Day 1: Arrive in Paro Bhutan
Report at the Druk Air or Bhutan airlines check in counter to leave for Paro Bhutan.
Please have your Bhutan visa copy, passport and the air ticket ready at this time. Airlines does not permit advance seat assignments and the check in staff will assign all seats. It may be possible to switch seats with others once on the plane. On a clear day we can view Kangchenjunga - the 3rd highest peak in teh world, Mt. Everest, and Chomolhari, Bhutan's sacred mountain. Upon arrival in Paro, the immigration official will stamp the Bhutan visa into your passport. Exit the customs area, and you will meet your Bhutanese guide and the driver. After a brief stop at our hotel to check in and drop off our luggage, we’ll head out to explore the valley by vehicle and on foot before returning to our hotel for a welcome dinner and a brief orientation session.
Day 2: Paro Taktsang hike (The Tigers Nest)
After an early breakfast today, we drive 15 minutes to Ramthangka and prepare for our acclimatization hike to the 'Tiger's Nest' or the Taktsang Monastery. This magical monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 2,600 feet above the valley floor. The legend of Taktsang (Tiger's lair) dates back to 747 AD when Guru Rinpoche (Padma Sambhava), is believed to have arrived at this site on the back of a tiger and subdued the evil spirits in the region. The Guru then meditated in the holy cave that is the site of the Pelphug Lhakhang today. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singye Samdrup, is recognized today as the guardian deity of Taktsang. Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktsang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters, which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Dharma. In approximately one hour, we will reach the teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple. For those interested, it is possible to get a closer view by hiking another 45 minutes to an hour (each direction) to reach the small chorten directly across from the temple. Anyone not interested in hiking further can relax at the teahouse and enjoy the view. One can continue further to visit the temple. The entire hike (roundtrip) is about 5 hours.
Day 03: Drive to Gunitsawa or Trek to Shana
Starting elevation: 8300' at Drukyel Dzong Ending Elevation: 9,500'
Elevation Gain: l,200'
Elevation loss: 0
Distance: 11 miles
FIRST DAY OF TREK : We drive the winding road northwest up to Drukyel, the ruined Dzong which once defended this valley from Tibetan invasion. This fortress, now a burned shell, was once strategic in Bhutan's defense against Tibetan invasion. Mt. Chomolhari (24,500 feet), the sacred summit, reaches skyward beyond the Dzong. The road ends and the trek begins, following the river gently uphill through a narrowing agricultural valley. Many farms line the valley. The trail proceeds up a wide valley beneath forest-covered mountains. Bright red chilis dry on the farmhouse rooftops and wheat fields are golden and ready for harvest. Our hike today takes us to our first camp in a grove of pines at Shana, which is at the confluence of two valleys.
Day 04: Trek to Soithanthangka
Starting Elevation: 9,500'
Ending Elevation: 11,700' Elevation Gain: 2,200'
Elevation loss: 0
Distance 11.8 miles
Early this morning, after bed tea, washing water and breakfast, we will hit the trail. For many this is the most challenging day, due to both the uneven terrain and the distance. The trail heads gradually up the river valley, passing farms and crossing and re-crossing the river many times. The trail goes up and down quite a bit and the footing is sometimes challenging with many river rocks on the path. One last climb after tea, up about 300 feet to a small pass, then the trail levels out above the river and gradually winds down again to cross a cantilever bridge. After the bridge, the trail climbs again and then splits. We take the left hand trail up towards the mountain, the trail to the right (past the chorten) heads to Soi Yaksa. Camp is in a meadow near a stone shelter that the government has built for trekkers. If the weather is clear, we should get a stunning view of Chomolhari from this camp.
