Eco Tourism

Ecologically diverse and rich, Bhutan is the perfect place for lovers of ecology, mainly flora and fauna. Animals and plants that have become extinct or are at the brink of extinction are found in huge numbers in the country. Just like any other region, Bhutan also faced the challenge of preservation and development. However, under visionary leaders a perfect balance was achieved and today, communities live in harmony with nature. The perfect examples are the people of Phobjikha valley, Wangduephodrang and Nabji – Korphu in Trongsa.

Bhutan Musk Travels brings to you some of the eco-trails Bhutan has and the wealth of flora and fauna seen in these trails.

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Bask in Bhutan’s oldest Park, Manas.

Summary

Manas is the oldest wildlife sanctuary in Bhutan, declared as a park in 1966. Boating, river rafting, elephant rides and wildlife watching are special to this area.

Apart from that, it is a biological hotspot of the world and home to animals, such as, the Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, wild buffalo, wild dog, common leopard, Black Panther, marveled cat, golden cat Leopard and Chinese pangolin and species endemic to the Eastern Himalayan foothills, such as golden langur, capped langur, pygmy hog and hispid hare.

With 530 species of birds, it has the highest among all protected areas, including globally endangered species such as the Rufous-necked hornbill, Pallas fish eagle and chestnut-breasted partridge.

The Park has more than 900 species of vascular plants recorded.

Eco-Trail Itinerary

Day 1: Gomphu – Pangtang

Highlights

Duration:

  1. Approximately 4 and half hours along the traditional route.
  2. About one hour along the motorable route.

Gomphu altitude: 1,457 meters

A feast for bird watchers with numerous birds such as barbets, hornbills, bulbuls, doves, wood pecker and cuckoos.

Trail summary

Gomphu can be accessed from Zhemgang (3 hours) or Gelephu (5 hours).

The traditional route commences with a descent for about an hour and half, followed by an ascents for another hour before gently descending again. Comparatively, the road has a well maintained slope and is much easier than the traditional route. One can even ride a bike from Gomphu to Pangtang.

After lunch at Mamung, approximately half way to Pangtang, the trekking trail actually descents further until Pangtang which is at the level of Mangdi chhu.

Day 2: Pangtang – Shilingtoe

Highlights

Duration:

  1. Approximately 4 and half hours

Pangthang altitude: 239 meters above sea level

One can spot thrushes, drongos, hornbills, partridges, pheasants, bulbuls, tree pies, barbets, eagles, fowls and other species.

Trail summary

Trail starts with a gentle descent and occasional short climbs and the last leg before reaching Shilingtoe ecocamp is a climb for over half an hour.

Day 3: Shilingtoe to Pangbang

Highlights

Duration:

  1. Approximately 3 hours

Shilingtoe altitude: 420 meters above sea level

Birds such as bulbuls, barbets, thrushes, hornbills, kingfisher, cormorant, wagtails, trogons and many other species can be seen along the trail.

Trail summary

Hike from Shilingtoe to Changazam suspension bridge and en-route see religious caves, and a twin waterfall (Lelang). From Changazam, there is a motor-able road to Panbang which connects to the Indian Manas Tiger Reserve.

After reaching Panbang, one could also exit via the Indian region of Manas to Phuntsholing, Gelephu or Samdrupjongkhar.

Day 4: Pangbang to Norbugang

Highlights

Duration:

  1. Approximately 6 hours

Panbang altitude: 160 meters above sea level

Most of the birds sighted along the Shilingtoe-Pangbang eco-trail are also found along this eco-trail

Trail Summary

The camp site at Pangbang is located at a place called Anilademba at the junction of Mangdi Chhu and Dangme Chhu at an altitude of 160 meters above sea level. It is now connected with motorable road to Panbang which connects to the Indian Manas Tiger Reserve.

