep out evil spirits, national dress is commonly worn and the ‘Dragon’ sect of Buddhism thrives and is integral to the lives of the people. This very original cultural identity combined with spectacular scenery and charming people all goes to make a visit to Bhutan a fascinating experience.


We explore all aspects of Bhutanese culture on this captivating tour. Your expert guide will make sure you visit the must-see sights but will also take you through the beautiful countryside with which Bhutan is blessed and off-the-beaten-track villages where you will get an insight into local life and customs little-changed over the generations. There is no hard walking involved in this trip but there are opportunities for some gentle walks to stretch your legs and to enjoy the wonderful scenery. Every departure also attends a Festival – an unforgettable experience and one of the great highlights of a trip to Bhutan.


No other company offers such a comprehensive and well-led cultural tour of this wonderful Himalayan mountain Adventure. Travel on our November departure and your tour will be led by Michael Rutland OBE – the first Honorary Consul in Bhutan. Michael will give you a privileged insight into both the history and culture of Bhutan and also into modern day life and customs. You never know who or what you may see with Michael as your tour guide!



  • The February departure attends the Punakha Tsechu
  • The March departure attends the Paro Tsechu
  • The October departure attends the Dechenphu Tsechu
  • The November departures attend the Black Necked Crane Festival
  • Meal arrangements: Bed and Breakfast in Kathmandu, all meals in Bhut


Leader: Local leader, Bhutan

You will have an English-speaking Bhutanese guide.Smart mountain Adventure have been working with the same partner in Bhutan. Their guides are some of the bests in the smart mountain. They speak fluent English, as this is taught in all Bhutanese schools, and are fully qualified guides. The Tourism Authority of Bhutan insists that a Bhutanese trek or tour leader must pass his/her guiding exams in Thimphu before accompanying groups of foreign visitors. Guides receive regular ‘top-up’ training and 15 of our regular leaders have completed an extended training course run by Smart mountai Adventure in Bhutan.


  • Visit the key cultural sights including the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and Punakha Dzong.
  • Explore picturesque villages and get under the skin of authentic Bhutanese life and culture.
  • Join the celebrations at a Bhutanese festival.
  • Stay in a 5 star hotel in Kathmandu.
  • November departure led by Michael Rutland OBE.

Short Itinerary

Day 01-03:

This is the itinerary for our October departure.detailed itinerary for other departures below. Fly to to your home,

Day 04:

Drive to Thimphu via Tamchog Lakhang. Sightseeing in Thimphu.

Day 05:

Attend Dechenphu Tsechu. Visit Wangditse Monastery.

Day 06:

Drive to Punakha via the Dochu La, 3,140m/10,302ft. Visit Drukpa Kunley's Temple and villages.

Day 07:

Walk to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten and Punakha Dzong.

Day 08:

Drive to Paro. Visit Paro Dzong, Museum and Kyichu Lakhang.

Day 09:

Walk to Taktsang Monastery. Drive to the Haa Valley over the Cheli La, 3,990m/13,090ft.

Day 10:

Village walk in the Haa Valley. Drive to Paro.

Day 11-13:

Fly to Kathmandu. At leisure. Fly to your Home.


Day 01 Depart London.
Overnight: In flight

Depart from you Home, on your overnight flight to Kathmandu.

Day 02 Arrive Kathmandu.
Overnight: Dwarika's Hotel, Kathmandu

On arrival in Kathmandu you will be met and transferred to Dwarika’s Hotel, a luxurious and stylish 5* hotel filled with Nepalese furniture, carvings and statues. The hotel has a superb restaurant where you can try traditional Newari cuisine, as well as a beautiful swimming pool and a relaxing courtyard.

Day 03 Fly to Paro. Sightseeing as time permits.
Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar, Paro

Transfer to the airport for the short flight up to Bhutan. On a clear day the panoramic views of the Himalaya are sensational, including Everest, but particularly exciting is the approach through the Bhutanese foothills and the landing, including a few steep turns on the approach to the tiny airstrip of Paro. If possible try to sit on the left hand side of the plane for the most spectacular views. In Paro you will be met by your Bhutanese guide and taken to your hotel.

The Paro Valley has always had a great strategic importance for Bhutan and was historically an important staging post on the trade routes with Tibet. The spectacular Paro Dzong, situated on a rocky outcrop above the Paro Chu and with views down both sides of the valley was historically one of Bhutan’s strongest and most strategic fortresses. Before the rebuilding of the Tashidodzong in Thimphu, it was also the seat of Bhutan’s National Assembly.

