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18 Days

Merak Sakteng

The Merak Sakteng Trek, a newly unveiled journey nestled in the heart of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Eastern Bhutan, offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse in a distinctive semi-nomadic culture amidst some of Bhutan’s most picturesque pastoral landscapes.

This trek, ranging in altitude from 1,500 to 4,100 meters, is considered moderately challenging. It commences in Chaling, located in the Trashigang Dzongkhag, and culminates in Phongmey. Along the route, trekkers traverse two lofty passes, explore the semi-nomadic villages of Merak Sakteng, and may even catch a glimpse of rare wildlife such as the snow leopard and red panda. The inhabitants of the Merak Sakteng region, known for their semi-nomadic yak herding lifestyle, speak a unique dialect, follow distinct spiritual practices, and are recognized for their exclusive sartorial choices.

The Merak Sakteng Trek itinerary is as follows:

  • Day 1: Chaling to Damnongchu (3,316 m)
  • Day 2: Damnongchu (3,130 m) to Merak (3,499 m)
  • Day 3: Merak (3,499 m) to Miksa Teng (3,079 m)
  • Day 4: Miksa Teng (3,079 m) to Sakteng (2,950m)
  • Day 5: Day at Sakteng
  • Day 6: Sakteng (2,950m) to Jyonkhar Teng (1,859 m)
  • Day 7: Jyonkhar Teng (1,859 m) to Phongmay (1,981 m)

and Sakteng stand out as distinct attractions 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.

It is a moderate trek (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 is an important watersheds for Ngere Ama Chu and Gamri Chu rivers respectively.

The campsites have been designed aesthetically to blend with local architecture and ambiance. Enclosed by a 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), a dining area, and water supply. A signage describing the location, altitude, forest type, fauna, additional hiking trails in the locality, distance, and time to the next camp welcomes a visitor to each campsite.

Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.

The trek lies within the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS). It was created in April 2003 with a strong agenda for conservation and to protect the unique assemblage of biological and cultural diversity in the region. It covers an area of 650 km2 and is bordered by the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh (Tawang) in the north and east, Phongmey Gewog and Kangpara Geog in the west, and Shingkhar Lauri Geog in Samdrup Jongkhar. It is connected to Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary by a biological corridor, a part of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex (B2C2).

Introduction to Merak and Sakteng

The Brokpas, semi-nomadic inhabitants of the region, migrate through the seasons with their yaks: moving between the highlands in summer and the lowlands in winter. The Brokpas still engage in the barter system, trading cheese, butter, and dried meat for grains and other goods that are not readily available to them. During the colder months, they also travel down south to the villages like Radhi, Phongmay, Kanglung, Trashigang town, and other areas to barter their goods. So during such times, tourism is not a viable option as the active population is out with their cattle. However, few residents do not own animals and they stay back in the villages.

Winter Season:

  1. Up to Merak and Sakteng only: The main reason for not allowing tourists to Merak and Sakteng in winter is because they migrate to the lowlands. Tourism should be developed to supplement their income and not to take up as their primary source of income. The other important reason is the Nagchungla pass being closed due to heavy snow. However, it will be possible to allow tourists to visit just up to Merak or Sakteng in winter. In case there are not enough residents in Merak and Sakteng to provide services in terms of pony and porter, there are enough people who are not engaged in farming in neighboring areas like Radhi, Phongmay, and Chaling. However, this suggestion has to be agreed upon by the communities of Merak and Sakteng. If tourists wish to visit Merak during the winter months, they can do so without having to go and come back via the same route. Tourists can start from Khardung and come back from Chaling or vice versa.
  2. MerakDanglingtsho (Khaling) Trek: This trek, though not surveyed, is an option for tourists not only to go trekking during winter but also during the Potential Tourism Months. However, due to local belief, visit the lake is closed from June to September. So, other months feasible for trekking are from October to May. However, further studies need to be carried out to look at the rainy season and if there is heavy snow along the migration route or identified route.

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Detailed Program

Welcome greetings and transfer to the hotel for refreshment. You will acclimatize the day by doing some light sightseeing to Rinpung Dzong (fortress of the heap of jewels)/ Kichu Lhakhang (one of the oldest temples in the country)/ Wandering around Paro town and interacting with locals.

Overnight Paro.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

After a wholesome breakfast, drive to the ruins of Drukgyel, and on the way back spend your day hiking to Taktsang monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, (4-5hrs round-trip) Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. It clings to sheer cliffs of 900m above Paro valley. Lunch at the hillside café. (Ponies & horses optional; fees not included). Bhutanese-style dinner at a village home. Hot stone bath, optional. 

Overnight Paro.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Drive to Thimphu along the riverside. Thimphu is a charming capital city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. After check-in, drive to Buddha gang to enjoy the city view of Thimphu. Circumambulate the Memorial stupa followed by a walking tour around the city; Hongkong market/ Norzin lam/ Main traffic area/ Clock tower, etc.

