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TRAILING NOMADS FALL MIGRATION
If there is such a thing as the road less traveled, this is it! You are embarking on a journey only a handful of tourists have made.
This amazing journey allows you to trail the Dorips, an ancient nomadic group, along their fall migration. The nomadic migration follows a cyclical pattern; the Dorips migrate north towards Haa Valley as summer approaches and descend south to the sub-tropics with fall approaching. The nomadic journey trails through many of the picturesque pastures and meadows that dot the lush, green landscape. While pastures generally hold one family of nomads at a time, bigger pastures can accommodate two to three families. Each family rears about 100 cattle heads. This a very unique opportunity to live, learn and move with an ancient culture of people.
You’ll also take in some of Bhutan’s finest sights, such as Tiger’s Nest monastery, Paro and the capital city of Thimpu – the only capitol in the world without traffic lights! You’ll also witness the Thimphu Tsechu; performed by monks and lay monks, a Bhutanese tsechu is performed to recount the history of Bhutan and the Buddhism in Bhutan. For Bhutanese, performing and watching a tsechu is an act of merit building honor.
DAY 1 - September 23
BANGKOK - PARO
Depart Bangkok very early and fly to Paro, Bhutan. (Get a window seat on the left! The views of the Himalayas are fantastic). Your Crooked Trails guide will greet you upon your arrival at the Paro airport (7,590ft). We will head to our hotel and get checked in, shower and relax for a bit, followed by a traditional Bhutanese lunch in town. En route you will get an impressive view of one of the most famous dzongs (Paro Rinchen Pung Dzong) in the kingdom. (Dzong means “fortress” in the national language).
After an introduction to the program we will drive through town and up the valley to visit the National Museum, now housed in a new location next to the ancient watch tower, which visually introduces Bhutan’s history and culture. The museum provides a good introduction to Kingdom’s rich culture and heritage. The watch tower suffered partial damage from the earthquake in September 2011 and remains closed while undergoing renovation; it is scheduled to be opened by end of 2017.
Drive down to the dzong; here we can stretch our legs and take a light hike down to Pa Chu River crossing the traditional cantilever bridge (getting our lungs used to altitude). Due to jet lag everyone will want to call it an early night and we will retire to the hotel early in the evening for dinner and a good night’s sleep.
DAY 2 - September 24
PARO - DORIKHA VILLAGE, HAA
After breakfast you will have 2.5 hours of adventurous driving to the Haa Valley (8,580 ft) over the Chele La Pass (12,540ft) which is marked by colorful prayer flags. (Take Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness!) On a clear day, you can get a spectacular view of Mt. Jhomolhari (24,1362 ft), the second highest mountain in Bhutan. We will take a short hike along the ridge amidst alpine flowers and prayer flags; soak up the stunning views of the Paro and Haa Valleys. The drive then descends into the Haa Valley, which has been open to tourism only since 2004. Driving down the countless switchbacks, you will be treated with panoramic views of the entire Haa Valley, including the locally famous Meri Puensum, the Three Brothers Mountains.
After lunch, we will head off the main road onto a new spur road constructed in 2008 that leads to the village of Dorikha, the home of your guide. You will be set up in your home stays, enjoy dinner and get settled in.
Drive time: 3.5 hours (the last 40 minutes on dirt road)
DAY 3 - September 25
You will be spending time living and learning from the people of the village. You will learn about the amazing Bhutanese architecture, be involved in the agricultural processes of the fall time, and get involved in domestic chores such as making cheese and butter by hand, grinding grains with stone wheels and gathering wood.
There can be informal daily language lessons and plenty of time to hang out with the children, laugh with elders and visit the local sites, including the village monastic school for novice monks. It is during this time that your understanding of true Bhutanese culture and life will be forged. You will not be on the tourist circuit seeing dzongs and sleeping in hotels, but rather eating and living in the local way. You must be prepared for bucket baths, squatter toilets and little privacy as well as the experience of a lifetime.
DAY 4 - September 26
DORIKHA - LASONO
Today, we will follow the trail of the annual nomadic migration, a traditional practice that is fast disappearing.
We will drive the craggy road (1 hr) beyond Tego La, a high mountain pass (12,071 ft) with breathtaking views of the deep valleys in the south and Mt. Jhomolhari in the northwest and the Haa Valley. You can also see Mt. Kachenjunga to the west in Sikkim. It used to be that villagers had to hike up to Tego La Pass, but now with the coming of roads, villagers often get rides to the pass. Interestingly, the road also poses a threat to this practice of migration.
We will enjoy a traditional lunch of savory buckwheat pancakes with chili sauce. The gradual downhill journey will bring you closer to the nomads, who are just beginning to migrate south. We will catch up with the first of the nomads along the way; the unique nomadic lifestyle will then begin to unfold before our eyes. The wide pastures make for a great camping/grazing site for nomads. Here, you will experience a life as a nomad. Nomad families generally spend a day to a week on each pastureland. Before they put a strain on the resources, the nomads move with their cattle to the next grazing land. The pastures are anywhere between an hour or two apart.
Since these movements are not staged, but rather based on ad-hoc decision, we are not able to tell in advance which pasture will hold how many nomads. Overnight camp at/near Lasono in tented camp/makeshift sheds used by nomads.
