Bhutan boasts beautiful forests, superb fortresses, shrines and temples, and a natural history that is extraordinarily unspoilt, as well as little known. This holiday focuses on Bhutan’s fabulous flora, in particular flowering rhododendrons, magnolias, and other spring flowers and shrubs. We’ll cover as much ground as possible, over a variety of habitats and a wide altitudinal range (120 to 4,260 metres). Beginning in the Paro Valley we’ll botanise high passes before travelling east to the heart of the country, and then on to Jakar in Bumthang, where we start our trek. Following ancient trails we’ll trek through forest and over passes, enjoying the valley’s magnificent flora and culture. Lastly we’ll visit both Gangtey Gompa before returning to Paro for our flight home.
- Visit the spectacular Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Paro Valley
- Botanise in remote forests, meadows & river valleys
- Rimpung & Drugyel Dzongs, Dochu La Pass & Punakha, Paro Valley
- 6-day trek through magnificent forests & over passes in Bhutan’s cultural heartland
- Scented evergreens, rhododendrons, buddleias & elaeagnuses
- Primulas, pieris, cotoneasters, daphnes & a host of ‘climbers’
- Endemic plants, stunning riverside vistas, friendly people & Himalayan panoramas!
- Led by expert naturalist guides
Included in the price, except for main meals in Kathmandu. Allow £35.
A selection of hotels and lodges (all with private facilities); fully serviced camping whilst on trek.
Day 7 Jakar, Bumthang Valley
Druk-yul, the ‘Land of the Dragon’, as Bhutan is known to its inhabitants, has always been the most fiercely independent of the Himalayan kingdoms. Its formidable southern border, where the foothills of the great Himalaya rise more steeply from the Indian plains than anywhere else, imposed a limit on the British Empire. Even today it is difficult to visit; tourists may have been accepted since 1974 but the high prices demanded by the government of Bhutan have ensured that their numbers have been low —seldom more than a few thousand a year.
Bhutan is as individual as a country can be; it is a land of boundless and beautiful forests, of enormous dzongs (remarkable buildings peculiar to Bhutan that incorporate fort, monastery and village in one!), and a proud and elegant people with a culture, architecture and dress that are quite unique and that they do not wish to change. If the natural history of this small mountain kingdom is as yet little known, we do know that its unspoiled forests and valleys hold the best of the great variety of birds and flowers for which the eastern Himalaya is famous. As one of the last strongholds of Tibetan Buddhism, its religious monuments are numerous and quite outstanding. Temples, shrines, monasteries and dzongs litter the high valleys of Bhutan, and the grandest of them are in the beautiful Paro and Bumthang Valleys. This holiday focuses on Bhutan’s fabulous flora, particularly the flowering rhododendrons, magnolias, and other spring flowers and shrubs. Our chosen itinerary (and trek) is ideal for botanists because it covers as much ground as possible, ranges in altitude from 2,240 to 4,160 metres, and takes us to a wide variety of habitats, particularly forest ones. As well as visiting the monuments mentioned in the rest of this passage, particular emphasis will be on exploring these fabulous forests, and the meadows and river valleys of the country’s limited inhabited regions.
After a flight from Kathmandu, we arrive in Paro and have two days to explore this historic valley which sits below Chomolhari, one of the highest of Bhutan’s Himalayan peaks. We will visit the huge Rimpung Dzong, climb to the spectacular Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery and explore the rich diversity of forests up to the Chele La, a high pass to the west, where we will encounter countless primulas, an exciting range of rhododendrons and other shrubs, as well as a variety of birds which may include Kalij and Blood Pheasant.
An early morning drive then takes us to the Dochu La, a high pass clothed in virgin oak and hemlock forest, where we will enjoy a peaceful morning’s botanising before descending to the old capital, Punakha, where we will spend the night, and visit the splendid riverside dzong. A long, but scenic, day’s drive takes us eastwards to Tongsa in the heart of Bhutan. We break our journey frequently for plant-hunting stops on the high passes and in the wonderful roadside forest. In Tongsa we see the great dzong that is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, before moving to Jakar in the wide valley of Bumthang, the cultural heartland of the kingdom and the starting point for our trek.
Our trek lasts for six days. It is not particularly strenuous, averaging six to 10 kilometres a day on good trails at a leisurely pace. Fortunately though, the forest as we cross them is so rewarding to the naturalist that our pace should drop to that of a snail! Between these high points, ancient trails lead us from dzong to palace to temple, along clear trout streams and through magnificent forests. We take a rest day to enable us to explore the best of the forest, and our schedule is sufficiently relaxed to allow diversions and excursions to look at the area’s culture and natural history in more detail.
Completing the circuit, we return through Jakar and drive on to Gangtey Gompa to spend the night in a comfortable hotel overlooking the mires in the broad valley. We have two remaining full days to make the return journey, with time to explore the best of the forests as we travel. The final day takes us to Thimpu, the capital, for lunch and time to explore its many facets before we must return to Paro for our last night in Bhutan and the truly spectacular flight along the Himalayan chain to Kathmandu before flying back to London.