LINGSHI LAYA TREK
This is our most popular long distance trek in Bhutan and takes you along the remote northern border with Tibet. We were the first British company to travel this path in 1988 and have run the trek almost every year since. Our itinerary results from considerable experience. Any shorter and we believe that there would not be sufficient time for proper acclimatisation and to rush through this region would mean you miss the very point of being there; it remains rarely travelled and unspoilt.
One of the highlights of this trek is local people that you will meet en route – both the semi-nomadic yak herders that camp in black yak hair tents, often seen now with solar panels stuck outside, and the hospitable inhabitants of the unbelievably remote small stone villages that you will pass. If you travel on our autumn 2021 departure, you may join the locals in a celebration of their culture at the Chomolhari Mountain Festival.
The mountain scenery is magnificent – most of the peaks being unclimbed, unmapped and un-named. You will pass underneath the second highest peak in Bhutan, Chomolhari, 7,314m/23,996ft, first climbed by Spencer Chapman in 1937 and now a forbidden peak on religious grounds. There are many passes to cross, offering tantalising panoramas of distant ranges and the opportunity to spot Blue Sheep. Flora and fauna are diverse and abundant at every stage of the journey
Duration: 14 Days
On Trek: 11 days Walks
Max. Altitude: 5,005m/16,420ft, Shingela Pass, day 13
Maximum group size: 15
Land only joining city: Kathmandu
Accommodation types: Hotels, Camping
Festival: October departure attends the Chomolhari Mountain Festival
Day 1 – Arrive at Paro
Upon your arrival at the Paro International Airport you will be greeted by our tour representative who will escort you to your hotel. After resting for a while evening will be for leisure. Dinner and overnight stay will be at the hotel.
Day 2 – Walk to Taktsang Monastery and sightseeing in the Paro Valley.
Today you will walk up to the famous ‘Tiger’s nest’, Taktsang Monastery, perched some 2,000ft (609m) up on a cliff overlooking the Paro valley and one of the iconic buildings of Bhutan. It is said to be the spot where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padma Sambhava flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The walk, which will provide good acclimatization, is quite steep and takes about 2-3 hours to go up, less to descend. You may choose to walk just as far as the tea house for fantastic views or climb to some prayer flags just above where the views are even better. If there is a particular religious gathering or VIP visit in progress, you will not be able to enter the monastery but in any case it is worth climbing for a further half hour beyond the tea house to another viewpoint directly across from the monastery. If you are allowed to visit the temple itself you have to descend steeply from this viewpoint about 100m/330ft on steps, only to climb again to reach the temple where it clings to the rock face. It was built to be isolated! You then descend to your vehicle and return to your hotel.
In the afternoon you will have time for some further sightseeing such as a visit to the Bhutan Museum or Paro Dzong and also time to relax and prepare for your trek.
Overnight: Hotel Olathang Or Similar, Paro
Day 3 – Trek from Olathang to Kyichu – 3 hours. Drive to Gunitsawa. Trek to Shana, 2,890m/9,482ft.
Today you start your trek. You leave the hotel and walk up a hill to a village. You continue trekking along forested ridges until you reach Kyichu. You will visit the ancient temple of Kyichu Lhakang, one of the oldest in Bhutan, which was one of 108 temples built by Songtsen Gampo an important early Tibetan king, to pin down the Bon demon that was thought to hover over the whole of Tibet. From here it is an hour drive to Gunitsawa. It’s a short walk through the army base at Gunitsawa to cross the river on a small bridge and start walking upstream to camp at Shana.
Day 4 – Trek to Soi Thangthanka, 3,575m/11,729ft – 7-8 hours.
Your route still follows the river in heavily forested country, with isolated farmhouses and plenty of wildlife. The Bhutanese may advise you to walk in pairs, as there are bears in this area. You pass a junction en route, where another path leads north over the Tremo La to Tibet, crossed by Spencer Chapman in 1937 on his way to climb Chomolhari. In the afternoon the trail passes over several switchbacks and can be muddy in places – rocks have been strategically placed for you to hop across. After reaching a larger bridge, if lucky, you will get views of Chomolhari ahead, before the final climb to the large meadow which is your campsite. There is a simple hut here and you may well eat inside.
Day 5 – Trek to Jangothang (Chomolhari Base Camp), 4,090m/13,418ft – 5-6 hours.
It is worth getting up early to photograph the dawn colours on Bhutan’s second highest mountain, Chomolhari, 7,314m/23,997ft, which is framed at the end of the valley. After about an hour’s walk, you slowly leave the forest line and gradually climb into a beautiful valley, passing Tengethang, a winter home of yak herdsmen. You are still walking beside the river and you should see lots of yaks before arriving at Dangojang, the final small settlement before you reach base camp. There are a couple of stone buildings here, and nearby there are the ruins of an old fortress which used to guard Bhutan against Tibetan invasion. At the head of the valley is the huge stunning snowy peak of Jitchu Drake, 6,714m/22,027ft, with razor sharp ridges.
Day 6– Rest day and acclimatisation with walks to glacier, Tsho Phu lakes or Jitchu Drake Base Camp. Attend Chomolhari Festival in the autumn.
