There are numerous opportunities to leave the vehicle for a day and stretch your legs. You won't regret organising a day hike, particularly if you are moving quickly between regions. There are also more serious treks, ranging from three to 24 days.

Bird-Watching

Bhutan is rightly celebrated for its wintering populations of the vulnerable black-necked crane, but with over 600 recorded bird species and a spectacular range of habitats, this tiny country is a birdwatchers' paradise.

Although these companies specialise in birdwatching tours, Bhutan's plentiful mature forests and lack of hunting makes any travel a bird-spotting opportunity.

Bhutan Birding & Heritage Travels

Sunbird Tours

Wings

Fishing

Fishing with lure or fly for brown trout is possible in many rivers, though it is frowned upon by many Bhutanese for religious reasons. A licence (Nu 500 per day) is required (ask your tour agency) and fishing is prohibited within 1km of a monastery, temple, dzong or shedra (Buddhist college). A closed season applies from October to December and fishing is banned on many religious days throughout the year. A legendary game fish of subcontinent rivers, the golden mahseer, is considered threatened in Himalayan rivers because of habitat destruction, dam building and pollution. Although Bhutan has been relatively free from the type of development that threatens natural river ecosystems, the recent surge in hydro-power developments has scientists and anglers concerned.

Yangphel Adventure Travel operates fly-fishing tours and encourages a 'catch and release' approach.

Golf

The international-standard golf course, Royal Thimphu Golf Club, in Thimphu, is open to nonmembers.

Cycling

Mountain biking is popular with Bhutanese and expats alike. Tour companies that specialise in cycling tours, have bikes for hire and can advise on routes include Yu-Druk Bicycle and Bhutan Biking Tour. Internationally, check out Bhutan By Bike. Some adventure-travel companies organise trips that allow bikers to bring their own cycles and travel throughout Bhutan accompanied by a support vehicle; otherwise local mountain-bike hire costs an extra US$30 per day.

Long journeys are challenging because there's a lot of uphill peddling and approaching vehicles roar around corners, not expecting cyclists. Local cycling excursions in the Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang valleys offer a safer and less-strenuous mountain-biking experience. Suggested places:

Cheli La For a wild ride, get dropped off at the top of this pass and ride 35km nonstop, downhill, either on the main road or on logging roads via Gorina.

Paro valley The paved road to Drukgyel Dzong and the return trip along the unpaved western farm road from Satsam make this a 30km day trip.

Phobjikha Bike trails here are part of the local ecotourism initiative, and there are also new opportunities to follow graded logging roads to Tsele La and overnight to Tikke Zampa.

Punakha Offers several dedicated mountain-bike trails.

Tango and Cheri A fine day trip north of Thimphu, combining biking and hiking.

Thimphu to Paro An interesting ride, though traffic can be heavy as far as Chhuzom (the turn-off to Phuentsholing).

Tour of the Dragon & Dragon's Fury

Bhutan's premier mountain-bike event is the tortuous Tour of the Dragon (www.tourofthedragon.com), a race of 268km from Bumthang to Thimphu in just one day. The course gains 3790m and descends 3950m and crosses four mountain passes on Bhutan's famously winding roads. The tour takes place on the first Saturday in September and international registration costs US$250. If all that sounds a little too extreme, there is the gentler Dragon's Fury, a mere 60km doddle ascending 1740m from Metshina to Dochu La before the roll down to Thimphu. It's run on the same day as the Tour of the Dragon and international registration costs US$100.

Rafting & Kayaking

Though the rafting scene in Bhutan is still developing, those who have scouted the rivers feel that it has great potential.

Small groups of paddlers have been exploring 14 rivers and over 22 different runs that vary from class II (beginner with moderate rapids) to class V (expert only). However, unless you are a seasoned river rat, and can organise the special permission required, there are essentially only two day trips on offer: the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu, both in the Punakha valley.

Most companies can book you on either of these trips. The fees depend on the group size: five or more US$75 per person; less than five US$375 per raft. The following companies run rafting and kayaking trips.

Northwest Rafting Company US-based operator with a four-day trip on the Drangme Chhu in Eastern Bhutan.

Druk Rafting Service

Lotus Adventures

Xplore Bhutan

Trekking

Why Go?

Almost two-thirds of Bhutan still lies beyond the reach of any road. Composed of rugged Himalayan summits, high passes, pristine forests, turquoise lakes, rolling yak pastures, traditional villages and a healthy sprinkling of exotic wildlife from hornbills to snow leopards, this is perhaps one of the world's best-preserved (and least-explored) landscapes.

Bhutan offers a wide range of treks, from tough high-altitude expeditions to the base camps of snowcapped Himalayan giants to relaxing community-based village trails linked by subtropical forest. And with walks ranging from two days to one month, there's a trek for everyone.

Perhaps the best part of all is that you can trust your Bhutanese tour agent, guide and cook to take charge of every conceivable camping chore, leaving you to simply relax, enjoy the trail and soak up the extraordinary scenery. Shangri-La indeed.

Best Views

Best Cultural Sights

Top Tips

  • You'll enjoy your trek much more if you are in decent physical shape, so spend a month or more beforehand doing some training hikes and breaking in your trekking shoes.
  • During the day you won't have access to your main bag on a trek, so always carry the following items in your daypack: sun hat, rain shell, spare T-shirt, camera, MP3 player, fleece, water bottle and purification, and trail bars.
  • For the same reason always have the following emergency items on your person: toilet paper, blister kit, sunscreen, first-aid kit, headache tablets, acetazolamide (Diamox), whistle and torch.
  • You won't find much electricity on longer treks so consider a solar-charging device such as a Solio (www.solio.com). During particularly cold nights keep your batteries in your sleeping bag to stop them from draining.

Health & Safety

Trekking in Bhutan involves trudging over innumerable ascents and descents, which gets more strenuous with altitude gain. You'll enjoy the trek much more if you do some training before coming. Walk up and down hills or inclines as much as possible, breaking in your boots in the process. Try carrying a backpack to increase the strength training associated with walking or jogging.

One thing to watch out for is sore or inflamed knees caused by the mild trauma repeated thousands of times on a trekking descent. Anti-inflammatory pills are helpful, as are walking poles and specialised knee supports.

Bring a good pair of polarising sunglasses to prevent snow blindness over snowy passes and bring two water bottles to help ensure you stay hydrated.

People aged over 45 often worry about altitude and potential heart problems. Relax. There's no evidence that altitude is likely to bring on previously undiagnosed heart disease. If you can exercise to your maximum at home, you should not have an increased risk while trekking. However, if you have a known heart disease and your exercise is already limited by symptoms at low altitude, consult an experienced doctor before committing yourself to a trek.

It's a good idea to have a dental checkup well before arriving in Bhutan. Bring antibiotics and pain killers in case you have a tooth infection while on a trek.

When on the trail remember to always give way to yaks and mules and always stand on the upper or hill side of a trail when livestock are passing. It's not unknown for trekkers to get shoved off a ledge by a pushy mule.

Losing Your Way

Since you are escorted by a licensed guide familiar with the lie of the land, it's unlikely that you'll get lost in the hills. However, this has happened to trekkers in the past, so tread with caution. Never stray from your group, and keep an eye out for signs while you trek. Watch for the boot prints of other trekkers or for arrows carved into the trail or marked on rocks by guides. Hoof prints and dung of pack animals can confirm that you are on track. On a major trekking route, the trail is usually well defined, although there may be a few confusing short cuts. If you find yourself descending when the trail should be going up, if the trail vanishes, or if you suddenly find yourself alone ahead of the rest of your party, stop and wait for the other trekkers and guides to catch up. If you noticed a trail junction some distance back, retrace your steps to try to find where you went wrong.

Rescue

Trekking entails a certain amount of risk, and there's always a possibility of courting illness or injury. However, do not panic, as it only makes things worse. Assess the incident with a clear mind before making a decision, without jumping to conclusions. Suspected broken bones may only be bruises, a fever may subside overnight, and a dazed person may wake up and be all right in a few hours. In most areas, horses or yaks will be available to help ferry a sick or injured trekker.

Sometimes, however, the seriousness of the situation may call for immediate evacuation. In this case, the only option is to request a helicopter, since land evacuation may be near impossible. Fortunately, this is a reasonably simple process, but once you ask for a helicopter, you will be charged up to US$10,000 per hour, depending on weather conditions, your exact location and the number of rescue attempts made by the chopper. Your guide and agent will make arrangements. The Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service based at Paro airport now offers emergency evacuations, as well as sightseeing flights, so helicopters no longer need to come from India.

Bhutan Telecom also provides satellite phones using the Thuraya system, which allows direct dialling from anywhere in the country, even on a trek. Some tour operators rent satellite phones to trekkers, though the charges are steep.

Trek Routes

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) sanctions around two dozen official trekking routes across the country. Moreover, new routes and variations are popping up all the time. Many routes can be trekked in the reverse direction, logistics permitting.

In recent years road construction has taken a real toll on trekking routes and several former routes such as the Gangte trek and Samtengang winter trek are no longer recommended. You'll have to check with your agent to see how road construction is affecting your proposed route and which new routes are fully functioning.

Understanding Route Descriptions

Some treks that follow old trade routes are seldom used by people today. Since there is usually no one around to ask for directions, you need to stay reasonably close to your guide or horsemen to ensure you are on the correct path.

Daily Stages

Route descriptions are divided into daily stages, and give an estimate of the number of days required for each trek. The stages are marked by campsites designated by TCB, and the rules state that you must camp at these places, although alternate campsites are sometimes identified.

Before you start out, make sure you have a detailed itinerary, including rest days, worked out in advance. While discussing the trek with your staff, be careful to ensure that everyone agrees on the places where you will camp. In the past, horsemen have sometimes set off for a campsite beyond the expected stage, leaving trekkers stranded in the wilderness. Besides, some Bhutanese trekking staff have a rather relaxed approach to schedules, and late morning starts are common – often resulting in arrivals at camp after dark.

Times & Distances

The route descriptions list approximate daily walking times, based on personal experience and information produced by TCB. The estimates are 'tourist times', factoring in a leisurely pace with plenty of breaks and sightseeing. Bhutanese horsemen and over-enthusiastic trekkers can reduce walking times considerably. The distances shown are those published by TCB. They are estimates and have not been determined by any more empirical method of measurement.

Rest Days

The route descriptions are based on a reasonable number of days needed to complete the trek. You will enjoy the trek more if you add the occasional day for rest, acclimatisation or exploration – even at the cost of an extra US$250.

Our Maps

Our maps are based on the best available maps of each region. To make them legible, only useful villages and landmarks are marked. The maps show elevations for peaks and passes only. Trails and roads follow the general direction indicated on the maps; small switchbacks and sharp twists are not marked.

Altitude Measurements

The elevations given are composites, based on measurements with an altimeter or GPS and checked against maps. There is no definitive list of elevations or names of peaks and passes in Bhutan, and various maps and publications differ significantly. In most cases, peak elevations are those defined in the mountain database produced by the Alpine Club in Britain. All other elevations are rounded to the nearest 10m.

Directions & Place Names

Bhutan is a complex maze of valleys and rivers that wind around in unexpected twists and turns. It is, therefore, difficult to define the exact compass direction of a river at a particular spot. So instead of referring to north or south banks, the slightly technical 'river right' or 'river left' have been used. This refers to the right or left side of the river as you face downstream, which is not necessarily the direction you are walking. In the route descriptions, right and left in reference to a river always refers to river right or river left.

Several mountains and places in the descriptions do not match names in other descriptions or maps of the same route. The variance occurs because most maps were made before the Dzongkha Development Commission produced its guidelines for Romanised Dzongkha. We use the Romanised Dzongkha standards for all place names in Bhutan.

Route Descriptions

Druk Path Trek

The Druk Path is the most popular trek in Bhutan, with around 1200 trekkers tackling it every year. The main draws are the monasteries, the alpine scenery, its convenient length, and the compelling sense of journey that comes from walking between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan's most popular destinations.

The trek is possible from late February to May and from September to December, although snow sometimes closes the route in late autumn and early spring. Afternoon showers are common in April and May. Days are normally warm, but nights can be very cold and you should always be prepared for snow. Avoid the monsoon season of July and August. It is possible to shorten the trek to five days: for a five-day trek, simply combine days four and five. If you're a masochist, you can even race through the trek in a single day: an old punishment for Bhutanese soldiers was a forced one-day march along this route.

Some agencies offer a shortened version of this trail called the Tsaluna trek, which descends to Tsaluna village and trailhead from either Jangchu Lakha (four days) or Jimilang Tsho (five days). Some agencies go straight from Jeli Dzong to Tsaluna and then hike on to Phajoding and Thimphu for a four-day option, but you miss the best of the alpine scenery.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 6 days

Max Elevation 4235m

Difficulty Medium

Season February to May, September to December

Start Paro Ta Dzong

Finish Motithang

Access Towns Paro, Thimphu

Summary This popular trek follows a wilderness trail past remote lakes and a famous meditation retreat. Trekking days are short but the relatively high altitudes make it moderately strenuous.

