September 6, 2017
There’s a reason Bhutan is known as the land of the Thunder Dragon. Rough winds and storms smash through valleys of the Himalayas; the lightning was once believed to be the fire of the Druk, or Thunder Dragon. Well, dragon sightings are, to say the least, unlikely along the Druk path, but hikers will be able to spot the Tiger’s Nest Monastery clinging to a cliff face, 16th-century architecture, and glacial lakes.
Unlike most hikes in Nepal, this one is fairly easy, though it does have some fairly arduous climbs; oh, and it has luxury hotels at the start and finish. Aman has more than 30 destinations around the globe, and two of them just happen to be at the start and finish of the Druk path.
Paro to Jili Dzong
Nestled along the winding Paro Chhu River, Paro sets the stage for the Druk trek send-off through cobbled paths of worn mountain trails. A stroll along the bright-colored shopfronts and cafes of the main street compliment the leisurely afternoons in Paro. But, it is the natural, green hills that draw most travelers to this corner of Bhutan. With a history stretching back centuries, Paro features architectural and bucolic sights at every turn.
Before one sets out on this six-day trek, though, there is luxury to be had in Bhutan in the form of the Amankora Paro. From the cuisine to the scenery, guests familiar with the Aman brand will not be disappointed, and travelers would be well-advised to hit up the spa for a massage before they work their limbs for six straight days.
Obviously, Paro is most famous for its proximity to Taktsang Monastery 3,000 feet above the valley – otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Legend has it that Padmasambhava, a renowned guru, flew to the cliffs on the back of a tigress and that the cliff-side monastery. Another tale claims that it was the emperor’s wife carrying the guru on her back. This aptly-named cliff-top perch offers soaring views of the Himalayas amid tranquil pines – an excellent preface for the Druk path ahead.
Once the trip begins in earnest, however, the first major stop is Jili Dzong, a fortress along the path found atop a ridge at a height of 10,300 feet. The Buddha statue inside the temple is said to bestow blessings upon passing travelers. Established in the early 16th century, this area has long since served as a shelter for nomads, yak herders, and now tourists on their way to and from Thimphu. Jili Dzong is an especially impressive destination, but the trail to reach it – winding through rows upon rows of apple orchards and forests – will prove to be a memorable hike.
At sites like the Jangchula Camp nearby, hikers will find a quiet place to pitch a tent and enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. With the right tour operator, even here, in the shadow of a 16th century temple in Bhutan, there are luxuries.
Simkota Lake to Phajoding
From Jili Dzong to Simkota Lake, the climb continues. A zigzagging trail takes hikers along ridges and over rocks for an ascent that can be a little tricky, but well worth the effort. The 11-mile trail rewards travelers with a break at Jimi Langsto Lake, an alpine wonder set above the treeline, before continuing on to Simkota Lake, a glacial pool and camp site.
From Simkota, the Druk path follows a five-to six-hour descent to the Phajoding Monastery just above the Thimphu Valley. The route weaves for 11 miles past Lake Janye in the mountains, and on the way, hikers may be able to spot the distant Mount Gangkar Punsum, the highest peak yet to be climbed, standing at 24,000 feet. The yak herders along the route make for some heightened Bhutanese charm as the path persists, guiding travelers to the cultural monument of Phajoding and the nearby campsites overlooking the valley.
The Aman at the Other End
Blue pines and rhododendrons decorate the downhill track to Thimphu, Bhutan’s bustling capital. A popular highlight along the way is the Motithang Takin Preserve, a wildlife reserve that hosts Bhutan’s fascinating national animal. It’s said that these mammals are best seen in the early morning when food draws them closer to the fence. A deeply fascinating mammal, the takin are thoroughly worth the slight detour.
Once hikers cross into Thimphu, hot showers and luxury await, strangely, again, in the form of Amankora Thimphu. Of course, Thimphu is a little more modern than the hills of Paro. With five different lodges to choose from, it makes for a pleasant change of pace from the tents.
Thimphu, swathed in Buddhist airs and attractions, is home to its own array of charming sights and excursions. The city’s generous maze of cultured streets, fresh cafes, and curious shops top off the Himalayan Druk path experience with a idyllic, personal touch.