After a magical day hiking the Trans Bhutan Trail from Pelela Pass to the village of Rukubji where we stopped to enjoy a traditional Bhutanese meal at a local farmhouse- it was time to move further east to  Trongsa. It was day four of my hike along the Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) and it was hard to believe how much we had already covered.

Map of six day hike on Trans Bhutan Trail

Map of my route on the Trans Bhutan Trail. Map credit: Trans Bhutan Trail

Since we left Paro, we had driven 226 kilometers along snaking mountainous roads with three hikes along the way, stopping for the night in Thimphu and Lobesa. We were literally only scratching the surface of this mighty ancient 403km trail that passes through 27 gewogs (villages) and nine dzongkhags (districts) of Bhutan. To hike the entire TBT, it would take 28 days and a lot of camping. The further east we traveled, the further back in time it felt and the more isolated it became. I only saw a couple of tourists at my hotel but no one on the trail.

Trongsa is a small village strategically positioned between the beautiful fertile valley of Punakha and the cultural heartland region of Bumthang in Central Bhutan. Separated both east and west by high, deeply-forested mountains, Trongsa is most known for its breathtaking dzong (fortress) which is perched high above a gorge with a drop so sheer to the south, it almost looks like it is floating in the clouds on a misty day.

Trongsa Dzong, Bhutan

Sunset view of the Trongsa Dzong from my hotel room at the Vangkhill Resort

The Trongsa Dzong (fortress) was first built by Ngagi Wangchuck as a small meditation room in 1541 after legend says “he discovered self-manifested hoof prints belonging to the horse of the protector deity Pelden Lhamo”. Trongsa, which means ‘new village’ in the local dialect, soon sprung up around the site and the Dzong was built in its present form in 1644 and then enlarged again at the end of the 17th century. It is the largest fortress in Bhutan and is deeply connected to the crown. The first two kings of Bhutan ruled from Trongsa and its importance to the kingdom continues to this day. Per tradition, the crown prince must spend time at Trongsa before taking over the throne.

At first glance, the Dzong takes your breath away due to its sheer size and placement atop a carved ridge high above the roaring waters of the Mangde Chhu river. The Dzong represents the magnificence of Bhutanese craftsmanship and traditional architecture and painting at its finest.  Narrow stone stairs, alleys, and corridors connect a labyrinth of buildings. There are 23 unique lhakhangs (temples) in all, and it is home to around 450 district monks who spend their winters in Trongsa, before heading to Bumthang for the summer.

Trongsa Dzong

View of the Trongsa Dzong from my hotel room

Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong

Up close shot looking up at the Dzong

After our tour of the Dzong, it was time to head out for our next hike located at the Yotongla Pass (3,436 meters, 11,270 feet). Once again, I tried my best to focus on the winding roads and not get too car sick as we crawled up to the pass.  Along the way, my guide Singay explained the meaning of the various prayer flags. Of the five colors, blue stands for sky, white for air and wind, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for earth.  Beneath the colors, the flags have woodblock-printed images and texts representing various Buddhist teachings and knowledge.  I loved how the prayer flags seemed to be dancing in the sky.


As we walked along the trail, I learned that this section is historically linked to the Royal family who used it regularly to transfer on foot between royal residences in Trongsa and Bumthang. Once the main highway was built in the 1960s, the trail was no longer used as the main thoroughfare and was left in disarray. The revival of the ancient trail after 60 years of misuse was a vision by His Majesty the King to preserve Bhutan’s unique past from the threat of growing modernization that has left the old trail and its history almost forgotten. It was quite a feat to accomplish its restoration but will be cherished for years to come by travelers and locals alike. “It is like a walking museum of history and culture” Singay often said. And he was right.

Over 60 percent of Bhutan is protected forestland

Over 60 percent of Bhutan is protected forestland. 

From Yotongla pass, the trail descends through meadows and forest until we reached the Gyeltsachhu (Gyeltsa River). Once again, we did not see a soul on the trail and Singay often hummed or sang songs to ward off any unwanted surprise visitors (such as a Himalayan bear or tiger) who roam freely through these lands.

We enjoyed lunch at a colorful local eatery and I realized how much I’d learned about Bhutan in such a short amount of time. Singay and Dorgi, our driver, had become fast friends of mine and I never stopped laughing in their company. I also became quite fond of Bhutan’s staple dish, ema datshi (chili with cheese) after eating it almost with every meal.

