TIBETAN SPIRIT TRAVELS
BHUTAN, NOV 2-13, 2019
WHERE THE THUNDER DRAGON ROARS
A Spiritual Journey to the Last Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked nation located in the Himalayan mountain range and the only official Buddhist nation in the world. Made famous to the outside world when the previous king declared his country as the nation where “gross national happiness” matters more over other conventional measures of success, this “last Shangrila” has a lot to offer the world. From Bhutan’s stunning dzongs – a unique combination of monastery, city hall and fortress – to its steep and high mountains crisscrossing by networks of swift rivers, its diverse eco-systems (in alpine, temperate and sub-tropical zones) populated by yaks, snow leopards, blue sheep, red pandas, takins, marmots, musk deer, black-necked cranes, and white bellied herons to its unique Himalayan Buddhist population negotiating a balanced existence between the outside world and its own values and visions.
Dr. Hun Lye
For twelve days, Dr. Lye (a specialist in Buddhist Studies & founder, spiritual director of Urban Dharma NC) will be our guide through this Himalayan kingdom, visiting spiritual & power-places established by Guru Rinpoche and other great practitioners. Assisted by local guides and experts, Dr. Lye will open windows into the deep spiritual heritage and rich natural and cultural lives of Bhutan that are not often available to outsiders. As a general rule, Dr. Lye only takes groups to countries and cultures where he has a special “back-story” to offer and this special tour of Bhutan is no exception. Aside from Dr. Lye’s professional training, his own spiritual grounding is in the Kagyu Lineage of Himalayan Buddhism that is also the official form of Buddhism in Bhutan.
On this pilgrimage, we will have daily meditation, teachings & instructions from Dr. Lye as well as special prayers & rituals offered at the sacred sites.
• 12-day all-inclusive tour, limited to 16 participants.
• Covering western & central Bhutan.
• Meditating & offering-practices at monasteries & sacred sites.
• Interact with Bhutanese people from all walks of life.
• Daily meditation & instructions from Dr. Lye
• See artisans at work, visit handicraft centers & shop!
• Experience authentic local cuisines, learn Bhutanese song & dance.
• Option of experiencing Bhutanese massage & hot stone bath.
Payment for this program will be done in 2 parts:
• $1500 is payable with registration to secure your spot
• $2700 is payable on September 15th
Payments may be by check (preferred), or credit card or Paypal.
Cancellation Policies & Procedures
Please be aware of these cancellation policies & procedures before registering.
Before August 1st
Cancellations received before August 1st will be refunded less a $50 administrative fee.
After August 1st
There will be no refund on the $1,500 first payment after August 1st. This is a requirement of the Bhutan travel agent, and there are no exceptions.
More than 30 days prior to start: last payment refundable except for $200 fee
15-30 days prior to start: 50% of the last two payments will be refunded
8-14 days prior to start: 25% of the last two payments will be refunded
Within 7 days of start: No refund
Cancellation must be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org . The date of the email will be considered the cancellation date. Please note that this cancellation policy applies in every instance. We do recommend that you purchase travel insurance. www.travelinsurance.com is a good place to start (although we do not have any connections with them at all).
The cost of this 12-day program is $4200 for double occupancy.
