Trekking in Bhutan
This land that famously measures Gross National Happiness, where mystical Buddhism thrives, archery is the national sport, smoking is illegal, and almost everyone wears national dress, is top of many travellers' wish-lists, particularly those who love to hike.
Cultural tours of the spectacular dzong monasteries, temples and festivals are the main attractions to Bhutan, but the best way to experience more of the real Bhutan is on a trek. There are a dozen or so multi-day treks to choose from, from the popular Jomolhari circuit, or Yaksa trek, a nine-day loop through spectacular mountain scenery, to the challenging 25 day Snowman trek in snow and reaching some of the highest passes. There are easier walks such as the Druk path and one day or two day hikes sometimes fit into itineraries better if you are more limited on time.
Unlike trekking regions in Nepal or Ladakh, Bhutan has no infrastructure to support independent travellers so you must travel with a support team, which is no bad thing. Having a guide and support team enables trekkers to follow tracks successfully, be offered unique opportunities to meet locals in the hills and understand more about the farming valleys which you will be walking through.
The milky emerald rivers flow down from glaciers upon high, turnip fields and rice paddies line the valleys as far as the eye can see and dragonflies and butterflies make the sky a blur as you trek through countryside and reach villages. Just add to the visual delight most Bhutanese houses are painted with giant erect penises, alongside tigers, monkeys and lotus flowers in the belief that they will ward off demons. The villagers will have often built traditional hot stone baths (dotsho's) which are always a welcome stop off after a full days hiking!
The idyllic scenery and strains of uphill hiking will soon be in the back of your mind as tales of local deities, demons and mystical Buddhist beliefs are told. With reincarnations and levitating playing a strong part in even the most serious Bhutanese history, these stories are indistinguishable from religion and myth.
Whilst wild camping can get very chilly at night, the day times are normally sunny and warm enough for t-shirts and offer clear views with cloudless skies. Remote areas will reward you by being the only tourist in the vicinity. No other tourists will be near you and you can step out in the morning feeling on top of the world. Locals will invite you in for tea, sit amongst the piles of fabric, yak hair rope, horse blankets and rusting tools and dodge the yak cheese and dried yak meat hanging from the rafters.
By the time you begin your hike downhill back towards the lowlands, you will no doubt have been inspired by the incredible scenery, affected by the simplicity of living in this land and humbled by the powerful living force of this culture.