Day 1: National Museum to Jili Dzong

The first day is fairly short but it's all uphill, gaining more than 1000m. Most groups start from a trailhead outside Paro's National Museum at 2470m. The route follows a dirt road for 30 minutes before making the first of many short cuts that avoid the looping road. After 40 minutes, pass Kuenga Choeling Lhakhang at 2650m. A further hour's climb takes you to the stone houses and apple orchards of Damchena (2880m), 10 minutes before a mani (carved stone) wall and campsite in a clearing known as Damche Gom (2985m).

It's then a long, but not steep, climb through forests of golden moss to a herders' camp just before Jili La (3540m). Cross the pass (marked by a cairn and broken chorten) and drop to an excellent camping place in a meadow surrounded by rhododendron forests just below Jili Dzong.

Distance

10km

Time

3½–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

1115m ascent, 40m descent

Day 2: Jili Dzong to Rabana

Today's walk is a short and enjoyable ridge walk, full of short ascents and descents, so there's plenty of time for a morning visit to Jili Dzong. You might see or hear monal pheasants during the day.

From the dzong the route first follows prayer flags and then descends through rhododendrons to a saddle at 3550m, before climbing for 40 minutes to great views of Paro and the Bemang Rong valley. If the weather is clear, look for Jhomolhari and other snow-capped peaks in the distance.

The trail crosses to the east side of the ridge offering views down to Gimena village (look for its large goemba). Climb again and traverse around the west side of a cone-shaped hill to a saddle (3750m) and two clearings, the latter below some prayer flags. Five minutes further is Jangchhu Lakha, a yak pasture at 3760m. From here a lower trail continues 10 minutes to an often-boggy camping spot at Tshokam (3770m). A better option is to take the higher trail for 25 minutes to the yak herders' camp of Rabana (3890m), surrounded by mauve rhododendron forests.

Distance

10km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

425m ascent, 50m descent

Day 3: Rabana to Jimilang Tsho

There are two trails to Jimilang Tsho. Most groups take the high trail (described here) because it offers better views, including (in good weather) Jhomolhari and 6989m Jichu Drakye, the peak representing the protective deity of Paro. The lower trail descends from Tshokham into the upper Bemang Rong valley and then climbs via the yak pasture of Langrithang.

From Rabana a horse trail ascends the ridge diagonally to a viewpoint marked by a lone prayer flag at 3960m. Traverse for 30 minutes to a meadow, then descend through rhododendrons, heading just left of a miniature peak topped with prayer flags. An hour from camp you crest the minor Langye Ja La (Ox Hump Pass) at 4070m. You can climb 50m to the top of the mini-peak for impressive 360-degree views.

The rocky descent is hard on the feet, passing a small herders' shelter by an overhanging rock, and then climbing 80m to a pass for fine views of Jhomolhari. Far below in the Do Chhu valley you can see the yellow roof of Chumpu Ney, a pilgrimage spot famous for its statue of Dorje Phagmo. Five minutes' later you see isolated Jimilang Tsho far below you. Descend to a saddle for lunch and then climb and angle around the ridge to a chorten at 4180m for a final view of Jhomolhari. A steep 30-minute descent leads to the shore of Jimilang Tsho, with pleasant camping five minutes' walk further at the far end of the lake (3885m).

Jimilang Tsho means 'Sand Ox Lake', and was named for a bull that emerged from the lake and joined the cattle of a family that uses the area as a summer grazing ground. The lake is also known for its giant trout, which were introduced in the 1970s.

Distance

11km

Time

4 hours

Ascent & Descent

375m descent, 370m ascent

Day 4: Jimilang Tsho to Simkotra Tsho

The trail climbs from the lower end of the lake through yellow rhododendrons to a ridge at 4010m, traverses the ridge, then descends to a single stone shelter. Following the ridge, you crest at some prayer flags at 4050m overlooking Janye Tsho. Descend to a yak herders' camp near the lake at 3880m before climbing again, veering eventually to the right, to a ridge at 4150m and views of overlooking Simkotra Tsho. Descend to some stone ruins and a camp at 4100m.

Be sure everyone is clear on where to camp on this day. Horse drivers often push to continue over the next ridge to a better camp and grazing land at Labana.

Distance

11km

Time

4 hours

Ascent & Descent

820m ascent, 400m descent

Day 5: Simkotra Tsho to Phajoding

It's a long climb past three false summits, before the trail descends to Labana camping place at 4110m, near a stone hut beside an almost-dry lake. There's a final longish climb to a group of cairns atop Labana La at 4235m. The hill above the trail marks a seldom-used sky burial site. The trail descends gently to crest a minor pass at 4210m. There are views of Dochu La and Jhomolhari along this stretch.

From here the trail descends to a final 4090m pass marked by a chorten. Below sprawls the entire Thimphu valley. Weather permitting, there are views of Gangkhar Puensum and other Himalayan peaks. The main trail descends northeast towards Phajoding Goemba but after 10 minutes, before arriving at Phajoding, it's worth taking the side trail for 20 minutes southeast down to Thujidrak Goemba, a remote meditation centre that clings to the side of a precipitous rock face at 3950m.

The meditation centres and lhakhangs of Phajoding Goemba are scattered across the hillside. A descent on a maze of eroded trails through juniper and rhododendrons leads to a campsite beside the main Jampa Lhakhang at 3640m. Darkness brings the bright city lights far below you and the feeling that you have arrived back at the edge of the world.

Distance

10km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

130m ascent, 680m descent

Day 6: Phajoding to Motithang

This day's trek is all downhill through forest so tie your laces tight and keep your trekking poles handy. A wide trail passes a chorten at 3440m, 40 minutes after which there is a trail junction. The left branch descends via Chhokhortse Goemba to the BBS broadcasting tower at Sangaygang, offering an interesting alternative end to the trek.

The normal route branches right and descends more steeply towards Motithang. There are numerous short cuts, but they all eventually lead to the same place. Pass another chorten at 3070m and descend steeply to a stream, crossing it at 2820m. Climb to a rough road and follow it down to your waiting vehicle.

Distance

4–5km

Time

2½ hours

Ascent & Descent

1130m descent

Jili Dzong

The 15th-century Jili (or Jele) Dzong has long occupied an important site. It was the residence of Ngawang Chhogyel (1465–1540), the cousin of Lama Drukpa Kunley, and the Zhabdrung is said to have meditated here before heading down to Paro to defeat an invading Tibetan army. The impressive main lhakhang contains a large statue of Sakyamuni almost 4m high. One can only wonder what kinds of mischief the resident monks must have perpetrated to warrant banishment to such a high and isolated monastery!

Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek

This trek is off the beaten track; you will probably encounter no other trekkers along the way. It's not particularly demanding (despite a few steep climbs), and most trekking days are short. The route is best walked in April and late September through October. However, snow in the high country can often block out the route, compelling you to return.

It's a 29km drive from Thimphu to the junction of an unpaved road, which crawls up 8km to a Basic Health Unit (BHU) at Khoma, high above the Geynitsang Chhu at 2850m. The trail head lies another 3km ahead at the suspension bridge in Geynizampa.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 5 days

Max Elevation 4520/4720m

Difficulty Medium

Season April, September to October

Start Geynizampa

Finish Chamgang

Access Town Thimphu

Summary A short trek near Thimphu, to a number of lovely, high-altitude lakes (far fewer, however, than the name suggests).

Day 1: Geynizampa to Gur

Crossing the suspension bridge in Geynizampa, the trail turns south along the east side of the Geynitsang Chhu (river left) to a side stream, the Dolungu Chhu. Cross the stream on a log bridge and start uphill on an eroded trail through an oak forest. Currently used only by yak herders, woodcutters and a handful of trekkers, this trail was once a major trading route between Thimphu and Dagana, headquarters of Dagana Dzongkhag. This accounts for the walls, well-crafted stone staircases and other developments along portions of the route.

A long climb leads to an outstanding lookout point at 3220m. The ascent is now gentler, and the trail climbs to the top of the ridge where it makes a hairpin turn at 3350m. The way to the campsite is an inconspicuous path that leads off the trail here, going southward through the forest to Gur, amid yak pastures at 3290m.

Distance

5km

Time

4 hours

Ascent & Descent

550m ascent, 60m descent

Day 2: Gur to Labatamba

Climb back from camp to the main trail and continue gently up the ridge on a wide track. A long, stiff climb through blue pines leads to a rocky outcrop where the vegetation changes to spruces, dead firs and larches. The trail traverses into a side valley, crosses a stream at 3870m and begins a long, gentle climb through scattered birches and rhododendrons, weaving in and out of side valleys and crossing several tiny streams. At Pangalabtsa, a pass marked by cairns at 4250m, there is a spectacular view of the whole Dagala range. This is prime yak country, with numerous herders' camps scattered across the broad Labatamba valley. Descend from the pass to the first herders' hut at 4170m and traverse around the head of a small valley to the main valley floor. Climb beside a stream to Labatamba, a camp at 4300m near Utsho, a beautiful high-altitude tsho with a thriving population of golden trout. The area near the lakes bursts with alpine wildflowers in September. There are numerous other pretty lakes in the vicinity, and you could schedule an extra day here to explore them.

Distance

12km

Time

5 hours

Ascent & Descent

1040m ascent, 110m descent

Day 3: Labatamba to Panka

There are two possible routes ahead, and pack animals will take the lower one. The trail here is undefined (more of a cross-country traverse), and climbs along the western side of the Dajatsho to a saddle at 4520m, with good mountain views. If you want a better view, you could scramble to the top of a 4720m peak to the east. From the pass, the trail descends past several herders' camps before dropping to the Dochha Chhu, rejoining the lower trail at about 4200m. Subsequently, it climbs over three ridges and descends to Panka at 4000m. Water is scarce here during spring, and it may therefore be necessary to descend to an alternative camp 20 minutes' walk below.

Distance

8km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

260m ascent, 520m descent

Day 4: Panka to Talakha

The route leads north to a crest at 4100m, where several trails lead off in different directions. The trail to Talakha climbs steeply up a slate slope to the ruins of a house. From here, it is a long traverse to Tale La at 4180m, which offers a view of the Dagala range and Thimphu, far away to the north. Finally, it's a long descent – first through a mixed forest of spruce, birch, juniper and rhododendron, and then through bamboo – to the goemba at Talakha (3080m). The campsite is near the goemba.

Distance

8km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

180m ascent, 1100m descent

Day 5: Talakha to Chamgang

A dirt road passes just below the goemba, so you can choose to end your trek here. However, it's a rough and bumpy ride to Simtokha Dzong, so unless the road has improved (check with your agency) it's better to walk three hours down the road, taking a few short cuts to avoid switchbacks, and reach Chamgang at 2640m, where you can meet your vehicle. There is an alternative foot trail that leads to Simtokha, but it is steep and eroded, with numerous apple orchard fences standing in the way, and is best avoided.

Distance

6km

Time

3 hours

Ascent & Descent

440m descent

Bumdrak Trek

This short overnight trek has much to recommend it; great views of the Paro valley, gorgeous sunsets over the mountains of Haa, an interesting cliff-face pilgrimage site, little-visited chapels above Taktshang Goemba, the spectacular Tiger's Nest itself and even an excursion to a sky burial site.

The camping accommodation at Bumdrak is the most luxurious in Bhutan, but don't be fooled into thinking that this is an easy stroll. It's all uphill for the first day and all downhill on the second day, taking you up to 4000m, so you have to be in decent shape to enjoy this one.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 2 days

Max Elevation 3900/4100m

Difficulty Medium

Season Mid-February to May, September to November

Start Sangchen Choekor Shedra

Finish Ramthangkha

Access Town Paro

Summary A short but steep hike that gives a top-down perspective on the famous Dragon's Nest.

Day 1: Sangchen Choekor Shedra to Bumdrak

The trek starts from Sangchen Choekor Shedra, at 2900m, after a winding drive that drops you 600m above the valley floor. After visiting the chapels here, follow the trail as it climbs steadily up the ridge for 25 minutes, offering fine views over Paro town, to Rinpung Goemba, a small temple connected to Sangchen Choekhor but often closed.

Continue climbing through blue pine onto the ridge, swinging north through a level section of oak and rhododendron forest until you see Choechotse Lhakhang (3650m), a steep 45-minute climb above you. The lhakhang is the normal lunch spot, offering fine views down the Paro valley. The statue of Denpa here is said to have once saved the valley from a measles epidemic. The caretaker claims the murals are 700 years old.

After lunch the trail climbs briefly up to a set of prayer flags before levelling out to a clearing of larch, silver fir and juniper. Just beyond here is a large pasture and the first views of Bumdrak Lhakhang (3900m) from a collection of prayer flags atop a small knoll. Figure on 1¼ hours here from Choechotse.

The semipermanent campsite lies just below Bumdrak and is the most luxurious in Bhutan, complete with sun loungers, gas heaters and wooden beds. There are fine sunset views over the Haa region and Sikkim beyond.

The cliff-hugging 17th-century hermitage has a fine location, said to have been built on a spot frequented by 100,000 dakinis (bum means '100,000'). The main deity here is Dorje Phagmo, an emanation of Guru Rinpoche's consort Yeshe Tsogyel.

If you have the time and energy, make the optional 45-minute ascent of Namgo La (the 'pass as high as the sky') just behind Bumdrak; the trail starts just behind the campsite. The 4100m peak is crowned by a collection of prayer flags marking a durtoe (sky burial site), where dead babies are brought for sky burial. It's a superbly peaceful place at sunset.

