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Adventures in Bhutan

by Holxo Travel Specialist


Welcome to Bhutan! Planning your next exciting holiday, choose one that offers a heady mix of culture and adventure in Bhutan. This land of the last Shangri-La - Bhutan offers adventures full of visually stunning sights and sounds that will intrigue and delight your sense like none other!

Adventures in Bhutan are not just limited to sightseeing trips, they can be combined with many exciting outdoor activities. We highly recommend an active holiday in Bhutan that includes cycling, trekking and white-water rafting, making your vacation a celebration of life beyond the normal.


Explore the Mystic Kingdom of Bhutan Trekking

We believe, one of the best ways to experience Bhutan’s natural beauty is by enjoying nature treks in Bhutan. Wondering if trekking in Bhutan is really your calling? Don’t worry, on our recent visit we experienced some fascinating nature treks in Bhutan that suited novices like us too!

Of course, for the experienced hikers, there are options of very challenging high-altitude trek in Bhutan, but we added that extra zing to our holiday adventure in Bhutan by choosing from the countless easy light treks in the wilderness that so beautifully accentuate the Dzongs of Bhutan.

Some of the most sought-after treks in Bhutan include:

  1. Dochula Pass
  2. Tiger’s Nest Monastery
  3. Bumthang Owl Trek
  4. Jumolhari
  5. Laya Gasa
  6. The Snowman Trek

Why should your first adventure be a trek on Bhutan’s Dochula Pass?

During our adventures to Bhutan, we travelled on the road between Thimphu and Punakha crossing the majestic Dochula Pass, located at an elevation of 3100 meters. This adventure in Bhutan brought us up-close with nature; chilly weather greeted us with breath-taking views of the snow-covered Mt. Masanggang (7,158 meters) - Bhutan’s highest peak. The entire east Himalayan range was also prominently visible from Dochula Pass.

What’s more … enjoying this adventure in Bhutan to its fullest, we explored two ancient trail routes that are spectacular light treks enroute from Thimphu to Punakha. The Dochu La and Lumitsawa trails, were our perfect introduction to the amazing topography of Bhutan.

These light treks in Bhutan introduced us to the beautiful Cypress grooves and Bhutan’s hill slopes festooned with their colourful religious flags that are inscribed with scriptural prayers said to usher peace and prosperity, we felt one with nature. On this trek in Bhutan, we learnt that each flag’s colour symbolises a facet of nature – blue is for sky, white is for clouds, red is for fire, green is for water and yellow is for the earth, hence their connotation of peace and happiness.

The Dochu La Nature Trail is a beautiful trek in Bhutan of 1.2 kilometres, making it an easy one to incorporate into your drive. It begins from the Dochu La Café and ends on the Lamperi road where your vehicle can meet you.

Dochu La
Dochu La

The second wonderful trek is the Lumitsawa Ancient Trail (4.7 kilometers) which ends up on the main Lumitsawa road. These serene treks in Bhutan are also the best way to visit ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’ (108 Stupas) which have been built in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers of the 2003 uprising.

Though Dochula Pass is always spectacular, irrespective of what time of the year, however the best time to visit it is February, when the skies are clearest, and the snow begins to melt on the mountain peaks. It also the time for the lavish Bhutanese celebrations of the Losar festival – the country’s new year.

The treks in Bhutan’s Dochula Pass region are a visual treat with flowers like the Primal Denticulata, Magnolia, Rhododendron in full bloom and the fragrant Daphne shrubs dotted with white flowers are a sight to behold as they add that additional cheer to the colourful array of prayer flags that surround the slopes. 

Another interesting adventure in Bhutan, in our travels between the cities of Thimphu and Punakha was a visit to the Chimi Lhakhang Temple dedicated to the maverick and quirky Buddhist saint Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529). The temple has been built of the site where this maverick saint is said to have originally built a chorten (stupa) in the 15th century. The Bhutanese refer to this temple as the “fertility temple”, the phallic imagery in it is believed to ward off evil spirits.

Driving on this route is full of adventures that thrill, delight and excite you, the surprising highlight of it all was as we approached Punakha, stunning valley views greeted us, serving as a constant reminder to the abundance of natural beauty and serenity that one can find solace in, in Bhutan.   

