Dances of Living and Dying in Thimphu (5-16 October 2016)

** Festival dates are tentative as unexpected changes can occur. Contact us to confirm dates **

Trip Overview

Join the biggest festivals in the country in Thimphu – the capital city with no traffic lights, the Paris of the Himalayas. People all over Bhutan pack their best kiras and ghos and travel long distances to attend this annual blessed event, which is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods and culminates in the blessing of the people by a masked monk depicting the Tantric Buddhist Master Guru Rinpoche. See the sacred dances of the 21 black hats (Zhana Nga chham), the Lords of the Cremation Ground (Durdag), and the Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam chham). Dedicated to the chief protective deity of Bhutan Palden Lhamo, these dances have been passed down from the 17th century and is believed to guide all those who witnesses the rites upon which one passes through after death. The ‘Atsaras’ – the dupthobs (acharyas) with a phallus on their heads bring comical dances and jests to entrance evil forces and prevent them from causing harm during the festivities, much to everyone’s delight and laughte. See the streets of Thimphu come alive with bustling activities, street vendors and people dressed in their best traditional costumes from all over the country, and be part of this unforgettable event.

Trip Summary

5 October – Paro; 6-7 October – Thimphu Festival; 8 October – Punakha; 9 October – Trongsa; 10-11 June – Bumthang; 12 October – Bumthang, Phobjikha/Gangtey; 13 October -Phobjikha/Gangtey, Punakha; 14-16 October – Paro.

Bouquet of Colours at Thimphu Tsechu
Bouquet of Colours at Thimphu Tsechu


USD 2,613 (approx. AUD 4,442)


Prices based on twin share. Single supplement USD 446

*AUD estimate based on USD/AUD 1=0.7

Inclusions: accommodation, meals, dedicated transport, entry fees to museums and attractions, licensed guide and driver, visa processing fees, all administrative costs.

Exclusions: international airfares (contact us to arrange), comprehensive travel insurance, personal expenses and tips.


5 October – Paro

Arrive into Paro International Airport. During the flight to Paro, look out for the breathtaking views of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mount Jomolhari and Mount Jitchu Drake in Bhutan. Paro is a beautiful fertile valley encapsulating a rich vibrant culture, scenic beauty and plenty of myths and legends. The sacred Mount Jomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial water plunges through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). You’ll be picked up at the airport and checked into the hotel. spend the afternoon exploring the National Museum (Ta-Dzong) – originally the watchtower for the Paro Dzong on the hillock overlooking the Paro valley, and Rinpung Dzong. The museum is a treasure trove of Bhutanese art, relics, religious thangka paintings, natural history artefacts, and Bhutan’s exquisite stamps, coins, and handicrafts collection. A short visit here will give you an idea of the cultural and ecological richness of Bhutan. Head to the 16th century Rinpung Dzong, ‘fortress of the heap of jewels’, and see where some of scenes from the film ‘Little Buddha’ by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1995 was filmed. Overnight in Paro.

6-7 October – Thimphu Festival

Drive to the capital city of Thimphu – the seat of government, religion and commerce in Bhutan. It’s a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Thimphu was a wooded farming valley until 1961 when it became Bhutan’s official national capital. With an estimated population of 100,000 people, explore this unique city filled with an unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Spend the next two days at the Thimphu Festival. Overnight in Thimphu.

8 October – Punakha

From Thimphu, head East to Dochula pass (3,100 meters), which on a clear day offers an incredible view of Himalayan peaks, before descending into balmy Punakha valley, the ancient capital of Bhutan. On this three-hour drive through the countryside you’ll see glimpses of everyday life in this most remote of Himalayan kingdoms. In Dochu-La area there are vast Rhododendron forests that grow to tree size and bloom in late April/early May covering the mountains in a riot of glorious spring colour. Take a 45-minute hike to Khamsum Yule Namgyel Chorten built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King to bring universal peace in this world. From here you will get a birds-eye view of Punakha valley and the meanders of Punakha river.  Walk back along the farm fields along the river bank. Visit Punakha Dzong, arguably one of the most impressive and beautiful in Bhutan. It was built in 1637 by Shabdrung – father and ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ and situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. Overnight in Punakha.

9 October – Trongsa

Drive to the 16th century Trongsa (‘New Village’ in the local dialect), the old seat of power for the first two hereditary kings of Bhutan. Trongsa has its humble origins as a lone tshamkhang (small meditation room) built by Ngagi Wangchuck (1517–54), the great grand-father of the founder of Bhutan Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, after he discovered self-manifested hoof prints belonging to the horse of the protector deity, Pelden Lhamo in 1541. Retreats, temples and hermit residences soon grew up around the tshamkhang which became the modern Trongsa. Visit the imposing Trongsa Dzong and the Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum. Overnight in Trongsa.

