Merak and Sakteng Cultural & Trekking Tour (17 Nights/18 Days)

Merak-Sakteng stands out as a distinct attraction in Bhutan. Unlike anywhere else in the country, it offers a visitor to experience a unique semi-nomadic lifestyle, culture and vernacular in one of the most scenic pastoral valleys in the protected area of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in Trashigang Dzongkhag (District), in Eastern Bhutan.

The people of Merak and Sakteng are known as the Brokpa (highlander) to the people living on the lowlands. The Brokpas have maintained their unique traditions and customs. The people of Merak are typically well built and taller than their colleagues from Sakteng. They live a semi nomadic lifestyle, primarily depending on Yaks for their livelihood.

The trek is a moderate (between 1,500m and 4,100m) traversing through the semi-nomadic villages of Gengu (3400m), Merak (3500m), Sakteng (2800m), Thakthi (2200m), and Joenkhar (1700m). Tour operators are not mandated to use a particular trail but the most common trail usually begins from Chaling and ends in Phongmey. Both these Geogs of Merak and Sakteng are an important watershed for Ngere Ama chu and Gamri chu rivers respectively.

The campsites have been designed aesthetically to blend with local architecture and ambiance. Enclosed by stonewall (with a gate to bring in the ponies to unpack trekking paraphernalia), the campsite is equipped with facilities such as tenting sheds, toilets, kitchens (in some), dining area and water supply. A signage describing the location, altitude, forest type, fauna, additional hiking trails in the locality, distance and time to next camp welcomes a visitor to each campsite.

DAY 1 – Arrive at Paro-Thimphu

Rinpung Dzong, Paro

  •  You will be traditionally welcomed with a scarf by Chen-Ray Travel & Tours’ representative and will be driven to Thimphu.
  • Drive to Thimphu with sightseeing en route, check in to your hotel.
  • Visit National Memorial Chorten – built in the honor of the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk.
  • Drive to Kuenselphodrang where world’s tallest Buddha (Dhordenma) Statue (169 feet) has been erected, overlooking the Thimphu Valley. Enjoy the fabulous view of Thimphu city.
  • Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.

DAY 2 – Thimphu

Tashichho Dzong

Tashichho Dzong

  • Folk Heritage Museum: The Museum presents a glance of not only the past but also depicts the present veracity of rural Bhutanese people.
  • Royal Textile Academy – witnesses the art of conventional weaving and display of varieties of Bhutanese textiles.
  • Thimphu Dzong – The present form this Dzong was sanctified as late as 1969 and it is a visual delight. The history of this Dzong dates back to thirteenth century but the original dzong was not at the present site that offers no cynical merit. The old one was built in 1216 or so by the originator of the Lhapa School and was situated on a spur to the North-East of the current one. This Dzong was badly damaged during a successive struggle with the drukpas and later became the property of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 1630s. In 1641 he rebuilt the Dzong baptizing it Tashichhoe (the Fortress of Glorious Religion). This became the summer abode of the Zhabdrung and the clergy and Punakha the winter retreat. A fire in 1772 resulted in stern damage and the Desi and Je khempo of that time decided to rebuild it at the bottom of the valley where it now stands. After the capital was moved to Thimphu, it was renovated and expanded in 1962.
  • Paper making factory – witnesses the ancient art of paper making.
  • Simtokha Dzong- is about 3Km south of Thimphu above the old road to Paro and Phuntsholing. Formally known as Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras), it was constructed in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
  • Centenary Farmers’ Market – initially, started as a week end market where the local villagers from the valley and other adjoining places come to vend their agriculture products used to be open on Saturdays and Sundays. But now the market opens from Thursday to Sunday.
  • All night at your hotel in Thimphu.

Day 3 – Thimphu – Gangtey



  • Drive to Gangtey: before reaching Punakha (about 22km from Thimphu) you will bypass through a mountain pass “Dochu La” at 3100m above sea level. On a clear day, the view of the Eastern Himalayas from this pass is one of the best in the country. There are a hundred and nine chortens (stupas) in three tiers of forty five, thirty six and twenty seven restricting a single larger chorten at the top. This chortens are called Druk Wangyal Chortens or ‘Stupas of Victory’. The building of these chortens was initiated by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck when her husband, the fourth King, travelled to the South-East of the country in December 2003 leading his army against the uprising from India.
  • Besides these splendid chortens in a startling setting you will be able to enjoy the view of some of the great Himalayan peaks starting from the left with Masangang (7165m), which governs the district of Laya. The next is Tshendagang ((7100m) and the following peaks are Tserigang (7300m), Jejegangphugang, Kangphugang, the Table top mountain’ Zongaphugang (7100m) and finally the uppermost peak of Gangkar Puensum at a towering height of 7541m.
  • Wangduephodrang Dzong: This was another Dzong built by Zhabdrug Nawang Namgyel in 1638 at a spot that controlled the routes to Trongsa towards East, Punakha and Thimphu towards West, Gasa to the North and Dagana and Tserang to the South. Legend says that when Zhabdrung arrived in the area he spotted a boy building sand castle on the banks of the river. This was taken as good omen and when the dzong was built it was named after the boy – Wangduephodrang or Wangdi’s Palace. Complex and different in shape, the dzong comprised of three separate but linked structures. It was unfortunately completely destroyed by fire in 2012  and is now under reconstruction.
  • All night at your hotel in Phobjikha/Gangtey.

