Part 2 – Adventure Travel Bhutan: Amazing Natural Beauty in the Land of the Thunder Dragon
Bhutan offers not only exceptional cultural interest, but also with its four ecosystems (sub tropical, temperate, alpine and arctic), Bhutan offers amazing adventure travel opportunities! Bhutan adventure travel includes hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities, not to mention wildlife and birding tours. If you missed the Part 1 of this two part series, where I discuss Bhutanese Culture, you can check it out here.
Taktsang Tiger's Nest
Hike to Bhutan's Most Sacred site
Just outside of Paro, the city you fly into, is Bhutan's most photographed and iconic landmark, the Tiger's Nest monastery known as Taktsang. It is perched impossibly on the side of a cliff 3000′ above the Paro valley. Plan to stay a couple of days in Paro to acclimate before beginning your trek. This will also allow you the opportunity to hike up to the magnificent Tiger's Nest monastery as a wonderful start to your Bhutanese adventure – amazing!!!
You can get a pretty good idea of the trek and view with this video.
We hiked the 4.5 day Druk Trek from Paro to the capital city of Thimphu. This trail is part of the old Silk Road. It is better to hike Paro to Thimphu as you have more time to acclimate to the altitude versus going the other direction. Plus, since you arrive in Paro, it saves a bit of travel time.
We trekked in early spring so had very changeable weather (it hailed every day, it rained once and snowed a few times but was never really a problem). Be prepared for all seasons when you are in the mountains- even in the same day! Check with your tour operator on the best times to go both for weather and for other things you might want to see, such as the mountaintops covered in blooming dwarf rhododendrons.
Because we wanted to see the Paro Tshechu festival, we went early spring and thus missed the amazing flower display of the rhododendrons. We did get to see and smell some early bloomers such as winter daphne and double ruffled rhododenrons that were blooming at lower elevations.
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Here are some popular treks in Bhutan:
Community hiking on simple routes from village to village [2-4 days]:
Bumthang Culture Trek
Short treks with a lot of altitude changes [3-6 days]:
Druk Trek (This is the hike I did) – March – Oct
Dagala Trek : March – Oct
Gasa/Laya Trek (Hot Spring) : Year 'round
Endurance Treks in high mountains over a longer period of time [6-10 days]:
Jomolhari Trek : March – Oct
Rodungla Trek : March – Dec
Most Difficult [25 days]:
Lunana Snowman Trek : May-Oct
(Considered the hardest trek in the world with 12 passes between 4500-5300m and camping at altitudes between 3700-5100m). Only for most skilled climbers as people can die on this trek.
Paddle and Cycle Bhutan
In addition to trekking, you can also kayak, whitewater raft some Class I – II or II-III+ rivers and bike!
In Bhutan, the government requires that you hire a local guide (unless you are Indian, with which Bhutan has a special relationship). Most trips can be customized although most tour companies offer pre-planned trips for your convenience, and you may have to join with others for rafting and more elaborate biking trips. The government also sets the daily tariff, which includes everything but your drinks and guide tips (and of course, also your flights and visa).
Popular Paddles in Bhutan
Most paddling can be done year 'round but you want to avoid monsoon season of June and July.
FUN FACT: In Bhutan, rivers are ‘male' or ‘female'. The male rivers are fed from glacial melt and the female from hot springs.
Times listed do NOT include travel time! Your tour company arranges for pick up.
Phochu River Rafting (male): 90 minutes of Class II-IV for experienced rafters only – no kids! [10-14km]
Mochu River raft or kayak (female): 2 hours of Class I-II rapids suitable for kids, seniors, first timers and nature lovers
Dangme River – Hi Manas section raft or kayak: All day gentle Class I with only a few Class II rapids. Swimming and birding opportunities.
Overnight Dangme River – Dungsam stretch: Several hard rapids. One day of travel. Camp in the lowlands of Royal Manas National Park. Swimming and birding opportunities.