Dorgi and Singay chatting away after lunch

After lunch, it was back in the car and a two-hour drive to Bumthang, the furthest east I’d go on my trip to Bhutan. Bumthang is known for its buckwheat and its traditional Yathra weaving, a special kind of weave made with thick hand-woven wool and intricate traditional designs. It is only made in this part of Bhutan as the weaving depends on the climate and Bumthang gets cold in the winter months making wool clothing a must. Girls are taught as young as eight years old by their mothers and grandmothers and the tradition has been passed on for generations.

Most of the weavers can be found in Chhume Valley, and we made a stop at the Druk Yathra shop to check it out. Singay pointed out the different stages of weaving such as the natural ingredients they use to make dyes, and the traditional backstop looms the women use for weaving.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to watch the women weave as it was nearing dinner time and the store was about to close for the day. There are a couple of well-known weaving centers in Bumthang where you can spend some time watching women weave.  I would have loved to have time to visit one. (To learn more click here).

Weaving is just one of the many arts and handicrafts that can be found in Bhutan. I met an American woman at one of my hotels who was traveling from east to west of Bhutan solely to check out the different weaving communities. In the east of Bhutan where the weather is much warmer, women weave their garments out of raw silk. I learned that each piece of woven clothing is unique and tells a story just like each hike along the Trans Bhutan Trail. For its small size, Bhutan has a lot of diversity and uniqueness to be explored. I was looking forward to our hike the next day through the Pima Choling Nunnery and the buckwheat valleys of Bumthang. It was sure to be another magical journey!





    1. Wow, this is such a wonderful compliment to hear! I am so behind on writing my Bhutan posts in my blog as they require a lot of time and work. Then once it is finished and published I wonder what readers think. I am so glad you enjoyed this story! 🙂 Thank you for the nice comment! 🙂

      1. I haven’t been able to keep up with blogging snd I’m not in Bhutan, just visiting family in Ohio from my home in Pittsburgh. I think you got a bionic hip!

      2. The Bhutan trip was before my hip replacement! It was in December 2022. I just haven’t been able to finish writing about it due to the surgery and the craziness of life. I’m in Minnesota now. 🙂 But the hip is doing amazing! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Alison! It was a really special trip and mostly due to the strong connection I made with both Singay and Dorgi. I have never been on a trip like this before where it was just me and no group. I was reticent about it at first thinking it may be strange but it was one of the best I’ve taken as I really felt immersed in the culture. Singay brought me to many of the local eateries instead of having me eat in the hotel like most guests do. I felt like I truly learned a lot and realized that this kind of travel is pretty unique. I hope to actually be leading a women’s trip in 2024 to Bhutan with a friend of mine who runs tours. It is all up in the air but I think it would be pretty special. I hope you are doing well! 🙂 Thinking of you and Don.

      1. I would be thrilled!!!! I want to come to Vancouver someday. I still can’t believe I’ve never been there! I have to meet you in person someday. That is my dream! 🙂

  1. Wow! Your hotel room in Trongsa definitely has what is probably among the best views in town. It’s so cool you got to tour the dzong, which looks amazing. Isn’t ema datshi delicious? I love the fact that the Bhutanese love to add cheese in almost everything they cook. I love that shot of Dorgi and Singay chatting after lunch — I should’ve done the same to my guide and driver in Bhutan!

    1. Thanks Bama! My hotel was amazing and every hotel I stayed at I got an incredible view. I think it was because it was the end of the season and hardly any tourists were in Bhutan. A lot of the time I was the only one in the entire hotel which was a bit strange but I got the great views. The next day in Bumthang I had lunch at a farmhouse where she did a cooking lesson and showed me how to make Ema datshi. I am going to work on that story next. I loved it! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  2. You got to see so much of Bhutan! What a special treat to be with these local guys for the whole time. I had a very small group and lots of local contact, but because the weather messed up my high-altitude hike, I feel like I missed out on certain parts of the country. They are such lovely people, and the country is so gorgeous, that it really didn’t matter! I’d love to go back but can’t imagine I ever will.

    1. Thanks Lexi! It was a special day and I really enjoyed it. Our weather was perfect too. So, I may be leading a women’s trip to Bhutan in 2024. I will keep you posted. I would love to go back to Bhutan however I also really want to hike in India. Have you hiked in the high mountains there?

      1. Yes, Ladakh is top of my list too. Not sure when I will get there but have dreamed of it for many years.

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