15D 14N Explore & Trek Central Bhutan

  • Explore & Trek Central Bhutan

    Explore & Trek Central Bhutan
    Explore & Trek Central Bhutan

Bhutan Tour Itinerary

After visiting Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, head east as you begin ten days of trekking on the Trans Bhutan Trail. Follow the “Divine Madman Trail” and immerse yourself in the communities along the way. Arrive at the Trongsa Dzong (fortress) by foot in the same way that garps (messengers) would have done centuries ago before visiting the royal city of Bumthang and the charming Ura Valley. Complete your visit with a hike to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery.


Day 1

Paro – Thimphu

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

On arrival at Paro International Airport today, you will be met by your guide. You will be driven by private vehicle to Bhutan’s Capital city, Thimphu. With elevations ranging between 2,248 metres (7,375 feet) and 2,648 metres (8,688 feet) above sea level, Thimphu is the fifth highest capital city in the world by altitude. It is also the only capital city  in the world without any traffic lights. The city offers a unique blend of the modern world with Bhutanese tradition.

In the afternoon, head to Buddha Point, home to Thimphu’s most recognized landmark, the Buddha Dordenma. Guarding the entry to the Thimphu valley, this 51 metre (167 feet) gilded bronze statue is filled with 125,000 miniature statues and sits atop a three-storey base housing a chapel and thousands of donated statuettes. The statue was commissioned to mark His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s 60th birthday and was originally made in China before being transported to Thimphu in pieces. Your final stop for the day will then be at the Memorial Chorten, a Tibetan-style stupa built in 1974 and one of Thimphu’s busiest religious sites.

Enjoy dinner with your guide at one of the capital’s many excellent restaurants.

Accommodation: Tara Phendheling Hotel or similar (3*)
Meals: D

Day 2

Thimphu – Dochula – Thinleygang – Lobesa

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at your hotel, you will be transferred to the Dochula Pass, east of the capital city. At 3,100 metres (10,200 feet) above sea level, you will be able to enjoy excellent views from Dochula at clearer times of the year. Mountain passes are some of the most sacred places in Bhutan and so it is customary to burn incense as an offering in places such as this. You may also wish to join locals in hanging colourful prayer flags as a sign of respect to the Gods.

While at Dochula you may visit the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of His Majesty the Fourth King Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bhutanese Monarchy. The paintings in this temple are unique insofar as they combine modern flourishes with century-old techniques. The Temple hosts a yearly tshechu (festival) which pays tribute to the wise leadership of His Majesty the King and the ongoing efforts of the Royal Bhutanese Army in protecting Bhutan’s sovereignty. You should also visit the Druk Wangyal Chorten (stupa), also known as the ‘108 Chortens’, and its nearby meditation caves.

From Dochula, head down into the adjacent valley and join a section of the Trail known as the ‘Divine Madman Trail’. You are now following in the footsteps of the Divine Madman himself, Drukpa Kuenley, when he first came to Bhutan from Tibet in the 16th century to fulfill his destiny of suppressing evil energies.

On arrival at Thinleygang, enjoy a picnic lunch and a visit to the Thinleygang Lhakhang (temple), which is where the central monastic body overnights on their two-day journey from the summer residence in Thimphu to the winter residence in Punakha.

This evening, join a local Bhutanese family for a homestay experience at a farmhouse in Thinleygang. Your hosts will prepare a traditional Bhutanese meal for you, which you will enjoy seated on the floor, as is customary in Bhutanese homes.

Accommodation: Basic Farmhouse Homestay
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 10.5 kilometres (6.52 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (164 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,114 metres (10,217 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,811 metres (5,942 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,114 metres (10,217 feet)

Day 3

Thinleygang – Pelela – Rukubji

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast this morning, bid farewell to hosts in Thinleygang and board your vehicle for a transfer eastwards towards the Pelela Pass. At 3,402 metres (11,162 feet) above sea level, the Pelela Pass is one of Bhutan’s highest and is traditionally considered the boundary between west and central Bhutan. Local craftspeople often sell fine yak-hair products at the roadside here.

