18-Day Medium-Hard Grade Trip
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Expect incredible Himalayan views on this memorable trip, including a 12-day mountain trek, close to the border with Tibet, where you will meet the unique people of Laya. Finish the trek with a visit to the hot springs at Gasa before travelling to beautiful Punakha.
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The Tiger's Nest
The hike to the amazing Tiger's Nest Monastery is one of the best in the world. As you ascend through pine and rhododendron forest you glimpse the monastery high above and the Paro Valley down below. Suddenly, after a final push upwards you are faced with the most magnificent views of the Tiger's Nest clinging to the side of a cliff. It's simply breathtaking.
At 7,314 metres in altitude, Mount Jomolhari is Bhutan's second highest mountain. Its snowy dome can be seen as you fly into Paro. We spend an extra day at the base of Mount Jomolhari, with some pretty spectacular day walks within reach of our camp.
The dzong, or fortress, at Punakha is considered the most beautiful in Bhutan and it's easy to see why: traditional architecture, ornated carved and painted woodwork, brilliant Buddhist artwork and gilded doorways. There's also the stunning location, at the confluence of two rivers. It holds a special place in the hearts of the Bhutanese as it is the site for the coronation of all of the country's highly revered kings.
At 3,700 metres in altitude Laya is the highest and one of the most remote villages in Bhutan, located a short distance from the Tibetan border. The Layaps, as the locals are known have their own language and customs and wear a distinct style of dress, most notably a small spire-shaped hat made from bamboo worn by Layap women. They are primarily yak herders but also grow crops such as turnips and barley.
Thimphu is one of the world's smallest capital cities but has seen rapid growth in the last few years. It has no traffic lights, just a white-gloved policeman to conduct traffic. Thankfully traffic jams are rare and the main centre is still small and easily negotiated. The city sits in the Thimphu Valley, fringed by forests and mountains, which means good walking trails are easy to find.
The trail to this beautiful high alpine lake is a great day hike from Mount Jomolhari base camp. As you ascend you gain superb views of Jichu Drake with its dramatically pointed peak. Jichu Drake translates as ‘angry bird’. The lake is located at 4,430 metres above sea level and is a brilliant blue colour when viewed from above.
Dramatic mountain scenery
Bhutan's remote trails offer stunning views of the Eastern Himalayan Range. As we travel further into the mountains, above the tree line, the views become more dramatic, with vast sweeping panoramas. You may find yourself standing within a 360-degree circle of peaks. It is truly awe inspiring.
The high passes in Bhutan are places where we usually pause in our journey and stop to take in the magnificent views. The Dochu La not only has great views of the mountains but is an impressive sight in itself, with 108 chortens spread over a small hill at its centre.
Paro is the gateway to Bhutan. Its wide valley makes it the most suitable location for Bhutan’s only international airport. The valley is dominated by the view of the magnificent dzong, or fortress, which is the site of one of Bhutan’s most popular festivals. Above the dzong sits the National Museum, home to some fine examples of Buddhist art and sculpture, as well as a room dedicated to Bhutan’s flora and fauna.
Day 1: Arrival to Paro
The flight into Paro is one of the most scenic in the world, with views of the snow-capped Himalayas and a final approach through a mountainous valley. Your guide will meet you outside the main exit after you have cleared customs and from the airport you will be taken to your hotel. After a freshen up we will head out to explore the main street of Paro and the incredible dzong that overlooks the valley. Dzongs were once used as fortresses and their strategic locations usually have the best views in town. Above the dzong is the museum, where we can learn about the flora and fauna of Bhutan, as well as get a sense of how Buddhism is ever-present in this tiny kingdom. Your guide will help you if you need to exchange or withdraw money.
Overnight in Paro. Altitude: 2, 250 metres.
Day 2: The Tiger's Nest
Today we will stretch our legs and get a little taste of altitude with the hike to the wonderful Tiger's Nest monastery, located at 3,100 metres above the Paro valley. As you ascend you will see glimpses of the monastery, perched impossibly on the side of a steep cliff. It is a wonderful walk, strewn with prayer flags, with a waterful as you near the monastery. The complex itself is a series of small temples and rooms, including some built over a cave where Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, is said to have meditated after he flew to Bhutan on the back of a tigress.
Tonight we will sort of all of our gear for tomorrow's trek.
