GANGRI BHUTAN ORCHIDS TOUR
Bhutan boasts one of the world’s most abundant collections of orchids, with a total of 369 species. Among these, 82 are exclusive to this mountainous kingdom. Recently, two orchid species, Vanda griffithi and Vanda bicolour, which had been considered almost mythical and hadn’t been sighted for 150 years, were rediscovered.
In Bhutanese cuisine, the orchid species known as Cymbidium hookerianum, locally referred to as Ola Choto, is considered a culinary delicacy. Out of the 369 orchid species, sixteen are currently classified as threatened, and nine of them are found only in Bhutan.
The pioneering initiative in the conservation of wild orchids began with the establishment of the Tse-rim Orchid Sanctuary located in Rimchu, Punakha. Bhutan’s forests have remained largely unchanged for over a century and a half, preserving the country’s rich orchid diversity. This unique and well-preserved orchid wealth is highly coveted in the international orchid trade.
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TOUR IN BRIEF
Duration: 12 Nights/13 Days
Entry/exit: Paro Airport
Season: Year around
Places of visit: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha & Wangdue, Phobjikha, Trongsa, Bumthang
Arriving in the Kingdom of Bhutan, you’ll be treated to a spectacular aerial view of the world’s highest peaks, including Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga, revered by the Bhutanese as the “Abode of the Gods.” Your heart-pounding descent onto the narrow strip of land at Paro International Airport is an adrenaline rush. Upon arrival, your tour guide will welcome you. After lunch, your itinerary includes visits to the ancient Ta Dzong, housing the National Museum, Paro Rinpung Dzong, and the historic Drukgyal Dzong ruins. On your way back to Paro, a visit to a carpet weaving factory offers an opportunity to interact with weavers. Your day ends with an overnight stay in Paro.
After breakfast drive to Haa valley. The drive is a gentle uphill climb through forests of blue pine, fir, oak and rhododendrons till the Chelela Pass (3,900m). You can explorethe area around the pass for orchids and alpine flowers. After picnic lunch at the pass, walk down towards Haa Valley through the ancient trail looking for orchids. With less than 10% of visitors making it to this district, the isolated Haa valley lies southwest of Paro valley. It is a picturesque valley that is ideal for mountain biking and hiking. Overnight homestay at Haa.
On the way to Thimphu, you will visit Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo built in the 7th century. We will also visit Wangchulo Dzong built in 1895. We will stop for lunch at the Wangsisna Heritage Home, a traditional Bhutanese house which was home to the 19th Druk Desi (Deb Raja) Druk Tenzin and built before the 17th century. Lunch will be served in earthen clay pots. We will also visit the nunnery at Wangsisna. After lunch, we will drive to the capital city, Thimphu. In the evening you can either relax at the hotel or take a stroll in the city.
Thimphu, the heart of Bhutan, is a vibrant blend of culture and traditions. Must-visit historical sites include the Memorial Stupa, Changangkha Monastery, and the grand Tashichhodzong. Explore the Folk Heritage Museum, Textile Academy, and Academy of Art and Craft. Don’t miss the world’s largest Buddha statue site and a visit to the Serbithang orchidium.
Driving distance: 76km
Driving time: 2.5 to 3 hours
Today, we head to the interior, to Punakha valley that is famous as the ancient capital of Bhutan and where the Bhutanese agrarian rural life is best exemplified by terraced rice fields and villages teeming with traditional farm houses. The drive takes us to Dochula pass (3,100m) which is perhaps the only stopover in the entire Himalayan region that affords a stunning view of the mighty and impregnable mountains on the roof of the world. From the pass, we begin a gradual descent,where we will come across many different species of tree orchids along the way. Many terrestrial orchids like Cypripedium tibeticum,cypripedium guttatum, C.himalaicum and Paphiopedilum fairrieanum can be spotted. After lunch at Punakha, we will continue on a short hike in the dense forests of Tashithang in the hunt for more species of tree orchids. Here you are likely to see many different species of tree orchids.
After breakfast we will drive to Tashithang. The entire day, you will spend exploring the forests around Tashithang and Rimchu for orchids. Picnic lunch will be served in the forests. Overnight luxury camp at Tashithang.
After breakfast, we will visit Punakha Dzong, a huge 17th century monastery-fortress plus ancient capital on whose corridors of power walked Bhutan’s ancient leaders who shaped much of the Bhutanese history. The monument is spectacularly built between two rivers. We will also visit to Temple of Fertility in Lobesa which is renowned for blessing infertile couples with children.
Tonight, we will camp at Kamichu which is known to have a wide variety of orchids.
After an early breakfast, drive to Phobjikha Valley. We will have lunch at Kyichu Resort or similar in Wangdue by the river side. The resort has a beautiful collection of plants including wild Dendrobium orchids cultivated. After lunch drive further till Nobding, to find more species of wild orchids. In the late afternoon, we will embark on a one-hour walk starting from Gangtey Goenpa hill to Phobjikha valley followed by a visit to a farm house for local hospitality. Phobjikha valley is also one of the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes migrating every year in winter from its northern habitats in Tibet and Siberia.
Today, we will drive to Trongsa. As we gently ascend through sub-tropical forests to the temperate and alpine belts, we reach our highest point at Pelela pass (3,140m) from where we see the Black Mountain range. From there, the gradual descent takes us to Chendebji Stupa where we will stop for lunch.
While in Trongsa, visit:
Trongsa Dzong: The most impressive Dzong in Bhutan. It is the ancestral home of the present Royal Family. The first two hereditary kings ruled Bhutan from this Dzong.
Ta Dzong: an ancient watch tower.
After breakfast, we will drive towards Langthel and hike around the forests to find some epiphytic or lithophytic orchids like Pholidita pallida and pleione hookeriana. We will also find some epiphytic orchids like Agrostophyllum callosum. Picnic lunch will be served in the forests. Drive back to Trongsa by late afternoon.
This 90km drive to Zhemgang will take through subtropical areas with thick jungles. This route has one of the richest forests and has many varieties of tree orchids and other botanical plants.While at Zhemgang, you will explore the Tingtibi forests for orchids, golden langur and other rich fauna and flora.
Today we will cover about 160km drive to Bumthang in about 7 to 8 hours. We climb to Yotongla Pass (3,551m) and then drive downhill into the sprawling Bumthang valley greeted by Chumey valley. In Chumey Valley we will visit the Yathra weaving factory. Yathra is a hand-woven fabric made from wool of yak and sheep. It is made in vibrant colours giving it a special and attractive look.
Bumthang valley has innumerable legends surrounding the region. Our first trip will be to Kurje Lhakhang where Guru Padsambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock. Then we see Jamphellhakhang (7th century) built by Songtsen Gampo, the Tibetan Buddhist King, and the 17th century Jakar Dzong (the Castle of the White Bird). Other places to see include Tamshing Lhakhang built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a religious treasure discoverer, and Kenchosum Lhakhang. We also take a short hike to Mebartsho – the Burning Lake. Along the way, we will explore for high altitude orchids such as lady slipper and many more.
We will stay overnight today at Kyichu Resort in Wangdue by the river side. The resort has a beautiful collection of plants growing in its campus. You can also find some wild Dendrobium orchids being cultivated.
Today, we will drive back to Thimphu after breakfast. On the way we will visit Semtokha Dzong, the oldest Dzong in the country and built in 1629. Today, the Dzong houses the monastic school. We will stop for lunch in Thimphu before driving back to Paro.
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.
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