The Bhutan Eco Trail is an ideal post-harvest/winter trekking set out in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, a park with an ecological rich environment. The park, located in central Bhutan, is also home to several cultural rich agricultural villages. The trail is a six-day low-altitude trek (between 693 meters/23100 feet and 1636 meters/5453 feet) through six different villages located inside the park. Starting point Riotala (1060 meters/3533 feet) and final destination Tongtongphey (1061 meters/3537 feet) are two small villages along the Trongsa - Zhemgang road, situated in the buffer area of the park at the east side of the Mangde Chhu (river).
On this trek, you will possibly see the Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), one of the rarest primates, which can only be found in Bhutan and neighboring Assam. Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park is also home to the endangered Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nepalensis). More so, the trail is a superb place for birding (common mynas, blue-fronted redstarts, long-tailed shrikes and Eurasian sparrows, to name just a few common species, but spotted are also serpent eagle, golden-throated barbet, and the yellow-bellied flowerpecker) and has a wide variety of plants and flowers found in this Himalayan area (from Chir Pine, broad-leaved trees and Bamboo, to Rhododendrons and wild Orchids).
Day 1: Delhi – Paro – Thimphu.
Upon arrival at Paro International Airport, proceed to immigrations, surrender your passport, form. The agent will stamp your visa into your passport, and then proceed to baggage area. While you are waiting for your luggage, you may wish to change some money into local currency (Ngultrum, about Nu 42.33 to 1 USD) at the bank opposite the baggage carousel. After collecting bags, proceed to customs where you surrender your customs form, then exit. Karma Jamtsho will receive you. After arrival formalities, you'll be driven to Paro town for a welcome tea and lunch. After lunch we will make a scenic drive through Paro Valley to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Check-in at hotel Wangchuk.
Day 2: Thimphu - Wangdue – Trongsa.
Prior to the journey we’ll stop at the biggest weekend market in Thimphu. Today we make 8 hours scenic drive to Trongsa. On the eastern highway the road up to Dochu - La Pass where hundreds of rippling prayers flags and huge Chorten are the visual reminders of this sacred junction. Leaving the Pass behind us, you drive through magnolia and rhododendrons forests. We will make short lunch stop at the Dragon's Nest Resort. And then drive up over the Black Mountains and Pele - La Pass, where dwarf bamboo hugs high altitude passes and yaks browse along the west-east road.
On this road early to late spring there are thousands of flowering rhododendrons. The colors are striking: sulfur yellow, scarlet, pink with mauve dots, rose, which are fragrant. There will be many opportunities to stop along the mountain road that follows the Nika Chu. You will soon catch the sight of the watchtowers of Trongsa Dzong, the fortress monastery formerly built in 1647 marking the boundary between east and west Bhutan. It seems to fall several hundred feet down the side of a mountain. In the olden times all travelers going east or west had to pass through here. Overnight at the comfortable Yangkhil Resort.
Day 3: Trongsa - Riotala – Nimshong.
Total walking distance Riotala and Nimshong is about 6,5 km, 3-4 hours Trongsa (2200 meters/7333 feet) - Nimshong village (1319 meters/4367 feet). The first day starts with a brief tour through Trongsa Dzong and its Ta Dzong strategically located above the Mangde River. From there the bus will follow the road towards Zhemgang to halt in Riotola (1060 meters/3533 feet), the start of Nabji Trail. Keep an eye open for deer and macaques along the way but notice the beautiful view over Mangde Valley as well.
The trek starts with a steep descent of 693 meters/2310 feet, to the bed of Mangde River, within one and hour from the river you can have a rest at a place called Matling (804 meters/2600 feet). After half an hour you will come across a chorten that indicates the entry to the Nimshong village which is a steep climb for about two hours from the river. Nimshong is a small (circa 58-household) village, which has a population of about 465 people. The villagers welcome you with dance and songs while cooks are preparing diner. The campsite (1319 meters/4397 feet) is just beside the Nimshong Village.
Day 4: Nimshong – Nabji.
Total distance is about 13 km, 4-6 hours. Nimshong Campsite (1319 meters/4397 feet) - Nabji Campsite (1300 meters/3827 feet). Early in the morning, the village guide will take you to the local temple. From there the hike will go through a lush broadleaf forest alive with abundant bird and mammal life, with possible sightings of Golden Langur and Rufous-necked Hornbill. Nabji is pretty much at the same elevation as Nimshong village, however, the trail will move up and down through a dense forest. Nabji consists of 55 households and an approximate population of 400 people.
