Textiles, Arts and Crafts of Bhutan
Appreciate the intangible cultural heritage of the Land of the Thunder Dragon
A small group tour led by Zara Fleming
Wednesday 30 October - Thursday 14 November 2019
You will be accompanied on this journey by Zara Fleming, a lecturer, independent art consultant and experienced tour leader. Zara specialises in the art and culture of the Buddhist Himalayas and has been visiting Bhutan for over 40 years. She will be able to show you the real Bhutan.
On this expert-led tour with Zara Fleming, you will see first- hand Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage and learn more about the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Textiles are considered to be one of the highest forms of art and spiritual expression and the weaving skills are passed down from generation to generation. You will appreciate the nuances communicated through garments which are worn every day as part of the national dress, together with the costumes and masks worn at festival time. In Bhutan, you will be able to step beyond the picturesque and immerse yourselves in the living traditions of this tiny kingdom.
London • Kathmandu • Thimphu • Punakha • Trongsa • Bhumthang • Mongar • Lhuntse • Trashigang • Paro • Kathmandu • London
(Meals: B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner)
Wednesday 30 October
Depart from London in the evening on Emirates Airlines EK4 to Dubai at 20:20.
Thursday 31 October
Arrive Dubai at 07:20 and connect EK2355 for Kathmandu at 09:35. Arrive Kathmandu at 15:20
You will be met on arrival and transferred by air-conditioned vehicle to check in and rest at the hotel. In the afternoon, you will have a guided city tour of Kathmandu, taking in such highlights as the Durbar Square and the Swayambhunath Temple complex. You will have time to soak up the Hindu culture of Nepal today; although the country has officially been secular since 2006, its religious identity is one of the things which sets is apart from Bhutan. Overnight stay at Kashthamandap boutique hotel.
Friday 1 November
Fly from Katmandhu to Paro by Druk air at 11:40, arrive Thimpu at 12:25 and this time of year we should get excellent views of the Himalayas. On arrival, we will be met by our Bhutanese guide and driver and transported eastwards towards Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan since 1961. En route we will stop at the 15th century Tamchog Lhakhang (temple), built by Thang Thong Gyelpo, a skilled blacksmith who is known as “the great iron-bridge builder.” After lunch in Thimphu we will visit the Institute of Zorig Chusom, a government-run school which teaches the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. This institute is important because it not only preserves these applied art forms, but also ensures that the next generation has the skills and expertise to keep Bhutan’s cultural heritage alive.
We then go to VAST (Voluntary Artists Studio, Thimphu) which is a not-for-profit organization with the primary aim to provide an opportunity for Bhutanese youth to participate and develop their potential artistic talents, particularly in contemporary art. Here the young people also learn to develop a sense of social responsibility through community service and to explore art as a vocation. Finally, we may go on a sunset drive to Khunsel Phodrang, a vast Buddha statue and temple built on the hillside overlooking Thimphu.the Memorial Chorten, honouring Bhutan’s third king, which Bhutanese circumnavigate at this time of day whilst chanting their prayers.
We will also see a paper making place in Thimpu
Return to the hotel for overnight stay at Hotel Galingka or Tashi Yoedling.
Saturday 2 November
In the morning we visit one of the oldest temples in the Thimphu Valley, the Changangkha Lhakhang, built in the 15th century, perched on a hilltop overlooking the town. This will be followed by the Textile Museum, which houses an outstanding display of Bhutanese textiles and costumes unparalleled elsewhere in the world. These reflect the diversity of the weaving and embroidery traditions found in Bhutan and include many costumes owned by the Royal family. Nearby is the Royal Textile Academy, where we will be able to see weaving in progress and talk to some of the weavers.
After lunch we drive out of Thimphu to visit the Choki Traditional Art School. This is a small but impressive privately run establishment, where they study weaving, woodcarving, thangka painting and clay sculpture.
Towards the end of the day you will take a short drive to the National Memorial Chorten, honouring Bhutan’s third king, which Bhutanese circumnavigate at this time of day whilst chanting their prayers. Finally, we visit Trashichhoedzong (Fortress of Glorious Religion) before returning to the hotel in time for dinner.
Hotel Galingka, Tashi Yoedling.
Sunday 3 November
To Punakha - 3 hours driving time
In the morning we set off on our journey to Punakha, driving eastwards climbing up through oak, pine and rhododendron forests to the Dochu La Pass (3050m/over 10,000 ft). Here we have a break and hope to get a spectacular view of the Eastern Himalayan ranges. This is the site of the 108 chortens (commissioned by Queen Ashi Dorje Wangmo, one of the 4th King’s four wives) and a beautiful monastery. Before reaching Punakha, we have a gentle walk across the paddy fields near Lobesa to the fertility temple of Chime Lhakhang. This was built by the 15th century Lama Drukpa Kunley (known as “The Divine Madman”), who was renowned for his eccentric behavior. Finally, we will visit the spectacular Punakha Dzong known as the “Palace of Great Happiness", built in 1637, it is the former winter Capital and the administrative seat of the district. The fortress is strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, the Pho Chu and Mo Chu. The coronations of all the Bhutanese monarchs have taken place within this dzong.