The same road is also one of the entry and exit points to the Royal Manas National Park from the Indian Territory.  Panbang communities celebrate their annual tsechu from the 8th to 10th day of the 11th Bhutanese month. Various mask dances are performed at the Sonam Choeling Dratsang.

While boating and river rafting along the Manas River, one can see goral, capped langurs, cormorants and many other bird species besides the beautiful landscape.

Norbugang can be reached either from Manas in Bhutan or from Nanglam under Pemagatsel Dzongkhag. The trek between Pangbang- Norbugang takes approximately six hours and is the longest trek of all. Most of the birds sighted along the Shilingtoe-Pangbang eco-trail are also found along Pangbang-Norbugang eco-trail. The eco-camp at Norbugang is located at a place called Dorji Jadram. The road from Nanglam to Pangbang has reached till Tsheshengzor, with another two and half hours walk to the camp.

This road is also one of the entry and exit points to reach Royal Manas National Park.

After Norbugang, one can also exit via Nanglam and Samdrup Jongkhar

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The Lotus Born’s Trail Nabji – Korphu
Summary

This is an ideal post-harvest/winter trekking open from October up to the end of March. It was opened in 2006 and set out in the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, a park with an ecologically rich environment, in central Bhutan.

It is a six-day low-altitude trek (between 693m/23100ft and 1,636m/5453ft) passing through six different villages located inside the park. It commences from Riotala (1060m/3533ft) and ends at Tongtongphey (1061m/3537ft), which are two small villages along the Trongsa – Zhemgang road, situated in the buffer area of the park at the east side of the Mangdue Chhu (river).

You will possibly see the Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei ), one of the rarest primates, which can only be found in Bhutan and neighbouring Assam(India) and the Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nepalensis). This trail is superb for birding (common mynas, blue-fronted redstarts, long-tailed shrikes and Eurasian sparrows,) to name just a few common species. You also spot the serpent eagle, golden-throated barbet, and the yellow-bellied flower pecker along with a wide variety of flora.

The area is also culturally significant, symbolized among others by the presence of a commemorative pillar in the temple of Nabji. The pillar is a symbol of peace negotiated between the two kings (King Nauche from India and King Sindhu from Bhutan) intermediated by Guru Rimpoche in the eight century. Along the six day trail more traces of Guru Rimpoche’s presence during those days can be found.

The last two days of the trek will take you through the homeland of the Monpas. The small traditional villages of the Monpa community are scattered on the slope overlooking Mangde Chhu. The Monpas are considered to be the first settlers in Bhutan.

Total Length:                       70 Km, 29-32 hrs

Duration:                              8 days (Excludes the number of days taken to reach the trail. This can be customized based on your other interests)

Highest Altitude:     1,636m/5453ft (Korphu & Kuda Campsite)

Lowest Altitude:      693m/2310 ft (Mangde chuu)

Trail Itinerary

Day 1 : Riotala – Nimshong

Total walking distance:6.5km; 3-4 hours

Begin the day with a brief tour of Trongsa Dzong (Fortress) and the Ta Dzong after which you will enter Zhemgang with a halt in Riotola. As the Nabji Trail begins; keep an eye open for deer and macaques along the way but notice the beautiful view over Mangdue Valley as well.

The trek starts with a steep descent of 693m/2310 ft, to the bed of Mangdue River. After an hour from the river, you can rest at a place called Matling (804 m/2600 ft). You then come across a chorten (stupa), the entry to Nimshong village, which is a steep climb for about two hours from the river.

Nimshong village has a population of about 465 people. The campsite (1319m/4397 ft) is just beside the Nimshong Community School above the village.

Day 2: Nimshong –  Nabji

Total distance: about 13km; 4-6 hours Nimshong Campsite (1319m/4397 ft)-Nabji Campsite (1,300m/3827ft)

We will visit the local temple in the morning and begin the hike through lush broadleaf forest enlivened by several birds and mammals. You could spot the Golden Langur and Rufous-necked Hornbill. The temple of Nabji –which means ‘promising’ or ‘oath’- harbours the stone pillar that marks the peace made between the Kings of Bumthang and Assam, brokered by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. In the village you can find rock remains of a blacksmith (one of the reincarnations of Pema Lingpa).

