Bhutan: Kingdom in the Sky

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14595A, International


  • Explore ecosystem protection and the Buddhist approach of respect for life
  • Experience the culture of one of the least-known countries in the world
  • Tour active monasteries and temples framed by the mighty Himalayas


  • All meals and lodging
  • English-speaking local guides
  • In-country transportation
  • All gratuities and national tourist fees


DatesMay 3–17, 2014
StaffCarl Martin

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Bhutan is a world of monasteries, mysticism, towering glaciated mountains, and ancient cultural spiritual traditions. Thanks to its isolation, small population, mountainous terrain, and the national religion of Buddhism that stresses the sanctity of all life, Bhutan has been able to protect its forests and wildlife. As a result, this tiny kingdom possesses one of the last truly intact, large-scale ecosystems in the Himalayas.


Day 1: (Arrive Paro and drive to Thimphu) Our meeting point on the morning of May 3rd is at Paro Airport in Bhutan. The flight from Bangkok to Paro on Druk Air (Bhutan National Airline) is a befitting introduction to this Himalayan Kingdom. From a window seat on clear days you can experience a spectacular view of Himalayan peaks as you approach Paro. Once we've all assembled, we drive to our hotel for an orientation and lunch, our first meal of the trip. In the afternoon we will sightsee around Thimphu Valley. Overnight in Paro Hotel. 

Day 2: (Thimphu Sightseeing) We will visit the Thimphu weekend market, which is in a permanent set of stalls. Vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and continue selling their goods until Sunday night. We then go to the Zangdopelri Temple, the Medicine Institute to learn how traditional medicines are prepared, the Panting School and the Bhutan Heritage Museum. Overnight in Paro.    

Day 3: (Thimphu Sightseeing/ Day Hikes) We will do several hikes around Thimphu Valley. We will visit the Cheri Monastery, Tango Monastery, a monastic institute for astrology studies and Pangri Zampa. We will hike through giant cypress groves and pine forests with magnificent views of the valley below. Overnight at Thimphu. Walking time: 4 hours.

Day 4: (Thimphu-Punakha) We will go to Punakha. We'll drive up through paddy fields, apple orchards, and farmhouses to Dochula Pass (10,004 feet). Dochula Pass has 108 Chortens and numerous prayer flags, as well as a magnificent view of the Himalayas. We will visit Chimi Lhakhang temple, dedicated to the great Yogi in the 14th century (known to Westerners as the "Divine madman"). who is believed to bless women who seek fertility. Then we'll continue on to Punakha for the night. Walking time: 1 hour.

Day 5: (Punakha-Phbojika) We will cross the fertile valley of Punakha and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang. We'll visit the ruins of Wangdue Dzong (In ruins from a fire in June 2012), which stands on a spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers. As we pass into the high Phobjikha valley (9,840 feet) we go through a forest of oak and rhododendron; often we encounter the gigantic yak there, too. The other side of the pass that overlooks the valley is a realm of high altitude dwarf bamboo, the favorite food for yaks. We will visit the Gangtey Monastery, perched atop a small hill that rises from the valley floor. Overnight at hotel in Phobjikha.

Day 6: (Phobjikha) We will have a day of hiking around the Phobikha Valley, visiting villages, temples, and the black necked crane center. Overnight at hotel in Phobjikha. Walking time: 2-4 hours.

Day 7: (Phobjikha-Trongsa) We will travel to Trongsa. We'll pass through semi-tropical vegetation and then up to Pele la Pass (10,989 feet). With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo, the pass is the boundary between West and East Bhutan. Along the way we will stop at Chendebji Chorten, a magnificent white-domed Buddhist stupa, for a walk around the gigantic structure. We will reach a vista point for Trongsa Dzong, an inspiring Dzong that fits on a narrow spur overlooking the Mangde Chhu river. The approximate two-hour walk will be downhill until we reach the Mangde Chhu River, where will cross the traditional cantilever bridge and then hike uphill until we reach the majestic Trongsa Dzong. Overnight at resort in Trongsa. Walking time: 3 hours. 

Day 8: (Trongsa Sighteeing) We will visit the majestic Trongsa Dzong, built in 1647, the source of many important historical events in making of Modern Bhutan. Then we explore Taa Dzong, a watchtower in the ancient times that's now a beautiful museum dedicated to the Kings of Bhutan. We will drive south to a small village that was once the winter retreat of the Royal families. Overnight at resort in Trongsa.

Day 9: (Trongsa-Bumthang (Jakar)) Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys, while Tang and Ura depend mostly on animal husbandry.

We will hike around the beautiful Bumthang valley, visiting the Jambay Lhakhang temple, the Kurjey monastery, Tamshing Lhakhang, and Konchogsum Lhakang. Some of these historic structures date back to the 7th century and have a rich history. Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 10: (Bumthang Sightseeing) We will hike to Peseling monastery and then continue our walk up toward the saddle of the hill. From the pass (11,000 feet), you will have a majestic view of the Tang Valley. We continue our walk downhill toward Tang Membartsho (Burning Lake). Overnight in Bumthang. Walking time: 5-6 hours.

