Experience Rural Bhutan
10 Days / 9 Nights
This extraordinary journey through ancient Bhutan will offer an unusual insight into rural Bhutan while introducing Bhutan's rich cultural and historical heritage.
Stay a night with a local family, experience the rural way of life, learn to prepare local dishes in a traditional earth oven, make local wine (the Ara), pick home grown fruits and vegetables, take part in seasonal farming activities with local farmers, feed domestic animals, milk a cow, hike through the picturesque landscape and rural villages, fetch firewood from a nearby forest, and take a dip in a traditional hot stone bath.
Besides these authentic experiences, you will visit Bhutan's unmissable sights including the Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery, the Paro Rinpung Dzong, the Kyichu Lhakhang which is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Bhutan, the Thimphu Dzong, a living example of the brilliance of Bhutanese architecture. Visit the old capital Punakha and the Puna Dewa Chenpoi Phodrang or the Great Palace of Happiness, among others.
Our Bhutan itineraries are suggestions and are fully customisable according to your needs, interests and budget.
Treat these itineraries as inspiration and one of our experts will create your unique, tailor-made Bhutan holiday with your requests in mind so that you can truly experience Bhutan with Seven Senses.
Day 1. Arrive Paro - Thimphu
Experience a rare opportunity to witness the glorious Himalayan mountain peaks including the world’s highest, Mount Everest as you cruise towards the East. After arriving Paro International Airport you will be met and greeted by your tour guide and driver with traditional scarf presentation along with travel kits.
First you will be driven to a local restaurant in Paro for arrival refreshments. Afterwards, enjoy a soft uphill walk of around 15 minutes to the Majestic Ringpung Dzong (fortress) from the traditional wooden Nimizampa Bridge.
At the fortress, your guide will escort you to the main courtyard and inner sanctum. As you enter the fort, impressive murals of four protective guardians and the wheel of life will unfurl the essence of Buddhism. Entering the open courtyard, you will remain mesmerized by lavish displays of traditional art and the architecture. Walk around and immerse yourself in architecture photography and interact with young monks.
As you walk down the aisle of the government areas within the fortress you will enter the main temple premises. Remove your shoes and hat to enter the shrine room where more than 200 monks conduct rituals on a daily basis. This antique temple houses the shrine of Chenrayzing, the goddess of longevity. At your will conducting meditation and offering prayers will give you a slice of peace, happiness and good luck.
After your visit you will walk down the same trail and take a short drive to a local farmhouse for lunch. You will be served local foods, prepared from homegrown agricultural produce.
After lunch you will visit the historic temple of Kichu on the outskirts of Paro. Nestled in the beautiful Kichu valley, the history of the temple dates back to 6th century.
From here you will be driven through beautiful rural scenery to the capital city, Thimphu which you will reach after about an hour. En route, make a short stop at Tagcho to walk across the suspension bridge and discover the symbolic remnant of the iron chain made by Thangthong Gyalpo, a legendary Tibetan treasure reveler of the 13th century.
Arrive Thimphu, check in to the hotel and spend the rest of your time relaxing or discover the main street of Thimphu and soak up the night scenes of this small but bustling city.
Day 2. Thimphu
Thimphu is a home to approximately 130,000 local residents and it is the busiest place in the country. It is the capital of Bhutan since 1955 and the place has turned into a bustling town with the highest number of international and regional visitors in Bhutan.
In Thimphu you will visit a small paper factory. This small factory is famed for its handmade paper and associated products. At the factory you will observe the making of paper from locally available Daphine shrub. Essentially, more than 80% of its’ making involves manual processes. The finished products are supplied to both local and international vendors. In the vicinity of factory, visit a showroom, which displays quite a good variety of paper products. The products are best to gift as souvenir to friends and family by virtue of its authenticity and local originality.
Next you will take a short drive to the National Memorial Chorten in the close proximity of Thimphu town. This symbolic structure was built in 1974 by the late queen mother Ashi Phunsho Choden as a memorial emblem of the late third King of Bhutan. The site is frequently visited by people of all ages to offer prayers and soak up in ritual practices. On normal days, you will witness groups of elderly locals seated on the floor and turning prayer wheels. These senior people show up everyday on site to keep themselves occupied practicing spiritual activities. The Memorial Chorten also serve as a venue for several religious events. During such occasions, thousands of devotees from different walks of life converge to receive blessing and spiritual teaching from Buddhist masters. Your visit shall reward you with insightful understanding of the lives of local people and the deeply Buddhist spirituality of the country.