Distance

7km

Time

4 hours

Ascent & Descent

960m ascent

Day 2: Bumdrak to Taktshang Parking Lot

Day two is all downhill and can be tough on the knees. Depending on how your agent has arranged the trek you may have to carry your own gear today, so check with your guide. After 30 minutes or so of descent make use of a conveniently located seat to pause and take a final look back at Bumdrak.

From Bumdrak it's a relentlessly downhill 60-minute walk beneath larch and silver pines to Yoselgang, the 'Shining Summit', at 3300m, where you can take a breather on the monks' deck chairs before visiting the surrounding chapels.

It's a further 10 minutes to the nearby Ugyen Tshemo Lhakhang, at 3300m, then a further 15 minutes to the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, with its fantastic views down to Taktshang Goemba, a further 20 minutes away at around 3000m. Between Ugyen Tshemo Lhakhang and Zangto Pelri Lhakhang is a steep short-cut path to Taktshang via the Machig-phu Lhakhang.

After visiting Taktshang it's 90 downhill minutes to the parking lot at Ramthangkha.

Distance

7km

Time

3 hours

Ascent & Descent

1260m descent

Saga La Trek

The overnight Saga La trek follows the traditional route taken by Haa farmers on their annual trips to plant rice in the Paro valley. In return for their labour the Haa farmers would get part of the red rice crop, as rice doesn't grow in Haa.

Some agents take three days for this trek but it's easily done in two. Each day is really a half-day's walk so you easily fit in some sightseeing at either end. The important thing is to get to the pass early enough in the day to give you time to make an excursion along the ridgeline for the best mountain views.

There are several variants on this trek, including the Cheli La trek, which involves walking two days along the ridgeline from the Cheli La on the Paro–Haa road to meet the Saga La and then descend into the Paro valley from there. That trek can also be done in the reverse order, starting in the Talung valley.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 2 days

Max Elevation 4000m

Difficulty Easy

Season Mid-February to May, September to November

Start Talung village/Makha Zampa bridge

Finish Balakha

Access Towns Haa, Paro

Summary Monasteries, villages and superb views of Jhomolhari are the highlights of this easy trek.

Day 1: Talung to Khadey Gom

Your camping crew will likely overnight at the Chhundu Pang meadow, at the mouth of the Talung valley. You can either start walking at the Makha Zampa bridge at the base of the dirt road to Yangthong Goemba, or you can drive to Talung village (3020m) and start there. The first day is only a couple of hours' walking so you can easily do a half-day's sightseeing at the nearby Yangthong, Tsenkha (just above Talung) or Jangtey monasteries.

If you are starting from the Makha Zampa bridge (2900m), ascend the valley on the true left side of the river, past horse pastures. After less than an hour you meet the trail from Talung village by a water prayer wheel and a white chorten. As the trail ascends it veers right into the valley as pasture gives way to forest. The trail becomes rockier as it traverses lovely forests of silver fir.

It's a total of two hours to the main campground at Khadey Gom (3450m), with another campsite just a few minutes' further at a junction in the trail where a side trail branches left to the Tibet border. There is a third possible campground 30 minutes higher up the right branch, just below the Saga La pass, but this is only possible from late spring when there is no snow.

Distance

5km

Time

2–3 hours

Ascent & Descent

425m ascent

Day 2: Khadey Gom to Balakha via Saga La

It's a 45-minute ascent to the 3700m Saga La up a series of eroded horse trails. The earlier you get to the pass the better chance you'll have of clear views, so try to arrange an early breakfast or have one on the pass. There are some views of Jhomolhari (7314m) and Jichu Drake (6989) peaks, as well as views west towards the border with Tibet, but you'll get better views further along the ridge.

If the weather is clear, it's well worth making the excursion south along the ridge to the right of the pass. An hour's walk up the ridgeline to around 4000m brings you to a hilltop series of stone walls and buildings and a great viewpoint, which makes for a good place to turn around. Trails continue along the ridge for two days to the Cheli La on what is known as the Cheli La trek.

From the Saga La it's a steep 45-minute descent to a cramped pasture that's called Dongney Tsho and makes for a possible emergency camp. Look for views of Drukgyel Dzong and Taktshang Goemba down the valley along this section of trail. The forest here is lovely but the trail can be very muddy. After a two-hour descent from the summit you finally reach a large pasture that has views of Chodeyphu village (2900m) and offers a fine place to camp if you want to turn this into a two-night trek. You can detour to explore the village or descend directly on a dirt logging road, following electricity lines for 45 minutes to reach the main Paro valley road at Balakha, not far from Drukgyel Dzong.

Distance

8km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

250m ascent, 1140m descent

Jhomolhari Trek

The Jhomolhari trek is to Bhutan what the Everest Base Camp route is to Nepal: a trekking pilgrimage. With two different versions (the TCB counts them as two separate treks), it's one of the most trodden routes in the country, and almost 40% of all trekkers who come to Bhutan end up following one of the Jhomolhari routes. The first two days of the trek follow the Paro Chhu valley to Jangothang, climbing gently, but continually, with a few short, steep climbs over side ridges. It crosses a high pass and visits the remote village of Lingzhi, then crosses another pass before making its way towards Thimphu. The last four days of the trek cover a lot of distance and require many hours of walking. The trek also affords an excellent opportunity to see yaks.

The trek is possible from April to early June and September to November; April and October are most favourable. The daylight hours are normally warm, but nights can be very cold, especially above Jangothang. There is a lot of mud on this trail and it can be miserable in the rain. Snow usually closes the high passes from mid-November onward, and they don't reopen until April.

The trek traditionally started from the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong at 2580m, but the road now reaches Sharna Zampa, near the army post of Gunitsawa (2810m), close to the border with Tibet. This trek will be further shortened in the future when roads, currently under construction, extend from Dodina to Barshong.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 8 days

Max Elevation 4930m

Difficulty Medium–hard

Season April to June, September to November

Start Sharna Zampa

Finish Dodina

Access Towns Paro, Thimphu

Summary Bhutan's popular showcase trek offers a spectacular view of the 7314m Jhomolhari from a high camp at Jangothang.

Day 1: Sharna Zampa to Thangthangka

Brace yourself for a long, hard day with lots of ups and downs, made worse by all the rock-hopping required to avoid mud holes.

Begin the day by climbing through conifers and rhododendrons flanking the Paro Chhu. If the water is high, you might have to scramble over a few small hills to get around the river in places. About 15 minutes beyond Sharna Zampa are the remnants of an old bridge with a house and a chorten on the other side. Welcome to Jigme Dorji National Park.

After about two hours of trekking through oaks, rhododendrons and ferns, and crossing several streams, you will reach Shing Karap, a stone house and a clearing at 3110m. Consider stopping here for lunch. Further ahead is the stone-paved trail leading left to Tremo La. This is the old invasion and trade route from Phari Dzong in Tibet, and still looks well-beaten since it's used by army caravans to ferry rations to the border post. Beware: many trekkers have casually ambled down this trail in the past and made a long, exhausting side trip to nowhere.

Immediately after the trail junction is a wooden bridge over a side stream. Climb a short set of switchbacks over a little ridge, then descend and cross the Paro Chhu to river left on a wooden cantilever bridge at 3230m. The route now goes up and down a rocky trail through forests of birch and fir, followed by blue pine, maple and larch, and crossing an old landslide.

About three hours ahead there's a bridge back to river right at 3560m. The trail climbs to a place where you can see a white chorten on the opposite side of the river. There is a bridge here that leads back across the river. Don't cross it, or it'll take you up the Ronse Ghon Chhu towards Soi Yaksa, the campsite on Day 4 of the Jhomolhari Loop trek.

Follow the trail on river right and climb over a small ridge as the Paro Chhu makes a noticeable bend. Fifteen minutes' walk from the bridge is a lovely meadow with Jhomolhari looming majestically at the head of the valley. This is Thangthangka (3610m), with a small stone shelter and a Bhutanese-style house in a cedar grove at the edge of the meadow.

Distance

22km

Time

7–8 hours

Ascent & Descent

770m ascent, 10m descent

Day 2: Thangthangka to Jangothang

This is not a long day, but you'll be left breathless due to the significant elevation gain at high altitude.

Wake up early for good views of Jhomolhari, which will disappear behind a ridge as you climb beyond camp. Less than an hour ahead, at 3730m, there's an army camp with rough stone barracks housing personnel from both the Bhutan army and the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT).

The trail crosses a wooden bridge over a fast-flowing stream a short distance beyond the army camp. The hillside on the opposite side of the Paro Chhu is a near-vertical rock face with a few trees clinging to it. Along this stretch the trail can be extremely muddy; there are lots of big stones you can use to rock-hop around mud holes. At 3770m, about one hour from camp, the trail turns sharply right at a whitewashed mani wall.

A short climb leads to a small chorten on a ridge. You are now entering yak country and will see these huge beasts lumbering across hillsides and lazing in meadows. There are two trails from here, both contouring up the valley and ending near the river bank, hugging the valley floor as the river bends sharply to the right. Parts of the hillside are covered with larches, which turn a light yellow in autumn. Above the trail is the village of Soe. You cannot see it until you are beyond and above it, but you may meet people herding yaks near the river.

One hour beyond Soe is Takethang, a cluster of stone houses on a plateau at 3940m. The villagers grow barley and a large succulent plant called kashaykoni that is fed to yaks during winter.

The trail follows straight across the plateau, high above the river, crossing a little stream on a bridge made of big stones laid on logs. On the opposite side is a white chorten, an outreach clinic and the few houses of Dangochang. The people of this village raise yaks and a few sheep, and some households grow potatoes, turnips and radishes. This area is snowbound from mid-November until the end of March. From here, it's slow going uphill beside a side stream to the camp at Jangothang (4080m), offering a spectacular view of Jhomolhari.

The guidelines for pack animals require that you now exchange your horses for yaks from Soe or horses from Dangochang. Don't be alarmed when your loads get dumped at the camp and the animals disappear down the valley, leaving you alone with a mountain of baggage. If all goes well, the replacement pack animals will show up on schedule when you are ready to leave.

Distance

19km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

480m ascent

Day 3: Acclimatisation Day & Exploration of Jangothang

If you're pressing on to Lingzhi, you should spend a day lazing in Jangothang for acclimatisation. If you are returning to Sharna Zampa via the Jhomolhari Loop and Soi Yaksa valley, a day in Jangothang is the highlight of the trek; the views don't get any better than here. The horsemen also take the day off, and can be seen lazing around and playing dego, a traditional discus game.

There are four major possibilities for day hikes from Jangothang (also called Jhomolhari Camp). The first, and best, is a four-hour excursion up the ridge to the north of the camp. There's no trail, but it's a broad open slope and you can just scramble up. The ridge seems endless, but after an hour or so, you get an excellent view of Jichu Drakye. Jhomolhari is hidden behind the ridge here, but becomes visible if you continue to the highest point at 4750m. You are likely to encounter grazing yaks, and, occasionally, blue sheep, on the upper slopes.

An alternative, which can be combined with the walk up the ridge, is to trek up the main valley towards the last house, then continue up the valley towards Jichu Drakye. This is the same country you'll be walking through if, later, you decide to continue trekking over the Nyile La to Lingzhi.

A third hike goes up towards the head of the valley in the direction of Jhomolhari. There is a very rough overgrown trail that cuts across moraines and brush, leading to the foot of the mountain. You can't get very far, but there are good views in the upper part of the valley.

The last option (if you are not following the Jhomolhari Loop itinerary) is an expedition to Tshophu, a pair of lakes that sit high on the opposite side of the river to the east, with a good supply of brown trout. To get to the lakes, follow the trail north to the last settlement in the valley. It takes about one hour to get to the top of the ridge and then another 30 minutes following a stream to the lake.

Day 4: Jangothang to Lingzhi

If you are having problems with the altitude at Jangothang, consider returning. Otherwise, push ahead past three stone houses inhabited by park rangers. This is the last settlement in the valley and it's extremely isolated. Around a corner, there's a spectacular view of Jichu Drakye.

Descend and cross a log bridge at 4160m to the left bank of the Paro Chhu, then start up a steep traverse heading back downstream. The trail crests at the foot of a side valley and goes eastwards. Jichu Drakye towers above the Paro Chhu valley and soon the top of Jhomolhari appears over the ridge above the camp at Jangothang. The snow peak in the middle is a secondary summit of Jhomolhari.

At 4470m, the trail traverses under the big rocks that were visible from the camp, leads left and enters a large east–west glacial valley with numerous moraines. Apart from a few small gentians, it's just grass, tundra and small juniper bushes that grow here. You may spot blue sheep on the hillside above and see marmots darting into their burrows.

Past a false summit with a cairn at 4680m, the trail approaches the ridge and you can see Jichu Drakye to the northwest. The trail dips and then climbs back up a moraine, offering spectacular views of the sharp ridge jutting out from Jichu Drakye. The final pull is up a scree slope to Nyile La (4870m), about four hours from camp. You can climb higher to the northwest, where you'll see Jhomolhari 2 and Jichu Drakye on one side, and Tserim Kang (6789m) on the other. Nyile La is frequently very windy, so descend quickly through scree along the hillside, down to a stream on the valley floor at 4450m. There is some vegetation here, mostly grass, juniper and cotoneaster. It's an excellent lunch spot.

