Antarctica & Arctic
Cycle through Bhutan, one of the most culturally rich Himalayan Kingdoms
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13 nights hotels, meals as indicated, 14 days cycling with vehicle support, transportation and activities as specified and services of an Exodus tour leader throughout.
Selected departures, September – October
Bicycles and Bhutan are a perfect fit. The tiny remote mystical Kingdom of Bhutan is probably the most culturally rich of all the Himalayan Kingdoms and is one of the most inaccessible. Tucked away at the eastern end of the mighty Himalaya, the Land of the Thunder Dragon is a wonderful place for a bike trip with some good paved roads, forests, glacial rivers, wonderful mountain scenery and cultural diversity. The whole country feels serene and is united by its love of the King and GNH (Gross National Happiness) is more important than GNP.
Back to Bhutan Tours
Challenging cycling; high mountain passes and long descents
Opportunity to visit at least one Bhutanese festival
Visit the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery
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Arrive Kathmandu. Start in Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel. The evening is free to relax.
Fly to Paro; easy cycle to National Museum (depending on flight times). Today we fly to Paro. The flight is one of the most spectacular mountain flights in the world and takes us over the eastern Himalayas. If the weather is clear, we should get a fantastic view of much of the eastern half of the Himalaya, including Everest, Kanchenjunga and Chomolhari (Jhomolhari). Depending on the flight schedule in the afternoon there should be time for a short and easy cycle ride up to the National Museum before returning to Paro Town. If there is time we can bike further north to the ruins of Drukyel Dzong (14km one way). Cycle approx. 40km, duration 5 hours. Ascent: 365m, descent: 365m. 100% paved
Paro to Haa Valley via the Chele la Pass (3700m). Today is the first full day’s ride. To ease ourselves into cycling at altitude we will drive out of Paro to approx. 20km short of the Chele La (La = pass). The road condition is good and the route zig zags uphill to eventually reach the pass (3700m). We will stop at the top to enjoy the wonderful views of the Himalaya; on a clear day it is possible to see Chomolhari and Jichudrake, the two most famous mountains in Bhutan. The ride ends with a well-earned and exhilarating 27km descent down to Haa. The Haa Valley is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan. Only opened to foreigners in 2002 it is still rarely visited. The name means ‘Hidden Rice Valley’ and in the pre Buddhist era it was well known for its animist traditions. The valley has its own guardian called Ap Chendu, who is still worshipped. It is culturally rich with temples and a dzong (a dzong is a cross between a monastery and fortress and today they are used for secular and religious activities). Almost every town has a dzong perched in a spectacular location and the one in Haa was built in 1915. Cycle approx. 45km, duration 3/4 hours. Ascent 1250m, descent 1040m. 100% good paved road.
A rolling day of cycling from Haa to Thimphu. A long ride today of approximately 76km, which will take between 6-7 hours depending on the pace of the group. The road is paved and starts with an undulating section to Janakha, passing villages and fields of ride, potatoes and chillies. Reaching Chuzom Sa we are at the point where the roads join, between Paro, Haa, Thimphu and south to Phuntsoling. Three beautiful stupas in Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese style lie just above the Pa Chu. Once we reach the river and the main highway the road and traffic becomes much busier, so we will take a van transfer for the final 30km or so to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Cycle approx. 76km, duration 5/6 hours. Ascent 400m, descent 700m. 100% paved road, some pot holes.
Circular ride from Thimphu to the Cheri Monastery (2600m). We spend the day exploring Thimpu by bike. We first head into town and the Memorial Chorten, before pedalling out of town uphill to Cheri monastery (round trip is 36km). The road is 100 % paved but we should expect some traffic as well. The ride takes us past the Queen Mother’s Palace and several small villages. We continue through pine forest along the Wangchu River before reaching the start of the short trek up to the monastery. Cheri Monastery stands at 2600m and was built in 1620 by the founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The return ride is relatively easy and mainly downhill. The energetic can add on a ride up to Buddha Point, a 51m high Buddha statue with great views overlooking the whole of the Thimpu Valley (10km round trip). Cycle approx. 32km (with optional 10km extra), duration 3/4 hours. Ascent 300m, descent 230m. 100% paved, generally good condition.