Day 11: (Bumthang Sightseeing and visit Ura) We will visit Ura village, situated at 10,000 feet. There are about 40-50 closely packed houses alongside cobblestone streets that give the village a medieval atmosphere. We will start our hike at the Serthangla Pass until we reach Ura Temple. Then we'll stroll through the village of Ura, making frequent stops to converse with the villagers. We will enjoy a lunch at a village house, then walk to the local school. Overnight in Chamkhar. Walking time: 3 hours.

Day 12: (Chumey Valley) We will explore Chumey Valley. The hike starts from the Jakar village over the ridge, with superb views of the Chokhor, Chumey and Tang valleys. We finish our hike at the beautiful Tharpaling Monastery. Overnight in Chamkar. Walking time: 5-6 hours.

Day 13: (Paro Sightseeing) This morning we will fly to Paro. In the afternoon, we will visit the National Museum of Bhutan, replete with handicrafts, costumes, armor, and rare stamps. Then we'll take a leisurely hike down to Rimpung Dzong, crossing the river on a traditional covered bridge. Then we will explore Drukgyal Dzong, built in 1647 but destroyed by fire in 1951 and left in ruins. This is a beautiful walk and on a clear day you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari (23,990 feet). Overnight in Paro.

Day 14: (Tiger’s Lair) In the morning, we will hike to the awe-inspiring Taktshang monastery (Tiger's Lair). The trail to the monastery ascends about 1,800 feet through beautiful pine forest. Many of the trees are festooned with Spanish moss and the groves occasionally flutter with prayer flags. For those who enjoy ponies, there is the option to rent a Tibetan pony (uphill only). Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 3,000 feet into the valley below. The afternoon is free for touring Paro, relaxing, or packing for the flight out tomorrow. Overnight in Paro.

Day 15: (Depart Bhutan) Depart Paro. The trip ends after breakfast. The bus will take us back to the airport.



Getting There

To allow for possible but unlikely delays of baggage or flight misconnections, trip members are strongly urged to leave the United States three days before the start of the trip so as to be in Bangkok two days before the start of the trip. The trip leader will provide trip members with a list of hotels near the Bangkok airport. The trip ends on Day 15, with the arrival of the Druk Air flight back in Bangkok.

Accommodations and Food

All accommodation in Bhutan will be in comfortable lodges and hotels. Meals will be in hotel dining rooms and in local restaurants. Vegetarian preferences can be accommodated.

Trip Difficulty

This is a moderate trip with day hikes, the longest of which is about six hours.

Trip members should be sure to bring along their spirit of adventure. They should take pleasure in experiencing a very different culture and be comfortable traveling with a group. Above all, they must be flexible and adapt easily to unpredictable weather. Leader approval is required.

Daytime temperatures will vary between 40-70 degrees, depending on the elevation. Nighttime temperatures will drop into the high 30s. We should expect some precipitation, but most days should be sunny.



  • Zeppa, J., Beyond the Sky and the Earth. A volunteer educator's account of living and working in Bhutan for three years.
  • Armington, S., Lonely Planet BhutanPerhaps the best of the few travel guides for Bhutan. About half our hikes are covered here.
  • Dompnier, R., Bhutan: Kingdom of the Dragon. A coffee table picture book, but there is also good text on the geography and history of the country.
  • Inskipp, C. and T., and R. Grimmett, Birds of Bhutan. For birding enthusiasts.
  • Snelling, J., The Buddhist Handbook. An easy-to-read primer on Buddhism.
  • Myers, D., and S. Bean (Eds.), From the Land of the Thunder Dragon: Textile Arts of Bhutan. A detailed account of the cultural history of the incredible textiles and the fascinating national garb of the Bhutanese.
  • Insight Guides Indian Wildlife. Good coverage of the mammals and wildlife in general found in the Indian subcontinent, including Bhutan.
  • Wangchhuk, L., Facts About Bhutan; The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Bhutan from a native's point of view. Encyclopedic in scope and presentation.


The tiny kingdom of Bhutan (about 700,000 people in an area about the same as Switzerland) possesses the last intact, large-scale ecosystem in the Himalayas. The government has ruled that 60 percent of the country must remain forested. With Western influence in the area on the rise, Bhutan has adopted the philosophy of gross national happiness; preserving their culture and environment.



Carl Martin began his adventures with the Sierra Club at the age of two when he went on a family trip to Hawaii. Since then he has been on Sierra Club trips to the northwestern U.S., Hawaii, England, and the Dolomites in Italy. Internationally, he has trekked through Bhutan, Nepal, and New Zealand. His hobbies include rock climbing, geology, hiking, and exploring new places. He recently graduated with a degree in geology and enjoys sharing his knowledge of the Himalayan geology.

Assistant Leader:

Wayne Martin

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