Trip facts

Activity General Tour

This classic itinerary showcases the best of Bhutan in a short period. It traverses from the commercial hub of Phuentsholing to vibrant Thimphu, the quaint charm of Punakha, the glacier valley of Phobjikha, Bumthang, and Paro, where traditional lifestyle coexists with rapidly changing development. As you drive uphill from Phuentsholing, primeval monasteries and Lhakhangs dot every ridge and valley, embodying the spiritual soul of the region. Fluttering prayer flags invoke a picture of serenity and tranquility. This short yet comprehensive itinerary covers the highlights of this magical kingdom.


The Classic Circuit to Bhutan is an ideal tour for those wishing to enter Bhutan overland via the Indian state of West Bengal, with options for extension tours to Sikkim, Darjeeling, or Dooars from the foothills of southern Bhutan. The route includes Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang, and Paro in Bhutan.

Outline Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival at Phuentsholing
Upon arrival in Bagdogra, meet our representative and drive to the frontier town of Phuentsholing. After clearing immigration formalities, check in at the hotel. Phuentsholing is a flourishing commercial center situated in the foothills. Being a border town, Phuentsholing serves as a convenient entry/exit point for Bhutan and an important link to visit the Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Assam. In the latter half of the day, visit Zangtopelri Lhakhang, located in the heart of the town. This site is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, with eight manifestations of the Guru portrayed on the ground floor. The second floor contains statues of eight Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, while the top floor houses the main statue of Buddha Amitabha.

Overnight at the hotel in Phuentsholing (Altitude 300m).

Day 2: Phuentsholing – Punakha (232 kms / 6 hr)
After breakfast and completing immigration formalities, drive to Punakha. En route, visit Kharbandi Goemba, a 20-minute drive from Phuentsholing on the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway. Founded by Royal Grandmother Ashi Phuntsho Choedon in 1967, the monastery boasts beautiful illustrations of Buddha on its walls, along with statues of Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Enjoy magnificent views of the Indian plains and Phuentsholing town from the monastery’s lawn.

Punakha, a sub-tropical valley at an altitude of 1,300m above sea level, was the first capital of Bhutan. It is known for its fertile agricultural land, cascading rivers Phochu (Male river) and Mochu (Female river), and a history connected to Saint Drukpa Kinley. The area is dotted with villages and alpine forests. Punakha Dzong, also called “the palace of happiness,” is located at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. Built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal between 1637 and 1638, it is one of the most revered examples of Bhutanese architecture and the second-largest Dzong in the country. The chief abbot and the monastic body migrate here during the winter season from Thimphu.

Overnight at the hotel in Punakha. (Altitude 1242m).

Day 3: In Punakha Sightseeing.
After breakfast, drive to the northern end of the valley and take a short hike to visit Khamsum Yulley Chorten. The hike takes about 45 minutes from the road to the Chorten. Constructed by the Queen Mother of Bhutan to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability, and harmony, it offers picturesque views of Punakha Valley from the third floor.

Talo Monastery, located in Talo village near the Nalanda Buddhist Institute above Punakha at an elevation of 2800 meters, is famous for its three-day Talo Festival (Tshechu), known for its mask dances and Astara dances. The monastery has lineage connections to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the first unifier of Bhutan.

Chimi Lhakhang is situated in Lobesa on a round hill and was blessed by Lama Drukpa Kinley, also known as the “Divine Madman,” renowned for his crazy wisdom and unorthodox methods of teaching Buddhism. A short half-hour hike from the main highway leads to the temple, where childless women visit for fertility blessings and are anointed with a wooden symbol of a phallus.

Sangchen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery, perched above Wolakha on the way to Drolay Goemba, serves as a Shedra (Buddhist College) and meditation center for a small community of nuns.

Limbukha Village, known for its red rice, is a picturesque village surrounded by paddy fields. According to legend, villagers of Limbukha volunteered as peace negotiators during medieval wars and still carry peace flags instead of swords during the Punakha festival.

Nalanda University, recently built by the 9th Chief Abbot Khenpo Shakya Rinchen near Talo Monastery, serves as a learning center for young monks to practice Buddhism.

Overnight at the hotel in Punakha. (Altitude 1242m).

Day 4: Punakha – Gangtey (75 kms / 2-3 hr)
After breakfast, drive to Gangtey and visit Gangtey Monastery. Take a walk through the nature trail to Phobjikha Valley and spend the rest of the day visiting traditional Bhutanese houses and exploring the valley.

