Our Kamzang Journey ultimate Bhutan cycling trip, from west to east across Bhutan and down to the plains of India!
This epic journey across Bhutan is the perfect way to experience this exotic, magical and sublimely beautiful Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom, shrouded in myth and legend and adorned with snow-capped Himalayan peaks ...
Kim and Lhakpa will lead you across the magical Kingdom of Bhutan and down to Assam, India, by bicycle.
The Bhutan biking is amazing, some of the most scenic, varied and traffic-free in all of Asia with several of the world's greatest descents, lots of hilly countryside and many high passes to cross. We've built in several extra days to explore the traditional villages and remote valleys of Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon. We will bike through the scenic, alpine Haa valley, past the resplendent Punakha Dzong, stop to see the migrating black cranes in idyllic Phobjika, explore the monasteries and dzongs of Bumthang valley and cycle past traditional Bhutanese villages all the way to Tashigang in the far east. Our most epic descent is dropping two thousand meters down to Samdrupjongkhar, we finish this bike ride in Assam, eastern India.
En route, we'll have plenty of prayer-flag festooned Himalayan passes to cross, and epic Himalayan vistas. Of course we'll be eating Bhutan's unique and delicious ema datsi, or cheese & chilly curry along with other regional specialties.
We have included plenty of time in Paro, Thimpu, Punaka, and Bhutan's other large towns to explore the monasteries, fortresses and visit the museums and restaurants. And as a bonus, we've built in a half-day of river rafting near Punakha.
Join us for this wonderful journey through Bhutan ...
TripThe Great Bhutan Bicycle Journey
Paro - Haa - Thimpu - Punakha - Phobjikha - Trongsa - Bumthang - Mongar - Trashigang - Rangjung - Samdrupjongkahar - Assam (India)
Day 1 - Saturday, 17 February, 2018 - Fly Paro
Day 2 - Paro | Bike Paro Dzong + Hike to Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)
Day 3 - Cycle Haa
Day 4 - Cycle Thimpu
Day 5 - Cycle Punakha
Day 6 - Punakha | Hike or Bike Punakha Dzong & Punakha Valley | Rafting on Mo Chu
Day 7 - Cycle Phobjikha
+ OPTION - Extra day in Phobjikha to watch the Black necked cranes depending on time of year
Day 8 - Cycle Trongsa
Day 9 - Cycle Chumey | Bumthang Valley
Day 10 - Cycle Jakar | Bumthang Valley
Day 11 - Cycle Ura
Day 12 - Cycle Mongar (part by jeep)
Day 13 - Cycle Trashigang
Day 14 - Trashigang | Day Bike Rangjung
Day 15 - Cycle Samdrupjongkhar (part by jeep)
Day 16 - Sunday, 4 March 2018 - Trip Ends - Transfer Guwahati Airport
Day 1 - Arrive Paro 2390m | Afternoon Cycle to Drukyel Dzong (20 km)
Fly to Paro from the departure city of your choice (see Druk Air schedule: Xplore Bhutan can book your flights for you). The flight into Paro from Kathmandu (and elsewhere) must be one of the most spectacular on the planet. The panorama includes Everest, Kanchenjunga, Shishapangma, Gauri Shankar, Cho Oyu, Nuptse, Lhotse, Chamlang, Jannu, Chomoyummo, Pauhunri, Shudu Tsenpa, Jhomolhari and Jichu Drake.
You'll have an exciting descent into the Paro valley as the captain maneuvers the jet down through the narrow, steep-sided valleys, seeming to barely miss the forested walls on either side. The landings by experienced pilots are always smooth, and clear, blue skies with temperatures in the mid-60s are worth the anxiety of the landing.
You'll be pickup from Paro Airport by a representative from Xplore Bhutan and transferred to our hotel in Paro, the lovely Tenzinling Resort just outside of Paro town. The rooms here are beautiful, large with high roofs and large windows overlooking the houses of the Paro suburbs and the massive Paro Dzong in the distance. The international flights usually arrive by mid-morning, so after your first traditional Bhutanese lunch you'll have the afternoon to put your bike together or to check out the Xplore Bhutan bike reserved for you. Bring your own shoes, and pedals if you like ...
Bhutanese dishes are delicious if you like meat and chilis. Their national dish is ema dates, whole red or green chilis cooked with butter and cheese and served over rice. As a tourist you're fed far too many dishes, and you will hardly make a dent in the ema datsi, chicken, potatoes and cheese, cauliflower and cheese, Chinese vegetables and Bhutanese vegetables!
After lunch we'll head into Paro for some sightseeing, with time to visit some of the shops that sell everything from beetle nut to exquisite, hand-woven textiles. Time permitting we will explore the traditional Bhutanese architecture and visit Rinpung Dzong, or Paro Dzong, translated as 'Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’. Paro Dzong was built in 1644 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on the foundation of one of Guru Rimpoche’s monasteries and was used to defend the Paro valley from invasions by Tibet. Although the dzong survived the 1897 earthquake, it was severely damaged by a fire in 1907. Like most dzongs in Bhutan, it is now the assembly hall as well as housing the monastic body, district government offices, and courts. We might also have time to visit the National Museum.
In the evening we may have the chance to watch the locals playing archery Bhutan's national game and a bit of an obsession in the country! Back at the Tenzinling Resort dinner is almost always at the hotel, showers are hot, and beers are always stocked! Welcome to Bhutan ...
Paro | Hike Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest) 3100m
Today is an acclimatization day as well as a chance to hike up through beautiful pine forests to Bhutan's most iconic landmark, Taktsang Gompa, clinging to a huge granite cliff above Paro valley. It is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) came to Bhutan in the 7th century on a flying tigress and meditated in a cave for three months. The demons were subdued who were trying to stop the spread of Buddhism and converted the Paro valley into Buddhism. During the end of the 17th century a monastery was built on the spot where the saint meditated and it is a pilgrimage site for every Bhutanese to visit at least once in their life time.
The hike to Taktsang Monastery, including time at the monastery and lunch, takes a good five hours. We're at altitude, so hike slowly, watch the sometimes precipitous trail and stay well hydrated. Once back at the van you'll have the choice of driving back to the hotel or biking the approximately 15 kilometers into Paro, or half of this back to the Tenzinling Resort.
Day 3 - Cycle Haa (approx 85 + 15 km) 2780m
It is a lovely but slightly grueling ride to Haa from about 30 km past Paro, at Chuzong, the confluence of two rivers, the Paro Chu and the Thimphu Chu. The first hour is an easy but steady uphill along an elevated trail high above the Paro Chu and there is more up for another hour and a half until lunch, where we'll picnik at a beautiful spot on a ridge, lined with 'chador', or white prayer flags erected as a memorial for someone when they die. The ridges are full of 'lha khang', or small Buddhist gompas, whitewashed with gilded spires. Below, the villages clung to the steep hillsides and the terraced fields of barley, millet, buckwheat and winter wheat slanted steeply down to the river. En route, we'll have time to stop and visit with Bhutanese on the side of the road, often school kids just about to return to their classes.
A bit after lunch we'll have the chance to stop at a lovely Bhutanese-styled tea-house with a warm wood fire burning inside; the weather can turn a bit cold in this part of Bhutan and it's a good chance to take a break from the wind. There are wonderful photo opportunities of older Bhutanese dressed in their traditional 'ghos' and 'kiras', the women with short hair and bangs, and the men with Western hats. The lively villages, all of them painted with fantastic murals of Bhuddist animals, phalluses (representing the Divine Madman Drukpa Kinley) and ornately-decorated windows an sidings, are bordered with fences along the narrow roads, and stray cats and dogs wander throughout.
