If outdoor adventures had Oscars, Bhutan holidays would be nominated again and again. Best Cinematography – Bhutan has it in the bag, with wooden cliff top monasteries draped in colourful prayer flags perfectly juxtaposed against the white peaks of Gangkar Puensum, its highest Himalayan peak. Best Production for our high quality support teams and their pack horses that guide you safely up dramatic trails such as Druk Path Trek and Jomolhari Base Camp.
The winner for Best Lighting goes to the arousing sunrises that hit Bhutan’s highest peaks enveloping you at Jomolhari Base Camp. And Best Picture has to go to The Snowman Trek, an epic month of hiking in Bhutan, where it’s not just the elevation that catches your breath – it’s the silent and stately power of nature that leaves you speechless. Last but not least, for everyone taking part in our Bhutan hiking tours, we think that they all deserve lifetime achievement awards.
Where to go
Druk Path Trek
The Druk translates as the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology, appearing on the country’s flag. The Druk Path Trek certainly roars on all cylinders, in a short but fiery way and, with five days of trekking, the Druk Path Trek is one of the most spectacular short treks in Bhutan. When your acclimatisation hike is to the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery, at 3,180m, you realise that the Bhutanese set the bar pretty high. Trek over mountain passes such as Phume La (4,210m) and Jele La (3,490m), along crests with views of Bhutan’s biggies, Mount Jumolhari (7,326m), Jichu Drake (6,989m) and the queen of them all, Gangkar Puensum (7,570m).
Jomolhari Base Camp
Jomolhari is Bhutan’s second highest peak at 7,314m making for a beautiful natural border between Tibet, China and Bhutan. It’s considered a sacred mountain by Tibetan Buddhists and so it is rarely summited. However, the trek to Jomolhari Base Camp is not lacking in ethereal moments, taking eight days to trek from the perfect acclimatisation and acculturation point of Drugyal Dzong to Jomolhari Base Camp (also referred to as Jangothang) at 4,100m, on day six of the trek. Here you’re rewarded with views of Jumolhari (7,326m) and Jichu Drake (6,989m), with additional treks up heavenly Himalayan ridges, Yeli La pass (4,820m) or along the Thimphu River.
Jhomolhari Trek II
The Jhomolhari Trek II is a deviation from the Jomolhari Base Camp trek, and also goes by the names of Soi Yaksa Trek or the Jomolhari Loop. For the first six days, you follow the same route as the Jomolhari Base Camp trek, from Drugyal Dzong to Jangothang Base Camp, with views of the great Jomolhari overseer at 7,314m. On day seven, this trek takes a different turn, following a challenging journey of ascents and descents, across the Paro Chhu River, up to Tshophu Lake (4,380m) and finally to Bonte La Pass at 4,890m. More ridges, passes and camps with colossal views such as Thombu La (4,380m) await on this off the beaten path paradise.
The Snowman Trek
Trekking in Bhutan doesn’t get more tremendous than this. It’s also our longest trekking holiday – a month of pure mountain magnificence. The Snowman Trek gives an opportunity to enjoy the Himalayan highs over a long period of time, and really immerse yourself in their greatness. It’s a clockwise circuit around Jigme Dorji National Park and the ten main passes that form a natural border with Tibet. You start off taking the same route as the Jomolhari Base Camp trek but then continue with daily pass challenges such as to Gubu La (4,420m), Jere La (4,750m) or Shingela (5,010m), and valley descents with great sights such as Teri Kang glacier. We could go on and on – and you will – but, in short, on the Snowman Trek, you will feel as if you are literally walking in the air.
Things to do
- Our Bhutan tours have a wonderful mix of both nature and culture, and having the experience of visiting this devout Buddhist country’s many monasteries, or dzongs, is a vital part of exploring its exquisite landscapes. The mountains are treated with reverence by the Bhutanese and, consequently, they don’t permit them to become overcrowded. The most famous monastery, Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley is reached on a perfect acclimatisation trek soon into our Bhutan holidays. The Jomolhari Base Camp trek has its official starting point at Drugyel Dzong, another impressive hilltop fortress, and Lingshi Dzong is a fine landmark visible from you arrive at camp after a day climbing up to Ngye La Pass (4,830m).
- One of the best times to go to Bhutan is during the religious festivals known as tshechus, which translates as ‘tenth day’. These colourful cultural events take place on the tenth of every month but in different locations, so that they share out the spirituality a bit.
- Trekking in Bhutan also involves some serious wildlife watching, with the Himalayas and Jigme Dorji National Park, in particular, being crucial ecological corridors and habitats. Many of the species here are endangered, such as the Bhutan takin, which is similar to a chamois, Himalayan blue sheep, black musk deer and Himalayan black bear. It is also home to the elusive snow leopard and Bengal Tiger, but you are extremely unlikely to spot them. With Bhutan’s constitution protecting a minimum forest cover of 60% “for eternity”, let’s hope they are able to thrive.
Responsible travel tips
- Safety is key when trekking in Bhutan, and we take our safety responsibility very seriously. All our tours are privately guided, and our support teams carry portable altitude chambers in case of emergency when trekking at high altitude.
- There’s no need to add service onto bills in hotels and restaurants in Bhutan, as they include service charges of 20%. The tipping of your guide, driver and trek crew is purely a personal matter. However, we would suggest a tip per day of $15 for your guide and $10 for your driver. Other trek staff (such as horsemen/cooks) should be tipped around $7-8 per day for a short trek and, for treks over five nights, we recommend $5 per day. Obviously this is very much a rough guide and you are completely free to give whatever you feel is appropriate.
- When in dzongs, monasteries, temples and at festivals, wear clothing that fully covers your arms, legs and shoulders, and always remove your hat. The tradition is to walk in a clockwise direction around chortens (shrines) and mani (prayer) walls, and don’t traverse the dance floor at religious festivals.
- In Bhutan’s Jigme Dorji national park, where many of our trekking tours take place, you may come across Layap people, whose semi-nomadic and yak herding lifestyle is recognised as important by UNESCO, as a conservation heritage of culture and nature in harmony. And we need more of that in the world, for sure. They move up and down the mountains with their yak herds from season to season, they use yak hair for tents and clothing, the women wear traditional pointed, bamboo hats, and they always offer the kindness of strangers.