Gangkar Puensum Trek (Bumthang)



TB 20150505 Laya Lingshi

This trip takes you from west to the central part of Bhutan, combined with the Gangkar Puensum Trek (one of the less frequented treks in the country).  Gangkar Puensum (the highest unclimbed mountain in the world) and the surrounding valleys are rarely visited by trekkers, and by Himalayan standards a visit to the area is a wild experience. This trek leads to Gangkar Puensum’s southeast face and back either via the same route or by traversing Thole La. Duration: 19Days/18Nights. Total trek distance: 152kms. Maximum Altitude: 4,732m. Grade: Demanding/Strenuous.

Trekking Habits

On a typical trek day, we will be woken at 6:00 am, by member of a camp crew binging bed tea 9in your tent), followed shortly by a bowl of hot washing water. By 7:00 am, when breakfast is ready, we will have packed ready for the day’s activity (day pack, and the main luggage). We leave with our guide just before the camp crew at 8:00 am and spent the rest of the day at an unhurried but steady pace. We stop for about an hour for lunch, which will be carried by a camp crew and continue for our next campsite. The crew will break down the tents, load the horses, overtake us and have the new camp ready for our arrival. A hot drink will be ready when we arrive, followed by wash water and our evening meal. After dinner, we discuss for the following day with our guide before retiring to bed. This will sound familiar to anyone who has trekked in Nepal, the main difference being that camp crew is much smaller in Bhutan and there are no tea houses along the way.

*Note: Use designated campsites only approved by the Tourism council of Bhutan. No campfires and cooking fires at the campsites. Usage of LPG (liquid petroleum gas) is mandatory for cooking. Pack out solid waste (pack it in and pack it out), should not bring out flora and fauna produce, respect the nature and culture of the area. Most trekking routes are in the National Parks and Reserves.


 It is essential that participants undertake regular walking and hiking in the months leading up to the start of the Tour so that you can enjoy to the full what this trip offers. The itinerary gives an indication of distances and elevations involved. Previous experience of multi-day trekking as well as extended periods of camping of over 3,000m is preferable.


Every effort has been made to allow gradual acclimatization to the altitude, but this is a factor which is unpredictable for anyone. Many folks have their own ideas about how to combat the effects of altitude and we always carry Diamox (Acetazolamide) with us and use it if we feel the need. If you plan to use such a drug for the first time, visit your doctor well in advance of the trip and ensure that you have a trail at home so that you understand what the effects is on you before administering it at height. If anyone were to suffer bad reaction to altitude and need to lose height the trek route allows us to do so at certain points of the trek. 


At valley floor conditions are likely to be humid, becoming so as we rise towards the tree line. We all appreciate that mountain weather is unpredictable, and difficult to forecast in areas we visit rarely but our experiences us that one should expect rain at some point on most days, that snow may fall on high passes but not lie long, on sunny, clear periods, usually from dawn into the mornings, when encountered, afford stunning views, memories and pictures.

Day1: Arrive in Paro, Bhutan

The flight into Bhutan takes you over the Himalayas, offering glimpses of the highest glacial peaks. On arrival at the airport, after immigration and custom formalities, your local guide-for the whole trip, will receive and transfer you to the hotel.

After check-in and refreshments, visit the National Museum housed in a 17th century watch tower which will serve as a great introduction to Bhutan before you delve deeper into the country.

Then visit the Rinpung Dzong, the medieval provincial capital fortress the watch tower protected for three hundred years of civil strife. Then take a short walk down to the cantilever bridge connecting the dzong to the Paro town.

O/N at Hotel in Paro. Elevation: 2,300m.

Day2: Paro Halt

After breakfast, before the sun gets too hot, hike to Taktsang (literally translated as Tiger’s Nest). Built in 1600’s, this incredible monastery/temple clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900mts into the valley below. The history states that Guru Rinpoche, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress. Looking at the monastery/temple flying tigress does not seem so impossible after all.

The trail to the monastery/temple climbs through pine and rhododendron forest, lichens overhanging from the trees above notifies that you are walking amidst pristine forest surrounded with clean, fresh air without any pollution. It takes 5 hours in total to hike and visit the shrines inside.

Visit the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong, in the northern corner of the valley dominating the Drukgyal village. On a clear day, you can view the Jumolhari mountain (7,315m).