NOTE: If you are signing up by yourself, we will assign you a same-gendered roommate unless you request for a single supplement. A single supplement is $600
Local travel - including one domestic flight within Bhutan (Bumthang to Paro)
3-star hotels on twin-sharing basis
Qualified & licensed English-speaking guide services
Experienced & safe drivers
All meals, bottled water at restaurants & throughout day
All entrances fees to museums, monuments & sites
All road permits
Government fee, royalty, taxes & surcharges, Bhutan visa
Cost Doesn’t Include:
International air travel to Bangkok/Singapore/Delhi/Kathmandu
Air travel from Bangkok/Singapore/Delhi/Kathmandu to Paro & back
Tips (tour-guides, hotel staff, drivers - generally $5-$8 per day)
Personal expenses for souvenirs
Donations & offerings to temples, shrines & monasteries
Flying into Bhutan
The only way to fly into Bhutan is to fly with Drukair & Bhutan Airlines – the official airlines of Bhutan. They have flights from Delhi (DEL), Kolkatta (CCU), Singapore (SIN), Kathmandu (KTM) and Bangkok (BKK). The relative prices for flying from these four airports are – in order of most expensive to least: SIN, BKK, DEL, KTM and CCU. As you check prices for tickets from your home city to any of these five airports to catch the Drukair or Bhutan Airlines flight into Paro, Bhutan (PBH), do keep this factor in mind.
Aside from this factor, you might want to consider the relative ease and stress-level involved in transiting in any one of these four airports. In my opinion, in order of easiest/least stressful to hardest/most stressful: SIN, BKK, DEL, KTM, & CCU.
Finally, you might also want to consider staying a couple or three nights in one of these five cities when you start this journey, before flying to Bhutan on November 2. This will allow you to get over jetlag and be in a much better mental and physical state before arriving in Bhutan where you would have to quickly acclimate to the higher elevation in Bhutan. Personally, I have a soft spot for Bangkok as a layover city – consider it!
If you are interested in this program
please fill out the following application form
Day 1 (Nov 2)
Arrive in Paro. Drive to Thimphu (Lunch/Dinner).
All participants should arrange for their own international flight that arrives in Paro, Bhutan (Airport code: PBH). This will also be your departure airport on November 13. We will be transferred as a group to our hotel in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, which will take about 90 minutes by road. We will take it easy this first day in Thimphu so that everyone can properly acclimate to the elevation (elevation 2320m/7656’). As we will be arriving on different flights throughout this day, the day will be spent as you wish. The group will convene for dinner in the hotel. We will get a chance for introductions and an overview of the trip. After dinner, we will get an early night’s rest as the next day will start early!
Day 2 (Nov 3)
Day in Thimphu (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner)
We will begin our first morning in Bhutan with a meditation practice led by Dr. Lye followed by greakfast. Right after breakfast at the hotel, we will drive over to “Buddha View Point” where the recently constructed 169’ Buddha statue known as “Dordenma” sits, bestowing his blessings on the entire valley of Thimphu. Other than the blessed statue itself, this is also a great spot for enjoying stunning panoramic views of the valley of Thimphu and its surroundings. At the Dordenma, we will be able to have a short teaching.
From Dordenma, we will go back into the valley to join local Bhutanese people in their daily shopping at the Centenary Farmer’s Market. One of Dr. Lye’s travel axioms is “If you want to truly know how people live in any area, go to their local market.” Located below the main part of Thimphu city, near the Wangchhu River, Thimphu’s market is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. The lower level is imported fresh produce while the upper level is reserved exclusively for Bhutanese-grown produce. Nearby, across a cantilever footbridge, Kuendeyling Bazaar, where there is a collection of stalls selling Bhutanese clothing, textiles and handicrafts.
Day 3 (Nov 4)
Another day in Thimphu. (B/L/D)
The day will begin with a morning meditation & practice with Dr. Lye.
Places we will visit today in Thimphu are: the National Textile Museum, the Motithang Takin Preserve and the National Folk Heritage Museum. Takins are a type of goat-antelope found only in the eastern Himalayas and are the national animal of Bhutan. Local legend has it that the national saint of Bhutan, Drukpa Kunley, miraculously created this hybrid animal. We will also visit a paper-making center and an incense-making facility. Bhutan is also known as "Land of Medicinal Plants" and so Bhutanese incense is prized throughout the Himalayan region.
In the afternoon we have free time to explore Thimphu on foot on our own.
