Laya Trek (12 nights/13days)
[spoiler title=’Day 1: Paro – Shana/Soi Thangthangkha. (Distance 6-7 hours hike, 3560m) ‘]
We drive 1.5 hours the winding road northwest up the Pa Chu to Drukyel, the ruined Dzong which once defended this valley from Tibetan invasion. This fortress, now under renovation, was once strategic in Bhutan’s defense against Tibetan invasion. Mt. Jhomolhari (24,500 feet), the sacred summit, reaches skyward beyond the Dzong. The road ends at Shana (2485m) where we find the army check post and the trek begins, following the river gently uphill through a narrowing agricultural valley. Many farms line the valley.
The trail proceeds up a wide valley beneath forest-covered mountains. Continue uphill through the river valley. It narrows and closes in and the trial winds up and down along the drainage. The trek is mostly downhill. Camp is in a meadow with a stone shelter.
The trailheads gradually up the river valley, passing farms and crossing and re-crossing the river many times. The trail goes up and down quite a bit and the footing is sometimes challenging with many river rocks on the path.
Overnight at Soi Thangthangkha campsite.
[spoiler title=’ Day 2: Soi Thangthangkha – Jangothang (Distance 5-6 hours hike, 4080m).’]
We continue up the Pa Chu, passing a small army post where the valley begins to widen again. Now views of high ridges and snow-capped peaks can be seen all around. You may see Yak herders’ winter homes. The trail climbs to a beautiful flat plateau with a small chorten, and then follows the river around a sharp bend. Another brief climb takes us to plateau where our staff will have a hearty lunch waiting for us.
After a hot lunch of noodles and vegetables, we continue, now above tree line, through a spectacular valley lined with snow peaks and several huge waterfalls. We pass the small village of Jangothang, with their new health clinic, school and within an hour, we reach the camp at the base of the ruins of an ancient fortress and (if it is clear) Jhomolhari looming at the end of the valley.
Overnight at Jangothang campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 3: Jangothang day Excursion to Tsophu (4300m) ‘]
Trek up to Tsophu or do any one of the three hiking excursions. Mt.Jhomolhari (23,995ft/7315m) and its subsidiary are directly west, Mt.Jichu Drake (22,470ft/6850m) is to the north, unclimbed summits and ridges to the east. Today’s program is the excursion around Jhomolhari which can include a beautiful rewarding walk to the Tsophu Lakes. The trail crosses the river and begins to climb up to the lakes. A steep climb for about 45 minutes with spectacular views of Jitchu Drake (22,470ft/6850m) and Jhomolhari which grow more and more impressive as you gain altitude. Once you reach the top of the plateau, the trail will level out and after crossing a small hill, the first lake will come into view. This is a spectacular walk with the three major peaks rising above the valley, a broad stream on your right and snow covered peaks in the distance. As we near the top of this first incline, we cross a small glacial stream. The trail winds up and into an upper valley, with snow capped peaks in the distance. Be on the lookout for Blue Sheep on the steep hillsides above the valley. In the fall, the sheep gather together in herds numbering up to 300 individuals. In addition to the Blue Sheep, there are several Snow Leopards, which live in this region but very hard to spot.
Overnight at Jangothang campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 4: Jangothang – Lingzhi (Distance 5-6 hours, Alt. 4150m) ‘]
After a long climb (3 to 3.5hr) the first high and windy pass of this trek, the Nyile La (16,040ft/4890m) is reached. From Nyile la you can see far towards the east-northeast into trekking area covered over the next couple of days. From the pass, descend a short and steep section with loose stones. After a 30 min hike down a flat sheltered lunch spot is reached. As we continue Masa Gang peak and Lingzhi Dzong can be seen in its full glory, a powerful, solitary structure in the middle of an enormous wilderness.
Finally the campsite which is located next to a tourist bungalow is reached.
Information on Lingzhi: the Lingzhi area has 118 households and about 400 people, some who have migrated from Tibet as refugees. Below the Lingzhi village is a military camp and a small hydro power plant.
Overnight at Lingzhi campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 05: Lingzhi – Chebisa (Distance 3-4 hours, 3990m) ‘]
Leaving the Lingzhi village behind, the most pleasant walk of the whole trek starts on a wide trail located high above the valley floor. After 1hr small cairn with some prayer flags is reached on the ridge called Talela (13,450ft/4100m). The track descends into a slide village called Goyok 13,120ft/4000m). There are 25 households and about 100 inhabitants. There is a Ja Goed Dzong built by Phajo Drugom Zhipo. This Dzong is one of the oldest and most sacred in Bhutan, believed to have been built in 16th century.
