“Bhutan: the best way to know it is to get on a mountain bike. Best speed: no more than 30 km per hour.”
While many would prefer the cosy confines of a car traversing the verdant mountains of Bhutan, I prefer to take it real slow and bet my cash on a mountain bike. And what would you get if you followed suit? Homestays, all-pervasive natural beauty, a chance to camp between cities, meet some of the happiest people in the world, endless terrace farms, beautiful monasteries and precarious mountain passes like you’d never laid eyes upon.
While you can extend your mountain-biking expedition across all of Bhutan (the longest one known to be 19 days long), you might want to try something easier for a taste of what lies ahead.
So here’s a six-day biking expedition I took through the happiest place on earth. And I came back transformed and pleasantly rejuvenated.
Level: Easy | Bike hiring cost: Rs. 2000+
Day 1: Paro – Drukgyel Dzong (15 km) – Back to Paro
Day 2: Paro – Tiger Nest (Taktsang) Monastery (12 km) – Back to Paro
Day 3: Paro – Thimpu (67 km) – Stay overnight in Thimpu
Day 4: Thimpu – Tango Cheri (14 km) – Back to Thimpu
Day 5: Thimpu – Dochula Pass (25 km) – Arrive back in Paro (63 km)
Day 6: Paro – Chele La Pass (63 km return trip)
Don’t Leave Bhutan Before You
Ema Datsi: Ema Datsi, a dish made of fresh yak cheese and a sprinkling of chillies is an everyday specialty and is found in every restaurant you visit. It is also the national dish.
Karma’s Coffee in Thimpu: If you are a coffee lover, head to this cute café touted as the most professional coffee shop in Thimpu, and choose from a wide range of blends, delicious brownies and a wide food selection.
Chharo Restaurant in Paro: This pleasant eatery offers a range of Chinese, Indian and Bhutanese dishes. Let the restaurant know in advance if you would like to try Bumthang-style buckwheat pancakes and noodles.
The Sunday Market in Paro: The Sunday Market is delightful place to haggle over keepsakes. You can buy a Kira (traditional dress), or a prayer wheel and the interesting Bhutanese stamps.
The Yarkay Central in Thimpu: The Yarkay Central features interesting Druk handicrafts. It houses four craft stores and is a great place to linger on in the afternoon. For souvenirs visit the Kawajangsa area. For hand-woven fabric, the best bet is the Blue Poppy Bhutanese craft centre.
Drukgyel Dzong: Paro’s cultural gem, the Drukgyel Dzong is a delightful village built to commemorate the victory of Bhutan over the invading Tibetan forces. In ruins today, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Mount Jhomolhari form here.
Taktsang Gompa: The precariously perched and iconic Taktsang Gompa is better known as Tiger Nest Monastery. You can’t bike to this place. So park at the base and gear up for a two-hour uphill hike. You’ll love it!
Tango Cheri: Located at the north end of Thimpu, the Tango monastery is a center of Buddhist learning in Bhutan. The place boasts of exquisite Bhutanese architecture.
Dochula Pass: A long uphill ride from Thimpu, Dochula Pass renders breathtaking views of the Himalayan ranges and is a popular picnic spot among locals.
Chele La Pass: Chele La Pass is a challenging ride, but well worth it. Along the way you will encounter frozen rivers, waterfalls, alpine flowers and snow. From the top, expect stunning mountain views and yaks grazing in the distant horizon.
Flights: Bhutan’s only international airport is in Paro, and is well-connected to India. You can book flight tickets to Paro here.
Drive: Self-driving from Phuentsholing is a scenic and enjoyable journey that takes about five hours (172 km).
Places To Stay
While camping and homestays are the best way to take breaks from days of endless biking, there are some good hotels you can stay at. These include Tenzinling Resort and Ugyen Phendeyling Resort in Paro and Hotel Dorji Elements and Hotel Pema Karpo in Thimpu.
Rs.35,000 – Rs.40,000 per person for 7 days (including bike charges and excluding flights)