A Luxurious Winter Journey to Bhutan
Every winter, endangered black-necked cranes fly from Tibet to Bhutan to roost in the beautiful glacial valley of Phobjikha. It is said that these sacred birds fly over the Himalaya in one day and circle Gangtey Goempa (temple) three times as they land. The winter months from December to February are a great time to visit Bhutan. Think clear bright days, frosty mornings, roaring fires, snow capped peaks, and valleys to yourself - Kath outlines the perfect winter's journey here.
A nine-day winter journey is the perfect escape over the festive season to enjoy the tranquility and natural splendour of this Himalayan kingdom at a quieter time of the year. As well as visiting Phobjikha, the valley of the black-necked cranes, journey to the low lying subtropical Punakha valley with its orange groves and cactuses; and to Paro valley, the home of the iconic Taktsang (Tigers Nest) monastery. Bhutan has some beautiful luxury hotels where relaxed escapism is the order of the day. Marry that with a fascinating culture, bracing hikes and a few quirky entertainments and you're in for a treat.
After taking the awe inspiring flight into Paro airport, travel the kingdom by road over high mountain passes and into deep valleys. Crisp blue skies and clean mountain air will ensure you enjoy the very best views across the Himalayas. Bhutan is great for those who want to be active with fantastic cycling and guided hikes where you can really feel on top of the world. Alternatively, it is great place to relax in comfort with great spas on offer and of course the wonderful mountain scenery.
Some of Kath's highlights:
• Hiking the high ridge from Chele La (hanging prayer flags on the way to distribute good will on the winds) to Kila Nunnery - seemingly suspended on the cliff. Paro valley lays out below you and on a clear day the view sweeps away to the snow-dome of Bhutan’s highest peak Mt Jomolhari (7314m). Finish it off by getting on your bikes for an (optional) exhilarating 35km freewheel downhill.
• Exploring Punakha valley on foot, crossing the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan to then climb to the top of the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal chorten for views across the valley.
• Wandering through paddy fields and villages to a fertility temple – built by a very unconventional lama where you can be blessed with his wooden phallus!
Where to stay:
Stay in some of the best accommodation in Bhutan. The centrally located and imposing Taj Tashi in Thimphu is a great place to begin your Bhutanese journey, and explore Bhutan’s capital. We love Gangtey Goenpa Lodge with its impressive views over the valley, comfortable rooms, and plenty of space to relax and enjoy a hot apple cider or hot chocolate. The COMO hotels combine luxury with simplicity. Uma Punakha has some of the best views in the country and Uma Paro,located in a pine forest above the Paro Valley, is the perfect place to relax and unwind at the end of your journey, with its heated indoor swimming pool and award winning COMO Shambhala spa.
Kath's Top Tips:
- Time the trip to coincide with one of Bhutan's spectacular, colourful festivals. The Druk Wangyel festival at Dochu La is held on 13th December each year and there are many more so ask us which ones might fit with your dates.
- Discover Archery – Bhutan’s national sport. Have a lesson firing your arrows as well as the all important taunting of the opposition!
- Shop Bhutanese style for prayer flags to be blessed before hanging and butter lamps to take for offerings. Purchase traditional kira or gho (worn almost universally in Bhutan) in one of the capital's many small stores. The shop assistants will be delighted (normally with lots of shy giggles) to teach you how to wear the traditional dress correctly.
- Enjoy a relaxing Bhutanese hot stone bath – filled with cold water, stones are heated on a wood fire until red hot and dropped in to the bath. As the stones sizzle and heat the water, they release healing minerals, making this a traditional Bhutanese remedy as well as a muscle-soothing way to spend an afternoon.
When to go:
To see the cranes, you need to travel from mid-November until the end of February. Winter in Bhutan is usually dry with bright sunny days and beautiful, clear views of the mountains. Daytime temperatures can reach the low twenties (C°) in November, whereas December to February are cooler, especially at night, when you can expect heavy frosts so it is advisable to pack warm clothes and dress in layers. Unusually, Bhutan is not a more expensive destination during Christmas and New Year, so this is a great time to visit.
How much will it cost:
For two people this journey would start at $6,750 per person staying in the luxury hotels mentioned. By staying in local guest houses and lodges this trip would cost from $3,490 per person. This prices exclude international flights.