Tshechu/Festival (10th day of a month in the Bhutanese lunar calendar) is an annual religious festival held in each district. The month varies from district to district. Thimphu and Paro Tshechus are the biggest and most popular in Bhutan, in terms of the size and participation. Well-choreographed mask dances are performed by monks and lay monks in temples and monastries. It coincides with the birthday of Guru Rinpochhe, the great Buddhist master who introduced Buddhism in the country in the eighth century. Thimphu Tshechu is one of the biggest religious events held at Tendrelthang (public venue) courtyard adjacent to the Tashichhodzong. During this tour, you will get the opportunity to witness various age-old mask dances, cultural programme and experience Bhutan’s religious and cultural heritage.
Day 1: Arrival/Paro
Experience the breathtaking mountain flight across the Himalayan frontiers, offering a rare view of world’s impressive mountain peaks including the Mt. Everest. At Paro International Airport, your local tour guide will welcome you. Refreshment will be served in a local restaurant followed by cultural sightseeing of Paro Ringpung Dzong and National Museum of Bhutan. After lunch, you will take a short excursion to the ruins of the seventeenth century Drukgyel Dzong (fortress) to the north of Paro valley. On the way back, you will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in the country. In the evening, you can take a leisurely stroll around Paro town. Dinner will be served at the hotel.
Day 2: Paro/Thimphu
After breakfast, we will drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. It is a gentle hour and a half ride. On the way, we will stop for a brief while at Tachog Lhakhang. You can walk across the iron bridge built by the fourteenth century Buddhist master, Thangthong Gyalpo. From here, Thimphu is another forty-five minutes and the ride will take you through scenic villages. After checking in at the hotel, we will take you for a cultural tour of Thimphu. This will begin with a visit to Dechenphodrang Monastery, Folk Heritage Museum, National Institute of Traditional Arts and Crafts and National Library and Archives of Bhutan.
After lunch, you will visit the thirteenth century Drukpa Kadgyud temple, Changangkha Lhakhang, located on top of a ridge overlooking Thimphu city. This will be followed by a visit to Takin Reserve to see Bhutan’s unique national animal. Towards evening, you will visit Kuenselphodrang where one of the tallest statues of Lord Buddha stands. In the evening, you can walk around Thimphu city.
Day 3: Thimphu Tshechu, Thimphu
We will leave early in the morning for the Thimphu Tshechu in order to get the best seats to witness the mask dances. Today, you will come across Bhutanese from all walks of life dressed in their traditional finery. Tshechu is both a solemn religious occasion as well as a festive moment. You will behold numerous mask dances performed by monks and lay monks. These mask dances hold deep spiritual meanings for the Bhutanese and it is believed that witnessing mask dances will cleanse their sins and generate positive merit. During the Tshechu, a fun part is the atsara (clown) who wield phalluses and entertain the people. Local folk songs and dances are also performed at the festival. You can take photographs of the mask dances and the rich cultural milieu. In the evening, you will visit the National Memorial Chorten in the heart of the city. You can join the local Bhutanese for a few rounds of circumambulation.
Day 4: Tango Cheri Hike/Thimphu Tshechu
After breakfast, we will drive to north of Thimphu and hike to Tango and Cheri Monasteries. Cheri Monastery was built in 1619 to house the ash of the father of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founding father of Bhutan. Today, the monastery is a meditation center. Tango Monastery is the Buddhist University where monks pursue Buddhist studies. Hikes to these monasteries are pleasant, each taking about two-three hours and offer a wonderful opportunity to walk along pristine vegetation and take in the natural wonders of the country. You will have an outdoor lunch by the riverside. Towards afternoon, you will return to Tashichhodzong to witness the mask dances.
Day 5: Thimphu/Punakha
Today, we will travel to Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan. It’s a three-hour drive from Thimphu, which will take you through mixed pine forest, mountain pass and beautiful rural valleys. At Dochula, you can enjoy the mesmerizing scenic view of the Himalayan mountain ranges and explore the glorious 108 Chhortens. At Lobesa, you will take a short hike to the Temple of Fertility locally know as Chhimi Lhakhang. There you will explore the thirteenth century myths of the legendary Lama Drukpa Kuenlay or the Divine Mad monk.
Lunch will be served at a local restaurant. After lunch, you visit the Puna Dewai Chenpoi Phodrang or Palace of Great Happiness located at the confluence of two rivers – Pho Chhu (male river) and Mo Chhu (female river). The fortress is one of the best architectural masterpieces of ancient Bhutan. Inside, you will visit the inner sactum, the Kuenray and the courtyards. In the evening, you will take stroll around Khuruthang town.
Day 6: Punakha/Paro
After early breakfast, you will visit the scenic valley of Kabesa, north of Punakha and hike to Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chhorten. The fascinating forty-five minute hike takes you through terraced paddy fields splashed in gold and rural villages. Once up there, you will get to see the spectacular view of the valley. The four storeyed temple located on a tranquil hill of Sirigang enshrines several Buddhist treasures believed to consolidate peace and harmony across the world. Enjoy the serene experience! After the hike and an outdoor picnic lunch, we will return to Paro.
Day 7: Tiger’s Nest Hike, Paro
Today, we will hike to the famous Tiger’s Nest or Taktshang as it is locally known. The Tiger’s Nest is a monastery located 1,000m above Paro valley. It takes around two to three hours to reach the monastery but when you do, the beautiful sight of rhododendron and pine forests below will spellbind you. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to the location on the back of a flying tigress, a manifestation of his consort Khandu Yeshe Tshogyel. He meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours to subdue an evil spirit. Legend has it that Guru incarnated his eight manifestations at Taktshang for the first time. Later in 1692, Desi Tenzin Rabgay initiated the construction of a temple at the Tiger’s Nest to introduce Mahayana Buddhism learning centre. The temple gradually turned into a place of worship with tens of thousand devotees coming from across the country and the world. Visitors claim the hike as an unparalleled experience.
In the evening, you will be treated to a traditional hot stone bath in a farmhouse, which will relax your tired sinews, followed by a traditional and cultural program.
Day 8: Exit
In the morning, your local guide will see you off at Paro International Airport.