Overnight at campsite surrounded by the rice fields of Nabji.

Day 3 : Nabji (1,300m/3827ft)-Korphu (1,636m/5453ft)- Nabji: Total distance: 9.5-13km; 4-5 hours

From Nabji, we begin a day’s hike to Korphu village, situated on a mountaintop at an altitude of 1,500m/5000ft. It is a spectacular hike uphill, and the view from the clustered village of Korphu is breathtaking. It is possible to visit Korphu’s temple, which houses the sacred relics of Pema Lingpa. A local lunch will be provided in the village. In the mid-afternoon, we hike back to Nabji.

Day 4: Nabji/Korphu – Kubdra Camp site (1636m/5,453ft)

Total distance: 11-14 km; about 5-7 hours

The trek today starts on a trail to Kubdra village, leaving Nabji village at the holy tree. You will come across dense forest, big trees with clippers, orchid and small bamboos.

After 5 to 6 hours hike, you can rest on the benches provided; enjoy your lunch with a nice view of water fall at a place called Zhelyung (1565m/5217ft.).

A few hours later you will come across the ethnic group (Monpas) inhabitating Kubdra.  Kubdra is situated in the middle of the forest, around 6 hours walking from Nabji. The habitat you traverse is very attractive for tigers and leopards (though it is very rare to spot them, droppings and spores can be found).

Day 5: Kubdra (1636m/5453ft)-Jangbi (1368m/4560ft)

Total distance: 13-14,5km; approximately 6 hours

The hike continues from Kubdra to Jangbi village. Several places associated with Guru Rimpoche can be found along the way (foot print, dragger and hat).

We will briefly visit the small village of Phrumzur, which has a temple (at 1,400m). From the temple, we can have a very good view of the valley. Lunch will be served here. From Phrumzur the hike continues along pristine forests all along. The camp will be set near Jangbi village with a beautiful view over the valley and Mangde Chhu.

Day 6: Jangbi (1,368m/4,560ft)-Tongtongfey (1,061m/3,537ft)  

Total distance: 7-9.5km; about 3-4 hours)

The day will see you make a steep descent of 950 meters, which will bring you to the bridge crossing the Mangdue Chhu. After this, there will be a last climb to Tongtongfey.

From here, you will be driven back to Trongsa. If time permits, you can visit the Kuenga Rabten Palace and the Nunnery (on the way back to Trongsa).

Overnight in Trongsa.

Day 7: Trongsa – Thimphu/Paro

Your return journey will be as exciting as the onward journey was. You can either spend the night in Paro or Thimphu to fly out of the country the next day.

Day 8: Departure from Paro international airport

Our company’s representative will escort you till the airport.

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Phobjikha and the Black-necked Cranes

Summary

In an expedition of the protected Phobjikha valley, you will be brought closest to one of the world’s most endangered birds, the Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis), you will also witness how people live in harmony with the birds. You will be thrilled by the sight of the birds greet the people upon their arrival from Tibet and Mongolia, beginning late October.  The birds live in Phobjikha till late February.

Apart from the birds and the beauty of Phobhjikha (also called the ‘Gangtey Valley’), what will stun you is the way the cranes greet Gangtey Monastery upon arrival. The birds circle the monastery and bow three times, which people say is an act of paying obeisance to the deities of the monastery. The same is repeated when they fly back from Phobjikha.

Entry: Paro

Exit: Paro

Duration: 6 Days

Districts: Paro, Thimphu, Wangduephodrang

Complete Itinerary

Day 01 – Bangkok/ Delhi/ Katmandu – Paro

You will land at Paro international Airport, after having experienced one of the most thrilling journeys of your lifetime – the flight to Paro, during which you experience a breath taking view of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Jomolhari and Mount Jichu Drake. The landing at Paro, considered one of the most challenging is an enthralling experience.

