1. LUNGCHUTSE – TRASHIGANG: This hike has all – beauty of nature, blessing of deities and challenge of terrain with let off! The beauty of nature is highlighted by giant rhododendron trees, especially if you hiking in late spring when they are in bloom. If you are one of those that is used to seeing rhododendron shrubs and in pots, then this is a treat as look up to the skies for see blooms surrounding you. The gnarly trunks of the rhododendrons add allure to your walks, especially if it is misty around.
The trails lead you to Lungchutse temple at the top (11,355ft above sea level) and hermitages around. The temple is known to grant boons and blessings, as many locals would swear. The blessings from the temple will be complemented if there is clear skies during your visit, with view of high Bhutan Himalayan peaks.
The hike is challenging till the Lungchutse since it is more than 1000ft of climb in span of average time of one and half hours uphill. And the starting elevation is already high at 10, 250ft. But once at the temple, either you retrace back which then is steep downhill, or you traverse through forest of hemlock, firs, birches to Trashigang village, which has monastery and people in retreat. Both are easy and this is the let-off. During late spring or summer, you will chance upon meadow full of primroses.
2. LONGTEY LONGMEY HIKE. The hike should be called Longtey – Gangtey hike, because it starts at Longtey and ends at Gangtey Kumbu village but is called Longtey Longmey since Longtey (Upper village) is always referred together with its adjoining village the Longmey (lower village) along Bhutan’s east west highway, from where both can be seen distinctly.
You start at 10500ft at which Longtey village is situated at. If it is near winter or fall, you will have to start through herd of yaks. If in the winter, you will find yaks through out the trail, that takes you to the Kumbula pass at near 12000ft. It is steady climb but one of the most beautiful if you are doing in early summer since several species of rhododendron would be in bloom and you go through forests of rhododendron. Imagine forest of red, purple, white and even yellow flowers.
Once over the pass, short distance downhill from the top, you have view of the glacial valley of Phobjikha and Gangtey village below. This view will remain till near the end of your hike at Kumbu village – upper part of Gangtey.
3. CHANDANA HIKE: It is difficult not to hear of ‘Drukpa Kuenlay’ or the ‘Divine Madmonk’ once you are in Bhutan. The unconventional 15th century saint lives in our legends and prominent phallic symbols that you find painted over houses. This hike takes you to the heart and house, where the wandering Drukpa Kuenlay lived the longest while in Bhutan.
You follow the ancient pathway between Punakha and Thimphu. The hike can be started from village of Thinleygang on Thimphu Punakha Highway. It is all decent through sub-tropical vegetation into the valley and stream banks of Toeb Rongchu, where Chandana village and house associated with Madmonk is. “Chandana” translates to “honored arrow or honorable arrow’ and refers to the arrow that, according to legends, Drukpa Kuenlay shot from Tibet and landed at the ladder of house here.
You can still see the ladder entombed in the altar of the house. From here, your climb of the hike begins through forest of chir-pine (similar to white pine) but gradual. As you rise to end of the trail at the spur of the hill or ‘Laptshakha’ you view of the valley, houses and fields alongside the stream banks gets better.
4. LAPTSHAKHA TO PUNAKHA DZONG: The elevation of Punakha, where this hike is located, is lower at around 1300m or 4000ft. Because of the country’s near equator latitude position, even though this elevation is considered high, one experience sub-tropical conditions. As such, even in the winter, you will have pleasant warm temperatures throughout this hike that takes you through pine forests, terraced fields, farmhouses all the while looking over Puna Chu river and the settlements below. It is gradual climb down over the ancient pathway that is mostly wide but overgrown with disuse. You may meet occasional herder, if at all. Many birders have sighted many birds along here, especially near numerous stream beds you have to cross.
The hike ends with grand view of the Punakha Dzong placed between two rivers of Mo and Pho Chu.
5. WANGDITSE HIKE: Even in the biggest city of Bhutan Thimphu, the nature is not so far away. Just 10 minutes of drive from the town, you are in the nature and few minutes further up the road on Sangaygang hill, you will come to start of Wangditse hike. It is easy walk from Sangaygang to Wangditse temples. The path is well maintained and is also considered biking trail, with occasional riders that you may see.
