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Walk the Ancient Bhutan Trail – A Sybarite Itinerary

Includes

Hike some of the most memorable sections of the Trans Bhutan Trail without sacrificing comfort by staying in some of Bhutan’s finest luxury properties, whether it’s Aman, Como Uma Paro or Le Meridien Thimphu. Take in remote mountain passes, ancient temples, and majestic dzongs (fortresses) on your way as you traverse the heart of Western Bhutan on this 6-day itinerary.

Below is a detailed example itinerary:

Day 1 – Thimphu

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

Check in to your hotel, where the remainder of the day will be at leisure.

Accommodation: Amankora Thimphu Lodge (5*)

Day 2 – Thimphu – Thinleygang – Punakha

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

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

Head down into the adjacent valley and join a section of the Trail known as the ‘Divine Madman Trail’. You are now following in the footsteps of the Divine Madman himself, Drupka Kuenley, when he came to Bhutan from Tibet in the 16th century to fulfil his destiny of suppressing evil energies. Over the coming days, you will come across a number of important cultural sites and extraordinary stories related to the life of Drupka Kuenley.

Make a stop at the pleasant village of Thinleygang, where you will enjoy a traditional, hot Bhutanese lunch, served in a local farmhouse. After lunch, visit the Thinleygang Lhakhang (temple) before rejoining your vehicle for a transfer to your hotel in Punakha. On arrival, you will have the remainder of the day to relax and enjoy the facilities.

Accommodation: Uma Como Punakha Hotel (5*)

Trek Distance: 10.5 kilometres (6.52 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 4 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (164 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,100 metres (10,170 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,560 metres (5,118 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,100 metres (10,170 feet)

Day 3 – Punakha

After breakfast at your hotel, you will visit the Nalanda Monastery, home to a group of monks who are pursuing higher Buddhist studies and learning English as well. You will be able to interact with the monks and chat with them. They will be more than happy to practice their English language skills with you!

After the visit, you will be transferred to Sew Drangsa, where you will find a clearing marked with prayer flags, which is where the monastic body stops for lunch when they transfer between its winter residence in Punakha and summer residence in Thimphu. From here, you will rejoin the Trans Bhutan Trail and descend towards Punakha Dzong (fortress), enjoying spectacular views of the Punakha Valley on the way.

After lunch at a restaurant in Punakha, enjoy an afternoon of sightseeing around the charming town of Punakha. Start off at the Bazam (bridge) across the river from Punakha Dzong (fortress), where you will need to be wearing formal Bhutanese dress, including a gho for men and a kora for women, in order to cross on foot. Once on the other side, enjoy a tour of the Dzong (fortress), which was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in around 1637 at the confluence of the Phochhu (male river) and the Mochhu (female river). Arguably, it is the most beautiful Dzong in the country. The Dzong guards Bhutan’s most treasured relic, the Rangjung Kharsapani, an image of Chenresig kept away from the public in the utse (tower). It has survived Tibetan invasions, numerous fires, floods and a glacial lake burst. The Dzong served as the capital and seat of the Bhutanese Government until the early 1950s; and the coronation of His Majesty the First Druk, Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck, took place here. The building currently serves as the winter residence for the monastic body.

Dinner will be served at your hotel.

Accommodation: Uma Como Punakha Hotel (5*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 8 kilometres (4.97 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 3 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (164 feet)
Starting Elevation: 1,751 metres (5,745 feet)
Ending Elevation: 1,225 metres (4,019 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 1,751 metres (5,745 feet)

Day 4 – Punakha – Pelela – Rukubji – Gangtey

Today, you will be heading towards Gangtey, a home to the rare Black Necked Cranes migrating from the Tibetan plateau to escape the harsh winter. An estimate of 200 to 300 cranes reside in this valley during the winter months and the Royal Society for Projection of Nature (RSPN) take extreme measures to ensure the safety of the Cranes.