You will be driven to the landmark Kuenselphodrang Park where a 169 feet statue of lord Buddha stands tall overlooking Thimphu valley. The Buddha is the tallest of its kind in the world, crafted from pure bronze. Stroll around the spacious surroundings of the Buddha taking pictures and soaking up scenic views of Thimphu valley. Afterwards, take a short hike in Kuenselphodrang Park and hang prayer flags at a spot of your liking.
Visit the Traditional Medicine institute at Kawajangsa locality. You will be met and greeted by a local doctor who will join us to brief you about the local hospital campus. You will take a brief in house tour and learn about the making of traditional medicines from locally available medicinal plants. Also you will visit a manufacturing laboratory and see the process of making medicine.
After that take a five minute walk to the National Institute of 13 Traditional Arts and Crafts. Here you will interact with young students who get trained to take up different art professions. Students get trained in 13 arts and crafts disciplines, which is very intensive and practical. You will witness live and demonstrative classes happening in different blocks and you will have a chance to visit several art classes.
Later, you will be driven to a local farmhouse for lunch. You will be served local food prepared from fresh, seasonal and homegrown cereals and vegetables. After lunch walk in the lush terraced farmland to freshen up for the ensuing activities.
Next you will be taken for a soft hiking adventure. The hike will start from Decehenphodrang parking ground through rolling hills of Wangditse to the top of Sangaygang Park. The prominent hiking trail will reward you with beautiful scenery of the entire Thimphu valley. Considered to be somewhat energy draining, this approximately 45 minutes uphill climb through refreshing pine forests is definitely worth the adventure. At Sangaygang you will be picked up by your driver and be driven to a local market (weekends only).
Explore the small local market on the banks of the Wangchu River. This small market unites the farmers and vegetable vendors from every corner of the country. Here you will discover a wide assortment of organically grown vegetables and other agricultural produce considered to fetch a good income for the farmers. Walk across the two storied vegetable market and pick up your favorite seasonal fruits and vegetables. Talk to the local farmers and hear their stories.
Thereafter, proceed to Changlingmithang national stadium to witness an archery tournament. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. Bhutanese people take great joy playing archery, using either modern bow and arrows or traditional bamboo equipment. The way an archery tournament is being conducted in Bhutan will completely blow your mind. Two targets are set at a 145 meters distance and the tournament will span over two days time. In a typical archery tournament, individual teams will have a band of female dancers to cheer up their team and inflict distracting insults to the opponents through varieties of songs and dances.
In the evening, you will explore the glorious Thimphu Dzong perched on the left bank of Wangchu River surrounded by terraced rice fields at the backdrop and a nine-hole golf course on the right. This majestic structure houses the offices of the King of Bhutan and the summer residence of the Central Monastic Body. Inside you will be permitted to visit the main Buddha shrine with impressive architectural decor. Spend some time exploring the spacious courtyard of the fort photographing impressive architecture and interacting with young Buddhist monks.
Later, explore the main street of Thimphu on foot and observe the evening sights and sound of the capital city.
Today you will have dinner in a typical local restaurant surrounded by locals.
Day 3. Thimphu - Phobjikha
After early breakfast in the hotel, depart to Phobjikha, the valley famed for its breathtaking scenery of wide-open landscapes with well-preserved ancientness of Medieval Bhutan. Unlike other destinations in the country, Phobjikha has received special attention to refrain from modern development because the entire valley is a winter roosting place of endangered migratory birds, the black neck cranes. These rare species fly all the way from the Tibetan plateau post harvest season to spend their winter months in this beautiful valley. They are well taken care of by the government of Bhutan and at the onset of spring they fly back to Tibet to spend the warmer season there. The valley celebrates a unique black neck crane festival coinciding with the arrival of black neck cranes on 11 November.
Enjoy your day long drive through east-west highway snaking through thick forests of the sub-alpine zone of the inner Himalayas. From Thimphu the road will gradually ascend over the hills of Yesupang and Hongtsho until you arrive the breathtaking mountain pass of Dochula at 3,150 meters above sea level. Dochula is a weekend escape destination for the locals and a must for visitors. The pass is festooned by 108 chortens or stupas and colourful prayer flags. To the east of the pass, the snow clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas are seen prominently and among them is the Mt. Masanggang at 7,158 metres which is the highest peak in Bhutan, known in local language as the Mt. Gangkar Puensum.
