This trip combines the best trekking and cultural elements into one trip so that you get the most out of your experience in Bhutan. Hike the Ancient Trail in central Bhutan and visit areas rarely seen by foreign travelers. Gaze in awe at the towering Himalayan peaks that surround you, including some of the tallest unclimbed peaks in the world! Authenticity is the focus on this tour, and you will have the opportunity to interact closely with locals in many small communities along the way. The villagers are hospitable and delighted to open their homes to you. All meals along the trek are home grown, organic, and sourced locally from the villages. Explore Buddhist monasteries, temples and stupas – structures built along the ancient trails to safeguard travelers. Tour the capital city, which houses museums and fortresses dedicated to preserving the history of Bhutan. Visit the Bunthang and Paro Valleys to tour the national museum and world-famous monastaries. If you only plan on travelling to Bhutan once in your lifetime, this itinerary makes the most of your time and provides an unforgettable cultural and trekking experience.
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Day 1: This morning, board your flight from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan. Weather permitting, it is possible to see the stunning peaks of the Eastern Himalaya, including Kangchenjunga (28,000ft) – the third highest mountain in the world, and Jomolhari (24,000ft) in Bhutan. Upon completing immigration formalities and obtaining Visas, we will be met by our Bhutanese guide and driver. We will drive to the capital city of Thimpu (about 1 hour’s drive). After checking in at the hotel, we will visit some of the museums and sights in the capital city. (Meals Included: D)
Day 2: This morning, we will drive over the Dochula pass at 10,000 feet to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. The Punakha Dzong, sits at the confluence of the Mo (female) and Po (male) rivers. Built by Zhabdrung in 1637, his remains are still preserved there. The Central Monk Body moves here each winter due to its warmer climate. After lunch we will visit the Dzong and the village of Punakha and if time permits, hike 45 minutes to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten overlooking the valley below. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 3: Head further to the hidden valley of Phobjikha (70 km; 3 Hours Driving) This is the winter home to the very rare Black Neck cranes and the largest private monastery in the country. The Cranes are on the endangered species and there are only about 800 surviving in the world. They fly to Tibet for the summer and return to Bhutan from November through February. We will stop by the Crane Information Center to learn all about these endangered birds. The Phobjikha valley offers opportunities for a number of wonderful day hikes. On the way back to the hotel, we will visit the Gangtey Monastery. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 4: The drive today takes about 4 hours (125 km) crossing over the Pele la pass at 11, 000 feet. The town of Trongsa is small but significant in the past due to its central location and the trade route. En route one can stop by the Chendebji Chorten – another large stupa. This was to be a replica of the Boudnath Chorten in Nepal, but the architect had the image drawn on a radish and when the radish dried and shrank so did the scales and thus the stupa is smaller than the original. With Austrian assistance, the watch tower has been converted to a museum and has a wonderful collection of items showcasing Bhutan’s History and the short documentary on the history of Bhutan is a must. A visit to the magnificent Trongsa Dzong dominating this little town is also included. (Meals Included: B, L, D)
Day 5: After breakfast, we begin our trek! We drive 30 minutes to the Trek point (7,500 ft) From this point, all our gear will be carried by pack animals and we will meet our staff accompanying us on the trek for the next few days. Looking back from here, the magnificent Trongsa Dzong looms in the background and gives the valley a very dramatic effect. An hour of hiking bring us to the Sembji village. Tea will be served in the house of a local farmer. The trail leads over fairly plain terrain for about 30 minutes before the climb of 1 and half hour begins. At the end of this climb, we arrive at the Golebji chorten where lunch awaits us. After lunch, hike another 10 minutes till you arrive at the Dhemlay La Pass at 10,000’. Great views of the surrounding Nubchutey areas are visible from the pass. From here trek another 2 hours to the Kasiphey monastery, where on the grounds, we have our camps. The Gangtey Trulku, the ninth incarnation of the famous Saint Pema Lingpa, built this temple and gifted it to the villages. There are about 35 monks housed here. (Trekking Distance: 7 miles, 5-6 hours) (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 6: This morning, the hike descends downhill gradually till you get to the Trispang village. From here a 10 minutes climb takes you to a farmhouse where we will break for tea and meet with the family. Resuming the hike for an hour and half brings you to a steep gradient in the landscape, climbing which, you arrive at the camp site in the vicinity of the Drongthang temple. This afternoon there are various activities planned and much interaction with the village folks. Some of the activities include the following:
- Pounding of rice separating the husk from the grain
- Traditional tea ceremony
- Participate in the making of the village ‘moonshine’ drinks. Very popular and known as ‘Ara’
- Q and A session with the village elders
(Trekking Distance: 7 miles, 5-6 hours) (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 7: A well-deserved rest day! Spend the morning exploring the neighboring hamlet of Mangdephu, located at the source of the Mangdi river and considered a lost Shangrila of the Guru Padmasambhava. Visiting this area, one can understand and get a sense of the Lost World. The current family and extended family members who live there are descendants of the prominent Bemji family further down the valley, which we will visit later.
