HIKING IN PUNAKHA
Palace Garden Hike
A stroll through the Palace Gardens is a comfortable option for an afternoon walk. The path takes you straight past a handful of farmhouses before reaching a more open area leading to and through the gardens. As you wander along, you will see the ruins of the royal stables, sheep, cattle, horses and the royal family’s private golf course. You will pass the Sona Gasa Palace, the prior residence of the Third King, and now the private retreat of the Fourth and the Fifth kings. After passing the palace itself, a paved road will lead you to Punaka Dzong.
Time: 1 hour walk (5km) from Dzong to the Gardens to the Dzong one way. Access is restricted when the Royal Family is present on the property.
Dificulty level – Easy
Yebipokto Loop Hike
This is a short and close walk that you can easily do on your own. Follow the same trail as to Khamsum Chorten until you reach a small junction. Rather than taking the right leading up to the chorten, turn left towards the suspension bridge. Follow this trail across the river and continue on the dirt road up to the main road. Turn left and follow the main road back to the turn off towards the Dzong.
Time: 1 ½- 2 hour round trip.
Difficulty level- Easy
If you wish to shorten your drive on the way back to Paro or Thimphu, this is a nice way to replace 45 minutes in the car with a pleasant and leisurely walk. The trail starts from just above Zangdo Pelri Hotel, and offers great views of the adjacent valley as it follows an irrigation channel along the mountainside. At times you are walking at the edge of the channel, and the drop down on the opposite side is often quite steep and might appear frightening for those who have a fear of heights. The last part of the path takes you down the valley, past a couple of village houses, and ends with a climb up through rice paddies on the opposite side until you reach the main road where your car will be waiting.
Time : 1 ½ - 2 hours.
Difficulty level- Easy
Nobgang Village Hike
Nobgang village, situated on a hilltop before Talo, is the native village of the Queen Mothers. A visit to this charming village offers great views of Punakha valley and can also be combined with a visit to Talo. In the well-laid out village community, you will also find the Fourth King’s Palace, two lhakhangs, two chortens in memory of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and the Residence of the Yab, the father of the Queen Mothers. In the lhakhangs, old war weapons are exhibited. They also house very old statues in addition to a few new statues selected and put in place by the Fourth King himself. From Nobgang village, a wide mud path slopes down the mountainside and ends up just next to Punakha Hospital. You may enjoy the beautiful views of the valley on the walk down.
Time:30 minute drive from the Dzong, 1 hour hike downhill to Punakha Dzong.
Difficulty level – Easy
Giligang via Khamsum Chorten to Punakha Dzong Hike
If you are up for a combination of visits to the beautiful Khamsum Chorten, the old hilltop temple Giligang, and Punakha Dzong, with the opportunity to experience stunning views of the valleys on both the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu side, this is an enjoyable yet challenging hike. The hike takes you through rice paddies and up the twirling trail to Khamsum Chorten where you can take a well-deserved rest while admiring this impressive structure and the beautiful view of the valley below. From here, the trail climbs slowly upwards on the mountainside all the way to Giligang. There are numerous places on the way with inspiring views of the surrounding temples, rice paddies, mountaintops and green forests. Giligang is a perfect spot to enjoy your picnic lunch. If you are lucky, the charming old couple that resides in the temple might offer some ngaja and join you for some food and good laughs. From Giligang, the trail continues easily downhill along the mountainside until you reach Changyul Bridge just before Punakha Dzong. Giligang Temple is a 300-year old privately owned monastery, which has been taken care of by the same family for generations. Aum Kortem and Ap Sangay Wangchuk are now in their seventies and have resided in the monastery for more than 50 years. They live on the money they make from growing and selling chillies and other vegetables, and are always very excited to welcome guests. It is believed that once upon a time Drukpa Kuenlay was complaining to his brother Ngawang Chogyel that he could never get hold of him because he was always meditating. They started a debate where Drukpa Kuenlay wanted his brother to prove the results of all his time spent in meditation. Ngawang Chogyel instructed Drukpa Kuenlay to climb to Giligang and wait to see his brother’s extraordinary capabilities. Ngawang Chogyel then threw a cat through a hole in the hill in Sona Gasa, in the bottom of the valley. The cat came flying through the hole in a tree just below where Giligang is now located. This is how the place got its name, “gili” meaning cat and “gang” meaning hill.
Time : Khamsum Chorten : 30 minutes hike, Khamsum Chorten- Giligang : 2-3 hour hike (4.6 km), Giligang- Changyuk Bridge : 1 hour (4.2 km). Total 4-5 hours.
Difficulty level- strenuous.
