The Red Rice Trade Route, Eastern Bhutan Travel the breadth of Bhutan from Ha in the west to Tashiyangtse and Tashigang in the far east, exiting overland as few do, through Samdrup Jongkhar, into India. We immerse ourselves in the local culture as we visit a wealth of striking Dzongs, ancient Lakhangs and sites of religious significance en-route. Rice does not grow well in the Bumthang valley, central Bhutan, and in times past the people of Bumthang would travel annually to more fertile pastures following the ancient practice of Tho tsui – the rice search. Crossing the high Rodang La pass, 4,109m/13,478ft, home to the mythical migoi (Bhutanese yeti) and a host of migoi folktales, they would take their local produce to trade for red rice and chillies. On our trek we follow their ancient trade route from Bumthang high over the mountains, in part through beautiful rhododendron forest. This trek offers a unique overview of this mystical country. We see first -hand the contrast between the more sophisticated west and traditional east, and experience the regional diversity of the Bhutanese people and landscape. In eastern Bhutan there are several distinct dialects and on trek we find the villagers very hospitable. They see few westerners and we may be welcomed to a village with bowls of warm (rice spirit) and chopped fried-egg! The trek includes a stay, subject to availability, at historic Ugyen Choeling Palace and a visit to the festival Tashigang, which few western visitors are lucky enough attend. 19 tel: 0845 330 8579 (local call rate, UK only) international tel: +44 1453 844 400 www.himalayankingdoms.com Left: The boy that sweeps the Ugyen Choeling Palace Right: Snap happy Photos: Jude Limburn Turner This is one of our longest Bhutanese treks, and one which we have successfully run every year since 1988, when we were the first British company to pioneer the route. It has everything: remoteness, fantastic mountains, fascinating villages and dzongs, all within a kingdom which itself is culturally unique in the Himalaya. The trek starts from Paro, where we strike out towards the Tibetan border into Bhutan’s mountainous north-west corner. The route takes us beneath Chomolhari, 7,314m/23,997ft, the country’s second highest mountain, and Jichu Drake, 6,858m/22,500ft, first climbed by a joint British-Indian expedition in 1988. We may be lucky enough to see bears, herds of ‘blue sheep’, takin and many varieties of eagle, and perhaps even the Yeti, known here as the ‘Dredmo’. According to the local people this is a large, hairy, man-like creature which roams the hillsides, whistling ‘like a policeman’. The semi-tropical and alpine forests we pass through on the first day and a half of the trek also contain a wealth of flowers and plants. Many varieties of small, pretty birds flit through the undergrowth, which changes character as we climb higher. The main villages in the area are Lingshi, Laya and Gasa. Their mountain tribes-people, dressed in their yak wool clothes and conical bamboo hats, see few visitors. To reach this little-known area is not easy and involves crossing passes up to 5,000m/16,000ft high, over a total distance of some 150 miles. Rest days occur at timely intervals, including a stay near the hot sulphurous springs of Gasa. The Hidden Kingdom Trek has proved very popular and is without doubt one of the finest treks in the Himalaya. £3,095 £2,560 Dates: Tue 06 May – Fri 30 May, Tue 07 Oct – Fri 31 Oct land only Grade: Strenuous On Trek: 17 days In-country Leader Nights’ Accommodation: Hotels: 7 Camping: 16 Optional: Single Room £140 Single Tent £50 Insurance: £156 (Insurance Plus) Days Itinerary Duration: 25 days 1–3 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure, fly to Paro –4 Sightseeing, trek to Taksang 5–21 Trek Chomolhari-Lingshi-Laya –22 Drive to Thimphu and Paro 23–25 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure, fly to London Guaranteed to run for a minimum of4clients £3,795 £3,265 Dates: Tue 30 Sep – Sun 26 Oct* £3,895 £3,265 Dates: Tue 04 Nov – Sun 30 Nov † land only land only Grade: Vigorous On Trek: 12 days European Leader: M A Harper*, “Ned” Kelly † Nights’ Accommodation: Hotels: 7 Camping: 8 Lodges: 9 Optional: Single Room £160 Single Tent £50 Insurance: £156 (Insurance Plus) Days Itinerary Duration: 27 days 1–2 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure 3–4 Fly to Paro, sightseeing, drive to Ha 5–6 Walks in Ha valley, drive to Thimphu, sightseeing 7–8 Drive to Gangtey, day walks 9–17 Drive to Bumthang, sightseeing, trek to Lhuntse over Rodang-La 4th Nov departure: Day 10 – Attend festival † 18–21 Trek to Tashiyangtse 22–23 Drive to Tashigang, visit festival, day walks in Radi Valley 24–27 Drive to Gauhati via Samdrup Jongkhar, fly to Delhi, fly to London Guaranteed to run for a minimum of4clients The Hidden Kingdom Trek
