Although Rodung La Trek does not ascend to very high altitudes, it is still challenging as the trail covers some fairly steep climbs and descents. The trail takes you from Bumthang in Central Bhutan to Trashiyangtse in the far eastern reaches of the kingdom.
The route was once an important trade road in the past but has fallen into disuse now and is chiefly used as a hiking trail. The trail passes through alpine and bamboo forests, meadows and mountain passes, through villages and temples offering hikers an incredible array of biodiversity to appreciate. The hike typically takes 10 days to complete and is best carried out in winter between October-early November or in spring between April-early May.
Day 01: Bangkok/Delhi/Katmandu – Paro
Highlights: Spectacular views of Mt Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586m) and Lhotse (8,414 m); and a literal adrenaline-pumping landing on the roof of the world.
Travel by Druk Air, Bhutan’s national airline, to Paro, the country’s only international airport. The flight is exhilarating to say the least, as the route traverses parallel to the mighty Himalayas enabling passengers to see the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest, and many more. The descent affords a panoramic view of Bhutan’s foothills culminating into a thrilling landing at what is considered one of the world’s most challenging airports.
Meet your guide at the airport and head to the hotel for lunch. Devote the afternoon to sightseeing around the Paro valley famed for its natural beauty, historical monuments, agricultural farms and quintessentially Bhutanese village communities. Visit the National Museum, formerly a watch tower, and then the Castle on a Heap of Precious Jewels or RinpungDzong. Wind up the day with a stroll around Paro town. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 02: Discovering Paro Valley
Highlights: Hike to the Tiger’s Lair, the most famous Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, built on a sheer rockface.
After breakfast, drive for half an hour and start hiking up to the temple that is renowned in the Himalayan Buddhist world as one of the most popular sites of pilgrimage. The five-hour round trip follows an ancient but oft-trodden footpath flanked by water-driven prayer wheels.
The temple, precariously perched on a hair-raising ravine about 1,000 metres above the valley floor, is considered sacrosanct as it was in a cave within this temple that the eight century tantric saint, Padmasambhava, subdued the evils who obstructed the teachings of the Buddha. The saint is believed to have come to Taktshang in a fiery wrathful form riding a tigress. Over the years, many Buddhist saints have meditated in and around the temple and discovered numerous hidden treasure teachings.
Visit the ruins of DrugyelDzongenroute. The fortress known as the “Castle of the Victorious Drukpa”, is a symbol of Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetan invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. We can also get a view of the sacred mountain, Jumolhari, along the way. On the way back to our hotel, we will visit the 7th century Kyichu Temple, believed to have been built on a place that resembled a knee of a giant ogress. Overnight at hotel.
Day 03: A Sojourn in Thimphu
Highlights: The power centre and the capital city of the Happy Kingdom. Also the hub of commerce and culture.
The drive from Paro to Thimphu is just under an hour. There are great many places to see in Bhutan’s capital. In the morning we will drive to Buddha Point which provides a spectacular 360 degree close-quarter view of entire Thimphu and the adjoining areas. This is the site of the world’s tallest statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Our next destination is the 12th century Changangkha Temple, Takin Zoo and the viewpoint at Sangaygang. On our way back, we stopover at a nunnery, the Folk Heritage Museum and the Textile Museum.
After lunch, we will proceed to TashichhoDzong, a 17th century castle-fortress which today houses the offices of the King, Chief Abbot and government ministries. We will also take the opportunity to see the nearby parliament complex, the School of Arts and Crafts, vegetable market, and then spend the rest of the day watching an archery match and strolling around the town.
Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha/Wangdi
Distance: 77 kilometres, Time: 3 hours
Highlights: A panoramic view of the snow-capped eastern Himalayas and a multitude of alpine flowers and birds; Bhutan’s ancient capital and Temple of Fertility.
The three to four-hour drive from Thimphu traverses thorough a constantly changing kaleidoscope of vegetation, waterfalls, flowers, mountains and meadows. In about 45 minutes we will reach the famous Dochula pass (3,100m) where on a clear day we can see the entire eastern Himalayan range, teeming with 6,000m to 7,554m snow-capped mountains. The pass also known for its abundant species of extremely beautiful flowers has 108 Buddhist stupas exquisitely built around a mound, adding to the natural splendor of the place.
From the pass we descend to the sub-tropical valley of Punakha. Punakha served as the ancient capital of capital and still possesses the country’s main treasures in the form of Buddhist relics. Resembling a gigantic ship on an ocean floor from afar, and girdled by two (Male and Female) rivers, the castle-fortress also represents the best specimen of Bhutanese architecture.
After lunch in a small nearby village together with a rural farming household, we will walk along a footpath flanked by an endless view of ripening paddy fields to the Temple of Fertility – ChimiLhakhang. This temple, built in the 15th century to honour the “Divine Madman”, a saint iconoclast who is also associated with phallus worship, attracts barren couples from all over to receive fertility blessings from an anointed phallus.