Leaving Dochula, your drive will start descending through winding roads, scenic valleys until you arrive to the warmer valley of Lobesa. At Lobesa enjoy a 30 minutes hike through clustered villages and terraced rice fields leading all the way to Chimi Lhakhang, a small community temple perched on a hilltop at the backyard of village. The temple is widely known to cure couples with infertility issues on receiving blessing from an antique stone phallus. The history of this enigmatic wonder is directly connected with a 13th century Buddhist saint who had lived the life of a commoner adopting absolutely simple methods of preaching Buddhism. This well-known religious figure named Lama Drukpa Kinley, a high profile enlightened being has left numerous legacies across the country. He is still remembered by myriads of common people purely because of his simplicity and uniqueness. Not surprisingly, he in fact loved sex, woman and wine. He is believed to be still alive.
After the hike you will be treated gourmet lunch in a local restaurant. Following lunch you will continue your drive to Phobjikha. Crossing Wangdue, you will enter the bumpy widening roads of Eastern Bhutan. Along the way you will settle well with appetizing sceneries of rural settings and natural beauty. After two hours drive you will enter the heavenly enclave of Phobjikha valley. After settling in the farmhouse, stroll across the valley soaking up the beauty of your surroundings.
Day 4. Phobjikha
Phobjikha valley has lots to offer. From refreshing morning walks to adventure hikes and adrenalin pumping biking adventures, the experiences are endless. Waking up early is your best option to enjoy the glorious morning hours in Phobjikha valley.
The misty morning scenes and the first rays of sunshine will leave you breathless. After breakfast in the farmhouse, you will embark on a fascinating hike along the periphery of the black neck crane conservation area. Walking along the trail will unveil the entire landscape of this little piece of paradise. Your hike will commence from a small community temple in the east part of the valley. After crossing a small stream, you will start to climb the gently rising hill with scenic views of the valley in the foreground. This hour long walk along the eco-trail will truly capture your mind. If you happen to visit Bhutan in December, January or February, the experience of seeing black neck cranes is fully ensured. Your picnic lunch at a scenic spot will instill memories, which you will cherish fondly throughout your life.
At the end of the hike, take a chance to sneak into the amazing Gantay temple located on a stunning ridge overlooking the valley. The view from this spiritual powerhouse is beyond description. Inside the temple, explore the rich history and tradition of Gantay dating back to ancient times.
You will also have a chance to explore other parts of the Phobjikha valley on a mountain bike. From Gangtay monastery, start riding across mind captivating landscapes with scattered traditional Bhutanese houses and potato farmland. En route enjoy scenes of farmers working in their farms domestic animals grazing in the open grassland. After crossing a small bridge take a right and enjoy a rough ride over farmlands leading towards a small village. From the village the ride is downhill through a winding dusty road with the occasional climb for about 25 minutes. Pass a small temple with prayer flags. Here you will engage in traditional archery with the locals.
In the evening settle in the farmhouse and get your hands on local cuisine. The local family will assist you in cooking a variety of Bhutanese dishes using locally available ingredients. Meanwhile, your hot stone bath will get set nearby. Experience dipping in a hot water tub prepared by using heated stones. It is widely believed that dipping in a hot stone bath gives effective cure if you are suffering from joint pain and other physical aches.
After your hot stone bath enjoy your evening sitting by the bonfire with a warm cup of traditional wine. Engage in conversation with the local family and get to know their true story about life in the countryside. You will surely fall in love with this typical rural escape adventure. You will have dinner with the local family.
Day 5. Phobjikha - Shengana
Today you will depart to Shengana, one of the most beautiful valleys in a hidden corner of Punakha district. Least explored by international tourists, the place is a magical escape paradise with a wealth of natural beauty and amicable communities. The place is 12 km away from Punakha well connected by recently paved road. Gifted with favorable year round weather conditions, Shengana is famed for its finest, all season agricultural produce that reaches as far as the capital city, Thimphu.
After breakfast in the farmhouse, you will be driven along the east west highway for about an hour and a half through the beautiful valley of Shar. You will reach Wangduephodrang district. Take a de tour to the construction site of the historical Wangdue Dzong gutted by fire in 2012. Then follow the Bajo road, which passes along the right bank of Puna Tshangchu River northwards. En route enjoy the eye captivating scenes of the Lobesa and Punakha valleys. A brief photo stop at Changjukha will offer a compelling opportunity to frame the back and right hand view of the magnificent Punakha Dzong with scenic mountains as a backdrop. You will cross the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and enter the Shengana territory. You will be treated with hot picnic lunch in the middle of terraced rice fields of the Tana community.
