(Minimum group: 5, Maximum group 10)
A simply unforgettable and once in a lifetime mountain bike holiday in the fascinating Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.
The itinerary is a pioneering and exciting mountain bike adventure which will have you riding a huge range of spectacular trails in the shadow of the Himalaya.
One of the most exciting aspects is the complete absence of mountain bikers in the country. In Bhutan you will have the opportunity to ride genuinely untouched trails including some of the most thrilling and dramatic singletrack we have seen anywhere.
From Delhi, a spectacular flight across the Himalayas provides access to this very special country. We begin in Paro with some acclimitisation rides before visiting the country’s capital, Thimphu. The riding just keeps getting better and the trails in and around the beautiful Punakha Valley are superb, including some brilliant singletrack through the native chir-pine forests. A visit to the beautiful Phobjikha Valey on the edge of the Black Mountains is also a highlight.
This is an extraordinary land where tourists are the exception rather than the rule. Remote villages, ancient temples, fascinating culture and the exceptionally friendly locals are all part of the Bhutanese way of life. An amazing mountain bike holiday for those seeking adventure in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Day 01: Arrival at Paro Airport .
If the weather is clear, you may see Kanchenjunga, Mt. Everest and Chomolhari, Bhutan’s sacred mountain. Upon arrival in Paro and completing visa formalities, you will be met at the airport by our local tour guides and accompanied to our hotel. After assembling our bikes we can spend half a day biking to places of interest in the Paro Valley, starting with the Ta Dzong, a 17th century monument, which now houses the National Museum and then the Ugyen Pelri, a small jewel like palace belonging to the Royal Family of Bhutan. Along the way we’ll pass one of the innumerable archery grounds. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and most men grow up learning the sport. If we are lucky, we may catch a match in action.
Day 02: PARO TO THIMPHU
We leave Paro this morning on our bikes and follow the winding road beside the Pa chu (chu means river or water) to its confluence with the Thimphu river and onto the Nation’s capital, Thimphu and our hotel. After checking in and refreshing ourselves, we will head out to do some sightseeing, and there is the chance to do a ride into the upper reaches of the valley also. Because a dress code is necessary to be observed in some of the areas in Thimphu, we will continue with our sightseeing programme by vehicle. The first stop will be a visit to the Dechenphodrang Monastic School, which was the original site of the Thimphu Dzong and is now the State monastic School. The National Library will also prove to be an interesting stop as will the Jigmie Dorji Memorial Chorten, a beautiful monument erected in memory of the late King. Many religious ceremonies and gatherings take place here through out the year. The evening is free to explore the streets of Thimphu.
Day 03: THIMPHU TO PUNAKHA
We will have an early start today for a full day biking to the ancient winter capital of Punakha. The full distance covered biking on the highway will be approximately 80 kms. It is about 25 kms to reach the pass of Dochu la (la means pass) at an altitude of 10,000 ft. In good weather 300 kms of the Bhutanese Himalayan summits are in view. Until the pass it is uphill all the way. After stopping for lunch and the view, we continue travelling down to the Punakha valley below, at an altitude of 4,500 ft. It is downhill all the way from the pass with amazing scenery as the valley is the richest agricultural region of Bhutan. The Punakha Dzong built in 1637 by Shabdrung is situated at the confluence of the ‘Po’ and ‘Mo’ chu (Father and Mother rivers) guarding the Southern end of the Punakha valley. This huge fortress/Monastery was the capital of Bhutan until 1966.
Day 04: PUNAKHA TO GANGTEY
The 21 kms between Punakha to Wangdhi is a relatively flat cycle. The impressive Wangdue Dzong reaches skyward from a strategic spur at the confluence of the Tang and Po chus and has a commanding view of the valley below. Like all Dzongs, it has a section for the monks and another for the secular authorities. After Wangdhi, the road climbs steadily passing through semi tropical vegetation – banana plants and cactus to pine forests and then to an alpine environment home to rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo. As we near the Pele La, we will take a detour onto a side road (‘completed’ in the late 80’s) which leads us to the valley of Phobjikha. With a combination of biking and riding on the tour bus, we will plan on reaching our destination before dark. Considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan, it is encircled by pine forests. In the centre of the valley, rising from a small ridge stands one of the oldest private monasteries in Bhutan – Gangtey Gompa. We will have the opportunity to visit the courtyard of the monastery. The head lama of Gangtey Gompa is the ninth incarnation of the body of Pemalingpa- the famous 14th century black smith from Bumthang who is one of Bhutan’s most famous Buddhist saints and teachers. The area is equally famous as the winter home to the very rare Black Necked Crane. Experts estimate that fewer than 800 cranes exist in the wild. The Cranes arrive in November and stay through March. A short bike ride from the monastery will take us down valley to our accommodation for the evening.
