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The Brokpas, semi-nomadic inhabitants of the region, migrate throughout the seasons with their yaks, moving between the highlands in summer and the lowlands in winter. The people of Merak and Sakten still engage in the barter system, trading cheese, butter and dried meat for grains and other goods that are not readily available to them. During the colder months, they also travel down south to the villages to barter their goods. So, during such times, tourism is not really a viable option as the active population is out with their cattle. However, there are few residents who do not own animals and they stay back in the villages.
Since Merak and Sakteng is located in extreme eastern Bhutan, your tour will be packed with a bit of cultural package during your travel to east before your actual trek begins.
ARRIVE IN PARO
The flight to Paro crosses the Himalayan Mountains, affording spectacular views of the awesome peaks, including the sacred Jumolhari and Jichu Drake peaks in Bhutan. If you arrive via Kathmandu, which offers the most breathtaking view of the range, it’s possible to see Mount Everest and Mount Kanchenjunga, as well. On arrival you will be greeted by our representative and transferred to your hotel. In the afternoon you can visit the Paro Dzong. It was built in 1646 and now houses government offices and religious institutions, as do all the dzongs (forts) currently. You’ll cross a traditional wooden bridge on the way to the dzong. Afterward you will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the country. From there you will be taken to the Drugyel Dzong (Bhutan Victory Fort), which was built in 1646 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders during the 1600s. On a clear day, you can see Mount Jumolhari, Bhutan’s second-highest mountain (at 7,329 meters), from the village below the dzong. In the evening you can stroll through the Paro market and town.
Overnight in Paro.
PARO – THIMPHU
After breakfast, hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, this is Bhutan’s most historically famous monastery. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. It is perched on the edge of a steep cliff, about 900 meters above Paro Valley. The hike to reach the viewpoint to the monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion. In the afternoon you will drive to Thimphu. In the evening you can explore Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and absorb the lifestyle of the people. You can also visit some interesting handicraft shops.
Overnight in Thimphu.
After breakfast you will visit the King’s Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 to honor the 3rd King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–1972), is a prominent landmark in the city with its golden spires and bells. This chorten is unlike other chorten’s, as it does not enshrine the mortal remains of the King. Only the King’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor. The King, when he was alive, wanted to build “a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha”. The architecture of the chorten has been designed to present it as “one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu”.
Then you will visit Changgangkha Monastery, built in 12th century; Changangkha Lhakhang is oldest temple in Thimphu. It is hovering over a ridge above Thimphu, near Motithang. Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, who came to Bhutan from Ralung in Tibet, chose this site to build this lhakhang. The lhakhang houses Chenrezig, an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation of Avolokitesawara as the central statue. Parents traditionally come here to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their young children from the protector deity Tamdrin.
After that, you will visit the radio tower at Sangaygang (for a great view of Thimphu Valley and the Thimphu Dzong), and the zoo, which contains the national animal of Bhutan, the takin. From there you will visit the nunnery temple, the National Library (which houses ancient manuscripts), and the School of Arts and Crafts (also known as the painting school). After a relaxing lunch, you will visit the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, a traditional paper factory, the majestic Tashichodzong, and Simtokha Dzong (the oldest fortress in the kingdom).
Overnight in Thimphu.
THIMPHU – WNGDUEPHODRANG
After breakfast, you will drive to Wangduephodrang, with a stop in route for tea at Dochu La (3,100 meters), where, on a clear day, you can get spectacular views of the Himalayas. After lunch, you will drive to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, and visit Punakha Dzong, which is noteworthy both for being one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan and also for having been built by the first Shabdrung in 1637. On the way back from Punakha, you will stop at Metshina Village and take a 20-minute walk through the rice fields to Chimi Lakhang, which is a fertility temple, where you may receive a special fertility blessing if you wish.
Overnight in Wangduephodrang.
WANGDUEPHODRANG – TRONGSA
You will begin the day by driving to Gantey. You’ll pass through dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons and arrive at Gantey village, where you’ll visit Gantey Gompa, the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan. From Gantey, you can see the picturesque Black Mountain range as well as Phobjika Valley, the winter habitat of the black-necked cranes. From there you’ll head to Trongsa, the ancestral home of the royal family. The route is along a spectacular winding road, crossing 3,300-meter-high Pele La, and at certain times of year it’s possible to see yaks. You can browse through the Trongsa shops and town in the afternoon.
Overnight in Trongsa.
TRONGSA – BUMTHANG
In the morning you’ll visit Trongsa Dzong, the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture, and you’ll also see Ta Dzong, the watchtower built to defend this dzong. After lunch, you’ll proceed to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation, with lush valleys and hilly forests. Along the way you will stop at a yethra (textile weaving) factory, where the yethras are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms. The afternoon will be spent sightseeing in the area, including Jakar Dzong, the administrative center of the valley; the Udee woodcarving factory in Jakar; Jambey Lhakhang, one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, dating from the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan; and Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places, because Guru Rinpoche left his body imprint on the cave when he was meditating. You can spend the evening strolling through Bumthang town.
Overnight in Bumthang.