Various activities have been planned today for those interested in taking part. These include plowing the field with the farmer, milking the cows with the ladies of the house, churning butter, and sharing some down time with them playing indigenous sports such as ‘Khuru’: darts, ‘Soksum’: javelin etc.
A Typical local traditional lunch will be served at one of the houses, after these activities. Return back to camp after lunch. The entire excursion will take about 5 hours. In the evening, in keeping with typical Bhutanese hospitality, the villagers of about 30 households will turn out to receive you all, in a traditional welcome followed by several cultural shows. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 8: We take it easy today breaking camp only at 9 AM. After a 2-hour steep uphill climb, we reach the 300 year old Doksephey monastery. A meeting with the head monk of the monastery can be arrange and perhaps a Q and A session. Lunch will be served on the lawns of the newly renovated temple. The statue of the Buddha is a replica of the ‘Jowo’ in Lhasa, Tibet. Next, en route to our campsite, a visit the quaint village Bemji comprising of 25 households. Bemji has an interesting history: Some believe, that one of the sons of the Great Tibetan dharma King Trisong Deutsen settled here, after being exiled from Tibet in the 8thcentury. The manor house that is beautifully renovated is one of the finest examples of traditional Manor Houses of the old.
On returning to camp, an archery demo in the afternoon has been planned. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, so naturally most boys grow up playing this game, and occupy their weekends enjoying a match or two. They would love for you to participate in their demo. The camping grounds also has a natural spring, whose waters are medicinal. This evening there is an offer to soak in the traditional and popular hot wooden tub using the waters of the natural spring, heated by red – hot stones that have been sitting on a fire for hours. This is managed by the locals and considered good for joints, skin has medicinal qualities, as well as for its fragrance.
(Trekking distance: 8 miles, 6-7 hours) (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 9: Today, we hike down hill, Lunch served at trek end point at Bjizam. Here our vehicles await us and we drive to Bumthang (2 hours) for the night.
(Trekking distance: 7 miles, 5-6 hours) (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 10: This morning we explore the sacred and beautiful valley of Bumthang. For many travelers, Bumthang is a must, due to its many temples, monasteries and caves and sites associated with the Guru Padmasmbhava. The Guru first came to Bhutan on the invitation of a local ruler of Bumthang. Wonderful stories have been stored over the ages, and each site has a tale and magical feel to it. Some of our stops will include:
- The Tamshing temple. Founded in 1501 by Terton Pemalingpa, “the treasure discoverer.” Pemalingpa was a famous 14th-century Saint, who is one of Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist saints. Bumthang has numerous places associated with him.
- Next a visit to Membartsho, the “burning lake,” a sacred place associated with Pemalingpa. Legend has it that Pemalingpa, was instructed to retrieve a ter, or hidden treasure, and jumped into the pool, holding a lit butter lamp and returned with texts and treasures and the lit lamp.
- From the lake a short drive will take you to the Pemacholing Nunnery. The nuns here are famous for their powerful drum ceremony ‘Choed’ which is beautifully performed and very moving.
- The Jambey Lhakhang (temple) another of the oldest temples in Bhutan. It is said to be one of the 108 temples built b the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 1659 AD, IN A SINGLE DAY, to pin down a menacing Ogress. This temple is believed to be built on her knee. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 11: This morning, fly back to Paro from Bumthang (45 minutes flight). After check in we continue with our tour of the Paro valley. Bhutan’s Dzongs are a center for both the civil and religious activities. The impressive watchtower sits atop the hill overlooking the valley below. It also houses the National Museum. Next a visit to the Kyichu monastery, one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan (the other being Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang) built by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. This is also part of the 108 temples he built. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 12: This morning we drive from our hotel to the road point to begin our hike to one of the most scared of the Buddhist sites. Taktsang Lhakhang, the Tiger’s Nest. This magical monastery clings to a vertical cliff 2000 feet above the valley floor. Legend has it that the Guru Rinpoche, arrived here on the back of a tiger and subdued the evil spirits of the region. Singye Samdrup, is the guardian of Taktsang.
