Duration: 25 days
Max. Elevation: 5320m
Highest Camp: 5050m
Best Seasons: Mid June to Mid October
Start: Drukgyel dzong (Paro)
Finish: Sephu (Trongsa)
The Lonely Planet describes this as one of the most difficult treks of the world, taking you into the high altitudes of the Bhutanese Himalayas, spectacular peaks and trek through the most remote areas up to very high altitudes above 5000m. This is a trek where trekkers have to camp on blankets of snow sometimes.
Trekkers are taken into the Lunana region and further on to Gangkhar Puensum and Bumthang or down to Sephu in Trongsa district, depending on the route chosen.
Day 11: Rejuvenation in Laya
If you have trekked from Drukgyel dzong you are advised to spend a day recuperating and preparing for the upcoming challenge. Those coming from Tashitang/Damji (Punakha) are also advised to acclimatize at Laya. During the day’s break, one can have a good time relishing the great views from Laya and interacting with its special inhabitants.
Day 12: Laya-Rhodophu (Distance 19km, 6-8 hours, 1030m ascent, 750m descent, camp altitude 4160m)
It is a downhill trek from Laya to an army camp. From there the trekkers move alongside the river till the turn off point to Rhodophu. After lunch begins the climb through rhododendron bushes till the camp at Rhodophu, which is just next to Rhodo Chhu.
Day 13: Rhodophu-Narethang (Distance 17km, 5-6 hours, 740m ascent, camp altitude 4900m)
You again continue following the river for about half an hour and then embark on a steady climb to a high and open valley at 4600m and further to Tsomo La (4900m). Tsomo La offers a superb view of Lunana, Mt Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and the Tibetan border. The route then crosses a flat, barren plateau at about 5000m. The campsite at Narethang is towered by the Gangla Karchung peak (6395m).
Day 14: Narethang-Tarina (Distance 18km, 5-6 hours, 270m ascent, 1200m descent, camp altitude 3970m).
The trek continues with an uphill trek for about an hour to Gangla Karchung La (5120m). The pass offers one of the most stunning views of the entire range of mountains including Jekangphu Gang (7100m), Tsenda Kang and Teri Gang (7300m). From the pass the trail descends along a large moraine and is greeted with extraordinary views such as a massive glacier descending from Teri Kang to a deep turquoise lake at its foot. It is from here that a glacial lake burst in the early 1960s, causing widespread damage and partially destroying Punakha dzong. The final leg of the trail is a very long descent through thick rhododendron bushes to Tarina valley. There are several good campsites along the Tang Chhu.
Day 15: Tarina-Woche (Distance 17km, 6-7 hours, 270m ascent, 330m descent, camp altitude 3910m)
Following the upper ridges of the Pho Chhu, the trek goes along conifer forests and beautiful waterfalls. It then climbs over a ridge and drops to Woche, a settlement of few houses and the first village in the Lunana region.
Day 16: Woche-Lhedi (Distance 17km, 6-7 hours, 980m ascent, 1190m descent, camp altitude 3700m).
The day is a trek through thick forests of juniper, fir and rhododendron bushes. It also involves ascending to Keche La pass (4650m) where one can have a great view of the surrounding mountains again. Once you cross the pass, the route descends to the riverside. You will be walking through a village offering a stunning view of Table Mountain and others. You then follow the river till Lhedi village, which has a basic health unit, a school and a wireless telephone connection.
Day 17: Lhedi-Thanza (Distance 17km, 7-8 hours, 450m ascent, camp altitude 4150m)
On a clear weather, you will have great views of Table Mountain (7100m). Around lunchtime you will pass the small village of Chozo (4090m) which has a dzong still in use. On reaching Thanza, again you will have a great view of Table Mountain which forms a 3000m high wall of snow and ice behind the village. Although there are possibilities to camp directly at Thanza, most groups prefer to camp in Thoencha.
