“A community based initiative for the conservation of snow leopards”
The Jomolhari Mountain Festival is an exquisitely themed two-day event celebrated at the base of Mt. Jomolhari, by communities located along one of the most scenic trekking routes in Bhutan.
The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living together with the natural wonders that surround them: one in particular, the elusive, yet elegant, snow leopard! This endangered cat thrives in the region; several camera trap photos and definite signs have established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan.
The communities of Soe Yaksa and Soe Yutoed, located along the Jomolhari trek, in collaboration with Jigme Dorji National Park and the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division-with support from the Snow Leopard Conservancy and Bhutan Foundation-bring together this festival as a community based initiative towards the conservation of snow leopard; to create awareness on the importance of conservation; engage and build on the perception and attitude to create harmony between the endangered cat and the people; provide a platform to bring in opportunities for sustainable livelihood, and promote their culture.
The festival includes snow leopard themed folk songs and dances performed by the local people, park staff and the school children, traditional sports such as Khuru (darts), shot put, horse and yak riding, sampling of local delicacies and boutique handicrafts, and various picturesque guided hikes in and around Jomolhari. It also showcases various stalls set up by both local and international agencies to educate and promote conservation among those participating at the festival.
JOMOLHARI SNOW LEOPARD CONSERVATION PROGRAM
The Jomolhari Loop is the shortest of the Jomolhari trekking routes, which are the most popular treks in Bhutan, passes through prime snow leopard and blue sheep habitat. With altitude differences of 2500m and 5000m it offers a wide range of landscapes, fauna and flora. The highlight of this trek is the spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari from Jomolhari Base camp (Jangothang). Trekkers who want to avoid high passes and high altitude can chose an easier version of the Jomolhari Loop by retracing their steps from Jangothang (see trekking days 5-7).
Numerous camera trap photos, signs, and DNA sampling from the region has established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan. The two communities of Soe Yutoed and Soe Yaksa lie along the Jomolhari trek. Yutoed has 28 households and Yaksa 18. The residents are primarily yak herders as the area is mostly above tree line. While yak predation is prevalent in the area, herders have generally been tolerant of some level of predation all along. However, public attitudes and perception towards snow leopards are fast changing.
When community members begin to see real, tangible benefits from snow leopard conservation, they are more likely to support it. If a conservation program has buy-in and ownership of the local residents, it is more likely to be sustainable in the long run. These are the foundations on which the Jomolhari Snow Leopard Conservation Program is built.
The Jomolhari Snow Leopard Conservation Program is a community initiative supported by the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division, the Snow Leopard Conservancy and the Bhutan Foundation.
It aims to guide tangible benefits of snow leopard conservation to the local residents so that the snow leopard is seen as an asset rather than a liability, and hence something to be treasured. It seeks to use the snow leopard as the focus for holistic development of the communities through the following:
The itinerary for this tour is a combination of Jomolhari Mountain Festival, Jomolhari Loop Trek and Thimphu Tshechu Festival
Day 1 :PARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - THIMPHU (L/D)
Upon arrival at Paro International airport, you will be met by your guide.Drive through to Thimphu after sightseeing in and around Paro.
Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Day 2 :TANGO MONASTERY AND DOCHULA PASS (B/L/D)
After breakfast drive to Dodeyna to climb through a beautiful forest track to the Tango Monastery which overlooks a forested valley and other Buddhist retreats high in the mountains. Then drive to the Dochula Pass at 3140m to enjoy a most spectacular view of the Himalayan snow capped mountains and a great view of Gasa Dzong at a distance.
After lunch at Druk Wangyal Cafeteria, drive back to Thimphu and visit the National Memorial Chorten built in honor of Bhutan’s late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck before visiting the mini zoo at Motithang to see the Takin, Bhutan’s national animal.
In the evening, visit Tashichho Dzong, seat of the national government and the Central Monastic Body which includes the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan). If you wish, explore Thimphu town in the evening.
Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Day 03 : TAKTSANG MONASTERY OR TIGER’S NEST (B/L/D)
After breakfast drive to the trail head in Paro to commence a climb through beautiful pine forest. We will stop for light refreshments at the Taktsang cafeteria before walking on to the famous Taktsang monastery or Tiger’s Nest. The primary Lhakhang or main temple was built around Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave in 1684 by the Penlop of Paro, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay. This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 m into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 747 AD, flew here on the back of a flying tiger, Dorji Drolo from Kurtoe Singye Dzong in the east.