Day 4 – Gangtey/Phobjikha

Phobjikha Valley

Phobjikha Valley

  • This valley is well-known for potatoes which is one of the cash crops of the region and an important export to India. Phobjikha is also famed for the migratory black-necked cranes that make it their winter home. This dying out species of birds arrives from Tibet towards the end of October. Known as ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ by the Bhutanese, the locals have great affection for these beautiful birds and are featured in many folk songs. Their departure by the end of February is marked by songs of lamentation. Details of their habitat and behaviors are available at the Crane Observation and Education Center. If you visit the place at the time when the birds are in residence, you may be able to get a close view from the hides specially constructed for this purpose.
  • Gangtey Goenpa: Gangtey Goenpa (Monastery) was established by Pema Lingpa’s grandson who became the first Gangtey Trulku. The goenpa is allied with several other important goenpas in this region, including Tamzhing in Bumthang. Currently the ninth re-embodiment, Kunzang Pema Namgyel is the abbot here. Besides the goenpa there are several schools, a Tibetan style chorten (stupa) and meditation centers where monks retreat for periods ranging from three days to three years. There is also a Buddhist College nearby that offers a nine-year course in Buddhist studies.
  • Overnight at your hotel in Gangtey/Phobjikha.

Day 5 – Gangtey – Bumthang

Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong, Trongsa

  • You will drive to Trongsa. Trongsa Dzong the most remarkable Dzong (Fortress) in the country – it is intricately layered into the hillside, in complete harmony with its surroundings. The structure is aesthetically planned and its clean lines boast a superb sense of proportion and space while finely carved woodwork and elegant paintings suitably embellish it.  Following the instruction of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the Dzong was built in 1644 by Chhogyel Minjur Tempa who later became the third Desi (Governor). The Dzong was named Chökhor Raptentse Dzong. The structure was enhanced by Desi Tenzin Rabgye in 1771 and now encloses twenty-three temples. It is a veritable maze of corridors, courtyards and passages leading to the multiple levels contained within the great outer unconquerable shell.

  • Then Visit Ta Dzong, located strategically above the Trongsa Dzong, it was built by Choeje Minjur Tenpa, the first governor of Trongsa, in the year 1652. The tower stood guard over the Trongsa Dzong to protect the main stronghold of the town from any external threats. It is a short steep walk from the Trongsa town.
  • After Lunch, drive to Bumthang.
  • Overnight at your Hotel in Bumthang.

Day 6 – Bumthang

Wangduecholing Dzong

Wangduecholing Dzong

    • Visit Jakar Dzong, which exactly means “The Castle of White Bird” was built in 1646. The building was spoiled by fire and then again by earthquake of 1897 after which it was rebuilt by King Ugyen Wangchuck in 1905. Today it is the administrative Head Quarters of Bumthang district.
    • Visit Jambay Lhakhang, believed to have built on the same day as Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro by a Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the year 659. The temple is dedicated to Maitreya or Jampa and the central shrine holds a large statue of the Buddha of the future, bordered by four boddhisatvas. The statue is guarded by iron protective covering handcrafted by Pema Lingpa. Under the temple is said to be a lake in which Guru Rimpoche hid several Terma. In October one of the most extravagant festival, “Jambay Lhakhang Drup” is staged here.
    • Kurjey Lhakhang: This monastery is the country’s most historical holy place – the complex is surrounded by 108 chortens (stupas), transforming it into three dimensional mandala ornated on the lines of the Samye Monastery in Tibet. ‘Kur’ means body and ‘jey’ is print – it is here that guru Padmasambhava meditated when he first arrived in the country, leaving an imprint of his body on the rock enshrined here.
    • In the evening, visit Membarstho which literally means, “The flaming Lake“.
    • Overnight at your Hotel in Bumthang

Day 7 – Bumthang – Trashigang

Trashigang Dzong

  • En route to Trashigang from Bumthang is the biggest national park in Bhutan called the Thrumshingla National Park. The 768 of this national park is located within the boundaries of four districts: Bumthang, Lhuentse, Mongar and Zhemgang and it was established in 1998. 
  • On this long drive, enjoy the natural beauty of the undisturbed environment and take pictures of some breath taking scenery like the Namling Bja (cliff) waterfall which falls down the deepest cliff in Eastern Bhutan.
  • Overnight at your hotel in Trashigang.

