Hiking Heart & East Bhutan, 14 days

Near Merak
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Tour highlights

  • Remote Merak & Sakteng villages
  • Mountain views from domestic flight
  • Hike through the Bumthang, the Historical Heart of Bhutan
  • Sleeping in local village farmhouses
  • All major sights of Eastern Bhutan
  • All important monuments of Paro and Thimphu
# Itinerary Program
1 Arrival, drive to Thimphu Arrival to Bhutan and drive to Thimphu. ➜ Stop at Tachog lhakhang to see traditional bridge made using ancient iron chains. ➜ Visit of Tashicho dzong, the castle, which serves as seat of the king and government. ➜ Sightseeing in Thimphu subject to arrival time.
2 Thimphu – Paro Early morning drive to Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic statue of Buddha overlooking the valley and walk to striking city viewpoint. ➜ See Memorial Chorten, always busy with devotees. ➜ Walk in Norzin lam street and see the traffic police signaling in junctions. Thimphu is only capital in the world without the traffic lights. ➜ Finish walk at handicraft market where many interesting Bhutanese souvenirs can be seen and bought for reasonable price. ➜ Visit hand paper factory a Thangkha painting centre, where young artists learns the skills of their forefathers. ➜ After that drive to Changankha lhakhang, the oldest place of worship in the valley. ➜ Evening drive to Paro.
3 Paro Morning visit to Paro dzong and National Museum. ➜ Explore the calm Kyichu lhakhang, one of the two oldest Buddhist temples in Bhutan, which was built to pin down the ankle of giant demoness by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 7th century. ➜ Climb to Taktsang gomba (Tiger’s Nest), is the highlight of the tour. You can consider hiking in the morning or early afternoon depending on weather and preferences. After visiting the temple, climb further up to Zangto Pelri lhakhang another temple, offering bird’s eye views of Tigers Nest.
4 Paro – Jakar by flight, Ngang Taking domestic flight to Jakar (Bumthang) is extraordinary experience. In clear weather, you might spot many of the seven and six thousand meters high mountains on the border with Tibet, including Gangkhar Punesum, the world's highest peak never conquered by man. ➜ First drive to Jakar dzong, sleepy castle overlooking the valley. ➜ After lunch in town we will visit Jampay lhakhang, 7th century temple pinning down the ankle of giant demoness. ➜ From here we will take short walk to Kurjey gompa complex, the 3 temples which were built on place where magician-saint Guru Rimpoche subdued local demon. ➜ Continue walk along the Choekhor river and finally reaching Ngang lhakhang manor house, stylish farmhouse owned by local nobility where we will spend a night today.
5 Ngang – Tang Today will be spent full day hiking over the Phephe-la pass (3800m). While the distance is about 18 km, the trail is quite demanding with 800m ascent and 700m descent. ➜ The trails start from the Ngang Lhakahng in direction to the ruined fort of Draphe Dzong above the village. Hiking starts gently upwards across mixed forest and meadows, getting more and more steep as you walk. After reaching small temple and prayer flags in the pass, you start descending through forest and pastures down to fields of Tahung village, where the car will be waiting. ➜ Then drive to Ugyen Choling palace which hosts excellent museum displaying the medieval life in Bhutan. Palace is owned by noted Bhutanese writer Kunzang Choden and her husband Swiss agrologist Walter, very nice people to talk with. You will spend overnight here, enjoying the heritage feel of the place.
6 Tang – Ura In the morning you will leave the refuge of Ugyen Choling palace. You can walk down to the river to stretch the legs if you want. ➜ Then we will drive to Bapzur village from which we will undertake steep hike Kunzondrak Gompa. This monastery located on the rocky mountain served as refuge to 15th century saint and treasure discoverer Pema Lingpa. Hike is 400 meters up and same amount down and will take about 3 hours. The temples are interesting for its simplicity while the views of the valley are definitely rewarding. ➜ After hike, drive to Membartsho, so-called “Burning lake”, where this Pema Lingpa discovered treasure of Buddhist scriptures. ➜ Continue drive to Ura village over Shertong La pass (3400m). Just before the pass you can see Gangkhar Punesum (7540 m), the highest mountain of Bhutan. ➜ From the pass we will descend by foot. The trail is initially steep, getting more gentle later. You will pass around some stupas and prayer flags, finally descending to Ura. The large houses are built close to each other, which is not common in Bhutan. ➜ Also visit Ura Lhakhang, the splendid village temple which frequently becomes venue of many religious events. ➜ After walking the village get accommodation in local farmhouse or simple hotel, depending on your preference (will be determined while booking). For dinner, you should definitely try eating matsutake mushroom, the world-famous local delicacy.