The trail now goes north, contouring along the hillside high above the valley. It's a good trail with a few small ups, but mostly down and level. Eventually you can see an army camp near the river below; the white tower of Lingzhi Dzong is visible in the distance. Following a long walk to a lookout at 4360m, the trail now descends into the large Jaje Chhu valley, making many switchbacks through rhododendrons and birches to a yak pasture on the valley floor. Jichu Drakye and Tserim Kang tower over the head of the valley and you can see some remarkable examples of moraines on their lower slopes. The camp is at Chha Shi Thang near a large stone community hall (4010m) used by both Bhutanese travellers and trekking groups. Lingzhi is up the obvious trail on the opposite side of the Jaje Chhu.

If you take a spare day here, you can make an excursion to Chhokam Tsho at 4340m near the base camp of Jichu Drakye. During the hike you may encounter blue sheep and musk deer. If you are continuing to the Thimphu valley, schedule a rest day here. The village and dzong at Lingzhi (also spelt Lingshi) are worth visiting, and it's useful to rest up for the following strenuous trek day. Lingzhi is also a stop on the Laya-Gasa trek.

Distance

18km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

840m ascent, 870m descent

Day 5: Lingzhi to Shodu

Start early today: you have a long and tiring trek ahead of you. Climb towards a white chorten on a ridge above the camp, then turn south up the deep Mo Chhu valley. The trail stays on the west side of the valley, crossing numerous side streams, most without bridges. About three hours from camp it crosses the Mo Chhu. There is no bridge and the river has broken into many small channels, presenting a tedious route-finding exercise through hummocks of grass and slippery rocks.

The trail climbs steeply up the side of the main valley and crosses into a large side valley, climbing above a stream. It then makes an impressive climb up the headwall, zigzagging through rocks to a large cairn atop Yeli La at 4930m. Avoid walking with the pack animals because the trail here is carved into a rock cliff and is quite narrow. From the pass, on a clear day, you can see Jhomolhari, Gangchhenta and Tserim Kang.

Descending to a hanging valley after passing a small lake at 4830m, the trail tracks the outflow from the lake, and goes down to another huge valley with a larger lake, Khedo Tsho, at 4720m. Watch for grazing blue sheep. The trail then crosses the upper reaches of the Jaradinthang Chhu and descends along the valley, following the river southwards, crossing several side streams. After crossing back to the east bank on a log bridge at 4340m, the trail reaches a chorten at 4150m, where it turns eastwards into the upper Wang Chhu valley. Descending and crossing to the south bank (river right) on a log bridge, the trail traverses a narrow, sandy slope to a camping spot at Shodu (4080m), just at the tree line.

Distance

22km

Time

8–9 hours

Ascent & Descent

940m ascent, 920m descent

Day 6: Shodu to Barshong

Upon leaving Shodu, you cross to river left and pass an abandoned army camp and a small alternative campsite. The trail traverses under steep yellow cliffs with a few meditation caves carved into them, where the Zhabdrung supposedly spent some time. Down a steep stone staircase, the trail reaches the river, crossing it on a log bridge at 3870m. For the next three hours, the trail crosses the river five more times, slopping through muddy cypress forests on the south slope and hugging the steep canyon walls and crossing large side streams on the north slope, eventually ending up on the north bank (river left) at 3580m.

The route climbs gradually for one hour to Barshong, where there is a dilapidated community hall and the ruins of a small dzong. The designated camp is below the ruins at 3710m, but it is in a swampy meadow, and most groups elect to continue to a better camp by the river, about 1½ hours beyond.

Distance

16km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

250m ascent, 670m descent

Day 7: Barshong to Dom Shisa

The trail descends gently through a dense forest of rhododendrons, birches and conifers, and then drops steeply on a rocky trail to meet the Wang Chhu. Thirty minutes of walking through a larch forest leads to a clearing known as Ta Gume Thang (Waiting for Horses) at 3370m. Most groups camp here or 15 minutes further on at Dom Shisa (Where the Bear Died) instead of Barshong.

Stay on river left, climbing over ridges and descending to side streams. From here, the route then makes a steep climb to 3340m. After traversing for about 30 minutes through rhododendron forests, a trail leads off to the right. This descends to Dolam Kencho, a pleasant camp in a large meadow at 3320m. If your group has elected to combine days and continue on to Dodina today, stay on the left-hand trail, bypassing Dolam Kencho, and climb to a crest at 3430m.

Distance

15km

Time

4–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

290m ascent, 640m descent

Day 8: Dolam Kencho to Dodina

From the camp, a track climbs back to the main trail, reaching a crest with a cairn at 3430m. The trail descends to a stream at 3060m, then climbs again to a pass at 3120m. Another short descent and a climb through bamboo forest leads to a rocky stream bed, which the trail follows down to the remains of a logging road along the Wang Chhu at 2720m. It is then a 15-minute walk south along a rocky route to the road head at Dodina (2640m), opposite the bridge that leads to Cheri Goemba.

Distance

8km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

500m ascent, 930m descent

Camping at Jangothang

Jangothang is clearly among the most popular campsites in the entire Himalaya. In October, it's packed to its gills with trekkers, and the joke among guides is that if you're yearning to catch up with a long-lost mountain-loving pal, simply land up in Jangothang in autumn! The two-day Jomolhari Festival in late October brings more crowds, despite the fact that there's not a great deal to the festival. You are unlikely to have the camp to yourself even in the lean season.

The campsite derives its name (meaning 'land of ruins') from the remains of a small fortress that sits atop a rock in a side valley leading northwest to Jhomolhari. There's a community hall with a kitchen here for the benefit of trekkers, and several large flat spots for camping. A chain of snow peaks lines the eastern side of the Paro Chhu valley, and it's possible to spot blue sheep on the lower slopes. Despite being located at the foot of Jhomolhari, Jangothang has, interestingly, never been used as base camp by any expedition scaling the summit.

Jhomolhari Loop (Soi Yaksa) Trek

If you fancy sighting Jhomolhari and Jichu Drakye from up close, but want to avoid the tiring slog all the way to Lingzhi, this trek is for you. While it's possible to return from Jangothang to Sharna Zampa by the same route taken on the way up, most trekkers choose to take this alternate route, which is less strenuous than the classic Jhomolhari trek and can be completed in less time. Despite its relative ease, however, be warned that this route still reaches elevations that could cause problems.

This trek is sometimes called the Jhomolhari 2 or Soi Yaksa trek after the valley it traverses.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 6 days

Max Elevation 4890m

Difficulty Medium

Season April to June, September to November

Start/Finish Sharna Zampa

Access Town Paro

Summary The shorter version of the main Jhomolhari trek goes to the Jhomolhari base camp at Jangothang, returning via several high lakes and three passes.

Days 1-3: Sharna Zampa to Jangothang

Follow Days 1 to 3 of the main Jhomolhari trek.

Day 4: Jangothang to Soi Yaksa

From Jangothang, the return trail initially leads north to the last settlement in the valley, before dropping to the Paro Chhu, crossing it on a wooden bridge. After crossing the river, you begin a gradual climb, following a set of sharp switchbacks for about 300m up the side of the hill. Along the way, you can get fabulous views of Jhomolhari, Jhomolhari 2, Jichu Drakye and Tserim Kang if the weather is good. From here, it's a relatively even and smooth hike all the way to a large cirque nestling the lakes of Tshophu (4380m), a pair of splendid high-altitude water bodies inhabited by a flock of ruddy shelducks and known to foster a healthy population of brown trout deep in their placid waters. While it's possible to set up camp in between the two lakes, most trekkers continue on along the trail, which now climbs high above the eastern side of the first lake, passes the second lake along the way and finally climbs across a scree slope to the crest of a ridge. From here, it descends into a hidden valley, before climbing steeply to Bhonte La (4890m), the highest point on this route.

Descending from Bhonte La, the route now runs past a scree slope, and then winds down a ridge with a lot of criss-crossing yak trails. Finally, it switchbacks down to the Soi Yaksa valley (also known as the Dhumzo Chhu valley), a beautiful setting for a camp at 3800m with rocky cliffs, wildflower meadows, a few nomadic settlements and a waterfall at the end of the valley. All through this day, keep your eyes trained on the wilderness for a host of regional wildlife, such as blue sheep, golden marmots and the elusive snow leopard.

Distance

16km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

810m ascent, 1090m descent

Day 5: Soi Yaksa to Thombu Shong

Starting out from camp, today's walk initially takes you past hillsides lush with a crop of azaleas and rhododendrons, before gradually climbing above the tree line. You will also cross forests of birch and oak on the way. The trail ascends about 100m over a ridge, before dropping to a meadow with a chorten and a mani wall, and a babbling stream. If you have enough time on your hands, you can make a quick detour to the ruins of the Sey Dzong, in a side valley nearby. Otherwise, you can simply continue ahead from the mani wall, cross the stream on a wooden bridge, and follow the trail heading up the hillside. Not long after, it drops into a small side valley, before emerging onto a ridge. Here the trail bifurcates, and it can be quite confusing since both the tracks look very similar. Don't go left – this route will eventually take you to Lalung La, a pass that leads on to an extremely roundabout way back to Drukgyel Dzong. Go right instead. The track will first take you through a wooded area, and then climb steeply for about an hour, ascending past a few huts and chortens to Takhung La (4520m). Spectacular views of Jhomolhari, Jichu Drakye and Tserim Kang can be seen from the pass, and on a clear day, the formidable Kanchenjunga (8586m) can be sighted far away on the western horizon.

From Takhung La, the trail holds out for a while, before gradually meandering down to Thombu Shong (4180m). It's a grassy pasture dotted with three yak herders' huts, and has traditionally been used by animal herders as a campsite through various times of the year.

Distance

11km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

720m ascent, 340m descent

Day 6: Thombu Shong to Sharna Zampa

After breaking camp, follow the trail leading out of the valley through a marshy patch. From here, the well-defined track suddenly begins to gain elevation, and climbs steeply for a good 200m. This hike can prove tiring, especially since you now have several days of vigorous trekking behind you, although you will have adjusted well to the altitude by now, if that's any consolation. All along, you will be traversing through a gloriously beautiful garden of wildflowers, also rich with a crop of rhododendron, which is especially breathtaking through late spring and summer. At the end of the climb, you will finally cross over Thombu La at 4380m, where the trail eventually exits the valley. Stop here for a last good look at Kanchenjunga and Drakye Gang (5200m), among other peaks.

On the other side of Thombu La, the trail begins to amble down steeply through upland forest, and the long descent ahead can prove to be rather brutal on your knees. Leading down from the pass, the total loss in elevation all the way to the end of the trek is a whopping 1800m, all within a span of about three hours. The first part of the descent is gradual, winding down to about 4000m, after which the trail makes a steep descent, zigzagging down the ridge through wildflower bushes, mostly edelweiss, before finally reaching the helipad at Gunitsawa (2730m). Cross the river and go upstream to reach your Day 1 starting point at Sharna Zampa (2580m).

Distance

13km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

200m ascent, 1650m descent

Laya Trek

This trek takes you into remote and isolated high country, introducing you to the unusual culture of the Layap community and allowing you to cross paths with takins (Bhutan's national animal). If you're lucky, you might also spot the exotic blue poppy, Bhutan's national flower.

The trek begins in the Paro valley and follows the same route as the Jhomolhari trek as far as Lingzhi, before heading north into the highlands. Snow can sometimes close the high passes, but they are generally open from April to June and mid-September to mid-November. The best trekking month in the Laya region is April.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 11 days

Max Elevation 5005m

Difficulty Medium–hard

Season April to June, September to November

Start Sharna Zampa

Finish Gasa

Access Towns Paro, Punakha

Summary This trek is an extension of the Jhomolhari trek, with a pit stop at the far-flung village of Laya. It offers diverse flora and fauna and a good opportunity to spot blue sheep.

Lingzhi Dzong

Built by the third druk desi, Mingyur Tenpa, who ruled from 1667 to 1680, Lingzhi Dzong (also known as Yugyel Dzong) is perched on a hill about 200m above Lingzhi village and is quite close to the Tibetan border. The dzong was destroyed in the 1897 earthquake, but was rebuilt in the 1950s to serve as an administrative headquarters.

The dzong is quite small, with a few offices along the outside wall and a two-storey utse (central tower) in the centre. Until some years ago, the basement was used as a jail to house murderers and temple robbers. However, the facilities were quite primitive and the dzong is no longer used for this purpose. The dzong is also home to a few monks.

Laya

Spread out over a hillside near the Tibetan border, Laya is one of the highest and remotest villages in Bhutan, at 3700m. The terrain forms the country's primary yak-breeding area. Villagers raise turnips and mustard and produce a crop of wheat or barley each year before winter. During summer people move to high pastures and live in black tents woven from yak hair.

The Layaps have their own language, customs and distinct dress. The women keep their hair long and wear conical bamboo hats with a bamboo spike at the top, held on by a beaded band. They dress in black woollen jackets with silver trims and long woollen skirts with a few stripes in orange or brown. They wear lots of silver jewellery on their backs; on many women, this display includes an array of silver teaspoons.

The village women are easily encouraged to stage an evening 'cultural show', which consists of Bhutanese circle dancing accompanied by traditional Bhutanese and Layap songs. The womenfolk often offer to sell their bamboo hats for about Nu 200. Be wary of the ones offering to sell beads, as they are often family heirlooms. Laya women also frequent trekking camps selling jewellery; most of this is made in Nepal.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal passed through Laya, and in a small meadow below the village is a chorten with the footprints of the Zhabdrung and his horse. The region is believed to be a bey-yul (hidden land) protected by an ancient gate that leads to Laya village. The Layaps perform an annual ceremony in honour of the protective forces that turned all the stones and trees around the gate into soldiers to repel Tibetan invaders.

Days 1-4: Drukgyel Dzong to Lingzhi

Follow Days 1 to 4 of the Jhomolhari trek.

Day 5: Lingzhi to Chebisa

Cross the stream below the Chha Shi Thang camp on a wooden bridge and climb up the opposite side to a chorten below Lingzhi Dzong, sitting at 4220m atop a ridge and accessible via a diversion from the trail. Also known as Yugyel Dzong, it was built to control travel over the Lingzhi La, a trade route between Punakha and the Tibetan town of Gyantse.

Walk down from the dzong and rejoin the lower trail leading into Lingzhi village, hidden in a valley formed by the ridge. Wheat and barley fields carpet the upper part of the side valley. The trail crosses the lower part, dotted by a few houses, a school and a post office (with a telephone) at 4080m. The Lingzhi region has a wide variety of herbs, many of medicinal value. The National Institute of Traditional Medicine in Thimphu has a herb-collecting and -drying project here.

About one hour from Lingzhi, the trail turns into a side valley past a cairn and prayer flags on a ridge at 4140m. It then makes a long gradual descent to Goyul (3870m), a cluster of unusual stone houses by a stream, with dramatic rock walls towering above. Leaving Goyul, the trail climbs for an hour to a chorten. A short descent leads into the spectacular Chebisa valley, with a frozen waterfall at its head. The campsite is on a meadow opposite Chebisa (3880m). Upstream of the camp is the village of Chobiso.

Distance

10km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

280m ascent, 410m descent

Day 6: Chebisa to Shomuthang

Start out by climbing the ridge behind Chebisa, and then tackling a long, steep ascent up a featureless slope. There are large herds of blue sheep living in the rocks above. Watch for bearded vultures and Himalayan griffons flying overhead. At about 4410m the trail levels out and traverses to Gogu La (4440m), before crossing a ridge and descending into a side valley through rhododendrons.

Descend to a stream at 4170m, and then climb over a small ridge through a cedar forest. The trail crests the ridge at 4210m and descends on a muddy path into the main Jholethang Chhu valley, in a deep forest of fir and birch. There's a little climb over the side of the valley and down to Shakshepasa (3980m), the site of a helipad, marked by a big 'H'. Below, there's a marsh and a messy stream crossing, with a good lunch spot on the other side.

The trail now goes steeply up the northern side of the valley, levelling out at about 4200m, passing a couple of herders' huts and traversing high above the valley floor on river right to Chachim, a yak pasture at 4260m. The camp is in a cluster of brush beside a stream at the base of the valley, at Shomuthang (4220m).

Distance

17km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

890m ascent, 540m descent

Day 7: Shomuthang to Robluthang

The trail climbs up the valley, starting on river right, crossing to river left and then crossing back again at 4360m. Edelweiss abounds along the trail; the snow peak visible to the southeast is Kang Bum (6526m).

Climb out of the valley through desolate country to Jhari La (4750m), about two hours from camp. North of the pass, the trail switchbacks down to a little stream at 4490m, then becomes a rough, rocky route through rhododendrons on the stream's left. Follow the stream gently downhill through bushes on river left as it makes its way to the main valley. It's a gradual descent to a meadow by the Jholethang Chhu at 3990m, which you cross on a log bridge about 1km upstream.

There is a camp called Tsheri Jathang by the river. Herds of takin migrate to this valley in summer and remain here for about four months. Takins are easily disturbed by the presence of other animals, including humans. Sometimes it might be necessary to take a one-hour diversion in order to leave the beasts undisturbed. The valley has been declared a special takin sanctuary and yak herders have agreed not to graze their animals in the valley while the takins are here.

The trail climbs steeply on the northern side to a crest at about 4150m. It then traverses into a side valley past a tiny lake. There are good camping places in a rocky meadow named Robluthang at 4160m.

Distance

18km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

700m ascent, 760m descent

Day 8: Robluthang to Limithang

Climb past the remnants of a burned forest and up the hillside through some boggy patches. Switchback to a shelf at 4390m, before turning into another large glacial side valley. Follow a stream for a while, crossing to river right on an icy log bridge at 4470m, then climb onto a moraine and traverse past lots of marmot holes. You may be able to spot blue sheep high on the slopes to the north before the trail crosses back to stream left.

It's a tough climb from here to the pass at Sinche La (5005m), passing a false summit with a cairn. The trail levels out a little before reaching the cairns and prayer flags on the pass, with the snow-covered peak of Gangchhenta filling the northern horizon.

The descent is on a rough, rocky trail that follows a moraine into another glacial valley. Eventually you arrive at the Kango Chhu, a stream below a terminal moraine that forms the end of another valley to the west.

Cross the Kango Chhu to river left on a log bridge at 4470m. A short distance beyond is a yak pasture and camping spot next to a huge rock. However, it's best to continue on to Limithang to camp. Follow the valley northwards, staying high as the stream falls away below you. Beyond an uninhabited stone house, the trail descends steeply to the valley floor. It switchbacks down with the terminal moraine looming above, crossing the Kango Chhu on a bridge at 4260m. After a short climb through rhododendrons, the trail levels out on a plateau above the Zamdo Nangi Chhu. It's then a short walk through a cedar forest interspersed with small meadows to Limithang (4140m), a lovely campsite in a big meadow by the river. Gangchhenta towers over the campsite in the distance.

Distance

19km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

850m ascent, 870m descent

Day 9: Limithang to Laya

After 20 minutes of walking, the trail crosses to river left and enters a deep cedar forest, crossing several muddy side streams. Ahead, there's a herders' hut of stone where the vegetation changes to fir trees draped with lichen.

Cross a large stream that flows in from the north and make a steep rocky descent down the side of the valley to the river at 3800m, then cross to river right on a wooden cantilever bridge. A short distance later, cross back and make a stiff climb.

It's a long walk through the heavily wooded, uninhabited valley. Descend to cross a waterfall flowing across the trail, then traverse several small ups and downs. Near a point where you can see a single house on a ridge to the east, there is an inconspicuous trail junction. The lower trail leads to the lower part of the village. If you take the upper trail, you will cross a ridge and see the stone houses and wheat fields of Laya laid out below you with some abandoned houses and a goemba above.

Gangchhenta dominates the skyline to the west of the village, and from some places you can get a glimpse of Masang Gang (7165m). In the village centre is a community school, a hospital, an archery field and the first shop since the Paro valley. You can camp in the fields below the school at 3840m. Many groups include a rest day in Laya.

Distance

10km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

60m ascent, 340m descent

Day 10: Laya to Koina

Layaps are not noted for their punctuality, so horses may arrive late. Below the village, the trail drops back to the river. The trail exits the village through a khonying (arch chorten), then passes another chorten at Taje-kha as it descends on a muddy trail to a stream.

There is an alternative camping place on a plateau at 3590m, next to the large Togtsherkhagi Chhu. Cross the river on a wooden bridge and climb to the stone buildings of the army camp. There's a radio station here, and a checkpoint where your names will be registered.

The route now follows the Mo Chhu downstream to Tashithang. About 30 minutes from the army post is an inconspicuous trail junction at 3340m, where the route for the Snowman trek leads uphill on a tiny path. The route to Gasa keeps going downstream on a muddy trail. Soon, it turns a corner into a side valley before crossing the Bahitung Chhu at 3290m, the lunch spot for the day.

Post-meal, the trail trudges along the Mo Chhu to an overhanging rock that forms a cave, then crosses to river right at 3240m on a cantilever bridge. The canyon closes in, and the trail makes several climbs over side ridges while making its way downstream. Beyond, another cave formed by a large overhanging rock is a long steep climb, cresting on a ridge at 3390m. It's a 150m descent to a clear side stream, and the trail then wanders up and down near the river, before climbing once again to Kohi La at 3300m.

The muddy trail stays high for about 30 minutes until it reaches a stone staircase, where it turns into a side valley, before dropping to the Koina Chhu. Welcome to Koina (3050m), a muddy bog in the forest filled with ankle-deep sludge. This is the worst camp on the whole trek. A considerably drier camp has been identified about two hours ahead at Chempsa (3700m). Feel free to use it instead.

Distance

19km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

260m ascent, 1070m descent

Day 11: Koina to Gasa

Today's walk sees you tackling one last obstacle on this trek – the Bari La.

Cross the bridge at Koina and start up the hill. Parts of the trail are so muddy that logs have been placed to form little bridges. The muddy trail keeps going through a deep forest of fir for almost three hours, until you reach a small rock cairn and a few prayer flags atop Bari La (3900m). Then it's a reasonably level walk to another chorten.

The route then begins to descend, sometimes steeply, through a bamboo forest to a stream. At 3080m it rounds a corner where you can finally see Gasa Dzong on the opposite side of a large wooded side valley. The trail descends past an old chorten, then crosses a ridge into a big side valley. It drops and crosses a large stream at 2780m, then traverses along the side of the valley to four chortens on the ridge at 2810m.

The chortens mark the southern boundary of Gasa town (2770m). The trail traverses above the football and archery ground, past several small teashops, then intersects Gasa's main street. Trek downhill to the bazaar, with a handful of shops and a police checkpoint. The police post checks permits, providing a perfect excuse to stop for a soft drink or beer at one of the shops.

You can camp in a field near the town or possibly 1½ hours downhill near the tsachhu (hot spring). Gasa is where you meet the roadhead, and your operator can arrange to have you picked up from here and driven down to Punakha via Damji and Tashithang.

Distance

14km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

900m ascent, 1710m descent

Snowman Trek

The combination of distance, altitude, remoteness and weather makes this trek a tough and expensive, journey. Even though there are reduced rates for long treks, many people baulk at the cost of a 24-day trek. Western trek companies charge over US$6000 for the trip. It is said that more people have summitted Everest than have completed the Snowman trek.

If you plan to trek this route, check your emergency evacuation insurance. If you get into Lunana and snow blocks the passes, the only way out is by helicopter, an expensive way to finish an already expensive trek. Other obstacles that often hamper this trek are bridges, in remote regions, that get washed away by deluges.

The Snowman trek is frequently closed because of snow, and is impossible to undertake during winter. The season for this trek is generally considered to be from late September to mid-October. Don't plan a summer trek; this is a miserable place to be during the monsoon.

This classic trek follows the Jhomolhari and Laya–Gasa treks to Laya. Many walking days can be saved by starting in Gasa (via Punakha) and trekking north over the Bari La.

There are several alternative endings to the Snowman trek. One of the most popular is to continue southeast from Danji via the Gophu La and Duer Hot Springs, past fine views of Gangkar Puensum to end at Duer in the Bumthang Valley (seven to eight days from Danji).

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 24 days

Max Elevation 5320m

Difficulty Hard

Season September to October

Start Sharna Zampa

Finish Upper Sephu

Access Town Paro

Summary The Snowman trek travels to the remote Lunana district and is said to be one of the most difficult treks in the world. Fewer than half the people who attempt this trek eventually finish it, either because of problems with altitude or heavy snowfall on the high passes.

Days 1 to 4: Drukgyel Dzong to Lingzhi

Follow Days 1 to 4 of the Jhomolhari trek.

Days 5 to 9: Lingzhi to Laya

Follow Days 5 to 9 of the Laya–Gasa trek.

Day 10: Rest & Acclimatisation Day in Laya

If you have trekked from Sharna Zampa, you should spend a day recuperating in Laya and preparing for the rigours ahead. If you've trekked from Gasa, you should also walk up to Laya to acclimatise. You may well get mobile phone service in Laya. In an emergency, the army camp below Laya has a radio.

Day 11: Laya to Rodophu

The trek leads down to the Lunana trail junction, then climbs for 40 minutes to a hilltop with good views over the Mo Chhu and the Rhodo Chhu. It continues up the Rhodo Chhu valley, first through mixed conifers, then through rhododendrons, above the tree line. Atop a large rock slide there is a view of the glacial valley and a massive glacier on Tsenda Kang (7100m). The Rodophu camp is just beyond a wooden bridge across the Rhodo Chhu at 4160m.

If you're acclimatising here for a day, consider a short 2km hike up the valley to a knoll with excellent views of the valley and mountains, continuing to the base of the glacier. Another option is to follow a small trail starting about 500m upstream from camp and up the hill to the north, ending in a small yak pasture with a hut at 4500m.

Distance

19km

Time

6–8 hours

Ascent & Descent

1030m ascent, 70m descent

Day 12: Rodophu to Narethang

The path crosses the wooden bridge and follows the river for 20 minutes through rhododendron shrubs before turning right up the hill. Climb to a high open valley at 4600m and then through meadows to Tsomo La (4900m), which offers good views towards the Tibet border and Jhomolhari. Next up is a flat, barren plateau at around 5000m with yak trails criss-crossing everywhere – your guide will know the way. The camp is at Narethang (4900m), below the 6395m peak of Gangla Karchung.

Distance

17km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

720m ascent

Day 13: Narethang to Tarina

It's a one-hour climb to the 5120m Gangla Karchung La, with Kang Bum (6526m) to the west and Tsenda Kang, Teri Gang (7300m) and Jejekangphu Gang (7100m) due north. The path descends along a large moraine to the edge of a near-vertical wall with breathtaking views. A massive glacier descends from Teri Gang to two deep turquoise lakes at its foot, 1km below you. The glacial lake to the left burst through its dam in the early 1960s, causing widespread damage downstream, and partially destroying Punakha Dzong.

The path now becomes very steep as it descends into the valley. When wet, this stretch can be rather nasty, with lots of roots and slippery mud. At the base of the U-shaped valley, the trail turns right, following the Tang Chhu downstream. There are several good campsites along the river, both before and after the trail crosses the river at Tarina.

Distance

18km

Time

7–8 hours

Ascent & Descent

270m ascent, 1200m descent

Day 14: Tarina to Woche

The walk leads through conifers down the Tang Chhu on river left, passing some impressive waterfalls. The trail climbs gently out of the valley past several huge landslides, and eventually climbs steeply to the northeast into the high side valley of Woche. The first village in the Lunana region, Woche is a small settlement of five houses at 3940m.

Looking up the valley you can see the following day's route to Lhedi. There have been reports of theft here; keep all your gear safely inside your tent.

Distance

17km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

275m ascent, 330m descent

Day 15: Woche to Lhedi

The trail climbs the Woche valley, crossing a stream and going over a moraine before descending to a wooden bridge across the Woche Chhu. It then climbs on a wide trail past a clear lake to Keche La (4650m), with excellent views of the surrounding mountains, including Jejekangphu Gang's triple peak, the source of the Woche Chhu.

The route now descends into the Pho Chhu valley and reaches Thaga village (4050m). Dropping towards the Pho Chhu, the path then turns northeast towards Lhedi. Passing a few scattered settlements and crossing below a waterfall on a wooden bridge, the trail descends to the banks of the Pho Chhu, continuing along the river bed to Lhedi at 3700m.

Lhedi is a district headquarters with a school, a Basic Health Unit (BHU) and a wireless station, but there is no shop here (or anywhere else in the Lunana district). Everything is carried in by yak trains across 5000m passes. There are strong winds up the valley in the late afternoon, making it bitterly cold in autumn and winter.

Distance

17km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

980m ascent, 950m descent

Day 16: Lhedi to Thanza

The trail follows the north bank of the Pho Chhu past several small farms. Floods have destroyed parts of the trail so an alternative path winds its way among boulders in the river bed. Around lunchtime the trail passes Chozo village at 4090m, which has a functioning dzong.

If you are pressed for time, you can take a direct trail to Tshochena from here, but most trekkers continue to Thanza (4100m), a couple of hours up the valley. The first part of the trail leads through yak pastures on river flats, giving way to a large expanse of fine glacial sand. Eventually, the trail leaves the river bed and climbs a bluff overlooking the villages of Thanza, straight ahead, and Toencha, on the other bank of the river. The 7100m Zongophu Gang (Table Mountain) forms an immense, 3000m-high wall of snow and ice behind Thanza. Most groups camp in Toencha (4150m), but there are places to camp in Thanza as well.

Distance

17km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

400m ascent

Day 17: Rest Day in Thanza

Schedule a rest day here. This is as far as yak drivers from Laya go, and it takes time to round up yaks for the rest of the trek. Capitalise on the day by exploring the villages and glacial lakes up the valley. The closest lake, Raphstreng Tsho, is 100m deep and caused a flood in 1994 when a moraine holding back its waters burst. A large crew of Indian workers dug a channel through the moraine to prevent a recurrence, but there are other lakes in the area posing a similar risk.

Day 18: Thanza to Danji

If you're feeling fit, you can hike to Tshochena in one day, but it's a long, hard walk at high altitude and is best split in two parts.

Climbing to a large boulder on the hill south of the village, the trail turns east up a side valley. After a couple of hours of easy walking, the trail enters Danji, a yak meadow with some herders' huts. It's an excellent camp, with blue sheep often grazing above and occasionally walking into camp.

A few hundred metres up the valley, a small trail climbs the ridge to the left, leading to a higher valley. The top of the ridge offers excellent views of surrounding mountains.

Distance

8km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

80m ascent

Day 19: Danji to Tsho Chena

From the junction near camp, the trail up the valley leads to Gangkhar Puensum base camp and Bumthang. The path to the end of the trek crosses the creek and leads up a rocky side valley – a long climb across several false summits to Jaze La at 5150m, with views of mountains in all directions. From the pass, the path descends between snow-covered peaks past a string of small lakes. The camp is near the shore of Tsho Chena at 4970m. This is the first of two nights' camping above 4900m.

Distance

12km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

490m ascent, 240m descent

Day 20: Tsho Chena to Jichu Dramo

The trail follows the shore of the blue-green lake before climbing to a ridge at 5100m, with a 360-degree panorama of snowy peaks. Far below, the Pho Chhu descends towards Punakha. The road and microwave tower at Dochu La are visible in the distance.

The path makes several ups and downs over small rounded hills, but the altitude can slow you down. Past a glacial lake before Loju La at 5140m, many trails wander around high-altitude yak pastures, and it's easy to wander astray. The correct path is across a small saddle at 5100m into a wide glacial valley, and then down to the camp at Jichu Dramo (5050m), a small pasture on the east of the valley.

Distance

14km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

230m ascent, 140m descent

Day 21: Jichu Dramo to Chukarpo

The trail climbs through a moraine to the picturesque Rinchen Zoe La (5320m), dividing the Pho Chhu and Mangde Chhu drainages. Rinchen Zoe peak (5650m) towers above, Gangkhar Puensum is visible in the east, while the Thampe Chhu valley stretches below to the south.

Descending into a broad, marshy valley with a string of lakes, the trail follows the left (east) side of the valley. Eventually, it descends steeply down the face of a moraine to a yak pasture in the upper reaches of the Thampe Chhu. Cross to the west bank (river right) here, as there is no bridge further down. The vegetation begins to thicken, and consists of rhododendrons and junipers. The camp is a couple of hours away at Chukarpo (4600m); a better site sits an hour further on at Thongsa Thang (4400m).

Distance

18km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

320m ascent, 730m descent

Day 22: Chukarpo to Thampe Tsho

Descend along the right bank of the river until you reach a yak pasture at Gala Pang Chhu (4010m). From here, the path begins to climb steeply through junipers and silver firs towards Thampe Tsho. The path generally follows a stream to the beautiful, clear, turquoise lake, set in a bowl and surrounded by steep mountain walls. The camp is at the far end of the lake at 4300m.

Distance

18km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

400m ascent, 640m descent

Day 23: Thampe Tsho to Maurothang

The trail climbs steeply to Thampe La at 4600m. You may see blue sheep high on the slopes above the trail.

The path descends to Om Tsho, a sacred site where Pema Lingpa found a number of terma (sacred texts and artefacts). The path skirts the northwestern shore of the lake before crossing its outlet, marked by prayer flags, and then drops steeply past a waterfall to a smaller lake, about 100m lower.

From the second lake to the headwaters of the Nikka Chhu is a descent so steep that even yaks are reluctant to come down this stretch. The path eventually levels out, following the left bank of the Nikka Chhu. After about 2km, it reaches a large open glade near the confluence of a major tributary coming from the east. A wooden bridge crosses the Nikka Chhu to river right, where a broad path leads through mixed forest to Maurothang (3610m), a large clearing by the river beside a few herders' huts.

Distance

14km

Time

5 hours

Ascent & Descent

280m ascent, 1020m descent

Day 24: Maurothang to Upper Sephu

If horses are not available at Maurothang, your guide will probably send someone ahead to arrange for them further down. Yaks cannot walk all the way to the road because of the low altitude and the many cows in the area.

A well-used trail continues down the west side of the Nikka Chhu for about 30 minutes before crossing to the east bank into a mixed deciduous and bamboo forest. It descends gradually through forests and pastures, emerging onto a large grassy area overlooking upper Sephu village. Your vehicle should be able to meet you here. If not, it's around 7km down a farm road to the main paved highway at Sephu, next to the Nikka Chhu bridge (2600m), marked by shops and a small restaurant.

Distance

11km

Time

3 hours

Ascent & Descent

730m descent

Bumthang Cultural Trek

This trek has changed over the last few years due to the construction of roads in the region. Many people now do the trek in a single day, staying at simple accommodation in Ngang Lhakhang and Ogyen Chholing at the start and end of the walk. The walk is short but packs in a tiring 750m climb to the Phephe La.

If you want to make it a two-day camping trek it is possible to start from Thangbi Goemba, walk up the true left bank of the Chamkhar Chhu and camp at Sambitang, about a 30-minute walk from Ngang Lhakhang. There is a second camping spot at Tahung at the far end of the trail, but most groups continue to nearby Ogyen Chholing, now that it is connected by road.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 1 day

Max Elevation 3360m

Difficulty Medium

Season March to May, September to November

Start Ngang Lhakhang

Finish Ogyen Chholing

Access Town Jakar

Summary Delightful forests and interesting lhakhangs and villages at the start and end make this a good option if you fancy a challenging day walk with flush toilets at either end!

Day 1: Ngang Lhakhang to Ogyen Chholing

The day's walk starts out with a short climb to a meadow at the base of Draphe Dzong, which is worth the short detour to explore the ruins of this formerly strategic fort. From here the trail drops to the Sambitang campsite. The trail continues across meadows, with a lot of dwarf bamboo, before climbing up to a cold, shadowy forest of birch, sycamore and lots of tall bamboo. Spanish moss drapes the ancient trees, giving an eerie feel to the steep climb.

The climb continues through a rhododendron forest in a dry gully to a rock cairn and a little stone shrine. Tattered prayer flags stretch across the path atop Phephe La (3360m), on a forested ridge with big birch and fir trees.

The trail leads down to a stream at 3200m, then into a side valley covered in dwarf bamboo, passing a small mani wall and a khonying chorten. Breaking out into broad yak pastures, it continues down through ploughed fields into a broad valley, where the most prominent of several trails leads downhill to a large stream and a wooden bridge at 2790m near the village of Tahung.

From here a rough farm road leads down to Tang village and the main Tang valley. Your vehicle can pick you up here and take you to Ogyen Chholing or you can continue on foot to Gamling, a large, wealthy village noted for its yathra weaving, about 45 minutes downstream, where a footpath climbs up to a ridge, reaching four chortens and several large houses at 2760m. Ogyen Chholing is atop the hill to the right. Comfortable rooms are available at the renovated guesthouse.

Distance

18km

Time

7 hours

Ascent & Descent

750m ascent, 670m descent

Multiday Hikes in Bumthang

There are so many great hiking trails in the Bumthang valley that it's possible to link together a string of day hikes to make a multiday walk that avoids the inconvenience, discomfort and expense of a full camping trek.

From Menchugang you could start with a full day hike to Luege Rowe (or even Shugdrak), before hiking up the south bank of the Chamkhar Chhu to Ngang Lhakhang. Overnight at Ngang Lhakhang or a homestay in nearby Tsangling or Tashiling, before making the long day hike over the Phephe La to Ogyen Chholing (the Bumthang Cultural trek).

On the third day, make the rewarding return day hike to Thowadrak Hermitage. Then on the fourth day, return to Jakar by car or drive to Kunzungdrak Goemba and hike over the ridge to Pelseling Goemba and then down to the Swiss Guest House or Tamshing Goemba.

For a full week's walking with some camping, add on the three-day Owl trek in the reverse direction, starting at Tharpaling Goemba and picking up this itinerary at Menchugang.

Owl Trek

Keen to sample some 'nightlife' out in the mountains? Well, you could always consider walking the Owl trek, a route exploring the Bumthang region that owes its name to the frequent hooting of owls which can be heard at campsites through the night. A three-day itinerary, the Owl trek starts at Menchugang village (5km north of Toktu Zampa) and ends at either Jakar Dzong or Tharpaling Goemba. October to December and March to May are the best times for trekking, though spring can be muddy.

Day 1 The original trail goes from Menchugang, just north of Jakar. The trail climbs for 90 minutes to an old water-driven flour mill at Chutigang, before climbing a further 2½ hours to Rabtense, and then a three-hour climb through ancient forests of birch, fir and spruce to Shona campsite. Some itineraries visit Duer village en route. Alternatively, a farm road now reaches Karo, from where it is about three hours' walk to Shona.

Day 2 The climb continues to Rang La (Drangela) pass and then up to 3870m Kitephu ridge for magnificent views towards Gangkhar Phuensum and the main Himalaya range. There's plenty of time in the afternoon to savour the views or hike up to the top of the ridge.

Day 3 The trail takes you for 90 minutes to impressive Tharpaling Goemba and nearby Choedrak hermitage (where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated). From here you have the choice of meeting your vehicle, descending on foot via Samtenling Lhakhang to Domkhar in the Chhume valley, or climbing back over the ridge behind Tharpaling to descend through forest to Jakar.

Day 1: Chutigang to Shona Campsite
Day 2: Shona Campsite to Kitephu
Day 3: Kitephu to Tharpaling Goemba

Duer Hot Springs Trek

This is a less-walked route (officially only two trekkers in 2014!), owing to its high difficulty rating. There are challenging ascents and descents and all this at a challenging altitude! It's possible to extend this trek to the base camp of Gangkhar Puensum itself, although the trail is remote and little trekked. It's also possible to vary either the upward or return route, and travel via the Mangde Chhu valley to meet a gravel road leading west from Trongsa.

This trek can also form an alternative ending to the Snowman trek, branching off the main trial at Thanza and making the remote five-day trek to Duer Hot Springs via the Tsorhim lakes, the 5230m Gophu La, Geshe Woma, the Saka La pass and Warathang.

Snow covers the route during winter, so the trek is usually open from March to April and from September to early November. Its starting point, Duer village, is 30 minutes (5km) of rough driving from Toktu Zampa. The trek includes a day at a tsachhu (hot spring).

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 8 days

Max Elevation 4700m

Difficulty Medium–hard

Season March to April, September to November

Start/Finish Duer

Access Town Jakar

Summary This trek takes you on the old expedition route to Gangkhar Puensum, the world's highest unclimbed peak, and offers a full day at the hot springs.

Day 1: Duer to Gorsum

Starting at Duer, the route goes north, following the valley of the Yoleng Chhu (also known as Gorzam Chhu), which is famous for its trout population. En route, you will cross the Lurawa Goemba. The campsite for the day is at Gorsum at 3120m; for those who want to push ahead, there's an alternate site about two hours ahead.

Distance

18km

Time

6 hours

Ascent & Descent

380m ascent

Day 2: Gorsum to Lungsum

The route travels through a forest of cypress, juniper, spruce, hemlock and maple. The trail can be muddy and climbs gradually to the camp at Lungsum (3160m). On the way, you might cross paths with Bhutanese wild dogs. Keep your cameras ready.

Distance

12km

Time

5 hours

Ascent & Descent

40m ascent

Day 3: Lungsum to Tsochenchen

Today's trek remains more or less the same as yesterday's, passing through similar terrain and flora. Along the way, you'll come across a bifurcation; from here, the trail to the right leads to Gangkhar Puensum via Thole La. The left trail leads to the springs. Towards the end of today's hike, the vegetation begins to thin out, before camp is reached at Tsochenchen, above the tree line at 3780m.

Distance

15km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

620m ascent

Day 4: Tsochenchen to Duer Hot Springs

The day starts with a long climb to a small lake and on to Juli La (4700m), a rocky saddle with a few prayer flags and a good view of the surrounding mountains. After crossing the pass, the trail goes all the way down to a lake at 4220m, before climbing again to Gokthong La (4640m). Finally, it switchbacks steeply down through jungle to a camp near the Duer hot springs at 3590m. It may be possible to see musk deer, Himalayan bears and blue sheep through the day's trek.

Distance

18km

Time

8–9 hours

Ascent & Descent

1340m ascent, 1530m descent

Day 5: A Day at Duer hot springs

Take a rest day to relax in the tsachhu. There are several wooden tubs set into the ground inside a rough wooden shelter for you to soak in. There is also a campsite, a simple community-run guesthouse and a drinking-water supply.

Days 6–8: Duer Hot Springs to Duer

Return via the same route from the hot springs to Duer.

Rodang La Trek

Ever since a highway was rolled out to connect its end points, this once important trade route has remained largely untrodden by locals. At the time of writing, the trail had not been trekked for a few seasons and was undergoing surveying by the Department of Forests and Park Services. Its inclusion as part of the Great Himalayan Trail (www.greathimalayantrail.com) should spur authorities in Bhutan to revitalise this trail. Its high difficulty level should be a draw for the more adventurous types. You can add a day onto this trek by starting in Ngang Lhakhang and adding on the Bumthang Cultural trek.

Rodang La is subject to closure because of snow, and is best trodden in October, early November or late spring. The trek crosses the road near Lhuentse, which breaks up the continuity of the trekking experience, but offers a chance to visit the remote dzong.

Roads are nibbling away at the trail in four different directions, so check with your agent to see how developments have affected the trek. There are even plans to build a road over the Rodang La, which will radically alter this walking route.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 6–8 days

Max Elevation 4160m

Difficulty Medium–hard

Season October to November

Start Ogyen Chholing

Finish Trashi Yangtse

Access Town Jakar

Summary This trek across eastern Bhutan is tough and involves a tremendously long, steep descent. The logistics are complicated and horses are often difficult to obtain for the final four days of the trek.

Day 1: Ogyen Chholing to Phokpey

The long climb to Rodang La takes two days. Above Ogyen Chholing, the trail is rutted with cattle hoof prints, and can be slippery when wet. The trail levels out around 2900m, meeting a stream. At about 3000m the cow trails turn into a small footpath through muddy fields and dwarf bamboo.

At 3400m the trail crosses a meadow. High on the opposite hill is the Phokpey Goemba. Climb through the meadow and traverse through forest to another steep, high meadow, finally turning a corner into a side valley, and heading to Phokpey, a camp at 3680m.

Distance

17km

Time

5–6 hours

Ascent & Descent

920m ascent

Day 2: Phokpey to Pemi

The trail goes through a small notch onto a ridge at 3700m. After a long crossing at 3770m is the final climb to the pass, up big stone slabs and a steep stone staircase. Rodang La (4160m) is about two hours from camp.

Across the pass, it's a steep descent of nearly 2500m to the valley floor, down an unbelievably long and steep stone staircase. This is a tough route for horses, and it is said that even royalty had to walk downhill here. Part of the route is along a vertical face, and the trail is on wooden galleries fastened into the side of the cliff. Past a few meadows, the trail winds through a region where sightings of ghosts and migoi (yetis) have been reported.

Leaving the rhododendrons and conifers, the trail descends to a big meadow called Pemi at about 3000m. Up ahead are the ruins of a royal granary and a campsite at 2950m. Water is 30 minutes down the side of a hill, so go easy on the washing or, better, continue to Ungaar campsite where water supplies are more abundant.

Distance

20km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

480m ascent, 1160m descent

Day 3: Pemi to Khaine Lhakhang

Much of today's trail criss-crosses a farm road, though alternative trails may be available. The current trail tumbles into the Noyurgang Chhu valley, leading through dwarf bamboo and a damp, mossy, rock-filled gully. Around 2600m, the vegetation changes to ferns and tropical species, and the trail goes down towards a meadow called Sang Sangbe (2300m), said to be haunted by a ghost. The trail drops to a bridge over a stream at 1700m. It's then a short walk across rice fields to a suspension bridge over the Noyurgang Chhu at 1660m.

Cross to river left and start climbing through ferns and tropical jungle to the village of Bulay (1800m). Next is Kulaypang (1930m), where there are a few simple houses and cornfields, and where there's a false trail going down towards the next ridge; the correct trail goes up.

The trail passes below Gomda village (2040m). Passing a chorten, it crosses a stream at 2000m, then climbs to a mani wall at 2020m. Then it's a level walk to Gongdra. Beyond Chanteme, you cross a stream and climb to Khaine Lhakhang. Follow the cement irrigation canal and climb onto the ridge where the temple sits at 2010m. There are two tall cedars by the monastery and fields of soya beans surrounding it. Pephu Goemba is high above and the town below is Songme.

Distance

21km

Time

7–8 hours

Ascent & Descent

350m ascent, 1340m descent

Day 4: Khaine Lhakhang to Tangmachu

The trail goes down to a stream and up to a BHU and community school in Gorsam (an alternative campsite). It then climbs to 2130m, levelling out for 15 minutes, before climbing gently through trees. You can see a glimpse of the road at the bottom of the Kuri Chhu valley.

The Tibetan-style Umling Mani at 2180m is at the corner between the Noyurgang Chhu and the Kuri Chhu valleys. It was built by a lama from Tibet and marks the boundary between the two gewogs (administrative blocks). Here the route turns north up the Kuri Chhu.

Traversing through four large side valleys, you then descend to a stream and climb to the next ridge. The trail emerges from the first valley at Gumbar Gang (2120m). After going up to a chorten on Zerim La (1940m), it winds down to the head of a valley at 1840m, with a chorten and a prayer wheel, then starts climbing back through chir pines to 1890m, traversing grassy slopes to another ridge and several herders' huts.

Descend to a mani wall, pass Menjabi village, cross the stream at 1540m, then start a long climb on a grassy slope with chir pines to some chortens and a mani wall on Taki La (1760m). Southeast of the pass is the Tangmachu High School and the towering 45m statue of Guru Rinpoche, which is worth a visit. If you have time, you could request a vehicle to meet you here and drive you 21km north to Lhuentse to visit the dzong, and then drop you back at Tangmachu or Menji for the night. The vehicle can then drive on to Trashi Yangtse to pick you up four days later.

Distance

18km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

520m ascent, 810m descent

Day 5: Tangmachu to Menji

A feeder road now connects the main road with Menji, so check with your agent to see if you are hiking or driving this section and how this impacts the following days. From the bridge (1140m) below Tangmachu, the hiking trail goes gradually up through rice terraces and cornfields to Chusa. It then becomes a steep haul up a treeless slope, although the path is beautifully scented with wild mint, lemongrass and artemisia. Camp is at 1830m, above Menji, beside the Darchu Pang Lhakhang.

Distance

16km

Time

4–5 hours

Ascent & Descent

690m ascent, 620m descent

Day 6: Menji to Pemi

Continue uphill through the thick, humid forest packed with a dense foliage of ferns and creepers and a constant whistle of cicadas. The trail is narrow, steep and rutted. Climb steadily for two hours to a ridge-top meadow, then plunge back into the forest to reach some herders' huts at Pemi (2450m) on a narrow ridge-top clearing with a view to a forested gorge. Menji villagers use this area as a summer pasture. Much of the trail for the next two days has fallen into disuse and is narrow and slippery.

Distance

10km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

620m ascent

Day 7: Pemi to Taupang

The trail stays largely in damp, cold forest, with occasional pastures. The area is a botanist's delight, with shrubs of every kind, pungent with a sweet fermented smell, thick with humus. The trail then traverses nine passes, nicknamed the Nine Sisters, the highest of which is Dong La (3900m), with good mountain views and prayer flags adorning a cairn.

Cross the remaining ridges, each decorated with prayer flags, and descend steeply through thick evergreen forests on a trail strewn with rocks, logs and slippery leaves to a ridge-top meadow called Lisipang. The last part of the trek is easy at first, turning right and down through a pasture at Yesupang (an alternative campsite), but then becomes rocky and muddy near the Dongdi Chhu. There's no bridge, and once you rock-hop across, it's even muddier and rockier on the other side, and parts of the trail are layered with logs placed in a bridge-like manner to provide smoother walking. The camp is at Taupang (2450m), a clearing with a wooden cowherds' shelter.

Distance

21km

Time

7–8 hours

Ascent & Descent

1450m ascent, 1450m descent

Day 8: Taupang to Trashi Yangtse

The path through the forest beside the river is damp and muddy with huge ferns, red-berried palms and occasional leeches. The forest is alive with birds and monkeys. Two hours of sloshing through mud or stone-hopping brings you to Shakshing, a cluster of houses surrounded by corn, millet, bananas and grazing cows. A logging road from Trashi Yangtse reaches Shakshing and will probably extend further to Taupang.

If you decide to continue walking, the trail stays on the ridge to the north of the valley, passing above Tongshing village. It then descends past swampy areas, crossing to the southern bank of the Dongdi Chhu on a large bridge. The small, old Trashi Yangtse dzong suddenly appears on a hilltop above the river. The trail crosses back to the north bank of the river below the dzong on an old cantilever bridge. Finally, it crosses the Kulong Chhu at 1730m. Your vehicle will either be waiting here, or at the old dzong.

Distance

24km

Time

8–9 hours

Ascent & Descent

720m descent

Khaine Lhakhang

Some people believe that the remote Khaine Lhakhang is one of the 108 temples built by King Songtsen Gampo in AD 659. Three small statues from here are said to have flown of their own accord to Konchogsum Lhakhang in Bumthang, believed to have been built at the same time. The primary statue is a 2.5m Sakyamuni figure. A statue of the Karmapa is on his right and Zhabdrung Rinpoche is above him on the left. There are also smaller statues of Milarepa and Guru Rinpoche. The main protective deity is a ferocious god named Taxan, who is depicted riding a horse.

A two-day festival is celebrated here in mid-November.

Nabji Trek

If you are looking for a low-altitude winter trek, or if village life, bird-spotting and family interactions are more important than mountain views, the Nabji trek could well be your cup of tea.

This trail pioneered community-based tourism in Bhutan, whereby local villagers are employed on a rotating basis to offer services and amenities such as porterage, village tours, cultural shows and food at semideveloped campsites along the route. Campsite fees go into a community fund to support education, conservation and tourism development.

The trailheads of this winter trek are on the road between Trongsa and Zhemgang, and the trek itself offers a chance to spot some exotic local creatures such as the golden langur, the rufous-necked hornbill and the serpent eagle, among others.

As with so many treks in Bhutan, road-building is nibbling away at both ends of the trek, and you will probably find yourself walking on farm roads at some stages. Depending on how much walking on roads is desirable you may end the trek at Nabji or Nimshong. This trek can easily be done in the opposite direction.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 3–4 days

Max Elevation 1635m

Difficulty Easy

Season October to March

Start Tongtongphey

Finish Nimshong

Access Town Trongsa

Summary A low-altitude trek passing through the land of the isolated Monpa people.

Day 1: Tongtongphey to Jangbi

From Tongtongphey (1060m) you walk on a farm road for about one hour before meeting the old trail to Jangbi. Descend steeply to the bridge crossing the Mangde Chhu, before ascending to Jangbi (1370m), a village in the homeland of the Monpa people. The campsite at Jangbi overlooks the Mangdue Chhu valley.

Distance

9km

Time

3–4 hours

Ascent & Descent

950m ascent, 640m descent

Day 2: Jangbi to Kudra

From Jangbi it's an easy hike to Phrumzur village (1400m), a good spot for lunch. Phrumzur, another Monpa village, has a temple from where you can take in good views of the valley. Today's trail to Kudra is littered with fabulous evidence of Guru Rinpoche's visit to the region – footprint, dagger, hat, you name it.

The campsite at Kudra village (1635m) is smack in the middle of the forest. There are three Monpa households nearby and filtered views all the way down to Nyimshong.

Distance

14km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

265m ascent

Day 3: Kudra to Nabji

Today's trek is on the ancient trail through magnificent forest, supposedly a habitat for tigers and leopards, although sightings are rare. Emerging from the orchid-festooned forest and bamboo thickets, the trail finally arrives at Nabji (1300m) at a spot marked by a holy tree. The camp is located amid rice fields near the village.

Take some time to explore the village and visit the temple and the historically important stone pillar commemorating an 8th-century peace treaty negotiated by Guru Rinpoche and signed between King Sindhu of Bumthang and King Nauchhe (Big Nose) from Assam. In the village you'll also see the rocky remains of a blacksmith, believed to be connected to Pema Lingpa.

It is possible to cut the trek short here, meet your car at Nabji, and return to Trongsa.

Distance

13km

Time

6–7 hours

Ascent & Descent

335m descent

Day 4: Nabji to Nimshong

It is two to three hours trekking to Korphu (1500m), a village of about 600 people, to visit the village temple, which houses the sacred relics of Pema Lingpa. It's possible to stay in the community-run campsite, which offers fine views over the valley, especially if you are doing the trek in the reverse direction or require a shorter final day.

Hike along the road through a lush broadleaf forest teeming with regional fauna, such as golden langurs and rufous-necked hornbills, to the village of Nimshong (1320m). This section is well regarded for birdwatching. Nimshong is a village of about 60 households where you will be welcomed into the village with much song and dance. At Nimshong you can tour the village and possibly take in a cultural show, before picking up your transport back to Trongsa.

Distance

23km

Time

9 hours

Ascent & Descent

200m ascent 200m descent

People of Darkness

Numbering around 3000 individuals, the Monpas inhabit a cluster of ancient villages dotting the mountain slope overlooking the Mangde Chhu near Jangbi. The word Monpa loosely translates to 'people of darkness', and refers to their isolated existence in Bhutan. Believed to be the earliest settlers in Bhutan, the tribe's ethnic roots can be traced back to Arunachal Pradesh in India, where their population exceeds 50,000.

The Monpas practise a mix of Buddhism and animistic shamanism. While they were originally hunters and gatherers, the Monpas have, over time, developed artisanal skills such as cane weaving, bamboo crafting and basket making.

Merak–Sakteng Trek

Closed to foreigners from 1995 to 2010, this trek in the far-eastern corner of the country promises an unparalleled cultural and natural experience, for the moment at least.

The trek passes through the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, an unspoilt and delicate ecosystem that's home to the endangered snow leopard and red panda, the Himalayan black bear, the Himalayan red fox and perhaps even the legendary migoi (yeti). The region is also home to the isolated Brokpa people, one of the Himalaya's most interesting ethnic groups.

As with so many trekking routes in Bhutan, roads are encroaching upon the trekking routes. A road reaches Merak and another, north of the Gamri Chhu, will probably reach Sakteng within the next few years. Homestays are already available in both villages, and alternative paths will doubtless be found to avoid the bulk of the roads. April and May are the best months to visit for lovely spring blooms.

It's possible to start the trek from Merak, or from several villages closer to Trashigang. One popular option is to begin at Damnongchu, but you could conceivably start at Jaling, Khardung or Phongme. If you want a shorter trek or to spend a full day in and around Sakteng village, skip day one of this itinerary and start walking from Merak.

The Trek at a Glance

Duration 3-4 days

Max Elevation 3480m

Difficulty Medium

Season Mid-March to May, September to November

Start Damnongchu or Merak

Finish Thakthri or Jyongkhar

Access Town Trashigang

Summary A star attraction offering a sneak peek into one of the most secluded regions in Bhutan.

The Shy Predator

Locally referred to as chen, the critically endangered snow leopard is a solitary and elusive creature that lives in rocky mountain folds above the tree line, descending to lower altitudes during winter. While its white fur works as a wonderful camouflage in its icy habitat, the snow leopard is also extremely agile in high terrain, and can effortlessly walk through nearly 3ft of snow. Preying on blue sheep and the occasional yak calf, it can sometimes stray into human territory in search of food. However, direct confrontations with humans are rare.

The holy grail of an entire generation of wildlife photographers and filmmakers, the snow leopard remains one of the most pursued creatures in the wild, although there's very little data on hand to portray the animal accurately. If you manage to spot one of these cats on your trek, consider yourself blessed.

Day 1: Damnongchu to Merak

The trail leading out of Damnongchu involves a series of gentle ups and downs along a stream. About 45 minutes before Merak you pass the village and lhakhang at Gengu, which is said to house the mummified body of Buchang Gyalwa Zangpo, the son of Thangtong Gyelpo.

The final stretch is an easy and gradual ascent through yak meadows into the village of Merak (3480m), home to around 140 families. Camp is usually made just before the village, in a spot offering fantastic views of the mountains and the village. Alternatively, you can choose to stay at the village guesthouse or in a local homestay. The Samtenling Lhakhang boasts the saddle and phallus of local mountain deity Jomo Kuenkhar's horse.

Time

5 hours

Day 2: Merak to Miksa Teng

Today's trek scales the 4140m Nagchung La for fine Himalayan views, after which the route descends steadily to a river. After following the river for an hour, it's another steep one-hour climb and then descent to Miksa Teng (2850m). A teng is a ledge or terrace. The campsite is surrounded by rhododendrons, which are in riotous bloom in April.

Time

7–8 hours

Day 3: Miksa Teng to Sakten

From Miksa Teng, you climb 300m to a small pass, then descend through beautiful woods to Sakteng (2985m). If you're lucky, you might see a red panda amid the forest along the way. There's a campsite on the outskirts of the village, but you can also sleep at the village guesthouse if you want. Some groups include a rest day in Sakteng, which is a good idea.

Time

4 hours

Day 4: Sakten to Jyongkhar via Thakthri

After a small pass, today's walk is mostly downhill, to the village of Thakthri (2200m), which is connected by a new road to Rangjung and where you can end the trek. Alternatively, you can cross the Gamri Chhu and continue to the village of Jyongkhar (1850m), which is connected by another road to Phongme, Radi and then Rangjung.

Time

6–7 hours

Other Features

Off The Beaten Trek

As road construction eats away at existing treks and tourist numbers continue to grow in popular trekking areas in peak seasons, the tourism authorities are trying to introduce new trek routes to avoid bottlenecks and spread tourism development to hitherto unvisited corners of the country.

Ask your Bhutanese agent about the following trek routes, currently in the planning stage but due to come online soon. Figure on some exploring if you tackle these routes, as you'll be among the first to trek them.

Nub Tshona Pata trek Five- to seven-day wilderness loop onto the high alpine plateau to the northwest of Haa. The trail crosses half a dozen passes, the highest of which is 4255m, with the third night at Tshona Pata Tsho. The region is connected to Sherab Mebar, the terton (treasure finder) who revealed Buddhist texts here.

Aja Ney trek A proposed six-day trek from Shershong to this sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site (called a ney in Dzongkha). October to March are the best months.

Shabjithang trek A planned seven-day itinerary from Nangsiphel in the upper Chamkhar valley (Bumthang) through Wangchuck Centennial Park. The route leads to Chamba and Waithang villages, then east to Gomthang for fine views of Gangkhar Puensum.

Gangkhar Puensum Base Camp trek A five-day trek from Jakar to the base of the world's highest unclimbed mountain (7541m), a day there and three days' walk back. Visited by Levison Wood in the British TV series Walking the Himalayas.

Royal Manas National Park trek Five days through subtropical and broadleaf forests into the wild heart of Royal Manas National Park.

Bridung La trek This week-long trek through the upper Kheng region starts from Chungphel in the lower Chhume valley, 20km from Ura, and climbs through forest for four days until reaching the plateau lakes of the Bridung La pass and then dropping down to the ancient lhakhang at Buli. April to June and September to November are the best times to trek. The starting point is accessed by farm road from the Pogo junction on the Jakar bypass. Buli is a bumpy 55km (three hours) drive from Zhemgang.

Salt trek This remote five-day route from Samdrup Jungkhar to Cheya (south of Trashigang, near Khentongmani) via Pemagatshel and Yongla Goemba follows a former salt- and silk-trading route through subtropical and temperate broadleaf and pine forest, overnighting in Nelang, Radhingphu, Mongling, Demrizam and Denchung. Because of the low elevations this is a great winter-season trek, walkable between October and March. Come in November to time your trek with the three-day Pemagatshel tsechu.

Juniper trek A short two- or three-day trek from Doga Kha or Chuzomtoe in the lower Paro Valley up to the ridgeline separating the Paro and Haa valleys, offering fine views and yak pastures to end at the Chele La.

Mountaineering in Bhutan

While they may not physically measure up to the iconic 8000m-high peaks in Nepal and Tibet, the mountains of Bhutan are ruggedly beautiful. Jhomolhari was a famous landmark for early Everest expeditions. On the approach march for the 1921 British Everest Expedition, George Leigh Mallory thought it to be an astounding mountain, but one which filled him with a cold horror. It was climbed from Tibet in 1937 by F Spencer Chapman and Passang Lama, and again in 1970 by a joint Indo-Bhutanese team.

Michael Ward and Dr Frederic Jackson made an extensive and pioneering survey of Bhutan's mountains from 1964 to 1965. Climbing several peaks of around 5500m, they categorised the Bhutan Himalaya as a defined group of mountains. Climbers were allowed in for a short period from 1983 to 1994. A Bhutanese team scaled Thurigang (4900m), north of Thimphu, in 1983. Jichu Drakye was attempted thrice before being climbed in 1988 by an expedition led by Doug Scott. In 1985 Japanese expeditions climbed Gangri (7239m), Kari Jang, Kang Bum (6526m) and Masang Gang (7165m). Gangkhar Puensum (7541m) still remains the highest unclimbed peak in the world after unsuccessful attempts by Japanese and British teams in the 1980s.

Climbing peaks above 6000m was subsequently prohibited in Bhutan, owing to religious beliefs and reservations of villagers residing near them.

The Royal Heritage Trail

Every autumn during the rule of the second king (1926–52) the entire royal court would pack up their belongings onto 300 porters and 100 pack horses and set off on a twice-annual migration between the summer palace at Bumthang and a warmer winter residence at Kuenga Rabten. Today only the occasional herder uses this former royal processional way but trekkers can re-enact the route as part of an interesting three-day cultural trek. The little-trekked route links together two passes, three former palaces, several meditation retreats and some lovely scenery into a low-elevation cultural trek.

From Wangdicholing Palace in Jakar groups hike over the Kiki La ridge to Tharpaling Goemba, before descending via Samtenling Goemba to a camp near Domkhar Dzong (alternatively, get a more comfortable night's sleep at the nearby Chumey Nature Resort). Day two climbs past the royal lunch spot of Dungmai (3680m, four hours) to a campsite at Jamsapang (4020m, two hours). The final day starts with a short climb to a chorten at the Tungli La for fine views of the distant Black Mountains. From here it's all downhill via Jopchisa to a lunch spot at Saphay Pang (2860m, four hours) and then a final four-hour downhill hike to the impressive palace at Kuenga Rabten. An alternative route climbs over the Ngada La before descending to either Saphay Pang or Eundu Chholing.

Yak & Jim

Westerners tend to oversimplify the yak's many manifestations into a single name, yet it is only the full-blooded, long-haired bull of the species Bos grunniens that truly bears the name yak. In Bhutan, the name is pronounced 'yuck'. Females of the species are called jim, and are prized for their butterfat-rich milk, used to make butter and cheese.

Large, ponderous and clumsy looking, yaks can move very quickly when startled. If you are trekking with yaks, give them a wide berth, and don't put anything fragile in your luggage. If an animal becomes alarmed, it charges up a hill, and your baggage could fall off and get trampled while the yak bucks and snorts, even as its keeper tries to regain control.

Though some yaks are crossbred with local cows, there are many pure-bred yaks in Bhutan – massive animals with thick furry coats and impressive sharp horns.