Upper Mangde River – Gushing Gateway section: 90 minutes of non-stop ClassII+ rapids. The country's most popular trip! Views of Royal Manas National Park. Swimming and birding opportunities.
Lower Mangde River – Leylang Waterfall Beauty stretch: 90 minutes of constant Class III+ rapids. Begins at the twin waterfall. Swimming and birding and abundant wildlife viewing opportunities.
Full Day Mangde River with Pangtng community visit – Aieelaa Tshagoo section: Constant Class III+ rapids with good recovery points. Enjoy a traditional Bhutanese meal by the waterfall.
Some of the Amazing Animals in Bhutan
Regardless of whether you do off road biking or on road biking, be sure to use a highly reputable company with solid equipment and guides trained in repair. The roads are skinny and winding so having support vehicles for your safety is a consideration as well. No matter what you do in Bhutan, be sure to buy a good travel insurance policy, and one with evacuation coverage as the medical facilities are not as good as you would want. The FREE Travel Planner offers more info on medical emergencies.
Adventure Travel in Bhutan – Part 2
SHOW NOTES (full transcipt below)
01:53 Logistics and Bhutanese tourist rules
03:52 Paro Tshechu festival
04:32 Tiger's Nest (Taktsang)
07:13 Monastery and temples
09:02 The Druk Trek
09:50 Training for a trek
11:04 Supported hike and the horses
12:21 Day One – camping gear provided – sick
14:35 Day Two
16:22 Day Three
17:24 Sacred Lakes
18:07 Hot water bottle
19:37 Day Four
21:17 Altitude Sickness
22:49 Timing your Bhutanese adventure
23:50 Beyond the Earth and the Sky by Jamie Zeppa
24:28 Day Five into Thimphu
24:56 Horse and almost accident
27:28 Other Bhutanese treks
28:32 Whitewater rafting and kayaking in Bhutan
29:13 Central Bhutan paddling and wildlife
31:15 Cycling Bhutan
31:50 Getting around
32:10 Booking your tour and the per diem charges
32:39 Active Travel Adventure's Travel Planners
33:10 ATA affiliates
33:47 Bhutan culture if Episode 019
Here's the complete transcript:
(HINT: Use the Google Translate button at the bottom for a different language)
00:00 [Sound of me also being almost crushed by horses]
AACK! That was me almost being trampled by some panicky, bee-stung horses near the end of my 4-1/2 day Druk Trek in Bhutan. Of course it’s funny now. When I saw the horses charging, like an ostrich, I simply turned around so as not to witness my own demise.
In our last episode, Number 19, I covered the cultural aspects of the Kingdom of Bhutan, the most unusual country I’ve ever visited. In today’s Part II, I will cover our actual adventure: our hike along part of the old Silk Rd from Paro to the capital city of Thimphu, and a stunning hike up to the sacred Tiger’s Nest. We will also cover other adventure activities available in Bhutan such as whitewater rafting, and mountain biking.
So stay turned to this, the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I’m your host, Kit Parks. [MUSIC]
To get to Bhutan, which is a small country about the size of Switzerland, nestled between China and India in the Himalayan mountains, I first flew to Bangkok. There’s a huge time difference between NC, where I live and Asia, so I arrived several days early to adjust my body clock. This gave me a chance to explore Bangkok, a place I’d never been. To get the the only international airport in Bhutan, your tour company can route you through Bangkok, Singapore or India.
Bhutan requires that all non-Indian visitors hire a local licensed guide for their entire visit, so your guide company will make the flight arrangements for you and pick you up at the airport. Indeed they will transport you your entire trip. There is a government set per diem tourist fee that is all inclusive except for drinks and tips, so you pay the same whether you are camping or staying at a three star hotel. You can pay an upcharge to stay in a more luxurious hotel like we did on our last night in Paro, where we stayed in the five star exquisite Zwawi Ling Hote, handcrafted in the exacting Bhutanse tradition. It’s a stunner and ranked by National Geographic as one of the world’s most unique lodges.