10-11 October – Bumthang

Continue East to Bumthang – the spiritual and geographic heart of Bhutan. Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin. Overnight in Bumthang. You will have two days to explore the many wonderful trails and monasteries in Bumthang valley. Visit the 7th century Jambay Lhakhang, one of 108 monasteries built  by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Located further along the valley, the sacred Kurje Lhakhang is a monastery comprising of three temples and surrounded by 108 chorten wall dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava – the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and who the Bhutanese and Tibetans believe is the Buddha of our time.

Across the river from Kurje Lhakhang is Tamshing Lhakhang, believed to be built by Guru Padmasambhava’s recinarnation Terton Pema Lingpa, and contains very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple which had been restored at the end of the 19th century. Have a peep of the Wangdicholing Palace as you head towards one of the most important pilgrimage sights of Bhutan- the Mebar Tsho (‘Burning Lake’). It was in Mebar Tsho that Terton Pema Lingpa discovered many holy relics hidden here by Guru Padmasambhava.  Naturally, the villagers at the time did not believe this man who claimed to be the incarnate of their beloved Guru. So to silence skeptical minds,Terton Pema Lingpa plunged in to the gorge with a burning lamp declaring, “If I am a demon, I shall die! If I am not, and am the true spiritual son of Guru Rinpoche, this lamp will continue to burn and I will recover hidden treasures!” Legend has it that he came out with the hidden relics and with the lamp still burning and hence, the name ‘Mebar Tsho’ came about. Overnight in Bumthang.

12 October – Bumthang, Gangtey/Phobjikha

Today you’ll heading back West to Gangtey valley, home of the endangered Black Necked Cranes that migrates here annually in November. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of the famous black-necked cranes, who migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate. The valley also provides rich pastureland for cattle and the district is also famous for its fine bamboo products, slate and stone carvings. Visit the 17th century Gangtey Goemba and Phobjikha village. Overnight in Phobjikha.

13 October – Gantye, Punakha

This morning learn more about the Black Necked Cranes and their habitat at the education centre.  You can use the center’s powerful spotting scopes to observe the cranes or take a walk along the nature trail for a closer look. Journey back to Punakha. You have the option to attend the second part of the Punakha Festival and/or stroll through the rice fields to Chhimi Lhakhang.  The temple is dedicated to the famous and unorthodox Buddhist master, Drukpa Kinley (endearing referred to by the Bhutanese as the ‘Divine Madman’), who is associated with the phallic symbols you would have seen on your travels in Bhutan so far. Learn about the master’s deeds painted on the walls and ask the locals you meet about his stories. You may be surprised by what you find out! The temple is also frequented by couples who are praying for children and families who come to be blessed. Babies whose parents have brought them here to be named will bear the first name of ‘Kinley’ or ‘Chimmie’. Overnight in Punakha.

14 October – Paro

Continue West back to Paro, which will feel very different now that the festival is over. Relax and stroll through the local stores along the streets of traditional houses, or head to the National Museum to see Bhutanese art, relics, religious thangka paintings, natural history artefacts, and Bhutan’s exquisite stamps, coins, and handicrafts collection. If you love fortresses, there’s the 16th century Rinpung Dzong, ‘fortress of the heap of jewels’ where some of scenes from the film ‘Little Buddha’ by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1995 was filmed, and the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang built by the famous Buddhist Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. Next to the temple is the house that is now turned into a museum dedicated to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. One can come across photographs and other artifacts belonging to the Rinpoche. Overnight in Paro.

15 Octber – Paro

Today you’ll hike up Bhutan’s most iconic and awe-inspiring Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang) Monastery. Perched seemingly perilously on the edge of a sheer cliff face, Taktshang is one of Bhutan’s most venerated pilgrimage sites. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche miraculously flew here on the back of a tigress, meditated in a cave here for three months and converted the whole of Paro valley to Buddhism. Resting at an altitude of 900 meters above the valley,  Taktshang is an architectural wonder and the spectacular four-hour walk will be sure to be one of your most overwhelming and unforgettable experiences. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure, enjoy a Bhutanese hot stone bath to relax from the day’s hike, or visit some of the local establishments and mingle with the locals for your last night in Bhutan. Overnight in Paro.

16 October – Paro (Departure)

After breakfast, you will be transported to Paro International Airport for your onward journey.