Day 4 (Nov 5)
Depart for Trongsa. (B/L/D)
After breakfast, we will depart Thimphu early and drive through some of the most beautiful parts of Bhutan, driving over Dochula Pass (elevation 3088m) where on a clear day we can get a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. This is also where the present Queen Mother of Bhutan built 108 chortens/stupas dedicated to the spiritual welfare of all those who perished in border conflicts between Bhutan and India. This memorial seems to be often enveloped in fog and light drizzle, adding to the already other-worldly and tranquil nature of these spiritual monuments. Here, we will offer a cleansing-smoke ("sang") offering and hang some prayer-flags. Prayer-flags are offered to increase life-force, personal influence, and longevity.
Trongsa is the ancestral home of the Wangchuck monarchy. Traditionally, each king of Bhutan has held the position of Trongsa pönlop (governor) before wearing the Raven Crown. Trongsa Dzong was built in 1644 and controlled by the Wangchuck dynasty until they became the rulers of all Bhutan in 1907. Occupying the only road that connected eastern and western Bhutan, all trade was controlled by this dzong. At Trongsa we will visit the Royal Heritage Museum. After this we will continue our journey to Bumthang passing through Yotong Pass (3400 m). Just before reaching Bumthang we will stop at Yathra Weaving Center at Zugney Village where we will see local weavers weaving yathra. Yathra is the name for the colorful, hand-woven woolen cloth that is produced in this region and wool used for yathra is sheep wool from sheep raised in Bumthang Valley. On arrival at Bumthang, we will check into our hotel in Bumthang and relax a little until it’s time to gather for our dinner.
Day 5 (Nov 6)
Depart for Bumthang. (B/L/D)
We will depart fairly early for Bumthang – the spiritual heart of Bhutan – which is several hours away. But this is truly a case of how the journey itself is the goal for we will drive pass dense forests of oak and blue pine, through subtropical vegetation, and across the beautiful sceneries of rural Bhutan with scattered settlements far from the road. We will also pass through open meadows, and valley of yak herders and quaint villages. Lunch and refreshments will be served en route.
Bumthang is the spiritual heart of Bhutan. According to religious chronicles, in the year 746 AD, it is said that the great Indian master of Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava) arrived here to exorcise a blood-thirsty demon from the then king of this area and converted the area to Buddhism, thus restoring peace and security to the region. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche stayed in the valley to build more than 40 temples before continuing on to Tibet to assist in the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Guru Rinpoche is fondly addressed by Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhists as “the second Buddha.”
Depending on when we arrive and group energy, we may visit some holy sites in Bumthang when we arrive. Otherwise, we will take the rest of the day easy, with a late afternoon meditation & instructions session with Dr. Lye before taking our dinner.
Day 6 (Nov 7)
After breakfast, we will visit several important monasteries in Bumthang. The first monastery is Tamzhing Monastery which was first established in 1501 and considered the most important Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), one of the most important Bhutanese saints established Tamzhing and today close to a hundred monks reside here. We will then visit the Kurjey Lhakhang which houses a rock that is said to have Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint after he subdued the powerful demon. Following this we will see Jakar Dzong, the White Bird Fortress. According to legend, when the lamas assembled in the mid-16th century to select a site for a monastery in this area, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of a hill. This was interpreted as an auspicious omen, and the hill was thus chosen as the site for a monastery and for Jakar Dzong. Today, this fortress is used as an administrative center of Bumthang Valley as well as the summer residence of Trongsa monks. Whenever possible, we will have short group practices at these monasteries.
After lunch, we will drive to Mebar Tsho ("Burning Lake"). This is location of the recovery of the "hidden treasures" (Tibetan: terma) of Guru Rinpoche by the great Bhutanese master, Pema Lingpa (1450-1521). We will do an offering practice here at this sacred site.