There is hardly any change in elevation as you go through the mainly blue pine forest, overlooking the Thimphu city and more prominently the capitol building – the Trashichodzong. You will have the view from newly reconstructed 18th century Wangditse temples, from where you can retrace back steps to the starting point as we recommend. There is option to end at different location (at Dechenphodrang) but that calls for steep descent that may become challenging!
6. GANGTEY NATURE TRAIL: This hike is in Phobjikha valley of Wangdiphodrang District. Phobjikha valley is a wide glacial valley, with a prominent hill in it, which some say is left over glacial moraine. This hill is called Gangtey, from the monastery that is on tip -‘tey’ of hill – ‘Gang’. It is from this hill top that you begin that Gangtey Nature Trail walk gradually into the valley floor below, which is mainly marshy and being cut by meandering stream called Nakey (meaning fiddlehead) Chu.
Between late November to early March, along the trail, you will sight Black Necked Cranes that Gangtey or Phobjikha valley is known world over for. And towards summer, you will have hillside covered in primulas. It is beautiful and easy hike – a combination that is not commonly found.
7. THARPALING – KIKILA: Bumthang district in the central Bhutan is known to be made of four valleys. Going from the west, Chumey valley is the first valley you will come across where this beautiful hike is located. To get to the trailhead, you will have to leave the highway and drive up to the retreat village of Tharpaling. Tharpaling literally translates to “land to crossover” or to accomplish. And there are many monks and hermits here that are striving to accomplish or cross over to enlightenment. The place is associated with a great 14th century teacher to Longchenpa.
It is from near the rock where Longchenpa is supposed to have meditated that hike begins. You first climb up to this rock called seat of Longchenpa, from where you have view of whole valley below. On clear day, you will also see highest peak of Bhutan – the Gangkar Puensum. From the spur, it is then downhill walk through meadows and pinewood to the pass of Bumthang called ‘Kikila’
8. KYICHU TO SATSHAM CHORTEN: This is mainly along farm roads in northern Paro. Starting from Kyichu temples, first it takes you over narrow path between farmhouses and field to a farm road behind. There is not much incline throughout the hike.
Along the farm-road, you will meet plenty of people walking – children back from schools, farmers to the fields, people out to the shops. It is perfect walk to acclimatize and learn firsthand about Bhutan. The view is beautiful, and you will be able to see Paro valley with the Dzong and also Tiger’s Nest, besides villages surrounded by paddy fields.
The hike ends at Satsham Chorten – a village known to have landmark (Satsham) stupa (Chorten). There are many stories of what landmark is for.
09. DRAMITSE – BAGINGLA: The hike begins on top of a hill in the eastern Bhutan called Dramitse – the “peak without foes” (‘dra’ means a foe, ‘mi’ – disappearance, ‘tse’ – tip or peak). It has been called so, because only at the place, her suitors that were the foes to her spiritual pursuits left her alone. The place has monastery called the Dramitse Lhakhang from where your walk can begin toward Bagingla.
It will take couple of hours along ancient trail to Bagingla overlooking river and the valleys below, surrounded by hills that are dotted by villages. Bagingla itself is beautiful with schools near the village surrounded by maize field and a prominent ruins of an ancient castle. There are many legends about it.
From Bagingla, if you like fast pace and is not concerned by overgrown paths, then you can continue to Sherizam, a settlement deep down in the valley. But it is best, you get picked up in Bagingla, which is connected by a farmroad.
10. GAYZAMCHU – URA: This is in east most valley of Bumthang – the Ura valley. And it is long one and can take you whole day if not about 6 hours. It begins at Gayzamchu, which is around 11300ft elevation and takes you through forest to mountain pass of Wangthangla at 12500ft. You will notice the vegetation change from fir forests, to rhododendron mixed with larches and then to shrubs at the pass.
From here, you walk down into a stream bed and climb back up to Saitangla – another hill and pass. Besides water driven prayers wheels along the streams, you will see many caves of used by herders to camp in besides those used by hermits in retreat. From Saitangla, you have great view of the Ura valley with its village and paddy fields below. It is an hour’s descent to reach the village and roads.