Introducing Royal Manas National Park
After years of being off-limits due to security concerns this remote and enticing national park is now open to visitors. The park is little known, even among agents in Thimphu and facilities are still limited: only 27 foreigners visited in 2011.
The park's forests are home to a wide variety of animals, including elephants, water buffalos, leopards, between 30 and 50 tigers, clouded leopard, civets, rhinoceros and 350 species of birds. The park abuts the Manas National Park in Indian Assam, forming a transnational conservation area.
Tourism is very much in its infancy here. Agencies can arrange jeep and elephant safaris from the central Manas camp ranger office, as well as boat trips down the Manas between Panbang and Manas camp. November to March are the best months to visit. There are several tsechu festivals in the region in the 10th Bhutanese month (November).
Access is still tricky as there are few roads into the park. Perhaps the best way to experience the park is to make the three- or four-day hike from Gomphu (1460m) to Panbang, overnighting in community-managed campground at Pangtang (240m), Shillingtoe (420m), Changzam bridge and Pangbang river junction (160m). Expect to walk between four and six hours per day. All campgrounds have toilets, water and twin log cabins. Gomphu is itself a three-hour drive from Zhemgang and boasts a lhakhang, a cremation site and the Duenmang Tshachhu hot spring (a two-hour walk away). A new road shadows the trek route, but a lack of bridges across the Mangde Chhu means there is currently little traffic.
The easiest road access to Pangbang village is actually from Mathanguri in India, just a short boat ride across the Manas River from Manas camp. A little-used 25km road leads from Gelephu to Kanamakra at the southwestern corner of the park and there is also a road entering the park from Nganglam in the east. Depending on your itinerary you may need double-entry Indian and Bhutanese visas, so check with your agent.