Drive time (RT to Tego La Pass): 1.5 hours on dirt road
DAY 5 - September 27
LASONO - DORIKHA
Today, we will start making the journey back to Dorikha. Along the way, there is much wilderness to enjoy and investigate. There is a good chance that we will come across more nomads with their cattle. After crossing Tego La Pass, those who wish to can trek down to Dorikha; otherwise we can drive. Overnight at a village home, and experience a traditional hot bath.
DAY 6 & 7 - September 28 & 29
DORIKHA - THIMPHU
Welcome to the only capital in the world without traffic lights!
This morning is the last in Dorikha. After breakfast and goodbyes we will begin a four-hour drive to Thimphu. Thimphu sits at almost 8,000 feet and has over 100,000 people, representing a vibrant mix of the old and new - and the citizens like it that way. Traffic moves around a white-gloved policeman (there are no traffic lights in the whole country) and monks and tourists mix in its lively streets.
We will have a day and a half here to visit all the interesting spots including the Memorial Chorten, which was built in the mid 1970’s in memory of Bhutan’s third king, his late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is popularly known as the father of modern Bhutan. After lunch, a short drive will take us to the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, the 13 forms of traditional arts and crafts commonly referred to as “the painting school.” Drive to Kunselphodrang in the evening; feel the grandeur of the world’s largest sitting Buddha (which is nearing completion). Enjoy a great bird’s eye view of the Thimphu valley.
You will also visit the Takin Reserve, a former zoo that was closed down because the king did not think a zoo was in line with the country’s Buddhist philosophies. The animals were set free but the takins were too tame and wandered the streets, and so they were put back in the reserve where we can visit them at close range. Takins are the national animal of Bhutan and look like a strange mix of yak, camel, moose and shaggy dog. You have to see one to believe it. Options also include exploring the Textile Museum and Traditional handmade paper factory. Overnight at hotel.
Drive time: 3.5 hours
DAY 8 - September 30
THIMPU TSECHU FESTIVAL
This morning, we will visit the grounds of Thimphu Tashichhoe Dzong to be a part of the Tsechu Festival. Spend the morning at the festival viewing masked dances and ritual activities. This is truly a great climax to the most revered yearly festival of Bhutan.
The dzong houses the capital’s administrative body; it is also the summer home to the spiritual head (the Je Khenpo) and the central monastic body. You'll be amongst throngs of Bhutanese from the capital and from outlying villages of Thimphu all dressed in their traditional finery. Witness the age-old, wonderfully colorful and esoteric Religious masked dance performed by specially trained groups of Buddhist monks.
Witness the archers at play at the archery range. Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and a favorite past time for Bhutanese. Also explore the capital’s weekend farmers’ market. Overnight at hotel.
DAY 9 - October 1
After breakfast, we will leave for Punakha Valley. Leaving town, the road gradually climbs through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochu La Pass (10,000ft). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. After a brief stop to catch the breathtaking view, we will descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (4,430 ft), which was the capital for over 300 years (until 1955).
Upon reaching Lobesa Valley, take an easy hike to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple of the Divine Madman) on a small hilltop. It is a pleasant 30-minute hike through the rice paddies and the small village. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi known in 15th century as Lam Drukpa Kuenley, or popularly known as the “Divine Madman” in the west. He preached in a way that was unlike the stiffness of clergy and society of the time; he dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are a result of his influence. It is believed that the temple blesses couples who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequently visited by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children.
After lunch, explore the majestic Punakha Dzong, which is situated at the confluence of two rivers. Punakha Dzong is the epitome of Bhutanese architecture and one of the most impressive buildings in Bhutan. It was built in 1637 and has 6 stories and astonishingly intricate decorative paintings and wood work. The fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). Overnight at hotel.
Drive time: 3 hours
DAY 10 - October 2
In the morning drive back to Paro via Thimphu. Enjoy views from Dochu La Pass. Free time in Paro, and overnight at hotel in Paro.
Drive time: 4 hours
DAY 11 - October 3
TAKTSHANG MONASTERY (TIGER'S NEST)
Early morning, we will visit Bhutan’s most famous monastery -Taktshang, the Tiger’s Nest. History has it that Guru Rinpoche’s consort Yeshe Tsogyal turned herself into a flying tigress on whose back Guru Rinpoche rode, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. It is believed that they then meditated here in caves. The monastery is perched precariously on the side of a cliff almost 3,000 feet above the valley floor. There is only one way up to the Tiger’s Nest and that is to walk. The hike will take about 5 hours roundtrip with time to visit the monastery. After lunch, we will return to our hotel with time for shopping and leisure before dinner.
Time permitting drive further up the valley to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong. The dzong has a famous past as the protector of Bhutan, having stopped an invasion from Tibet. The dzong is at the end of the road and the beginning of the trek to Mt. Jhomolhari basecamp. Return to hotel.
Drive time: 1 hour
Hike time: 5 hours roundtrip
DAY 12 - October 4
PARO - BANGKOK
After an early morning breakfast at the hotel, you will drive to Paro Airport for a sensational take-off and scenic Himalayan flight past high Himalayan peaks. Flights return to Bangkok for connections back to the States.
12D / 11N
September 23 - October 4, 2017
Paro - Dorikha - Lasono - Dorikha - Thimphu - Punakha - Paro - Tiger's Nest
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