Depending on the arrival time of your flight there may be time for some sightseeing in Paro in the afternoon. You might wander around Paro township or pay a quick visit to the huge dzong. Then if there is time and you feel like a walk you could walk back to your hotel.

Day 04 Drive to Thimphu via Tamchhog Lhakang. Sightseeing in Thimpu.
Overnight: Norkill Boutique & Spa Or Similar, Thimphu

After breakfast today you will drive to Thimphu; this will take about 1½-2 hours. En route you will stop to visit Tamchhog Lhakang. This is located before you reach Chuzom (river junction). The temple was built in the 14th century by the son of the very famous ‘Iron Bridge’ builder, Thangthong Gyalpo. You cross one of the eight bridges he built in Bhutan to reach the temple. It is an easy 15 minute walk from the road and has the immediate effect of transporting you back into the atmosphere of ancient Bhutan. A lovely place to visit.

Thimphu has an attractive valley location and is relatively small for a capital city, although it has grown greatly in recent years. There are many places of interest to visit there. Initially you might like to drive up to see the giant Buddha figure and enjoy the views over the town. Later you may have time for some sightseeing in Thimphu or for a wander round town.

Day 05 Attend the Dechenphu Tsechu. Visit Wangditse Monastery.
Overnight: Norkill Boutique & Spa Or Similar, Thimphu

This morning you will attend the Dechenphu Tsechu.This small festival takes place annually at Dechenphu Lakhkang near Thimphu. The Lakhang, and the tsechu, are dedicated to Gay Ngyen Jakpa Melen, a powerful guardian deity of Bhutan. Festivals are welcome opportunities for the Bhutanese to get together, not only to socialise and have fun, but also because the very act of attending a festival is thought to confer merit and wash away sins. Spectacular masked dances are performed, called shams, which are intended to give moral instruction, drive away evil spirits, promote good crops and celebrate the Buddhist faith in its many guises. Watch out for the very jolly clowns who tease onlookers and dancers alike.

In the afternoon you will drive up to Sangaygang next to the Bhutan First Broadcasting Service tower, located in the North West of Thimphu. It is only about a mile drive up to the tower so if you feel like you would like to burn a bit more energy you can always walk up instead. From the tower you will have great views over Thimphu Dzong and the Thimphu valley as you start your walk contouring the beautiful hills to visit Wangditse Gompa. This walk should take around 1.5 hours. You will have time to visit the gompa before you walk down for another 30 minutes to reach Dechen Phodrang Monastery. This monastery houses around 450 student monks enrolled in a 8 year course. The monastery is also home to some fantastic UNESCO monitored 12th century paintings. You will then meet your vehicle and be driven back to Thimphu.

Day 06 Drive to Punakha via the Dochu La, 3,140m/10,302ft. Visit Drukpa Kunley's Temple and villages.
Overnight: Zhingkham Resort or Damchen Resort or Similar, Punakha

In the morning you will have some time in Thimphu. Later you make the ascent up to the Dochu La pass. This pass at 3,140m/10,302ft is marked by 108 chortens. Here, weather permitting you may take in a magnificent mountain vista. On clear days there are fabulous views of the Eastern Himalaya from here but this is a beautiful spot even on misty days.

Descending from the pass you come to the lush Punakha Valley. Before driving to your hotel you will pay a visit to Chimi Lakhang, taking a short walk across the paddy fields to visit this delightful small temple built by Drukpa Kunley. Known as ‘The Divine Madman’, Drukpa Kunley was a 15th Century Bhutanese lama and is Bhutan’s most popular Saint and one of the most important figures in Bhutanese folklore. Despite the apparent conservatism of the Bhutanese people, Drukpa Kunley with his unconventional views on sex is a great favourite throughout the country – the phallus symbols painted on the outside walls of houses date back to his teachings. Chimi Lakhang is especially popular with women who come here to pray for children.

After lunch you will drive up to the charming village of Talo (altitude 2,800m). This attractive, village is well known for its pretty girls and its neatness! First you will drive up to its fine gompa, built above the village and worth a visit for the spectacular views. After a visit there you walk down through the village and will see traditional village life going on. It’s all very pretty – the beautiful farm houses of the village have their own well kept flower gardens and corn and vegetables are grown in profusion. There is an air of prosperity and contentment. You come out back onto the road below the village and then you may either walk down through woods and fields, or drive down, to the village of Nobgang, the birthplace of the four girls who in 1979 married King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the current king’s father, to become his four queens. After the king’s abdication they became Bhutan’s Queen Mothers. The gompas in Nobgang are sponsored by their family. The two villages of Talo and Nobgang have a longstanding rivalry in archery.