Thimphu to Punakha via the Dochu La (3015m) passing 108 stupas with their prayer flags fluttering in the wind. After a short drive out of Thimphu to avoid the morning traffic, we climb today up to the Dochu La at 3015m. The ride starts with a short section of ‘Bhutanese flat’ (i.e. undulating terrain!) as a warm up, and as we enter the forest the climb starts in earnest. Climbing in Bhutan is all about getting into a slow rhythmic pace with time to enjoy the views and stopping for plenty of rests and refreshment breaks. The climb averages 4.8% gradient, so not too steep. Finally we emerge at the top of the pass, where 108 stupas sit, and thousands of prayer flags flutter in the wind. If the weather is good we may get a glimpse of Gankar Punsum (7497m) which is the highest peak in Bhutan. The top of the pass is about 16km into the ride, and the rest of the day is mainly downhill. As we descend the scenery and temperature changes as we enter the more sub-tropical Punakha valley. Eventually we come to Punakha with its picturesque dzong. Punakha’s small size defies its importance and long history. For over 300 years until 1951 the dzong in Punakha was used as the government’s winter base due to its lower altitude and warmer weather. The dzong sits at the confluence of the Pho and Mo Rivers and is an imposing building dating from the 15th Century. If time permits, we will visit the Dzong before checking into our accommodation for the night. Cycle approx. 64km, duration 5/6 hours. Ascent 800m, descent 1900m. 60% paved, 40% unpaved.
Punakha to the Phobjikha Valley across the Lawala Pass (3030m), visiting the Gangtey Monastery enroute. Today is probably the toughest cycling day and the road conditions can be incredibly variable. We will make an early morning visit to the temple of the Divine Madman (Chimi Lhakhang) which was built to honour one of the more folkloric saints of the Bhutanese tradition; Lama Drukpa Kunley. The lama was known for his foul-mouth, alcohol –smelling breath, and insatiable lust towards women, yet he is revered as a great saint by most Bhutanese. It is believed that women who cannot conceive will get pregnant if they are blessed by the wooden phallus in the temple. After the temple visit we will begin by driving part way up today’s ascent. The total ascent is 55km and we will attempt to cycle at least 25km of this, but this is very much dependent on the current road and weather conditions. The last few km of the trail are hard work but come with fantastic views across the mountains and thick forested areas. Keep your eyes peeled for langur monkeys and red pandas as you cycle. After reaching Lawa La (3030m) the road deteriorates on the descent and the last 11km are on unsealed road. Depending on the light we will attempt to cycle this but please be aware that if it starts to get dark we will need to make the last part of the journey in the van. Our destination for this evening is Gangey in the Phobjikha Valley; a beautiful glacial area where the rare Black-necked Cranes from Tibet spend the winter. Cycle approx. 35km, duration 6/7 hours (total van and cycle duration). Ascent 1280m, descent 450m. 30% paved, 70% unpaved road.
Phobjikha to Pele La (3392m), then a beautiful and long downhill to Trongsa. Early this morning we will attempt to visit the Black Neck Crane sanctuary in the valley below us, and learn more about this species whose arrival in Bhutan in early winter is celebrated with an annual festival. We will then climb approx. 10km back up to Lawa La, then we descend a little and climb further to the high point of the day: Pele La (3390). This is traditionally the border between Western Bhutan, where we have cycled for the past few days, and Central Bhutan which we now enter. The vegetation changes : first deciduous forest, then Himalayan pine, finally only shrubs. The next 18km is a great winding downhill. We continue on down to Chendebji, where there is a large chorten. We are now in warmer regions, with lush vegetation and waterfalls by the road. At the 66km mark we enter the Mangde Valley where Trongsa sits at the far end. The next 9km is steeper downhill. All along this section the town can be seen in the distance but it seems unreachable! The valley is very narrow with the road cut into steep sided walls with the river far below. It certainly is a dramatic ride. After a stop at a viewpoint where the town and dzong can be seen across the valley we know it is only 10km more to our hotel (the sting in the tail today is that the last 5km are uphill!) Cycle approx. 80km, duration 6/7 hours. Ascent 550m, descent 1190m. 70% unpaved, 30% paved road.
