Ethnographic Bhutan, 15 days

Ploughing field with yaks in Laya
See the last yak herders

Tour highlights

  • Specialized group for ethnography entusiasts
  • Covers two semi-nomadic yak herder ethnicities
  • Most famous tourist spots of Bhutan included
  • Crossing whole Bhutan from west to east
  • Visit Layap tribe akin to Tibet but totally distinct
  • See life of Brokpas akin to groups of Indian Tawang
# Itinerary Program
1 Arrival to Paro Arrival to Paro. Visit the National Museum and Paro dzong (Rinpung dzong), the castle-monastery where Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha film was shot. Explore the town.
2 Paro – Thimphu Climb to Taktsang gomba (Tiger’s Nest), is the highlight of the tour. While the hike seems to be hard, it’s very rewarding. If you don’t feel so strong, you can climb just halfway to cafeteria with nice view of the place. You can consider hiking in the morning or early afternoon depending on weather, your fitness and preferences. Drive to Thimphu and visit Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic statue of Buddha overlooking the valley and walk to striking city viewpoint. Enjoy some free time in the town, exploring it on your own.
3 Thimphu – Gasa In the morning start drive to Dochu-la pass (3010 m). Stop to enjoy mountain scenery (weather permitting) and admire unique 108 chorten stupa. Descend to Wangdue Phodrang and after lunch continue drive to the northern district Gasa, partly on unpaved road. Enjoy popular healing hot springs with other Bhutanese. Overnight in farmhouse in Gasa as guest of local family. You can taste local delicacies, butter tea or ara spirit.
4 Gasa – Lungu Take jeep to Koina campsite marked with small cottage and shop. Today will be longer day, ascending to higher elevation. The trail from Koina first ascends above the river again to descend to river bed. Continue along the Mo chu river further with some gentle up and downs. You might need to do another tiring up on down in case of high water level. After few hours you’ll reach to Takshikha military camp where you get your permits checked. From here there is final approximately 300 meters climb to Lungu village which is inhabited be Layap people. Layap woman are famous for their antenna hat made of bamboo. Village is prosperous and you will sleep in local house as a guest of villagers. Layaps are traditionally seminomadic Yak herders ethically different from Bhutanese and Tibetans to the north. They became quite rich due to harvesting of yarsa-gumba (cordyceps) fungus. Take a rest after long hike.
5 Lungu – Laya In the morning you will explore the village and it sacred places related to unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, who according to legend, passed through Laya and Lungu villages when fleeing from Tibet. Then take route down to the valley and again up to the Laya village, main settlement of the Layap people. Visit school and seek the craftsmen producing the traditional Layaps bamboo hats called “belo”. You will learn about the tradition of hats which are related to local deities. Interesting fact is, that the hat itself has little value, but the corrals which are bound it are very valuable and more coral threads the hat has, the higher status the owner holds. See cultural dance program of local people and taste their traditional meals, especially dried yak meat and other yak products. Also learn about cordyceps, mysteriois worm-fungus attributed lot of medical features. Overnight in local farmhouse.
6 Laya – Gasa In the morning we will say good bye to Laya village and will start hiking down to the Takshikha military camp which we crossed two days before. Continue hiking to Koina where the jeeps will be waiting. Finally get to Gasa over the rough road, back to familiar local farmhouse.
7 Gasa – Punakha Visit the Gasa dzong (castle) in the morning. There are good views from there and few interesting chapels. The dzong is just completing reconstruction of the main tower. Then start drive to Punakha. Visit to Punakha dzong, which is one of the most intricately decorated castles in Bhutan. Relax in temperate Punakha and enjoy being back in civilization for a while.
8 Punakha – Ura In the morning we will set up for the full day drive to Ura village in central Bhutan. Morning will start with driving up to Pele-la pass (3550m). Stop there to see the offer local herders handicrafts. Continue descending to Trongsa, the scenic castle. From here continue drive over Yotong La pass (3450m) and descend to Chummey valley. Finally take shortcut road to Ura village. In clear weather, there is chance to see the highest mountain of Bhutan and highest mountain in the world never climbed by people short before reaching to your final destination. Arrive in Ura in the evening. Accoommodation in local farmhouse. Taste famous local matsutake mushrooms for dinner!