After lunch visit Drugyal Dzong (a ruined fortress), 16 km away from Paro. Although it is now in ruins, this dzong has great historical importance for the people of Bhutan. It was a place where the Bhutanese finally defeated the Tibetan invasion. On a clear day one can view sacred Mt. Jomolhari (Mountain of Goddess). We will also visit Ta Dzong (built in1 656 and renovated in 1968), an ancient watchtower, which now houses the National Museum. Below the museum is the Rinpung Dzong (literally meaning “Heap of Jewels”), the centre of civil and religious authority in this valley, built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Paro.
Day 4 : PARO – GUNITSAWA VILLAGE – SHARNA ZAMPA
The 8 day Jomolhari Mountain Festival trek begins today at Gunitsawa Village where you pass the army post. At the army check post trek permit will be checked and endorsed. Following the Paro River we pass cultivated fields and tiny picturesque villages. The forests are alive with numerous birds and brightly coloured butterflies.
Dinner and overnight camping at Sharna Zampa.
Day 5 : SHARNA ZAMPA – THANGTHANGKHA (Distance: 22km, 7-8hrs, 770m ascent, camp altitude 3610m) (B/L/D)
On this long day, the trail continuous with lots of small ups and downs following the river through a heavily forested area with a few isolated farmhouses. After going uphill through the river valley, the valley finally narrows gradually to a mere path which descends to a meadow and closes in. You also pass a junction where another path leads north over the Tremola Pass to Tibet. Your camp will be set up in a meadow with a stone shelter. From here, if weather permits you will have the first great view of Mt. Jomolhari.
Dinner and overnight camping at Thangthangkha.
Day 6 : THANGTHANGKHA – JANGOTHANG (Distance: 19km, 5-6hrs, 480m ascent, camp altitude 4080m) (B/L/D)
If you did not see Mount Jomolhari the previous evening, you will still have a chance to get a great view early this morning. This morning the trek continuous up the Paro Chhu valley that widens into patches of alpine meadow and scanty growths of forest. You will cross an army checkpoint along the way and enjoy a spectacular view of high mountain ridges and snow-capped peaks. In this area, yaks and their herder’s homes become a regular feature of the landscape. Passing the villages of Soe, Takethang and Dangochang is another asset on this day.
After reaching Jangothang, one of the most beautiful campsites of the Himalayas, you will again have a spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari.
Dinner and overnight camping at Jangothang.
Day 7 - 8 : JOMOLHARI MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL (B/L/D)
An opportunity to experience the Jomolharu mountain Festival.
The two days in Jangothang also provide plenty of possibilities for day hikes with great views of lakes and snow capped mountains such as Jomolhari and Jichu Drake. There are good chances to spot some blue sheep on the upper slopes of the valley.
Jangothang is a perfect environment for your acclimatization. You can also trek up to Tosoh or hike around the area. There are good short hiking trails in three directions. Jomolhari and its subsidiary mountain chains lie directly west, Jichu Drake to the north and there are a number of unclimbed peaks to the east.
Day 9 : JANGOTHANG – SOI YAKTSA
(Distance: 16 km, 6-7hrs, 810m ascent, 1090m descent, camp altitude 3800m) (B/L/D)
The trail leads to a last settlement in the valley and drops to the Paro Chhu. Passing the lake of Tshophu (4380m) you will climb up steeply to Bhonte La pass at 4890m, the highest point of this trekking route. Reaching the Dhumzo Chhu River, you trek downstream passing the few houses of Soi Yaktsa (Dhumzo) to arrive at your campsite soon after.
Dinner and overnight camping at Soi Yaktsa.
Day 10 :SOI YAKTSA – THOMBU SHONG
(Distance: 11km, 4-5hrs, 720m ascent, 340m descent, and camp altitude 4180m) (B/L/D)
The trail climbs 100m over a ridge to drop to another stream then. After crossing the Takhung La pass at 4520m you descent to Thombu Shong, three yak herder huts with your campsite next to them.
Dinner and overnight camping at Thombu Shong.
Day 11 : THOMBU SHONG – GUNITSAWA VILLAGE (Distance: 13km, 4-5hrs, 200m ascent, 1650m descent) – PARO (B/L/D)
You will finally reach Gunitsawa Village where your transport will be waiting to drive you through to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan (approximately 2 hours).
Farewell dinner and overnight at your hotel in Paro.
Day 12 : THIMPHU - PARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (B)
Number of days: 12 days, 11 nights
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2018 Dates to be confirmed