We start in Kathmandu. The day is free. Those not flying with the group from London will join us at the hotel in the evening.
We fly to Paro today. 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). After completing visa formalities in Paro, we transfer to our hotel. The Paro valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Bhutan. Its blue pine-covered hills and attractive, solidly built farmhouses among the paddy fields are dominated by the massive dzong, or fort. This afternoon we aim to visit the Paro Dzong and the National Museum above it. Paro Dzong is one of Bhutan's most impressive, and the finest example of Bhutanese architecture you will see. The inward sloping walls form a massive structure that towers over the town. Built in the 17th century it was one of Bhutan's strongest and most important fortresses and it was used on several occasions to defend the Paro Valley from invasions by Tibet. Formally the meeting hall for the National Assembly, the dzong now houses a monastic school and district government offices. Scenes from the 1995 film 'Little Buddha' were filmed in the dzong. West of the dzong a traditional wooden covered bridge called Nyamal Zam, a reconstruction of the original bridge, which was washed away in a flood in 1969. The most famous pictures of Paro Dzong are taken from the west bank of the river, just downstream from the bridge. At the top of the hill above the dzong is the old watchtower known locally as Ta Dzong. Originally built in 1656, it was renovated in 1968 by King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk to house the National Museum. This round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell and there is a specific route to follow throughout the entire building, which ensures that you walk clockwise around important images. Inside the museum there is a spectacular collection of thangkas, an extensive philatelic collection, a temple, which depicts the history of Buddhism, ancient bronze and stone objects and displays of weapons captured during the Tibetan invasions. (Please note that if there are flight delays we have time tomorrow to visit the dzong and museum).
Today we trek to the spectacularly situated Takstang monastery. Takstang, or 'Tigers Nest', has the most stunning location, perched on the ledge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley. The monastery was partly destroyed by a fire in 1998 but is now completely restored to its former magnificence. To reach the monastery involves a return trek of around 4 hours. For those not wishing to do the full walk there is a classic viewpoint at a cafe half way up. The buildings of the monastery seem to cling to the cliff wall across the gorge above us and until we get there it's almost impossible to see a way up to this amazing building. Later we have time to enjoy Paro at our own pace
We drive out of Paro to Drukyul Dzong, built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to celebrate the victory of Bhutan over Tibetan invaders in 1644. It was destroyed by fire in 1951 and now stands in ruins. On a clear day there is a spectacular view of Chomolhari (7320m) from an area near the dzong. Here we set off walking along the Paro Chu (Paro River) on a rather rocky trail, first through cultivated land dotted with the occasional farmhouse. Soon the valley narrows and we enter a beautiful forest of birch, rhododendron and Himalayan oak with plenty to interest the botanist. We camp at Shana Zampa (2580m). Approx 5/6 hours, 16km
Continuing along the Paro Chu through the forest, today is a long day with occasional glimpses of the peaks along the Tibetan border, which we are steadily approaching. Most of the time we are quite close to the river, but there is nevertheless a certain amount of climbing up and down to negotiate the spurs that plunge into the river. Turning north, the forest changes to pine and juniper and begins to thin out. We camp in a meadow at Thangthanga (3,610m) with our first good view, clouds permitting, of Chomolhari ahead in the distance. Approx 8/9 hours, 24kms.
Clear morning skies should allow early risers excellent views of Chomolhari. Today is a short day as the forest now gives way to rough pasture and small fields for growing barley and we will probably see yaks grazing for the first time. The valley levels out as we approach Jangothang, Chomolhari Base Camp at 4100m, delightfully situated close to a ruined dzong, with a full frontal view of the huge bulk of Chomolhari. Approx 4/5 hours, 12kms.
A day for acclimatisation and to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Various excursions can be undertaken up to about 5000m for close up views of Chomolhari (7314m) and Jichudrake (6974m) - a spectacular peak only recently climbed. In addition we can also visit Tsopu Lake. From the campsite there are spectacular sunset views on Chomolhari and we may well see herds of 'bharal' (blue sheep), which scramble on the hills around camp.
A long day today as we cross our first pass. Leaving the valley by a short steep trail we ascend through a broad open landscape. A final steep climb takes us to the top of the pass, the Nyale La, at 4850m. From here there are magnificent views of the dozens of peaks that line the border with Tibet. A long easy descent through a sea of dwarf rhododendrons brings us back to the tree line, and down towards Lingshi dzong (4150m), situated on a small hill in the bottom of the valley. We camp tonight in a meadow below the dzong (sometimes we continue on and camp in Lingshi village). Previous groups have seen musk deer, and there are snow leopards in the area. Approx 6/7 hours, 18km.
After the exertions of yesterday we have a day to rest and explore Lingshi and its surroundings. We start today by visiting the impressive Lingshi dzong, perched on a hill above the camp giving incredible views north towards Tibet. The rest of the day is free to explore the village or we can go for walks in the surrounding hills.
Leaving Lingshi behind the scenery becomes more wild and barren and inhabited by only a few yaks and their herders. Today is a hard day as we cross our second pass, the Yale La. The trail climbs through wild high pastures to the top of the Yale La at 4820m. From the top the magnificent panoramic view of Chomolhari, Jichudrake, Tseringmagang and Masangang makes all the hard work worthwhile. Once over the pass there is a long descent to our camp at Shodu (4110m). Approx 7/8 hours, 22km
The trail today follows the Thimchu River and descends through rhododendron, juniper and pine forests. We have stunning views of cliff facing rocks and waterfalls. Eventually we descend to our camp near the ruins of Barshong dzong (3500m). Approx 5/6 hours. 14km
We continue descending to the Thimpu River and then a steep ascent brings us to a ridge at 3330m. We are walking through dense bamboo and pine forest. Descending from the ridge we camp tonight at Dolam Khencho. Approx 5/6 hours, 15km
A short walk today as we descend all the way to Dodina and the end of our trek, where we will meet our transport for the drive to Thimpu. We should arrive by lunchtime and the afternoon is spent visiting the main sights. There is the magnificent Tashichho Dzong - the main secretariat building, which houses the National Assembly, all the ministries and the office of the King (please note that visiting inside the dzong is dependent on whether the legislative committee is in Thimpu or Punakha). We also visit the memorial stupa to the present King's father and there should be time for some souvenir hunting at the handicraft shops. (If we cannot visit the dzong the new Textile Museum is very interesting or we can visit the zoo to see the takins, the national animals of Bhutan). Approx 3 hours walking, 7km.
We spend most of today visiting the main sights of the town including the Memorial Chorten, which was built in 1974 to honour the memory of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the Weekend Market, Buddha Point and the Handicraft Emporium where we have the opportunity for some souvenir shopping. Later we take a short drive (1 hour) back to Paro in the late afternoon.
We fly from Paro to Kathmandu and transfer to our hotel.
Those not on the group flight back to London will leave us after breakfast.