Trip Number: 12745A
Staff: Gene Goldberg
- Explore where few Westerners have gone before
- Hike through lush forests
- Tour active monasteries and temples framed by the mighty Himalayas
- All meals and lodging
- English-speaking local guides
- In-country transportation
- All gratuities and national tourist fees
Photo: Gene Goldberg
Druk Yul, The Land of the Thunder Dragon, known to the rest of the world as
Bhutan, is wedged between India and Tibet. It is a country of peaks, alpine
meadows, old-growth forests, terraced hillsides, and towns with a frontier feeling.
A World Wildlife Fund alert letter states that "Nowhere is there more potential
for conservation success than in Bhutan. Few places on earth can match the breathtaking
splendor of this country. Many conservationists consider Bhutan the last best
hope for comprehensive conservation action in the Himalayas." Bhutan is
struggling to enter the modern world while protecting these resources and maintaining
its unique Buddhist culture. While most trips to Bhutan are either cultural
-- visiting temples, monasteries, museums, etc. -- or trekking -- with long
days of hiking and camping out -- this outing seeks to find the middle ground,
providing a blend of day hikes and visits to cultural sites. We will visit a
number of sites of historic and cultural importance, and also do several half-
or whole-day hikes of easy to moderate difficulty.
Day 1: Our meeting point is in the morning at Paro Airport
in Bhutan. As you fly in, pick a window seat for views of the high Himalyas.
Once we've all assembled, we drive to our hotel for an orientation and lunch,
our first meal of the trip. In the afternoon, we will visit the National Museum
of Bhutan, replete with handicrafts, costumes, armor, and rare stamps. Then
we'll take a leisurely hike down to Rimpung Dzong (Dzong is Bhutanese for Fortress),
crossing the river on a traditional covered bridge to our waiting bus. Next
is a visit to Drukgyal Dzong, built in 1647 and destroyed by fire in 1951. If
time allows, we'll take a beautiful 30-minute walk around the fortress. Total
walking: 1 hour.
Photo: Gene Goldberg
Day 2: After breakfast we will start our drive to Punakha.
The four-hour ride starts by following the Paro and Thimphu rivers. We'll drive
along paddy fields, apple orchards, and farmhouses to Simtokha. Then the road
climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, and over Dochula Pass (10,004
feet). We'll stop at Lobesa for a short hike, through rice paddies, up to the
Chimi Lhakhang temple. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in the14th
century known as Drukpa Kuenley, or the "Divine madman," who is believed
to bless women who seek fertility. Then we'll continue on to Punakha for the
night. Total walking: 1 hour.
Day 3: Today we'll drive to Trongsa, approximately six hours
away. Driving through the central valleys of Bhutan, we'll see some of the rich
flora and fauna. We'll pass through semi-tropical vegetation and then up to
Pele la Pass (10,989 feet.) With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and
dwarf bamboo, the pass is the boundary between West and East Bhutan. During
clear weather we can view the high, snow-capped peaks. From here we'll continue
to Chendebji Chorten, where we'll will take a short walk and eat lunch. Continuing
on our drive, we'll reach a view point for Trongsa Dzong. Backing on a mountain
and built on several levels, the Dzong fits on a narrow spur that sticks out
into the river gorge. From here, we'll walk first downhill and then up for about
two hours to reach the Dzong. Overnight in the Yangkil Resort, Trongsa. Total
walking: 3 hours.
Day 4: After breakfast we will resume our drive to Bumthang,
where we'll check into our hotel and have lunch. From there we'll take a short
hike around the valley for about 2 hours. Our car will drop us at Jambay Lhakhang
temple from which we'll walk through the scattered village of Jakar. Passing
another temple and monastery, we'll hope to meet villagers out and about for
the day. Then we'll hike north and cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension
bridge before reaching our final stop at Konchogsum Lhakhang, which was built
in the 7th century. We'll have the rest of the day free for you to explore the
small town. Total walking: 4 hours.
Day 5: After breakfast we will take a short drive to Kharsumphey,
where we'll begin our walk. The climb is steep, and as you look back you will
get the view of the whole of Chokhor Valley. We'll walk through a pine forest
and stop briefly at Peseling monastery, then continue up toward the saddle of
the hill. From the pass (just over 11,000 feet) you will have a view of the
Tang Valley. Continuing our walk downhill toward Bebsur village, if time permits,
we will visit the Nunnery and then carry on to Tang Membartsho ('burning lake').