01:53 All tours in Bhutan are custom, whether you are a party of one or two, or a group of eight like ours. Your tour company can help guide you on activities based on the time of year you are traveling and what you’d like to see or do. Pay attention to the weather averages and be sure to review them with your tour company. Links and recommendations can be found on the free Bhutan Travel Planner you can download off the website or you’ll get automatically in the monthly newsletter.
Bhutan has an amazing culture, so be sure to allow time to explore it. They also have some amazing wildlife, so if you’re into animals or birding, Bhutan is a great place to check out.
03:52 My group wanted to hike. We timed our visit to land in Paro in time for the Tshechu festival, one of the most popular festivals in the region. This spectacular event is covered in more detail in the previous episode 019 and on the website. The photos and videos are so colorful and unusual. The region turns out in its finest national dress, and masked monks dance to tell their stories. The costumes are incredible!
Staying a couple of days in Paro also allowed us to acclimate to the altitude before our main hike. Paro is over 7000’, which is high for a sea level gal like me.
04:32 On our second day, we did the three hour trek up to Taktshang, otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest, one of Bhutan’s most sacred spots.
Tiger’s Nest is incredibly perched on a cliff over 3000’ above the Paro valley, and is an architectural marvel. It is said that Guru Rinpoche flew to the spot on the back of a tigress and then meditated in a cave for three years, three months, three days and three hours. He emerged in eight reincarnate forms and the site became holy. You may remember Guru Rinpoche from the last episode. He was the lama who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century.
It’s a beautiful hike up the mountain. I was amazed at how some of the older local people were able to do the trek. You are after all climbing up some significant elevation.
About half way up, there is a rest area with a beautiful view of Tiger’s Nest. Here you can catch your breath, have coffee or tea or even a buffet lunch. In colder weather, you can also warm up by the woodstoves in the café.
On the outside deck overlooking Tiger’s Nest, they cleverly reused soda bottles to make I guess you would call them prayer bottles. Like prayer flags, these soda sculptures capture the well wishes for all sentient beings and with wind carries these colorful good wishes out to the world.
Further up the mountain, you come to a scenic overlook. This is a great place to take a selfie with Tiger’s Nest in the background. It’s also a great place to take a quick break before the final push up a LOT of stairs to the monastery.
07:13 At this and all monasteries in Bhutan, shoes, sunglasses and hats must be removed. In this particular one, backpacks and bags are stored for you, but you leave shoes and hat outside. You need to wear long sleeved shirts and pants. I would recommend also wearing or bringing along a pair of socks so you’re not walking barefoot in the monastery.
Locals are required to wear their national dress, which is colorful and beautiful and was covered in the last episode. You can see photos on the website ATA.com.
You are not allowed to take photos inside of monasteries, so I’ll have to try to explain them. There is an alter in front of the main Buddha, but depending on the temples there may be hundreds of Buddha figures or paintings. There is a meditation and ceremonial sitting area for the head monk, and sometimes mats for other meditating monks. Believers bring food and money to leave for the Buddha. The walls are usually murals of Buddha and symbols painted in the Thangka Buddhist tradition. Students learn to paint in this exacting style at technical school. Bhutanese are not bashful when it comes to color. Paintings and dress are riotously colorful.
A Buddhist will prostrate themselves before making an offering and in one of the monasteries, the ancient wood was carved out from wear from hundreds of thousands of knee impressions.
Temples are often dark, sometimes lit only by butter lamps and a window. The smell of incense hangs in the air. Sometimes you’ll see a monk meditating on the floor while a group of tourists visit or locals come to pray.
When I caught my first close up look at Tiger’s Nest on that overlook, I said that as far as I was concerned, if I went home then, my trip to Bhutan was worth it. It truly is an amazing site to behold!
I hike for pretty, meaning I don’t mind an arduous hike uphill if I am gifted with a beautiful view as a reward. Tigers Nest by far, was the most magical structural reward I’ve ever received for my efforts.
Hiking up the mountain to see Tiger’s Nest was a great warm up for our big hike.