At Pelela, re-join the Trans Bhutan Trail. As you descend through the meadows below Pelela, keep an eye out for the remote yak herder camps which can be seen scattered around the valley. Stop in a traditional farmhouse in the village of Rukubji to enjoy a hot lunch, before visiting Rukubji’s village Lhakhang (temple), also known as Kuenzang Choling. It is thought that this temple was built some 300 years ago by a Lama named Tshendhen Duelwa. Unlike most temples, it is not built on a ridge with a view out over a valley, but rather on an extended plateau and close to two rivers: the reason for this is that the Lama is said to have built the temple on top of the head of a snake-demoness which he subdued in the same location. Rukubji is also famous for its unique local language, and you will have the chance to learn about it from the villagers over tea. The dialect, called Ngyen-Kye, is a mix of other dialects from across Bhutan and even some English words, and is now only spoken by a dozen or so households.

You will camp overnight at Rukubji. Once back at the campsite, your crew will invite you to take a hot shower and enjoy a relaxing hot stone bath before serving you a delicious, locally-sourced organic dinner.

Accommodation: Signature Trans Bhutan Trail Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 10 kilometres (6.21 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 metres (984 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,735 metres (8,973 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)

Day 4

Rukubji – Chendebji

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at camp, rejoin the trail for a gentle climb out of the valley and through a forest, before dropping back down to the village of Chendebji; where you will camp will already be set up for you. At Chendebji, visit the Chorten (stupa), which is built at the point on which it is believed that the three ridges and the three edges of the sky meet. The Chorten was built by Lam Ngedup Tshering Wangchuk in order to subdue a local demoness, Nyala Dudm, and bring peace to the Chendebji Valley.

Enjoy a hot shower, a hot stone bath and a locally-sourced organic dinner at the campsite.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 12 kilometres (7.46 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 500 metres (1,641 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,735 metres (8,973 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,425 meters (7,956 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,867 meters (9,406 feet)

Day 5

Chendebji – Tshangkha

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at your camp, re-join the Trail at the Chendebji Chorten (stupa). You will follow the old East-West National Highway for a short while, before heading back deep into the countryside towards the village of Tangsibji. A hot lunch will be served at a farmhouse in Tangsiji.

Today, the Trail route passes the sites of several hydroelectric projects. These clean, renewable energy projects are one of the ways in which Bhutan has achieved its status as the only carbon negative country in the world. Bhutan also exports large amounts of green energy to neighbouring India. You will also have the chance to visit the Trashichoeling Lhakhang (temple), located in Trashiling village. The temple was built in 2002 as an offering to His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan by His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo.

On arrival in Tshangkha, visit the Tshangkha Lhakhang (temple) before heading to your campsite. The ground on which the temple stands is thought to have been first blessed on an unknown date by Lopen Golay of Tshangkha, who gained his wisdom and power from the mantras of the Mindroling monastery in Tibet. The first structure was built here in 1701 by Choezang, who served as the Trongsa Chamberlain, and the site now provides a venue for both social and religious community gatherings.

After your visit, enjoy a hot shower, a hot stone bath and a locally-sourced organic dinner at the campsite.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 21 kilometres (13.05 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 728 metres (2,389 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,425 metres (7,956 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,276 metres (7,468 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,460 metres (8,071 feet)

Day 6

Tshangkha – Trongsa

Elevation      Weather in Trongsa

After breakfast at your camp, head back out onto the Trail for the short, steep climb out of Tshangkha, past the Ugyen Choling and Tshangkha Sheydra. The Trail then drops back down towards the National Highway, which it crosses at the Trongsa viewpoint.

