Walking above the clouds – 11 days
The hikes that we have for you in this program will take you through the wilderness to the isolated temples and monasteries, remote and peaceful villages, and to high passes along the ancient mule tracks with breathtaking mountain sceneries that are accessible only on foot. Bhutan Excursion has exclusive access to some of these hikes where you are not likely to come across any other explorers. We offer eco-tourists and wildlife admirers the wonderful opportunity to explore nature in its pristine state. No doubt! This is an ultimate choice to see Bhutan at its best.
DEPARTURE FROM KATHMANDU - PARO
Flying in to the country’s only airport, in the beautiful Paro valley, the clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression.
On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and custom formalities, your guide responsible will receive you for the trip and transfer you to the hotel in Paro. In the evening, you can stroll along Paro downtown to see the people and the local stores.
- Accommodation: Altitude at Paro: 2300m. Overnight: Tenzinling Resort in Paro
HIKE TO TIGER'S NEST
Today, we hike up to the famous cliff-hermitage called Taktsang, the ‘Tiger’s Nest.This monastic retreat is built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags.
After visiting what is known as one of the most venerated pilgrimage sites in the country, we will go off the beaten track further up to the temples that are on the hill tops above Tiger’s Nest. It’s so peaceful there and you can really communicate with nature as you enjoy the views from the top be it that of mountains or the valley. No wonder that some monks have chosen this place to meditate for their life. To go down, we are following a different path that takes us through the pristine thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons festooned with Spanish mosses.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 06 hours. Altitude at Paro: 2300m. Overnight: Tenzinling Resort in Paro
CHELE LA RIDGE HIKE
This morning, we will take a drive to Chele La (3750m), the highest motor able pass in the country and hike up along the meadow to Kung Karpo La (4100m). Weather permitting; we will enjoy the breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountains while walking above the tree line along the ridge that divides Paro and Ha valley. The short steep descent from the top will take us to the nunnery of Kila Gompa. Here the nuns, called anims, live a life of contemplation and seclusion, with daily prayer and spiritual practice. The temple itself is surrounded by numerous meditation huts, and many hidden caves lie inside the rocky cliffs. The gompa is surrounded by a lush forest dominated by tall firs. Sparkling mountain streams wind down the slopes, which are covered with a variety of wildflowers and plants.
About 30 anims, or nuns, live here, ranging in age from about 20 to 80 years. The community is one of the oldest of seven nunneries in Bhutan, and was initially established in the early 9th century as a meditation site. After being destroyed by fire, the temple was rebuilt and officially established in 1986 as an anim dratshang (religious community of Buddhist nuns).
Kila Gompa is historically significant as a sacred meditation site. Many renowned Buddhist saints have come here to find peace and seclusion. The main temple houses ancient statues of Chenrezig (Avalokiteswara) and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) among others.
Life here is simple. The day begins and ends with prayers. The anims arise at 3 AM and study Buddhist scripture until 8 AM when they go to the temple for prayers. The first simple meal of the day (rice, vegetables and tea) is eaten at 10 AM, after which studies continue until 9 PM when a simple supper is served. The nuns retire after a final session of prayer. Most of the nuns have given up properties and left their families to live with the bare minimum of material things. Their studies and subsistence are supported by the government.
Some of the older nuns have retired into meditation, while many of the younger ones pursue basic Buddhist studies and perform religious ceremonies. The course takes 5-6 years, after which they begin meditation, which can range from four months to three years. One young nun, when asked why she had chosen this life, replied ‘There is peace in thinking about others, apart from yourself.’ Another said ‘If I was given back my youth, I would still choose this life but I would start it earlier. I have never been more at peace with myself.’
The walk down from here to the road is lined with small white chortens and it will take us about an hour. After the hike, we will take a drive to Thimphu.
- Accommodation: Appx. walking time: 5 hours. Appx driving time: 3 hours. Altitude at Thimphu: 2300m. Overnight: Hotel Dragon Roots in Thimphu
PARO - THIMPHU (HIKE TO CHERI MONASTERY)
A short drive through the countryside surrounding Thimphu brings us to the Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area in the country. The park is home to several endangered species including the takin, snow leopard, blue sheep, tiger, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. More than 300 species of birds have been cataloged within the park.
Our walk begins from the small village of Dodena. Our trail starts by crossing a covered bridge over the Thim chhu and we climb steadily to Cheri Goemba, a small monastery perched on the hill with a view over the Thimphu Valley. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built this monastery in 1620, and this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. The monastery is considered very sacred as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints. Shabdrung also spent three years in retreat here and it’s a renowned meditation place even today.
After our visit to the monastery, we descend back the way we came, keeping our eyes open for the goral (wild goat) that are often spotted on the cliffs nearby. Back at the village of Dodena we will have picnic lunch along the clean and unpolluted Thimphu River. After lunch, we follow a riverside trail via Begana to Cabesa, home to the Choki School of Arts. The Choki School is private and provides free skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan to Bhutanese children who are unable to attend or complete their formal education. After visiting the school we continue along the riverside trail and pass through small rural villages before returning to Thimphu.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 03 hours. Altitude at Thimphu: 2300m. Overnight: Hotel Dragon Roots in Thimphu
Today’s sightseeing in Thimphu includes; Visit to the Institute of Traditional Medicine; Bhutan has long and rich tradition of medicine based on natural remedies derived mainly from plants and earth, and some animals. This institute has facility for out patients, training, research and production of traditional medicine. The courses to become traditional doctors, called drungtsho, entail six to eight years of strenuous study after high school. The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.
