Hiking Heart of Bhutan I, 12 days

Black mountains from Tharpaling monastery
Hiking paradise!

Tour highlights

  • Combined half & full day hikes with culture
  • All important sights of Western and Central Bhutan
  • Lungchusey gompa hike with panoramic mountain views
  • Dodedra shedra hike with great views of Thimphu
  • Walking the stretches of Trans Bhutan Trail
  • Domestic flight experience
# Itinerary Program
1 Arrival, drive to Thimphu Arrival by plane to Paro airport and 1.5-hour drive to Thimphu or in case of arrival by land from India in Phuntsholing/Jaigon and drive to Thimphu. ➜ On the way stop for Tashog Lhakhang to see traditional bridge built using ancient iron chains. ➜ Visit of Tashicho dzong, the castle, which serves as seat of the king and government. If time permits, visit of the other sights.
2 Thimphu Early morning hike to Dodedra shedra. Start at Dechencholing part of Thimphu and gently climb some 500 meters up, with beautiful views of Thimphu town. Dodedra is monastery school set in pristine environment away from the hustle and bustle of the town. Visit main temple with original mural paintings and small museum. ➜ Descend back to Thimphu for lunch. ➜ Then drive to Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic statue of Buddha overlooking the valley and short 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. ➜ Evening in leisure exploring town on your own.
3 Thimphu – Wangdue/Punakha Morning start drive Hongtsho village. Reach to Tashigang gompa on the top of the ridge. ➜ From here, we will start 4–5 hours hike to the Lungchusey gompa with 360° mountains panorama viewpoint. We have good chance to glimpse some snowy peaks to the north, including Gangkhar Punesum (7570 m), the highest mountain of Bhutan and highest peak never summited by man. ➜ Descend to Dochu-la pass with beautiful 108 stupas. ➜ Visit to royal chapel Druk Wangyel lhakhang with depictions of 4th king. ➜ Continue drive to Wangdue. ➜ If you are early you can stop for short stroll in Lampelri Botanical Park. ➜ Time permitting you might also visit Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang nunnery with Bhutanese and Nepali style stupa, overlooking the valley from the high hill. ➜ Reach to hotel and evening in leisure. 
4 Wangdue / Punakha – Gangtey Early morning drive north of the valley and start hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. The hike start at the riverbank. Walk through the paddy fields and then start steep ascent to the temple. ➜ After reaching there, climb up to the temple's highest floor to get wonderful views of the valley. Walk back to the bridge where you started. ➜ Optionally you can also like to try rafting either from here, for easier “female river” experience, or drive to “male river” for more exciting white water rapids. ➜ After the hike finish, pay a visit to the Punakha, dzong, one of the most beautiful castles in Bhutan. ➜ Continue with Short walk to Chhimmy lhakhang temple, devoted to 15th century saint Drukpa Kunley, known as “Divine madman”, who taught Buddhism by singing, drinking and scandalous sexual exploits. ➜ Drive to Gangtey and pristine Phobjikha valley.
5 Gangtey In the morning we will start hike through the beautiful glacial valley with marshland on the bottom. Here the venerated Black Neck Cranes spends winter. Birds usually stays from November to February. ➜ After some 2 hours walk through forest and fields we will reach to Gangtey monastery and visit the main chapel. ➜ After visiting the temple and early lunch, we will start beautiful 4 hours hike through meadows and forest and crossing the mountain pass will take us to Longtey village where the car will be waiting. ➜ Drive back Gangtey and optionally visit Black Neck Crane center. ➜ Another easier but equally beautiful option is to drive to Amankora lodge and do Blue Pine hike, through the fields and pine forest. This hike finishes near to Black Neck Crane center. ➜ This hike finishes near to Black Neck Crane center. In the evening, you might like to try the hot stone bath, traditional Bhutanese treat (on extra payment, need to be ordered in the morning).
6 Gangtey – Chummey Early morning drive to Trongsa over Pele-la pass (3500 m). ➜ Stop here to see the shops run by local herders. You can get a lot of interesting things here, including the yak wool textiles, dust brush made of yak tail, medicinal plants like puttising root, potent cure for cough and fever or cordyceps dubbed as “himalayan viagra” and energy booster. Continue drive on scenic road with stop at Chendebji chorten which was built to resemble Boudhanath stupa of Kathmandu. ➜ Another important stop would be Trongsa viewpoint to see the full extent of the Trongsa castle. ➜ Optionally you can hike from here down to the valley river Mangdechu valley and again up to the castle, walking part of the Trans Bhutan Trail. If you go fast, you might reach faster than your car!  ➜ Visit the dzong, which is the place from where the royal dynasty of Bhutan had risen. ➜ If time permits, also visit intricate museum in watchtower Ta Dzong. It hosts number of interesting artifacts related to royal dynasty, history of Bhutan and many religious statues and temples. ➜ Finally, drive over Yotong-la pass (3550 m) to Chummey. ➜ If time permits, you can make short stroll from hotel Domkhar palace, the former summer residence of the second king, today’s monastery. You are not permitted to enter inside, but at least you can walk the courtyard with some intriguing decorations.
7 Chummey – Tang In the morning we will start drive to almost 4000 meters ridge on which historical Tharpaling monastery is built. You can visit the temples and walk around the scenic compound, before hiking to the top of the ridge from which you can see Jakar town and castle. Also see the statue of 14th century Buddhist teacher Rabjam Longchenpa, the saint who established Tharpaling monastery. ➜ Then hike down to Jakar dzong, walking on the stretch of Trans Bhutan Trail, recently reopened ancient pathway connecting western and eastern Bhutan. ➜ Visit sleepy castle overlooking the Choeskor valley. ➜ After lunch in town we will drive to Tang valley with stop at Membartsho, the so-called “Burning lake”, where Pema Lingpa, the saint of 15th century, discovered treasure of Buddhist scriptures. ➜  Reach 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 agronomist Walter, very nice people to talk with. ➜ You will spend overnight here, enjoying the heritage feel of the place.
8 Tang – Ngang or Jakar