Once past Jyenkhana it's about 15 km further downhill to Haa, and then another 15 km to our lovely hotel, the Lechuna Heritage Lodge. The staff will light a hot fire for us in the bukhari, a common feature in Bhutanese homes and hotels ...
Day 4 - Cycle Thimpu (approx 115 km) 2340m
We wake to a picturesque, rural Bhutanese valley often covered in snow in the winter months, and jump on the bike for the lovely 15 km bike ride back to Haa, often with cold fingers, and with time to stop and watch the occassional archery match between Haa and Paro archers, with singing and dancing Tibetan style when someone hit the target. The road is paved out to the end of the valley where the army has a checkpost blocking further explorations. There is a chance for lots of photography in this idyllic setting, traditional Bhutanese houses providing the foreground for snow-covered peaks and pine forests in back.
After tea back in Haa, we'll drive the route back to our lunch spot from where we continue driving along the main 'highway' for 31 kilometers to Thimphu. The last 5 kilometers is along a double laned highway, a change from the rest of bucolic Bhutan.
We'll arrive late in the afternoon, just in time to check into Hotel Galingha, shower and head out to have a quick visit to the new Thimphu market, not nearly as atmospheric as the old market in the field, do a bit of quick shopping. Tashichho Dzong, the main secretariat building build in a traditionally Bhutanese style is notable for being built without nails or metal. Also worth a look are the large stupa built as a memorial to the late King HM Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the founder of modern Bhutan. With a bit of extra time the Handicraft Emporium is worth a visit.
Day 5 - Cycle Punakha (71 km) 1240m (cross Dochula Pass 3140m)
We have about 5 km of light city riding to get out of Thimpu before we start switchbacking for another 17 km up to the Dochula pass (3140m), one of Bhutan's most scenic passes overlooking the high snow peaks bordering Tibet. Be careful of the dogs en route as they often travels in packs. At Hongtsho, just 5 km before the pass, there is a lovely, rustic teashop where we can get a cup of chai for the last stretch to the pass. We'll pass through small hamlets where Tibetan women sell apples (from China) at roadside stalls, past the checkpost and then continue through hillsides of oak, maple and blue pine the the pass.
The Dochula pass has been transformed with 108 new chortens and millions of prayer flags, beautiful examples of Bhutanese Buddhist architecture, a brilliant foreground of the Bhutan Himalaya in the background. The breathtaking panorama includes Masagang (7158m), Tsendagang (6960m), Terigang (7060m), Jejegangphugang (7158m), Kangphugang (7170m), Zongphugang (7060m) and finally Gangkar Puensum (7570m), the highest peak totally inside Bhutan and widely believed to be the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The Bhutanese government has prohibited the climbing of peaks to respect local customs and the homes of protective spirits.
The chortens were built in 2005 as a memorial for the Bhutanese who lost their lives in the Assam conflict. There are sometimes large pujas on the adjoining hilltop, with incense burning, drums and cymbals and many people circling the 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens, commissioned by the Queen Mother, and adding fresh whitewash to the massive, square-based one in the center of the complex.
The Druk Wangyal Lhakang (temple) was built in honor of HM Jigme Singye Wangchuk; the past and future merge in the details of the lhakhang and its structure tells the story of a supreme warrior figure whose vision pierces the future, blending history and mythology.
It is worth a stop just below the pass for tea at a large restaurant overlooking this magnificent scene before continuing down the amazing 42 kilometer ascent to Metshina. The forest heading down is filled with rhododendron, alder, cypress, hemlock and fir, and the damaged road switchbacks relentlessly. The long, downhill cruise (with bumps and potholes) is incredible. The bucolic valleys open up, green with crops and fruit groves and dotted with white Bhutanese houses. As we descend, our cold and wind gear will be quickly shed and we reach a more tropical region of Bhutan as we cycled through bamboo forests, the small road lined with prickly cactus. We pass through a small village and eventually reached Metshina where we might stop for lunch at one of the nicest restaurants of the trip, overlooking this magical valley and a Guru Rimpoche temple. The last 10 or 11 kilometers to Punakha are wonderful, cruising along a paved road with undulating hills, and a final, grueling 100 meter climb to the hotel.
We check into the lovely Damchen Resort quite a ways above the Mo Chu (Punakha sits at the intersection of the Mo Chu and the Phu Chu, the mother and father rivers) and have the option to head out on our bikes to Punakha Dzong, enjoying the rest of the balmy, tropical day on our bikes. Punakha Dzong is perhaps the most impressive of Bhutan's dzongs, the second one built and the seat of the government until the 1950s. The afternoon light is perfect, illuminating the guilded rooftops ...
Day 6 - Punakha | Cycle Punakha Valley + Optional Rafting
We have a wonderful day planned today, first cycling about 15 km up the valley along the Mo Chu to Ugyen of Xplore Bhutan's kayaking and rafting resort along the river, a fantastic stopping off point for a few days of relaxation and river activities. En route we'll get to watch the black great cormorants sunning themselves on rounded river rocks and vivid blue kingfishers darting about.
OPTION 1 - Cycle back and have a tour of Punakha Dzong, followed by lunch along the riverbanks. After lunch we can set off one of two excursions, one along a precipitous off-road trail on the western banks of the Pho Chu and another (safer route) crossing the Pho Chu and continuing along the small, sandy road to the suspension bridge about 10 or 15 km past the turnoff. Right after crossing my first bridge we can cycle uphill along a rutted trail for a bit to take a look at the small village just above, soon afterwards backtracking back down to the 'main' road. There are plenty of chances to stop and chat with locals, most of whom spoke Nepali. It's a nice ride back with a cool afternoon breeze, finally crossing the road from the new part of Punakha, called Kuruthang, right to our hotel.
OPTION 2 - Take advantage of the chance to raft down the Punakha Chu back to Punakha Dzong, which Xplore Bhutan will arranged. We'll also have a chance to visit the Punakha Dzong if we spend the rest of the morning rafting.
Day 7 - Cycle Phobjikha (83 km) 2920m
We have a lovely, flat morning cycling along the Punatsang Chu, flat, calm and reflecting the Bhutanese architecture on this windless morning. We'll follow the bypass road, reaching Wandgue Phodgrang about 7 km later and have a walk around this historic dzong, not as restored or as large as the Punaka Dzong but beautiful with its traditional murals. From the dozing, perched on a hill, we'll pedal downhill, passed all the time by large trucks as there is roadwork and a 'timing' system along this road. The day grows hotter as we descend, the landscape becoming more tropical and resembling Nepal more and more. We will meet the jeep past Chuzomsa where there is an In-trek Hotel, at a small local shop in the hamlet of Tigizampa, about 10 km past Wangdue. We drive past the roadwork (if it is still there, otherwise will cycle) and have a lovely lunch at Nobding, about 17 km below the Lawa La pass, perhaps the best food of the journey. The ride up and over the pass is grueling, becoming more steep towards the top of the pass. Don't give up!
If the weather is cold, throw your bike into the back of the van at the Lawa La; otherwise, you'll revel in the long descent from the pass to Pobjikha. We might stop to look at a beautiful Bhutanese house divided in two, with a porch in front connecting the two. On our exploratory trip an extended family and Lama were enjoying the afternoon sun on the deck, and I stopped to take a photo of the beautiful house and setting. It turned out that Karma knew the family and they invited us up. The Lama was having a puja for a young girl (the neighbor's, we're not sure if it was a relative) who had some disabilities. We spent some time outside with the family and then went inside to the common room around the fire for an hour afterwards. The Lama had the seat of honor in front of the fire with his back propped up against the far wall. A very young Rimpoche, perhaps two years old, dressed in gold and yellow, was the son of one of the families and ran around the large room chasing a yellow ball ...