Trongsa is Bhutan’s geographical center point and is very closely linked to the Bhutanese Royal Family: the first two hereditary Kings ruled from Trongsa Dzong (fortress) and the crown prince still traditionally serves as the Penlop (Governor) of Trongsa before acceding to the throne. The Trans Bhutan Trail still passes directly through the middle of the city of Trongsa and, in centuries gone by, the Trail would actually have passed right through Trongsa Dzong itself. Today you will recreate the experience of arriving at this powerful city on foot in the same way the garps (messengers) would have done centuries ago, as you descend into the steep valley below the viewpoint, enjoying spectacular views of the Dzong (fortress) on the opposite side. At the bottom of the valley, you will cross the old cantilever bridge over the Mangde River before heading up the other side of the valley and arriving at the Trongsa Dzong (fortress) via the Western gate.

The remainder of the day will be at leisure to relax, before enjoying dinner with your guide at a local restaurant in the early evening.

Accommodation: Yangkhill Resort or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 15.9 kilometres (9.88 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,421 metres (4,662 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,276 metres (7,468 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,375 metres (7,792 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 2,491 metres (8,173 feet)

Day 7

Trongsa – Geytsa

Elevation      Weather in Trongsa

After breakfast at your hotel, bid farewell to Trongsa and board a private vehicle eastbound towards the mountain pass at Yotongla, where you will rejoin the Trans Bhutan Trail. From Yotongla, the Trail descends through meadows and open forest until it meets the Geytsa River. The last four kilometers (2.49 miles) or so of today’s hike will be a pleasant riverside walk towards Geytsa.

After arriving in Geytsa, you will have the chance to visit the home of a family in the nearby community of Chhumey. There, you will learn about the ancient art of weaving with yak wool, before visiting a local handicraft center.

On arrival back at your campsite in Geytsa, enjoy a hot shower, a hot stone bath and a locally-sourced organic dinner.

Accommodation: Signature TBT Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 9.5 kilometres (5.9 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 4 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (164 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,425 metres (11,237 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,891 metres (9,485 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,425 metres (11,237 feet)

Day 8

Geytsa – Bumthang

Elevation      Weather in Bumthang

After breakfast at camp this morning, head out on to a historic section of the Trail which would traditionally have been used by the Royal family when they transferred between Trongsa and Bumthang or Bumthang and Kuenga Rabten, where His Majesty the Second King had his summer residence. From Geytsa, the Trail rises through pine forests towards the Kikila Pass, where the trail briefly follows the route of the Owl Trek.

From Kiklia, the trail descends gently into the Bumthang Valley, offering spectacular views of Jakar Dzong (fortress) on the way down.

En route, enjoy a picnic lunch and a short visit to Chuchi Lhakhang (temple). Whilst there are no official records of when this temple was built, locals claim that it was one of the 108 temples built across the Himalayan region by King Songsten Gampo in the 10th century.

Time permitting, you may also wish to visit the Bumthang Brewery, producers of Bhutan’s celebrated Red Panda Beer. Nearby is Bhutan’s only commercial cheese factory. Both the brewery and the cheese factory are legacies of a Swiss-run development project called Swiss Farm, which introduced distinctive European farming and production techniques into the Bumthang area.

Dinner this evening will be at a local restaurant with your guide.

Accommodation: Jakar Village Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 17.5 kilometres (10.88 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 847 metres (2,779 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,891 metres (9,485 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,574 metres (8,445 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,544 metres (11,628 feet)

Day 9

Bumthang – Phomdrong

Elevation      Weather in Bumthang

After breakfast at your hotel, head east out of Bumthang, climbing towards the Lhodrak Karchu Monastery and enjoying spectacular views over Chamkhar town and the Babzur Valley as you go. Pay a visit to the monastery, which is one of the most important in Bhutan. It is believed to have been founded in 1984 by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche, a descendent of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage can be traced back to one of the close disciples of the great Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava. Originally, the two-story monastery was large enough to accommodate 70 monks, but has since grown considerably and is now home to over 400. The building houses a huge assembly hall with imposing statues of Guru Rinpoche and a beautiful terrace with breathtaking views of the Chhokhor Valley and Jakar Dzong.

