Thursday, July 21, 2016

Six weeks in Bhutan

In February/March this year I was once again lucky enough to get some serious time in my favourite country: Bhutan. Luckily Lonely Planet agreed to foot the bill on this one, since Bhutan is seriously expensive at almost US$300 per day for a single traveller in high season.

I've been to the country several times before but I still managed to fit in some new destinations to this research trip around the popular western region. The following are my favourite places; off-radar destinations that I strongly recommend you try to visit, even if you are (understandably) short on time.

My thanks to Karma Gyeltsen of Bhutan Mountain Holiday, who organised this trip for me and to my great guide and driver who showed extreme patience, even after visiting the 15th hotel in one day in the Paro Valley. Bhutan Mountain Holiday have arranged my last three trips to Bhutan and are great at customising small group trips. Contact them at

This is a wonderful hidden hermitage in the Haa Valley. It feels like a million miles away but you can hike there in less than an hour and the valley itself is only a couple of hours drive from Paro.

Entrance chorten to Juneydrak

Juneydrak caretaker

View of Haa Valley from Juneydrak trail

Tamchog Bridge  
One of Tangtong Gyelpo's original medieval iron chain link bridges! It's beside the main Paro-Thimpu road so is easy to visit.

The luxury camp at the foot of this cliff-face shrine gives you a great taste of trekking in Bhutan. It's a fairly tough hike (all uphill on day one, all downhill on day two) but at the end of the day you'll be pampered with a proper bed, a sun lounger and a heated tent. Plus you get to walk down to the spectacular Tiger's Nest the next day.

Hiking up to Bumdrak

Sunset view from Bumdrak camp

Drak Kharpo 
This little visited pilgrimage site is high on the hillside southeast of Paro and involves a bit of a drive on dirt roads to get near. Walk the short kora path, explore the sacred Guru Rinpoche cave and then visit the main shrine. Bring a torch - I forgot mine and had to navigate in the pitch black using only the flash of my camera.

Bhutanese pilgrims in the Guru's cave
Squeezing through the pitch darkness

Pilgrim on the kora path

Phobjikha hike   
The Phobjikha Valley is a real charmer and a great place for hiking or biking. Bring binoculars to spot the many black-necked cranes.

View from the Valley hike

Gangtey Monastery

The northwest valley

Thimphu Textile Museum 
Opened a year or two ago, this new museum features a fine collection of royal robes and examples of Bhutanese weaving styles from across the country.

A Bhutanese gho (male robe)

Hiking from the Dochu-la Pass   
For a lovely half-day hike, drive to the Dochu-la pass and then hike up through rhododendron forest to the hilltop Lungchuzekha Goemba and then downhill to the charming Trashigang Monastery, before getting picked up at Hongtsho.
Rhododendron forest en route to Lungchuzekha Goemba

Trashigang Monastery

This was my first visit to the Norbugang Lhakhang high above the Punakha Valley. The monastery is charming but the real highlight here is the mountain scenery.
Norbugang Lhakhang


Saga La Trek
I didn't have much time for trekking so chose this overnight option that links the Haa and upper Paro valleys. The views of Jhomolhari and Jichu Drake peaks from just above the pass are superb 

Views from above the Saga La

Sheldrak Hermitage behind Haa 
I'm a sucker for hillside meditation retreats, so here's another lovely option just off the Haa Valley. You can drive uphill most of the way, from where it's a short downhill walk. Nearby is a lovely meditation cave.
Sheldrak Hermitage

Dzongdrakha  Monastery
Strung along a cliff just southwest of the Paro Valley is this lovely series of monastery chapels. It's an easy trip from Paro and you can combine it with a trip up to the Chele La.

Zuri Dzong hike, Paro
For the best views of Paro Dzong you need to hike from Paro Museum up to Zuri Dzong. It's not particularly strenuous and the views of the Paro valley are lovely. 



Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

Current Favourite Track