We stay for the next two nights at the fantastic Dewachen Hotel, featuring large rooms with their own stoves and big windows, traditionally decorated in a rustic style, and the dining room was lively with an enormous bukhari stove to sit around. Enjoy a few beers around the wood-burning stove in the dining room, and chat with other tourists who have come to see the black-necked cranes ...
OPTION | Extra Day in Phobjikha Valley | Black Neck Cranes Hike
We have an optional day to cycle and hike around the beautiful Pobjikha valley, starting the morning with a ride to Gangtey Gompa, the first Nyimgmapa temple in Bhutan started in 1613 by the grandson and reincarnation of Pema Lingpa, and finished by his reincarnation. The gompa is spectacularly set, overlooking the glacial Pobjikha Valley with its endangered black necked cranes who spend the winter in this valley feasting on the dwarf rhododendron which grows in the swampy glacial soil. The cranes are said to circle the gompa three times before setting off on their hazardous journey to Tibet for the summer, and in fact they actually do, probably catching the thermals up to start them off on their long migration.
We have an option to hike along a sign posted 'Nature Trail', circling the cranes on the other side of the valley, and getting good photos of them taking off and landing nearby. We'll have lunch at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel.
Next up, a bumpy ride to a few villages about 5 (+) kilometers down the valley; you can continue quite a ways down this small road. Just before reaching the hotel there is a general store (cum bar) where fairly inebriated locals hang out, and lots of people speak Nepali.
Day 8 - Bike to Trongsa (69 km) 2180m
We leave the hotel and cycle back up to Gangey Lhakhang, about a half an hour's gentle ride uphill. The small country road passes several small shops and houses, and then climbs past the Amankora Resort, afterwards winding through open forests of pine and fir. We'll then continue ascending towards the Lawa La pass, where yaks graze by the whitewashed, square chorten. It's only 3 kilometers to the next pass, the Pele La, which is about 100 meters higher than the Lawa La.
A great cruise down the pass on a narrow but good road, almost car-free, often freezing cold, brings us to a few local villages. We can stop to buy a locally woven baskets close to the bottom of the hill before continuing 5 kilometers more to the beautifully set Chendebji Chorten, surrounded by white prayer flags on long poles. This is a Nepali-style chorten, whitewashed with a rounded dome and Buddha eyes.
We'll have lunch nearby, afterwards continuing on a lovely, nearly flat road for about another 10 kilometers. The temperature is usually perfect at just under 2500 meters, and the road winds its way through idyllic Bhutanese countryside. We pass a small gompa with a large contingent of maroon-clad monks - Tashi Choboling? - which is said to be the center of the country. Karma, our guide, says the center is at Trongsa. A further 20 kilometers or so of cruising downhill on this rural road, now becoming more wooded, brings us to a viewpoint of Trongsa Dzong, the oldest in the country, built in the 16th century. Just past the dzong we have a seriously fast and windy downhill, lots of fun, to the bridge from where it is a 5 kilometer ride uphill to Trongsa.
Trongsa is a true fortress-style dzong, wonderfully atmospheric, where monks wander in and out feeding the pigeons and going about their daily routines, watched over by the 'disciplinary monk', a throwback to olden days. We'll spend the night in Trongsa at the newest hotel in town.
Day 9 - Cycle Chhume (Bumthang Valley) (39 km) 2935m
We start the day with a 28 kilometer climb up to the top of the Yotung La at 3425 meters, afterwards descending for 11 kilometers to scenic Chhume valley below. As we drop we pass through lovely pine and fir forests lined with dwarf rhododendrons and then a fenced country road with lots of options for afternoon explorations. Chhume is a lovely valley, and the lodge one of the nicest in Bhutan, so worth spending the rest of the day here. After lunch, whoever wants can cycle together or on their own around the small country lanes, stopping for a chat at the many general stores where the Bhutanese tend to congregate. We'll spend the night at the charming Chhume Nature Resort, managed by Miss Pem.
Day 10 - Cycle Jakar (Bumthang Valley) (approx 30 km) 2585m
Waking to a misty Bhumtang landscape, the wide valley opens up before us and brightens with the first morning's rays. We'll cycle through the idyllic country lanes fenced in pine (which is actually some the major east-west highway in Bhutan), stopping to look at textiles and some of Bhutan's exquisite silk scarves en route. We have an easy climb to the Kiki La (pass), adorned with colorful prayer flags on long, erect poles and then a long, winding descent down to the second valley in Bumthang, finally along the Jakar Rong Chu. We may stay at the Wangdicholing Resort, owned by Karma's younger sister, a few kilometers before the main town of Jakar. Jakar has had two fires in the past year, so is presently under reconstruction, but there are still enough shops open to get the feel of it. We'll have lunch at the hotel, in front of a hot bukhari stove. After digesting, we'll get back on our bikes to do some sightseeing in Jakar, a wonderful and historic valley.
The majestic Jakar Dzong, built in 1549, is first on the afternoon sightseeing agenda. Next, the ancient and atmospheric Jampey Lhakhang, built it 659 by King Songsten Gampo on the same day as Kyichu Gompa in Paro in order to pin down the body of a Tibetan demoness. Here we'll notice older Bhutanese doing 'koras' and counting their prayer beads, praying for a good rebirth. Next to this is the wonderful Kurjey Lhakhang, the oldest temple of which was built in 1652. The next temple was built in 1900 by Sanpa Lhundrup, the first king of Bhutan, and the last in 1984 by the queen mother, Ashi Kesang Wangchuck. The last temple was built over a cave with the body print of Guru Rimpoche, so a sacred spot. Finally, we'll returned to town, cross the bridge and cycle about 7 kilometers up the eastern valley to visit Tampshing Lhakhang, built in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. Enough for one day!
Up another valley is the Tampshing Lhakhang, situated along a lovely country road, and the Red Panda brewery. Nearby you can buy delicious Guda cheese at the local dairy shop. A Swiss man was the force behind both the beer and the cheese. Local apple juice and apple brandy are also available, the juice being just like the apple juice in Manang, Nepal. Back in the center of town are more shops, some owned by Tibetans, families whose refugee descendents fled Tibet in 1959.
Day 11 - Cycle Ura
Our new itinerary has a night staying at a local farmhouse in Uma en route to Mongar, a wonderful chance to experience local Bhutanese culture and enjoy some (spicy) Bhutanese home-cooked meals.
Day 12 - Cycle Mongar (part by jeep - 195 km) 970m
We leave beautiful Jakar valley cycling back over yesterday's bridge, and then turning right, perfect cycling along the Chamkhar Chu for the first 10 kilometers. The road eventually starts to climb gradually past fenced farmhouses, potato fields, cows and local Bhutanese outside doing their house errands. Higher up, perhaps 20 kilometers into the ride, we are high above the valley and snow peaks open up around us, absolutely spectacular. Soon we'll passed several groups of white prayer flags.