From here an hour’s drive through the narrow gorges of Lungkha, Kuchu Phaka, Kubji, Manaykha, Garakha and Hagang will reward you with amazing rural scenery. Here you will experience a homestay with farmers and get involved in seasonal farming and daily household activities. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the typical Bhutanese rural culture and tradition.
Arriving Shengana your local host will welcome you with tea and refreshments. Settle in your room, freshen up, stroll in the farmland and immerse yourself in household tasks. Accompany your host family to tie up oxen and cows in the shed. Experience feeding domestic animal and milking a cow. Afterwards pick your vegetables in the garden and join the family in cooking dinner. Prepare a dish from your home country and share with the local family to let them experience a bit of your homeland too. Enjoy a local family dinner according to family traditions of Bhutanese people. After dinner get involved in conversation with family members and children. Listening to the realities of life in the rural village will leave you speechless. In between you will be served locally made soft wine called bangchang with elderly family members. Have a good nights’ sleep in this local family home.
Day 6. Shengana
Life in the village is not everyone’s cup of tea. It involves a great deal of hard work and patience. At dawn farmers will light up the darkness by setting fire in the earth oven to prepare for an entire day of household and farming activities. Usually, the head of the family will take the lead. The mother gets busy with household work including cooking and preparing to send off the children to school. The father will start outdoor work like feeding animals, milking cows and setting up agricultural tools for the day’s farm work.
This morning you will wake up early and lend your helping hand in kitchen work. Firstly, you will experience the making of Bhutanese tea called Suja prepared from hot water, tealeaves, fresh butter and salt. Sipping your butter tea, the mother will teach you how to make a local snack called zaw.
After breakfast with the family, you will carry agriculture tools like spade and sickles and join the farmers in the farmland. If your visit is in the summer you will engage in rice plantation and its processes. In the autumn you will experience harvesting the rice and in spring you will be sowing seeds with the farmers. The farming experiences include tilling the land with oxen, digging using spades, cutting grass with sickles and a lot more.
You will have lunch in the farmland with the farmers.
In the afternoon, you will venture on a fascinating hike across rural settlements. First you will walk across terraced rice fields toward Chongshikha village. From Chongshikha, walk along a trail leading to Jarigang community overlooking the breathtaking lower Shengana hamlet. Hike to Datong Goemba via a small Palu village across thick oak forest. En route interact with local people. Explore the heavenly Datong Goemba community and walk across Phusu village. On the way you will cross a small stream, which supports the farming activities of the entire Shengana valley. Keep walking along the trail leading to Gangkha, Nepakha and Tagochen villages. Then take a brief rest sipping evening tea followed by a hot stone bath by the riverside. If time permits you can try your hand in making local wines again.
In the evening you will have a farewell dinner with the local family with bonfire and a local cultural program.
Day 7. Shengana - Punakha - Paro
Following early breakfast depart to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan. An hour-long fascinating drive through narrow gorges of Shengana will get you to Punakha valley. At Punakha you will visit the magnificent Punakha Dzong and explore its inner sanctum, the Kuenray. His Eminence the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a high profile Tibetan saint built this historic fortress in 1637. Several historical events such as the coronation of the first king of Bhutan, the first parliamentary session of the country, the coronation and Royal Wedding of the present king were held in this very fortress of great bliss. Today it houses the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body and the Chief Abbot. The ancient Punakha Drupchen and festival are held at this venue in early spring, annually.
Explore with your tour guide the interior of this impressive fortress. Enjoy strolling in the vast courtyard and taking photographs of the rich architectural display of the fortress. In the courtyard you will encounter young Buddhist monks where you will have the chance to interact with them. Once you are inside the Kuenray, you will be mesmerized seeing the aesthetic portion of the 17th century temple. You will have lots to absorb. Your guide will explain the history and significance of this iconic monument.