Stop on route at Pelela: at 3,407 metres (11,177 feet) above sea level, the Pelela Pass is one of Bhutan’s highest and is traditionally considered to mark the boundary between west and central Bhutan. Local craftspeople often sell fine yak-hair products at the pass. At Pelela join the Trans Bhutan Trail heading east: as you descend through the meadows below Pelela, keep an eye out for the remote yak herder camps which can be seen scattered around the valley. Stop in a traditional farmhouse in the village of Rukubji to enjoy a hot lunch, before visiting Rukubji’s village Lhakhang (temple), also known as Kuenzang Choling. It is thought that this temple was built some 300 years ago by a Lama named Tshendhen Duelwa. Unlike most temples, it is not built on a ridge with a view out over a valley, but rather on an extended plateau and close to two rivers: the reason for this is that the Lama is said to have built the temple on top of the head of a snake-demoness which he subdued in the same location. Rukubji is also famous for its unique local language, and you will have the chance to learn about it from the villagers over tea. The dialect, called Ngyen-Kye, is a mix of other dialects from across Bhutan and even some English words, and is now only spoken by a dozen or so households.

Afterwards, rejoin your vehicle for a transfer to Gangtey. On arrival, visit the 17th century Gangtey Gonpa (monastery), an important monastery in the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism and the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. After your visit, head to your hotel where you will enjoy dinner.

Accommodation: Gangtey Lodge (5*)
Meals: B,L,D
Trek Distance: 10 kilometres (6.21 miles)
Estimated Trek Duration: 3.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 metres (984 feet)
Starting Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)
Ending Elevation: 2,735 metres (8,973 feet)
Maximum Elevation: 3,402 metres (11,162 feet)

Day 5 – Gangtey – Paro

After breakfast, rejoin your vehicle for a transfer back to Paro. A stop will be made for lunch en route.

On arrival in Paro and after checking in to your hotel, head out for a final cultural visit to Ta Dzong and Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress). The Ta Dzong, or the ‘watchtower’, was originally built in 1649 to protect Paro Dzong from the Tibetan military. In 1968, Ta Dzong became Bhutan’s National Museum, and is now home to a number of exhibitions including sculpture, painting and artefacts depicting Bhutan’s magical past. Afterwards, head to Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress), meaning ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels”. The original construction of this dzong is believed to have been completed in 1458 and it was restored to its present glory by His Majesty the Third of Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, to mark his royal wedding in 1951.

Dinner will be served at your hotel.

Day 6 – Paro

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

Accommodation: Uma Como Paro Hotel (5*)

About

The Trans Bhutan Trail dates back at least to the 16th century when it connected fortresses called Dzongs and served as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists in the east travelling to the most sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet. Trail runners, or ‘Garps’, worked the Trail and were legendary, travelling with vital messages and mail between Dzongs at great speeds with little food or rest. The Trail came to play a major role in uniting the region’s many provinces, repelling foreign incursions, and fostering the birth of Bhutan as a nation in 1907.

By the 1960s the Trail had fallen into disuse with the construction of a national highway. Bridges, footpaths and stairways collapsed, gewogs (villages) and landholdings were separated, and this traditional pilgrimage route became neglected.

In 2018, with the wisdom and vision of His Majesty, The King, the restoration of the Trail was led by the Bhutan Canada Foundation with the support of the Tourism Council of Bhutan to restore the Trail to make it accessible again for locals, pilgrims, and travellers. During the COVID-19 crisis, with the assistance of the Royal Government of Bhutan more than 900 furloughed workers helped to restore the Trail to its former glory including the rebuilding of 18 bridges, hundreds of kilometres of footpaths and more than 10,000 steps. Today the 403 kilometre (250 mile) Trail, spanning the country from Haa in the west to Trashigang in the east, can be walked, run, or biked, in part or in whole. It is certainly one of the great walks in the world.

The Sybarite is pleased to offer this truly story-telling and exceptional trail, considered one of the Great Walks of the World with expert guides along this sustainable destination. All flights and accommodation including visas can be organized and should you prefer a different itinerary please get in touch using the form below.

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More information available upon request. Minimum duration may apply.

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