Bhutan is possibly one of the world’s best kept secrets, active holidays that include cycling, white water rafting and mountain biking not only make you feel one with nature but are also possibly the best way to enjoy the mesmerising natural beauty of this majestic kingdom.
Cycling in Bhutan has become an immensely popular activity for both locals and tourists alike. One of the main reasons for this spurt in cycling tours is the improved road conditions that now connect major attractions and sightseeing locations within Bhutan. Cycling in Bhutan is not just for professional bikers, there are many options that are also suited to amateur riders as well.
For the professional bikers, Bhutan offers cycling trips across the length and breadth of the country ranging from weeklong tours to three-week excursions. However, for the amateurs, adding a cycling adventure to your everyday sightseeing excursions can be quite rewarding in Bhutan. With roads carved through spectacular landscapes, snow-capped mountains, rich vegetation, and thick forests, cycling in Bhutan trips is well worth a try!
Some of the interesting excursion options to add to your sightseeing excursions are -
This tour to the Haa Valley region can be done from both Thimphu and Paro. Depending on individual fitness levels and personal preferences, one can choose to do the roundtrip from Thimphu heading towards Haa valley which is about 31 Kilometers or 18 Kilometers towards Paro town.
Experience the joy of being in Bhutan’s outdoors as you arrive on Chele La, with majestic views of snowcapped mountains and the crisp freshness of nature caressing your skin. Even though this is a cycling tour on the well paved road, being mountain terrain, expect sharp bends on the highway, as you enjoy the ride through the spectacular landscape of pristine forests of blue pine, fir, and oak.
Try this exciting 3-hour cycling trip in Bhutan on the Thimphu-Paro highway, as you get up-close and personal with nature. On this route, enjoy the scenic visuals of Bhutan’s lush paddy fields, pristine forests, and nondescript villages. Enroute you will cross the Chunzom Bridge – the confluence of the Thimphu and Paro rivers. Take a refreshment break at this point and use the opportunity to interact with shopkeepers and locals.
This cycling tour in Bhutan also allows you to visit the scared monastery of Tachohgang Goemba, built in the 1400s by the successor of the revered saint Thangtong Gyalpo to commemorate his memories. To date, this monastery is privately managed. Approaching this monastery, delight at one of Bhutan’s most iconic iron bridges - the Tachognag Lakhangang bridge suspended over the Pa Chu river festooned with colourful prayer flags. This cycling tour is recommended to be done in the mornings when the breeze is cool and there is relatively less highway traffic enroute.
Starting in Thimphu, this adventure will take you on a cycling trip in Bhutan that offers spectacular Himalayan views and breathtaking lush forests to glide through. This cycling trip in Bhutan is unique as it is possibly one of the only popular mountain passes in the Himalayan region that can be crossed cycling and sightseeing without too much preparation.
The Dochula Pass is almost mid-way between Thimphu and Punakha. The Dochu La Café at the Pass is a good to stop for refreshments or lunch. Enroute one can also visit the ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’ (108 Stupas) built in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers of the 2003 uprising and the Chimi Lhakhang Temple dedicated to the maverick and quirky Buddhist saint Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529).
From Dochula to Punakha valley, the ride is mostly a downhill one through lush forests that are a visual treat with flowers like Magnolia, Rhododendron in full bloom and fragrant Daphne shrubs dotted with white flowers. It is also possible to end the cycling trip at Chimi Lhakhang, one can pre-arrange to meet their vehicle at this point instead of cycling all the way to Punakha.
A great way to experience the natural beauty of the Punakha and its vicinity is by including short cycling trips in this region along-with everyday sightseeing excursions. Two simple cycling trips that we enjoyed during our adventures in Bhutan are -
Embark on a cycling adventure to visit the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. It is an approximately 12 kilometers ride one way from downtown Punakha. We enjoyed this beautiful ride to the fullest as we converted our excursion into a family picnic event. Ride till Yepasia Village, cross the suspension bridge over the river, park your bikes and then do a light 30-minute trek to the Chorten on a beautiful hillock.
