Punakha Winter Trek is a short and easy three days trek that takes trekkers from the lovely strands of conifer forest of capital Thimphu (7700ft/2350m) and takes all the way down to the dense vegetation through virgin forest to ancient capital of Punakha, which lies at an altitude of somewhat lowly as 4430ft/1315m. The altitude of the trail covers almost a thousand meters in range but the slopes are mostly gradual and should not present hikers with much difficulty. The trail takes you through lush green forest with a view of Phajoding Monastery as you ascend from Thimphu and other permanent historical temples reaching Punakha valley.
Duration: 8 Days | 7 Nights
Day 01: Arrival in Paro – Drive to Thimphu
Today, at your arrival in the enchanting Paro(2280m) International Airport finishing all your customs and immigration formalities, your tour executive will be standing outside of the gate to welcome you. After presenting himself with a traditional Bhutanese way of welcoming, you will be then driven to the capital Thimphu which lies at an elevation of 7700ft/2350m. Your drive takes you through traditional Bhutanese settlement and terrace of rice fields. On the way stop at Tachogang Goempa which means “Temple of the Excellent Horse”. This private temple is located opposite of Paa Chhu (river) and was built around 1420 by the Tibetan saint, Thong Tong Gyelpa the “Iron Chain Bridge Builder” (1385-1464) who came to Bhutan in search of Iron Ore. Driving further 6km takes you to Chuzom a confluence where Paa chhu(river) and Wang/Thimp Chhu(river) meets. Opposite to the confluence, are three protecting stupas built in different shapes like – Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese. From the confluence the road bifurcates where Thimphu lies at a distance of 31km. Reaching Thimphu you will be offered a leisurely walk through the bustling and colorful main streets.
Day 02: Thimphu Sightseeing
Today your sightseeing in Thimphu offers full opportunities including a visit in the morning to Semtokha Dzong locally known as Simmo Dokha(demon on the stone), after purifying the area Zhabdrung built a dzong in 1629 and named San Nga Zabdon Phodrand “ The Palace of Profound Tantric Teaching”. Driving back through the main highway visit the National Memorial Chorten (stupa) which was built by the lake Queen Mother Ashi Phuntsho Chodden, the wife of the second king in the year 1974 in memory of her son the Third king of Bhutan. This Chorten(stupa) is located in the central heart of the city and the complex is visited by people from all walks throughout the day and is one of the most public religious site in Thimphu city. Your next stop drives you further uphill for around 10 minutes to historical Changangkha Lhakhang(temple) which is the oldest temple in Thimphu dated back to twelve century. Ascending further you reach the Mini-Zoo which is now a large outdoor enclosure that holds one of the strangest looking creatures you are likely to see – the Takin (National Animal of Bhutan). Descending downhill through the valley you will finally reach a small building just above the road side surrounded by fluttering prayer flag. This beautiful Drubthop goemba now house the Zilukha Nunnery houses around 50-60 nuns. After lunch visit the National Library which was turned into a library in 1967 to preserve the ancient Bhutanese scripts and texts. Just above the National Library visit the National Institute of Thirteen Arts and Crafts Institute, which offers a six years course on Bhutan’s traditional crafts. Following down through the nine hole golf course, your last stop of the day is Trashichhoe Dzong the “ The Fortress of the Auspicious Religion”. This fortress can be visited only after five in the evening on on weekend like Saturday and Sunday you can visit during the day. This fortress dated back to twelfth century and later became the property of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and rebuilt in 1641. The present structure was consecrated as late as 1969.
Day 03: Thimphu – Chamina – Dopshipang
Today after your breakfast in the hotel your drive pass the dzong crossing the Thim Chu(river)and head up the valley. Your drive pass through crossing the Dechenchholing Palace which serves the residence of the royal grandmother and then Pangri Zampa Lhakhang(temple) which serve as a residence of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel when he first visited Bhutan in 1616. From here, the drive takes you uphill through rough and unsealed road and finally arrives to your starting point of your trek. As you begin your adventurous day walk from here if the weather is clear you can see Phajoding Gompa atop the hill which serves as one of the beautiful campsite when making the Druk Path Trek. After crossing Sinchu La Pass at an altitude of 3400m the trail takes you downhill through lush forest with beautiful landscape with a view of Thinley Gang Village, Talo Gompa and the motor high way between Thimphu and Dochu La(the pass between Thimphu and Punakha). Continuing further through narrow valley and muddy path finally reach your campsite in a wide meadow.
Day 04: Dupshipang – Chorten Ningpo
Your trek towards Chorten Nigpo Shedra takes you all the way downhill through thick and mixed forest and then arriving at the valley you will pass through terrace of rice field with villages scattered throughout the valley. Ascending a short uphill from the traditional Bhutanese farmhouse you then traverse through tree line with valley view downhill and finally arrive at Chorten Ningpo. Your campsite is located in the centre of the village next to the historical Chorten Ningpo Sherdag. If you reached early make a visit to the Shedrag, which is worth visiting and has its connection dated back to the fifteenth century. The Shedra now house the Buddhist institute of religious studies housing around 50 – 60 monks. Inside the main shrine the key figure god is Jampa “Buddha of the Future” stretching from ground floor to the first floor. The spot offers an impressive view of the valley below. Your campsite lies at an altitude of 2300m.
