Bhutan East to West Cultural Tour with Merak Sakten Trek
Day 1: Arrive Guwahati-S/Jongkhar
Arrive in Guwahati airport in Assam, India. Meet Bhutan Rila’s representative and drive to Samdrup Jongkhar, a frontier town in southeastern Bhutan (3hrs). Along the way, you will pass through many rural towns of Assam, tea estates and rice-fields. Enter Bhutan and stroll around small township of Samdrup Jongkhar. People from remote areas of Eastern Bhutan come down here for trading.
– Overnight in best available hotel.
Day 2: Samdrup Jongkhar-Tashigang
After an early breakfast, begin a long drive north to Trashigang. As the road ascends, we pass through a variety of vegetation zones in the Himalayan foothills. Looking back we should get a distant view of the Indian plains. The roadside is rich in plants including ferns, rhododendrons and primulas and we will pass though many small villages. If possible, we will stop in some of them, including a stop at a local weaving center in Khaling. Upon arrival, visit Trashigang Dzong which houses the monastic institute for monks and administrative center for the district.
– Overnight in hotel.
Day 3: In Trashigang (Free day or Excursion to Tashi Yangtse)
Depending on how tired one feels, today is an extra day to rest and take it easy. For those wishing to cover more, drive to Tashiyangtse, visiting Gomkora temple along the way. In Trashiyantse, visit Traditional Art School, Chorten Kora and stroll around the village and in its small township. Return to Trashigang for overnight.
Attend the festival at Gomkora during the spring trip and skip Tashiyangtse.
Day 4: Drive to Merak
From Trashigang, a short drive brings you to Ranjung (small town). Continue up the hill with terraced rice paddies to Radhi village, from where new cut dirt farm road starts towards Chaling village and continuing on, road snakes uphill towards Shaktimi meadow, with yaks and sheep grazing with some yak herders’ huts scattered on the hillside. Continue the climb to reach Mendula Pass at 3345m. After the pass, it is downhill through the rhododendron forests, and meadows of Donmong chu by the river at 3145m. The dusty, rocky farm road continues up the valley, gradually gaining height through the rhododendron forests and shrubs and arrive at the first village Gangu (3430m) and and 15 minutes later arrive in large Merak village located at an altitude of 3520m.
– Overnight in tent camp, Home Stay or local Guest House as available. (Approx 6 hrs drive).
Day 5: In Merak
We have a full day to explore Merak. Visit the local village homes; meet with its local people. Merak is one of the most isolated valleys in Bhutan. Like the people of Sakteng, Merak people (Brokpas) are said to have migrated here few centuries ago from the Tshona region of southern Tibet. They arrived here after several months of journey across treacherous passes, set the shrubs on fire and settled down to make it their home called Merak, which literally means “Set on fire”. The inhabitants of Merak are similar to those of Sakteng in their language, dress, lifestyle and spiritual affiliation. However the people from Merak are said to be better built and taller than their counterparts in Sakteng. The houses are built of stones with very small windows and in most cases the houses are one storied only. In Merak the custom of polyandry is practiced, with brothers sharing the same wife.
– Overnight in Merak village
Day 6: Merak-Mitsateng
Approx. 16km, 6 hours, 630m ascent and 1090m descent. Today, we begin the journey on foot. It is a relatively hard, as it crosses high pass and there are also a few smaller passes and ridges. Start early from the camp, towards the east with a gradual climb to the first pass at 3900m, from where you can look back for a last glimpse of Merak valley. Continue thereafter along the tree line with juniper and rhododendron forest on one side till we reach Nachungla Pass at 4150m. The views are incredible and endless, 360′ view with peaks of Bhutan, Arunachal and Tibet. Occasionally, you will come across Yak herders in their camp, and frequently we see caravans of yaks and horses along the trail. From the pass, it is a long descent to Miksateng campsite at 3060m.
– Overnight in tent camp.
Day 7: Miksateng-Sakteng
Approx. 6.5km, 2-3 hours, 81m ascend and 310m descent. Todays’ trek is an easy one. After breakfast, drop down to the river and after crossing it, follow the river basin for an hour. Than gradually make a climb towards a small pass with a small chorten (stupa) on the hill overlooking the Sakteng valley. From the ridge, we drop down to the valley, cross the river into Sakten village. We should arrive before the lunch time, allowing plenty of time to explore the area.