The Trail begins to descend as you reach the village of Babzur and continue towards the Pema Choling Nunnery. Women and girls who enrol here follow a nine-year course in the Nyingma Peling Buddhist tradition and are known for a particular drum ceremony known as “chod”.

After your visit to the nunnery, the Trail continues south towards the sacred Mebartsho (the Burning Lake), where, in the 15th century, the great treasure hunter Pema Lingpa is said to have discovered several of Guru Rinpoche’s hidden treasures. Lingpa had a dream in which he was summoned to this particular location on the Tang River and, when he arrived, he saw at the bottom of the river a temple with many doors, one of which was open. He then swam down into a large cave where he was handed a treasure chest by a one-eyed woman. He would later repeat the feat in the presence of the local people and whilst holding a lit butter lamp which did not go out underwater – and it is because of that that this pool was named “burning lake”.

Enjoy a typical Bhutanese lunch at a local farmhouse in the nearby village of Phomdrong. During your visit, your host will show you how to make Bumthap Putha, a special type of buckwheat noodle traditional to the Bumthang region.

This evening, join a local Bhutanese family for a homestay experience at a farmhouse at Phomdrong. Your hosts will prepare a traditional Bhutanese meal for you, which you will enjoy seated on the floor, as is customary in Bhutanese homes.

Accommodation: Basic Farmhouse Homestay
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 15.25 kilometres (9.48 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 840 metres (2,756 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,574 metres (8,445 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,713 metres (8,901 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,109 metres (10,201 feet)

Day 10

Phomdrong – Ura

Elevation      Weather in Thimphu

After breakfast at the homestay, re-join the Trail and head south west towards the town of Ura. The Trail follows the old East-West highway for a short while before cutting back into the rolling countryside, passing fields of buckwheat. Enjoy a picnic lunch near the village of Tangsiji where you will rest before taking on the switchback climb towards the Sheytangla Chorten (stupa) – the views of the Ura valley from here are fantastic. From the Chorten, descend down into the valley towards Ura.

In Ura, visit the Ura Lhakhang (temple). Built in 1982, its main statue is a two-story Guru. According to locals, another, human-size copper Guru housed in the temple was responsible for saving the Valley from the spread of chronic leprosy in the past.

Dinner and overnight will be at a community-run guesthouse.

Accommodation: Signature Trans Bhutan Trail Camping
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 18 kilometres (11.19 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 7 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,182 metres (3,878 feet)
Starting Elevation: 2,713 metres (8,901 feet)
Ending Elevation: 3,139 metres (10,299 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,576 metres (11,733 feet)

Day 11

Ura – Bumthang

Elevation      Weather in Bumthang

After breakfast, board a private vehicle for a transfer back towards Bumthang. On arrival in Bumthang, visit the Jambay Lhakhang (temple), which is said to be one of the 180 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo on a single day, to pin down an ogress to earth forever.

Also visit the majestic Jakar Dzong (fortress), also known as the ‘Castle of the White Bird’. This huge structure dominates the Chamkhar Valley and the town below it. It was built in 1549 by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk and was Eastern Bhutan’s main defensive stronghold. Later, it became the seat of the First King of Bhutan. Unique features include its 50 metre utse (tower) and a sheltered passage with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which guaranteed the fortress’s inhabitants access to water during a siege.

Dinner this evening will be with your guide at a local restaurant. 

On arrival at the campsite, enjoy a hot shower, a hot stone bath and a locally-sourced organic dinner.

