Trip Number: 13590A
Staff: Wayne Martin
- 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, transportation on-trip, gratuities and national
- Experienced, English-speaking guides
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
Photo: John Bird
Day 1: Arrive Paro. Our meeting point is in the morning at
Paro Airport in Bhutan. From a window seat on clear days you can experience
a spectacular view of Himalayan peaks as you approach Paro. 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. Then we will explore Drukgyal Dzong, built
in 1647 and was destroyed by fire in 1951 and left in ruins. This is a beautiful
walk and on a clear day you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari,
Day 2: Paro-Punakha. Today we will 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). At
the pass we will take a walk that offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain
ranges. We'll stop at Lobesa to hike -- through rice paddies and 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 ( 4,430 feet)
for the night.
Day 3: Punakha - Trongsa. Today we travel 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 (Chorten is another term for Stupa). Here we'll take a
short walk and eat lunch. Continuing on our drive, we'll reach a view point
for Trongsa Dzong. The Dzong fits on a narrow spur that sticks out into the
river gorge. The approximate two-hour walk will be downhill until we reach the
Mangde Chhu River, where will cross the traditional cantilever bridge and then
hike uphill until we reach the majestic Trongsa Dzong. We will overnight in
the Trongsa. Walking time: three hours.
Day 4: Trongsa - Bumthang. Bumthang is the general name given
to a complex of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey
are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on livestock. After
breakfast we will drive to Bumthang region, and have lunch. In Bumthang we'll
take a hike around the valley, starting at the Jambay Lhakhang temple to 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, a temple that was built in the 7th century. We'll have
the rest of the day free tp explore the small town. Walking time: four hours.
Day 5: Bumthang (Tang and Chokhor). In the morning we will
take a short drive to Kharsumphey, where we'll begin our hike. The hike will
consist of a steep ascent through a beautiful pine forest, with views of the
Chokhor Valley and a stop at Peseling, a monastery. From the monastery we will
continue upwards over a 11,000-foot pass that overlooks the Tang Valley. Then
we hike downhill toward the village of Bebsur to visit the nunnery. We will
then carry on to Membartsho ('burning lake') in the Tang Valley. There we meet
our bus for a short drive back to Bumthang. Walking time: five hours.
Photo: John Bird
Day 6: Bumthang (Ura). We will drive to Ura village, situated
at 10,000 ft. 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. 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 hike 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. We will then say goodbye to this beautiful village
and drive to Chamkhar for the night. Walking time: two hours.
Day 7: Bumthang (Chumey). We will travel to to Kika La Pass,
where we'll hike to Chumey Valley. The trail starts with superb views of the
Chokhor, Chumey, and Tang valleys. This hike will take about six hours, taking
us to Tharpaling Monastery and then down to Gyetsa village. Walking time: six
Day 8: Bumthang - Trongsa. We will start our trip back to
Trongsa, with a short stop at Tsungney village to see the famous Yathra weavings.
Continuing on to Yotongla Pass, we will start a three-hour hike downhill through
alpine oak, juniper, and mixed coniferous forest to Trongsa. Walking time: three
Day 9: Trongsa - Phobjikha. We will drive up to Pele la Pass,
where we start our hike from Longtoe village down to Phobjikha Valley. This
walk will take about three hours. Phobjikha is the winter home for the majestic
Black-Necked Cranes, which, if we are lucky, we may sight. Walking time: three
Day 10: Phobjikha. We will have a full day in the woods just
above the valley, and in the dwarf bamboo meadows of the valley, home of the
elusive Red Panda. Walking time: six to seven hours.
Day 11: Phobjikha - Thimphu. We'll drive back over the Dochula
Pass stopping there 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. We'll continue
on to Thimphu. In the afternoon we will have time to shop and explore Thimphu.
Walking time: three hours.
Day 12: Thimphu. We'll will start our sightseeing in Thimphu
visiting the Bhutan Heritage Museum, a 19th-century house preserved to show
the visitor how middle class Bhutanese lived in the past, and the Institute
of Traditional Medicine, where medicines are prepared according to ancient practices.
After lunch we'll drive to Dodena, 40 minutes north of Thimphu. From Dodena
we'll hike an hour uphill to the Cheri Monastery, where the monks keep tame
deer and feed the soaring birds. After visiting here we will travel back to
the road, drive a short distance, then start our hike to the Tango Monastery,
originally built in the 12th century. This will also be another hour-long hike.
Walking time: three to four hours.
Photo: John Bird
Day 13: Thimphu - Paro sightseeing. We'll drive back to Paro.
Along the way, we'll stop for a hike up to the Dzongdrakha Temple through paddy
fields and scattered village houses. After about an hour walk, we'll start a
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. Walking time: three hours.
Day 14: Taktsang Monastery. In the morning, we will hike to
the awe-inspiring Taktshang monastery (Tiger's Lair). The trail to the monastery
ascends about 1,800 feet through beautiful pine forest. Many of the trees are
festooned with Spanish moss and the groves occasionally flutter with prayer
flags. For those who enjoy ponies, there is the option to rent a Tibetean pony
(uphill only). 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. Looking at the monastery, flying
tigers don’t seem so impossible after all. Lunch will be at the cafeteria
along the trail. The afternoon is free for touring Paro, relaxing, or packing
for the flight out tomorrow. Walking time: five hours.
Day 15: Depart Paro. 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 U.S. cross the International
Date Line, so it takes two calendar days to get to Bangkok. For example, if
you leave on the evening of May 1, you will arrive in Bangkok on the morning
of May 3. Then you can fly to Paro on the 4th. 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 U.S. citizens. Non-U.S. citizens 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, this is not a rare
Accommodations and Food
Photo: John Bird
Our accommodations in Bhutan will be in simple but clean and comfortable lodges
and hotels. They 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.
This trip is a blend of day hikes and touring. Anyone who is comfortable walking
for four to five 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
- Inskipp, C. and T., and R. Grimmett, Birds of Bhutan. For
- Snelling, J., The Buddhist Handbook. An easy-to-read primer
- 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.
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 remain an independent country.
Tourists must pay daily fees and have a licensed Bhutanese guide. Both of these
measures are intended to assist in preserving the environment and culture.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about
conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our
work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots
involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally
understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.
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.
Wayne Martin began his adventures with the Sierra Club more than two decades ago, when he went snow camping in the Sierra Nevada with the Bay Area chapter. Two years later, in 1984, he led his first national Sierra Club trip. Since then he has led more than 50 trips and served as chair of the club's International Outings Subcommittee.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips