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From East to West Bhutan

The most complete tour through Bhutan, from East to West Bhutan.

In 3 weeks time you will get acquainted with all aspects of this mysterious little kingdom in the mountains. An unparalleled experience where you travel from the lesser known East Bhutan with its ethnic groups to the cultural pearls of West and Central Bhutan.

 

Overview East to West Bhutan

The journey starts in Samdrup Jonkhar, on the border with the Indian state of Assam, and takes you via Trashigang and Merak to Mongar. You travel over a high mountain pass to the Buddhist heartland of Bhutan in the Bumthang district, an area laden with countless colorful myths and legends.

Through the Crane Valley of Phobjika and the subtropical Punakha, you finally arrive in the cozy capital Thimphu, a Bhutanese -style 'metropolis' . An idyllic mountain route takes you further to the recently opened Haa district where foreigners have only been admitted a few years ago . As always, the journey ends with an absolute highlight: Tiger's Nest, the iconic temple on a cliff high above the valley of Paro.

We include a number of extras you will hardly find in other travel programs: relaxed nature walks, staying overnight in a village house in Merak near the Brokpa people, a farmstay in the hills, the possibility to stay overnight in a Buddhist monastery,...  But of course this program can be tailormade according to your wishes.

 

Suggested itinerary  East to West Bhutan

  1. Arrival in Guwahati '(Assam, India) by flight from Delhi. We drive from the airport directly to the Bhutanese border near Samdrup Jongkhar (approx. 90km). 
  2. Today a long ride awaits us from the border to Trashigang, the capital of eastern Bhutan.  We ascend from the lowlands of the Brahmaputra Valley to the Himalayan Mountains and cross several vegetation zones.  Along the way we  cross Yongphu La pass at about 2100m. Everywhere we drive through vast bamboo and teak forests, the favorite habitat of the red panda and the langur monkey. The landscape becomes more and more alpine as we ascend. We end up in Trashigang where we stay the first evening.
    The capital of East Bhutan used to be an important trading post with Tibet.  The largest river of the country, the Drangme Chu, flows along the city and the semi-nomadic people of Sakteng and Merak use the city as their main market place. Their unique costumes, so different from the Bhutanese Gho and Kira, make them instantly recognizable in the streets.
  3. Early in the morning we visit Trashigang Dzong, very strategically located on top of a slope overlooking the river. Afterwards we drive in about 2 hours to the small district of Trashiyangtse. Pure Nature with some remarkable buildings like the Chorten Khora, a stupa modelled after the big stupa of Bodnath in Nepal.
    In the afternoon we continue to Bhumdeling. Bhumdeling is one of the (few) wintering places of the Blacknecked Cranes. In winter they descend from the icy Tibetan Plains to hibernate at lower altitudes. They arrive around the end of October and leave around February/March.
  4. A bumpy jeep track takes us to the Migoi National Park, in the region of the villages of Merak and Sakteng (approx. 5h). We stay with a local family in Merak (3500m) where we get acquainted with the culture and way of life of the Brokpa.
    The area is very rural, counts numerous colorful villages and has different population groups that live together in harmony. Overnight stay in a simple family house in Merak.
  5. In the morning walk around Merak with a view of the surrounding peaks including the holy Aum Yomo. Afterwards return in the direction of Trashigang. Depending on how smooth the return goes we can stop in Radi (known for its weaving techniques) or in the gompa of Ranjung.
  6. Along the Drangme Chu, the largest river of Bhutan, towards Mongar with a side trip on the way to Dramtse, one of the oldest gompa's of East Bhutan where the abbot is a reincarnation of Pema Lingpa (the Treasure hunter), a Buddhist saint who is best known for discovering relics of Guru Rinpoche everywhere in the Himalayas. We also drive along the famous 'zigzag' route near the village of Yadi.
    Upon arrival in Mongar we can visit the local markets of this district capital.
  7. Crossing a pass of about 4000m, the Thrumsing La, you leave East-Bhutan and enter the Bumthang district. Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. In the 4 Sacred Valleys you will find numerous lhakhangs (temples) and gompa's where Buddhism is still alive in its purest form.
    The first valley we cross is Ura. At this altitude the population mainly lives from agriculture and the cultivation of yaks. With a detour via Membar Tso (the Burning Lake) we finally arrive in Jakar, the district capital in the valley of Choekor. It is a long but impressive drive through unspoiled landscapes.
  8. A day in the Bumthang district that can be filled to your liking:
    - A visit to a number of important temples (Jambay Lakhang, Kurjey Lhakhang and Tamsing) which are within walking distance of each other, combined with the dzong of Jakar.
    - A nice, but tough hike to the remote Petseling Gompa above the valley (approx. 4h one way).
    - Optionally there is the possibility to go horseback riding or mountain biking.
  9. Through the valley of Chumi and across the Yutong La you leave Bumthang in the direction of the subtropical Punakha Valley. On the way you can stop at the biggest dzong of Bhutan in Trongsa and at the chorten of Chendebi, just before the Pelela Pass. You will also pass one of the largest hydropower projects in the Himalayas. The closer you get to the top of the pass, the more herds of yaks you see. Once across this pass, a side road leads to the glacial valley of Phobjika, known for the impressive Gangtey Gompa and the wetlands where during the winter months countless black-necked cranes hibernate. On the way there are also some nice walks possible near Trongsa and Longtey.
  10. In the morning  visit to the Blacknecked Crane Center and walk along the Gangtey Nature Trail to observe the cranes of their feeding grounds.  Later visit to the gompa of Gangtey, which is of particular architectural interest.
  11. It's not that far to drive to the valley of Punakha so today we can stop in different villages along the way. In Punakha we visit the Chime Lhakang, the temple of the Divine Madman. Afterwards we drive further up the hills towards Talo Gompa. From a small village with a local temple we walk through an old irrigation channel to the farm where we will spent the night. 
  12. Walk to Talo Gompa from the farm (approx. 10km) with panoramic views of Punakha along the way. Talo Gompa is a lesser known monastery, depending on the dzong of Punakha, where a small monastic community lives and where you can experience Buddhism in all its simplicity. Overnight stay in the farm.

  13. Descent on foot along an old trail that leads to the dzong of Punakha. The dzong is one of the most  impressive in Bhutan. It occupies a central place in the religious and social life of the country. The kings are crowned there and Shabdrung, the warlord who united Bhutan, is buried in one of the templese. But above all, it is a beautiful building that exudes an unprecedented grandeur.
    After the visit to the dzong we drive out of the Punakha Valley to the Dochu La, a mountain pass of about3000m with at the top 108 chorten and thousands of fluttering prayer flags. In spring the slopes are covered with red and pink rhododendron trees. We spend the night in a cozy guesthouse on top of the pass so we can enjoy a great sunrise over the Himalayas the next morning.

  14. To Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, over the Dochu La with its 108 chorten. From the Dochu La a walk of about 3 hours can be made to the Lungchotse Temple and further to the small monastery of Tashiding. Upon arrival in Thimphu visit the National Memorial Chorten where the Bhutanese come from near and far to make a 'khora' (tour), and to the colorful Weekend Market (Monday to Friday).

  15. There are many other things to visit in Thimpu such as the Textile Museum, the Changanka Temple, the Buddha Dodena which overlooks the valley, the archery ground where the archers are active, the Taschicho Dzong which houses the seat of the government, the Buddhist University of Tango..... .
    A walk of about half a day goes to the remote gompa in the hills to a Buddhist university where countless monks are trained (if wanted, you can also stay overnight in a basic guesthouse near the monastery).

  16. We drive south along the Thimphu Chu river until we reach the Confluence with the Paro Chu. There we take a winding, but idyllic mountain route that takes us to the valley of Haa, only opened to foreigners a few years ago. It is a very rural area where you can meet the Bhutanese in a very authentic setting. Depending on how many (photo) stops we make along the way, in the afternoon there can be a nature walk through the valley or a visit to the Temples of the White and Black Pigeon.

  17. Via another route we leave Haa along the Pele La pass, the highest motorable pass of Bhutan (3990m). On top of the pass numerous white flags have been erected to commemorate the deceased. From the pass there is a two hour walk to the nunnery of Kila (very authentic and little visited). Afterwards we continue our way to Paro.

  18. About 20 minutes driving from Paro begins the trail to Tiger's Nest, the symbol of Bhutan and by far the most important Buddhist temple in the country. On a cliff about 900m above the valley, this gompa is stuck to the rocks (the hike takes about 2,5 hours, can be done partly by horse). You can also just walk to the viewpoint where you already have a nice view on Tiger's Nest.

  19. Your guide will transfer you to the airport for your onward destination.

 

This tour covers Bhutan completely from East to West. It is always possible to adapt certain days according to your personal preferences  (more hiking, no overnights in a farmhouse,...).

In East Bhutan only standard accommodation is available, in Central and West Bhutan more luxury options are possible with 4-star properties, Amankora and Six Senses 

 

This is just a sample itinerary. As we work completely tailormade .feel free to contact us for a longer or shorter itinerary according to your wishes.

 

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