On the way back, visit the Kyichu Lhakhang, founded by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to overcome a giant ogress who was lying over the Himalayas preventing the spread of Buddhism. Songtsen Gampo is said to have built 108 of these temples.

O/N at Hotel in Paro. Elevation: 2,300m.

Day3: Paro-Thimphu 58kms, 1.5 hours drive

Proceed to Thimphu, the capital city. With a population of 100,000, it is like no other capital city-the valley is unique, displaying harmony of tradition and modernity. There are no traffic lights and policemen direct traffic at intersections. Yet it is the biggest city in the country and seat of the government as well as the main hub of commerce in the country.

Others sites along the route include 15th century Tamchog Lhakhang, three types of Buddhist Stupas and Semtokha Dzong, a 17th century fortress.

In thimphu, visit the National Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in memory of the third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, lovingly known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. It is a rare stupa that has an inner sanctum of temples. A very popular religious monument in the city, there are always throngs of devotees circumambulating or turning the giant prayer wheels.

Next visit the Institute of Traditional Medicine, where the ancient art of Bhutanese healing system called Sowa Rigpa is still practiced. The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.

Then visit the School of Arts and Crafts, which offers 4-8 years of rigorous course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarvings, clay sculptures, weaving and embroidery. In the evening, visit the Tashichoedzong, the summer seat of the Je Khenpo-the Abbot, and the central monastic body, it houses the Golden Throne of the King and His Majesty’s office.

O/n at Hotel in Thimphu. Elevation: 2,320m.

Day4: Thimphu-Punakha

In the morning, drive to Kuenselphodrang to see the giant Buddha (169ft/51m), the site offers spectacular views of the Thimphu city. Next visit the Takin Preserve, which showcases the National Animals, the Takin, along with few species of Deer and some mountain goats.

Then proceed to Punakha valley, over the spectacular Dochula Pass (3,150m), beautifully decorated with the Druk Wangyal Chortens (108 stupas), and the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang located on a hillock above.  On a clear day the pass heralds the most enchanting view of Bhutan’s Himalayan peaks including the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkar Puensum (24,835ft/7,560m).

An hour and half from here brings you to Lobesa, where we stop for a short hike to Chimmi Lhakhang, a popular destination for fertility including foreigners.

In the afternoon, visit the massive Punakha Dzong, built in the 17th century, right at the confluence of the two rivers the Pho Chhu (male) and the Mo Chhu (female).

O/N at Hotel in Punakha. Elevation: 1,280m.

Day5: Punakha-Bumthang

Today, we are driving further east into Trongsa and then into Bumthang, the road passes by the old town of Wangdiphodrang and then follows the Dang Chhu uphill passing fields of rice plantations and farmhouses clinging from hillsides. Suddenly, the road disappears into the cool broadleaf forest rising to our next pass Pele La Pass (3,300m), after the pass the road drops down into Longtey and Longmey villages before reaching the Chendebji Chorten, built in Nepalese style with eyes painted on the four cardinal directions. It is another good hour and half to Trongsa.

Visit the Heritage Museum, housed in the 300 year old watch tower, which displays the Crown of the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, and many other artifacts.

After lunch, continue your journey over the Yotong La Pass (3,400m) before descending to Chumey, the first of the four valleys of Bumthang.

O/N at Hotel in Bumthang. Elevation: 2,665m.

Day6: Bumthang Halt

Todat, we spend the day visiting the highlights of the Choekor valley. We start with the visit to the Jamba Lhakhang, a 7th century temple, built along with the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro by the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. Next visit the Kurjey Lhakhang, where in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche meditated and left his body imprint on the rock, whereby subduing Shelging Karpo, the local deity and restoring Sindhu Raja’s vital forces.

Then take a short walk over the Chamkhar Chhu on a suspension bridge to Tamshing, a 15th century temple, where Pema Lingpa’s traditions are still practiced.

Drive to Mebar Tsho (Flaming Lake), one of the sacred pilgrimage sites, where the great treasure discoverer Pema Lingpa extracted the hidden treasures.

In the evening pack up for the trek that starts tomorrow.

O/n at Hotel in Bumthang. Elevation: 2,665m.


 Day7. Dhur to Gorsum 18kms, 6-7 hours, 380m ascent.

The trek starts today we drive for 12kms on a farm road from our hotel to the trek start point, where we meet the crew and the horsemen. After handing over our luggage to the crew, we start our trek on a gradual uphill following the valley of the Yoleng Chhu, which is famous for its trout. The trail goes through pine forest and then bamboo shrub as you near the campsite at Gorsum.

