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GHT Bhutan

A land of nature, beliefs and genuine happiness

GHT Bhutan

We had 6 enforced rest days while waiting for fresh pack animals to arrive, it seems this is a common problem in May to June but less so after monsoon in October to November.

The content on these pages are from my personal notes while trekking the GHT East to West Traverse of Bhutan. I tried to only take the highest trails that tourists are permitted to use, so I didn’t cover every potential trekking route in the country. I have edited my diary to give a clear idea of trail notes and places of interest but it’s not meant to be exhaustive. We had some terrible weather and all but one day we had rain or hail or snow. This means I didn’t get clear views of most peaks so excuse any oversights when I describe the view!

We had 6 enforced rest days while waiting for fresh pack animals to arrive, it seems this is a common problem in May to June but less so after monsoon in October to November.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • Place names in Bhutan can be confusing as some are used as regional or district identifiers and other places may have two or three different names. I have used local names as much as possible but please don’t be surprised if you hear alternatives.
  • Pack animals are used throughout Bhutan in preference to porterage. This can mean that even slight snowfall of 30 or 40cm can halt your trek or even change your route. It’s wise to have some spare time in any itinerary to allow for snow melt.
  • Mud can be thigh or even waist deep, which can also stop your pack animals from proceeding. If the trail is badly affected you may have to turn back.
  • There are very few route options to avoid obstacles, but ask locals if you do run into problems because there are ‘other’ trails that the tourism department would rather you didn’t know about.
  • On remote treks it is essential to carry a satellite phone, check that your trek leader has one!
  • Herder’s Huts are made of stone and have a roof of shingles, planks or stones. Herder’s Shelters do not have a roof and normally only one wall which acts as a windbreak.

Simple Itinerary:

  • 18 passes (three over 5000m)
  • 40,000m of ascent and descent

Day 1-10 EAST BHUTAN: road trip from Samdruk Jongkhar to Trashi Yangtse then trek over Dong La and Rhodung La to Bumthang

Day 11-25 CENTRAL BHUTAN: trek over Gophu La (Snowman Trek) to Laya

Day 26-34 WEST BHUTAN: trek via Lingshi and Jomolhari to Haa then to Paro airport.

Drive times and distances

Haa to Paro over Chele La                         68km                2.5 hours

Paro to Thimpu                                       65km                45 minutes

Thimpu to Punakha                                  77km                2.5 hours

Paro to Taktseng car park                          10km                30 minutes

Punakha to Bumthang                              210km               6.5 hours

Bumthang to Trashi Yangtsi                      288km               10 hours

Samdruk Jongkhar to Trashigang                180km               9 hours

Trashigang to Trashi Yangtsi                     65km                2.5 hours

 

Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a must-see while in Bhutan

Country Information

The last of the Himalayan Kingdoms, Bhutan, offers a trekking experience like nowhere else on earth. This is where tranquility and natural beauty combine into what many consider trekking perfection.

The eastern end of the Himalaya chain forms Bhutan’s northern border with China (Tibet) before it enters the wild and untamed wilderness of Arunachal Pradesh. Bhutan feels like a final frontier, where immense forests buffer and protect against potential invaders and where the mountains are both spiritual inspiration and a life sustaining resource.

Buddhism dominates every aspect of day-to-day life. Politeness and respect are never overwhelmed by anger or hostility. Life in Bhutan transcends the material as locals believe the world is full of spirits that could bring havoc if not kept happy. Perhaps that is why the King’s concept of Gross National Happiness is so important to the locals? GNH includes the world of spirits and ancestors who are venerated every day.

Self-enforced isolation for much of its history is slowly being replaced with tentative interactions with other countries.  Recent satellite communications have bought email and restricted cable TV access to people who knew little about the ‘outside’ world. Many Bhutanese continue to argue against ‘westernised development’ and believe that the preservation of a way of life that embraces nature and organic living is far more important than daytime TV.

In 2010, the King announced that all of his country’s northern, mountainous regions would become national parks or conservation areas. Seen as both natural heritage and resource these forests and wilderness areas are key to the countries future eco-tourism goals and sustainable agricultural projects. With a population of less than 500,000, Bhutan has changed little since the sixteenth century and the residents intend to maintain that record.

 

For general country info:

Web: Bhutan on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan

Print: Facts about Bhutan Land of the Thunder Dragon by Lily Wangchhuk, Absolute Bhutan Books 2008.

 

News and current affairs:

Web: national daily English newspapers – www.kuenselonline.com, www.bhutantimes.com

Web: online news – www.bhutannewsonline.com, www.bhutannewsservice.com

 

Further reading (non fiction):

Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchhuck – Treasures of the Thunder Dragon, Penguin 2006

Michael Peissel – Lords and Lamas, Heinemann 1970

Jamie Zeppa – Beyond the Sky and the Earth, Riverhead Books 1999

Hugh Swift – Trekking in Nepal, West Tibet and Bhutan, Sierra Club Books 1989

 

Planning & Logistics

All visitors to Bhutan must use a government-authorised travel agent. There is no limit on the number of tourists that can visit the country in any year but what appear to be high costs do deter many.

Most group-based travel and trekking in Bhutan will cost between US$200 and US$250 per day (single supplement fees could apply). This includes your visa and permits, accommodation, transport and food costs (drinks are extra). Compared to tea-house trekking in Nepal this is expensive, but then again the experience is incomparably different!

Planning is simple, there are a limited number of trails visitors are allowed to use and your decision is simply, which one or combination of them you wish to follow. The trail notes on this site cover the higher sections of all of Bhutan’s ‘official’ trekking routes going beyond them is possible in some places but tricky.

Food while on trail is frequently more varied and tastier than that offered in hotels, even compared to places like Thimpu! In fact, food is probably the source of more complaints than anything else for visitors to Bhutan. If you are willing to try new dishes and keep an open mind you’ll find Bhutanese cuisine is nutritious and a great ice-breaker with the locals. If you have specific dietary needs it is essential you tell your agent well in advance.

Pack animals are used throughout Bhutan so all trails are pretty easy to follow, although the eastern section over the Dong La (between Lhuentse and Tashi Yangtsi) is very rough.

Important Note: pack animals, especially horses, can find snow covered ground difficult to cross so don’t be surprised if you are turned back on a trail after a large storm.

Food in Bhutan

My first main meal was: boiled asparagus, mixed veggies in chilli, ema datchi (boiled chilli and cheese), pork in chilli and rice. The chilli wasn’t very spicy but was unavoidable and tasted much like capsicum. Both chilli and cheese appear regularly in most dishes and for the entire trip I had them in dishes at least once a day. Continental and Indian style food were very rare, Chinese dishes made an occasional appearance, pastries and the like are only found in Paro and Thimpu. There were times I was relieved to eat some of the dehydrated meals I’d bought from home just for a change of taste. Having said that, every meal was nutricous, well cooked and on a very limited range of ingredients it would be difficult to make anything much different.

Good to Know

Country
Bhutan
Visa Requirements
Visas can only be issued through an authorised travel agent in Bhutan
Languages spoken
Bhutanese, English, some people speak some Nepali and Hindi
Currency used
Bhutan Ngultrum (1US$ = 72BN)
Highest Peak
Gangkhar Puensum (7570m)

GHT Treks in Bhutan

For convenience, I have broken down the GHT Bhutan into 3 sections, east, central and west, but to be honest, it is probably best completed in one push of about 30-35 days.