If you like the idea of walking for five days and encountering few other trekkers along the way, look no further than this lake circuit south of Thimphu. It’s not particularly demanding (despite a few steep climbs), and most trekking days are short. The route is best walked in April and late September through October. However, snow in the high country can often block out the route, and it’s not unknown for trekkers to be forced back by the weather.
Your driver will take you to Geynikha village, a 29km drive south from Thimphu, from where it’s a short hike down to the Geynitsang Chhu to reach the suspension bridge at Geynizampa. Some companies use this as the first overnight stop, exploring local villages in the afternoon.
Crossing the suspension bridge at Geynizampa, the trail turns south along the east side of the Geynitsang Chhu to a side stream, the Dolungu Chhu. Cross the stream and start uphill on an eroded trail through an oak forest. Currently used mainly by yak herders and woodcutters, this trail was once a major trading route between Thimphu and Dagana, headquarters of Dagana Dzongkhag. This accounts for the walls, well-crafted stone staircases and other signs of human intervention along portions of the route.
A long climb leads to an outstanding lookout point at 3220m. The ascent is now gentler, and the trail climbs to the top of the ridge where it makes a tight turn at 3350m. The way to the campsite is along an inconspicuous path that leads off the trail here, going southward through the forest to Gur, amid yak pastures at 3290m.
Returning to the main trail, continue gently up the ridge on a wide track. A long, stiff climb through blue pines leads to a rocky outcrop where the vegetation changes to spruces, firs and larches. The trail traverses into a side valley, crosses a stream at 3870m and begins a long, gentle climb through scattered birches and rhododendrons, weaving in and out of side valleys and crossing several tiny streams.
At Pangalabtsa, a pass marked by cairns at 4250m, there is a spectacular view of the whole Dagala range. This is prime yak country, with numerous herders’ camps scattered across the broad Labatamba valley. Descend from the pass to a herders’ hut at 4170m and traverse around the head of a small valley to reach the main valley floor. Climb beside a stream to Labatamba, a camp at 4300m near Utsho, a beautiful high-altitude lake with a thriving population of golden trout. The area near the lakes bursts with alpine wildflowers in September. There are numerous other pretty lakes in the vicinity, and you could easily add on an extra day here to explore them and hike up to Jomo peak (5050m).
There are two possible routes ahead, and pack animals take the lower one. Trekkers can follow the less obvious higher trail that climbs along the western side of the Dajatsho to a saddle at 4520m, with good mountain views. From the pass, the trail descends past several herders’ camps before dropping to the Dochha Chhu, rejoining the lower trail at about 4200m. Subsequently, it climbs over three ridges and descends to the campsite at Panka at 4000m. Water is scarce here in spring, and it may be necessary to descend to an alternative camp 20 minutes’ walk below.
The route on from Panka leads north to a crest at 4100m, where several trails lead off in different directions. The trail to Talakha climbs steeply to a ruined house and makes a long traverse to Tale La at 4180m, which offers a view of the Dagala range and Thimphu, far away to the north. Finally, it’s a long descent – first through a mixed forest of spruce, birch, juniper and rhododendron, and then through bamboo – to reach an open hillside and campsite near the goemba at Talakha (3080m). The views from here along the Thimphu valley are stupendous, and you should be able to see the Buddha Dordenma dwarfed by its surroundings on the west side of the valley.
If your driver has a 4WD, you can end the trek at Talakha. A rough and rutted dirt road drops from the goemba to the village of Chamgang at 2640m, Despite being the site of Bhutan’s main prison, the village is actually very pretty, studded with white village homes adorned with phallus murals. Alternatively, you can walk down to meet your driver at Chamgang in about three hours, following the road and various shortcuts. On your way back to Thimphu, schedule a stop at stately Simtokha Dzong, one of the most impressive sights in the southern part of the valley.