Hotel: Meri Phuensum Resort, Zangdo Pelri (cottages) or Dhensa resort.
Monday 4 November
To Trongsa - 4 to 5 hours including tea break
A spectacular drive of approximately 5 hours to Trongsa, the gateway to Central Bhutan, crossing the Pele La pass (3300m/10825ft). We will stop several times en route at places of interest, such as the Chendebji Chorten. This was built in Nepalese style during the 18th century, to pin down a demoness who had been terrorizing the valley. Trongsa Dzong can be seen from miles away and was built in its strategic position by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal in 1644. It then became the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty before they became monarchs of Bhutan in 1907.
You will stay overnight at Yangkhil resort.
Tuesday 5 November
To Bhumthang- 3 hours
The day will begin at the Trongsa Dzong, followed by a visit to the Ta Dzong, a watchtower which now houses an impressive museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty. You will have lunch before leaving Trongsa and then begin the scenic journey to Bumthang. This takes you into the sacred heartland of Buddhism in Bhutan. The road winds steeply through the coniferous forests, but the valley then opens up in the Chumey valley.
In Zugney, you will visit the Yathra Weaving Centre, where you will interact with local weavers and see some of the indigenous dyes. Yathra is a colourful handwoven fabric made from yak and sheep wool, which is incredibly warm. Yathra cloths were originally used as blankets and to keep off the rain, but today they are turned into coats, jackets and shawls.
You will reach Bumthang just as the day’s light is fading and check into your hotel a delicious Bhutanese dinner and bed.
We will saty at Gongkhar Guesthouse or Swiss Guesthouse.
Wednesday 6 November
Every dzong in Bhutan has its own annual dance festival (tsechu), and your visit happily coincides with a tsechu held in the courtyard of Jakar Dzong (the dzong of the white bird). Here monks will perform cham (sacred dance) adorned in elaborate costumes and masks, to the sound of music played on trumpets and drums. These tsechu last for several days and on the day we visit, we will see several different dances of both historical and religious significance.
This is where you will see Bhutanese culture come alive and be celebrated. The Bhutanese people wear their finest clothes and flock from far and wide to attend the tsechu. It is said that witnessing the spectacle not only imparts Buddhist teachings, but also showers all those who watch with auspicious blessings. Attending the Jakar Teschu will be a spectacular and unforgettable experience.
Stay at Gongkhar Guest House or Swiss Guest house.
Thursday 7 November
Today we will visit important monasteries in the surrounding area, most notably the Jampa Lhakang, built in the 8th century and Bhutan’s most revered site; followed by a gentle half hour walk to Kurjey Monastery, which is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche who is regarded in Bhutan as the Second Buddha. He is believed to have meditated here and it is possible to see his body imprint on a rock. Finally, Tamshing Lhakhang - founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, but the temple was restored at the end of the 19th century. However, it contains some very important early murals which are being restored with assistance from the Courtauld Institute in London.
Lunch will probably be served in a local farmhouse and then later we will visit a weaver in their home. Here we will see how the handloom weaving is done and be able to ask questions about their weaving techniques and also about their way of life.
Stay at Gongkhar Guest House or Swiss Guest house.
Friday 8 November
To Mongar- 7 hours
After an early breakfast, we continue east through the Ura valley into more rugged terrain. The journey to Mongar is around seven hours and on rougher roads, but it will be broken up with stops for sightseeing, snacks, and opportunities to stretch your legs.
We cross over the highest motorable pass in Bhutan, the Thrumshing La (4,000m) and this marks our entry into Eastern Bhutan. From here the road descends slowly through subtropical terrain punctuated by waterfalls, bamboos, and great ferns. You will have a picnic by the maize fields, and reach Mongar by late afternoon. There may be enough daylight to visit Mongar Dzong -- built in the 1930s but in a traditional style – and to wander through the bustling market before arriving at our hotel for dinner.
Stay at Wangchuk Hotel or hotel DrukZhongar.
Saturday 9 November
Lhuntse- 3 hours each way
Our destination today is the remote area of Lhuntse, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal Family. The landscape is spectacular, with its scattered villages and small farms high up above the steep river valley.