Gangtey Monastery, situated on a small hill above the valley floor, is the largest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. It has lineage ties to Pema Lingpa, the renowned Nyingmapa saint. The monastery is surrounded by a small village where the annual Black Neck Crane Festival is held in the courtyard to welcome the cranes migrating from Tibet.

Phobjikha, a glacial valley on the western ridge of the Black Mountains, is also known as Gangtey Valley, named after the enchanting monastery perched on a hilltop bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. In winter, large flocks of black-necked cranes migrate here from Tibet, circling the monastery three times upon arrival and repeating this upon their return to Tibet.

Overnight at the hotel in Gangtey. (Altitude 2900-3200m).

Day 5: Gangtey – Bumthang (155 kms / 4-5 hr)
After breakfast, enjoy a short and pleasant hike to the Black Necked Crane Center. This center is dedicated to the Black Necked Crane, which migrates from the Tibetan Plateau to Phobjikha Valley during the winter months from October to March. The center features an observation room for a closer look at the cranes.

Continue the drive to Bumthang, crossing Pelela Pass with a short stopover in Trongsa. Along the way, visit the Yatha Weaving Center in Chumey. In the evening, enjoy a stroll in the town area.

Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang. (Altitude 2600m).

Day 6: Bumthang Sightseeing.

Spend a full day exploring the sights of Bumthang. The day includes visiting Jakar Dzong in Chamkhar Valley, a major attraction that overlooks the valley and Jakar town. Known as the “Castle of the White Bird,” its unique feature is the 50-meter-high Utse or central tower, distinct from most other Dzongs. Constructed in 1549 by the Tibetan Lama Ngagi Wangchuk, who came to spread the Drukpa Kagyu teachings, the Dzong has been pivotal in defending the eastern dzongkhags.

Jambay Lhakhang is a distinctive temple in Bumthang Valley, built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. It was constructed simultaneously with Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro, purportedly in a single day, to subdue a demoness in the valley. The famous Jambay Lhakhang Drup (Festival) with its mask dances, including the Sacred Tercham (Naked Dance), is held here.

Kenchosum Lhakhang is a prominent monastery in Bumthang Valley, founded by Pema Lingpa. The statues represent the reincarnations of Pema Lingpa’s mind, body, and spirit. The monastery is adorned with brightly painted columns and mandalas on the ceilings, flanked by monks’ quarters.

Kurjey Lhakhang is one of the oldest monasteries in the valley, housing the body (Kur) and print (Jey) of Guru Rinpoche preserved inside the cave of the oldest building. The oldest, Guru Lhakhang, was built by Mingyur Tenpa in 1652. The second temple was built by the First King of Bhutan, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, and the third by Ashi Kesang Wangchuck. Kurjey Tshechu (Festival) is celebrated in the courtyard, featuring a large thangka depicting the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. Nearby, Kurjey Drupchu (Holy Water) spring is believed to have curative properties.

Karchu Monastery, established by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche, sits imposingly opposite Jakar Dzong. It functions as a Drashang institute for higher Buddhist education. In the evening, witness the monks’ debating sessions in the courtyard, a unique experience of theological argumentation.

Mebar Tsho, The Burning Lake, is a freshwater lake en route to Tang Valley. Legend has it that Saint Terton Pema Lingpa discovered hidden treasures in the lake, as prophesied by Guru Rinpoche. He emerged from the lake with a chest and a scroll of paper, the butter lamp still lit, leading to the lake being named Mebar Tsho.

Overnight at the hotel in Bumthang. (Altitude 2600m).

Day 7: Bumthang – Trongsa (80 kms / 2-3 hr)

After breakfast at the hotel, we retrace our drive to Trongsa and visit Trongsa Dzong, the most strategically built and historically significant dzong in Bhutan. It was the seat of the first and second kings, who controlled both eastern and western Bhutan. Built on a ridge, the dzong is a massive structure with many levels that slope down the contours. All five kings of Bhutan served as Trongsa Penlop before being crowned.

Taa Dzong in Trongsa, now converted into a museum, houses several artifacts of the Wangchuck Dynasty. It features four observation towers resembling a tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. It was built by the first Governor of Bhutan, Minjur Tempa, in 1652 to safeguard the Trongsa Dzong. The shrine inside is dedicated to the fearless lord of the legendary kingdom of Ling.

Overnight at the hotel in Trongsa. (Altitude 2300m).

Day 8: Trongsa – Thimphu (186 kms / 5 hr)

We drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, a captivating city unique for having no traffic lights; instead, traffic is controlled by colorfully decorated policemen. It is the biggest and most modern city in Bhutan, with a historical background linked to the royal families. It houses the central government offices and the religious center of Bhutan.