Day 07 In the Punakha Valley. Walk to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten and Punakha Dzong.
Overnight: Zhingkham Resort or Damchen Resort or Similar, Punakha

Today you may do a lovely walk in the lush, almost sub-tropical Punakha Valley. You drive further up the valley and start your walk at a pedestrian suspension bridge that crosses the Mo Chu River and follow up through paddy fields to the base of the hill where Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten is sited. The climb to the top is then quite steep but takes only 45 minutes or so. This chorten was consecrated in December 1999 and contains sacred relics donated from Punakha Dzong. If you don’t wish to walk further you may just walk up to the chorten and then return to the vehicle and drive back to Punakha.

For those who wish to walk you leave the grounds of the chorten via a different gate and descend to join a contouring path which ultimately leads you to the small village of Yabesa and you then follow the Mo Chu downstream past Sonagasha, the King’s Palace and on to Punakha Dzong.

The fabulous Punakha Dzong, one of the most spectacular and important in the kingdom, is situated at the confluence of two rivers. In 1994 there was a major flood in the town which caused a lot of damage to the dzong but it has now been beautifully renovated and is a real showcase for Bhutanese craftsmanship and painting. You are normally allowed into the dzong unless there are VIPs visiting.

Day 08 Drive to Paro. Visit Paro Dzong, Museum and Kyichu Lakhang.
Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar

Today you drive back over the Dochu La and on to Paro. In the afternoon you will have time for some sightseeing in the Paro valley. Firstly you may visit the huge Paro Dzong, one of the most important in the kingdom. Above the dzong is the 17th century watchtower or Ta Dzong. This unusual, circular building houses Bhutan’s National Museum and has recently been fully restored. The museum has a fantastic collection of Bhutanese national treasures with displays including depictions of a wide range of Bhutan’s history and culture and an impressive collection of ancient thangkas featuring Bhutan’s important saints and teachers. You will also find some fearsome festival masks, a collection of religious statues, some early stone carvings and the original iron links from the nearby Tamchhog Bridge.

There will then be time to visit the ancient temple of Kyichu Lakhang which was one of 108 temples built by an important early Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, in an attempt to pin down the Bon demon who was thought to hover over the whole of Tibet.

Day 09 Walk to Taktsang Monastery in the morning. Drive to the Haa Valley. Visit Dzong Drakha Temple en route.
Overnight: Lechuna Heritage Lodge Or Risum Resort Or Similar,

Today you will walk up to the famous Tiger’s Nest, Taktsang Monastery – a fitting climax to your trip. The monastery is perched some 600m/2,000ft up on a cliff overlooking the valley and was said to be where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padma Sambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. It’s a steep uphill walk through woods, of about 1½-2hrs, to reach a tea house (an ascent of 340m/1,115ft). Apart from offering welcome refreshment this tea house is one of the principle viewpoints of the monastery, and those who prefer not to climb any further can relax here whilst others continue on. If there is a particular religious gathering or VIP visit in progress, you will not be able to enter the monastery but the further half an hour’s ascent is well worth it in any case, as it brings you to another viewpoint directly across from the monastery. If you are able to make a visit, the final section of the walk takes you from here steeply down approximately 100m/330ft into the gorge that separates you from the monastery and then climbs back up again to reach the monastery gate. You descend back to the valley floor by your outward route back to where your vehicle will be waiting. The full walk to the monastery and back involves approximately 740m/2,428ft of ascent. Please note, if you prefer not to make the walk to Taktsang your driver will be able to take you instead further along the valley to visit Drukyel Dzong, a ruined fortress enjoying good views of the mountain.

In the afternoon you will drive to the Haa Valley. The drive to the pass takes about 1½ hours stopping off on the way at the temple of Dzong Drakha, a beautiful cliff temple spectacularly located on a broad ledge with vertical limestone cliff above and below There are lovely views from here.

Continuing up to the Cheli La, a pass at 3,990m/13,090ft, in clear weather you will have wonderful views of the snow-capped mountains to the west which mark the border with Tibet. You then descend on a long zig-zag road down into the Haa Valley. As you approach you will notice three almost identical conical hills in a line on the other side of the valley. These are believed by the locals to be the physical manifestations of three very important Buddhist saints. The left one is Manjushri (the god who holds the flaming sword which cuts the knot of ignorance), the middle one is Chenrizig (the Buddha of compassion of which the Dalai Lama is the human incarnation) and the right hand hill is Chana Dorji (this being the protector god of Bhutan). Collectively they are known as Rigsum (three hills). As you descend further you look down on the square yellow roof of the main monastery/fortress, Namgay Dzong. Spread around the dzong are the buildings of the Indian Army dating from the visit of President Nehru – the Indian army has a presence in Bhutan ostensibly to protect the kingdom from possible invasion from China. Although part of the dzong is used by the Indian Army the central tower is still used by the local people. The old town itself is just to the north-west and is really quite attractive with traditional two storey shops and a post office. There is a large school in Haa. In the afternoon you should have time for a little exploration in the Haa Valley.