Day excursion to Tang Valley, Tang Valley is the most remote valley in Bumthang, and this will make a nice enjoyable excursion. You’ll make a stop in Tang Valley for lunch and will have a chance to visit the Ugyen Chholing Palace and explore the village. On the way back to town, you will see Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), where some of Guru Rinpoche’s treasures were found in the 15th century by the famous treasure discover Pema Lingpa. It’s a good place to meditate. You will also have a chance to tour Tamshing Lhakhang, a treasure house of interesting religious Buddhist paintings, and you will make a stop at the Swiss cheese factory. In the evening you can visit local shops.
Overnight in Bumthang.
Bumthang consists of four valleys–Chumey, Choekhar, Tang, and Ura–with altitudes varying from 2,600 to 4,000 meters. It is home to many prominent buddhist temples and monasteries. Today, you will hike to Tharpaling Monastery. You’ll begin the hike in the morning, since this is a fairly lengthy hike–about three hours to the monastery. It’s a picturesque trail through the forest. The monastery itself is somewhat large, with several temples, and about 100 monks live in the nearby huts. From the monastery, you will have a beautiful view of Chumey Valley, and you can have a relaxing lunch while you take in the scenery. In the evening you can relax in the town.
Overnight in Bumthang.
BUMTANG – MONGAR
You will begin your journey to eastern Bhutan, which is different from western and central Bhutan in terms of development and lifestyle. The steepness of the region lends itself to some spectacular views, with rushing waterfalls and sheer drops. The drive on this day is an exhilarating 8- hours, particularly the Thrumshing La (pass), which peaks at 3,750 meters. You can wander around Mongar town in the evening, and sit down to a relaxing dinner.
Overnight in Mongar.
MONGAR – TRASHIGANG
In the morning you will visit Mongar Dzong, which is more modern than most dzongs in Bhutan (though architecturally it looks the same), having been built at the request of the third king in 1953. You will then head to Trashigang, passing through several villages. In the afternoon, you can visit Trashigang Dzong and stroll through the town, absorbing the culture of eastern Bhutan.
Overnight in Trashigang.
TRASHIGANG – CHALING (7050 ft) (Beginning of the trek)- DAMNONGCHU
The trek to Merak will start from Chaling and the feeder road goes up to Chaling from Rangjung. The feeder road from Rangjung to Chaling is about 15 kms which takes about 1-hour by car. The first halt will be at Damnongchu, which is about 10131ft. Damnongchu camping area is located after Mindrula, which lies about 10,880ft above sea level.
DAMNONGCHU – MERAK (11480 ft) 5-hours trek.
The trail from Damnongchu to Merak goes along the river bank with gradual ups and downs. The final stretch is a very gentle incline after which you enter Merak village. The campsite, located before the village, has spectacular views of the nearby mountains and the village. There is also a guesthouse, where tourists can stay if they choose not to camp.
MERAK – MIKSA TENG (9400 ft), 7.5-hours
The trek from Merak to Miksa Teng is of medium difficulty. It will pass through the beautiful Nagchungla pass. Right after the Nagchungla pass descends, the trek is mostly along the river and there is a small climb before reaching the village of Sakteng. The campsite is located in a clearing surrounded by rhododendron trees. It is beautiful when the flowers are in full bloom.
MIKSA TENG – SAKTENG (9850 ft), 3.5-hours
Trek to Sakteng from Miksa Teng is easy making your way through beautiful woods with a short climb before reaching Sakteng but it is not very difficult. If lucky, trekkers may be able to spot a red panda among the trees. The Sakteng campsite is located on the outskirts of the village. Sakteng also offers trekkers the option of spending the night in a guesthouse instead of camping.
SAKTENG – JYONKHAR TENG (6100 ft), 6.5-hours
Sakteng to Jyonkhar Teng trek is an easy trek compared to the previous treks. It is mostly downhill and walking on a plain path. Some trekkers can also make it to Phongmay or Radhi but a halt in Jyonkhar Teng is recommended. Jyonkhar village is located few minutes’ walk from the campsite. Jyonkhar also has a community school. Jyonkhar Teng campsite is located near a river.
JYONKHAR – RADI PHONGMAY (6500 ft)/TRASHIGANG, 5-hours
The trekkers are highly recommended to either stay in Phongmay or Radhi. This is because of many attractions and beautiful villages in these two places. Radhi, popularly known as the ‘Rice Bowl” of the east is also popular for wool textiles, called Bura weaving.
Also, if visitors are exiting from Samdrup Jongkhar, they can choose to do so. However, a day in Trashigang is highly recommended as direct drive from Radhi or Phongmay may be possible but it will be very tiring.
TRASHIGANG (Rest day)
If you want, you can visit the Trashigang dzong in the morning, and have a rest in the afternoon. Overnight stay at the hotel in Trashigang.
TRASHIGANG – SAMDRUPJONGKHAR (180 km)
Today we have to start very early, in route, we will pass through Sherubtse University in Bhutan, the only university in Bhutan for higher learning. Then to Khaling weaving center, then finally to Samdrup Jongkhar the exit and entry point of Bhutan. Samdrup Jongkhar is boarder town to Assam boarder. Check in the hotel.
SAMDRUP JONGKHAR – GUWAHATI, INDIA (110 km)
Today we will drive to Gawahati, which is 110 km from Bhutan Boarder. The entire drive is in the plains. Time to explore Gawahati and fare well dinner before we depart tomorrow.
DEPART FROM GUWAHATI
Our guide and driver will drop you off.