After cycling about 26 kilometers we reach the lovely and scenic village of Tangsibi, at about 3000 meters. Here, Ugyen's father-in-law built a wonderful white chorten between his house, which is now empty, and the road. Villager circumambulate this chorten daily. From here we'll probably get into the van as we have almost 200 kilometers to cover, (which would take 7+ hours in a jeep) and drive for a while. We'll pass rhododendron trees as we ascend to the crest of the Shertung La (3590m), which is 47 km from Jakar. Back on the bikes, we cruise down the pass for a short time passing the idyllic village of Ura, with its gompa backing the closely packed houses, and then cycle up along another dramatic and traffic-free narrow road for another 6 or 7 kilometers. We'll again jump into the van and wind our way up, and up, for a long ride to the Thrumshing La (3735 meters), the highest pass on the main highway of Bhutan.
It's a fantastic descent through the Thrumshing National Park along a cliff-side road through alpine rain forest, nerve-racking if you're nervous about exposure, very exhilarating otherwise. Just before the descent we'll stop for lunch at a chorten at Sangor, and then cycle the 62 km through beautifulto Kuri Zampa, 3200 meters below the pass, where we cross the bridge and have a last 25 km ascent to reach Mongar.
The weather will become warmer as we drop below 2000 meters, and the descent great as we contour high over the terraced fields, houses and prayer flags far below us. The scenery is similar to the Arun Salpa valley in Nepal, with a river far below and fruit trees and terraced fields, simpler houses and animals covering the landscape. En route, women sell dried, salted banana and pomellos, Indian-style dhabas line the roadside and many villagers who speak perfect Nepali.
We stay at a new hotel in Mongar, the nicest in town and will be ready for a shower, dinner and a well-deserved beer.
NOTE: We have an option of doing this ride in 2 days and staying at a home stay in Uma. IF we do this we will use our extra day in Pobjhika.
Day 13 - Cycle Trashigang (98km) 1100m
We have a long day today, cycling all the way to Tashigong some 95 kilometers from Mongar, nearly as far east as you can go in Bhutan. We will probably start the morning in short-sleeve shirts, which will be appreciated on the 18 kilometer ride up the Kori La (2380m). The ascent isn't too steep but continuous, an 800 meter climb from Mongar. The countryside is still bathed in the morning mist, the colors of the terraced fields muted. We'll stop for a break at a bright crimson wild cherry tree, usually covered in chatty warblers feeling upside-down on the flowers, and perhaps watch a kestrel chasing an eagle over a valley covered in white flowering daphne and red rhododendrons. From the pass we'll have a fantastic 21 kilometer downhill through pine forests to the quaint village of Yadhi (1480m). We'll stop for tea at a traditionally-styled teahouse, with a sunny courtyard and dried chilis and tiny tomatoes, a chance to see more of rural Bhutan. Beyond Yadhi we continue our descent, the many tight swithbacks called the 'Yadhi Loops', finally reaching the riverside 350 meters and 10 kilometers later. We drop down to 650 meters and it will for sure be hot and humid ....
Crossing a bridge over the Shere Chhu in the heat of the day, we have a scorchingly hot 200 meter ascent on an incredible cliff-side road over the river which seems to continue endlessly, again reminiscent of the Arun Salpa valley. About an hour later we drop back down to Rolong, a great spot where they serve a local-style lunch outside under a thatched roof, with the river breeze barely cooling us. Wonderful, very reminiscent of Nepal or India. We continue after lunch on a 'flat' road to the bridge at Chazam, at just over 700 meters, from where we look straight up the ridge to Trashigang Dzong. Then a last, grueling 10 kilometer (400 meter) climb against headwind, stopping for sweet mango juice for energy every few kilometers.
Finally we arrive at the tiny village of Trashigang, with a medieval atmosphere, perched precariously along the steep hillside. Trashigang is an interesting village of small Indian-styled shops and local-style hotels crunched together around a small square with a prayer wheel in the center. We'll stay at one of Trashigang's newer hotels, although I have fond memories of our basic hotel on the exploratory trip, sitting outside under leafy trees having our sundowners ...
Day 14 - Dayride to Rangjung (30 km)
We have a slightly more leisurely day of biking today to visit the idyllic Ranjung village, a return journey of 30 km along perfect country roads.
We'll drive the last 10 kilometers from Chazam to Trashigang unless you're a glutton for punishment. The Lepcha Cafe is run by Lepchas, a cast of Nepalis from Sikkim, worth a stop in.
Day 15 - Cycle Samdrup Jonkar (part by jeep - 181 km)
Our last day of cycling, sadly ... We leave Trashigang early and take the left fork towards the south of Bhutan. It's a perfect, winding road contouring its way up towards the first of a series of passes and ridges, past the county's only college, Sherubtse, at Kanglung. A few kilometers past the college is Yongphula, which is supposed to be a pass at 2190 meters on the map, but ends up as a village. From here, the road continues to switchback higher and higher, passing a row of seven new white chortens near the 'Yongphula 0' sign. Back in 2011 much of this road was under construction, hot an dusty, so we'll have to decide which sections are worth cycling, which others are better done in the van. It's a beautiful road with expansive views and many hills, which gets hot mid-day. Further along the road is an incredibly exposed section, the longest stretch of narrow, exposed, cliff-hugging road in the country. Some of it has a guard rail, fortunately!
The last 100 kilometers or so, past Womrong, the road twists and turns, only occasionally having any sort of barrier to prevent cars and trucks from hurdling down the steep ravine thousands of meters below. The surrounding countryside is a magical mash of steep hills covered in thick jungle, with hamlets and lone houses perched precariously on small cultivated bits of land. We eventually reach the border town of Samdrup Jonkar in the early evening, a typical border town, a mix of Indian and Bhutanese and a jumble of characterless hotels and dirty streets. We stay in a basic hotel, have our last meal of ema datsi, and reminisce about the great bike journey across Bhutan ....
Day 16 - Cycle Guwahati (India) - Depart
We'll be up early for breakfast and to meet our drivers to the airport at Guwahati, India, just across the Bhutan-Indian border. After 4 kilometers of 'no man's land' we'll reach the border of Bhutan and India, a rural cement shack, fortunately without a computer or knowledge of the new rule about not entering India twice in two months.
Breathing a sigh of relief that you won't have to live out the rest of you life in this four square kilometer section, we'll continue along the main road, a typically Indian road which we share with rickshaws, ox carts, bicycles overloaded with families, cows and barefoot villagers. We drive past rice paddies and thatched huts, a completely different world than the idyllic one which we just left behind in Bhutan. The sounds, smells and energy of predominantly Hindu India are something truly unique, that either attract or repel. The border post into India is a wooden shack with a huge ledger. Goodbye Bhutan!
From Guwahati, there are easy flights to Calcutta or elsewhere in India, with further connections to Nepal or anywhere else in the world. Book your flights early ...
Once again I carefully chose Kamzang for my exotic, indulgent trip to Bhutan. All praise to Kim and Lhakpa for making sure this was the best possible trip for our money, a trek in a very expensive/ exclusive part of the Himalayas. It was tough, it was amazing and it was the best thing I have ever done. Kim and Lhakpa spun their special magic to make this trek amazing. The Bhutanese guide Tse Tse made sure we had a good run down of what to expect each day.
Our tough trek, mud, rain, snow was everything we expected, however our time in camp, our food and our morale was always boosted by Kim and Lhakpa on even the toughest of days - and this is what we all signed up for - you cannot do the Snowman Trek and think it will be easy.
I am so glad I did this trek with Kamzang Journeys. I would do the toughest trek with Kamzang anywhere in the world. You will always get safety, dedication and genuine concern from these guys, they will ultimately help you reach your potential, and you will become friends for life. They will help you go forward with your trekking goals. Thanks guys. I will book again can't wait.