Day 05: Trek to Jangothang
Starting Elevation: 11,745'
Ending Elevation: 13,288'
Elevation Gain: 1,543'
Elevation loss: 0
Distance: 9.9 miles
We continue up the Pa Chu river, passing a small army post where the valley begins to widen again. The trail climbs to a beautiful flat plateau with a small chorten, and then follows the river around a sharp bend. Another brief climb takes us to plateau where our staff will have a hearty lunch waiting for us. After a hot lunch of noodles and vegetables, we continue, now above tree line, through a spectacular valley lined with snow peaks and several huge waterfalls. We pass the small village of Jangothang, with their new health clinic, and within an hour, reach the camp at the base of the ruins of an ancient fortress and (if it is clear) Chomolhari looming at the end of the valley. According to our trip leader Sha Phurba "Mount Chomolhari never dissappoint visitors to allow a glimpse of her summit even during the cloudy days". This is a great place to arrive early and take some optional evening hikes in the region.￼
Day 06: Trek to Chorapang crossing Bangtuela
Starting elevation: 13,100' at Jangothang Tsophu: 14,100' and Ending Elevation 12500'
Elevation loss: 1600'
Approximate mileage: 12 miles
Today's walk is a long one. The trail crosses the river and begins to climb up to the lakes. A steep climb for about 45 minutes with spectacular views of Jitchu Drake and Chomolhari which grow more and more impressive as you gain altitude. Once you reach the top of the plateau, the trail will level out and after crossing a small hill, the first lake will come into view. This is a spectacular walk with the three major peaks rising above the valley, a broad stream on your right and snow covered peaks in the distance. We cross the Bang Tue La (Pass) which is the highest point on our trek at 15,600’. As we near the top of this first incline, we cross a small glacial stream. The trail winds up and into an upper valley, with snow capped peaks in the distance. We skirt several streams and a small lake as we make our way towards the final climb to the pass. Be on the lookout for Blue Sheep on the steep hillsides above the valley. In the fall, the sheep gather together in herds numbering up to 500 individuals. In addition to the Blue Sheep, there are several Snow Leopard which live in this region. As we climb, we will pace ourselves to allow our bodies to adjust to the elevation. At a slow pace, we should be at the pass by approximately 11:00 a.m. After more scrambling up the few remaining feet, and finally, we are at the Bang Tue La! The elevation is 15,600' and as soon as we cross the pass, the wind turns quite fierce. We stop for a quick group photo and to yell, 'LHA GEY LO!! - A Bhutanese tradition which means 'Praise to the gods of the pass!" From the pass, the trail drops quickly to a huge grass-covered plateau dotted with yak herder tent stone circles. To the right is a massive cliff with waterfalls and a vast scree field below. The valley of Soi Yaksa is an incredibly scenic box canyon which ends abruptly at the foot of the steep cliff. Above the canyon floor, the landscape is comprised of cliffs, waterfalls and higher still, snow covered peaks. Above the cliff to our right, the mountain rises to a dramatic point, resembling the throne of a local deity. As we ramble through the steep grazing fields, we can see the edge of the plateau, which ends with a final descent to the valley floor and our campsite beside a rushing stream.
Day 07: Trek to Thongbue
Starting elevation: 12,300' at Chorapang (camp along river in Soi Yaksa Valley) Ending elevation: 13,123' at Thangbue
Elevation gain: 2132' up to Takalung La
Elevation loss: 1312' down from Takalung La
Approximate mileage: 7 miles
We climb steadily for 600 feet above the camp and then the trails levels out and winds around a ridge and crosses a stream. Another steep climb to a small pass marked by several small chortens. We stopped for a brief tea break and then continue, now above tree line, past one yak herder tent and herds of grazing yak. We reach the next valley which has a beautiful snow fed river. We cross the river and begin the climb to the pass. It is steep, but we take our time and after one and a half hours we reach our second pass, The Takalung La at 14,400'. From the pass, we can see the large valley of Thangbue and our campsite for the night. A gently winding trail leads us downhill to our camp. If the weather cooperates, the view from the pass is spectacular, with Chomolhari and Jitchu Drake rising over the mountain range we covered yesterday. We have a clear view of the Bang Tue La, (yesterday's pass), and the Soi Yaksa Valley. Thangbue is a wide valley filled with yak herder encampments, many yaks, horses, and a few goats.
Day 08: Trek to Gunitsawa & drive out to Paro Drugyel
Starting elevation: 13,200' at Thangbue
Ending elevation: 9482' at Shana
Elevation gain: 722' up to Thangbue La
Elevation loss: 4440' down from Thangbue La to Shana Approximate mileage: 19.2 miles
Our trail climbs steeply from camp up the side of a mountain covered with dwarf rhododendron. It is a relatively short but steep climb to the small pass. From this point, we begin a wonderful part of our trek route. For almost two hours, we walk along a ridgeline trail with drop offs to the valley floors below on both sides. If it is clear, there are panoramic views of the major peaks and distant valleys. Eventually we drop down from the high ridge and we begin to glimpse views of another dramatic peak, Drake Gang. Like Jitchu Drake, it is the residence of a local male deity, while Chomolhari is the home of Jomo, a female deity. We were now in an area of rocky cliffs and parapets, which faded in and out of the mist. We dropped further to a lovely spot with views of the valleys below us. We stop for a tea break while enjoying the view. From this tranquil spot, we begin one of our most challenging parts of the trek. For the next three hours, we dropped steeply on a switchback trail losing about 4500 feet. The trail again is littered with many stones, which make footing challenging. Taking our time (and watching our knees!), we descend to the valley floor. As we lose elevation, the landscape changes from alpine with dwarf rhododendrons to lush pine forests with huge old growth trees. Even lower, we entered a mixed forest of pine and oak.
During the remaining journey from GUNITSAWA to Drukyel Dzong, we enjoy the relatively flat (compared to the walk from Thangbue) walk to the road head. Upon arrival at a certain point, we will be met by the staff and vehicles for a post trek celebration and pick up. Drive to Paro to your hotel.
Day 09: Paro : Thimphu Excursion - the Capital city
Today, we drive to the capital of Bhutan - Thimphu. In the afternoon, we will visit some of the workshops (The Painting School) where young men are trained to continue the handicraft tradition. Some are busy making masks for the religious dances while others are learning the ancient art of thangka painting. Visit the Buddha Point and also the vibrant town for some shopping, We will take time to visit the Weekend Market, where all manner of goods are for sale. Everything from handicrafts to dried yak meat are available to the hundreds of people who shop at this weekly event. Return to Paro in teh evening for your farewell dinner.
Day 10: Depart Bhutan
Our guide and driver will see you off at the airport to depart Bhutan.
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