Visiting Central Bhutan is probably where the real magic happens when you cycle Bhutan. The region is less populated, feels more remote, and the roads are quiet and incredible. Huge climbs and descents, passes over 3000m, and roads literally cut into cliffs, your days of cycling here will live with you forever.
In Central Bhutan there are few roads so very few choices on where you can go. From Gantey the road continues on to Trongsa then to Bumthang. After Bumthang the road continues east but with the towns being more spaced out it no longer becomes possible to use hotels, camping or long transfers are needed to continue the journey.
Gantey is located in the Phobjikha Valley so you might find this region referred to under either name. Also this region is technically considered part of Western Bhutan we for the purposes of travel we fell it fits better in the Central Bhutan section.
The glacial valley is an important wildlife preserve for the rare black-necked cranes that winter here. There isn't really a central town or village in the valley, it is really a large green bowl with farmhouses, dirt roads, walking trails, and fields scattered all over. We love staying in Gantey for the cosy hotel (our preferred hotel comes with fireplaces in each room), quiet environment, lovely walks, and chance to recover from the ride to get here. Gantey is a chance to stay in a village rather than a town and makes for a lovely place to go for a walk.
half Day walk
The best way to explore the valley walk is to go fro a walk. Our guide can lead you on a lovely morning amble that follows the dirt roads and tracks of the valley. It is also possible to simply follow the dirt trail down the valley by bike or on foot and turn around and return once you feel you gone far enough. The views of the valley change constantly as you follow the winding road.
This monastery sits in a prime place looking out over the beautiful valley. The monastery was first established in 1613 and includes monks quarters, a small guesthouse and outlying meditation centre. You can include a visit to the goemba as part of a valley walk.
Cycle Gantey to Trongsa 80km
This is a longer ride by Bhutan's standards but contains more down than up. Firstly you need to cycle back up out of the valley and over Lawa La Pass. Then after a short descent climb again to Pele La Pass (3300m) in the Black Mountains, considered the traditional boundary between east and west. As with all passes, Pele La is marked by a large monument and many prayer flags. The thrilling 27km downhill from here winds through pristine pine forests, wayside villages and markets. Close to lunch time you will pass Chendebji Chorten, a large white stupa built in the 19th century and patterned after the famous Swayambhunath in Kathmandu. As you get closer to Trongsa the road is very dramatic, literally cut into the steep sided valley, finally coming out opposite Trongsa with its stunning dzong. From the viewpoint Trongsa is only 1km away directly across the valley but the winding road takes 10km to get you to your hotel.
Trongsa is located in the middle of the country and has long been vitally important as a political centre. It is the ancestral home of the royal family. There is no flat land in this area, mountains surround the area and the valley sides are steep. It makes for a dramatic setting for this small town which is dominated by Trongsa Dzong.
We would normally recommend just one night in Trongsa as, despite its dramatic location, apart from the dzong and museum there is little more do so you are petter off continuing on to Bumthang the next day.
Trongsa Dzong has a long history dating back to the 16th century. The spectacular southern side of the building drops down into the valley floor which is often covered in mist. Unlike Thimphu Dzong, Trongsa Dzong is a rabbit warren of rooms, passages, stairs, and courtyards which is an adventure to explore.
Tower of Trongsa Museum
This museum is the best in Bhutan and well worth a visit. It is located in the watchtower on the hill overlook the town. It has been wonderfully renovated and contains state-of-the-art displays of Bhutanese history and Buddhist art. If you are going to visit one museum in your time in Bhutan this is the one to see. If your itinerary has you driving from Bumthang back to Paro stopping here for an hour is a nice way to break up the journey.
Cycle Trongsa to Bumthang 67km
If you have cycled from Paro this ride will contain the highest pass of your ride so far. The climb to Yutong La Pass at 3400m starts immediately from Trongsa town and is a 30km constant climb which takes up the entire morning. We'll have a picnic lunch at the pass before a long descent taking you through pine forests and wide open farming valleys before a smaller climb up to Kiki La Pass (2860m). The last part of the ride is a fast descent down into Bumthang Valley.
Bumthang is actually the name of this region and we (and many others) tend to refer to the town of Jakar as Bumthang. Jakar is the main town of the four valleys that make up Bumthang and the town where you are most likely to stay and spend your time exploring. If the town looks new, that is because it is new, the town centre was moved a number of years ago and has subsequently burned down a number of times. Bumthang is something of a garden of eden in our eyes - the valley is full of fields of fresh food and a visit to the craft beer factory Red Panda is a highlight for those who like a beer.
We recommend at least two nights in Bumthang and there are options for further days rides out from here. The new airport is now operational which makes for an obvious easy return route to Paro but see below for more details on this.
Day Walk Around Valley
After cycling all the way to Bumthang it makes for a nice day out to walk some of the valley visiting the temples and sights. There are many temples and monasteries in the valley so we select a few of the best as part of the day. There ae so many options for walks possible so please let us know if you would like to do this and your guide can tailor make a walk for you. A simple walk visits two of the most important temples of the valley. Start with a drive up to Kurjey Lhakhang, a temple which dates back to 1652. This temple is most famous for a cave where Guru Rinpoche after meditating in the cave, left an imprint of his body of the wall of the cave. Then walk a short way up the valley and cross the river on a suspension bridge and walk back down the valley to Tamshing Goemba. This temple was built in 1501 and feels ancient. This temple is renowned for the cloak of chainmail made by Pema Lingpa (founder of the temple). It is an auspicious act to wear the 25kg cloak and carry it three times around the kora. We then trek further down the valley to meet up with the vehicle at a designated point.
Town & Valley Sightseeing
There are so many temples and other things to see and do so it's really a matter of what interests you in what you might do.
Jakar Dzong. Situated in a picturesque location, if you want to see more dzongs this 17th century structure is impressive and provides great views over the valley.
Walks. There are lots of day walks in the valley and surrounding hills for those who like to walk as well as ride. We can advise on walks if this interests you.
Jampey Lhakhang. The oldest chapel in Bhutan, it is reputed to date back to the year 659. The golden roof stands out.
Red Panda Brewery & Yoser Lham Shop
Swiss Farm was established by a Swiss man who has lived in Bhutan for decades. He has introduced to Bhutan a wonderful weiss beer called Red Panda as well as lovely Gouda cheese fresh from the block. The brewery is small and operated by two gentleman who are happy to show you around and open a a range of aged bottles for you to try (cost: $3). It makes for a lovely sunny afternoon to sit and enjoy a nice brew with these two friendly men. Located nearby is the Yoser Lham shop where you can buy freshly made cheese and juices and fruit wine which makes for a nice afternoon tea on the balcony back at your hotel.
Bumthang Airport was completed only recently and commercial flights are now operating between Paro and Bumthang. This is a boon for tourism and locals alike as the limited road network and travel times mean that getting to Paro is now a short flight rather than 1.5 days of driving. However, flights are frequently cancelled due to weather as well as operational issues. Druk Air has assigned one plane to this route which also services international routes and the international routes are given priority. So we would consider that you can include the flight within your trip to Bhutan, however, you must be mindful that there is a chance that the flight will be cancelled and all itineraries should be designed in such a way to allow time to drive to Paro if required. We should also point out that after cycling from Paro to Bumthang it is quite a nice thing to sit in a vehicle and retrace the incredible route that you have pedalled.