09:02 My group of eight hiked a trail called the Druk Trek. Druk means dragon and this trek is the old trade route through the mountains from the capital city of Thimphu to Paro where the airport is. It is a much more difficult trek if you go from Thimphu to Paro as that first day would be a dramatic climb higher so many people suffer from altitude sickness because it is so steep, so quickly. The way we did it coming from Paro is a more gentle first day’s climb, and thus minimizes chances of altitude sickness.
In the beginning of our trek, at 9000’ or about 3000 m, the winter daphne was in full bloom. This is one of the more fragrant shrubs on earth so its perfume was a welcome addition to the trail. Other early bloomers on the trail included tall double red ruffled rhododendrums and lilac primroses.
09:50 I trained for this hike with an altitude trainer called Alto Lab, although most of my hiking partners didn’t do anything special to prepare for the higher altitudes – I’ll put a link to the Alto Lab and some more details on the website for EPISODE 20 OR SLASH BHUTANtrek (that’s B_H_U_T_A_N_T_R_E_K. DON’T FORGET THAT BHUTAN HAS AN “H”. I live at sea level, so the best I could do is look ridiculous hiking around my neighborhood with increasing weight on my pack. Training for other treks, I have been known join a gym to hike on an inclined treadmill with my pack. On this Druk Trek hike, I am hiking the lower altitude mountains in view of the greater Himalayan mountains. Our highest elevation was just under 14000’ or about 4200m.
12:21 On the first day, I felt pretty good all day but of course could feel the altitude whenever we had an ascent. However, a husband and wife team in our group was not feeling well and turned around and returned to Paro at lunchtime, feeling saddened to end the trek that they’d been dreaming about for almost a year. At the time, we thought they were sick from altitude sickness, but now I’m not so sure and I’ll explain why in a bit.
You wouldn’t believe the production involved to get our group across this trail. We were doing a supported hike, which means that we did not have to backpack, ie, carry our tent, equipment or food. All we had to carry was our clothing needs for the day and water. They even provided and carried the snacks.
No matter the weather, I always carry emergency bag, plus my thermal jacket and rain jacket. And because of the altitude, I also carried rain pants, thermal mittens, a wool hat and waterproof gloves. On this trek, I used all of them, often in the same day.
11:04 Since I wasn’t carrying my gear, who was? It turns out our group of eight hikers needed a support team of 14 horses, and a team of six NOT counting our wonderful guide, Chimmi. We had a horseman and two assistant horsemen, plus a cook and his two assistants.
I will forever and fondly associate Bhutan with the clanging of the horse bells. And I must say that all of us were very pleased at how well the horses were taken care of by the horsemen.
12:21 On the first day, we arrived at camp at around 4pm, our team had beat us so our full sized tents were already set up and ready for us. My single tent was tall enough to stand up in, and had a footprint of about 6’ x 8’, significantly larger than my own tent at home. Remember on a previous episode that I said I was going to challenge my cootie queen issues and use the pro-offered tour company sleeping bag instead of bringing my own?
YAY! The sleeping bags were new and of good quality. Not only that, but they gave me a real pad instead of my noisy and smaller blow up Thermarest one. To top it off, they overlaid the pad with a large oriental rug, which not only added some insulation from the cold but eliminated the slipping off the pad issue I often have. PLUS I got a full sized pillow AND a blanket! Turns out this was a supported glamping trek. Glamping if you are unfamiliar with the term means glamour camping.
Not only did the horsemen set up our tents. They also set up large cooking and dining tents rigged with battery operated lights. They also set up two small private zip up latrines, which were tents atop deep dug pitts in the ground for our waste, and one of the tents had a portable toilet seat.
When we arrived at camp the first day, we first had tea. We drank a LOT of tea in Bhutan. I then went to my tent to read and rest. About 20 minutes later I suddenly felt nautious. I sat up thinking maybe I was lightheaded and felt momentarily better. A couple of minutes later, I realized I needed to get out of my tent RIGHT NOW! I was violently ill multiple times, and felt so sick that I just crawled back to bed when I wasn’t ill and eventually fell asleep without dinner.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, two others in my group had the same issue at virtually the same time. That made five out of eight of us sick. Since the three new sickeys happened at the same time when none of us had an issue all day with the altitude, I believe that we got some food poisoning at the hotel buffet at breakfast or at the dinner night before.