- Shannon F (Australia), Bhutan Lunana Snowman Trek 2016
Read More Testimonials
- Great biking on relatively traffic-free roads
- Phobjika Valley
- Black Necked Cranes in Phobjikha
- Rafting in Punakha Valley (Pho Chhu)
- Buddhist Drukpa Monasteries
- History Laden Bumthang Valley
- Trashigang, Thimpu, Paro + Mongar Dzongs
- Drukgyal Dzong
- Paro + Thimpu Markets
- Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
- Remote Haa Valley
- Idyllic side-trips in lovely valleys
- Traditional villages + cultures
- Spectacular mountain vistas + passes
- Bhutan's Incredible Cuisine!
- THE best of Bhutan
Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography
Himalayan Wildlife Photos
Himalayan Bird Photos
Himalayan Flowers Photos
Online Articles on Bhutan
Soaking in a Unique Bath Culture - BBC Travel
Bhutan, a Higher State of Being - New York Times
Bhutan's Dark Secret to Happiness - BBC Travel
Bhutan's Enlightened Experiment - National Geographic
Bhutan Rising - WWF
Bhutan: Travel Blueprint - Wanderlust UK
17 Feb - 4 March
+ Custom Departures Available
2018 Trip Price
+ Trip Price 3+ Cyclists
+ Minimum 2 Cyclists
+ Single Supplement - $500
+ Bike Rental (Kona Lanai) - $200
- Western, Sherpa & Bhutanese guides!
- Bhutanese cycle mechanic
- Bicycle rental (Kona Lanai Bicycles)
- Accommodation at 3 & 4-star hotels
- Sightseeing & entry fees
- All meals
- Group transportation by Toyota vans or Coaster vans (depending on group size)
- Airport transfers
- International flight booking services
- Bhutan visa fees & tourism royalties
- Sleeping bag if needed
Safety & Health Precautions | Included in Trek
- InReach satellite messaging system
- Updated route published on InReach site
- Oxygen saturation monitoring system
- Full medical kit & stretcher
- Support through Xplore Bhutan in Thimpu
- Kayadyn filtered water
- Safe, sanitary, delicious & plentiful food and drinks
- Travel or travel health insurance
- International flights
- Alcohol & bottled drinks
- Tips & other items of a personal nature
Tips & Extra Cash
Bring shopping and drinking money! We recommend $250 per trekker as tips for the staff, and an extra $200-$300 to spend during the trip.
Will you rent or bring your own? Many airlines allow a bicycle packed in a bike box for no extra charge. Emirates is on that list. Rentals are from Paro, relatively good quality mountain bikes.
+ NOTE: You can bring a mountain bike or a touring bike on most roads in Bhutan, and use fat tires or touring tires. There are advantages to both types of tires, and no bike will be perfect for all terrain. Most roads are paved, often very badly, although we will be cycling on some unpaved roads and jeep tracks.
+ See Gear tab
You are responsible for knowing something about the maintenance of a bicycle although we have cyclists with us who are adept at fixing bike issues, and Lhakpa is a pretty good bike mechanic. If you don’t know anything, we recommend having a quick session at your local bike shop to know how to repair punctures and learn a few basics.
Bhutan Health Information
Currency, Credit Cards + ATMS
Bhutanse Ngultrum = Indian Rupee ($1 = $66 Sept 2016). Although the national currency is the ngultum, the IC is accepted throughout Bhutan.
+ In 1974, the ngultrum was introduced, replacing the rupee at par. The ngultrum is equal in value to the Indian rupee. India was key in assisting the Bhutanese government as it developed its economy in the early 1960s. When the ngultrum was introduced, it retained the peg to the Indian rupee which the Bhutanese rupee had maintained. The ngultrum does not exchange independently with other nations' currencies but is interchangeable with the Indian rupee.
You’ll want local currency with you on the trip and trek for drinks, snacks, beer, soda and general shopping. There are many chances to shop during the trip, especially in eastern Bhutan, and usually local crafts to buy en route. There are ATMs in Paro, Thimpu and other cities, and you’ll want some cash to change as well.
Most larger craft shops in Thimpu, Paro and Punakha will accept credit cards, although there is generally a merchant fee surcharge. Credit cards aren't as widely accepted in the central or east of Bhutan.
Tipping in Bhutan
Tips are best in local currency, the Bhutanese ngultrum. Guides and drivers will expect tips when you last see them, so for sightseeing sections before the trip, the drivers will expect small tips, and the same for the drivers after the trip.
For the longer Snowman trek, expect to contribute a tip of $250 (16,500 ngultrum) to the general pool. The guide (Kim) will distribute when necessary, to make things easier.
Tempartures + Dress Etiquette
The Snowman Trek is a high altitude trek, generally very cold, often wet, often muddy. Be prepared with a warm down jacket and sleeping bag, down booties, wind/waterproof jacket & pants, good hiking boots, Crocs to change into in the evenings, trekking poles, gaiters, a 35-45 liter daypack, layers for day, a cap or wide-brimmed hat, gloves and wool hat, thermals for evening, enough snack food and rehydration (electrolytes). See GEAR LIST on website for full gear list.
Much of Bhutan in the Spring and Autumn is warm during the day (t-shirt, sandals, light pants or skirt weather), cools down in the afternoon. Nights are often below freezing although they can also be much wamer. Layers are the key. Summer is hotter and wetter. The winter months (November – March) are chilly in the mornings, cold enough that you might start the day in a down jacket, but warm up to jeans and t-shirt weather by late morning. Nights require a down jacket if you’re sitting outside. It never hurts to have an umbrella as it can rain at any time of the year.
Trekking on a long trek is always a mixed bag of temperatures. Daytime temperatures can be very hot and muggy in the lower altitudes (below 2000 meters), so a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap and light clothes are essential. LAYERS are the key as hot can change quickly to FREEZING crossing the passes and snowfalls are common. Have a wide range of layer-able trekking clothes for summer to winter temperatures. Be prepared! See GEAR LIST below.
Dress conservatively in the cities and on the trail as a rule. Shorts are OK if they aren't too short, NO shorts or tank tops in the monasteries. Use your good judgment!
See 'Bhutan' tab for the Bhutanese dress code.
Passport on Trek
You should carry your passport with you in your day pack at all times during the trip, not in your duffel bag.
Shopping in Bhutan
Bhutan is known for its crafts and textiles, and there are many local craft markets around Bhutan where you can pick up wonderful things to bring home. Your guide will help if you’re interested in shopping while in Bhutan!
Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography
General Bhutan Information
See 'Bhutan' Tab
Early Arrival in Paro
You will be met at the Paro airport by a representative from Xplore Bhutan. Look for a sign with your name on it, they will be looking for you. You'll be driven to the hotel in Paro and briefed. Everything is included, so if you arrive early you'll have a driver, car and guide at your disposal, and all meals are also included.
Xplore Bhutan will issue your Bhutan visa and email it to you at least 10 days before your arrival in Paro. Xplore can also issue you a transit India visa once you arrive in Paro if you need one. Bring a copy of your passport and a photo.
Flights to + from Bhutan
Xplore Bhutan can issue your flight to Paro from various destinations, and can book your return flights, whether from Paro or from Guwahati in Assam, India. You can also book your own flights to Bhutan and from Bhutan or India. At the moment Druk Air is the only carrier flying into & out of Bhutan.
Notes on Itinerary
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Will you rent or bring your own? Many airlines allow a bicycle packed in a bike box for no extra charge. Emirates is on that list. Rentals are from Paro, relatively good quality mountain bikes.
