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Jomolhari Yaksa Trek
The Mount Jomolhari (Goddess Mountain) Trek takes you through the scattered villages and farmland into pristine and verdant forested valleys, to the land of yak herders, where yaks graze and lumber across the beautiful sloping alpine-mountain sides. It's easy access from Paro (where the only international airport is) and Thimphu (the capital city), as well as the 7-day duration, make this an ideal trek for many visitors. The trek reaches a max altitude of4,890 m/ 16,000 ft and features breathtaking views of the surrounding snow-capped Himalayan peaks, including Mount Jomolhari.
As a very special feature, we are introducing a brand-new homestay in a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse tucked in among the mountains and waterfalls - a truly spectacular setting. Our travelers will have the unique opportunity to spend an extra day exploring the area around the homestay, affording a special peek into a hidden corner of this treasure-box kingdom.
This itinerary also includes time to explore Paro, Punakha and Thimphu, including a visit to the infamous Tiger's Nest Monastery.
Arrive in Paro, Bhutan
On your flight to Paro, Bhutan (2,300m/7,500 f), if the skies are clear, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the highest peaks in the world including Mt. Everest, Makalu, and Kanchenjunga. You will also get the first glimpse of the Mt. Jomolhari.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your Bhutanese guide and escorted to your hotel. If you arrive on a morning flight: after lunch, we pay a visit to Ta Dzong, built in 1651 as a watchtower and in 1968 inaugurated as Bhutan’s National Museum. The collection includes art, relics, religious thangkha painting, postage stamps, coins, and handicrafts, as well as a small natural history collection. Below Ta Dzong is Rinpung Dzong (Fortress on the heap of Jewels), built in 1646. Overnight in Paro.
Today we'll drive to Chelila Pass (13,000 ft.) for an acclimatization hike to help prepare for the trek. The drive to Chelila Pass is about an hour and a half with approximately 5,000 ft. gain in elevation. Once at the pass, we'll hike along the ridgeline with a gradual increase in elevation. Depending on your fitness level, the hike can go on up to 3 hours, or continue on another 3 hours or so to Kila Nunnery and then return by van. Overnight in Paro.
Sharna Zamba to Soi Thangthangkha (beginning of trek)
Leaving Paro in the early morning, we'll drive past the ruined Drugyel Dzong and continue further on an 18 km dirt road until we reach the Gunitsawa army post (2,810m/9,200ft). After checking in with the army check post, we drive further upstream to Sharna Zamba where the road ends and our trek begins.
Beginning the Jomolhari trek, we walk for 6-8 hours to our first campsite at Soi Thangthangkha. We are now trekking within Jigme Dorje National Park, the largest protected area in the country (4,350 sq kms.) which extends beyond Laya to Lunana in the east and all the territory to the south. While it is a protected wilderness, the park management, which is based at Gasa, has to cope with the needs of lowland farmers and semi-nomadic yak herders. There is an amazing variety of species of plants and animals in the park at both high and low altitudes. The forests are tall and thick, comprising a variety of oaks, maple, birch, larch pine and alders that will be replaced by more and more rhododendron and pines as we trek higher.
This is one of the longest trekking days taking up to seven to eight hours to reach the campsite. The trail follows the Pa Chu (Paro River), ascending and descending through pine, oak and spruce forest.
We cross several traditional wooden bridges finally arriving at our campsite at Thangthangkha, an open meadow close by the river. From here, if weather permits, you will have the first great view of Mt. Jomolhari.
Distance: 22km/13.6miles; Total altitude gain: 810m/2,658ft; Duration: 6-8 hours; Campsite elevation: 3,594m/11,790ft; Level of difficulty: Moderate to difficult (with muddy & bumpy path)
Thangthangkha to Jangothang
Today’s trek is relatively shorter so it is possible to set off a little later and progress at a leisurely pace. The path ascends for a while until we reach the army camp. We then follow the river above the tree line, enjoying stunning views of the surrounding peaks. Hot lunch is served at a yak herder's camp.
A short walk from here into the valley takes us to our campsite at Jangothang (4,080 m/13,385ft) where the view of Jomolhari and Jichu Drake are spectacular. The area is rich in bird life. Birds sighted en route include the fire-tailed sunbird, Ibis bill, White-throated Dipper, Yellow-billed Chough, Rosy Pipit, Snow Pigeon, Blue-fronted Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Blood Pheasant, Snow Partridge and many more. Camp overnight.