The sickness for the three of us passed by the morning, but we were all very weak.
14:35 I’ve often wanted to “quote unquote” test myself to see what I am made of under extreme stress or hardship. While I can’t say that I was truly tested on Day Two hiking up that mountain feeling as weak as I was, I think it is the closest I’ve ever come to being truly tested. All I wanted was to do is to see the campsite and rest.
Unfortunately Janet, another hiker in our group, started feeling nauseous an hour or so into Day Two’s hike. It’s bad enough to hike when you are weakened from being sick. I cannot imagine hiking that day feeling nauseous. If it were me in her shoes, I think I would be able to say that on that day, I was tested. I don’t know how she managed to make it, so kudos to you, Janet! Thus, by the end of Day Two, six out of eight of us had been sick.
Frankly, I really can’t tell you whether Day Two was pretty or not because all I wanted to do to to get it over with. The night before, we had hail and rain which turned into a snow fall of about an inch and a half. We also enjoyed a full moon that night, and I remember going to the latrine in the middle of the night to get ill, but I was just not well enough to care enough to grab my camera to capture the gorgeous new fallen snow on our campsite. As lousy as I felt, I could still appreciate the beauty. As the sun melted the snow the next morning, our path became a muddy mess, especially from all of the horses.
Let’s just say that Day Two wasn’t the favorite hiking day of my life. We finished 10KM Day Two with an altitude gain of 1115 meters (or about 3500’).
16:22 On Day Three, out tummies were unsettled but we were no longer sick. Halleluyah!
We had slept below the Jele Dzong monastery, so we climbed the hill and poked in for a peak before beginning the day’s hike. As I mentioned on our last episode, we went to a lot of monasteries and they are each unique. This one was particularly serene as it is so remote.
On Day Three, now we are starting to really see the Himalayan range, glimpsing it between mist and clouds.
Our third day was a beautiful trek. Plus, while treking along, we looked up and suddenly there was a herd of yaks with a few of their babies. After a little bit, the yak herders came looking for them.
The weather wasn’t cooperating, so we made the executive decision to take a lower trail rather than climbing ever higher in the snow. At our elevation of about 12,000’ or 4000m, we had seen snow and hail each day, so were not going to climb higher with the accordingly higher depths of snow.
17:24 So that night, our camp was overlooking a stunning lake. That’s when I found out that in addition to the tall mountains, all lakes are sacred to the Bhutanese (or is is all Buddhists – I’m not sure, and I apologize if I am getting some of this stuff wrong). All I know is that the Bhutanese do not swim in their lakes, fish for the large trout in them, or make loud noises around them.
Once again that night it snowed, creating a picture perfect setting along the lake and mountains. There’s a cute photo of us having breakfast in the snow online at ActiveTravelAdventures.com/bhutanadventure.
18:07 Gratefully, there is one other piece of equipment that came with our camping gear: each night the cook would boil water and fill up a hot water bag to help keep us warm. On Night Three it was pretty darn cold and I’m not sure I would have been able to sleep without that delightful bag. In fact, I’m going to add one of those to my car camping gear –they are wonderful [LINK} and most nights actually still had a bit of warmth left in the morning. I’ll put a link on the website.
That night I could hear a horse just outside of my tent. Sometimes the horsemen let the horses graze freely and other nights they were tied up. I’m not sure what determined which. On Night Three apparently they could graze and there was one outside my tent neighing a little bit. Next thing I know the horse seemed to be spraying my tent violently much like I would imagine a 1000 pound tom cat could. Realize that I know nothing about horses. After a few moments I realized not even a massive horse could possibly spray THAT much. Then I realized that the odd noise I was hearing was the horsemen brushing the snow off my tent to prevent its collapse under the weight. Whew! I definitely did not want to tick off the horses.