+ NOTE: You can bring a mountain bike or a touring bike on most roads in the Indian Himalaya, and use fat tires or touring tires. There are advantages to both types of tires, and no bike will be perfect for all terrain. Most roads are paved, often very badly, although we will be cycling on some unpaved roads and jeep tracks.
+ See Gear tab
You are responsible for knowing something about the maintenance of a bicycle although we have cyclists with us who are adept at fixing bike issues, and Lhakpa is a pretty good bike mechanic. If you don’t know anything, we recommend having a quick session at your local bike shop to know how to repair punctures and learn a few basics.
Travel Photography Gear Guide
The Complete Guide to Gear for the Landscape Photographer
On Your Bike
You will need to carry certain things with you while riding, and the extras you can store in our back-up vehicle. In your daypack (or panniers) you will need:
- Helmet & warm hat
- Warm, windproof jacket & tights
- Warm, windproof cycling gloves
- Wind &/or rain jacket
- Lightweight synthetic or down jacket
- Small bike-repair kit (extra tube, puncture repair kit, multi-tool, lube | chain oil)
- Small medical kit
- SPF lip balm & sunscreen
- Polarized sunglasses
Other Gear (Optional)
- Bike shoes
- Bike tubes (specifically sized for your bike tires)
- Spare tire
- Spare wheel set
- Spare RD hanger
- Brake pads (extra pair if you still use pads)
This is a guideline, not a bible, for the gear you will need on the trek. Ask if you have questions! One 15 kg (33 lbs) maximum weight limit for the duffel bag for flights. 20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit for treks.
- Small daypack | Biking pack
- Sleeping bag (-20F/-30C recommended)
- Thermarest (Air mattress)
- Sneakers, Keens or light shoes (city, evenings)
- Crocs (camp + washing)
- Cycling tights
- Cycling T-shirts
- Cycling L/S shirts
- Cycling windproof jacket
- Cycling gloves
- Cycling socks
- Cycling beenie (hat)
- Down jacket
- T-shirts (city)
- Pants or skirt (city)
- Fleece or thermal jacket (evenings, city)
- Fleece or thermal top (evenings)
- Fleece or thermal bottoms (evenings)
- Lightweight Gortex jacket & pants (wind & rainproof)
- Lightweight long underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
- Socks (evening, city)
- Gloves (evening)
- Thermal hat
- Down booties (optional, recommended)
- Sunglasses (2, bring extra pair)
- Water bottles
- Bladder (optional)
- Toiletries, sunscreen with SPF, lipbalm with SPF & personal medical supplies
- Watch (or small clock with alarm)
- Extra batteries & battery chargers
- Headlamp (2, bring extra)
- Laundry Detergent (Lhasa) or Bio-degradable Soap
- Hand Sanitizer
- Zip-lock bags
- SOFT toilet paper or tissues (we supply Chinese toilet paper but you’ll want something softer for blowing your nose)
- Baby-Wipes | Wet-Wipes OR Chux (for washing)
- Rehydration | Electrolytes
NOTE: We have a 'dress code' for the evenings in the tent, which essentially means you'll be changing out of your trekking clothes and into clean, dry evening clothes!
We strongly suggest bringing Western meds with you as there are a lot of Indian fakes on the market!
Suggested: Diamox, Azithromyacin, Ciprofloxacin, Tinidazole or Flagyl & Augmentin. Bring COMPEED for covering blisters & good tasting electrolytes &/or rehydration salts (Emergen-C is a good American brand). The local versions aren’t very appealing.
We also recommend bringing strong knee & ankle supports & braces, ACE bandages for sprains & strains, Tegaderm &/or other would coverings. Duct tape is always useful. We're happy to take excess medical supplies off your hands when you leave if you won't need them and pass them on to others. We use lots of the large amount we have with us to treat locals as well as our own trekkers ...
Comments on Gear
On our biking trips in Tibet we either stay in hotels or camp. When we stay in hotels you'll want something comfortable, casual and warm for the evenings. For Lhasa and sightseeing you will want good walking shoes (or Keens), and comfortable clothes for visiting monasteries, hiking around fortresses, basic comfortable street wear. Mornings and evenings are always chilly in Tibet, even in the summer, while days can be scorching.
Nights are chilly to cold, so a down jacket and a WARM sleeping bag are essentials. We recommend a DOWN sleeping bag of 0 to -20 F (-18 to -28 C). Campsites near passes can get COLD. Rentals are available although they are only about 0 to -10F. The dining tent is a Tibetan style ‘yurt’, with blankets and camp chairs on the ground. It warms up in the evenings with everyone inside and hot tea but it is still important to have warm clothes for the evenings. Down booties are great when it’s cold, a down jacket is essential, and down or synthetic pants are also nice to have.
Crocs for washing and the evenings are also very useful. Wear a pair of warm socks under them for going in and out of the dining tent which is a 'shoes off' zone. Tevas take a long time to dry, not recommended.
Good, polarized sunglasses are essential; please bring an extra pair if you tend to lose them! Don’t forget a sun hat &/or baseball cap and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!
Everyone gets their own 2-person dome tent without a single supplement. Singles have a 2-person tent and couples share a larger, 3-person version.
We bring KATADYN expedition-sized water filters along on the trek for fresh drinking water, ecologically the best way to get water in the Himalaya’s fragile trekking regions. Bring your own filter pump, Steripen/UV purifier or iodine/chlorine tablets for fresh water while trekking. NOTE: To be extra safe with your drinking water, you can drop one purifying tablet into your water bottle after filling with our filtered water. Make sure you wait the required amount of time before drinking, and don’t add anything with Vitamin C as this negates the iodine.
Please bring at least TWO (and better three) Nalgene, Sigg or other unbreakable plastic/metal water bottles. Camelbacks and other bladder systems are good for trekking but can leak, so as a back-up it’s best to also bring a Nalgene or other water bottle.
NOTE: We do not provide boiled water for drinking on either our tea-house/lodge or our camping treks although there is endless hot water for herbal, black or green teas, hot chocolate, hot lemon as well as Indian chai and Kashmiri tea.
You will NEED snacks hiking at altitude, even if you’re not a snacker. People crave unusual foods at altitude! Energy bars, ‘GU’ gels, chocolate bars, dried fruit & nuts, beef jerky (or whatever) are important to have along for long days, pre-lunch bonks and passes. Lemonade mix, Emergen-C or similar drink mixes are great to have for hot days in your water bottles, and it is ESSENTIAL to bring electrolytes with you every day.
Bring something to share in the tent in the evenings if you want. Cheese is great as a treat on a cheese-board before dinner (Blue, Stilton, Yarlsburg, good Cheddar, Brie, etc). If you would like, bring a bit of your favorite and we’ll throw it on a cheese board for appetizers one night.
NOTE: Nothing besides your personal snack food is required, but it’s fun to see what everyone comes up with! Almost all basics available in Kathmandu, so no need to over-load.
We have Western down jackets to rent for $1.50 per day. We also have good super-down sleeping bags to rent (0 to -10 F) for $2.50 per day.
We have Kamzang Journeys L orange duffel bags, a bargain at $40! Please inquire early as we need to bring from Kathmandu.
Packing & Storage
It’s easiest to pack and unpack from a duffel bag, especially when the temperature drops. Best to invest in a strong, waterproof duffel such as a North Face. You can store extra gear in Paro at the hotel.
You can get some trekking gear in Leh, such as trekking poles, sleeping bags (about 0F), light down jackets, Chinese-made gear which is often quite wearable. Top up your gear in Leh if you need to, but best not to rely on purchasing too much there.