9 Ura – Tashigang In the morning walk through the clustered houses of Ura village and visit the beautiful local temple. Then start drive to Thrumshingla pass (3750m), the second highest motorable pass of Bhutan. After the pass, the the road continues gradually descending. There is a lot of scenic points, which will not let you get bored. Chortens on the roadside are built in memory of 300 labourers who died during roadbuilding in 1970's. You'll also come along the stunning Namling waterfall and the ruins of Sengor dzong, which burned to ash in 1899. Finally in the late afternoon or evening you will reach Mongar. Just 30 minutes after the Mongar, you will reach summit of Kori-la pass (2,400 m) and from here gradually descend to the river valley for two hours. Finally make last ascend to Tashigang, reaching in the evening
10 Tashigang – Merak Today you will change the car for hardy Bolero jeep and start early in the morning ascending to high mountains of Merak – Sakteng, so called Migoi national park. Migoi is local name for elusive yeti and most local inhabitants will be able to remember numerous cases when they or they relatives encountered yeti in the wild. After two hours drive we will reach Mon-la pass, where the welcome party of local inhabitants, the Brokpas in local dress will be waiting. Bhutanese Brokpas, not to be confused with Brokpas of Ladakh, are also traditional semi-nomadic yak herders. Experience of local hospitality and yummy nomad lunch, the tasty local spirit and milk-like chang beer. Continue drive to Merak village (3500 m) and accommodation in local farmhouse as a guest of Brokpa family. Explore the village and local temples. Sleeping in simple conditions (own sleeping bag is recommended but not necessary). Optionally you can try traditional hot stone bath (has to be ordered in the morning).
11 Merak Today you will get more of understanding of local culture. You will see how local people spin wool and make their colorful traditional clothes and textiles. Learn how they make yak cheese, butter tea and ara (local rice, wheat or corn spirit). In the afternoon experience performance of Yak dance and then and Aum Yomo (local deity) dance. In the evening you will experience Chog chang custom, people will be coming with offerings of mostly alcohol and will show you performances of songs and dances for all you are expected to pay.
12 Merak – Sakteng Start 7-8 hours hike over the 4000 meters high Nyuksang-la pass to the large Sakteng village. Saktengpas keep close relation to Tawang in Indian Arunachal Pradesh and their relatives who are called as “Monpas” on Indian side of border but who are culturally identical. The trail offers great view back to Merak and lot of opportunity to see various wild animals like blood phesants and similar. After crossing pass there is long descent to river bed and another brief ascent after which the large village of Sakteng becomes visible. This village was just recently reached by motorable road and maintains quite a nice local culture. Accommodation in local farmhouse.
13 Sakteng – Tashigang In the morning explore the Sakteng village and its temples. Also see the bizarre open air exhibition of the parts from the Indian army airplane which crshed here many years back. Then take jeep to Thrakthi village and further to Tashigang, over the rough road, reaching in the evening.
14 Tashigang – Samdrup Jongkhar This will be all day drive descend from the Himalayas southwards to Indian border. After about 45 minutes you will reach Kanglung village with interesting temple. There is also Sherubtse College, first Bhutanese university campus established in 1978 nearby. Further drive down, you can pay a visit to huge monastery school named Karma Thegsum Dechenling Goemba. After reaching Khaling village, you will have an opportunity to see the last of elaborate Bhutanese temples of your trip, the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, with detailed mural painting. For the rest of the day, you will keep driving down. Just before the Samdrup Jongkhar, you can stop to get blessing from the hindu hermits, who are stationed along the roadside to bless the Indian and Bhutanese drivers alike for the safety of their journey. Reaching Samdrup Jonkhar at the evening.
15 Samdrup Jongkhar – Guwahati Drop to Guwahati for onward flight.
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