After the visit venture into a fascinating village hike to Khamsum Yuelay Chorten. Your hike begins by crossing a suspension bridge over the Mochu River. Crossing the bridge you will enter a beautiful terraced farmland. Walk across the farmland and make a gentle ascend over the rising hills. Continue walking through pine forests and enjoy the scenic views of the valleys below. Once you arrive on top of the hill, enter the monument and soak up its unique history and impressive murals of protective guardians. Climb up to the top floors and enjoy the amazing views of the heavenly Kabesa valley. You will be served locally cooked hot lunch by the riverside in Hebesa village. After the lunch drive back to Paro for overnight.
Day 8. Haa Valley
After early breakfast in the hotel drive to the beautiful Haa valley. Haa district is the smallest district located in the westernmost corner of the country. It is located 60 km from Paro, which is a 2 hours drive via the Chele La pass. After about an hours’ drive from Paro district you will reach the Chelela pass at 3720m, through spectacular pine, oak and rhododendron forests with red and pink blooms in April and May. This chilly mountain pass remains clothed by multicoloured prayer flags offering a tempting photo opportunity against the backdrop of Mt. Jhomolhari on a clear sunny day. After brief exploration at the pass, your drive will descend through winding roads to the remote Haa valley.
The main highlights in Haa are two prominent temples built prior to the introduction of Buddhism in the country, namely Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo. Both temples are located in the tiny village of Dumchoe. Built in the 7th century AD, Lhakhang Karpo’s sparkling white walls can be seen from the distance nestled in the foothills of three towering mountains venerated in the region as the Rigsum Goempa by virtue of its’ spiritual power. These ridges are believed to be the geological manifestations of the Bodhisattvas Jampelyang (Manjushri), Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) and Chenrizig (Avaloketeshvara).
After visiting the temples continue further south, which will present stunning landscape vistas. Visit the historic Dobji Dzong built in 1531 by Ngawang Chogyel. Perched atop a hair-raising ravine, this five-storied fortress once served as center of Drukpa Kagyu teachings. From Dobji an hour-long drive will unwind your journey to Paro via Chunzom, Tagcho and Yesuna villages.
Day 9. Paro - Taktsang hike
After breakfast you will embark on one of the most amazing excursions of your stay in Bhutan. Perched on a precarious cliff, 1000 meters above Paro valley, the iconic Tiger’s Nest or Taktshang Monastery as it is locally known, is by far one of the most spiritually significant sites in Bhutan. Legend has it that the 8th century Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche have flown to this cliff on the back of a tigress, and meditated in the cave and vanquished the evil spirit, converting them into protectors of dharma.
The Tiger’s Nest is a three hours’ hike from the base along a trail that steadily rises cutting through pine forests. At little more than the halfway point you will come across the Viewpoint cafeteria where you will be treated to refreshments. As you sip tea, coffee or other beverages, you can enjoy the Tiger’s Nest up-close. From the cafeteria, it takes another 40-minutes to reach Takstshang.
Once at the Tiger’s Nest, you will be escorted to various shrines within the temple. After taking in the sights and sounds of the temple and enjoying the view of the valley, we will return to the base. Lunch will be served at the cafeteria. In the evening, you will stay at a farmhouse, soak in a hot stone bath to relax your fatigued sinews. Dinner will be served in a traditional manner accompanied by a cultural program of songs and dances.
Day 10. Departure
Your guide will take you to the airport according to your flight schedule and will bid you farewell and a safe journey home. Board your flight back towards the UK.
The itinerary may be subject to change depending on circumstances.
10 DAYS / 9 NIGHTS FROM £1,899 per person + flights
based on 2 people travelling together in low season
The price includes:
Air conditioned private vehicle with driver for the full duration of the tour as described in the itinerary
5 nights medium range hotel accommodation in twin/double room
2+2 nights homestay in Phobjikha and Shengana
All tours mentioned in the itinerary with private English speaking guide
All meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) without drinks throughout your time in Bhutan
All entrance fees and permissions to the sites visited
The price does not include:
Return flights from the UK to Paro
Visa fees for Bhutan
Anything not specifically mentioned above
Tips to the guide and driver
Personal costs such as drinks, laundry, etc.
PRICES AND INCLUSIONS
4 night home stay will be included for this 10 days Bhutan experiential tour. 2 nights in Phobjikha and 2 nights in Shengana in Punakha. However, in Phobjikha, there are lots of farmhouses operated by local families and it is an option to choose between traditional homestay or farmhouse stay. 5 nights will be spent in medium range hotels in Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. Please note that homestays in Bhutan can be very basic but we will make sure that we will provide the best available.
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