Shrouded for centuries in the misty serenity of the great Himalayas, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, or Bhutan, as now known to the rest of the world, developed its own distinct civilization. This deeply spiritual land is home to a unique identity, derived essentially from a fertile religious and cultural heritage. Bhutan brims with myth and legend. As a befitting testimony, a great Buddhist heritage of over 2000 monasteries and 10,000 monuments dot its peaceful open space and regal mountains. An ambience of near sacred tranquility permeates the land, fostering an environment of spiritual affluence that has shaped the foundation of that rarity that we know as Bhutanese life. All Bhutanese are required to wear their national dress, called gho for men, kira for women.
The Bhutanese have deliberately and zealously safeguarded and preserved their rich culture and traditions, its ancient way of life, in all its aspects. And it is perhaps one of the world’s last strongholds of unspoiled wilderness. It is a part of the earth that represents a fabled realm. Bhutan is a land where the past and the contemporary co-exist in harmony, a recipe that makes a journey undeniably amazing. A trip through Bhutan, in many ways, is still a journey into the past. In this small tract of land, one of the most rugged terrains in the world frames one of the world’s richest vegetation. It is a land of about 700,000 people who believe that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Bhutan is a country with a different face. And a different story to tell.
Apart from trekking along the northern frontier, you will be also visiting the main western towns of Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. Western Bhutan is comparatively more developed than the rest of the country. Thimphu, the capital, has all the important government offices, including the King’s Secretariat. Paro has the only airport and Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan.
The yeti, locally known as 'migoi', is still talked about in the high, Himalayan regions of Bhutan. From a BBC article "It's widely believed in Bhutan that the yeti walks backwards to fool trackers ... Another common belief is that the yeti cannot bend its body, a feature it is thought to share with evil spirits.
According to author Kunzang Choden, this explains why most traditional Bhutanese homes have small doorways. In her book, Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti, she describes how the raised threshold and lowered lintel force anyone who enters to lift their leg and bend their head."
+ All below information from Wikipedia +
Culture of Bhutan
Cradled in the folds of the Himalayas, Bhutan has relied on its geographic isolation to protect itself from outside cultural influences. A sparsely populated country bordered by India to the south, and China to the north, Bhutan has long maintained a policy of strict isolationism, both culturally and economically, with the goal of preserving its cultural heritage and independence. Only in the last decades of the 20th century were foreigners allowed to visit the country, and only then in limited numbers. In this way, Bhutan has successfully preserved many aspects of its culture, which dates directly back to the mid-17th century.
Modern Bhutanese culture derives from ancient culture. This culture affected the early growth of this country. Dzongkha and Sharchop, the principal Bhutanese languages, are closely related to Tibetan, and Bhutanese monks read and write the ancient variant of the Tibetan language, known as chhokey. The Bhutanese are physically similar to the Tibetans, but history does not record when they crossed over the Himalayas and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan. Both Tibetans and Bhutanese revere the tantric guru, Padmasambhava, the founder of Himalayan Buddhism in the 8th century.
Religion in Bhutan
Bhutanese society is centered around the practice of Buddhism, which is the main religion. Religious beliefs are evidenced in all aspects of life. Prayer flags flutter on hillsides, offering up prayers to benefit all nearby sentient beings. Houses each fly a small white flag on the roof indicating the owner has made his offering payments to appease the local god. Each valley or district is dominated by a huge dzong, or high-walled fortress, which serves the religious and administrative center of the district. Approximately 23% of the population is Hindu. There is a small Muslim population in Bhutan, covering 0.2% of the whole country's population. Overall, 75% of the population is Buddhist, and 0.4% other religions.
Once every year, a dzong or important village may hold a religious festival, or Tsechu. Villagers from the surrounding district come for several days of religious observances and socializing while contributing auspicious offerings to the lama or monastery of the festival. The central activity is a fixed set of religious mask dances, or cham, held in a large courtyard. Each individual dance takes up to several hours to complete and the entire set may last two to four days. Observation of the dances directly blesses the audience and also serves to transmit principles of Tantric Buddhism to the villagers. A number of the dances can be traced directly back to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal himself, the founder of Bhutan, and have been passed down essentially unchanged since the mid-17th century. Prior to dawn on the final day of the tsechu a huge tapestry, or thongdrel, is unfurled in the courtyard of the dzong for several hours. The mere sight of it is believed to bring spiritual liberation. The thongdrel is rolled up before the rays of the morning sun can strike it.
Monks join the monastery at six to nine years of age and are immediately placed under the discipleship of a headmaster. They learn to read chhokey, the language of the ancient sacred texts, as well as Dzongkha and English. Eventually they will choose between two possible paths: to study theology and Buddhist theory, or take the more common path of becoming proficient in the rituals and personal practices of the faith.
The daily life of the monk is austere, particularly if they are stationed at one of the monasteries located high in the mountains. At these monasteries food is often scarce and must be carried up by the monks or their visitors. The monks are poorly clothed for winter conditions and the monasteries are unheated. The hardship of such a posting is well-recognized; to have a son or brother serving in such a monastery is recognized as very good karma for the family. A monk's spiritual training continues throughout his life. In addition to serving the community in sacramental roles, he may undertake several extended silent retreats. A common length for such a retreat is three years, three months, three weeks and three days. During the retreat time he will periodically meet with his spiritual master who will test him on his development to ensure that the retreat time is not being wasted.
Each monastery is headed by an abbot who is typically a Lama, although the titles are distinct. The highest monk in the land is the chief abbot of Bhutan, whose title is Je Khenpo. He is theoretically equivalent in stature to the king. The Central Monk Body is an assembly of 600 or so monks who attend to the most critical religious duties of the country. In the summer they are housed in Thimphu, the nation's capital, and in the winter they descend to Punakha dzong, the most sacred dzong in Bhutan, where Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal's mortal body has been kept under vigil since the late 17th century.
Music of Bhutan
Bhutanese music has traditional genres such as Zhungdra, Boedra, and a modern genre called Rigsar. Bhutanese musicians include: Jigme Drukpa, who is also a leading Bhutanese musicologist.
Official Behavioral Code
The Driglam Namzha is the official behaviour and dress code of Bhutan. It governs how citizens should dress in public and how they should behave in formal settings. It also regulates a number of cultural assets such as art and Bhutanese architecture. In English, driglam means "order, discipline, custom, rules, regimen" and namzha means "system," though the term may be styled "The Rules for Disciplined Behaviour."
It is a manner and etiquette as what to wear, how to eat, talk and bow down before the government officials and the clergy. The Driglam Namzha was imposed on all citizens from 1990. The people of different ethnic heritage for example the Lhotsampas (Bhutanese citizens of ethnic Nepali origin – they were not Bhutanese citizens and they were not Lhotsampas) resented this and revolted against this imposition, thereby getting kicked out of Bhutan to the refugee camps. About 20% of Bhutan's population currently live in exile because of this Bhutanization policies of the Royal Government followed by land expropriation and persecution.
To preserve the indigenous Buddha's Teachings as their long-guarded culture and tradition, Menjong Chöthün Tshogpa, a charitable organization was established in 2002 by The Supreme Dharma King or Trulku Jigme Chöda Rinpoche 70th Je Khenpo of Bhutan. The chairman at present is Trizin Tsering Rimpoche who also happens to be the founder of Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation, another charitable organization in Bhutan.
National Dress Code
Previously all Bhutanese citizens were required to observe the national dress code, known as Driglam Namzha, while in public during daylight hours. The rule was enforced more rigorously in some districts (dzongkhag) than others. Men wear a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, called a gho, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach.