Night halt in Punakha
Day 05: Punakha/Wangdue – Trongsa
Distance: 120 km; Time: 6 hours
Highlights: Landscape, semi-nomads, diverse vegetation, and sighting of high altitude birds and animals enroute
Before heading for Trongsa in central Bhutan, we will visit the ruins and reconstruction work underway at Wanduephodrang, a fortress which was built in 1638 but was gutted in 2012. We take a short leisurely stroll in Wangdue town. If lucky, we might be able to sight the White-Bellied Heron cavorting on the river bank. This is one of the rarest birds in the world.
The journey to Trongsa is a gentle climb, from the sub-tropical to the sub-alpine region with the highest point at Pelela Pass (3,300m) Consequently, we will notice the vegetation transform right before our eyes. To reach the pass, we will be skirting the periphery of the world’s largest winter habit of the exotic and the rare Black-Necked Crane. Pelela pass itself is historically significant as the boundary between eastern and western Bhutan before the country was unified. From Pelela we drop to the slightly lower valleys inhabited by the semi-nomads who live off yaks and whose lifestyles have largely resisted the forces of modernization.
After lunch at the 18th century Chendebji, a replica of the BoudanathStupa in Nepal, we continue eastward to Trongsa proper, the bastion of the powerful governors in ancient Bhutan who eventually unified the country and became the progenitors of Bhutan’s hereditary monarchy.
Night Halt in Trongsa.
Day 06: Trongsa – Bumthang
Distance: 70 km; time: 3 hours
Highlights: Trongsa palace-fortress, Black Mountain range, and local textile
We begin our day with a visit to TrongsaDzong, the biggest palace-fortress in the Kingdom reputed to have been built without using a single iron nail. This fortress has for centuries been the vanguard of powerful warriors, one of whom even led successful expeditionary forces against British-Indian army in the southern boundaries of his domain. We complete our Trongsa sojourn with a visit to the Watch Tower, Ta dzong, which is today preserved as the Museum of Bhutanese Kings.
The drive to Bumthang is initially an upward ascent for nearly half the journey till we reach the highest point at Yotong La pass (3,400 m). After a brief stopover to view the Black Mountain range, we drive towards Chumey entering the country’s most expansive and beautiful valley known as Bumthang or a Meadow of Beautiful Vase. The women of Chumey are known for their skills in weaving the exquisite Yathra – a clothing with intricate floral patterns woven out of sheep’s wool.
Night halt in Bumthang.
Day 07: Stopover in Bumthang
Highlights: Monuments and structures which bring alive the exploits of saints and kings
This is the valley of myths and legends. One of the oldest surviving man-made structures in Bhutan, a temple dedicated to Buddha Shakyamuni, JambayLhakhang, was built in 639 AD as part of an oath by Tibetan emperor SongstenGampo to subdue a demoness who lay spread-eagled across the Himalayas obstructing the teachings of the Buddha. Our next visit will be the Castle of the White Bird (JakarDzong) whose central tower (utse) is the tallest in Bhutan. The castle currently serves as the administrative centre for the district.
From Jakar, we drive a short distance to Chakhar and then to KurjeyLhakhag. Albeit oblivious today, Chakhar is the site of the legendary “Nine-Storied Iron Castle” built by Sindhu Raja (king) in the 8th century and the innumerable myths surrounding it. Kurjey, meaning “Body Imprint on Rock”, has temples built against a wall of cliff. The imprint belongs to the 8th century saint Padmasambhava who mediated in a rock cave and, using his tantric powers as well as guile and guise, subdued the evils who tormented the people in the vicinity.
After lunch at our hotel, we drive to Tamzhingmonastery which preserves the remains of the works of TertonPemaLingpa who, in the 15th century, discovered many secret tantric teachings hidden by Padmasambhava. PemaLingpa was an artist and sculptor extraordinaire but, more importantly, one of the five “King Tertons” – treasure revealers – of Vajrayana Buddhism. Our last visit for the day is the “Burning Lake” in Tang where PemaLingpa, challenged by a local warlord, took a dive into a pool with a lighted butter lamp on his head and re-emerged from the lake with the lamp intact and holding a hitherto unknown statue in his hands.
Night halt in Bumthang.
DAY 08: (RODUNGLA TREK STARTS) JAKAR – NGANG LHAKHANG
Distance 20 km, 6-7 hours, camp altitude 2,800 m.
You will meet your trekking crew in Thangbi village and the trek starts here. After passing Thangbi temple, you will enter NgangYul or ‘Swan Land” named for the swans that were once common in this part of the valley. Near the center of this area you will find NgangLhakhang, the “Swan Temple”. The NgangLhakhang was erected by the Lama NamkhaSamdrup in the spot where his arrow landed. The design of the lhakhang inspired by a vision he had.
DAY 09: NGANG LHAKHANG – UGYENCHHOLIN
Distance 15 km, 5-6 hours, Camp altitude 2,850 m.
