GANGRI BHUTAN ORCHIDS TOUR
Bhutan ranks in the top 10% of countries in terms of species richness per area unit. With about 900 species, Bhutan has more butterfly species than the whole of North America (679 species) and the whole of Europe (440). Of these, 140 species have been catalogued with photographs. The most popular among these is the Bhutan Glory, the national butterfly.
The diversity of butterfly species can be attributed to the terrain with some flying as high as 5000m above the sea level. Butterflies are indicators of environmental health and diversity. When host plants disappear, butterflies thriving in that habitat also disappear. Therefore the number of species of butterflies in Bhutan makes the Himalayan kingdom an ecological hotspot.
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Fly into Paro, a beautiful valley which is an apt introduction to this charming kingdom. Meet your tour guide, and drive along the beautiful road which follows Paro Chhu river bank to Thimphu, the capital city. Along the way, see the Tachog Temple and see an iron chain bridge built in the 14th century. Take a stroll in Thimphu, and absorb Bhutanese culture as you meet, mingle and see everyday life unfurl before you.
Today, we see the attractions in and around Thimphu. Our first visit is the Buddha statue, the world’s biggest, at Kuenselphodrang, the place which also affords a nice overview of the city. From here, we move to the Takin Reserve and then to Sangaygang from where we get another perfect view of the sprawling city. We also visit the Textile Academy, the Folk Heritage Museum, the Art Academy, Memorial Stupa, the magnificent Trashi Chhodzong and the Parliament building.
We drive to the ancient capital at Punakha. Our route follows the famous olden day pass at Dochula (3,050m), a vantage point from where we get stunning view of the awe-inspiring Himalayan peaks. Hereon, we drive downhill, leaving the temperate and alpine zone, to the sub-tropical valleys of Wangdue and Punakha. We will visit the “Temple of Fertility” at Lobesa on the way and then the wonderfully gilded castle-fortress of Punakha. We spend the afternoon half exploring butterflies in the terraced rice fields and the adjoining meadows and forests in upper Punakha.
We gently ascend through sub-tropical forests to the temperate and alpine belts to reach our highest point at Pelele pass ((3,140m) from where we see the Black Mountain range. From there, the gradual descent takes us to Chendebji Stupa and then to the massive Trongsa Trong. This castle-fortress is the biggest, built without a single nail, contains some 30 temples and was, in the 19th century Bhutan, the bastion of power – the stronghold of Bhutan’s kings. Further up is the “Watch Tower” which is now designated as the “Museum of Bhutan’s Kings”.
We enter the butterfly zone. All along the road and roadsides, we look for butterflies, observe them and take photographs. As we near Zhemgang, which is quite a drop in altitude from Trongsa, the temperature gets warmer and we can see these beautiful winged creatures flitting about from flower to flower. As we reach the humid and warm Tingtibhi plains, there are plenty of them, a great variety of species.
We spend the day here, observing butterflies within a periphery of eight kilometers from our camp. This is also the birding zone of Bhutan, with hundreds of species. Besides birds, this region is the habitat of the rare and endangered Golden Langur. The forests and meadows in this climastic zone provide an ideal habitat for a rich variety of both plant and animal species.
We drive for about four hours down to the foothills into the sub-tropical belt. Gelephu is a border town that connects with the Indian state of Assam. Several species of butterflies have been spotted here and we will spend an entire afternoon combing the surrounding areas of the town.
Today, we drive north following the south-north central highway until we reach a place called Mendrelgang. Hundreds of butterfly species have been spotted and recorded here. With the help of local experts, we will comb the area for butterflies. Some extremely rare and localized species have been sighted in this area.
We spend the whole day here observing butterflies.
We drive back to the capital frequently stopping enroute for butterflies. There are several selective spots where these wonderful creatures are commonly sighted. If we reach Paro quite early, we will visit some historical places.
Today, we hike up to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, a literal translation of Tak-tshang. This monastery edifice is precariously built on a sheer wall of granite cliff some 1,000 metres above the valley floor. Some say, it was built with the help of celestial nymphs in the 17th century for, otherwise, it is beyond human feat. This temple complex houses many caves, one among which is the site where the great Tantric saint – worshipped in the Himalayan Buddhist world as the “Second Buddha” – came riding on a tigress in the 8th century to destroy evil spirits and anoint the grounds to spread the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Adios! Sayonara! Arrivederci! Ciao! Auf Wiedersehen! Bon voyage! Zàijiàn! Farewell Bhutan, farewell Happy Kingdom. We take a short drive to the airport for our next destination!
Some species found in Bhutan
Red-spot Jezebel, Hill Jezebel, Red-base Jezebel, Common Peacock, Paris Peacock, Blue Peacock, Spangle, Red breast, Red Helen, Indian Cabbage White, Large Cabbage White, Common Gull, Lesser Gull, Yellow Coaster, Striped Tiger, Dark Blue tiger, Green Sapphire, Blue Pansy, Red Lacewing, Blue Admiral, Common Blue Apollo, Sixbar Swordtail, Glassy Bluebottle, Tailed Jay, Veined Jay, Common Mormon, and painted lady butterflies.