Leaving Goyok village and after 1.5hr we reach a little pass from which Chebisa village and our campsite (13,090ft/3990m) can be seen. Chebisa village contains about 15 houses, at the end of this village a waterfall which freezes in winter emerges from a gorge.
Overnight at Chebisa campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 06: Chebisa – Shoumuthang/Shakyapasang (Distance 5-6hours, 4000m) ‘]
After the village a stiff, steep climb of about 450m up a grassy slope leads to a peak called Ine La (15,373/4687m). The trail levels out and traverses a pas – Gombu La 14,560ft/4440m) over a ridge. Just before the pass the trail is a little tricky, with a steep drop down into the valley. From the pass the slide valley opens up, covered with rhododendron forest. On a sometimes steep and slippery trail descends, cross a stream to reach an attractive lunch spot.
It is 1hr more to today’s campsite. The trail passes some rock cliff containing salt minerals. The last part of today’s hike descends through a forest on a wet trail to finally reach Shoumuthang/Shakyapasang (13,120ft/4000m), and the valley is one of the more beautiful ones on trek.
Overnight at Sakyapasang campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 07: Shoumuthang/Shakyapasang – Robluthang, (Distance 7-8hours, 4160m) ‘]
The day starts with a climb of about 200m. After which the trail levels changes from southerly to easterly direction. The area is full of yak herder huts. Finally a steep 30min climb with several switchbacks on a chalky white trail leads to a several pass where there is a good view to the east and northeast. The descent starts steeply on a zigzag trail through an eroded area, then rhododendron bushes. The hills are covered with spruce, larch, silver fir, oak, various pines and rhododendron intermingled with grassy slopes. After several hours crossing the swampy area there is a big river, Tsharijathang chhu, where the bridge will hopefully be found in place. The herders have to rebuild the bridge almost every year. A steep 10min climb leads to a nice campsite in a meadow called Robluthang (13,645ft/4160m)
Overnight at Robluthang campsite.
[spoiler title=’ Day 08: Robluthang – Limithang (Distance 6-7hours, 4160m)’]
We start the day with a long climb up to Shinje-la pass (16,400ft/5000m), enjoying stunning mountain views from the path. After crossing the pass we descend to Limithang. The path is quite narrow, and we may have to ford the stream again and get wet. The last part of today’s trek is rather a scramble down a steep path, with the compensation of splendid views of Gangchenta peak (22,435ft/6,840m) along the way. Tonight we camp at (13,645ft/4,160m) on flat ground above the river in a forested area, with Gangchenta towering directly above us to the north.
Overnight at Limithang campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 09: Limithang – Laya (Distance 4-5hours, 3800m) ‘]
Today we follow the valley down parallel to the Timuchang Chhu through a cedar and then fir forest. After 1 hour Sabchogi Chhu Bridge is reached looking upstream, you may catch the stunning view of great Tiger Mountain where the two rivers meet.
After some small ups and downs and crossing a ridge you reach a chorten, and prosperous Laya village. The administrative name for the area is Laya geog. You will get to see the yaks and luggage arrive at any campsite and especially at Laya, since the yak have a tendency to get lost in the forest on their way to village.
Overnight at Laya village campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 10: Rest day at Laya (3800m) ‘]
Today we explore the village and environs. You can go and visit any of the houses around. Traditional Bhutanese hospitality is extended even to a perfect stranger, and a cup of tea and chang (an alcoholic drink) is always offered. The people in this village are very interesting, especially the women, whose plain black yak wool garments are set off by elaborate necklaces and conical bamboo hats decorated with turquoise and silver ornaments. In the evening, witness a cultural program of dances performed by village girls by the campfire, and enjoy the local alcohol (Ara and chang, brewed from barley) if you have a strong stomach.
Overnight at Laya village campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 11: Laya – Chamsa (Distance 8-9hours, 3780m) ‘]
We descend from Laya to the army camp at the side of the Mo Chu (Mother River of Punakha), and then walk alongside the river till reaching a bridge. After crossing the bridge, the track winds up and down through juniper and fir forests. We camp in the forest at Chamsa (3,780m).
Overnight at Chamsa campsite.
[spoiler title=’Day 12: Chamsa – Gasa Tshachu (Distance 6-7 hours, 2900m) ‘]
After a 30 minute walk over flat land to Bele-la pass, it’s downhill all the way to Gasa Tshachu. We take lunch at Gasa village, afterwards visiting the village and Gasa Dzong (2900m). The Tshachu is famous for its curative powers, and people come from all over the country to bathe here. There are four pools, with temperatures ranging from warm to hot.
Overnight at Gasa Tsachu campsite.
End of the Trek. Tashi Delek.