Women wear colourful blouses over which they fold and clasp a large rectangular cloth called a kira, thereby creating an ankle-length dress. A short silk jacket, or toego may be worn over the kira. Everyday gho and kira are cotton or wool, according to the season, patterned in simple checks and stripes in earth tones. For special occasions and festivals, colourfully patterned silk kira and, more rarely, gho may be worn.
Additional rules of protocol apply when visiting a dzong or a temple, or when appearing before a high-level official. Male commoners wear a white sash (kabney) from left shoulder to opposite hip. Local and regional elected officials, government ministers, cabinet members, and the King himself each wear their own colored kabney. Women wear a narrow embroidered cloth draped over the left shoulder, a rachu.
The dress code has met with some resistance from Lhotshampa, people of Nepali ancestry, living along the Indian border who resent having to wear a cultural dress which is not their own.
Bhutanization | The Darker Side
Despite living in Bhutan for up to five generations, the Lhotsampas retained their highly distinctive Nepali language, culture, and religion. They participated in public life and politics, even attaining positions of significant leadership. The Lhotsampas coexisted peacefully with other ethnic groups in Bhutan until the mid 1980s, when Bhutan’s king and the ruling Druk majority became worried that the growing Lhotsampa population could threaten the majority position and the traditional Buddhist culture of the Druk Bhutanese.
The government therefore initiated a campaign, known as “One country, one people,” or “Bhutanization” to cement Bhutanese national identity. The policies imposed the Druk dress code, religious practices, and language use on all Bhutanese regardless of prior practices. These changes negatively impacted the Lhotsampa people, because they did not wear the same traditional dress, practice the same religion, or speak the same language as the northern Bhutanese. The use of the Nepali language was prohibited in schools, many Lhotsampa teachers were dismissed, and textbooks were burned.
Men + Women in Society
Men and women work together in the fields, and both may own small shops or businesses. Men take a full part in household management, often cook, and are traditionally the makers and repairers of clothing (but do not weave the fabric). In the towns, a more "western" pattern of family structure is beginning to emerge, with the husband as breadwinner and the wife as home-maker. Both genders may be monks, although in practice the number of female monks is relatively small.
Marriages are at the will of either party and divorce is not uncommon. The marriage ceremony consists of an exchange of white scarves and the sharing of a cup. Marriages can be officially registered when the couple has lived together for more than six months. Traditionally the groom moves to the bride's family home (matrilocality), but newlyweds may decide to live with either family depending on which household is most in need of labour.
Except for royal lineages, Bhutanese names do not include a family name. Instead two traditional auspicious names are chosen at birth by the local lama or by the parents or grandparents of the child. First names generally give no indication if the person is male or female; in some cases the second name may be helpful in that regard.
As there is a limited constellation of acceptable names to choose from, inevitably many people share the same combination of first and second names. To resolve the ambiguity an informal nicknaming system comes into play which recognizes where a person is from. If a certain "Chong Kinley" is from Chozom village in the Paro valley, she is called "Paro Kinley" when she is travelling outside the valley. In Paro valley itself she is identified by the name of her village, thus "Chong Kinley Chozom". Surprisingly, multiple children in a small hamlet of a few houses may have exactly the same name, reflecting the inspiration of the local lama. In this case, she is identified by the name of the house she was born in, thus "Chemsarpo" Kinley.
Food of Bhutan
The staple foods of Bhutan are red rice (like brown rice in texture, but with a nutty taste, the only variety of rice that grows in high altitudes), buckwheat, and increasingly maize. The diet in the hills also includes chicken, yak meat, dried beef, pork, pork fat, and lamb. Soups and stews of meat, rice, ferns, lentils, and dried vegetables, spiced with chili peppers and cheese, are a favourite meal during the cold seasons.
Zow shungo is a rice dish mixed with leftover vegetables. Ema datshi, made very spicy with cheese and chili peppers (similar to chili con queso), might be called the national dish for its ubiquity and the pride that Bhutanese have for it. Other foods include: jasha maru (a chicken dish), phaksha paa, thukpa, bathup, and fried rice.
Dairy foods, particularly butter and cheese from yaks and cows, are also popular, and indeed almost all milk is turned into butter and cheese. Popular beverages include: butter tea, black tea, locally brewed ara (rice wine), and beer. Popular spices include: curry, cardamom, ginger, thingay (Sichuan pepper), garlic, turmeric, and caraway.
When offered food, one says meshu meshu, covering one's mouth with the hands in refusal according to Bhutanese manners, and then gives in on the second or third offer.
Sports of Bhutan
Archery is the national sport in Bhutan, and competitions are held regularly in most villages. It differs from Olympic standards in technical details, such as the placement of the targets and atmosphere. There are two targets placed over 100 m apart and teams shoot from one end of the field to the other. Each member of the team shoots two arrows per round.
Traditional Bhutanese Archery is a social event, and competitions are organized between villages, towns, and amateur teams. There is usually plenty of food and drink complete with singing and dancing. Attempts to distract an opponent include standing around the target and making fun of the shooter's ability. Darts (kuru) is an equally popular outdoor team sport, in which heavy wooden darts pointed with a 10 cm nail are thrown at a paperback-sized target 10 to 20 m away.
Another traditional sport is digor, which resembles shot put and horseshoe throwing.
Football is the most popular sport in Bhutan. In 2002, Bhutan's national football team played Montserrat in what was billed as The Other Final; the match took place on the same day Brazil played Germany in the World Cup Final, and at the time Bhutan and Montserrat were the world's two lowest ranked teams. It was held in Thimphu's Changlimithang Stadium, and Bhutan won 4–0. Cricket has also gained popularity in Bhutan, particularly since the introduction of television channels from India. The Bhutan national cricket team is one of the most successful affiliate nations in the region.
+ Below information from WWF +
Tucked between the Tibetan Plateau to the north and India to the south, west and east, Bhutan lies entirely within the Eastern Himalayas. It's just half the size of Indiana. But 51% of its land is protected—the highest percentage of any nation in Asia. Equally striking, the Bhutanese constitution requires at least 60% of the country’s forest cover to be permanently maintained (the country is currently at more than 70%).
Those percentages reflect the value of protected areas—and more broadly, nature—to multiple facets of Bhutanese society. One is spiritual: Bhutan's culture is rooted in Buddhism, which emphasizes the interdependence between humans and nature ... Wildlife delivers revenue as well. The country's mountains, alpine meadows and thick forests shelter more than 5,600 vascular plant species and 200 mammal species. There are tigers, snow leopards and Asian elephants—as well as bird species like the beautiful nuthatch. Tourism showcasing Bhutan's biodiversity and nature-inspired culture is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the country's economy ...
Renewable hydropower sold to India currently generates more than 45% of national revenue, and the country must diversify its economy to address its evolving needs. At the same time, Bhutan's leaders are keeping a close eye on Gross National Happiness—the country's holistic approach to prosperity that includes social, environmental and political priorities alongside economic ones."
+ Below information taken from The New York Times +
"The majority of Bhutanese still live off the land, practicing subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. Bhutan is the only country in the world whose state religion is Mahayana Buddhism. Its official language, Dzongkha, is spoken in few other places on earth — but all Bhutanese schoolchildren, even in the deepest countryside, are taught English. Bhutan only got television in 1999. There are no plastic bags allowed in Bhutan, and 72 percent of the country is under forest cover. In 2013, the government announced its intention to become the world’s first 100-percent organic-farming nation ... Gender equality is a work in progress; fewer than 9 percent of the country’s nationally elected officials are women."