Overnight in Paro. Alititude: 2,250 metres.
Day 3: To Sharna Zampa (Day 1 of trek)
Today we start our trek after driving first for a couple of hours to the tiny village of Gunitsawa. Today's walk will be quite short as we start to acclimatise and get used to being on trek. We will have our trekking permits, provided by our guide, checked at an army post before proceeding. We will be walking in the Jigme Dorji National Park and our first night's camp will be at Sharna Zampa.
Camp altitude: 2,850 metres.
Day 4: To Thangthangkha (Day 2 of trek)
Today walk is a distance of 22 kms and will take most of the day to reach our destination at Thangthangkha. On this long day, the trail continues with lots of small ups and downs. After going uphill through the river valley, with many crossings of the river over several bridges, the valley finally narrows gradually to a mere path which descends to a meadow where a camp will be set up. From here, if weather permits, you will have the first great view of Mt. Jomolhari.
Camp altitude: 3,610 metres.
Day 5: To Jangothang (Day 3 of trek)
If you did not see Mt. Jomolhari the previous evening, you will still have a chance to get a great view early this morning. This morning the trek continues up the Paro Chhu valley, which widens into patches of alpine meadow and scanty growths of forest. You will cross an army checkpoint along the way and enjoy a spectacular view of high mountain ridges and snow-capped peaks. In this area yaks and their herder’s homes become a regular feature of the landscape. Passing the villages Soe, Takethang and Dangochang is another highlight of today's walk. After reaching Jangothang, one of the most beautiful campsites of the Himalayas, you will again have a spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari. Today's distance will be 19 kms.
Camp altitude: 4,080 metres.
Day 6: Rest/acclimatisation day in Jangothang (Day 4 of trek)
Today we will stay one more day at this wonderful campsite, at the base of Mount Jomolhari, to acclimatise. The rest day in Jangothang provides plenty of possibilities for day hikes with great views of lakes and snow capped mountains such as Jomolhari and Jichu Drake. There are good chances to spot some blue sheep on the upper slopes of the valley. Jangothang is a perfect environment for your acclimatization. You can also trek up to Tosoh or hike around the area. There are good short hiking trails in three directions. Jomolhari and its subsidiary mountain chains lie directly west, Jichu Drake to the north and there are a number of unclimbed peaks to the east.
Camp altitude: 4,080 metres
Day 7: To Lingshi (Day 5 of trek)
This is one of the longest days of the trek. A short distance from the camp the trail begins climbing for about half an hour and then becomes a gradual ascent to the Nyilila pass at 4,870m. While on the climb enjoy the surroundings. You might see herds of blue sheep grazing on the slopes of the mountains. From the pass you will have spectacular views of Mt. Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and Tsherimgang, all of them rising above 7,000m. It's a gradual descent to the camp where you will pass by some of the yak herder’s tents, made from yak wool. The herders use these tents while travelling to various pastures for their yaks. As you come down into the Lingshi basin, a beautiful U-shaped valley, you get a wonderful view of Lingshi Dzong on clear days. Tserimgang and its glaciers rise up at the north end of the valley. The campsite is next to a stone hut you reach just before Lingshi Dzong. Today's distance will be 18 kms.
Camp altitude: 4,010 metres.
Day 8: To Chebisa (Day 6 of trek)
Today is the shortest walking day - only 10 kms. Shortly after starting you will reach a chorten below Lingshi Dzong. Here, you have the choice of staying on the main trail or taking a detour up to the Lingshi Dzong (4,220m), which sits atop a high ridge. This Dzong is under reconstruction from a 2011 earthquake which damaged its central building. In addition to its atmosphere of mystic tranquility, Lingshi Dzong provides a great view over the valley. After Lingshi Dzong you will be passing the villages of Lingshi and Goyul. In Goyul, the stone houses are clustered together to form a small compact village that is unusual in Bhutan where settlements are usually scattered. On reaching the campsite at Chebisa you will have plenty of time to visit the village houses. There is also a beautiful waterfall located behind the village that is worth visiting.
Camp altitude: 3,880 metres.
