CULTURE &CULINARY TOUR (12 DAYS)
Bhutanese cuisine, deeply influenced by its agricultural heritage, relies heavily on chillies and cheese, which are incorporated into almost every dish. Meats such as chicken, pork, beef, goat, mutton, fish, and yak are featured, often prepared as curries, alongside a variety of fresh and dried vegetables. Rice, particularly Ha Chum (white rice) and Yue Chum (red rice), is the essential accompaniment, while buckwheat and maize complement the culinary tapestry.
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TOUR IN BRIEF
6 days: Western Bhutan
9 days: Western & central Bhutan
15 days: West, central & east Bhutan
Entry: Paro Airport
Exit: Guwahati Airport (India for the 15-day tour)
Season: Year around
Upon landing at Paro International Airport, you’ll experience an exhilarating descent onto a narrow strip of flatland flanked by mountains. After this thrilling arrival, embark on your Bhutanese culinary adventure.
At lunch, savor the famous Bondey rice, cultivated in Bondey, Paro, renowned as one of the country’s finest rice varieties. Following the meal, explore historical sites in and around the scenic Paro Valley, experiencing the natural beauty and rich culture of Bhutan.
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.
Other places of visit include the trip to the Drukgyal Dzong, National Museum and Rinpung (paro) palace-fortress.
The Haa Valley, located southwest of the Paro Valley and often overlooked by tourists, offers a tranquil and picturesque setting, perfect for activities like mountain biking and hiking. Today’s journey takes us on a road trip to the Chelela Pass (3,810m), winding through dense spruce and larch forests. We’ll explore the 7th-century Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo, which host an annual festival dedicated to Ap Chundu, the valley’s deity believed to influence mystical natural events. Our visit will also include the historical Wangchulo Dzong, constructed in 1895.
Today, we savor a taste of Bhutan’s local culinary delights, including Hoentoey, a regional dumpling specialty, Habi Ruto (hardened cheese), Suja (salted butter tea), Eazey (Bhutanese salad), and, of course, the renowned Ema Datshi, featuring yak cheese in today’s variation.
As we journey back to Thimphu, our first stop will be the Wangsisina Nunnery, a place of spiritual significance. Following this visit, we’ll explore the Wangsisina Heritage Home, a traditional Bhutanese residence that once belonged to the 19th Druk Desi (Deb Raja) Druk Tenzin and was erected prior to the 17th century. Our lunch will be a unique experience as it’s served in traditional earthen clay pots. Among the culinary highlights is Wang Ghi Mengay, a delectable rice pizza adorned with ginger, garlic, Sichuan pepper (thingay), Zimtsi, and spinach.
Thimphu, home to around 98,676 residents representing diverse corners of the Kingdom, provides a fascinating glimpse into Bhutan’s rich cultural tapestry. Our day kicks off with breakfast, leading to visits to key historical sites in the capital. These include the iconic Memorial Stupa, the venerable Changangkha Monastery, and the majestic Tashichhodzong, central to Bhutan’s governance.
Lunch at the Folk Heritage Restaurant offers a taste of traditional Bhutanese cuisine. Our exploration continues with stops at the parliament house, Textile Academy, Academy of Art and Craft, the world’s largest Buddha statue site, and the scenic Thimphu viewpoint at Sangaygang. Late afternoon presents a chance to stroll through town, perhaps observing a spirited game of traditional archery known for its lively camaraderie.
The journey from Wangdue to Bumthang unveils a remarkable transition from subtropical lowlands to the pristine highlands of Bhutan. The winding roads pass through quaint villages, dense forests, and pristine alpine meadows. As you ascend, the landscape transforms, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks and open valleys. This scenic drive allows you to experience Bhutan’s rich biodiversity and culminates in the spiritually significant and culturally rich region of Bumthang.
The Bumthang Valley is steeped in legends, and our exploration begins at Kurje Lhakhang, where Guru Padmasambhava tamed a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock. Next, we visit Jamphel Ihakhang (7th century) constructed by Tibetan Buddhist King Songtsen Goembo, and the 17th-century Jakar Dzong (the Castle of the White Bird). Our journey also includes Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, one of the five king tertons (treasure discoverers), and Kenchosum Lhakhang.