A family adventure in Bhutan – Trekking to the Tiger Nest Monastery

No trip to Bhutan is complete without a visit to the Tiger Nest locally known as Taktsang Lhakhang. The monastery is perched on a cliff 900 meters above Paro Valley. The religious importance of the Tiger Nest Monastery dates to the 7th century, legend has it that Guru Rimpoche flew to this monastery site on a tigress and meditated in the cave to subdue the evil demons living in it. The cave is revered since and many prominent saints are believed to make this journey to date to, to meditate in the temples. The monastery has 4 temples that are interconnected by stairs carved into the rock caves.

On our recent stay in Paro, we dedicated a morning for this trek. It is a light trek that can be done in about 2-3 hours one way, depending on your speed and the numbers of stops one makes. In our group, we had children and it was delightful to see the 8-9-year olds thoroughly enjoying the landscape. The path of this is a beautiful trek, interspersed with calm rhododendrons, pine trees, vibrant prayer flags and prayer wheels, making the route a visual treat and the entire experience of this trek in Bhutan a joyful one!

The entrance gates at the cliff base open at 8am, we highly recommend that visitors start walking up the slope in the cool morning time, and possibly aim to do the downhill stretch in the afternoon. We took advantage of the pit stops enroute to sometimes catch a breath and at other times to simply enjoy a local cup of tea and refreshments from the stalls. For those people who cannot complete the route on foot, there is an option of riding a horse, we choose to walk all the way to the top enjoying the serene landscape.

At the monastery complex, one can ideally spend 3 hours visiting all the temples and taking in the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains.

Tiger Nest Monastery
Tiger Nest Monastery

With Tiger Nest Monastery located just about 10 kilometres outside Paro, it is ideal to have your vehicle drop you at the cliff entrance point in the morning and then meet you back late afternoon on your descent. Even though this is a light trek in Bhutan, is served as an active workout of the day for us, after the visit we simply rested in the hotel and treated ourselves to delicious local cuisine and relaxing spa therapies.

The Bumthang Owl Trek

Bumthang is often referred to as the ‘cultural heartland’ of Bhutan, it is dotted with quite a few ancient Dzongs and boasts of a rich local experience for tourists. On this trek in Bhutan, a visit to the Dhur Village at 9514 feet is possibly the closest one can get the understand the nomadic Bhutanese way of life. Learn about the Khep and Brokpa’s who are Yak and Sheep herders by profession and speak the local dialects Dzongkha, Bumthang Kha, and Brokke, that are unique to this part of Bhutan.

Overnight camping under the stars with the synchronized hooting owls at night are sights and sounds that are sure to mesmerize you. Diverse outdoor experiences like this one will surely make you marvel at all the hidden gems treks in Bhutan offer. We highly recommend this overnight camping trek, as it is an adventure is Bhutan with an unparalleled experience and is also credited to making the owl trek a much sought-after adventure activity in the region. This trek in Bhutan is also ideal for small groups to embark on a journey of discovering the natural beauty and the colourful local festivals of Bhutan.

Depending on individual fitness levels, one can choose a trail route, the popular options are the 1640 feet ascent to Pephe La Pass and the Drangela Pass at 3600 feet. These amazing trails are the perfect way to experience the natural beauty of Bumthang’s forests that constitutes of blue pine, birch, maple, spruce, juniper and bamboo, so colorfully draped in the countless varieties of rhododendrons.

With unparalleled views of Gangar Puensum (24,840 ft) the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, these tranquil trails in the Bumthang mountains offer a natural habitat for birds like the beautiful Himalayan Tragopan and Monal Pheasant. Trekkers to Bhutan’s Bumthang region especially in April and May say these birds are a common sight during those months.

Another aspect of the local culture that can be experienced in this trek in Bhutan is the fascinating monastery life in Tharpaling, Chuedak and Zhambala. All these monasteries are stunning; however, the Chuedak Monastery is the most unusual, with 100 statues of Avoloketeshivaras, in the form of Chukchizhey, the god of eleven heads.