Some people don’t sleep well at altitude. I had no problem whatsoever, so once my tent had been brushed off, I quickly fell back asleep for the remainder of the night.
19:37 On Day Four, our last full day of trekking, we reached our highest altitude of 4220 meters. At the peak, the area was full of prayer flags, as is typical for any high pass or bridge that can carry the well wishes for all sentient beings with the wind.
Prayer flags are pieces of printed fabric mounted to a long string that have mantras and blessings printed on them. The image of prayer flags is something I will always associate with my visit to Bhutan as they are ubiquitous to this Buddhist nation.
Another thing you see a lot, albeit it not on the trail except at the monastery where we spent Night Four, is prayer wheels. A prayer wheel is something even illiterate people can use to get the same blessing as the literate. A mantra is spoken internally whenever you spin the prayer wheel in a clockwise direction. Sometimes it’s a single wheel, and in that case it’s usually a large colorful vertical wheel. Other times it is a series of wheels. You can see photos these charming icons at ATA.com.
So back to the hike. On Day Four, we are above tree line and periodically get a glimpse of the magnificent massive range ahead of us. On our trek we don’t climb any of the super high mountains. In fact NO ONE climbs them. It is forbidden as the tallest mountains in the Himalayan range in Bhutan are considered sacred so cannot be defiled by climbers. Climbing those kind of mountains is beyond my capabilities anyway, so I am content just to see them.
21:17 As it is, I feel the altitude we are at. I have now climbed over 1500’ higher than my previous best, Chirripo in Costa Rica from Episode 015. I feel the thin air but thus far do not suffer any signs of altitude sickness to my great relief. I think maybe that Alto Lab has helped me after all.
However, my friend Els, one of the two who did not succumb to food poisoning, does feel the effects of the altitude and for the first time is not the leader of our pack, but instead lags in the rear. Our guide, who has done this trek seven times is also feeling the effects of the altitude on this leg of the trip.
Altitude sickness is not something you can predict. A physically fit athlete can have issues while a couch potato may not. Someone who has never had a problem may find, like our guide, that this time they do. The best thing to do is hike VERY SLOWLY so as to allow your body to adjust, take ibuprophen to minimize any headache and drink plenty of fluids. In the case of severe altitude sickness, you need to get down lower immediately. Usually all altitude sickness symptoms go away as soon as you reduce your altitude, or as your body adapts. Severe altitude sickness is not to be messed with, so don’t be a foolish hero if you should show severe signs.
In Costa Rica on Chirripo, I had a minor issue with a mild headache, but really had no problems on this trip except I was sucking wind whenever we were climbing. Nothing too bad though. [http://ActiveTravelAdventures.com/costarica/]
22:49 One thing to consider if you do decide to do this trek: you need to decide whether you want to see the festival which is usually in March or April, the date of which is determined by the lunar calendar, or try to time it to hit the dwarf rhododendrons in full bloom in late spring, probably around June, depending on how early spring hits. The mountainside above tree line is literally covered in these dwarf rhododendrons in, I am told, pink, white and purple. I know it would be stunning and am sorry that I missed it, as they were just budding up when we were there in early April. If you time for the blooms, you would probably also miss the cold and snow if you go later than I did. I went at the change of season which is naturally more unpredictable. That extra month allows spring to stabilize a bit. Just make sure you go before the monsoon season starts in mid-June through mid-September. October would be another good month to go. Take advantage of your tour companies knowledge to choose a suitable time to visit.
Our last night in the mountains we stayed on the grounds of a monastery. I had gotten so hooked on a memoir of an American who moved to Bhutan called Beyond the Earth and the Sky by Jamie Zeppa that I was resting in my tent reading when some of the others went to explore and got to see the monks playing soccer (football to most of you). That had to be a sight! One of our group was invited by a monk to watch them do evening prayers. Lucky Dean!