Day 9: To Shomuthang (Day 7 of trek)
The morning starts with a long ascent behind Chebisa Village (2-3 hours) through a wide pastureland towards Gobu La (pass). On the way, you will see a few people herding yaks. There is also a great chance to spot large herds of blue sheep above the trail. After crossing Gobu La (4,410m), you descend into the valley, then climb again a little bit, before descending again to Shakshepasa (3,980m), a large U-shaped valley. Climbing from here you will finally reach the campsite at Shomuthang, above a river, which is a tributary of the Nochu river. Today's distance will be 17 kms.
Camp altitude: 4,220 metres.
Day 10: To Robluthang (Day 8 of trek)
You begin by climbing up the valley to view Kang Bum (6,526 m) and some edelweiss. After two hours of climbing you will reach Jhari La (4,750m), from where you catch the first glimpse of Sinche La, the pass you will have to cross the day after. The big snow peak in the north is Gangchhenta 6,840 m, better known as the Great Tiger Mountain. If weather is clear, Tserim Kang and the top of Jomolhari will be visible. The camp by the river is called Tsheri Jathang located in a beautiful wide and remote valley. Herds of takin, the Bhutanese National Animal, migrate to this valley in summer and remain for about four months. The valley has been declared a takin sanctuary. Climb up a little bit and you will reach the campsite at Robluthang in a rocky meadow. Today's distance is 18 kms.
Camp altitude: 4,160 metres
Day 11: To Limithang (Day 9 of trek)
The trek starts out with an initial 40-60 minutes ascent before gradually raising for another 1½ hours through a boulder field. It is then a 1-hour steep ascent before reaching Sinche La (5,005m) – the final and highest pass on the trek. As you descend the far side of the pass you will see an impressive terminal moraine and a glacial lake at the foot of the valley. You can see classic examples of lateral moraines where the glacier has pushed rocks up both sides of the valley. Below the moraine, you cross the Kango Chhu and soon reach the Limithang campsite. The peak of Gangchhenta towers over the campsite even though it’s quite a distance away. Today's walk is 19 kms.
Camp altitude: 4,140 metres
Day 12: To Laya (Day 10 of trek)
Today, you walk downhill all the way along a narrow, winding river valley. Eventually the trail takes you through a densely forested area as the trail leads you to the west side of Laya village. From here you will have spectacular views of Mt. Gangchhenta and Mt. Masagang. In the village centre is a community school and a basic health unit with a telephone connection. The campsite is located below the school. Today's distance is just 10 kms.
Camp altitude: 3,840 metres.
Day 13: To Koina (Day 11 of trek)
The trail winds up and down along the river valley of Mo Chhu, affording breath-taking views of the raging river, feeder streams and waterfalls. Lots of ups and downs will lead you to Kohi Lapcha at 3,300 m. The trek then drops down to the large stream of Koina Chhu, where you will find the campsite of Koina. Today's walk is 19 kms.
Camp altitude: 3,050 metres.
Day 14: To Gasa (Day 12 of trek)
Today you will have the last major climb of the Laya Gasa Trek. You will cross Bari La (3,740m), after which the trail descends all the way until you reach Gasa village (2,770m). There is a campsite close to Gasa. It is possible to descend for another hour to the Gasa Tsachu (hot springs) and relax in the rejuvenating mineral waters. The Gasa Tsachu is one of the most popular hot springs in Bhutan. Today's walk is 14 kms.
Camp altitude: 2,240 metres.
Day 15: To Punakha
At Gasa we will meet our driver and travel to Punakha, where we can check into our hotel and have our first hot shower in almost two weeks! After lunch there are a few walks we can do, as well as taking in the Punakha dzong, considered the most beautiful in Bhutan.
Overnight in Punakha. Altitude: 1,310 metres.
Day 16: To Thimphu
Today we will head to Thimphu, one of the world's smallest capital cities, via Dochula, a high pass at 3,150 metres. The Dochula is a great stopping point for admiring the mountain views, weather permitting, and also wandering among the 108 chortens on a gentle hill nearby.
Once in Thimphu we can do a number of walks or some sightseeing, with maybe some souvenir shopping as well.
Overnight in Thimphu. Altitude: 2,350 metres.
Day 17: To Paro
Today we will undertake an easy 2-hour walk above Thimphu, from Buddha Point, the 51.5 metre high golden seated statue of the Buddha that overlooks the valley. The walk passes through lovely pine forest, with views of the city at various intervals. In the afternoon we will drive to Paro for some final sightseeing and a celebration dinner.
Overnight in Paro. Altitude: 2,250 metres.