Today will be spent with a full day hiking over the Phephe-la pass (3800 m). While the distance is about 18 km, the trail is quite demanding with 700 m ascent and 800 m descent. ➜ From Ugyen Choling drive to Tahung village. Ascent through the fields, pastures, and forest. ➜ After reaching small temple and prayer flags in the pass, you again start descending steeply through forest and meadows. Then descending gets more gentle, and finally you will reach the ruined fort of Draphe Dzong and will see the village. ➜ Reach to Nga Lhakhang. This is also residence of former local nobility, nowadays humbled to the status of simple villagers, but still upkeep their ancestral temple. ➜ Explore the village and enjoy simple farmhouse hospitality for tea or meal. ➜ Optionally you can sleep in this farmhouse to get a taste of local hospitality, or you can drive to Jakar and spend night in hotel.

9 Ngang or Jakar

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. ➜ Then drive to Kharchung monastery above Jakar town.  ➜ From here, you will undertake 2.5-hour walk to Jakar using so-called “Bushman trail”. This walking bath was established by young local tourist entrepreneurs and now is integrated in Trans Bhutan Trail. The hike goes mostly through pine forest and offers some nice views of the valley. Finish hiking at the Pema Choling nunnery, one of the few female Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan. The woman touch is apparent from the main temple tidiness. ➜ Time permitting, you might also attempt climbing to 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. ➜  Drive back to Jakar town, optionaly stopping at the shop, which sells excellent locally produced Gouda and Emmental cheese. ➜ Optionally visit sleepy little town, which is retaining its rustic charm.

10 Jakar – Paro (by flight) Taking domestic flight to Paro 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. ➜ After landing in Paro, visit Paro dzong, castle where Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha film was shot. ➜ Then drive above the castles watch tower Ta Dzong and start hike to Zuri Dzong. Surprisingly scenic hike will take about 1.5 hour offering a lot of nice views of the Paro valley. Descent to Uma Resort where the car will be waiting. ➜ Explore the lively small town.
11 Paro Drive to castle-ruins of Drukyel dzong, from where you can see the summit of holy Jomolhari mountain. ➜ Then proceed for hike to Taktsang gomba (Tiger’s Nest), which is the highlight of the tour. Reaching to the temple requires about two hours of hiking up. After visiting the temple, climb further up to Zangto Pelri lhakhang for bird’s eye views of Tigers Nest. ➜ Continue hiking up even farther to Ugyen Tshemo temple and Yoeseling monastery in 3320 meters. From here, the narrow trail descends through dense forest steeply down. ➜ On the way stop for Shama lhakhang, the temple just adjacent to Tiger’s Nets on the cliff face, but inaccessible from there. ➜ Finally, descend to join main trail near to the parking. This loop hike might require about 6 hours. ➜  Take a rest after demanding exercise.
12 Departure Departure from Bhutan. Program subject to flight timing.
Tour variants, extensions and combinations: 
  • Include more hikes (+2 days): If you're seeking for some more hiking, then check our Hiking Heart of Bhutan II, 14 days program.
  • 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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