Near the top of an acclimatisation hike to Bhutan’s most famous attraction, Taktshang Goemba, the tigress’s nest monastery 900m above Paro valley, I got my first taste of our guide Rinzin Dorje’s particular way of imparting Bhutanese history. “The monastery was built by Guru Rinpoche,” he said, pointing ahead along the stony path to the tiered temple of red and gold clinging to the cliff-side, “he flew here on the back of his mistress, who had turned herself into a tigress.”
Like the tigress and monk, one of the many mythical figures worshipped in devoutly Buddhist Bhutan, we too had arrived on an incredible flight, eastwards along the Himalayas from Delhi in a plane painted with dragons, passing nine of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest. Everest! One minute you’re nibbling peanuts and doing ankle exercises and then, right there in your little window is the huge and terrifying peak where, for almost 100 years, climbers have lost their lives in pursuit of the highest frontier.
The notion that Bhutan is a fairytale, mystical kingdom unchanged by and isolated from the modern world, appeared to be true even at Paro airport, which looks like a temple and displayed a banner saying: “Welcome to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.”
This land that famously measures Gross National Happiness, where mystical Buddhism thrives, archery is the national sport, smoking is illegal, and almost everyone wears national dress, is top of many travellers’ wish-lists, yet is tricky to visit.
Trekking in the Bhutan Himalaya offers you the opportunity to visit rarely visited remote mountainous regions while passing through deep forest and high alpine area. There are views of some of the highest mountains in the Himalaya such as Chomolhari (7,326m), Jitchu Drake (6.970m), Masang Kang (7,194m) and Gangkar Punsum (7,541m)
The Jhomolhari Trek
This 8 day trek is one of the most popular in Bhutan. It’s a moderately challenging trek that crosses over both Bhonte La pass 4,890m (16000 feet) and Takhung La pass 4,520m and attracts visitors for its spectacular views of Mt. Jomolhari 7,326m (24000 feet). Mount Jomolhari, straddles the border between Bhutan and Tibet, is sometimes known as the “Bride of Kangchenjunga” and is famous for its northern face which juts abruptly from the highlands with a vertical relief of 2700m (9000 feet). If you are going you might want to time your trek with the Jomolhari Mountain Festival, an annual event whose time varies from year to year that celebrates the local culture of the small villages near the base of Jomolhari.
Druk Path Trek
At six days this trek is fairly short and offers a good introduction to Trekking in Bhutan. The trek starts near Paro and takes you over the mountains to Thimphu which lies in the adjacent valley. The trek ascends nearly 2000m with a high point of 4200m (13776 ft). The trek goes through alpine forests which are a mix of pine and dwarf rhododendrons and crosses passes several alpine lakes famous for their large trout. On the way back down towards Thimphu Valley you can have excellent views of Mount Gangkar Puensum 7570m (24,836 feet) which is Bhutan tallest peak and is likely the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. A number of attempts on the peak were made by professional teams but none ever reached the summit. In 1994, the government of Bhutan stopped allowing climbing of peaks higher than 6000m so unless policy changes Gangkar Puensum is likely to retain its title into the future.
This is one of the most famous treks in Bhutan and might be the most difficult trekking route in the world. The trek takes approximately 25 days depending on the starting point and basically traverses the mountains border region between Bhutan and Tibet starting from Paro and ending in Lunana in northern Bhutan. It crosses 11 passes the tallest of them being Gangla Karchung La at 5230m, Jaze La, 5251m, Loju La, 5155m and Rinchenzoe La, 5332m. One of the challenges of the trek is the isolation of the country being visited as there are few villages and the chances for helicopter evacuation are slim. This is truly one of the few places you are on your for an extended duration while trekking in the Himalayas. The best chance for good weather is during October before the snows come to the high passes and just after the monsoon ends.
Duer Hot Springs Trek
This is a challenging 9 day trek which for part of its distance overlaps with the Snowman Trek just mentioned. One of the highlight of the trek is a rest day near the Duer Hotsprings one of the most pristine and beautiful in all the Himalayas. Juli La (4,700m) is the highest point on the trail but be prepared for numerous climbs and subsequent descents as you traverse the mountain valleys. The largely intact forest ecosystem hosts a variety of wildlife including Musk Deer and Black Bear. Unlike the other treks mentioned so far which have different ending and starting points this treks takes you into the hot springs and out along the same route.
Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek
A Challenging 6 day trek that takes you to some fabulous alpine lakes famous for local trout fishing and has great views of the high peaks of the Himalayas, including Everest and Kanjenjunga, in the distance. If you want try your hand at local trout fishing let us know beforehand and a license can be obtained at minimal cost. The high point on the trek is about 4500m but part of the difficulty lies in several ascents and descents of intervening ridges which are over 1000m (3300 feet) in relief. The trek passes several traditional villages as well as camps of yak herders and imparts you with a feel of traditional life in the Himalayas.
What makes Bhutan so special?
Bhutan treks, walking holidays and cultural tours offer a unique insight into the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, the most mysterious of all the Himalayan Kingdoms.
Bhutan trekking or tours will take you on a journey through the country’s ancient history. It is a story of a struggle for power up until the late 19th century when the old orders were swept away and a hereditary monarchy was established in Bhutan. Treks and tours through the spectacular, country are the best ways to explore Bhutan – one of the most fascinating places on earth.
With its spectacular location nestled in the Himalaya between Tibet and India, our Bhutan trekking trips, walking holidays and cultural tours will take you into one of the most intriguing countries of the modern world. As well as awe-inspiring mountain vistas, a Bhutan trek will afford you the opportunity to experience first hand the legendary hospitality and open hearted happiness of the local people.
For an authentic taste of culture, a Bhutan trekking holiday or tour can coincide with one of the country’s colourful Budddhist festivals, and you can become a part of one of these unforgettable celebrations. Our tours include gentle strolls with plenty of time to enjoy the traditional culture and heritage for which Bhutan is renowned. You will spend time with local weavers in their own homes and explore the dominating monastery-fortresses (dzongs) present in many towns and villages. The Himalayan valleys are also home to some unique and fascinating flora and fauna which our Bhutan treks and tours will give you the opportunity to observe.