Chomolhari – Lingshi Trek
The land locked Kingdom of Bhutan comprises mountains, forests and rivers and offers all that the Himalayas has to offer. For centuries the Bhutanese have traveled through their country on foot and the trails they used then have today been developed as trekking trails. However, modern development and the building of roads to access the remote regions has led to the disappearance of numerous old routes, leaving only a few intact as they were eons ago. The Chomolhari-Lingshi trail being one of the few. Bhutan had been closed to the outside world (with a very few exceptions), until the first paying tourist group visited this hidden paradise in 1974. Trekking started in western Bhutan in 1978 and in central Bhutan in 1982. Trekkers make up for only 10 to 15% of the total number of tourist arrivals a year (17000 + in 2006). Therefore trekking in Bhutan is truly a once in a lifetime experience. It is different from trekking in other regions of Asia. Bhutan boasts a forest cover of approx 70 % and provides an enormously rich flora and fauna.
This trip presents the opportunity to visit a part of Bhutan that has only ever been experienced by a handful of outsiders. A vast, pure and untrammeled wilderness, significantly detached from all that lies below. You start you’re your journey from Paro in the western part of Bhutan and it is from within this exceptionally picturesque and spiritual setting that your expedition truly begins.
The trek follows a traditional route favored by migratory yak-herders. The information provided in the detailed itinerary is as accurate as humanely possible. It is based on an independent survey done by a few of us and the details (like names of places) have been derived from local people and information passed on to us by the Department of Tourism. Walking times have been based on an average westerners ability to walk the rough terrains of the Himalayas and due time given to acclimatize on the way up.
The Chomlhari Lingshi trek is one of the finest treks Bhutan has to offer. The route starts from Drukgyel Dzong in Paro and continues onwards to Chomolhari base camp. It then goes via Lingshi and exits via Thimphu
Day 1—Paro, Bhutan. Fly to Paro, Bhutan, on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan. If the weather cooperates, you might have spectacular views of the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas, including peaks in Bhutan such as Chomolhari, Jichu Drake, and Tsering Kang. After visa formalities at the Paro airport, we drive to our hotel. We’ll have a late afternoon visit to the National Museum, housed in an old watchtower above Paro Dzong (a dzong is a fortress-monastery). The museum’s collections include displays of spectacular thangkas (religious scroll paintings), bronze statues, Bhutan’s beautiful stamps, and the Tshogshing Lhakhang (Temple of the Tree of Wisdom), with its carvings depicting the history of Buddhism. After the early morning flight everybody is going to want to have an early dinner and a good night’s rest
Day 2—Paro. Drive above 9 miles north of Paro town to the trailhead where you start a 1 ½ hr hike to the viewpoint of Taktsang Monastery (aka “Tiger’s Nest) perched on a cliff 2700 feet above the valley floor. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche arrived here on the back of one of is consorts who was in the guise of a flying Tigress sometime in the 7th century. Hence, the name “Taktsang” (Tiger’s Nest). After a short tea break, the options are to sit back and read a book for a while or if you feel energetic enough, to continue another 45 minutes up to the monastery. Evening, relax at the hotel, sort gear etc to commence trek the following morning.
Day 3—Begin Trek –Paro to Shana. The Trek begins today. After an early breakfast, drive to the end of the road north from Paro to the ruins of the Drukgyel Dzong ( Fortress of the Victorious Drukpas) (alt. at Drukgyel Dzong 8460ft/2580m) with Mount Chomlhari (23,995 ft/7315m) looming in the background. Here’s where you meet the rest of the trekking crew and the first group of pack ponies. The first hour or so of the trek follows a dirt road through a wide, rich, cultivated valley, following the Paro Chhu (river) after which you cross a suspension bridge. After about 3 to 3.5 hrs walk you reach the military outpost of Gunitsawa, which you bypass, and cross over the Paro Chhu on a footbridge and walk north-northwest following a trail next to the river. After about half an hour you reach the first night’s campsite called Shana (9480ft/2890m). Total time: 5 to 5.5 hrs. Distance: Approx 15km
Day 4 – Shana to Soi Thangthanka. A long and hard day ahead with a lot of distance to cover, and the trail is rough and stony with a lot of ups and downs. Today we count on a late arrival into camp and it’s advisable to carry an extra wooly top or sweater. The trail was used in the old days by travelers coming from or going to Phari in Tibet and basically follows the river. The trail climbs steadily through thick forest of oak, rhododendron, bamboo and ferns. Birdlife is plentiful. After about 2.5 hrs you reach a small clearing with two huts called Shingkarap. Not far after that, the trail forks, marked by a big cairn decorated with flowers and prayerflags. Stay to the right. You keep following the main river upstream and after a while the trail makes a short steep ascent and descent, followed by a big foot bridge crossing to the east side of the river. Five minutes after crossing the bridge comes a big clearing in the forest, lunch will be here. The trek continues up and down for about another 3-4 hrs through beautiful forest consisting mainly of birch, fir, larch, maple, blue pine and rhododendron. After all the ups and down you finally come to abridge that you cross over. From the bridge, a short climb follows and then you see a big chorten and a second bridge at the confluence of the Paro Chhu from the north and Ronse Ghon Chhu from the west. From the bridge leading to the chorten you see Mount Chomolhari to the north. Do not cross the second bridge but continue for another half an hour till you reach a meadow with a small stone hut almost in ruins (no one lives there). This is Soi Thangthanka (11,730ft/3575m) camp for the night. Total time 7 to 7.5 hrs. Distance : Approx 22km
Day 5 – Soi Thangthanka to Jangothang. If the weather is clear, breakfast is served with a breathtaking view of Mount Chomolhari. The first hour or so of walking is through forest until the view of Chomolhari is lost. The rest of the trail again follows the river. We cross a small military camp and about 1 hour past the camp the trail turns right at a mani wall. After climbing a small ridge, we reach a big open meadow with a chorten in the middle, called Geza or Heysithangka. The walk through the open meadow takes us through little villages and before reaching Jangothang (about 30 minutes or so) you come across a Basic Health Unit outpost. By now we should get a fairly good view of Mount Jitchu Drake (22470ft/6850m) As you approach camp for the night the ruins of a dzong located on a rock next to the stream joining the main river is clearly visible with the overwhelming snow and ice-capped east face of Chomolhari (23,995ft/7315m). Jangothang ( 13,260ft/4044m) and camp for tonight is located next to a stone hut near the stream. Total time : 5 to 5.5 hrs. Distance : Approx 17km.