Day 18: Rest day at Thanza
This offers you an opportunity to either interact with the people of Thanza or climb up the ridge for fascinating views of lakes and mountains. However, as new yaks have to be arranged (the yaks from Laya will not go further than Thanza) you might have to spend one day at Thanza anyway.
Day 19: Thanza-Damji (Distance 8km, 3-4 hours, 80m ascent, camp altitude 4230m).
After you reach Thoencha, the trek starts to ascend up till a large boulder, from where one can have a spectacular view of Thanza, Thoencha and Choso villages, including the surrounding mountains. Then you can usher in a few hours of relatively flat and easy walking, until you reach a yak meadow with some yak herders’ huts. This is an excellent campsite with a great chance to spot some blue sheep on the hills above. Near the campsite is a trail junction, which will give you the choice between the routes up to Gangkhar Puensum base camp, and further on to Bumthang or to Sephu in Trongsa district.
Day 20: Damji-Tshochena (Distance 12km, 5-6 hours, 980m ascent, 240m descent, camp altitude 4970m).
After having chosen the route to Sephu, the trek will lead you to a creek which you need to cross. Following a long climb, you will reach Jaze La (5150m) with spectacular mountain views. The trail then descends and takes one between snow covered peaks and a couple of small lakes to the campsite near the shores of Tshochena Lake.
Day 21: Tshochena-Jichu Dramo (Distance 14km, 4-5 hours, 230m ascent, 150m descent, camp altitude 5050m).
The trek takes you along the bank of the blue green lake to a ridge at 5100m. Yet again, you can see a spectacular view in all directions. The route then traverses up and down over small hills, until you reach a glacial lake, after which the route again descends. However, it again ascends till you reach the next pass, the Loju La (5140m). Towards the final leg of the day’s trek, you cross a small saddle (5100m) and enter a wide glacial valley from where the trail descends gradually to the campsite at Jichu Dramo.
Day 22: Jichu Dramo-Chukarpo (Distance 18km, 5-6 hours, 320m ascent, 730m descent, camp altitude 4600m).
As soon as you leave the camp, you begin a climb through a moraine to Rinchen Zoe La (5320m). Your endurance will be rewarded as you see spectacular mountain scenery, including Gangkhar Puensum on this trek route. Towering above the pass in the west is Rinchen Zoe Peak (5650m).
Descending from the pass, the route will lead you into a wide valley with several lakes and steeply down along a moraine to the Thamphe Chhu. From here, the vegetation begins to thicken again and you will see the first real trees since Lhedi. After a couple of hours, you reach the campsite at Chukarpo.
Day 23: Chukarpo-Thampe Tsho (Distance 18km, 5-6 hours, 400m ascent, 700m descent, camp altitude 4300m)
The trek’s descent continues along the river till you reach the yak herder huts at Gala Pang Chhu (4010m). From here the trail climbs steeply towards Thampe Tsho, a beautiful clear turquoise lake, with the campsite next to it.
Day 24: Thampe Tsho-Maurothang (Distance 14km, 5 hours, 330m ascent, 1020m descent, camp altitude 3610m).
Today, you begin with a steep ascend to reach the last pass on your trek trail, Thampe La (4600m). You could spot some blue sheep on the way. The path then descends to the sacred lake, Om Tsho. You will pass a waterfall and reach another lake, a smaller one 100m below to descend steeply to the Nikka Chhu. Finally, the path traverses through mixed forest to a large clearing on the banks of the river with a few yak herders’ huts at Maurothang.
Day 25: Maurothang-Sephu (Distance 18km, 5-6 hours, 990m descent).
This will be the last day of an extraordinary trek and your porters will have to change from yaks to horses as the yaks will not be willing to go further down. You move on a path following the Nikka Chhu to reach a large grassy area overlooking the road and the village of Sephu. Your final destination is the road at the Nikka Chhu Bridge at Sephu, where you will find several stores (mainly selling bamboo products) and small restaurants.