Giligang Hike past Samdingkha to Pho Chhu Zam
In comparison to the previous Giligang hike which has slow and long ascents and descents, this hike climbs straight up to Giligang (about 45 minutes). In the other route from Giligang you continue on top of the mountain ridge and descend slowly on the Mo Chhu side, whereas this trail falls quite steeply down to the Po Chhu side and then continues along the river towards the dzong. If you, in addition to experiencing Giligang temple, also want to visit rural village communities, this route is ideal. When walking down from Giligang, the views of the terraced rice fields, ruins and small villages below and across the river are extremely picturesque. After the initial steep decline, the path flattens out and continues across the rice fields to Nawakha village, past the grounds of the local community school and finally through Tempakha village before intersecting with the Department of Tourism Biking Trail. If you wish to stop your hike in Samdingkha, you can follow the path leading left across the suspension bridge where your car can be waiting for you. If you still have energy, the opposite trail will take you along the river’s right side through forests and along cliffs all the way to Bhutan’s longest suspension bridge in Pho Chhu zam. Your car will then be waiting just at the other side of the bridge.
Time: Giligang : 1 hour hike (2km ), Giligang-Samdingkha: 1 -1 ½ hours (3km), Samdingkha-Pho Chhu zam : 1 ½ - 2 hours (7 km). Total 4 ½ - 5 hours.
Difficulty level- Strenuous
Dompala Goemba Hike with School Visit
The walk to Dompala Goemba takes you on a picturesque hiking experience from Punakha Dzong, across Bhutan’s longest suspension bridge, up and down the mountainside, ending up in Khuruthang, Punakha’s main township. The hike can also be broken into a combination of hiking and biking for those who are up for a dirt-road biking adventure on the way down. After crossing the Pho Chhu River, you follow a small farm road through a handful of rammed earth village houses before a dirt trail continues through the rice paddies. The climb through the forest takes about three hours and offers spectacular views of Punakha, Nobgang and Talo areas. At 2100 meters, you will reach the old Dompala Goemba situated right next to an enormous cypress tree. From here you continue on a ten-minute downhill walk to Tsho Chhasa Primary School. Here you can share your picnic lunch with the inquisitive and charming school children at the wooden benches situated right next to the school football ground. After lunch, the walking trail continues steeply downwards for about one and a half hour to Khuruthang Bridge. Should you wish to bike from here, we can arrange to have bikes waiting for you after lunch. You will then follow a partly paved dirt road continuing towards Wangdue before turning and ending up just opposite the fertility temple, Chimmi Lhakhang. You can either continue biking back to the lodge or get picked up from here. The bike ride from the school to Khuruthang bridge takes about one and a half hour. Dompala Goemba is believed to have been shifted from the top of the mountain to its current location by the Divine Madman after a holly water discovery in the area. The temple’s main statue is one of Lord Buddha, and the powerful deity Pelden Lhamo is believed to reside in the temple. No one is however allowed to enter into the part of the temple where she is believed to be, due to a supernatural experience which took place in the recent past. This important goemba is now believed to be protected by Yanka Zatem, the female protector deity of Palden Lhamo. Villagers go to Dompala to receive blessings from Pelden Lhamo especially women who give birth to stillborn children are believed to benefit greatly from deity Pelden Lhamo’s blessings.
Time: Punakha Dzong-Dompala: 3-hour climb, Tsho Chhasa School – Khuruthang Bridge: 1 ½ hike or bike ride (two different routes). Total 5-6 hours including lunch. Difficulty level – Strenuous
Jungle Hike to Kabji Hokatsho (Lake)- Visit Farm House
This pristine lake is hidden away in the middle of dense jungle vegetation. Those who venture on this journey are in for an exciting meeting with overwhelming natural beauty up close. The hike starts on a red mud path sloping uphill through small villages before reaching the 15th century temple chorten Nyeabu. After the chorten, we will come across a huge farmhouse, where one can take a break. From here, the path follows a man-made creek all the way to the lake. As you proceed upwards, the vegetation gets denser. The mesmerizing sounds created by the many interesting insects are impressively loud yet sedating. When reaching the lake, a small path leads down to the water for some magnificent views of Hokatsho in its peaceful and untouched surroundings. Take a few minutes to take in the beauty of the setting before continuing down again on an alternative path, which is not as steep. (should you wish to walk around the lake, this takes about two hours). When reaching the village nearby Chorten Nyeanu, we can arrange for you to have your picnic lunch at the farmhouse overlooking the valley. Here you can enjoy the gorgeous views from the family room, and sip some ngaja with the locals, before you commence on the last hour down to the pickup point.