At the airport, you will be received by our company’s representatives and driven to your hotel.

After checking in and a quick lunch, you will explore Paro valley, known for its beautiful paddy fields and historic monuments. You will visit Drugyel Dzong, “Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa”, the ruined Fort (destroyed by fire in 1950.) which once defended this valley from Tibetan invasion. From here one can have the view of sacred Mt.Jomolhari on clear days. On the way back to the hotel you can stop for a view of Taktsang (tiger’s nest) Monastery which clings on a sheer drop of rock face where the saint Guru Padma-sambhava landed on a flying tigress and mediated.  Other places you can visit are the Ta Dzong, formerly a Watch Tower which now is  the National Museum and Paro Rimpong Dzong.

After a short stroll in town drive back to hotel for the night halt.

Day 02: Paro- Thimphu

It is an exciting one-hour drive along the Pa Chhu (river) and Thimphu Chhu (river). Upon arrival at Thimphu, we will check into our hotel and then begin visiting the capital’s epitomes of greatness.

Thimphu has lots to offer and the pick for you will firstly be the Memorial Chorten, one of Bhutan’s most beautiful stupas, built in memory of the Third King, Late His Majesty Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. A short drive from there will take you to Buddha Point, where the statue of the World’s largest Future Buddha (Maitreya) will be seen.

From there we will move to the Handicraft’s Emporium, Weaving Centre and Changangkha monastery, one built in the 12th century. There will also be visits to the Takin zoo, Sangaygang, which offers a view point of Thimphu valley and a Nunnery.

Lunch will be served at a local restaurant, after which we visit the National Library where ancient manuscripts are preserved and the Wood Craft and Painting school. We will also visit the Traditional Handmade paper factory and the Gross National Happiness (GNH) centre.

In the evening, we will visit Tashichhodzong, the main secretariat building. This massive structure houses part of the government Ministries, the office of the King and the Throne Room. It also houses the State Monastic Body and the living quarters of the Chief Abbot and the senior monks.

Overnight in hotel.

Day 03: Thimphu – Gangtey 

After breakfast, our journey to Phobjikha, (127 kms) begins. The journey will take you through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful roads and Dochula pass (3,100 m), from where one can see the entire Himalayan range of snow clapped mountains if the day is clear. Lunch will be served at Wangduephodrang. After lunch, we continue the journey to Phobjikha.

Phobjikha is a wide alpine wetland valley that is considered the largest and the most significant wetland in the country. It is often cited for the harmonious co‐existence of its inhabitants with nature and the valley also holds great cultural significance. The valley is the most significant wintering ground of the rare and endangered Black‐necked cranes in Bhutan and has been protected since time immemorial by the local people’s traditional respect for all living beings. Every year, over 300 of the estimated 500 cranes that migrate to Bhutan spend their winter months in this valley. Additionally, the highly revered Gangtey Monastery that overlooks the wetlands surrounded by subsistence farms and natural forest areas makes Phobjikha a stunningly beautiful and sacred valley. Today, this glacial valley is an attraction not just to tourists but also pilgrims.

Overnight in camp, Alt. 3,900 m or hotel

Day 04: Halt at Phobjikha

You can dedicate the whole day to embark on a mission of getting to know Phobjikha and the cranes. An interesting aspect of the region is the way in which development and conservation have been blended together; an example to the world.

You can stroll around Gangtey Goemba and get to know the local people.

Overnight in camp/hotel.

Day 05:  Phobjikha – Thimphu/Paro

Your journey back to Thimphu or Paro begins. En-route we will stop at Lamperi botanical garden, which is a few kilometres drive before reaching Dochula Pass. The garden has several species of flowers, rhododendrons being the most explicit ones. We will have our lunch at Lamperi and then drive either to Thimphu or Paro.