We will return to the hotel hotel by bus. Total walking: 5 hours.
Day 6: Today we will drive to Ura village, situated at 10,000'.
There are about 40-50 closely packed houses alongside cobblestone streets that
give the village a medieval atmosphere. The drive to Ura takes about two hours;
however we will stop at the Serthangla Pass so you can take in the view of Ura
Valley down below. From there, we'll start hiking downhill until we reach Ura
Temple. Then we'll continue our walk through the clustered village of Ura, making
frequent stops to converse with the villagers. Our lunch will be served at a
village house, after which we'll walk to the school and observe the young students
of Ura engrossed in their lessons. We will then say goodbye to this beautiful
village and drive back to Chamkhar for our overnight. Total walking: 2 hours.
Photo: Gene Goldberg
Day 7: After breakfast we will drive to Kika La Pass, where
we'll continue our walk to Chumey Valley. The trail starts with superb views
of the Chokhor, Chumey and Tang Valleys. This walk will take about 6 hours,
taking us to Tharpaling Monastery and then down to Gyetsa village, where our
bus will be waiting for us.
Day 8: After breakfast we will start our drive back to Trongsa,
with a short stop at Tsungney village to see the famous Yathra weavings. Continuing
on to Yotongla Pass, we will start our hike downhill to Trongsa. This walk through
alpine oak, junipers, and mixed coniferous forest will take about 3 hours.
Day 9: We will drive up to Pele Pass, where we start our hike
from Longtoe village down to Phobjikha. This walk will take little more than
3 hours. Phobjikha is the winter home for the black-necked cranes, which we
should see in the meadow below the village.
Day 10: We will pick a route today based on where the cranes
are. Plan on a full day in the woods just above the valley, and in the open
meadows of the valley itself (pending closure to protect the cranes.) Total
walking: 6-7 hours.
Day 11: We'll drive back over the Dochula Pass stopping there
for lunch and to enjoy views of the beautiful snowcapped mountains. After lunch
we'll start hiking down from the pass to Trashigang Monastery, and then back
to the highway for a total of about three hours of walking. Back on the bus,
we'll continue on to Thimphu. No set activities are planned for this afternoon.
Day 12: After breakfast we'll will start our sightseeing in
Thimphu, visiting the National Library; the Painting School, where traditional
art is kept alive; and the Institute of Traditional Medicine. After lunch we'll
drive to Dodena, 40 minutes north of Thimphu. From there we'll hike the 1-2
miles to the Tango Monastery -- it'll take us about one hour to ascend the 1,200
feet. The Temple was originally established in the 12th century; however, the
present building was built only in the 15th century. If time allows, we can
also walk up to Cheri Monastery, another one-hour hike.
Photo: Gene Goldberg
Day 13: After breakfast we'll drive back to Paro. This will
take about two hours. Along the way, we'll stop for a hike up to the Dzongdrakha
Temple. This hike will take us through paddy fields and scattered village houses.
After about an hour walk, we'll start a short 15-minute steep climb to the temple.
After visiting the temple and enjoying the view of Bondey Valley, we'll hike
back to the highway, where our bus will pick us up and take us to our hotel.
If time permits, we'll enjoy more sightseeing in town. Total walking: 3 hours.
Day 14: In the morning, we will take an excursion to the spectacular
Taktshang monastery (Tiger's Lair). The trail to the monastery ascends about
1,800 feet through beautiful pine forest -- many of the trees festooned with
Spanish moss and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. There is an
option to rent horses for most of the ride up, but you still have to walk back
down. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a
sheer rock cliff that plunges 3,000 feet into the valley below. Legend states
that Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan,
landed here on the back of a flying tiger. Lunch will be at the cafeteria along
the trail. The afternoon is free for touring Paro, relaxing, or packing for
the flight out tomorrow. Total walking: 5 hours.
Day 15: The trip ends after breakfast. The bus will take participants
back to the airport for their departing flights.
All flights into and out of Paro are on Druk Airlines, the national airline
of Bhutan. Druk flies between Paro and Bangkok, Dehli, Calcutta, or Kathmandu.