The village is situated on a foothill above terraced fields of rice. The temple of Nabji, which means "promising" or "oath" - harbors the stone pillar to mark the peace between Bumthang and Assam Kings. In the village you can find rock remains of a blacksmith (one of the reincarnations of Pema Lingpa). Overnight at campsite, Nabji.
Day 5: Nabji - Korphu – Nabji.
Total distance 95-13 km, 4-5 hours. Nabji village (1300 meters/3827 feet) - Korphu Lunch spot 1636 meters/5453 feet). From our base camp in Nabji, we will do a day hike to Korphu village. Korphu is situated on a mountaintop at an altitude of 1500 meters/5000 feet. The village consists of 76 households, with an approximate population of 600 people. It is a spectacular hike uphill, and the view from the clustered village of Korphu is breathtaking. It is possible to visit Korphu's temple, which houses the sacred relics of Pema Lingpa. A local lunch will be provided in the village. In the mid-afternoon, we hike back to Nabji.
Day 6: Nabji - Korphu – Kubdra.
Total distance is 11-14 km, about 5-7 hours. Nabji/Korphu campsite - Kubdra Camp site (1636 meters/5453 feet). Our trek today starts on a trail to Kubdra village, leaving Nabji village at the holy tree. The trail has it own beauty, you will come across dense forest, big trees with clippers, and orchid and small bamboos. After 5 to 6 hours hike, you can rest on the benches provided, enjoy your lunch with a nice view of waterfall at a place called Zhelyung (1565 meters/5217 feet).
Then after few hours walk you will come across an ethnic group (called the Monpas) inhabited in Kubdra. Kubdra is situated in the middle of the forest, around 6 hours walking from Nabji. Along the way you'll find traces of Guru Rimpoche. The habitat you traverse is very attractive for tigers and leopards (though it is very rare to spot them, droppings and spores can be found). Kubdra only has 3 households, but the few Monpas living here are very happy to welcome you at their campsite.
Day 7: Kubdra – Jangbi.
Total distance is 13-14,5 km, circa 6 hours). Kubdra Camp site (1636m/5453ft) - Jangbi village (1368m/4560ft). The hike continues from Kubdra to Jangbi village. Again traces of Guru Rimpoche can be found along the way (foot print, dragger and hat). A brief visit will be paid to the small village of Phrumzur with its temple (at 1400 meters). From the site of the temple there's a good view over the valley, here lunch will be served. From Phrumzur the hike continues, with great vistas and pristine forest along the way. A welcoming tea is prepared in the orchid garden in Jangbi. Here you will also find more information on the Monpas and their Cane and Bamboo Project. Camp will be set near Jangbi village with a beautiful view over the valley and Mangde Chhu.
Day 8: Jangbi - Tongtonfey – Bumthang.
Total distance is 7-9,5 km, about 3-4 hours). Jangbi Campsite (1368 meters/4560 feet) - Tongtongfey (1061 meters/3537 feet) - Trongsa. Today there is a steep descent of 950 meters, which will bring you to the bridge crossing the Mangde Chhu, after that there will be a last climb to Tongtongfey. From here, the bus will bring you back to Trongsa for a real bed and shower. If time permits, you can visit the Kuenga Rabten Palace and the Nunnery (on the way back to Trongsa). Overnight in Bumthang, Mepham lodage.
Day 9: Bumthang.
In the morning we take a walk to the upper Choekhor valley with its barley fields, sturdy farmhouses surrounded by bamboo-plaited fencing. There is a walking trail, which takes us down a rocky mule path across the river, up to a level path, which parallels the river. The path levels out and takes you through buckwheat fields to a lay monastery Thangbi Monastery where novices come to recite scriptures. Also in this small village we'll arrange a farmhouse visit to see the living, storage, and prayer rooms of the typical family and to taste the typical local dish for our lunch. The local dish will be buckwheat noodles and pancakes, traditional butter tea, fermented wheat liquor and special Bhutanese appetizers. It is considered polite to remove your shoes before entering the house.