Overnight Thimphu.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Sightseeing includes; Sangay gang/ Nunnery/ National library/ Zorig Chusum/ Heritage & Textile museums/ Traditional hospital/ Tashicho Dzong/ Traditional paper factory, etc.

Take some optional hikes to the monasteries at the ridge top, interact with the monks. Attend weekend market, craft bazaar and enjoy the archery match at the national stadium. Overnight Thimphu.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Stop for a mountain view at Dochula pass (3150m)/ Walk in 108 stupas & Druk wangyel and drive to Punakha. Hike to Khamsum Yelling stupa built on the top of the hill for world peace. After lunch visit Punakha Dzong (Palace of the Great Happiness) and the famous fertility temple – Chimi Lhakhang.

Overnight Punakha & Wangdue.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Embark on a scenic drive to Bumthang “the spiritual heartland of Bhutan,” over the Black mountain ridge via Pelela pass (3300m) & Youtongla pass (3425m). Chendbji chorten (large Nepalese stupa)/ Trongsa Dzong & town/ Yathra weaving center after arriving in Bumthang, do some easy sightseeing in Bumthang.

Overnight Bumthang.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

In the morning, spend time in Jakar Dzong (fortress) followed by spiritual hikes to some ancient monasteries & temples such as Jambay Lhakhang/ Kurjey Lhakhang/ Tamshing Lhakhang. After lunch drives to Tang valley and visits the holy Menbar Tsho (burning lake). In the evening visit Kharchu Dratsang (monastery) and enjoy the sunset.

Overnight Bumthang.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Embark on a fantastic drive to eastern Bhutan. This journey will unfold the rivers, landscapes, cliffs, and different types of forests, waterfalls, and distant glacial peaks.

A picnic lunch will be arranged at the tip of the waterfall near Namling’s rocky cliff.

Stop at Thrumshingla pass (3800m) to view Mt. Gangkhar Puensum (7541m). On arrival, walk around Monggar town and talk to the locals.

Overnight Monggar.

Places and attractions:

Accommodation options:

Day 09| Monggar – Rangjung – Phongmey

Drive in the countryside via Koirala pass (2400m) where you’d offer butter lamps to the mountain God. Have lunch in Trashigang town and head on to Rangjung. Visit Rangjung monastery, if you are lucky you might get the chance to meet the reincarnated saint. You will meet your trekking crew of nomads in Phongmey village.

Overnight camp.

After breakfast walk through the paddy field and cross a small village. Here you will be walking amidst the oak trees beside the river. Damnongchu camping area is located after Mindrula, 3,316m.

The trail from Damnongchu to Merak goes along the riverbank with gradual ups and downs for almost 5 hours.

Overnight at Damnongchu Camp, altitude 3,499 m.

The trek from Merak to Miksa Teng is long and of medium difficulty. It will pass through the beautiful Nagchungla pass (approx. 4,100m / 13,451ft).

The campsite is located in a clearing surrounded by rhododendron trees.

Trek to Sakten from Miksa Teng is easy making your way through beautiful woods with a short climb before reaching Sakten.

Overnight at Camp.

Explore this beautiful, unique, and culturally rich nomadic village. People are extra warm and friendly. You will be invited to their homes for butter tea and drinks beside the fire.

The sources of their livelihood are dependent on yaks & sheep.

6 1/2 hours, camp altitude 1,859 m. Sakten to Jyonkhar Teng trek is an easy trek compared to previous days.

It is mostly downhill to Jyonkhar Teng camp.

5 hours, camp altitude 1,981 m the final day. This day is full of ups and downs until you reach the road at Phongmay. Farewell to crews and head to Trashigang. Check-in at your hotel, shower, and rest. In the evening, stroll around the charming town of Trashigang.

Overnight Trashigang.

In the morning, visit the Trashigang Dzong and head on to Samdrup Jongkhar En route stroll around several villages and towns like; Kanglung, Khaling, Womrong, Narphung, etc. A picnic lunch will be arranged near the Mirror cliff. Hang wind-horse flags to bring blessing and safety on your return trip to back home. On arrival, spend some time in the town and shop for souvenirs. Farewell dinner at the hotel.

Overnight Samdrup Jongkhar.

Places and attractions:

Transport will be arranged. Our representative will bid you farewell at the Indo-Bhutan gate. Travel through the plains of Assam toward Guwahati (India). Tashi Delek!

  • Inclusion
  • Exclusion
  • Insurance
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off by private vehicle.
  • 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 stars may require an additional premium update).
  • Bhutan visa fee – including all necessary processing
  • Route Permit
  • Three meals per day during your stay in Bhutan
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide
  • All land transportation by private vehicle
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
  • Sightseeing as per itinerary
  • Monuments entrance fees where applicable
  • Drinking water
  • All internal taxes and charges
  • A sustainable development fee of $200. (This sustainable development fee goes towards free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.)
  • Airfare & Travel Insurance
  • Expenses of personal nature, Tips to guides and drivers
  • Expenses occurred due to unavoidable events i.e. road wrecks, flight delays etc.

Package does not include insurance of any kinds, and that you are required to obtain separate coverage from your home country before your trip begins.

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