Your best routing will be through Bangkok; reservations for this will be made
for the group, but the cost is not included in the trip price. Additional details
with specific flight information will be sent to approved trip members. Remember
in your planning that flights crossing the Pacific from the US cross the International
Date Line, so it takes two calendar days to get to Bangkok. For example, if
you leave on the evening of November 7, you will arrive in Bangkok on the morning
of November 9. Then you can fly to Paro on the 10th. On the return, even though
your flight is 12 hours, you may well land before you take off!
Please make sure that your passport is valid at least six months past the end
of the trip -- a requirement of many countries. Our in-country tour operator
will arrange for visas for US citizens. Others should consult with the trip
leader. Evacuation insurance is strongly recommended. The leader will send out
newsletters with additional travel information. You are encouraged to arrive
in Bangkok at least a day or two early to help overcome jetlag and to allow
for missed/delayed flights or lost baggage -- unfortunately, not a rare occurrence.
Accommodations and Food
Our accommodations in Bhutan will be in simple but clean and comfortable lodges
and hotels that have hot running water, electricity, and very attentive staff
who delight in contact with foreign visitors. Meals will be in hotel dining
rooms and in local restaurants. Vegetarians can be readily accommodated. Bhutanese
cuisine is somewhat similar to Indian, but not as richly flavored. However it
can be spicy; the national dish is Ema Dhatsi, hot chili peppers with cheese
sauce, served as a vegetable, not a seasoning for something else.
Photo: Gene Goldberg
This trip is a blend of day hikes and touring. Anyone who is comfortable walking
for 4-5 hours in hilly terrain should have no problems with our hikes. Our most
difficult day will be the hike to Taktshang Goempa. The walk in takes about
two hours and there is a gain of about 2,000 feet. We return by the same route.
Some hikes will take longer, but will have less elevation change. The pace on
our hikes will be adjusted to fit the group. All hikes are optional. Sometimes
the alternative will be touring the town or an historical site; sometimes it
will mean sitting on the bus while the rest of the group walks.
Equipment and Clothing
Good hiking boots or sturdy shoes will be required; otherwise there is no
special equipment needed for this outing. Comfortable, casual clothing and a
day pack for carrying raincoats, water, and lunches are all you need. Approved
participants will be sent a more detailed list at a later date.
- Zeppa, J., Beyond the Sky and the Earth. A volunteer educator's
account of living and working in Bhutan for three years.
- Armington, S., Lonely Planet Bhutan. Perhaps the best of the few
travel guides for Bhutan. About half our hikes are covered here.
- Dompnier, R., Bhutan: Kingdom of the Dragon. A coffee table picture
book, but there is also good text on the geography and history of the country.
- Inskipp, C. and T., and R. Grimmett, Birds of Bhutan. For birding
- Snelling, J., The Buddhist Handbook. An easy-to-read primer on
- Myers, D., and S. Bean (Eds.), From the Land of the Thunder Dragon:
Textile Arts of Bhutan. A detailed account of the cultural history of
the incredible textiles and the fascinating national garb of the Bhutanese.
- Insight Guides Indian Wildlife. Good coverage of the mammals and
wildlife in general found in the Indian subcontinent, including Bhutan.
- Wangchhuk, L., Facts About Bhutan; The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Bhutan
from a native's point of view. Encyclopedic in scope and presentation.
Photo: Gene Goldberg
This tiny kingdom (about 700,000 people in an area about the same as Switzerland)
possesses the last intact, large-scale ecosystem in the Himalayas. The government
has ruled that 60 percent of the country must remain forested. With Western
influence in the area on the rise, Bhutan has adopted the philosophy that environmental
and cultural preservation are the only means to remaining an independent country.
Tourists must pay daily fees ($250 and included in the trip price) and have
a licensed Bhutanese guide. Both of these measures are intended to assist in
preserving the environment and culture.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Gene Goldberg has been leading Sierra Club trips since 1990. His Club trips have included backpacking in the Colorado Rockies as well as trips to Nepal, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, and Bhutan. The Dolomites is his favorite hiking area. He now lives in Santa Fe with his wife, Gail, and dogs, Whisky and Bailey.
Visit his website at http://genesoutings.camprecipes.com/ for more information about the trips he leads, as well as some photos.
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