When's the Best Time to Visit Bhutan?

Dreaming of visiting Bhutan but want to understand its climate better before making a commitment and planning a trip? Here’s everything you need to know about the weather in Bhutan, amazing Bhutanese festivals, and the best season to visit this tiny Himalayan kingdom.

While most of Bhutan is hilly or mountainous, there are big differences in altitude. The southern parts of the country, like the jungles bordering India, are very low, not much above sea level. The popular attraction of Punakha (with its incredible dzong) is at just 1,242 metres. On the other hand, the lovely town of Haa is 3,000 metres in altitude.

Bhutan’s festivals are colourful and vibrant affairs, and a huge attraction for international visitors. Coinciding a trip to Bhutan with a festival is a great idea, but some of the liveliest and most interesting are also held when the weather is still very wet. Travellers who want the best of Bhutan’s weather and a memorable festival experience may need to compromise on one or the other.

Spring (March-May)

Spring in Bhutan falls between March and May. As they do all across the Himalaya, bright red, pink, purple, and white rhododendron flowers bloom vividly in the mountains and are a delightful sight for trekkers. There’s even a trek designed especially to allow trekkers to enjoy the beautiful flowers: the Gazamchu Rhododendron Trek.

April is one of the busiest times for travellers to come to Bhutan, as the temperatures are usually warm, but can still be very cold in certain parts of the country. Mountain views during late spring in Bhutan can be obscured by rain clouds and humidity, as the monsoon rains approach.

Bhutan festivals in spring:

  • Paro Tsechu

  • Rhododendron Festival, Lamperi

  • Bumthang Valley village festivals

Summer/Monsoon (June-August)

While the wet summer months aren’t an ideal time to visit Bhutan, there are a few plus-points. The wildflowers in the mountains are spectacular, plus there’s an abundance of delicious foods like mushrooms, mangoes, and avocados. It doesn’t always rain constantly for the whole day, so general touring holidays can still be done at this time. Plus, as it’s low season, prices are lower, including at the country’s gorgeous boutique and luxury hotels.

However, it’s important to realise that Bhutan gets more rainfall than anywhere else in the Himalaya. A major (and serious) downside is that flights into and out of Paro are often cancelled or delayed due to rain.

Bhutan festivals in summer:

  • Alpine Festival, Haa

  • Mushroom Festival, Ura

Autumn (September-November)

Early autumn in Bhutan (September) can still be wet, but after the rains, skies clear for the most spectacular mountain views. October is the busiest, most popular month to visit Bhutan as the conditions are at their best: temperatures are warm and mountain views are good, ideal for trekking or general touring. Spectacular longer treks like the Jomohhari trek, Druk Path trek, or Laya Gasa trek are best in this season. October is also one of the best months to visit neighbouring Nepal, so a combined trip to Bhutan and Nepal is a great idea in this month. While the temperatures in November in Bhutan can drop, especially at night, it’s still a good month to visit.

Bhutan festivals in autumn:

  • Thimphu Tsechu

  • Wangdue Tsechu

  • Haa Tsechu

  • Gasa Tsechu

  • Black-necked Crane Festival

  • Royal Highland Festival

  • Jakar Tsechu

Winter (December-February)

Winter is the low season in Bhutan, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to go. December is an ideal time for touring western Bhutan, but some of the roads to the east will be closed by snow on high passes at this time. By February, temperatures are still cold in Paro and Bumthang, but warmer in the lowlands and in the east. Nature lovers can try to spot tigers, rhinos, elephants and leopards at the Manas National Park, which sits at just 60-100 metres above sea level. The Punakha Winter Trek can also be done when the weather is colder, as it doesn’t go too high but still includes a wealth of natural and cultural variety.

Bhutan festivals in winter:

  • Losar

  • Nomad’s Festival, Bumthang

  • Takin Festival, Gasa

Top 10 Things to experience in Ladakh

In the remote western Himalayas lies an ancient kingdom, heavily influenced by Tibetan culture from the east and Persian culture from the west, isolated from modern developments and technology for centuries. Here, treasures have been preserved and traditions retained that elsewhere have been lost. Ladakh has plenty to truly reward the adventurous travellers who make the journey to visit it.

Many of the top sights in Ladakh are monasteries – remnants of the age of the Tibetan Empire, which once included Ladakh. However, on top of these are several other perhaps overlooked but absolutely unforgettable experiences that should not be missed on your journey beyond the clouds in the Himalayas …

 

1.     Villages on the northern outskirts of Leh

All travellers begin in Leh, the capital of Ladakh. But the best way to get under the skin of this village-like city is to take a walk to explore the smaller villages on the northern outskirts of the city, such as Sankar. Although a wide road winds up the hill from the city centre, travellers are better off on foot finding their way via the small lanes and pathways that pass between the houses and farms. You will meet the local people, who smile as they greet you, may encounter holy cows grazing on overhanging fruit trees, and will stumble upon local shrines (walk around them clockwise). This is also a great area for views of the Palace without city buildings in the way.