Visit to the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the school offers an six-year course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarving, clay sculpture and traditional mask making. One can see students working through progressive levels practicing precise rules of Bhutanese art. The school also has a showroom from where student works are sold at very reasonable price compared to town for same quality of work.
Visit to the Folk Heritage Museum; established in 2001, this is an interesting museum housed in a very old traditional house. The museum is a walk through the fast changing rural tradition, habits and skills, and those of the past. They organize special exhibitions annually on select subject pertaining to Bhutanese heritage.
After lunch, you can have free time on your own to walk along the street to see the people and the local stores.
In the evening, take a drive for about an hour along the east-west highway till Dochu La Pass (3050m). From here one can have a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear. The pass is marked by 108 chortens (Stupa) which are Buddhist reliquaries, memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 01 hour. Altitude at Dochu La: 3050m. Overnight: hotel at Dochu La
HIKE TO LUNGCHOTSE LHAKHANG
If the weather favors us, it will be a bonus to see the sun rise over the eastern end of Himalaya at around 5 in the morning.
The location of the 18th century Lungchotse Lhakhang is perfect for a day hike from here. For those who do not fancy walking for hours seeking solitude and peace of mind yet would like to have that, this is the place to go. It is a perfect place to enjoy the bounties of nature. On a clear sunny day one can see the entire Bhutan Himalaya with its snow covered peaks. The sunset from Lungchotse with different colors playing against the sky is a splendid spectacle. The view from the ridge as the sun sets over the rolling hills remains etched in mind for a long time.
The way to the Lungchotse Lhakhang is no less striking. It is a gentle 02 hour uphill walk from Dochu La. The route is well shaded with rhododendron trees growing in abundance all over the place. The path is well padded with fallen leaves. In May and June when the flowers are in bloom it is a magical trek amidst the various hues of white, red, pink and purple.
They say heaven is a place on earth perhaps Lungchotse is one such place. Anyway it is as close as you can get to in a day! Getting back on to the road, after a short drive on the way to Punakha, we will stop at the Royal Botanical Garden and see the varieties of plants or we can find out the name of plants that we did not know on the hike.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 04 hours and 01 hour driving. Altitude at Punakha: 1200m. Overnight: Singye Hotel in Punakha
We will visit the Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic junction at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987. Next in line is a short hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten in the northern part of the valley. Newly built and it is a more elaborate version of the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu. It has an astounding work of frescoes and intricate statues.
After lunch, we will take a drive for about an hour to Talo, the native home town of the queens for our short downhill hike following the beautiful track that links the village of Talo and Nobgang.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 03 hours. Altitude at Punakha: 1200m. Overnight: Singye Hotel in Punakha.
PUNAKHA - GANGTEY
After breakfast, drive to Wangduephodrang and visit the Dzong which is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers. The position of the Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view both up and down the valley. Wangdue district is famous for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, and the slate which is mined up the valley a few kilometers from the town.
Then drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. Explore Phobjikha valley and also visit Gangtey Gonpa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 03 hours. Altitude at Gangtey: 3000m. Overnight: Dewachen Hotel in Gangtey
HIKE OVER KAYCHE LA
We take a drive till Longtey Village after the Pele La to go for yet another hike of about 04 hours across Kayche La (3700m) and back to Gangtey. We climb up gradually through the thickets of dwarf bamboos, birch, rhododendron, hemlock and fir to Kayche La, marked with some prayer flags. The other side of the pass is mostly meadows, and it’s all downhill walk to Gangtey through the long and beautiful stretch of meadows and farms. This place holds a special interest to tourist as you can experience the Black Mountain Range and the Phobjika Valley which is famous for the winter habitat of the black-necked cranes.
- Accommodation: Approximate walking time: 05 hours. Altitude at Gangtey: 3000m. Overnight: Hotel Gakiling in Gangtey.
Morning walk to explore the village, then return to Thimphu (about 05 hours drive). From Gangtey, the road gradually descends into the balmy Punakha valley, and then begins a long climb back up to the Dochu La, where a stunning field of white chortensand colorful prayer flags send blessings up to the Himalayan sky; snow peaks line the horizon. From the La, it is only another hour to Thimphu. Stop here for lunch, then continue to Paro (just under 2 hrs), one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan with its slate-roofed farmhouses, graceful willow trees and rushing glacial river beneath snow covered peaks. Afternoon visit to Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples constructed by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (only three remain), and one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other is Jambe Lhakhang in Bumthang). Kyichu is built in a manner similar to the Jokhang in Lhasa. Inside there is a great golden image of Buddha Shakyamuni.
- Accommodation: Approximate driving time: 05 hours. Altitude at Paro: 2300m. Overnight: Tenzinling Resort in Paro
DEPARTURE FROM PARO
After breakfast in the hotel, drive to the airport in time to catch up your onward flight. Your escort will bid you farewell and soon the remote and legendary Dragon Kingdom disappears again behind its guardian mountains.11TH DAY