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USD1495/1245 for a solo traveler and USD1320/each for a couple and USD1170/945 per head in a group of three +. The above price excludes all flight tickets but includes surcharge, visa fee, and tourism development fee in the package.
Not many people have actually heard about Bhutan, The Land of the Thunder Dragon, or even know where it is located. For many years this little country about the size of Switzerland has been off limits to foreigners. If you look at a map you will find Bhutan to be east of Nepal at the same latitude, with a tiny state of India Sikkim separating the two countries; and the northern edge of the kingdom touches the Himalayas.
The monasteries are magical and beautiful in ways that I cannot begin to describe and everyone who comes to this country is touched in the most astonishing ways. By the time folks leave the country, the experience has managed to open their hearts in a manner that that is totally unexpected. As part of our journey, the Lamas will be preparing a special prayer ceremony for us.
As is typical for a Journeys of the Spirit retreat, you will experience class time daily, time for sharing with the group, reflection and meditation time, and one-on-one personal time with your group leader (along with fun and shopping time, too, of course!). It is our intent that you return home with an open heart and mind, along with the tools you need to make the changes in your life you desire.
If we are lucky, we’ll have glorious views of the snowcapped Himalayas. On its way to Paro, DrukAir flies in view of eight of the ten tallest peaks of the world, including Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga. The remarkable and steep descent into the Paro Valley is an awe-inspiring beginning to our adventure. Already, you can feel the pace of life slow down.
After visa formalities and collection of baggage, we’ll check into our nearby hotel in Paro, where we will spend the first night. In the afternoon, we will visit to the impressive Ta Dzong, the watchtower of the Paro Dzong, which now houses the National Museum. The museum is an important center for the preservation of Bhutanese artifacts, culture and history. It contains marvelous and colorful collections of traditional handicrafts, ancient weapons, religious costumes, thangkas, stamps, and even a gallery of stuffed animals.
After the Museum, we will visit the Rinpung Dzong (the full name of the Paro Dzong), which means “the fortress of the heap of jewels.” This complex houses the administrative and religious headquarters for the Paro district. A part of Bernardo Bertolucci’s movie, “Little Buddha,” was filmed inside this dzong.
After a beautiful drive through the terraced landscape, river valleys, traditional Bhutanese architecture and chortens (domed monument), we reach Simtokha Dzong, the oldest Dzong in Bhutan (built in 1629). From here, the road winds through pine forests and small villages, and passes by more chortens and prayer flags, before heading up to Dochula Pass (10,000′), the first of four passes crossed in the trip. The prayer flags on mountain slopes, bridges and high passes transmit prayers to the gods and keep up a constant communication with the heavens. For the next two hours of the drive, the road slowly descends into the lowlands of Punakha Valley. In the village of Lobesa, we see Chimmi Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who, as a favorite saint of the Bhutanese people, is known affectionately as “the Divine Madman.” The temple is on a hillside in the middle of rice fields and has become a pilgrimage site for childless couples.
This morning we will visit the Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the man who unified Bhutan. The Dzong lies between the Phochu (male river) and the Mochu (female river) and is the winter home of the Central Monastery Body. It is believed that the Mochu and the Phochu were once lovers, flowing in the same bed. One evening, after a quarrel, the Mochu left silently during the night, moving to the next valley. Ever since, the Phochu has been rushing down to the confluence, trying to catch his estranged lover.
When the Shabdrung arrived in Punakha, he set up a camp at the confluence of the two rivers and that very night had a dream in which he heard the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, the second Buddha and the founder of Tantric Buddhism. He then built a Dzong on that spot and placed the Rangjung Kharsapani there, the most sacred relic that he brought with him from his monastery in Tibet.
In the afternoon, we’ll return to the main road and travel west to Thimphu, crossing the Dochula Pass. Once in Thimphu (the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights!), we will settle into one of the centrally located hotels.
We have almost one full day to explore Thimphu, Bhutan’s exotic capital city—a fascinating combination of traditional and contemporary life.
Today, we’ll attend a special prayer ceremony with Rinpoche. Together with the Rinpoche we’ll participate in a butter lamp and rice mandala offering. We may also receive an introductory talk on buddhism and an empowerment or initiation of one of the important buddhist prayer mantras from the Rinpoche.
During the rest of the day we will hope to visit some of the following key sights (there will not be time for all):
A walk to the Memorial Chorten, a sacred shrine built in honor of the current King’s father. The Chorten is an impressive three-story monument, with tantric statues and wall paintings of three different cycles of Nyingma teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. You will find many elderly people making the Kora (pilgrimage circuit). The ceilings of the small porches on all four sides of the Chorten are painted with Mandalas of different deities.
A beautiful hike to Cheri Monastery
Chari Gompa is a Meditation Center. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the man who unified Bhutan, built this gompa (monastery) in 1619 and established the first monk body in Bhutan at this monastery. A silver chorten (stupa) inside the gompa holds the ashes of the Shabdrung’s father. Today, the Gompa is an important place of religious teaching that attracts monks from around the country, who come for refresher courses and/or three years and three months meditation. The one-hour hike to Cheri Gompa starts from a picturesque wooden bridge decorated with colorful prayer flags.
Visit few interesting handicraft shops, where they sell masks, beautiful handwoven textiles, carpets, jewelry, and Bhutanese wooden products.
A visit to a Bhutanese Handmade Paper Factory. Handmade paper has been a traditional craft in Bhutan going back into the distant past. The paper is made mainly from the Daphne plant, with apian, a gum obtained from the root of a creeper, as the other major ingredient.
A Bhutanese Archery Game – Bhutan’s national sport and an integral part of all festivities. The game is played using two painted wooden targets 12”x47” placed at each end of the range which is 120-meters apart. When an arrow hits the target, the archer’s team mates sing and perform a celebratory dance. During major competitions, women dance and sing, extolling their team, while teasing and mocking the adversaries, with funny comments to make them lose their concentration.
We may also have a chance to experience Bhutan’s fascinating weaving culture directly by visiting the home of an expert Bhutanese traditional weaver and designer. You will have the rare opportunity to see some of the best weavers in the country at work and discover how Bhutanese have developed a textile art that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. In Bhutanese culture and everyday life, weaving is so important that practically every home has a loom for weaving.
After an early breakfast, we will return to Paro for our last night in the Dragon Kingdom.
Upon arrival in Paro, we will conclude our visit to Bhutan with a hike to the magical monastery known as Taktsang (the “Tiger’s Nest). Taktsang is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World. The monastery itself is perched on a granite cliff that drops 2,000 feet to the valley floor. The name is derived from a legend that Guru Rinpoche flew across the mountains to this spot on the back of a tigress, reaching a cave in which he meditated for three months, converting the people of Paro Valley to buddhism during his stay. The path takes us through a forest of oak, blue pine. and rhododendron, arriving at a small chorten surrounded by prayer flags. With a little more effort, we will reach a tea house and a spectacular view of the Taktsang temples. That will be our lunch stop. Those who choose can hike further, to an overlook that is almost at eye level with the temple. This is a lifetime opportunity to connect you to Guru Rinpoche; 15 minutes personal meditation time or to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this sacred site.
After a leisurely hike back, there will be time for last minute shopping and, also, packing.
Back to the airport to depart from the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Today we leave our hosts and make our way back to the airport and get ready for our flights home. We say our last goodbyes, hug and reminisce as we prepare to take our new dream of heaven back to our lives.