A short hike to Mebartsho, known as the Burning Lake, unveils the legendary story of Pema Lingpa, who dove into the lake with a butter lamp on his head, retrieving a hidden religious treasure left by Guru Padmasambhava.
Today’s culinary experience includes making Khuley, buckwheat pancakes, and Puta, buckwheat noodles. You’ll also have the opportunity to savor matsutake mushrooms with cheese and fresh green chillies, a regional delicacy.
Eastern Bhutan offers an unparalleled culinary journey. Today, our scenic drive unfolds through idyllic farms, charming villages, and rolling valleys, leading us to the Thrumshingla Pass (3,750m). This protected area, known as the “Crown Jewel” of eastern Himalayan conservation, boasts a captivating in situ rhododendron garden housing around 30 species. Bird enthusiasts will be delighted, as it’s a haven for over 600 bird species, including rare and localized varieties.
The descent from Thrumshingla to Lingmethang is equally exhilarating, spanning from 3,800 meters to 650 meters in just two hours. This journey transitions from sub-alpine to temperate to sub-tropical climates. You’ll also encounter the ruins of Zhongar Dzong, once a powerful regional chieftain’s palace and fortress, now a preserved relic of Bhutan’s history.
Kharang, ground maize, is a delicacy in Mongar and is cooked with white rice. Asham Tengma, fried and flattened corn grit, and Asham Bokpi (powdered maize) are another delicacy.
As we journey from Mongar, we enter the Tshangla-speaking region of Bhutan, characterized by distinct customs, traditions, and lifestyles compared to the western and central parts. Our drive from Mongar to Trashigang leads through numerous villages, culminating at the Korila Pass (2,450m), from where we embark on a thrilling descent to the Dangmechu River, Bhutan’s largest river system. Along the way, we pass through the town of Yadhi and witness the remnants of a 14th-century iron chain bridge near the riverbank.
A 12-kilometer uphill stretch takes us to Trashigang Dzong, a historic power center in eastern Bhutan. We explore the Dzong and take a leisurely stroll through Trashigang town.
Today’s culinary adventure includes Yomri Thukpa, a flavorful broth crafted from maize and rice flour, complemented by fresh fried cheese and Khuri, a dough-like food made from pumpkin or vegetables. Delight in Handa Tengma, a crunchy snack made from hardened sticky rice. Another regional specialty is Zoedoe or Yeedpa, a pungent greenish cheese used to enhance the flavor of soups and curries in eastern Bhutan.
This marks the final leg of our culinary journey through Bhutan. While the drive is long, it’s far from monotonous, with numerous fascinating sights along the way. Leaving Trashigang, we pass Bhutan’s first-degree college in Kanglung, the ancient temple in Yonphu renowned for its unique mask dances, the monastery complex in Yongphula, and Zangtopelri temple in Barshong, where iron mining and traditional Bhutanese sword-making once thrived.
A bit further, we reach Khaling, home to Bhutan’s only “School for the Blind.” We’ll share heartwarming moments with the students before continuing our journey to Samdrup Jomngkhar, passing through Wamrong, Narphung, and Dewathang. Dewathang witnessed a historic battle between British and Bhutanese forces in the 19th century, related to territorial disputes.
Throughout this route, you’ll notice houses raised on stilts and roofed with bamboo mats, a common architectural style. For today’s culinary experience, savor dried fish cooked with spring onions and dried red chillies. These dried fish delicacies are sourced from Jagiroad, approximately 200km from Samdrup Jongkhar, home to Asia’s largest dried fish market.
After breakfast, we embark on a picturesque three-hour, 154km drive to Guwahati Airport, traversing the beautiful plains of Assam, India. It’s time to bid Bhutan adieu! Whether you say Adios, Sayonara, Arrivederci, Ciao, Auf Wiedersehen, Bon voyage, Zaijian, or simply “Farewell,” it’s time to say goodbye to the Happy Kingdom.
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