I’m sorry I missed that, but would recommend that book if you are interested in Bhutan. I found that it helped my western mind wrap my head around Bhutanese culture a bit better.
24:28 On our fifth and final trekking day, we headed on a steep downhill down to the capital city of Thimphu. I was really glad when didn’t have to do that steep climb uphill instead on our first day as the young couple we met at the peak the day who were going the opposite way. So remember, you want to do the trek from Paro to Thimphu. That also saves some travel time as you land in Paro.
Even though we rarely saw other trekkers on the trail, we often saw their horse entourage. Whenever the much faster horses were coming, we were supposed to get on the mountain side as opposed to the cliff side, so in case the horse knocked us down, it wouldn’t accidentally push us off the mountain.
24:56 Because I so associate the horse bells with this trek, as we neared the end of the trail I thought it would be cool to record the horses as they passed us to add a little flavor to this podcast. This will make you laugh: Like I said, whenever we heard the horses, we hugged the mountain side. And I did. There was a really small little path behind me that looked like occasionally a horse might parallel the main trail, but I wasn’t worried about it. What I didn’t know is that the horses had disturbed a bee or hornet’s nest so they were all agitated and scared. Listen to this recording and try to guess when I think I am about to be trampled so turn like an ostrich to not watch my fate.
Happily, none of us got hurt and we did get a good laugh at me almost recording our crushing. An hour later we were safely off the mountain and were greeted by those who got off the mountain early due to sickness. A tablecloth covered welcome table awaited us, however, our tea and cake had to wait as raindrops began to fall just after we arrived, so we hurried to our waiting van and driver, Tashi, who we could always count on to safely navigate the winding roads.
We faced illness and almost all the kinds of weather mother nature could throw at us and yet we were still glad that we made the trek. While if I were to do it again, I would personally choose to try to hit the rhododendron blooms I missed, I didn’t find the bad weather a hindrance and the snow certainly was pretty. Also, I’m glad we got to see the festival and the local people at their celebration. The Druk Trail itself, while challenging, is not overly difficult, ordinarily a 3 or 4 out of five. The only reason I instead rate it a 4.5 out of 5 is because of the altitude, which naturally makes you suck wind.
27:28 But the Druk Treck is not the only long distance path. There are eight others that I will list on the website. Or for less strenuous hiking, you could take the Cultural trail and hike from village to village instead.
At one of the scenic overlooks on our way to a village called Panakha, we ran into some trekkers who did a different trek, the Jomothari trek. This trail is the beginning part of one of the most difficult treks in the world, the long and dangerous Snowman’s trek. The Lunuana Snowman’s Trek is beyond the scope of this podcast, but the beginning part called Jomothari, is doable for experienced mountain hikers with known endurance skills.
28:32 In addition to hiking, you can add some whitewater rafting and/or kayaking to your visit.
If you are staying just in the Paro/THimphu region, you can choose the mild Mochu river with its gently Class I and occasional Class II rapids. This is suitable for kids, seniors, first timers and bird watchers who want to look out for the rare white bellied heron.
Or you can choose the more popular and exciting Pho Chu river run, with class II-IV rapids. On both you raft to where the two rivers meet at the 17th centure Punakha Dzong, the Palace of Happiness, a fort cum monastery that also is the King’s winter office.
29:13 To see even more wildlife and jungles, and even spend the night at a jungle camp, head to central Bhutan. There are many paddle options on the Mangde and Dangde rivers with a variety of calm or exhilarating runs. You can see a list and descriptions at Activetraveladventures.com/bhutanadventure.
On the upper Mangde river, you’ll get breathtaking views of the Royal Manas National Park on the right with a chance to see rare Bengal tigers, the cool looking golden langur – a gold colored primate with shockingly fanned out facial hair that looks like it stuck its finger in a socket, rinos, water buffalo, hundreds of species of birds such as the popular hornbill, plus elephants. Then, if that’s not enough, on the left, you pass a typical typical Khengpa Village settlement. If you can, go for the all day paddle which runs the lower Mangde through the jungle as well. If that’s not cool enough, it’s a rollicking river of exhilarating Class III+ rapids that will keep your blood pumping!