Day 8 – Radi – Charbaling

Rangjung Monastery

Rangjung Monastery

  • Drive from Trashigang to Radi and Khardung villages. It is a firm climb on a slimy foot path through forest, seldom along the Murbi Chhu (river), finishing in 3-4 hour at Charbaling winter grazing grounds.
  • Overnight in Tents.

Day 9 – Charbaling – Merak

  • A 2 hour climb to Thumburtsa La (pass) 3273m from Charbaling from where another 3-4 hour of easy climbing leads to Merak Village.
  • Overnight in a Guest house or Tents.

Day 10 – Merak – Sakteng

Tent made of Yak hair

Tent made of Yak hair used by Nomads

  • You can choose to reside in Merak for a day or two. There are lots to see like the villages and lakes. If not, keep going from Merak to Sakteng together with another pass the Nyuksang La (4,140m). A steady climb of 2-2.5 hour leads to the pass, from where a steep 3 hour descent with 1 hour beside a river gains Sakteng.  At the end of the day, a steep climb of 1hour leads to a chorten from where it is 30 minutes down to Sakteng located in a big open space enclosed by heavily forested mountains.
  • Overnight in a Guest house or Tents.

Day 11 – Sakteng

  • It’s worth spending an extra day in Sakteng to explore. Sakteng had about 60 houses in the past and the village has grown a little over time.
  • Overnight in a Guest house or Tents.

Day 12 – Sakteng – Jyonkhar

  • Carry on to Jyonkhar passing through a small pass, Munde la (2,928m). There are a few small ups and downs before reaching Jyonkhar after 5-6 hours.
  • Overnight in a Guest house or Tents.

Day 13 – Jyonkhar – Phongme

  • Jyonkhar to Phongme in 2.5-3hr, including one taut climb of 1 hour before reaching Phongme village from where your car will pick you up and drive to Trashigang.
  • Overnight at your hotel in Trashigang.

Day 14 – Trashigang – Bumthang

Jakar Dzong, Bumthang

Jakar Dzong, Bumthang

  • Long drive back to Bumthang. Have a nice rest in your vehicle while enjoying the panorama (or you can also opt to take domestic flight back to Paro from Yongphula to evade the long drive back).
    • Overnight at your hotel in Bumthang.

Day 15 – Bumthang – Punakha

Punakha Valley

Punakha Valley

  • Drive to Punakha a much warmer valley with its own gorgeous characters and many stories of its own.
  • Overnight at your hotel in

Day 16 – Punakha – Paro

Punakha Dzong, Punakha

Punakha Dzong, Punakha

  • Visit Punakha Dzong – Built in 1637, the dzong continues to be the winter home for the clergy, headed by the Chief Abbott, the Je Khenpo. It is a stunning example of Bhutanese architecture, sitting at the fork of two rivers, portraying the image of a medieval city from a distance. The dzong was destroyed by fire and glacial floods over the years but has been carefully restored and is today, a fine model of Bhutanese craftsmanship.
  • Chhimi Lhakhang – A 20 minutes walk from the roadside across terraced paddy fields through the village of Sopsokha to the small temple located on a hillock. Ngawang Chogyel built the temple in 15th century after the ’divine Madman’ Drukpa Kuenlay built a small chorten there. Childless women are believed to be blessed with children after visiting the Temple.
  • Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – Built by the third Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon wangchuck this Chorten is a splendid example of the Bhutanese architecture and art and is the only one of its kind in the world. It has been built over eight and a half years and its details have been drawn from religious scripture.

Day 17 – Paro

Taktshang (Tiger's Nest), Paro

  • Drive up to the road end at the base of Taktshang, the trail climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees decked out with Spanish moss, and an sporadic grove of fluttering prayer flags.
  • The primary Lhakhang was built around Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave in 1684 by the Penlop of Paro, Gyaltse Tenzin Rabgay, this inconceivable monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 747 AD, flew here on the back of a flying tiger, Dorji Drolo, said to be his favourite consort.
  • Visit Ta Dzong (built in1656 and renovated in 1968), an ancient watchtower, which now houses the National Museum of Bhutan.
  • Below the museum is the Rimpung Dzong (literally meaning “Heap of Jewels”), the centre of civil and religious authority in this valley, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
  • Overnight at your hotel in Paro.

Day 18 – Depart Paro

  • End of your travel to Bhutan, drive to the airport and farewell.

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