Day 6 – Rest day at Jangothang. The morning sun hits camp at about 0800 hrs and some people might feel the effects of the ascent of 1800m in the last three days, so a rest day at Jangothang definitely helps with the process of acclimatization. There are some good day hikes around the Chomolhari camp area and today we follow the rule of “trek high, sleep low”. We could either hike up the valley towards the foot of Chomolhari or east towards the twin lakes Tsho Phu (14,270ft/4350m), or if people prefer a more challenging day hike, up a steep grassy ridge located next to camp to the north. It takes about 3-4 hrs to reach the final rocky summit (15,610ft/4760m). A more pleasant hike (2-2.5hrs up and 1-1.5hrs down) goes to the direction of Jitchu Drake or one could just sit back.. read a book and just enjoy the day at base camp.
Day 7 – Jangothang to Lingshi. Leaving camp you walk north past the houses till you come to a log bridge to cross the river (this is the second log bridge. The first, being the one that leads to Tsho Phu lakes). A steep switch back trail starts climbing out of the valley into another that leads to the final climb and the Nyele La (“sleepy”) Pass. (16,040ft/4890m). It’s a long climb to the top and a test for one’s level of acclimatization. If anyone is having a problem this is the time to turn back, cause once you cross over to Lingshi you can only get out by crossing high passes. From the top of Nyele La pass you can see the trekking area to be covered over the next couple of days and Mount Takaphu (21,405ft/6526m) and Tiger Mountain. After descending from the pass the trail is pretty flat and easy, leading to a viewing point from which Lingshi Dzong can be seen in it’s full glory; a powerful, solitary structure in the middle of nothing but wilderness. The dzong gets closer as we further descend to camp near a stone hutment. Lingshi camp ( 13,150ft/4010m). Total time : 5.5-6.5hrs. Distance : Approx 19 km
Day 8 – Lingshi to Shodu
Today is a long hard day. The trail goes through a rhododendron forest on the ridge above the camp in an easterly direction towards a small chorten. Turning a corner, the trail then goes south into a valley with few trees. The climb is gradual at first for about 3 hrs after leaving camp. You then cross the river and climb out of the valley to a big side valley. The last part of the climb is through an area with large boulders and several switchbacks. After about 4.5 hrs (after leaving camp) you reach the big cairn on top of the Yale La (4950 m), with views towards snow capped mountains around Lingshi and the peaks to the south. The descent joins the Jaradinthang Chhu, which becomes the Thimphu Chhu (Wang Chhu). At around 4150 m is a chorten from where the trails takes an easterly direction following the river. The campsite is at Shodu (13380 ft/4080 m) just after crossing a sandy slope. Total time : 8 hrs Distance : Approx 22 km
Day 9 – Shodu to Barshong
Most people traveling between Lingshi and Thimphu use this same trail, which passes a deserted military camp. You follow the trail to the river through the limestone valley. Monks use the caves in the rocks and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is said to have meditated here. Cross the bridges over the main river. Towards the end of the days trek the trail gradually ascends about 130 m to the ruins of the Barshong Dzong. There is a muddy campsite below the dzong, but you could carry on for about another 1.5 hrs to a better campsite. Total time : 4-5 hrs. Distance : Approx 14 km
Day 10 – Barshong to Dolam Kencho
After crossing a side stream, make a steep descent on a rocky trail ending at the Wang Chhu. There a several ups and downs and crossing of smaller side streams. Upon reaching a split in the trail; the one on the right descends to the sampsite for the night, Dolam Kencho (3290 m). Total time : 4 – 5 hrs. Distance : Approx 15 km
Day 11 – Dolam Kencho to Dodena (Thimphu) – End of Trek
Climb back from the campsite upto the main trail to a cairn at 3450m, from where the route descends to a side stream. There are small ups and downs followed by a couple of short steep switchbacks to descend a vertical cliff before finally reaching the last stretch to Dedena. The trail descends through bamboo forests, follwing the mule trail high above the river until it finally ends at Dodena. From there you drive on to the capital city of Thimphu for a well deserved hot shower. Total time : 4 hrs Distance : Approx 10 km.
Evening at leisure and night at a hotel.
Day 12 – Thimphu Sightseeing
Morning sightseeing of Thimphu Valley. Visit the National Memorial Chorten, Indigenous & Traditional Hospital, School of Art & Crafts, National Library and The Tashichho Dzong. Late afernoon and evening at leisure to do some souvenir shopping. Night in Thimphu
Day 13 – Departure