It is highly advisable that you do some sort of walk today involving height gain in order to help with acclimatisation. There are several excellent walks to choose from. Highly recommended is to walk a short way up the valley towards Jitchu Drake before turning right to climb steeply uphill towards a hanging valley leading to the beautiful Tsho Phu Lakes, situated at about 4,350m/14,271ft. Alternatively, you can climb up the grassy ridge just north of the base camp to reach a small peak at 4,760m/15,617ft. Or you can walk up to Jitchu Drake base camp, or to the original Chomolhari base camp along the valley floor.
If travelling on our autumn 2021 departure you may join the festivities at the Chomolhari Mountain Festival. This festival celebrates the culture of the local communities and the natural wonders of the region. Please note that the dates for this festival are provisional and may change.
Day 7 – Trek to Lingshi, 4,149m/13,612ft, via the Nyelela Pass, 4,890m/16,043ft – 6-7 hours.
Today, weather permitting, you will have spectacular views of several stunning Himalayan peaks. You start climbing immediately and after some 3-4 hours reach the windy Nyelela Pass, 4,890m/16,043ft. You may well pass yak herders’ Jhas (tents) where you may get invited in to sample tea, yoghurt and cheese – all three are acquired tastes! It is very special meeting these lovely people. After the pass you descend to a circular hut just before Lingshi, where you camp for the night. Coming down to Lingshi you obtain your first views of the truly mystical dzong atop its 183m/600ft high hill.
Day 8 – Visit Lingshi Dzong and trek to Chebisa, 3,849m/12,628ft – 5-6 hours.
Today is an easier day and you will be able to view the outside of the Dzong and small settlement below it before setting off on trek. The school here serves several local villages. Leaving Lingshi behind you contour and climb gently to reach another delightful village, Gang Yul, which is set right below a 304m/1,000ft cliff. There is a very holy llakang here. Another hour’s walking high above the valley floor brings you to a lovely little side valley with a huge waterfall at one end and the Shangri-la village of Chebisa, where you camp by the side of the river. The trail leading up and past it leads to Tibet – about 12 miles away. There are plenty of blue sheep in this area and you should be able to get quite close to them. It is a very leisurely walking day today with plenty of reasons and opportunities to linger.
Day 9 – Trek to Shomuthang, 4,220m/13,845ft – 6-7 hours.
Walking up to the top of the waterfall before breakfast is recommended for lovely early morning views of the valley. On your trek today you will encounter quite a stiff climb up to the Gombu La, 4,480m/14,698ft, before dropping to a deserted valley and crossing a river. You will either camp here, or climb up to Shomuthang. It will be another lovely day’s walking today. You might see blood pheasants when passing through an area of rhododendrons.
Day 10 – Trek to Robulathang, 4,160m/13,648ft, via the Jarela Pass, 4,785m/15,699ft – 7-8 hours.
It is a long haul over the Jarela Pass at 4,785m/15,699ft, where once again you get stunning all-round views including Mount Tsering Kang towering above. Then there is a steep drop on a forest trail to the Tcharijathang valley, where herds of Takin roam (the strange national animal of Bhutan), before crossing a river on a log bridge and steeply climbing to Robulathang where the camp will be located. Again, a stunning day’s walk.
Day 11– Cross the Shingela Pass, 5,005m/16,420ft. Camp at Limithang, 4,140m/13,583ft – 6-7 hours.
This is the hardest day of the trek. Firstly you climb slowly up to the Shingela pass. This takes about 5 hours. You will be rewarded with stunning views of mountains, including the spectacular Gangchentak at the head of the valley. On a clear day almost all the mountains on the northern border are clearly visible, 10-20 miles distant. For those with energy, it is worth climbing a little higher to a small rocky peak. Eagles, griffin vultures, blue sheep and yak abound in this area. After the initial rough and rocky descent you finally reach a beautiful cedar forest and you will once again meet up with nomadic yak-herders, who may offer tea and curd in their yak-hair tents. Camp is set in a lovely spot on the riverbank.
Day 12 – Trek to Laya, 3,840m/12,598ft – 4-5 hours. Explore village.
You will have a leisurely walk alongside the river through cedar and fir forest before descending to reach the largest village on the trek. The people of Laya are famous for their vertically-striped yak hair clothing and strange conical bamboo hats. The women wear long hair and a great deal of turquoise and jade jewellery. The features of the people are even more Tibetan/Mongolian than the Bhutanese who live in the central valleys. The rest of the day is spent at leisure, or visiting village houses. There are good views of Masagang, 7,165m/23,507ft, and other peaks. In the evening the local girls may dance for you. This will be the last night you spend with your trek crew.
Day 13 – Trek to Koena, 3,240m/10,630ft – 7-8 hours. Drive to Punakha.
Today is a long day during which you will follow the Mo Chu River through its gorge; with an atmosphere akin to ‘the Lost World’ it is both gigantic and spectacular. You climb up and down through a heavily forested area with lots of birds and butterflies, to arrive at Koena – the end of your trek.
Your transport will meet you here and take you to Punakha.
Overnight: Zhingkham Resort or Damchen Resort or Similar, Punakha
Day 14 – Sightseeing in Punakha. Drive to Paro
In the morning, post-breakfast we will drive to Paro via Thimphu. Upon reaching Paro we will indulge in sightseeing of the popular tourist attractions of Paro including Watchtower- Ta Dzong, Druk Choeding Temple,Ugyen Pelri Palace and more. Once done with exploring Paro, we will head back to hotel in Paro for dinner and overnight stay.