Accommodation: Jakar Village Lodge (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 11.9 kilometres (7.4 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,024 metres (3,360 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,139 metres (10,299 feet)
Ending Elevation: 3,472 metres (11,392 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,878 metres (12,724 feet)

Day 12

Bumthang – Punakha

Elevation      Weather in Punakha

After breakfast at your hotel, board your vehicle for a transfer from Bumthang to Punakha. En route, stop in the town of Trongsa. Enjoy a tour of Trongsa Dzong (fortress), which was first built by Ngagi Wangchuck as a small meditation room in 1541, after he discovered self-manifested hoof-prints belonging to the deity Pelden Lhamo on the same spot. Trongsa, which means ‘new village’ in the local dialect, soon sprung up around the site. The Dzong (fortress) was built in its present form in 1644 and then enlarged again at the end of the 17th century. It is home to some 450 district monks who spend their winters in Trongsa and their summers in Bumthang. You will visit a selection of the Dzong’s 23 lhakhangs (temples), before heading to the Trongsa Ta Dzong (watchtower), which now houses the interesting Royal Heritage Museum.

On arrival in Punakha, there may be some time for sightseeing, including a tour of the Dzong (fortress), which was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in around 1637 at the confluence of the Phochhu (male river) and the Mochhu (female river). Arguably, it is the most beautiful Dzong in the country. The Dzong guards Bhutan’s most treasured relic, the Rangjung Kharsapani, an image of Chenresig kept away from the public in the utse (tower). It has survived Tibetan invasions, numerous fires, floods and a glacial lake burst. The Dzong served as the capital and seat of the Bhutanese Government until the early 1950s; and the coronation of His Majesty the First Druk, Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck, took place here. The building currently serves as the winter residence for the monastic body.

Dinner will be with your guide in a local restaurant in Punakha.

Accommodation: Zhingkham Resort or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D

Day 13

Punakha – Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast at your hotel, head west along the National Highway once more. You will make a stop at the Dochula Pass, where you will rejoin the Trans Bhutan Trail for one last walk down towards Thimphu. Below Dochula, the Trail passes through dense forest and across meadows as far as Hongtsho, were it begins to traverse orchards, strawberry fields, and market gardens. When you reach Simtokha, visit Simtokha Dzong (fortress), said to be the first dzong in Bhutan built to house both administrative and monastic residents. It is also the oldest dzong to have survived as a complete structure. The Dzong boasts many fine murals, carvings and tapestries, a three-storey utse (tower), and a number of chapels.

From Simtokha, continue by vehicle to Paro, where you will check in at your hotel before heading out for dinner with your guide.

Accommodation: Tushita Eco Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 15.5 kilometres (9.63 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 5 hours
Elevation Gain: 170 metres (558 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,100 metres (10,171 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,318 meters (7,605 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,180 meters (10,433 feet)

Day 14

Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast this morning, head northwest out of Paro by private vehicle for a visit to the iconic Taktshang Goemba, more commonly known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’. Precariously perched on a sheer cliff face 900 metres (2,950 feet) above the Paro Valley floor, the Tiger’s Nest is undoubtedly Bhutan’s most famous religious building. It is built on the site where Guru Rinpoche is said to have arrived on the back of a tigress when he came to subdue the local demon, Singye Samdrup. After subduing the demon, Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated in a cave here for three whole months.

The Monastery is only accessible by foot via a one and a half to two hour hike up the valley side. The trek offers spectacular views from the ridge and passes a small chorten, a basic monastery, and a waterfall on its way.

Once you have reached the Tiger’s Nest, you will have a chance to visit the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated, as well as the extensive network of Lhakhangs (chapels) which house images, murals, chortens, and a holy spring. You may also wish to make a diversion to the attractive Machig-phu Lhakhang (temple) on the way back down to the access road.

After the visit, you will head back to your hotel in Paro, where you will be able to relax for the remainder of the day or do some last-minute shopping for souvenirs.

In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with your guide at a nearby restaurant.

Accommodation: Tushita Eco Lodge or similar (3*)
Meals: B,L,D

Day 15

Paro

Elevation      Weather in Paro

After breakfast this morning, you will be transferred to the airport for your international departure flight.

Meals: B

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