Day 10 Village walk in the Haa Valley. Drive to Paro with visit to Kila Nunnery on the way.
Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar, Paro

Today you have time to explore in the Haa Valley. Initially it is worth driving up to the very top of the valley for an overview. This takes about 40 minutes and is a very pretty drive. From here you will get really good views of Haa Valley itself as well as over to the west to the mountains which border Tibet. Coming back down towards the town you may take a spur road to Talung village which is 20 minutes on a rough road. This village is situated in a small side valley and it’s a good idea to take the vehicles to the top of the village and then walk down through the houses for a look at a typical Haa village. You may well receive ‘invites’ into one or two of the farmhouses which would provide an interesting look at the way of life and standards of living of typical Bhutanese farmers. You can rejoin your vehicle at the bottom of the village and then drive the short distance to the bottom of a track for a nice walk up to Yongto Gompa, an ascent of 100 metres which takes about 30 minutes. Yongto Gompa is perched on a ridge overlooking the main valley and is one of the oldest monasteries in Haa, thought to have been built in the 15th century. From here you walk steeply down the hill, 30 minutes and 200m descent, through pine trees, to Yangtha village. This is a large village on the floor of the main valley. In 2001 they suffered a huge fire which destroyed 12 houses. Amazingly, the fire left the temple of the village perfectly intact. After the fire the King visited the people of the village and paid for the reconstruction. The new houses are built in exactly the same traditional style and blend in remarkably well.

After lunch you will drive back over the Cheli La Pass to Paro. On the way you may walk to the Kila Gompa nunnery. The gompa is surrounded by a lush forest dominated by tall firs and sparkling mountain streams tumble down slopes which are covered with a variety of wildflowers and plants. The Gompa is a peaceful retreat for Buddhist nuns who dedicate their lives to spiritual fulfilment. About 30 nuns live here, ranging in age from about 20 to 80 years. The community is one of the oldest of seven nunneries in Bhutan, and was initially established in the early 9th century as a meditation site. The nuns live a life of contemplation and seclusion, with daily prayer and spiritual practice. The temple itself is surrounded by numerous meditation huts, and many hidden caves lie inside the rocky cliffs. After being destroyed by fire, the temple was rebuilt and officially inaugurated in.

Day 11 Fly to Kathmandu. Transfer to Dwarika's hotel.
Overnight: Dwarika's Hotel, Kathmandu

You will be taken to the airport where you will say goodbye to your guide and driver. The flight to Kathmandu is normally an early morning flight which takes you out and over the Bhutanese mountains and past Kangchenjunga, Makalu and Everest, finally dropping down into Kathmandu valley. You will be met and transferred to Dwarika’s Hotel, after which there will be plenty of time to relax or for shopping and sightseeing.

Day 12 At leisure in Kathmandu. Transfer to the airport and depart for your Home.
Overnight: In flight

You will have time at leisure in Kathmandu today when you might do some sightseeing – you might take a trip out to Patan, one of the ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley. It is also worthwhile to visit the important complex of Hindu temples at Pashupatinath, just a short walk from Dwarika’s Hotel, where there a large temple to Shiva and the ghats on the banks of the river where cremations take place. The large stupa at Boudhanath is also worth a visit – this is a great focus for Buddhist pilgrims from all over the Himalaya. To the west of the city is another famous stupa, the so-called ‘Monkey Temple’, Swayambhunath, visited by Hindus and Buddhists alike. Alternatively you might do some shopping or simply relax by the pool at your hotel.Later there will be a group transfer to the airport for your overnight flight to the your Home.

Day 13 Arrive yopur Home.


  • Arrival & Departure Transport By private Car/Van/Bus.
  • Three meals a day during the Trekking (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
  • Accommodation in Tea House during the Trekking.
  • Trekking Guide with Insurance
  • Kathmandu city and trekking maps.
  • Free use Company's duffel bag.
  • Day sightseeing around Kathmandu Valley, car/van/bus and tour guide
  • All needed Government fees.
  • Food in Kathmandu(City) lunch and dinner.
  • Tips for Guide and Porters
  • Extra night accommodation in Kathmandu (late departure or early arrival from the mountains.
  • Donation Items of personal expenses like hot shower, battery charge, telephone etc.




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