7 Ura – Mongar After Ura, we will need to negotiate Thrumshing-la pass (3580 m), the second-highest motorable pass in Bhutan. ➜ Its good idea to stop at rhododendron garden just before the summit to see the number of species of this beautiful tree. ➜ After the pass, the road continues gradually descending. There are a lot of scenic points, which will not let you get bored. Chortens on the roadside are built in memory of 300 laborers who died during road building in the 1970s. ➜ 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.
8 Mongar – Lhuentse Morning drive to Lhuntse which is one of the most rural and isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs and gorges, beautiful conifer and pine forests and remote villages with rice, millet, and corn fields. Kurtoe region of Lhuntse is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family. ➜ On the way, we will make a detour to Takey la, the place where the gigantic statue of Guru Rimpoche was recently built. Inside the statue, you find the number of richly decorated chapels, which belongs to best in Bhutan. ➜ Then we will continue to Lhuntse to see a dzong which belongs to one of the most spectacular monastery-castles in Bhutan, with total 7 chapels you can explore. Residing monks have welcoming reputation. ➜ Further you will continue to Khoma village for most elaborate traditional cloths in Bhutan. Quality of weaving is so fine that even Royal Family places their order for clothes here. ➜ There is option for interesting hike to holy places called “nye” above the Khoma village with beautiful views of surrounding. ➜ Khoma village itself is appealing and beautiful, and you will spend your current night as a guest of local villagers.
9 Lhuentse – Tashigang In the morning say goodbye to your farmhouse hosts and start drive back Mongar. You can make several stops like in Autsho village with scenic prayer flags. 30 minutes after Mongar, cross the summit of Kori-la pass (2,400 m) with beautiful Bhutanese style stupa. ➜ Start descending from pass and drive another 3 to 4 hours to Tashigang. ➜ If time permits, you can make detour to Dramtse Gompa, which is one of the most important monasteries of eastern Bhutan. This is the place from where the famous Naga Chham (Drums of Dramtse), mask dance with drums originated. This dance is ubiquitous feature of many festivals, and also it was included to the UNESCO list of oral and intangible heritage. Monastery itself was founded in 16th century by descendants of the saint Pema Lingpa, and its name means “the peak where there is no enemy”. There are a number of interesting chapels with a lot of statues of the saints and protector deities. ➜ Reach to Tashigang late in the afternoon or 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 and Sakteng, to 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 their relatives encountered yeti in the wild. ➜ After two hours drive we will reach Mon-la pass where the welcome party of Borkpa nomads in local dress will be waiting. 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 village and get more 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).
11 Merak – Sakteng Start 7-8 hours hike over the 4120 meters high Nyuksang-la pass to the large Sakteng village. The trail offers great views of Merak village and a lot of opportunity to see various wildlife like blood pheasants 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 reached by motorable road just in the 2019 and maintains nice local culture. Saktengpas, as the locals calls themselves, 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. It's just few hour hikes from here to Indian border over which locals cross freely. ➜ Get accommodated in local farmhouse and stroll around the village.
12 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 crashed here many years back. ➜ Then take jeep to Thrakthi village and further to Tashigang. ➜ If you're early, you can also visit Rangjung monastery, beautiful Nyingma school of Buddhism monastery which hosts number of interesting statues and relics. ➜ Reach hotel in the evening.
13 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. ➜ You might also visit National Handloom Development Project, which maintains rich tradition of local weaving and National Institute for the Visually Impaired. One of the accomplishment of this progressive institution is the development of Bhutanese version of Braille's script. ➜ 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 hermit, who is taking care about roadside temple and blesses the Indian and Bhutanese drivers alike for the safety of their journey. Reaching Samdrup Jonkhar in the evening.
14 Samdrup – Guwahati Leaving Bhutan at the border and 3-4 hour drive to Guwahati.
Tour variants, extensions and combinations: 
  • Extend stay in Merak-Sakteng (+1 or 2 days): In both Merak and Sakteng villages, extra day might be reasonable spend to explore surrounding hills.
  • Extend with Omba Nye "The Tiger's Nest of the East" hike (+2 days): Omba Nye is new popular 3 days trekking trail in Bhutan, which can be also done as 2 days / 1 night hiking excursion with overnight in Omba village homestay. The Omba Nye Monastery has stunning setting on the rocky cliff, which is similar to Paro's Taktsang.
  • Undertake Bumdrak Trek in Paro (+1 day): 2 days / 1 night light trekking with luxury camping near Bumdrak monastery and finish at Tiger's Nest might be interesting optional addition. See Bumdrak Trek & Hikes program for details.
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