In Thimphu, visit Buddha Dordenma, one of the largest statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, standing at a height of 51.5 meters. Cast in bronze and gilded with gold, it overlooks the southern gate of the valley and contains 125,000 miniature statues within it. The statue features a large prayer hall where the Buddha is seated.

Also, visit the Memorial Chorten, constructed to dedicate world peace and in loving memory of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, “the father of modern Bhutan.” This landmark is an iconic monument where you can see a large crowd of people circumambulating and chanting mantras.

Overnight at the hotel in Thimphu. (Altitude 2334m).

Day 9: Thimphu sightseeing and drive to Paro (55 kms / 1-2 hr)

Spend half a day sightseeing in Thimphu, starting with a visit to Tashichoe Dzong. This towering fortress, adjacent to the Thimphu Chu river, is a magnificent example of Bhutanese architecture. It houses the seat of the chief abbot, the throne room and offices of the king, the cabinet secretariat, and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Initially built in 1216 and rebuilt in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan, it underwent further reconstruction in the 1960s in a traditional Bhutanese style, without nails or architectural plans.

Visit Thangthong Dewachen Nunnery, locally known as Zilukha Nunnery, one of the largest nunneries in Bhutan. Built by Thangtong Gyelpo, known for constructing iron chain bridges across Bhutan and Tibet, the nunnery features an enclosed chorten in the main courtyard.

Explore the Takin Sanctuary, home to the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin. This unique animal, with a distinct appearance resembling a goat and a yak, is found in high mountainous terrain. Legend attributes its creation to the Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kinley, known as the “Divine Madman.”

Visit the Textile Museum in Chubachu, which showcases Bhutan’s rich culture and heritage through its collection of antique textile artifacts. Authentic Bhutanese weavers from various parts of the country exhibit different patterns and designs.

Tour the Art and Craft School, the National Institute for Zorig Chusum and Choki Art Institute, where students undergo six years of training in 13 different traditional Bhutanese painting, woodcarving, and statue-making techniques.

Explore the Centenary Market, located beside the Wangchu River. It commemorates the coronation of the fifth King and is Thimphu’s largest domestic weekend market. Here, farmers from different parts of the country sell vegetables, fruits, meat, and farm products. A wooden cantilever bridge leads to stalls selling textiles, handicrafts, and clothing.

In the evening, drive to Paro.

Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2,280m).

Day 10: In Paro.

Drive to the trailhead for a hike up to Taktshang Monastery, approximately a 5-hour round trip walk. This iconic monastery, known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, is perched on a cliff 900 meters above the Paro valley floor. Legend says that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery, making it one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. It was visited by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and is now a pilgrimage site for all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.

Visit Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, constructed by King Songtsen Gambo of Tibet in the 7th century. Among the 108 temples built during his reign, Kyichu is one of the 12 main temples. Located 5 kilometers from Paro town, it houses the original 7th-century Jowo Jamba Statue, along with eight standing bodhisattvas and statues of Zhabdrung, Guru Rinpoche, and Chenrizig with 11 heads and 1000 arms.

Explore Drukgyel Dzong, situated at the northern end of the Paro valley. It was in ruins until 2000 but has now been reconstructed to its original form. Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel built it in 1646 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders.

In the evening, enjoy a stroll in the charming town of Paro.

Overnight at the hotel in Paro. (Altitude 2,280m).

Day 11: Paro – Phuentsholing (145 kms / 4 hr)

In the morning after breakfast, visit Dungtse Lhakhang, a unique chorten located beside Paro Town across the Paro Chu. Built by Thangtong Gyelpo in 1421 to subdue an ogress, this temple is renowned for its paintings that depict the progressive stages of Tantric Buddhist philosophy, along with significant deities and figures of the Drukpa Kagyugpa School.

Explore Rimpung Dzong, constructed in 1644 and known as the “fortress of the heap of jewels.” The courtyard features exquisite Bhutanese paintings depicting the life of Buddha, a cosmic mandala, and stories of Milarepa. The Paro festival, famous for unfurling a giant Thangka, is held in this courtyard.

Visit Ta Dzong, originally built as a watchtower and converted into a museum in 1968. Its collection includes fine arts, paintings, textiles, jewelry, handicrafts, stamps, and galleries showcasing stuffed animals and butterflies from Bhutan. The top floor of the museum features a chapel with a “tree” depicting the main figures of the four religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

In the latter half of the day, drive to Phuentsholing for your overnight stay.

Overnight at the hotel in Phuentsholing (Altitude 300m).

Day 12: Departure: Exit to India.

After breakfast, depart from Phuentsholing for your onward journey to Bagdogra.