The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. It is renowned for the weaving of kushuthara, a very distinctive style of weaving using extra-weft patterning and usually made into the most elegant of dresses, popular for formal and festive occasions in Bhutan. There will be time to see firsthand how weaving is a major source of income for many women, who sell their textiles to private clients in Thimphu.
Picnic Lunch will be served in Lhuntse.
You will return to Mongar for the night.
Stay at Wangchuk Hotel or hotel DrukZhongar.
Sunday 10 November
To Trashigang - 3 hours
Leaving Mongar behind, you will continue by road to Trashigang. On the way you will pay a brief visit to an Institute for the Disabled, which provides educational/ vocational training opportunities for those with various disabilities.
You will spend the night in Trashigang, which has a small bazaar where locally produced hand woven silk fabrics, pottery and turned wooden bowls are sold.
*Flight schedule between Yangfula to Paro is not announced yet. It is possible that the flight will operate on Sunday evening, in which case we will fly to Paro on Sunday. If the flight is on Monday, then we have an option of having a early start on Monday and visit Radhi village. This village is famous for its silk weaving, which they colour with local indigo, lac, turmeric and other sources. Fly to Paro.
Stay at DrukDeothjung resort or Lingkhar resort.
Monday 11 November
Leaving rural Bhutan behind, it is time to return to Paro to discover its many wonders. You will fly to Paro from Youngphula, so will have the opportunity to admire the marvelous mountain scenery from the air. Arriving in Paro you will check in to hotel.
The rest of your day will be at leisure in Paro. We do, however, recommend that you venture out to Kyichu Temple, built in the 7th century. It’s one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan, and pilgrims travel long distances to get a blessing here.
Stay at Olathang hotel or Gangtey Palace.
Tuesday 12 November
On your final day in Bhutan, there will be the opportunity to walk up to Takstang (or the Tiger’s Nest), an iconic monastery perched on the side of a cliff 900 metres above the Paro Valley. The legend of Takstang dates back to the 8th century, when Guru Rinpoche in his manifestation as Dorje Drolo arrived here on the back of a tiger to subdue the evil spirits in the area. You either walk (or ride) for about an hour and a half up to the tea house, from where there are excellent views of this spectacular monastery; or those who are more energetic can walk up to visit the monastery itself.
In the afternoon, we can visit the beautiful 7th century temple of Kyichu Lhakhang or possibly visit a farmhouse. Finally, we return to Paro to wander through the bazaar before returning to the hotel for dinner.
Stay at Olathang hotel or Gangtey Palace.
Wednesday 13 November
Sadly it is now time to leave Bhutan and begin your journey home. You will board Druk air flight at 07:00 from Paro for the short hop over the Himalayas to Kathmandu, arrive at 08:05 and then check into Kashthamandap boutique hotel. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure.
Thursday 14 November
You will return home to the UK, departing from Kathmandu in the afternoon by Emirates Airlines flight EK2356 at 16:20, arrive Dubai at 20:00 and connect EK7 leaving Dubai at 03:10 to arrive Heathrow Terminal 3 at 07:10.
- How to Book this Tour
- Travel Insurance
International flights in economy class on scheduled Jet Airways flight via Delhi.
International flights between Kathmandu-Paro-Kathmandu on Druk Air.
Accommodation with private facilities as mentioned in the itinerary.
Meal Plan: Full board arrangements in Bhutan. Breakfast only in Kathmandu
All transfers and sightseeing arrangements by a private small coach.
Entry fee for monuments and places of interest.
Bhutan visa fee and Tourism Development fee
Services of a local English speaking guide.
- Services of Zara Fleming as Tour Leader
Full ATOL Bonding.
Cost does not include:
Visa fee for Nepal. Nepal visa is available on arrival at Kathmandu airport.
Travel Insurance. You can obtain a competitive price for travel insurance from
Travel & General see link to Travel Insurance
Any expenses of a personal nature.
- Tips and gratuities
- To book this tour , please compete the booking form, sign and e-mail it to us. A non-refundable deposit of £500.00 per person is needed at the time of booking. Balance payments will be due 8 weeks before departure. You can make the deposit payment by debit card or electronic transfers to our bank. Our Bank details are on the booking form. Bookings are confirmed on first come first served basis. When the tour is full we will take about 5 additional names on the waiting list to replace their booking with any cancellations etc.
- If you wish to join the tour and fly from any country other than United Kingdom please contact us for land only arrangements.
It is essential to have adequate insurance in place before your departure. This should be appropriate for your age, health and destination you are visiting.
- It includes comprehensive medical and repatriation cover.
- It provides cover for your whole trip (whether one day or over a year).
- It covers you for all activities.
- Disclose pre-existing medical conditions.
- Take your policy number and the 24-hour emergency contact numbers with you.
- If you are making multiple trips we recommend that you take a yearly travel insurance policy.