BHUTAN RHODODENDRO TOUR
Bhutan has 48 of the 1,000 species of Rhododendrons found worldwide. Growing at an altitude between 1,200m to 4,800m, the species blanket the alpine region of Bhutan in spring decorating the high mountain passes in a riot of colors. Of the 48 known species, six are endemic to Bhutan – R. pogonophyllum, R. bhutanense, R. flinckii, R. khochiivar, R.hodgsonii; and R kesangiae, named after the Royal
Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck.
To commemorate the Year of Mountains in 2002, Bhutan opened a 22-hectre rhododendron garden at the Thrumshingla National Park which covers central and eastern Bhutan. Bhutan hosts an annual Rhododendron festival at the Lamperi Royal Botanical Park in Spring with 31 species.
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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. At Dochula see R. arboretum, R. kesangae, R. falconerii and Magnolia cambelii. A short drive down, we reach Lamperi Botanical Park where, in the course of a short walk, we will see 29 species of rhododendrons besides a plethora of other plant species. Hereon, we drive downhill, leaving the temperate and alpine zone, to the sub-tropical valleys of Wangdue and Punakha where we come across the “Temple of Fertility” at Lobesa and the gilded castle-fortress of Punakha, touted as the showpiece of Bhutanese architecture.
Today, we climb to the glacial valley of Phobjikha (3,500m.) Here we see probably Bhutan’s biggest stretch of plains in the north which has been adopted by the elegant but endangered Black-Necked Crane as its winter
Gangri Bhutan Rhododendron Tour
home. The iconic Gangtey Monastery, the seat of the revered Peling Branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, is located atop a mound here. On the way at Nobding, we stop to see R. lindleyii and R. grande while still further up towards Lawala, we will find R. falconeri in full bloom. Also in the vicinity, we will find an entire forest of R. thomsonii along with other species species like R.cinnabarinum and R. keysii. As we enter Phobjikha valley, we will be able to R. virgatum and R.ciliatum, some R.thomsonii, in red and white flowers.
Today, we enter the heartland of medieval power and spirituality. As we gently ascend through sub-tropical forests to the temperate and alpine belts, we 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, the biggest, built without using a single nail, and the traditional stronghold of Bhutan’s kings. Further up is the “Watch Tower” which is now designated as the “Museum of Bhutan’s Kings”. From here, we climb to Yotongla Pass (3,551m) and then drive downhill into the sprawling Bumthang valley. Along the high passes, we will come across R. glaucophyllum and a few other species.
Today, we will be entering the real habitat of rhododendrons. We drive uphill to Thrumshingla pass (3,750m) where we can feast our eyes on some 15 species of rhododendrons growing together in the wild. But our real treat is the visit to the Thrumshingla Rhododendron garden. The garden has more than 50 species of rhododendron preserved like in the wild, besides numerous species of plants. The garden falls within the premises of Thrumshingla National Park which is renowned for innumerable plant (nearly 650 species, including 152 medicinal plants) and animal species. Even the rare and elusive Bengal Tiger has been sighted in this park, considered by many to be the treasure trove of the Himalayan eco-system. After we cross the pass towards Sengor, we also enter a region that is dubbed as the “birding capital of the world”.
Today, we spend our time exploring Bumthang valley, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. It is a region steeped in incredibly absorbing history, myths and legends. This valley of “one thousand plains” is filled with sacred sites, palaces, and temples dating back 1,000 years or more. We visit the “Castle of White Bird” or Jakar Dzong, and from there Jampa Lhakhang (Temple of Future Buddha, built in 7th century AD), Kurjey Temple which contains body imprints on a rock of “Second Buddha” Padmasambhava, and Mebar Tsho or the “Burning Lake” in Tang where in the 15th century, “Treasure Revealer” Pema Lingpa took a dive with a burning lamp on his head and emerged our of the lake with the lamp intact bearing a sacred religious “treasure” in his hands. Time permitting, there are lots more to see beyond spirituality.
From Bumthang we retrace our journey to Wangdue. Wangdue is known as known as the valley of “ornamental speech” because of the local people’s innate ability to come up with verses that are elegant, poetic and meaningful. This valley was once governed from Wangdue Dzong which, unfortunately was destroyed by fire and is being entirely rebuilt. The journey is also remarkable in that we pass through varying landscapes of immense beauty, adorned with numerous shades and hues of alpine flowers. We will see many R. keysii, Clematis, and Primula strumosa in full bloom along the route.
On arrival in Paro, we visit the ruined “Fortress of Victory” at Drukgyal which, in 1644, repelled a Tibetan invasion which could have seriously compromised the sovereignty of Bhutan. Our last stopover for the day is the Kyichu Temple, built in the 7th century and thus the oldest and one of the most sacred in Bhutan. In popular myth, this temple was built to pin down the right knee of a giant ogress which was lying spread-eagled across the entire Himalayas.
Take a deep breath! 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. We also visit the National Museum and Paro Dzong.
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!