Distance: 14km/8.7miles; Total altitude gain: 420m/1,380ft; Duration: 4-5 hours; Campsite elevation: 4,080m/13,385ft; Level of difficulty: Short & easy
Jangothang (Rest day)
A rest day for acclimatization at Jangothang. A side trip up the small valley towards Jomolhari takes us to a dramatic viewpoint and onto the glacier beneath. Alternatively, we may make a scenic excursion up to Tsophu Lake, set adjacent to Nye La pass -- both will be worthy photo excursions. As far as mountaineering is concerned, these two peaks, like the rest of Bhutan, have seen little expedition activity from outsiders. Doug Scott successfully climbed Jichu Drake in 1988 on his third attempt, demonstrating that conditions are not so easy on this far east location of the Himalaya, being first in line geographically for monsoonal influences. Camp overnight.
(Participants on the scheduled October program will have the chance to take part in the local Jomolhari Festival on this day!)
Jangothang to Soi Yaksa
This morning, the trail leads to the last settlement in the valley near the camp, and gradually climbs up to the twin Tshophu Lakes (4,380m/14,370ft). From there you will make a rather steep ascent to Bhonte La Pass at 4,890m/16,043ft, the highest point of this trek route. You will then make a fast descent to Yaksa Valley. Halfway down the mountain, we take a trail less trodden on our left towards Domtey, where we will spend two nights at the remote farmhouse. The house is a basic setup, but is uniquely appointed on top of a mount with a stunning backdrop of beautiful waterfalls forming the Dhumzo Chhu River below. Overnight at homestay.
Distance: 16km/10 miles; Total altitude loss: 280m/918ft; Duration: 6-7 hours; Campsite elevation: 3,800m/12,470ft; Level of difficulty: Streneous
You will spend the day soaking in the beauty of the valley and also learning about the Yak herders’ lifestyle from our host, whose family are also yak herders. The Yaksa Valley and its nomadic people play an important participatory role in the Snow Leopard Conservation Project.
Overnight at the homestay
Soi Yaksa to Thombu Shong
The trail climbs 100m over a ridge to drop to another stream. . After crossing the Takhung La Pass (4,520m/14,830ft) you descend to Thombu Shong, a wide glacial valley commonly frequented by yak herders and their yaks. There are several yak herder huts. Your campsite tonight is next to them.
Distance: 11km/6.8 miles; Total altitude gain: 380m/1,247ft; Duration: 4-5 hours; Campsite elevation: 4,180m/13,714ft; Level of difficulty: Moderate
Thombu Shong to Thimphu
After a half-hour of climbing we reach Thombu La Pass (4,380m/14,370ft). Crossing the pass you will hike along one of the most picturesque ridges on the trek for another hour. The trail suddenly makes a long descent to finally reach Gunitsawa, where your car awaits you. You will be driven to the comforts of your hotel in Thimphu, the capital (2 hours drive time).
Distance: 15km/9.3 miles; Total altitude loss: 1,480m/4,856ft; Duration: 5-6 hours; Level of difficulty: Moderate with three hours of downhill hike.
Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, is the only capital city in the world without traffic lights. Visits today will include: the Memorial Chorten, built in the memory of the late 3rd king; the Institute of Traditional Medicine where centuries-old indigenous medicines are still made; the Painting School, which is particularly famous for Thangkha Paintings; the National Library, housing ancient Buddhist texts; and the Takin Preserve.
Morning drive to Punakha Valley crossing the popular Dochula Pass (3,100 m/10,171ft). Punakha valley is a warm, subtropical valley sitting at an elevation of 1,300m/4,265ft.
Highlights & options in Punakha include:
- Punakha Dzong (Fortress), the queen of all, is situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (Male and Female River), and is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years.
- Khamsum Yuley Namgey Lhakhang (temple) – Up the Mo-Chu (female) river valley, a pleasant hour-long hike to the temple, across the cantilevered bridge and through the rice fields, presents a great view of the valley below.
- Chhimi Lhakhang (Divine Madman temple) – This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as the “Divine Madman.” He preached in a way quite unlike the stiffness of clergy and society of the time; he dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are a result of his influence. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility; hence it is also called the “Temple of Fertility.” A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequently visited by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children.
Return to Paro and overnight.
Early morning hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Monastery in Paro. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have meditated here for three months and it is considered one of the holiest sites for Buddhists. Overnight in Paro.
After breakfast at the hotel, we'll drive to the airport for departure to your onward destination.
$4,195 per person based on dbl. occupancy
13D / 12N
October 10 - 22, 2020 and custom departure dates also available; best from April-June and September-November
Paro - Soi Thangthangkha - Jangothang - Soi Yaksa - Thombu Shong - Thimphu - Punakha - Paro
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