Afternoon you'll make a walking tour to Tamshing Monastery where up to 200 monks reside. The inner sanctuary dates from 1540. The level path parallels the buckwheat fields where we might see farmers working. You continue on to peek in the ancient giant stone mill still used by the farmers to grind their grains and on to the Three Buddha Temple with its beautiful painted murals and "iron bell", which was brought from Tibet long time back. Then we finish the day with a visit to the Swiss farm where we can taste one of the four different cheeses they have made that week. Night in Bumthang.
Day 10: Bumthang – Gangtey.
Today's leisurely drive to Phobjikha valley is on the east-west road, built in the early 1970s to provide a much-needed link to central Bhutan. Gangtey is one of the biggest old school monasteries run under the guidance of the 9th reincarnation of Gangtey Tulku (reincarnation). The monastery is under renovation, offers us good chance to marvel the Bhutanese arts and architecture.
A short while drive will bring us into the Phobjikha, valley's floor is marshy representation of receding glacial thousands of years ago. The farmers here grow one of the best potatoes in Bhutan and apart some wheat and barley. Due to the harsh winter months the peasants migrate to the lower winter homes. This valley is the winter habitat for the globally endangered Black Necked Cranes. Check in at the Dewachen Hotel, Phobjikha valley.
Day 11: Gangtey – Punakha.
From the valley we will retrace our way to the main road to drive to Western Bhutan, the Land of Rice fields. In the afternoon visit the Punakha Dzong the former capital of Bhutan, now serving as the district administrative seat of Punakha and the winter palace for the monk body. On foot we cross the suspension bridge to the entrance of the Dzong located on the spit of land at the confluence of Mo and Pho Rivers (Male and Female rivers).
This Dzong was partially destroyed by fire in the 80s and through the valiant efforts of the resident monks and hundreds of boys from the nearby high school who responded to the fire, the Dzong was saved. The Dzong has been restored to its form design since then, with your Bhutanese guide you'll be able to visit the Dzong to appreciate the 100-foot sandalwood beams, the intricately carved posts, doors, window frames, and lintels, Skilled sculptors, painters, woodcarvers, engineers, and masons have been summoned to work on this monumental project.
The doorway is reached by walking up a steep nearly vertical stairway which was drawn closed in the olden times after dusk. Once through the massive doors, marked by giant prayer wheels, one is in awe at the size of this Dzong. One courtyard folds into another. There is the administrative center followed by the monk quarters, which contain 21 temples, and the on the second floor in one of the temples there are exquisite religious scrolls called thankas hanging from the walls. The third section, the newest part contains massive statues of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha and Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel surrounded by soaring sandalwood pillars decorated with gold plated etched bands. Night in Meri Puen Suem Resort, Punakha.
Day 12: Punakha – Thimphu.
Today we will make our journey to the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu with lunch at the Dochula tea house enjoying the views of mountains if we had not seen at the beginning of the trip from this point. In Thimphu you will be given free time to explore the city on foot. Night in Thimphu, Wangchul Hotel.
Day 13: Thimphu – Paro.
In Thimphu visit Memorial Chorten to His late Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. This multi-storied chorten is one of the few where one can enter and ascend the three levels. The three levels introduce you to the vitality of Tantric Buddhism, Library - which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts, and the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts where we can see sculpting, painting, slate carving, wood carving, and other related arts. Stop at the Bhutanese paper factory to see paper process in which the bark of two Himalayan shrubs, Daphne and edgeworthia undergoes a multi-stepped process to produce paper of excellent quality.
Also stop at the post office to purchase colorful and award winning Bhutanese postage stamps at face value. After lunch depart for Paro, on arrival visit the National Museum little gem of place, housed in a 200-year old watchtower overlooking the Paro Dzong. It houses a fine collection of national costumes and fabrics, an extensive gallery of thangkas, impressive stamp gallery - don't miss the three dimensional ones - and the other galleries showcasing armor and silverware. This is a museum not to be missed. Overight in Paro, at Hotel Gangtey Palace.
Day 14: Paro – Delhi. Report to the airport at 10:00 a.m. for on ward flight to New Delhi.
Note: Please have 12 USD for airport departure tax.
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Asia Bhutan Nature & Wildlife National Parks Hiking & Trekking
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