According to the Oxford dictionary a trek is ‘a long hard walk lasting several days or weeks, especially in mountains’. The word originates from the Dutch for ‘promenade’, and was refined to its current meaning by the Boer (farmer) emigrants to South Africa who went on difficult walks during their search for new land. Trekking has a meditative effect on both mind and body: you are surrounded by nature with few materialistic disturbances. Being pampered by a local staff gives you time to concentrate on other things such as a good walk, a good meal, and a very good night’s sleep under the stars. Trekking is the ultimate experience of a quiet, healthy and active holiday, and once a trekker – always a trekker.
The Bhutanese don’t necessarily have the same idea about trekking as foreigners; for them it means a trip to their home village, a pilgrimage to a monastery high in the mountains, placing prayerflags on mountaintops, visiting one of the country’s hot springs, or (for those in remote areas) a visit to the market to buy supplies.
Trekking in Bhutan is different from other regions in Asia. You are trekking in a country steeped in Buddhist traditions and culture, even high up in the mountains. Bhutan's Himalaya, with a forest/shrub cover of around 80 percent and plenty of rain in the monsoon months, provides an enormously rich flora and fauna, unlike anywhere else in this region. There are fewer villages in the high mountains of Bhutan than there are in places such as Nepal, and villagers often gaze at trekkers because they see so few. The daily altitude gain in Bhutan's Himalaya is typically more than in other Himalayan countries, and trekking in the northern part often involves crossing more than one high pass of 5000m. Trekking in Bhutan is also more costly than in most other Himalayan destinations. Part of the daily rate (government tax about $US70) is indirect development aid. Every trek is led by a qualified Bhutanese guide (without a support group of Sherpas as in Nepal).
Trekking in the Bhutanese Himalayas does not require any special technical skills.
The mountains are covered with a network of trails but, because of the sparse population, these are not heavily traveled. The trails are generally in good condition, and fit, experienced walkers should have no difficulty navigating them, although natural obstacles such as snowfall and landslides can require a change of plan. There are also very few trekkers to encounter (600–1000 each year, the majority falling on the Jhomolhari Trek). Meals on treks are as good as anywhere in the Himalayas. Lunch is not like the typical Nepalese extended break where a hot lunch is cooked; in Bhutan a hot lunch is prepared at breakfast time and carried in thermos flasks and pots. Animals such as mules and yaks will transport your luggage. Sometimes – on the first day yaks are used – they may arrive late at the start or at the end of the day (or not arrive at all because they have turned round and gone home!). It therefore makes sense to carry dry (and warm) clothing in your daypack, just in case you reach camp before the luggage arrives.
No food is sold along the trail, so trekking in Bhutan involves a lot of luggage. A party of eight trekkers will typically have four members of staff, four yak herders or horsemen, and more than 20 yaks or with a small pack of sturdy mules or ponies. There are few burglary or safety problems while trekking or camping.
Campfires are generally not permitted, but at certain villages locals are allowed to sell firewood.
Trekking in the Himalayas is often thought to be the preserve of the super-fit, but there are treks catering for to different fitness levels: easy to tough, short to long, and from lower to higher altitudes. Of course, it helps to be fit and prepared for a trek. Make sure you choose a trek that is not too difficult or too hard. It is never fun to have to give up and turn back, or to exhaust yourself and so be unable to finish the trek. The most important thing is that you are happy to walk for several days, and that you enjoy camping. Trekking grades can be confusing. Each commercial operator uses their own grading systems, so check them out carefully. A good trek description should enable you to make the right choice.
In general trekking in Bhutan includes long days with several ascents and descents each day. Bhutan’s valleys are steeper than in neighboring Nepal. The trails are less used simply because the population is at a much lower level in Bhutan.
Trekking Grades in Bhutan Trekker’s Guidebook-
*Easy: lower altitude, good trails, shorter days, short treks, suitable for most people
*Moderate: a mix between low and high altitude and shorter and longer days, not always on a good trail, basic fitness required
*Demanding: traveling at higher altitudes, crossing some high passes, trails not always in the best state, possible river crossings, some longer days, higher level of fitness required
*Strenuous: high altitude, high passes, high camping, difficult trails, possible river crossings, long days, long treks, only for well-prepared trekkers (previous experience recommended)
The most popular period for trekking in Bhutan is in spring and autumn. However, with climate change the seasonal patterns are becoming less predictable. The country, located in the eastern part of the Himalayas, receives a good deal of rain. The valleys experience strong winds, and each one has its own weather. Mountains tend to create their own weather patterns with storms, hail, snow and thunder. Be aware of wind and rain, which can have a major effect on temperature.
NB- When flying in and out of the country count on extra days because precipitation and overcast conditions may cause the airport to be closed.
*For The Spirited Traveler