A good family trip with kids would be the half day Dangde river that is pretty calm with only a couple of Class II rapids. On this river, however, you can opt for a three day trip with an overnight stay in a jungle camp – how cool is that! My sister, Terry and I did a jungle stay in Costa Rica _ Episode #15– and it was a highlight of our trip. On the Dangne, too, you will see the Royal Manas National Park with its beautiful flora and amazing animals.
On all paddle trips, indeed all Bhutan trips, you’ll want to avoid monsoon season which is generally June and July. Otherwise, most rivers can be run year round, although it will get cold in the winter on the river near the Palace of Happiness. Like most places, spring and fall is the best time to visit.
Sometimes it is time consuming to GET to the rivers so a trip listed as ‘all day’ may mean it takes all day to get back and forth for an hour and a half run. However, you get to see the beautiful countryside, so it’s not bad, but it is something you need to be aware of when you plan your trip.
31:15 If trekking and paddling aren’t enough, with all of the hills and mountains in Bhutan, not to mention the extraordinary cultural opportunities, you can also cycle Bhutan. Whether you prefer road cycling to cities and villages or off road mountain biking, your tour operator has got you covered. Most trips have you cycling about 40-50 miles per day and include cultural stops. Some trips you climb and descend 1000’ per day, while others its 3000’. You’ll of course need a good level of fitness to do these trips so be sure to be frank with your tour company about your abilities. They can provide your bike or you can bring your own.
For a small country, because of the rugged terrain, it can take a long time to get around, so you may want to choose to concentrate on one area. For example, I did the Paro/Thimphu region, but next time I go, I will be in the central area so I can visit and paddle around Royal Manas National Park so I can see the animals.
31:50 The Bhutanese government sets a minimum daily tariff. Sometimes the adventure tours may be higher than the set per diem, but your tour operator will review this with you. You cannot book a flight or get a Visa until you book with a certified Bhutanese tour guide. My recommendation can be found on the Free Travel Planner which you can download off the website or you’ll get automatically in next month’s newsletter along with helpful travel tips and sometimes deals.
32:39 The travel planners list not only my recommendations, but links to weather, State Department recommendations for travel and safety in a particular country, budget and who the trip is suitable for, any particular cultural notes, such as for Bhutan, appropriate dress, a currency converter link, language and communication difficulty ranking, plus a translator link when available, plus a recommended itinerary and much more. On one two-sided printer friendly page you get all the snapshot information you need to plan your trip.
33:10 Active Travel Adventures does not accept any advertising so that it can give you unbiased recommendations. I do seek out companies that I know and trust for my recommendations. With some if them, I have arranged a partnership where at NO additional cost to you, if you use my links of the website or in the Travel Planners, I get a small commission. These commissions help defray my costs of running ATA and help keep the podcast and website going. So if you are going to book or buy something I recommend anyway, please show me a little love and use my links. It really does help and I’m very grateful.
33:47 If you haven’t done so already, be sure to listen to Part 1 of my Bhutanese coverage. It is episode #19. You can find the link on the Directory webpage, or just go to Activetraveladventures.com/19 or /Bhutan and remember that Bhutan is spelled with an “H”: B-H-U-T-A-N.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the amazing and mysterious Bhutan and will plan to visit it before the rest of the world discovers it. You’ll find the people friendly, the landscape and wildlife incredible, and the culture beyond anything you’ve ever seen.
Be sure to share this episode with a friend: it’s the best way for others to find out about the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I’d be grateful!
On our next episode, we head to Europe to northeast Italy to visit the Dolomites. Our internationally well-traveled guest describes her adventure there as the perfect trip, with a perfect mix of action and culture.
I’ll be back in two with with Annie’s Dolomite adventure. Until then, this is Kit Parks and I thank you for listening. Adventure On!
Adventure Travel in Bhutan by Kit Parks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://activetraveladventures.com/bhutanadventures/.
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