A guide to the best walks and hikes in the mystical kingdom of Bhutan
Lying in the Eastern Himalayas with Tibet to the north and the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal to the south, Bhutan is both geographically and culturally extraordinary. Incredibly, Bhutan covers a total area of just under 50,000 square kilometres.
Despite its diminutive size, Bhutan plays host to some of the most challenging treks in the world and in fact, the “Toughest Trek in the World” happens here, The Snowman Trek, which is a 200-mile expedition through Bhutan’s hinterland.
However, Bhutan is a fantastic place to explore on foot for all ages and abilities and walking this spectacularly beautiful country is the best way to connect with its natural beauty and meet some of the inhabitants of holy valleys and charming villages. You might even try some meditating while you forge ahead on a journey of self-discovery!
The walks in Bhutan are sophisticated and opportunities to explore Bhutan on foot are endless, whether you are gentle walkers, experienced hikers, or hardcore trekkers. Here are a few of our favourite walks to do while you explore the valleys of Bhutan:
Longtey Lomey Hike, Gangte
We recommend commencing this hike before you have even arrived in the Gangte (Phobjikha) Valley. On a dusty road about an hour’s drive before the Valley, accompanied by your private guide you can start from a small village, from where you will start a 2-3 hour hike through the forest on the fantastic, Longtey Longmey hike. This will bring you over the mountain to the summit, where you have an awe-inspiring view of the entire Gangtey Valley before you descend down into the valley. At the base, your driver will be waiting to take you on to where you are staying in the Valley.
Hike to Taktsang (The Tiger’s Nest), Paro
Perched on the top of a 900m sheer granite cliff, Tiger’s Nest is one of the most impressive monasteries in Bhutan. It is made up of the twin temples of Kyichu Llakhang and Taktsang Lhakhang – some of which was destroyed and rebuilt in a fire. The legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew from Singye Dzong in Kurtoe to the present day Taktsang on a mythical tigress and meditated in the cave before bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Hence, the Taktsang Goemba is built around this cave. We recommend starting the trek up through the dense forest early to avoid meeting other tourists en route. Depending on your fitness levels the hike takes about two hours up and two hours down, and when you get to the top you will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in all of Bhutan.
Giligang Hike, Punakha
If you are up for a combination of visits to the beautiful Khamsum Chorten, the old hilltop temple Giligang and Punakha Dzong, with the opportunity to experience stunning views of the valleys, this is a brilliant but challenging hike. The hike takes you through rice paddies and up the twirling trail to Khamsum Chorten where you can take a well-deserved rest while admiring this impressive structure and the beautiful view of the valley below. From here, the trail climbs slowly upwards on the mountainside. There are numerous places on the way with inspiring views of the surrounding temples, rice paddies, mountain tops and green forests. Giligang with its 300-year old temple is a perfect spot to enjoy your picnic lunch. From Giligang, the trail continues easily downhill along the mountain side until you reach Changyul Bridge just before Punakha Dzong.
Kila Nunnery Hike, Paro
This is a great way to get some exercise and also visit our favourite nunnery in Bhutan. First your guide and driver will take on a drive up to the highest road pass in Bhutan (Chele La 3,988m). Towards the summit of Chele La, you can commence a hike in the blue pine and rhododendron forest into windswept highlands much favoured by yaks and dotted with azaleas and edelweiss. Western Bhutan is laid out before you with the unspoilt Haa valley and the mountains of Sikkim to the west, Jhomalhari and Tibet to the north and the patchwork fields of the Paro valley down to the east. From here, you can see how you feel, but you can either embark on a 5 hour hike up the ridge before plunging back into the primeval forest to reach the nunnery, or take the more leisurely, lower 2-3 hour option which traverses to the nunnery. Kila Goemba has been a retreat for meditation since the 9th century. As with so many temples in the Himalaya it was destroyed by fire before being rebuilt by the 25th Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan), Sherab Gyaltsen. These days it is a nunnery and home to about 30 hardy nuns. At the nunnery, we arrange for clients to have tea and a blessing with the nuns, and to spend some time at peace in the main prayer room. The nuns (unlike the monks!) keep their nunneries absolutely spotless, so it’s a delight to sit with them on the floor for a while to meditate or simply reflect on the magical experiences you’ve had in Bhutan.