Night halt at hotel.

Day 06: Departure from Paro – After an early breakfast, you will be driven to the airport for your departure from the country.

The Black-necked Crane Festival

The Annual Black-necked Crane festival is celebrated in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part their daily lives during the winter months.

It is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the cranes; to strengthen the linkages between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community; provide an avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the black-necked cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage and skills.

The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by the school children.  The festival is organized by the Phobjikha Environment Management Committee (PEMC), a local group composed of elected local leaders (with a strong female component), Government representatives, business community representatives, monks and Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) representative.

You can contact us for more details on the festival)

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Amidst the Rhododendrons

Entry and Exit:        Paro, Bhutan

Duration:                              11 days

Highlights-               Flora, fauna, culture, people

Summary

Rhododendrons, belonging to the family Ericaceae are flowers known and celebrated all over the world for its beauty and colours. Botanists say that the family appeared about 68 millions years back. The first evidence of Rhododendrons dates back 50 million years where scientists discovered fossilized leaf imprints of Rhododendrons from Alaska.

Rhododendrons are referred to as the King of Shrubs since they are regarded by many as the best flowering evergreen plants for the temperate landscape.

Bhutan has more than 46 species of the shrub, growing at elevations ranging from 1200 m to 4800m. April to July is the main blooming season for Rhododendrons.

The following itinerary has been prepared for moderate hiking with a maximum elevation of 3720m.

Day 1: Arrive at Paro – Chelela Pass– Paro

Upon arrival at Paro, you will be received by our representative and escorted to your hotel. After a quick lunch, we drive to Chelila Pass (3,889 m, over 12,000 ft), an alpine ecosystem with several endangered and endemic species. Nearly all floral species found here are medicinal.

Some rare species found are Meconopsis horidula, Meconopsis grandis, Fetillsria chirhosa and  Aconitum Spp. Amongst the Rhododendron specialties, we will find Rhododendron anthopogon, Rhododendron nivale and Rhododendron setosum.

We drive back to Paro and halt the night at the hotel.

Day 2: Paro – Punakha/Wangduephodrang 

After breakfast, we begin driving to Wangduephodrang crossing Dochula Pass (10,450 ft, or 3,100 meters), which provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the highest unclimbed mountains of the world, one  considered a vital conservation area with significant altitudinal and associated changes in vegetation within short distances. It is also a traveler’s delight augmented by the beauty of the 108 stupas and the Druk Wangyal Temple.

All the 46 different species of Rhododendrons and more are seen in the park, which is spread over 124 acres and a km long trail. You can take a short hike of about 30 minutes; the walk will showcase the diversity of rhododendrons. It is an ideal place to learn about them and appreciate their beauty. Few species will be in flowering such as Rhododendron griffithianum, R.arboreum, R. camelliiflorum, R.falconeri.A few kilometers away from Dochula is the Lamperi Royal Botanical Park.

Rhododendron festivals are held annually here. The park is part of a 47-sq mile critical biological corridor connecting the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park and the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. It has cool broad leaf forests, mixed conifer forests, fir and sub-alpine forests and the temperate rain forest with hundreds of species of fauna. Some of the rare species found in the park are the monal pheasants, blood pheasants, musk deer, tiger, leopard, red panda and the leopard cat.

We will spend a lot of time scouring for Rhododendrons here.

After lunch we will proceed to Wangduephodrang. We will visit the ruins of the majestic Wangduephodrang Dzong, ravaged tragically by a fire in 2012.

Night halt in hotel.

Day 3: Wangdue to Phobjikha

After breakfast, we drive to one of Bhutan’s most protected areas, the Phobjikha Wildlife Sanctuary, the winter roosting habitat of Black Necked Cranes who fly in from Tibet and Mongolia. The journey is through a splendid landscape of alpine forests, meadows, and flowers, including different species of Rhododendrons, Legumes, Magnolia, Weeping Cypress (national tree of Bhutan), etc.