Day 7 (Nov 8)
Retreat Day in Bumthang. (B/L/D)
Today will be our retreat-day in Bumthang. The morning will begin with an outdoor cleansing-smoke offering practice at one of the many sacred locations in Bumthang followed with a breakfast picnic. After breakfast, we will return to the hotel where Dr. Lye will offer teachings & instructions. This will be a day to focus on gaining some experience from doing practices in a blessed location such as Bumthang. Teachings and practice will break for lunch. After lunch, we will re-group late afternoon to continue with instructions and practice.
[If conditions are right, we might also spend this day visiting Sumtrang Nunnery - the only Drikung Kagyu place in Bhutan. Sumtrang is a couple of hours outside of Bumthang town.]
Day 8 (Nov 9)
Fly to Paro. (B/L/D)
After breakfast we fly to Paro Valley, home to many of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and also the airport in which we flew into at the beginning of our pilgrimage to Bhutan. Paro Valley is home to Chomolhari (Jomolhari) Mountain, located on the northwestern border of Bhutan and Tibet. Often called the wife of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, Chomolhari is Bhutan’s third tallest mountain at over 7300m. The glacier waters flowing from the mountain feed the rivers of Paro Valley.
Paro Dzong is also known as Rinpung Dzong or “Jewel Fortress” because it was built using stones rather than clay. It is an excellent example of 15th-century architecture and one of the most impressive dzongs in all of Bhutan. It currently serves as the administrative center of Paro district.
Located on a hill above Para Dzong is a cylindrical watchtower built in 1649 and converted into the National Museum of Bhutan in 1968. This spiral-shaped building holds antiques, art, textiles, weapons, and household items that tell the history of Bhutan.
Day 9 (Nov 10)
Day-Long Hike to Taktsang. (B/L/D)
Today we will hike up to Taktsang: The Tiger’s Nest. This is probably the most recognized landmark of Bhutan around the world. It’s a wonderful day’s outing to this stunning site. Some of you may choose to hire a pony to get up there as the hike up to Taktsang can be steep and takes around 3 hours. But it is a well worth effort! Taktsang Monastery is built on a ledge of a cliff that stands 800m above Paro Valley. Legend has it that the Guru Rinpoche flew here from Nepal on the back of a pregnant tigress and meditated in a cave that this monastery is built around. Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated in this cave for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century.
Day 10 (Nov 11)
Retreat Day in Paro. (B/L/D)
Just as our retreat day in Bumthang, the day will begin with a cleansing-smoke offering at a sacred site in Paro followed by breakfast picnic. We return to the hotel after breakfast and reconvene before lunch for Dharma instruction. After lunch and a quick nap, we will start again at 4pm for more practice and Dharma instruction. There will be plenty of time to use the hotel spa services after the afternoon practice. For those who want to, we will also go out to Paro town for some evening shopping.
Day 11 (Nov 12)
Day-Long Visit to Chumphu Nye. (B/L/D)
Chumphu Nye is home to a famous image of the vajrayana female buddha, Vajravarahi ("Indestructible Sow"). Vajravarahi embodies the transformation of confusion of samsaric existence into the clarify of the awakened state. The sow/pig is often a symbol of confusion or ignorance in Buddhism and Vajravarahi being the "Indestructible Sow" demonstrates the vajrayana point of view that the very ignorance or confusion that is the source of suffering can also be powerfully purified into the state of complete clarity - the state of Buddha. Locals belief that the particular Vajravarahi statue in this temple flew from Mt. Tsari in southern Tibet to Chumphu Nye. It is believed that to this day this statue is hovering very slightly above the surface where it seems to be standing on. Many come here to make prayers and express their wishes to Vajravarahi.
To reach Chumphu Nye, we will have to drive for several hours and afterwards hike for another 4 hours. For those who do not wish to visit Chumphu Nye, we will make arrangements for you to enjoy Paro city as it offers ample opportunities to shop and relax.
Day 12 (Nov 13)
Depart for home. (B)
After breakfast, we depart for Paro International Airport and thus begins the journey home – and perhaps the beginning of a deeper journey inward for the rest of our lives!