You begin with a gradual climb to Phephe La pass (3,353m). Follow the trail until the pass takes you through a picturesque forested region. It is recommended that you allow for stops along the way to enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings. You will stop for the night at OgyenCholing Manor. This manor houses one of the most interesting museums of Bhutan and visitors will gain a better understanding of the lives of the landed gentry in traditional Bhutanese society.
DAY 10: UGYEN CHOLING – PHOKPHEY
Distance 17 km, 5-6 hours, 920 m ascent, camp altitude 3,680 m.
Today’s walk is through bamboos, hemlock and finally up to an alpine forest. The camp is in a meadow at the head of the valley.
DAY 11: PHOKPHEY – PEMI
Distance 20 km, 6-7 hours, 480 m ascent, 1,160 m descent, camp altitude 2,950 m.
Rodung La (4,160m) is about three hours climb from the camp. From the pass you then continue downhill through a gorge, overlooking scenic mountain valleys covered in lush pine forests. The region is rich in folk lore concerning spirits and yetis. Near the camp you can see a ruined stone building that once acted as a grain storehouse during the reigns of the first and second king.
DAY 12: PEMI – KHAINE LAKHANG
Distance 21 km, 7-8 hours, 350 m ascent, 1,340 m descent, camp altitude 2,010 m.
This trail winds through the villages of Ungaar, Bulay, Kulaypang and Gomda before bringing you to Drula village and KhaineLhakhang. One of the oldest temples in the country, it was built in the mid 7th century by the King SongtshenGampo of Tibet to subdue demons.
DAY 13: KHAINE LAKHANG – TANGMACHU
Distance 18 km, 6-7 hours, 520 m ascent, 810 m descent, camp altitude 1,720 m.
From your camp, the trail goes down to a stream and back up to a basic health unit and a community school in Gorsam. Further on, you pass a Tibetan-style Umling Mani, built by a lama from Tibet, and a chorten on Zerim La (1,940m). Before reaching the next pass, Tage La (1,760m) you will see Menjabi, a beautiful Bhutanese village with large white houses. The campsite for the night is located South-east of Tage La near Tangmachu High School. Another possibility is to organize transport and drive to Lhuentse, the capital of Lhuentse district. LhunteseDzong is considered to be one of the most impressive dzongs in Bhutan.
DAY 14: TANGMACHU – MENJI
Distance 16 km, 4-5 hours, 690 m ascent, 620 m descent, camp altitude 1,830 m.
After arriving at KuriZampa the trek begins to gradually climb up through paddy fields and villages before bringing you to Chusa.
DAY 15: MENJI – PEMI
Distance 20 km, 5-6 hours, 620 m ascent, camp altitude 2,450 m.
Today’s trek has you continue uphill through thick forests overlooking spectacular mountains. The camp is located in a forested area at an altitude of 2,400m.
DAY 16: PEMI – TAUPANG
Distance 21 km, 7-8 hours, 1,450 m ascent, 1,450 m descent, camp altitude 2,450 m.
After climbing up to Dongla you will descend through thick evergreen forests until you reach the campsite for the night.
DAY 17: TAUPANG – TRASHI YANGTSE
Distance 24 km, 8-9 hours, 720 m descent.
Today is the longest day of the trek. It is a gradual descent to TrashiYangtse. As you descend the chirpine and hardwood forests are slowly replaced by oak trees and end the trek. Our driver will received you with the refreshment and take to the hotel.
DAY 18: TRASHI YANGTSE SOJOURN
In morning, after farewell to the trekking crew take a short drive to Bomdeling village. This beautiful village is also one of the few roosting ground for the rare Black-necked crane. As you arrive TrashiYangtse shower & relax in your hotel. After lunch, visit the school of the 13 Traditional Arts & Crafts followed by a circumambulation of ChortenKora beside the river brook. In evening, time at your leisure.Overnight TrashiYangtse.
DAY 19: TRASHI YANGTSE – TRASHIGANG
En route visit the Gomkora temple & Ney. This is by far the most sought after pilgrim site of the eastern Bhutan. It is said the second Buddha subdued a demon here. Visit the TrashigangDzong situated on the rocky cliff. In evening, walk around the charming town of Trashigang and talk to the friendly locals. OvernigntTrashigang.
Day20:Trashigang – SamdrupJongkhar in the south
The 6-7 hours drive down south to the SamdrupJongkhar is about 180 km. the route takes you through Kanlung the University called (Sherubtse College – the only one in the Bhutan) town; pass the till village of Khaling where you will have a heartwarming experienced at the blind school and weaving center beside highway. Most of the road is built on ridges and lined in places by stone chortens; a common site is the dwellings raised on stilts and roofed with bamboo mats, the last ridges you will cross in the military camp at Deothang2850feet. Descend down into broader town SamdrupJongkhar. Overnight at hotel
Day 21: Samdrupjongkhar – Gauhati and fly out
After breakfast drive 154km its take 3 hour to Gauhati Airport.
Good bye! And fond memories from the Kingdom in the sky.