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Adventure Guide: Trekking Bhutan
Text by Ryan Bradley   Map by Jillian Tamaki

Map: Bhutan

Trekking Bhutan Photo Gallery  >>

Feature Article: Trekking Bhutan's Higher Planes  >>

It's been only 36 years since Bhutan opened its doors to tourism, and in that time a mere trickle of visitors has explored the notoriously insular Himalayan kingdom. Those who do find a land of high mountains, dense forests, ancient monasteries, and a culture barely touched by the long arm of globalization.

VISITING BHUTAN:
Though there is no cap on the number of annual visitors, the Bhutanese government charges at least $200 a day for any in-country travel, and all tourists must book trips with one of 77 government-approved outfitters. Once you're there, a guide accompanies you at all times.

OUTFITTERS: For one of the best all-around trips, Mountain Travel Sobek's Bhutan Sampler is 13 days of trekking, monasteries, and festivals ($3,695; mtsobek.com). For eight days of hiking with a dash of culture before and after, try World Expeditions' 11-day Bhutan Dragon Kingdom trip ($3,290; worldexpeditions.com). For pure trekking, few are more experienced than Joe Pilaar, who's been guiding in Bhutan for 20 years. His Canadian Himalayan Expeditions will do the Snowman Trek and several others ($6,870 for Snowman; himalayanexpeditions.com).

TREKS: In a country with only one paved road, the best way to see the sights is on foot. Autumn and spring are the trekking seasons: In fall the high mountain passes are not yet snowbound; in spring wildflowers are blooming and the weather is clear. The Snowman Trek (also called the Lunana Trek) is rightly considered one of the hardest in the world: 24 days, 216 miles (348 kilometers)—some of which are permanently covered in ice or snow—seven passes over 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), and a failure rate of 50 percent. It's also among the remotest hikes in the Himalaya, crossing the Lunana region—a place seen by fewer Westerners than have stood atop Everest. For a shorter, less challenging trek, try the Druk Path, a five-day journey that begins north of the capital and unfolds like a "Best of Bhutan." It takes in high mountains, alpine lakes, ancient monasteries, and small villages. Nearly 60 percent of all visitors do the eight-day Jhomolhari Trek, which begins on the same track as the Snowman. The recently opened Sakteng Trek through Migoi National Park (an area preserved for—really—yetis) is five days long and not too difficult, offering a glimpse of a region even the Bhutanese barely know.

Trekking Bhutan Photo Gallery  >>

Feature Article: Trekking Bhutan's Higher Planes  >>

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