Set out on a journey through magical Bhutan, the secluded “Kingdom in the Clouds.” Nestled within lush Himalayan valleys, this tiny Buddhist nation has slowly opened its doors to visitors, and we’re invited to experience its timeless way of life and centuries-old traditions. Hike between mountain villages, meet nuns and monks at temples and fortress monasteries, and get acquainted with farmers, artists, local leaders, and Bhutanese youth.
Tucked in a valley amid the sky-scraping peaks of the Himalaya, Paro is the starting point for our expedition through Bhutan. Browse local crafts at artisan markets, visit the seventh-century Kyichu Lhakhang temple, and hike through emerald rice fields that blanket the valley floor. Get outfitted in ornately colored gho and kira, the Bhutanese national dress, which you will wear for formal occasions throughout the trip. Then set off into the country’s spiritual heartland.
Fly to Bumthang, home to Buddhist sites that date back more than a thousand years. Step inside the imposing walls of the hilltop Jakar Dzong—a fortress monastery and seat of government for Bhutan’s royal dynasty. Attend an annual festival in a palace courtyard, learn the art of traditional masked cham dancing, and beat a Bhutanese drum. Join a family in their kitchen to learn how to prepare handmade noodles and momos, dumplings made with buckwheat grown in the fields surrounding Bumthang. Interview Bhutanese families about the recent introduction of television to rural villages or the country's new democratic political structure.
Follow the east-west trade route from Bumthang to the town of Trongsa, and explore the nation’s largest dzong. As you navigate its labyrinth of passages, learn about Bhutan’s historic and modern political structure, and discuss contemporary Bhutanese life. The next day, travel to Phobjikha, a pristine glacial valley at the base of the Black Mountains. Don traditional dress and learn about the sacred significance of the Himalaya on a visit to a 450-year-old monastery, now home to a Buddhist college; and gain insights into ceremonial cake-making from the resident monks. Hike through virgin forests, and learn from rural farmers how to make fresh cheese, traditional butter tea, and hot chili dishes.
Spend two days discovering Punakha, the old royal capital of Bhutan. Explore the rice paddies surrounding the stunning Punakha Dzong, and interview villagers to get a local perspective on the country’s Gross National Happiness Index. Try your hand at traditional Bhutanese archery, then hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple for a bird’s eye view of the river valley below before camping on the riverside. Join Bhutanese high school students for a pick-up game of basketball or a volleyball match, and spend your evenings relaxing around a bonfire.
Cross over the Dochu La mountain pass, where we’ll hoist prayer flags during a mountaintop ceremony. Continue to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city. Browse the bustling downtown bazaar, and meet artisans who create traditional jewelry, handmade paper, and incense. Enjoy a special opportunity to sip tea with government officials and discuss the evolution of the Gross National Happiness project. Then visit the Voluntary Artists Studio Thimpu, a hub for contemporary art and youth development. Share a meal with the young artists studying there, and work together on a community project.
Our expedition culminates at the kingdom’s iconic landmark: the Taktsang Lhakhang, or Tiger’s Nest Temple. Make the steep climb to this pilgrimage site, perched on a cliff face nearly 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley floor. Or opt to hike to a nearby viewpoint to photograph this stunning structure. Return to Paro for a farewell dinner at a family-run farm, and present your On Assignment project before flying home.