Sacred Mountains, Secret Valleys The Dalgala Mountains lie just to the south of Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. In 1988, we were the first UK company to take people exploring there. We have been back to the mountains of a ‘thousand lakes’ many times since then. Having trekked into our base camp next to one of the largest lakes, we can choose to go trout fishing, botanising and for the energetic there are many scrambly peaks to be climbed, including the highest in the range, Um Jomo, 5,050m/16,568ft. In 1988 our first party made half a dozen first ascents of these easy peaks. Perhaps the most memorable part of the trek will be an early morning climb to a nearby ridge top to watch the sun rise over the eastern Himalaya. On a clear day we can see all the major peaks of Bhutan’s northern border, and to the west looms the world’s third highest mountain Kangchenjunga, some one hundred miles distant. From Labatama Lake we trek through valleys and along ridges dropping down into Thimphu itself. Once again the views are magnificent as we descend gradually towards the capital city nestling in the valley below. 20 Download detailed itineraries from www.himalayankingdoms.com e: email@example.com Lake Dungtshorom, Ha Valley Photo: Steve Berry The Old Smugglers’ Route – Ha Valley £2,850 £2,315 Dates: Sat 19 Apr – Tue 06 May*, Sat 04 Oct – Tue 21 Oct † land only Grade: Moderate/Vigorous On Trek: 8 days Day Walks: 3 days European Leader: Barry Bond*, Bob Gibbons † Nights’ Accommodation: Hotels: 7 Camping: 7 Lodges: 2 Optional: Single Room £145 Single Tent £50 Insurance: £149 (Insurance Plus) Days Itinerary Duration: 18 days 1–2 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure 3–5 Fly to Bhutan, acclimatisation in the Ha Valley 6–13 Trekking the Old Smuggler’s Route, drive to Thimphu 14–15 Day walks and sightseeing, Thimphu 16–18 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure, fly to London Guaranteed to run for a minimum of4clients £2,395 £1,775 Dates: Sat 05 Apr – Sun 20 Apr, Sat 04 Oct – Sun 19 Oct land only Grade: Moderate/Vigorous On Trek: 8 days In-country Leader Nights’ Accommodation: Hotels: 7 Camping: 7 Optional: Single Room £130 Single Tent £50 Insurance: £95 (Standard Policy) Days Itinerary Duration: 16 days 1–2 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure –3 Fly to Paro –4 Sightseeing 5–12 Trek to Dagala mountains, end near Thimphu –13 In Thimphu 14–16 Fly to Kathmandu, at leisure, fly to London Guaranteed to run for a minimum of3clients Hand-woven kira (traditional skirts) Photo: Jude Limburn Turner Even today there are still parts of Bhutan that remain closed, and this was the case for the Ha Valley until 2001. Himalayan Kingdoms was proud to take the first British group that year to visit the main township and fortress. Our MD, Steve Berry, has now made a reconnaissance trek through the mountains that border Sikkim and Tibet and is wildly enthusiastic about the region. Up against the border is a huge valley, known as Lolithang, that is a traditional summer grazing ground for yaks. At the head of the valley stands the strangely impressive peak of Chundugang, believed by locals to be the guardian deity of the Ha region. The trek twists and winds its way through the mountains, ridges and lakes that look down into Lolithang. One of the lakes we visit has a curious supernatural legend attached to it, and it is believed that magic cymbals flew from the lake to Paro Dzong. Even today people attend the festival at Paro to hear the unique sound of the cymbals. Taking this trek, we shall be among the first of a tiny handful of westerners to explore this beautiful, remote, unspoilt, uninhabited wilderness.