We learned from our local guide that the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten was built in 2004, by order of the Queen Mother- Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, with the aim to bestow peace and harmony on the world and especially help Bhutan tide over its obstacles. With interesting views and paintings belonging to Nyingmapa Traditions houses, we spent a leisurely few hours on the hilltop.
Once we were back in the picturesque foothills of the Chorten, we chose to the enjoy the riverside setting with a relaxing picnic meal before cycling back to Punakha. With such an active cycling adventure during the day, we chose to spend the evening in the hotel enjoying the hotel’s spa.
Cycle through the city’s hustle-bustle and colourful crossroads adorned with prayer flags to arrive at the Pungthang Dewa Chhenbi Phodrang, literally translated as “The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss”, the one of oldest Dzong of Bhutan. Punakha Dzong’s location on the banks of the serene Pho Chuu river, adds to the beauty of its majestic structure.
Built in 1637-38, the Dzong houses the sacred relics of the southern Drukpa Lineage, including the Rangjung Kharsapani and the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and the tertön Pema Lingpa. Revered as one of the most sacred Dzongs of Bhutan, it is no surprise that this Dzong has in recent years been witness to royal Bhutanese weddings as well.
Excursions to the Punakha Dzong are easy and great to explore the city in general.
Not for the faint hearted, Bhutan offers the professional bikers a serious challenge - the ‘Tour of the Dragon’ which is possibly one of the toughest bike races in the world! On this cycling trip in Bhutan, riders are required to cover the total stretch of 268 kilometres in one day! The race starts in Bumthang and ends in the capital city of Thimphu. Locals sometimes refer to this race as their very own version of the “Tour de France”!
The treacherous route of this race has four major high mountain passes for riders to conquer; Kiki La between Bumthang and Gyetsa, Yotang La between Gyetsa and Trongsa, Pele La between Trongsa and Chendebji and the Dochu La between Chendebji and Wangdue Phodrang in addition to the manoeuvring through Bhutan’s famously winding roads.
The Tour of the Dragon bike race requires riders to have extreme fitness levels and more importantly ample mountain biking experience and expertise to endure the high mountain terrain along the route. This race is held every year in September and attracts professional bikers from the world over. Besides the adrenaline rush for participating riders, the race route is said have on offer an impressive array of views from high mountain passes, stunning natural landscapes, and ancient monasteries dotted along the route.
There is a gentler version of this race called “Dragon’s Fury” that happens on the same day. This is a 60-kilometer race ascending through the Dochula all the way to Thimphu. Even though this is a shorter version but by no means is it easier. Many bikers do this route in preparation of the Tour of the Dragon, testing their fitness levels. As the slopes are steep and the gradient of descent and ascent high, this race is not recommended for first time cyclist or those with no mountain biking experience.
Another interesting aspect of adventure holidays in Bhutan is white water rafting. Its clean and clear six rivers Wang Chhu, Sunkosh, Puna Tsang Chhu, Mangde Chhu, Kuri Chhu and Dangme Chhu are often scouted for rafting by locals and visitors alike.
Bhutan’s river rafting was essentially unknown to the world until 2009, it is believed to have come into the limelight because of the Dangme Chhu river. The gorge on the Dangme Chhu can challenge rafters offering rapids of Class IV & V amidst the dramatic mountain scenery, while the lower Drangme Chhu is said to have a fine section of Class III rapids for white water rafting in Bhutan. The best time to attempt white water rafting in Bhutan are the months of October, November, and February.
If you are looking for an action-packed holiday that can recharge you both mentally and physically, Bhutan’s active holiday adventures are worth considering. The mystic and magic of Bhutan will continue to enthrall your memory long after your visit. The unique sights and sounds one experiences here, are so authentic that they are bound to make you smile and become indelible happy memories you will cherish forever!
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