Bhutan: Happiness in the Himalayas

Week 1: KATHMANDU, PARO, AND THIMPHU We first fly to Kathmandu, where we spend the first few days of the program, beginning our orientation and learning about what is to come in Bhutan. After one of the most breathtaking flights we have ever experienced, we touch down in the lush green rice paddies of Paro. As we get to know one another, we use these first excursions as ways to gain insight into the interplay between the landscape and the sacred and begin our inquiry into the nature of happiness. We may do excursions to nearby monasteries and nunneries and sites such as the ruins of Drukyel Dzong and to one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, located outside of Thimphu. We also hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest (Taksang).
Week 2: BUMTHANG: JAKAR AND HOMESTAY We fly to the remote, rural region of Bumthang which borders Tibet. Nestled deep in the Himalayas, this area is Bhutan’s cultural heartland. We spend several days in the town of Jakar and use this as a base to explore the landscape which is dotted with sacred Buddhist sites including hidden cliffside “lhakangs” and remote village stupas. Possible excursions include visits to the local “amchi” to learn about traditional medicine, an archery tournament, the Burning Lake, a women’s weaving cooperative, hikes and forest excursions. Students move into their rural homestay midway through the week. Possible locations for this include a village of yak herders or a village that is nationally known for the varieties of mushrooms that villagers forage for and sell during an annual festival.
Week 3: TREK AND TANG VALLEYS During this week, we go on a multiple day hike from Jakar through the Tang Valley, hiking through villages along the way. We end our trek in the old Buddhist manor of Ogyen Choling, where we do a shorter village homestay. We may also get to see the local community forests and observe villagers in their farming and foraging practices. We will have the chance to speak to villagers about local myths, fairy tales and Bhutanese history as well as about change and development. Before returning back to Thimphu, we may participate in service work with the community, assisting with a community project.
Week 4: RETURN TO THIMPHU: TRONGSA, PHOBJIKHA, PUNAKHA We begin our journey back to the capital city with several exciting stops on the way. First, the impressive Trongsa Dzong which at one time served as the capital of Bhutan. Next, we will stop in Phobjikha, the valley that houses the famous black-necked crane, where we may do a communal farmstay. We visit Gasa, Haa or Punakha before making our way to Thimphu. From Thimphu, we fly back to Kathmandu, Nepal, where we spend the last few days of our program, reflecting on our journey and eventually say goodbye to this unique experience and to each other.