Trongsa to Bumthang, over the Yotong La (3425m), with a spectacular view today! Another day another pass. Today we have our last pass of the trip and a great sense of satisfaction as we ride into Bumthang and the end of our journey having ridden halfway across the country. Setting out of Trongsa the climbing starts immediately as the road zig zag up into the mountains. It is 26km to the top of the Yotong La at 3425m, the highpoint literally of our trip, from where we have great views of the mountains surrounding us. As Bumthang lies at 2600m it is a great descent from the pass. The first 11km are a fast descent into the Chumay Valley from where the descent eases off and there are even some uphill sections. The final pass of the trip, the Keke La (2700m) is a short 4km climb and from the top it’s all the way down to our hotel in the beautiful Bumthang Valley. For all departures we will endeavour to make a stop enroute at a local festival (either Domkhar, Jakar or Prakhar, subject to road/weather/group conditions). Cycle approx. 65km 5/6hours. Ascent 1220m, descent 800m. 80% paved, 20% unpaved road.
Day in Bumthang. Optional festival visit and/or cycle ride depending on the trip departure date. Today we have a whole day to explore the Bumthang valley; either by bike or bus - there are various options.There is also an opportunity to witness one of Bhutan's famous festivals. Spring departures feature Domkhar and Ura and Autumn departures feature Jakar or Thimphu, Prakhar & Thangbi. Festivals in Bhutan are very colourful affairs and are a celebration of the country's greatest Buddhist saint, Guru Rimpoche. Bhutanese come together during festivals to watch various dances such as the black hat dance or the treasure dance which normally have a long history and tradition going back centuries. Most of these are masked dances and the masks themselves have an important significance. Both of these festivals are more intimate and lesser?visited in comparison to those in Paro or Thimpu. In the afternoon, for those that wish to join, we will plan an optional cycle ride to Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake) which is named after the legend of Pema Lingpa who entered the lake with a butter lamp and returned with treasures and holy books, and the lamp still alight. This holy site, with its bright prayer flags, is a pilgrimage place for many Bhutanese. The round trip is approximately 28km, with 100% paved road. There is also a local brewery to visit, which makes the Red Panda Weiss beer.
Flight to Paro.
Today we will take an early 25 minute flight to Paro (if possible there will be a visit to the Thangbi festival for that particular departure and the flight will be in the afternoon). There are spectacular views of the Himalayan mountain ranges during the flight (weather dependent). Once we land there will be time to stroll around and have some time to enjoy Paro Town.
Hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery. On our final full day in Bhutan we will enjoy a hike to one of the most iconic of the countries buildings; the Taktsang (or 'Tiger's Nest') Monastery. This spectacular place is perched on the ledge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley and is still today an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Partly destroyed by a fire in 1998, it has now been completely restored to its former magnificence. We drive a short distance from the hotel and then hike to the monastery; enjoying the fantastic views as we ascend. After lunch at the café we return to the hotel in Paro.
Fly to Kathmandu. We transfer to the airport to check in for our flight back to Kathmandu. The rest of the day is free for individual sightseeing or shopping. You may want to visit the famous Durbar Square in the heart of the old city. Here is the old Royal Palace, with its intricate woodcarving and four fine towers. Or you may wish to visit the monkey temple at Swayambhunath or take an optional trip to Bhaktapur, the mediaeval city a few miles east of the capital. Bhaktapur has its own Durbar Square with many temples and statues and a maze of narrow streets, which are generally quieter than the capital. Please be aware that due to the recent earthquake some of these places may be closed; your guide will be able to give you more information on what there is to see.
End Kathmandu The trip ends in Kathmandu after breakfast.
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11 Days / 10 Nights
Experience the unique festivals and culture of Bhutan on this fascinating adventure.
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