After about one hour, we reach a small teahouse with wonderful views of the monastery, and if we proceed further for another hour, we get to the monastery. Alternatively for those not wanting to proceed further, the teahouse provides a wonderful alternative for rest. We believe in saving the best for the last and visiting Taktsang is an experience of a lifetime. (Meals: B, L, D)
Day 13: Your guide and driver will accompany you to the airport and bid their farewells here. Your journey to Bhutan comes to an end today. We wish you a safe journey back home. (Meals: B)
Note: Itinerary is subject to change depending on weather, trail and course conditions, travel, health and wellbeing of the trip participants, and interests of the group.
T-shirts (avoid cotton)
Long sleeve shirts
Long underwear top and bottom
Fleece jacket or wool sweater
Down or synthetic “puffy” jacket
Waterproof/breathable jacket and pants
Underwear (again, no cotton)
Warm, casual clothing for travel and around camp
Sun hat with brim
Warm Ski hat
Warm, waterproof gloves
Hiking shoes/boots – Waterproof, supportive and already broken in
Shoes for around camp
Gaiters (optional, but good for mud)
Hiking socks (avoid cotton)
Sock liners (optional)
Day Pack (15-30L) with rain cover
Packable Pillow (optional)
Water bottles (2-3) and/or a Hydration reservoir (2-3 liters)
Small multi-tool or pocket knife
Headlamp or flashlight
Camera, film, tripod (optional)
Extra batteries for headlamp, camera, other electronics
Bandanas or Buff
Book notebook, journal, pencil or pen
Personal first-aid kit and medication
Trail snacks (optional, plenty of snacks will be provided but many hikers prefer to bring protein bars since the Bhutanese diet is low in protein)
Several Ziploc plastic bags for trash
Quick-dry Pack Towel
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Soap and/or shampoo
Handi-wipes (moist towelettes for cleaning)
Personal toiletry items
Sun block and lip balm
- Round trip airfare from Bangkok-Bhutan-Bangkok
- Airfare from Bumthang to Paro
- All hotel accommodations as mentioned in the itinerary
- All meals, tea and snacks throughout the trip
- All ground transportation in comfortable minivans/minibuses
- Local expert guide(s), english-speaking driver, and U.S-based BWA trip host
- Entry fees into museums and other institutions
- All government sustainability taxes and minimum mandated daily tariff
- All camping gear and services, plus a full trekking crew (including pack mules)
- Visa application fee and service
International airfare to/from Bangkok
Alcoholic Beverages or other beverages/snacks that you may choose to bring
Personal Gear and Clothing
Personal services like massage, laundry, etc.
Gratuities to guides/staff
During the trek, all food served is organic, home-grown, and sourced locally from the villages. This provides an opportunity for our guests to experience truly local cuisine, which adds to the authenticity and cultural elements of the trip. Special dietary considerations can usually be accommodated with advance notice.
We stay at 4-star lodges wherever they are available, and 3-star lodges whenever a 4-star lodge is not available. During the trekking portion of the trip, high quality 4-season tents, 0-degree sleeping bags, and insulated sleeping pads are provided.
This trip should not be undertaken if you have any health conditions which may put you at risk. Participants will be required to obtain a physician’s release signature stating that you are in good physical health. Should you require any medication whatsoever, you must provide your own and be able to administer it yourself. In the event of an accident, illness, or injury, evacuation may be slow and expensive. We highly recommend supplemental travel insurance.
American tourists must obtain a Visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan. Once you put down your deposit, we will facilitate your Visa application process and obtain your Visa clearance letter for your through the TCB (Tourism Counsel of Bhutan). At point of entry into Bhutan you will be required to show your Visa clearance letter. The official Visa will then be stamped into your passport. U.S. passports must be valid for 6 months after departure from Bhutan and have a minimum of 1 full blank page available for stamping.
FROM OUR TRAVELERS
“Thanks for being the best guide ever. Your encouragement, concern, and professionalism has made this trip a truly wonderful experience. I wish you all he very best in all that you do and hope to see you soon. “
“I hope this weekend goes as well as last week. You, Joe and Billy were excellent hosts and instructors. I had a wonderful time. Thanks again for all your patient coaching and kind words. “
“Thank you for offering such an amazing life experience. From the beginning with Joe and Mike’s emails, to the store’s support on outfitting, to the actual trip, it was an overall very positive experience. I highly recommend this trip to those with a passion for wanting the challenge of this mountain.”