– Overnight in local home, camp of simple Guest House (Altitude of 2950m).
Day 8: Sakten – Mixing with the locals
Visit village, local homes, temple, meet with people, who are happy to chat with you. See the lifestyle and unique living culture of this ethnic group. You can also local School. In the afternoon, there may be people coming over to perform cultural show for you. Brokpas have a unique yak and ache lhamo dances. You can try the local liquor with a special ceremony. Sakteng is a wide valley at about 3000m, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Sakteng literally means bamboo field. The inhabitants of Sakteng are similar to those of Merak in their language, dress, lifestyle and spiritual afflictions. It comprises of around 200 households with three main villages, Sakteng, Tengma and Borang Tse but generally known as Sakteng, and the people are known as Saktengpa. Every winter, Brokpas take on drukkor or grain journey to the lowland village, where they have their regular host family, with whom they have close trading and social relationship. They live together as one family for weeks and barter their Yak products with maize and grains.
– Overnight in Sakten
Day 9: Sakten-Trashigang
The new farm road to connect Sakten is approaching fast. At the time of planning this trip, it took around 3hrs trek downhill from Sakten to the road head from where our vehicle can meet and drive you Trashigang. The drive is around 2+hrs till the tarmac road and thereafter it is another 2-3hrs to Tashingang. This road takes you via Phongmey and Radhi, crossing acres of rice-fields to Trashigang.
– Overnight in the comfort of modern hotel.
Day 10: Tashigang – Mongar – Yongkola
After breakfast, drive to Mongar town, which takes about 3-4hrs. Lunch and spend sometime visiting Mongar. Then continue drive for another 2+ hrs to Yongkola, which will help to cover next days’ journey. At the same time, the areas around Yongkola is well known for being one of the best birding spots. You will find birds and langurs from sub-tropics and temperate forests.
– Overnight in a pleasant lodge.
Day 11: Yongkola – Jakar, Bumthang
Begin a spectacular drive to central Bumthang, across Thrumshingla National park, through ever changing vegetation and landscapes, rich in bird and other wildlife. We also pass through many small hamlets and villages along the way and we will stop to visit few of them, arriving in Jakar by afternoon.
– Overnight in hotel.
Day 12: In Bumthang
Bumthang is justifiably regarded as the cultural heartland of the kingdom with its many temples, holy sites, languages and traditions. We spend the full day in and around Jakar visiting its important monuments and cultural sites and local villages.
Part of the today will be spent attending the festival for Nov trip.
Day 13: Bumthang – Trongsa – Punakha
After breakfast, begin a long drive to Punakha. From Jakar, cross into Chumey valley, then across Yontongla pass, we arrive in Trongsa, where we stop to peek at the impressive Trongsa Dzong (fortress/monastery). Traverse Pele la pass (through Black mountain national park) and descend into semi-tropical Punakha-Wangdue valley.
– Overnight in hotel.
Day 14: Punakha-Thimphu
Visit Punakha Dzong, a former winter capital of Bhutan, located at the confluence of two rivers. Then drive up to Dochula pass, where we stop for lunch and to get the panoramic mountain views of eastern Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). After arrival in Thimphu, visit some of the attractions of the capital, including the great Tashicho Dzong, which is the main seat of the Government.
– Overnight in hotel.
Day 15: Thimphu
Full day in Thimphu for touring its many monuments, attractions such as Textile Academy, Farmer’s Market, Changlimithang, Handicrafts workshops, Giant Buddha statue and others as per available time.
– Overnight in a hotel.
Day 16; In Paro
Short drive of about 1hr. and spend the full day around charming Paro valley, where we visit National Museum, Rinphung Dzong and beautiful 7th century Kichu Lhakhang temple, Dumtse Lhakhang, Dzondrakha cave temples and local farm houses by short walks and drives.
– Overnight in hotel.
Day 17: Paro (Takstang monastery)
No journey to Bhutan is complete without a visit to Takstang monastery. Drive short distance from the hotel to the trail-head and climb for about 2-3hrs to legendary Takstang (Tiger’s nest) monastery. Option to hire riding horse for part of the way is available ! Return to Paro for any remaining tour or stroll around the town area. Farewell dinner.
Day 18: Departure
Departure transfer to the airport in time for your flight.