Day 05: GANGTEY TO BUMTHANG
Again with a combination of part biking and part riding on the tour bus we head for Bumthang. Distance covered will be approximately 160 km. We return to the main road and then climb up Pele La (10,825”). On the way to Trongsa, we will stop for lunch at the Chendibji Chorten, an ancient shrine built on the old walking path across the country. The first sight of Trongsa Dzong, the largest in Bhutan, appears across the valley, but the road winds another 20kms before reaching Tongsa. We will have a chance to explore the shops of Trongsa, before continuing onto Jakar in Bumthang.
Day 06: BUMTHANG BIKE TOUR
A full day’s biking tour of the Bumthang Chokor valley, noted as one of the most beautiful and sacred in Bhutan. This valley has a history hallowed by the frequent visits of Padmasambhava when he was bringing the Buddha’s message to Bhutan. He meditated in caves around the valley which now have temples and shrines associated with them. The valley is wide, filled with fields and village folk busy with their day’s work. We will visit Kurje, a 17th century temple next to which a spectacular new monastery is being built in traditional style. In the late afternoon, there will be time to visit the shops which line the single main street here, famous for some of the fabrics singular to the Bumthang District.
Day 07: BUMTHANG BIKE TOUR
Today we will bike to the highest of the four valleys which make up the Bumthang Valley. From the Tang Valley, the road gradually climbs through the scenic country side to Ura La (11,180 ft) which is marked by a chorten and mani wall. Just before the pass, if the weather is clear, magnificent views of Bhutan’s highest peaks, Gangkhar Punsum (23,750 ft) can be seen. The village of Ura, unlike most Bhutanese villages, is made up of closely clustered houses centered around a new temple recently dedicated to Guru Rimpoche. From Ura we will bike on the recently constructed road leading up to the neighbouring village of Shingkhar. This beautiful village is entered around an old temple and manor house that hosts the annual Shingkhar festival. After a packed lunch and a walk through the village, we can visit the manor house to observe rural Bhutanese life. By late afternoon, we will head back to Jakar by a combination of riding and travel on our accompanying bus.
Day 08: UGYENCHHOLING
The aim is to make a full day’s biking tour of the Tang valley. We will stop at several important religious pilgrimage sites including Mebartsho, -‘the burning lake’ and Tang Rimochen Lhakhang. One track leads up to the base of Ugyencholing Dzong. The valley is named after this lordly residence, which dominates the valley and is one of the most important ancestral manor houses in Bhutan. It is a short walk up to the Dzong from the point we can bike to. After a picnic lunch and a walk through the surrounding village, we will bike back to our guesthouse in Jakar. The distance from Jakar to Ugyen Choling is approximately 35kms.
Day 09: CHUZOMSA
Today again we will be part biking and part riding on the tour bus. Distance covered will be 190 kms approximately. We return over the Pele La (for the longest downhill of the trip!) and stay at the Resort in Chuzomsa near Wangdue.
Day 10: THIMPHU
We are planning on an early morning departure to visit the Punakha Dzong and then travel over the Dochu La for a chance to view the Bhutanese Himalayas. In the early afternoon, we will return to Thimphu. The rest of the day is free to roam Thimphu for sightseeing, shopping or more riding, or we can visit at the Thimphu Dzong.
Day 11: TAKSHANG HIKE
Today we transfer back to Paro and then drive the winding road beside the pa chu (chu means river or water) to Satsam Chorten. From this point, we begin the challenging hike to Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest. A vantage point directly across a gorge from the temple can be reached in about four hours. This magical monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 200 ft above the valley floor. Legend says that Guru Padmasambhava flew here on the back of a tiger to meditate. The tiger was actually his favourite on sort, Yeshe Tshogyel, whom he transformed in to a flying tiger for the purposes of this journey. They meditated in the cave and when the Guru left he instructed that the monastery be built. With a relaxing of the restrictions, which were in effect until January of 1991, we may be allowed to enter Taktsang. If so, it must be noted that it is one of the most holy and revered pilgrimage sites in Bhutan. Our behavior within the temple complex will directly related to future permissions to enter the area. The temple tour guide will notify us of the appropriate behaviour. Tonight we will have a farewell dinner together as we enjoy our last evening in Bhutan.
Day 12: DEPART FROM PARO
Drive to the International Paro airport for departure.