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A journey the mythical land of the Thunder Dragon

The Royal Highland Festival Bhutan trip

20 - 27 October 2021

8 days and 7 nights (2590 euro)
Maximum number of participants: 10 people

It has taken a while before I was able to inform you about our new travel program for Bhutan in 2020. Our friend in the Kingdom of Happiness had some problems with the attachment (those Buddhists with their non-attachment! :-)
But here it is, and, as you are used to from us, it will again be a unique trip because we are going to the Royal Highland Festival! This is an incredible opportunity to see the semi-nomadic hill tribes from the north and east of Bhutan in action during a spectacular cultural event during which they demonstrate and exchange their age-old traditions, war dances, the art of archery etc. These martial arts skills date from the 17th century, the time when the Tibetan Lama Zhabdrung founded his Himalayan kingdom. The Royal Highland Festival only takes place once a year and there are very few Westerners lucky enough to experience this. This trip includes a two-day trek (from Gasa to Laya) and a visit to some of the amazing highlights of Bhutan such as Tiger's Nest and the ancient capital Punakha.

(*) Those who want to extend their journey with a trek through the east of Bhutan can join us after the Highland trip for the 6-day Merak-Sakteng trek in the eastern province of Bhumthang (see below program)

Day 1. From Paro to Punakha
Flight to Bhutan from Bangkok / Kathmandu / Delhi. You arrive at Paro international airport (Bhutan), where you meet your guide and driver and then drive to Punakha, the former capital and winter home of the monks who run the country, via the Dochula pass, from where you can have a spectacular view of the Himalayan mountain ranges of Bhutan. We visit the Druk Wangyal chortens (108 Stupas) & temple where the local Lama tells us about Bhutanese Buddhism; the Punakha Dzong (1637, the Fort of Fortune and one of the landmark buildings of Bhutan) and the Chimi Lhakhang, a 15th-century fertility temple.
Distance: 125 km
Time: 4 hours
Altitude: Punakha 1200 m, Dochula pass 3150 m
Accommodation: comfortable hotel in Punakha

Day 2. From Punakha to Gasa
Today we drive from Punakha to Gasa, one of the most remote and least populated provinces of Bhutan. It is a long drive along a winding road through dense jungle and along the banks of the Mochu (female river). This road was only constructed a few years ago, so that these valleys cut off by mountain ranges were opened up. In Gasa we visit the Tsachu (hot springs) for a relaxing bath in the rejuvenating and healing mineral water. The Gasa Tsachu is one of the most popular hot springs in Bhutan.
Distance: 100 km
Time: 5 hours
Altitude: Punakha 1200 m, Dochula 3150 m, Gasa 2850 m
Accommodation: camp or host family in Gasa

Day 3. From Gasa to Laya
In the morning we drive to Koina until the end of the road. There we leave our car and continue on foot. The path winds along the river valley of Mo Chhu and offers a breathtaking view of the wild river, streams and waterfalls. We continue a gradual climb to an army camp where we have to show our permit at the checkpoint. The path then climbs further up to the village of Laya. From the west side of the village we get a spectacular view of Mt. Gangchhenta and Mt. Masagang. In the village center there is a school and a simple health center with a telephone connection. Here you can experience the life of the shepherds as it has been going on for hundreds of years, amid the beautiful flora and fauna of the high Himalayas.
Distance: 19 km
Time: 6-7 hours (hiking)
Altitude: Laya 3,700 m
Ascent: 1,070 m
Descent: 260 m
Accommodation: camp

Day 4. Laya (Royal Highland Festival)
Today we make a stop in Laya where we will be a guest at the Royal Highland Festival. This is a feast for the eyes and one of the most fascinating and photogenic festivals in Bhutan. Laya is at 3700 m one of the highest and most remote villages of Bhutan. The locals - called Layaps - herding yaks and for the winter they grow turnips, mustard, wheat and barley. During the summer they move with their yaks to higher meadows where they live in yakharen tents. The Layaps have their own language, customs and a traditional costume. The women have long hair and wear conical bamboo hats with a pin attached with a beaded band. They wear black woolen jackets with silver buckles and long woolen skirts with orange and brown stripes.
Distance: 0
Time: 0
Altitude: Laya 3,700 m
Accommodation: camp

Day 5. From Laya to Punakha
The path winds its way up the Mo Cchu River valley to Koina with many mountains and valleys and leads to Kohi Lapcha (3,300 m). From there it goes downhill again towards the big river Koina Chhu where the camp of Koina is located on the banks. From here it is a short climb to our car that takes us back to Punakha in three hours.
Distance: 19 km
Time: 6 to 7 hours (hiking)
Ascent: 260 m
Descent: 1070 m
Accommodation: comfortable hotel in Punakha
Height: Punakha 1200 m

Day 6. From Punakha to Paro
Today we drive from Paro back to Thimphu via the Dochula pass. In Thimpu we visit the Simtokha Dzong (1629 AD the oldest fortress of Bhutan), the giant Buddha statue (the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world), the National Museum (1968), the Paro Rinpung Dzong (1646 AD, 'het fort of the mountain jewels')
Distance: 125 km
Time: 4 hours
Altitude: Paro 2200m
Accommodation: comfortable hotel in Paro.

Day 7. Paro
Early in the morning, after breakfast, we start our climb to Taktshang Gumpa (the Tiger's Nest Temple). It is a tough climb of about three hours, but you can also undertake this on horseback until halfway. Halfway through the beautiful walk through the pine forest there is a tea house where you can catch your breath for the rest of the climb. Tiger's Nest is an absolute must-see of Bhutan. In the afternoon we visit the oldest temple of Bhutan, the 8th century Lakhang and there is time to shop in the old center of Paro.
Distance: 7 km
Time: 2-3 hours
Altitude: Tiger's Nest temple 3000 m
Accommodation: comfortable hotel in Paro

Day 8. Departure
After breakfast we drive to Paro airport for the return flight.

(*) The Merak-Sakteng trek has been on our personal wish list for a long time. This trek takes us in 6 days along the border with Tibet, with the highest, snowy peaks of the eastern Himalayas in the background. The altitude fluctuates around 3000 meters. Your luggage (lightly packed of course!) goes on the back of horses.
The Merak-Sakteng trek was only opened in 2012, long after Bhutan slowly admitted tourism, and so far only few trekking groups have visited this remote region in Eastern Bhutan. The trek goes through the twin villages of Merak and Sakteng that lie above 3000m. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to the endangered snow leopard and the red panda, the Himalayan bear, the Himalayan red fox and - who knows;) - the legendary yeti. The people in Merak and Sakteng are half nomadic yak herders with a unique and fascinating culture. They speak a different dialect, have their own gods and a unique clothing style. They wear the typical headwear made from yak hair.