The Bumthang region has many good hotel options for tourist to choose from, to enjoy the perfect balance of outdoor charm and indoor luxury; treks and trails in this region can be a combination of overnight camping and adventures by day with hotel stays by night.

The Jumolhari Trek – an adventurous way to experience Bhutanese life

Looking for an adventure in Bhutan that combines culture, camping and trekking? The Jumolhari trek could be a brilliant experience to get a glimpse into the iconic Bhutanese way of life. This trek begins in Paro and ends in Thimphu and can also include a visit to the iconic Tiger Nest Monastery. 

Following the Paro Valley, locally referred to as Pachhu, trekkers camp at Janothang base camp enroute, which offers stunning views of Jumolhari (23,996 feet) - the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. 

Mount Jumolhari
Mount Jumolhari
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This trek in Bhutan is an exhilarating adventure through the countryside with trails that pass through the high grazing pastures of Yak herders, farmhouses, rice fields and orchards. Descending trekkers can get a firsthand experience of seeing the immaculate vegetation slopes in the lower valleys of Thimphu and the natural gorges formed by unique rock canyons. This trek is ideal in the months of April and May and also September through November.

Challenge yourself - Try the Laya Gasa Trek in Bhutan!

This twelve-day trek is often referred to as the preparation ground for the Snowman Trek- the hardest trek in the world! Its less challenging as compared to the Snowman Trek but is certainly not a comprise on the experience. With participants camping at 13000 feet and crossing several high-altitude passes on the way, it is a good preparation for the harder treks. The highlight of this trek is a visit to the Lingshi Dzong- a fortress on a hilltop, that was believed to be the Buddhist haven protecting the land against invasions from Tibet and Mongolia. The best times to attempt this trek in Bhutan are March to May and September to November.

Do You Know the World’s Hardest Trek is in Bhutan - The Snowman Trek?

For the not so faint hearted, trekking in Bhutan can also be an adventure of the lifetime! Often referred to as the hardest trek in the world, The Snowman Trek starts in the picturesque Paro Valley, transverses along the Tibet border and ends in Bumthang.

Its reputation of being the hardest can be attributed to the fact that trekkers cross the Shingchen La Pass at 16,420 feet and the Ganglakarchung Pass at 16,780 feet. On this trek in Bhutan, the acclimatisation process involves camping in snow at an altitude above the 16,400 feet level and walking on hilly terrain for about 9 hours daily. The mountains that can be viewed on this trek in Bhutan are Jumolhari (23,996 feet), Jichu Drake (22,930 feet), Tsherimgang (22,274 feet), Kangbum (21,411 feet), Tiger Mountain (22,440 feet) and Tsenda Gang (23,294 feet).

The trekking trail on this route is said to be an invaluable way of getting your very own indelible life experiences, as the ultimate test of grit, endurance, and determination. On this trek in Bhutan, hikers meander through pristine nature like glacial streams, river valleys, high grazing alpine meadows, rhododendron forests and orchards. The landscape on this trek in Bhutan is remote, largely uninhabited and dotted with fresh natural waterfalls and lakes. Trekkers many a times spot the Blue Sheep, Yaks and Griffon Vultures in the meadows and around the natural water bodies. 

This trek of Bhutan is only recommended for experienced high-altitude trekkers and can be ideally completed between twenty-seven to thirty days. For the avid trekkers, this trek in Bhutan is an unmatched adrenalin pumper. The best time of the year to attempt this trek is from mid-June to mid- November.

We highly recommend the newly converted trekking enthusiasts should first experience the Laya Gasa and/ or the Jumolhari treks in Bhutan, irrespective of fitness levels. For professional trekkers or those wanting to have a higher adrenaline rush, these two treks would also prepare them, to then attempt the Snowman Trek successfully – touted as the hardest trek in the world!

If trekking in Bhutan for days on end is not your calling, but you would still like to experience its captivating landscapes, get a glimpse of the ancient culture and meet the humble Bhutanese people, choose a tailor-made adventure to Bhutan. Your tour can be a combination of luxurious hotel accommodation, day excursions, light treks and overnight camping trips making your Bhutan holiday - an adventure of a lifetime!


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