O/N at Camp/Tent. Camp Elevation: 3,120m.

Day8. Gorsum to Lungsum. 12kms, 5 hours, 40m ascent.

The route travels through a forest of cypress, juniper, spruce, hemlock and maple. The trail is quite muddy and climbs gradually to the camp at Lungsum.

O/N at Camp/Tent. Camp elevation: 3,160m.

Da10. Lungsum to Tashisa. 14kms, 5-6 hours, 900m ascent.

The trail climbs gradually to Kurpang 3530m (an optional campsite), and climbs up till the junction of the Dhur Tshachhu trail then making a left turn ascending to the campsite of Tashisa 4060m, with some yak herders hut on the other side of the river.

O/N at Camp/Tent. Cam elevation: 4,060m.

Day11. Tashisa to Solang Chhu. 14kms, 6-7 hours, 660m ascent, 310m descent.

The trail gradually ascends from the camp and after an hour the ascend of the day starts which is steep making switchbacks to the left side of the river to the pass Thole La 4732m. There are views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks from the pass. The trail drops gradually from here just below the Solong Chhu (Thole Tsho) 4,420m, the campsite is just below the lake.

O/N at Camp/Tent. Camp elevation: 4,380m.

Day12. Solang Chhu to Tsawaa. 16kms, 5-6 hours, 640m descent.

The trail descents slowly down the valleys crossing many small ridges, passing some yak herders camp and then finally descending to the Chamkhar Chhu. Across the Chamkhar Chhu is the Tsampa camp with an army outpost. Another 2kms beyond is the small settlement of Tsawwa 3780m.

O/n at camp/Tent. Camp elevation: 3,780m.

Day13. Tsawaa to Bamurpo. 20kms, 7 hours, 650m ascent.

Half an hour from the camp, the trail ascends steeply for about 60-70m bringing you to a mani wall, here the forest thins out at 3900m. Another 30m beyond is a sulphur-based water source, where the trail changes into gravels and rocks making it tiring for walking. The trail passes some settlement’s, which are located on the either sides of the Chamkar Chhu, crossing a small log bridge you enter the settlement of Bamaurpo 4,430m.

O/N at Camp/tent. Camp elevation: 4,430m.   

Day14. Bamurpo Halt.

Sunrise is late around 8am but there are many hiking opportunities from Bamurpo. Explore the ridges around the Gangkar Puensum 7546m, the highest peak of Bhutan, and the highest unclimbed massif in the world. Gangkar Puensum is the source of three major rivers: the Kuri Chhu, Chamkar Chhu and Mangde Chhu.

O/N at Camp/tent. Camp elevation: 4,060m.

Day15. Bamurpo to Tsampa. 22.5kms, 8 hours, 755m descent.

This is the same as day 06, but in reverse, and a little longer to reach the camp at Tsampa 3675m. There is an army out-post at Tsampa where you can collect information about snow conditions, you will also need to register your permit with the army.

O/n at Camp/Tent. Camp elevation: 3,675m.

Day16. Tsampa to Gophu/Petsho. 15kms, 5-6 hours, 406m descent.

It’s a full day of descending to the camp but very gradually crossing side streams and log bridges will bring you to Gophu 3269m, another three hours downstream is the optional camp at Petsho 3030m.

O/N at camp/Tent. Camp elevation: 3,030m.

Day17. Gomphu/Petsho to  Khakthang. 19kms, 130m descent.

Two hours downhill is the Sadukum (2955m) bridge built in a Bhutanese style, do not cross it, the trail on the other side leads to a diversion to Tsampa uphill. Another 30mins, downhill takes you to Khakthang army camp and further down to Zhabjethang, where the transport will pick you up and drive to the hotel.  

O/N at Hotel in Bhumthang.  Elevation: 2,665m.

Day18: Bumthang-Thimphu 268kms, 10 hours drive

Today we have a long day of driving to Thimphu over three major passes, Yotongla pass (3,400m), Pelela Passs (3,300m0, and the Dochula Pass (3,150m). Since we are back tracking the road to Thimphu we won’t be visiting any places rather than driving.

O/N at Hotel in Thimphu. Elevation: 2,320m.

Day19. Thimphu-Paro-Departure

After an early breakfast transfer to Paro International Airport for departure.