Day 05: Chorten Ningpo – Punakha
From Chorten Ningpo your trail takes you downhill through crossing several villages, offering you a glimpse of the daily life. Besides being not only naturally beautiful valley, the walk through this valley ranked as one of the best trail in Punakha. This fascinating valley has not been explored by many and now has been a fascinating place for walkers. Crossing several beautiful village you will finally arrive at the main road and then after a short walk pass through a village of Shoshi and then through terrace of rice field crossing a newly built suspension bridge above Mo Chhu(river) your trail takes you through tree-line and river side. Climb a bit to visit the large Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten(temple) which was consecrated in 1999 perched on the majestic blue pine hill of Yebesa. Enjoy the panoramic view of the valley below from the exterior atop floor of the Chorten(stupa). Walk down through the lush green hill to the parking lot. From here drive further down to Punakha through mixed forest, scattered settlement via the side of Mo Chhu (river) till you reached Punakha Dzong. This impressively located Punakha Dzong was the old capital of Bhutan until 1955 and served still today as the winter capital of the monastic body headed by Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). The fortress lies on the confluence of two giant river of Pho Chhu (Male River) and Mo Chhu (Female River) holding defensive significance of the past. The flamboyant architectural desigen of the fortress richly highlights the typical thirteen traditional arts and architectures of Bhutan. From here drive further 4km to newly founded town of Khuruthang and then to your hotel.
Day 06: Punakha – Paro
Today at your early breakfast in the hotel drive to Paro via the Dochu La Pass(10150ft/3100m) and Thimphu. The drive takes you pass several villages and rice field and reaching Lobesa Village a 30-40 minutes’ walk from the roadside taking you through farmland and farmhouse up a gentle slope to Chemi Lhakhang(temple) built in 1499 by Lama Ngawang Chogyel in honor and memory of his brother the brother the Divine Mad Man “ Lama Drukpa Kuenley”. After the temple your drive takes you ascend uphill and finally arrives at Dochula Pass, this is one of the most beautiful motor pass in Bhutan lies at an altitude of 10150ft/3100m. The magnificent pass consist of one hundred and eight chortens (stupa) circumscribing a large Chorten(stupa). This stupas are constructed as recently as 2004 and known as Druk Wangyel Chorten. Besides this impressive Chortens(stupas) in an amazingly setting the view of the great Himalayan peaks can be visible from this pass like – the highest peak Mt. Gangkar Puensum(24735ft/7541m), the “Table Mountain” Mt. Zongaphung Gang(23288ft/7100m), Mt. Teri Gang(23944ft/7300m), Mt. Tshenda Gang(23288ft/7100m), Mt. Masagang(235012ft/7165m), and many other peaks like Mt. Jejegangphu Gang and Mt. Khangphu Gang(all above 23288ft/7100m).
From the pass your drive descent downhill till you reached Thimphu and the finally drive to the enchanting Paro(2280m) which can be negotiable in 55km and takes around one and half hour. Before heading to the main town of Paro visit Paro Rinpung Dzong “ Fortress on the Heap of Jewels” a seventeenth century fortress towering over the Paro valley. It was built by Zhabdrung in the year 1646. After the dzong visit the National Museum housing the collections of Bhutanese treasures, colorful artworks and weapons from centuries ago. Following downhill drive from the National Museum stop at Jangsa Dumtse Lhakhang(temple) along the roadside, possibly this is the one of the ancient temple built in the shape of the Chorten(stupa) built by Tibetain Saint Lama Thongtong Gyelpo in the year 1421. Who came to Bhutan in search of Iron Ore. The temple is literally chain down to the earth and locally believe that it will fly off to heaven. After the temple walk through the downtown of Paro and then drive to your hotel.
Day 07: Famous Tiger’s Nest Hike
We suggest making an early start. Drive to Taktshang Goempa takes around 11km from the main town of Paro. Reaching the base of Taktshang you begin your walk up to the magnificent Taktshang Goempa ascending 3000ft/915m from the valley below and perched atop a cliff at 9700ft/2950m from the sea level. It is believed as the meditation site of Guru Rinpoche who came flying from the eastern Bhutan on the back of a Tigress, underwent meditation for three months in the cave transforming in one of his wrathful form of Guru Dorji Drolo, and subdued Sengye Samdrup. Later after the cave was founded by Guru Rinpoche many permanent Buddhist leader came to meditate here in this site. The trail to Taktshang Goempa is quite an uphill task and takes around three to four hours at an average speed. After descending from Taktshang Goempa drive further to visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong. If the weather is clear, the majesit Mt. Jomolhari (2400ft/7314m) towering over the northern valley bordering to Tibet can be visible. Visit the complex of the ruined Drukgyel Dzong “Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa” built in 1647 after winning the victor over Tibetan invasion in 1644. Driving back following the same route visit Kyechu Lhakhang the oldest temple in Bhutan along with Jambay Lhakhang (temple) in Bumthang. It dates back toearly as seventh century and built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gyelpo to pin down the giant ogress. After the temple drive further 5km to the town of Paro for your last day shopping.
Day 08: Depart – A Sensational Take-Off