GHT Bhutan Treks
The first completed crossing of all three GHT Bhutan Treks was in 2010 by Robin Boustead and a small team led by Raj Loja. They 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 full GHT Bhutan Trek route has only been completed once since then, by a Polish couple in 2018.
The content on these pages are Robin’s personal notes while hiking all three GHT Bhutan Treks from East to West. When there was a choice, he took the highest trails that tourists are permitted to use, so didn’t cover every potential trekking trail in the country. The details here are edited diary notes and include places of interest but it’s not meant to be exhaustive. Any trek in Bhutan can suffer from bad weather, but the sun does come out often!
It should be noted that delays are a common problem from May to June but less so after monsoon in October to November.
5 Best Things about GHT Bhutan Treks
- Literally, there is nowhere better in the world to trek!
- Explore a unique culture and traditions!
- You could almost overdose on the Oxygen in the air – it’s soooo good!
- The food might sound weird, but it tastes great!
- Don’t be surprised if you come home with a giant wooden phallus!
GHT Bhutan Treks 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. We 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.
Overall GHT Bhutan Teks 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 – click for GHT East Bhutan Trek
Day 11-25 CENTRAL BHUTAN: trek over Gophu La (Snowman Trek) to Laya – click for GHT Central Bhutan Trek
Day 26-34 WEST BHUTAN: trek via Lingshi and Jomolhari to Haa then to Paro airport – click for GHT West Bhutan Trek
Bhutan 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
One of GHT Bhutan Treks Must Sees – The Tiger’s Nest Monastery
GHT Bhutan Treks – 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. Here, 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.
Bhutan & Gross National Happiness
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.
GHT Bhutan Treks - Tshorim Lake and Basin, Central Bhutan
For more Information about GHT Bhutan Treks and things to do:
For events and things to do in east Bhutan – Tourism Council of Bhutan Website
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
GHT Bhutan Treks Planning
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, including trekking and all GHT Bhutan Treks, 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.
GHT Bhutan Treks Logistics
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.
What to Eat on your GHT Bhutan Trek ?
At the start of all GHT Bhutan Treks, it is likely that your first main meal may well be: boiled asparagus, mixed veggies in chilli, ema datchi (boiled chilli and cheese), pork in chilli and rice. The chilli isn’t very spicy but is unavoidable and tastes much like capsicum. Both ingredients, chilli and cheese, appear regularly in most dishes and for the entire trip you could have them in dishes at least once a day. Continental and Indian style food is quite rare, Chinese dishes make an occasional appearance, pastries and the like are only found in Paro and Thimpu. There are times that you might be relieved to eat some dehydrated meals that you should bring from home, just for a change of taste. Having said that, every meal is nutritious, well cooked and on a very limited range of ingredients it would be difficult to make anything much different.
GHT Bhutan Treks - Good to Know
Visas can only be issued through an authorised travel agent in Bhutan
Bhutanese, English, some people speak some Nepali and Hindi
Bhutan Ngultrum (1US$ = 72BN)
Gangkhar Puensum (7570m)
GHT Bhutan Treks: A Few Images
Just a few pics to whet your appetite! For more images, please see the galleries for each trek…