Few destinations throughout history have generated the stir of anticipation among travelers that Bhutan created when it tentatively cracked its door ajar just over three decades ago. The privileged few who have ventured in have been startled to behold a Himalayan kingdom almost completely isolated from modern and western influences. Through a strict policy of limited tourism, Bhutan has consciously cultivated both a fiercely guarded traditional culture and the world's most well-tended natural environment. But the winds of change are stirring. We invite you to seize the day, to travel to Bhutan at this historic juncture and experience a land on the brink of transformation.
Bhutan has raised the bar of environmentally conscious travel with its whole-hearted dedication to preserving its cultural and ecological heritage. Determined to avoid the mistakes made by so many developing countries in the era of mass tourism, the Bhutanese government has instituted strict guidelines that seek to preserve precious resources and sustain traditional ways of life. By staying in tents at prescribed sites along a given route, visitors to Bhutan do not have the usual sweeping economic impact on local farming peoples who are so often transformed into innkeepers and merchants selling trinkets. Nor are whole forests felled to provide wood to cook tourists' meals and heat their rooms, as all fuel on trek is provided exclusively by kerosene.
The following treks utilize tents, guides and porters. They are yak and pony supported. Lengths are approximate and difficulty ratings are relative.
DRUK PATH TREK
Four to six days, moderately strenuous. Altitudes reach over 13,000 feet. Start at Paro Dzong, finish in Motithang (near Thimphu). This wonderfully scenic, high-altitude walk accesses remote alpine lakes and yak herders, and boasts views of the Bhutanese Himalayas. Because this trip departs from Paro, it's a great choice as an add-on to the end of your Bhutan trip.
BUMTHANG CULTURAL TREK
Three days, easy. Start at Toktu Zampa, finish in Mesithang. This trek winds through relatively low-altitude terrain (except for the 11,000-foot climb to Phephe La Pass). The route is scattered with villages and mountain monasteries. It's not as remote as some of the other Bhutan treks, so one is able to access rural Bhutanese culture, meet with villagers and observe the traditional ways of life practiced in the countryside.
JHOMOLHARI (CHOMOLHAR) TREK
Nine days, strenuous. Altitude reaches 16,000 feet on trek and 13,453 at sleeping point. Start at Drukgyel Dzong (in Paro), finish at Dodina (near Thimphu). This trek through Jigme Dorji National Park, which surrounds sacred Jhomolhari peak, is one of the most popular things to do in Bhutan.
These 25 days are extremely strenuous. Start at Drukgyel Dzong, finish at Sephu. The jewel in the crown of Himalayan trekking, the Snowman is the undisputed classic in the demanding genre of Bhutan treks. Not for the faint of heart, high altitude (over 17,000 feet) and heavy snowfall make this the trek of choice for athletic travelers in excellent physical condition.
We recommend you include a Bhutanese tsechu (festival) if possible. These are lively events whereby local people, wearing their finest hand-woven clothes, will have come, most on foot, from miles around to gain the blessings of attendance at these rites and to enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends. Dance performances go on all day amidst swirling incense, streaming costumes, ancient, magically charged masks and sacred rites. Major festivals in Bhutan include the Thimphu Tsechu in the fall and Ura Tsechu in the spring. The Jakar Tsechu in autumn and the Trongsa Tsechu in winter are more intimate in scale.
Contact a Travel Expert or call 1-800-642-2742 for information on specific event dates to experience a vibrant and culturally rich Bhutan festival during your travels.