Time: 15 minutes’ drive to the starting point at Uma Resort, 3 ½ - 4 hour hike to the lake, 2 ½ - 3 hour hike back down ( approximately 10 km round trip). Total 6-7 hours. Note that due to dense vegetation, mud and leeches, this hike is not recommendable during summer.
Difficulty level – Strenuous
Goen Tshey Phy Nyea Hike
This is a wonderful yet strenuous hike through beautiful nature in National Park territory. Combined with a temple visit in an area full of fascinating alleged imprints and formations by Guru Rinpoche, the hike to Goen Tshey Phu Nyea can prove to be very interesting. The trail offers no mercy as it starts off with two to three hours of constant climbing. Despite the steep climb, the path is very enjoyable through mystifying forests, past small villages, and with great views and with sights of wild life if you are lucky, and ends at the temple. The last section of the hike takes you across a meadow with the view of the Goen Tshey Phu Nyea Temple glued to the huge rock formation behind it. After having a look inside, take a walk around to see the two impressive cave formations and Guru Rinpoche’s “kitchen”. You may enjoy your picnic lunch in the peaceful temple entrance room with tranquil views of the outside. On your way down, you may follow a substantially longer path than the one you walked up which is not as steep and therefore much gentler on the knees. During the eight century, Guru Rinpoche came to Goen Tshey Phu Nyea from Nepal with his three heartiest disciples Pema Lingpa, Karma Lingpa and Dorji Lingpa. He discovered the cave to the upper left side of the temple and meditated there for two and a half months. At the end of this period, a hundred thousand angels appeared from the cave. Today, you will find a holy water source about ten meters into the grotto. After completing his meditation, Guru Rinpoche stepped on the large rock in front of the temple, and flew off to Tsheychu Dra, a temple in Gasa. His three foot prints can be seen clearly. Around the temple grounds you can also walk into a second cave, offering you the opportunity to clear your sins if you are brave enough to crawl around the rock formation inside the dark hole. In renowned Tarzan-style, you may also climb up a 90-degree hillside above the temple, pulling yourself up on the stretchy branches leading up to the stone formation said to be Guru Rinpoche’s kitchen.
Time: 35-minute drive (19 kilometers) to the starting point in Jigme Dorji National Park, 2-3-hour hike straight up, 2-3-hour hike down. Total 5-6 hours.
Difficulty Level- Strenuous
Bay Yul Kang Dra Hike
Yet another hike which gives you the opportunity to view actual marks of Guru Rinpoche, as well as a handful of temples, is the hike to Bay Yul Lang Dra. After driving through Wangdue, you will follow a dirt road off to the left leading in towards Chuzomsa. On the way through the beautiful forests, you will pass many temples including the old Zhabja Lhakhang where you can see a defined right foot print of Guru Rinpoche and beautifully carved hand-made wall paintings. You will also pass a cave where water is dripping through the roof from what appears to be no source. Just before reaching the starting point of the hike, you will spot Guru Rinpoche’s walking stick; an enormous old cypress tress stuffed with craftsmanship of great lamas. There are two big temples at the trailhead; the upper one is a meditation retreat and the lower one, Yoser Namseling Lhakhang, is a two storied temple with beautiful sculptures of Guru Rinpoche’s eight manifestations. The path leading up to Bay Yul Lang Dra is partly through forests and an open meadows scattered with prayer flags. If you are lucky you might also get a peak of a white langur monkey or a jungle fowl or two. The cliff-hanging temple is a breathtaking sight even though it is currently being renovated and expanded. You will follow the same trail down. It is believed that one day while in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche had a vision that people in the area where Bay Yul Lang Dra is now situated, were not practicing the Dharma and were engaged in doing evil. To put an end to this, he decided to travel there to reform the people. While Guru Rinpoche was meditating there, the local evil spirit disguised himself as a red ox and attempted to distract and harm the Guru. Showing no compassion, Guru Rinpoche slaughtered the ox and later called upon its soul to make the evil spirit promise to stop harming the local people. Guru Rinpoche then concealed a total of 60 religious treasures into the rock, which is now the wall of the temple, and gave the now liberated spirit the responsibility of guarding the hidden treasures. Today the palm prints of Guru Rinpoche, as well as an outline of a protective scorpion, are visible on the rock. The prophecy says that in the future a terton (treasure discoverer) will come to reveal the valuable treasures. Directly translated “Bay Yul Lang Dra” means “the hidden treasures in the ox box”.
Time: 2-hour drive to Yoser Namseling Lhakhang, 1 ½ hour hike up to Bay Yul Lang Dra, 45 minutes – 1 hour hike down.