We will check into a hotel in Phobjikha and then begin scouring the area through scattered forest of red, pink and white rhododendrons (Rhododendron hodgsonii, R. keysii, R. kesangiae, R. ciliatum).

Halt at Phobjikha.

Day 4: Phobjikha to Bumthang.

We will drive to Bumthang valley (200km) through Pelela Pass which ascends up to 3,340m and traditionally the dividing junction between east and western Bhutan. The drive takes us through thick dwarf bamboo, Yak habitats, and Rhododendrons with beautiful hues of red, white, and yellow.

En-route, we will see the spectacular Trongsa fortress, the ancestral palace home of Bhutan’s Kings, the Watch Tower, and the town before driving to Bumthang valley across the Yotongla Pass.

Halt in Bumthang.

Day 5: Bumthang to Thrimshingla

After breakfast, we will drive to Ura valley, and see the “Burning Lake” (Mebertasho), associated with the great Treasure Discoverer (Terton) Pema Lingpa.   On the way, we will for various species of Rhododendrons. You will also encounter species of Rubus, Acer, Aconitum, Delphinium, Ranunculus, Clemantis, few species of orchid such as Coelogyne, Pleione, Cephalenthera, conifers such as Fir, Hemlock, Pine, Juniperus, Primulas, Androsac, etc.

We then drive up to Thriumshing La National Park covering Bumthang, Lhuentse, Zhemgang, and Mongar districts. Established in 1998, with an area of 905 km2 and with huge expanses of some of the last remaining stands of cool temperate broadleaved forests and old fir growth in the entire Himalayas, Thrumshingla National park is home to some of the world’s most endangered flora and fauna. More than 622 plants species occur in Thrumshingla National Park, comprising of 152 medicinal plants and 21 species endemic to Bhutan. Rhododendrons flowers and add beauty to pristine fir forests at the higher elevation.

Justifiably Bhutan’s showcase of Rhododendrons, one area has been designated as Insitu-Rhododendron Garden.

The Garden showcases the Kingdom’s rhododendron diversity in their natural habitat in an area of approximately 2 hectares harbouring 22 different species of rhododendron in assemblage.

The Park is also home to many endemic species namely Daphne ludlowii, Lobelia nubigena, Vanda griffithii, Rubus sengorensis, and Pedicularis spp. It is also has Red Panda, reptiles, amphibians and different avian fauna.

We will camp for the night there.

Day 6: Thrimshingla Camp to Bumthang

We will spend some time at the park and drive further to Sengor, where we see some species of the flower. The drive is an exhilarating one through the alpine down to the tropics.

After lunch at Sengor, we move back to Bumthang.

Halt at Bumthang.

Day 7: Halt at Bumthang

A place revered for its sanctity and one of Bhutan’s most beautiful valleys, you could spend the day there visiting places of historical importance and interact with the people of Bumthang.

Day 8: Bumthang to Thimphu

It is a long drive and so we begin early. Enroute, we stop for lunch at Chendebji, a historical monument build by King Shida and resembling the Boudanath in Nepal.

Upon arrival at Thimphu, we check into the hotel and relax for the night.

Day 9: Thimphu halt

Bhutan’s capital is not only the country’s most modern city but also a treasure house of some of the Kingdom’s most spectacular cultural centers. A day in the capital is worth every penny and here you can visit several places of significance, including the historic Tashichhodzong, which houses the office of the King, the Throne Room and some government ministries. The country’s largest Buddha statue, Takin Zoo, local Bhutanese paper factory, Memorial Chorten, Folk Heritage Museum, National Institute of Traditional Medicines etc, are other places you can visit.

Day 11: Thimphu – Paro

You will be driven from Thimphu to Paro for your departure from the country. Our representative will escort you.

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