2.     Leh Palace

Once the home of the Ladakhi royal family, the palace was turned into a museum and opened to the public when the royal family were moved to Stok Palace, just across the river. The palace is unmissable, holding a commanding fortress-like position on the spur of a ridge. Higher above it is a small temple, which is also worth the climb up the sandy path for excellent views of the whole Leh valley, and is popular with locals. On the way up to the palace from the city, follow the arrows and hand-painted directions on the cluster of ruins and ancient houses, and stop in for a peek at some modern Ladakhi art at the LAMO museum.

3.     Hemis Monastery

Heading east down the Sengge River, hidden up a narrow and steep side valley is the largest and richest monastery in Ladakh – Hemis Monastery. While the monastery itself is beautifully painted and delightful to spend half a day exploring, the real highlight is in the museum below it – hundreds of religious and cultural artefacts have been gathered, and are displayed with clear explanations of what the object is and what it is used for in traditional Ladakhi life.

 

4.     Pangong Tso

Carrying on from Hemis Monastery, you can reach the lake of Pangong Tso (“tso” means “lake”) in a long single day, or easier two-day drive from Leh. Sparkling blue waters stretch out under desert sand dunes, while nomads graze their herds of yaks on the nearby meadows. Pangong Tso is an interesting sight to visit, as one end of it lies in Indian Ladakh, and the other end crosses the border into Chinese Tibet. Although you cannot cross the border here, you can see the expanse of the Tibetan plateau just on the other side of the water.

 

5.     The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh

Situated at the top of town is the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh. These women have achieved great things in the region – it was their campaign that led to plastic bags being banned in Ladakh, and they have established women’s alliances in almost every village in Ladakh now to empower the local women through education and practical training, enabling them to run businesses and participate in areas of society that were previously restricted for them. Here in Leh the WAL run a small shop stocked with their own locally made products, and open their workshops to show visitors how some of these are made.

6. Alchi Monastery

Going the other direction from Leh, following the Sengge River west, you’ll reach the small but impressive Alchi Monastery. Renowned in the world of Himalayan art for it’s fine paintings, any visitor can clearly see why when they step foot inside the first chapel. The style has been heavily influenced by Persian and Greek art, brought along the ancient trading routes, and the figures of Buddhas and their retinue look almost like European Christian figures. The paintings are carefully preserved, meaning no photography, but books and postcards are available for sale, which also supports further preservation of the monastery. Afterwards have lunch or even join a cooking class at the award winning Alchi Kitchen, serving up delicious traditional Ladakhi meals.

7.     Traditional Home-stay Experience

One of the businesses that the Women’s Alliance has been encouraging in Ladakh is Home-stay experiences, so that women can work from their village without having to move to or travel daily to the city. Now, in almost every village in Ladakh you can find traditional homestay experiences that range from sleeping on the floor on mats to proper comfortable beds, helping with daily life in the fields to being treated to locally grown and homemade delicacies. Speak to us before your journey to arrange this for you.

8.     Lamayuru Monastery and “Moonscape”

Further on from Alchi Monastery, past several more small villages and through a dramatic canyon, you’ll reach Lamayuru Monastery and the so-called “Moonscape” scenic area. Lamayuru Monastery seems precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, when seen from below, and overhangs several small meditation caves that can only be reached through narrow tunnels burrowed into the cliff. It looks like a film, too impossible to be real. Surrounding Lamayuru is the distinctively weathered rock that has become known as the moonscape, due to its extra-terrestrial appearance.

9. Stok Palace and Museum

Coming back toward Leh, Stok sits on the south side of the Sengge River, directly across the valley from the capital. Stok is where the royal family reside, and near to the palace is a monastery-museum filled with beautiful royal treasures dating back centuries. It is a fascinating insight into the life of the royal family of Ladakh and their historic pedigree.

10..     Eat your heart out

Finally, one of the top experiences in Leh is to sample the local food – go for the organic dried apricots (or fresh if there in August!) and apples, sip on chai or fresh mint tea, try the momos, thukpa or skyu, the staples of Ladakhi home-cooking. Leh also has a wide selection of western-influenced Ladakhi food if you’d like something a little closer to home – try the yak cheese pizza or chocolate momos for a unique meal!

A touch of luxury on the Tibetan Grasslands

OUR INTREPID BECKY HAS BEEN OUT CHECKING ON SOME GORGEOUS NEW DESTINATIONS

DID YOU THINK THAT TRAVEL IN TIBET HAD TO INVOLVE ROUGHING IT? 

NOT HERE AT THE GORGEOUS NORDEN CAMP WHICH BECKY GAVE 10 OUT OF 10 FOR LUXURY, AUTHENTICITY AND COMFORT!

Glamping Twin Room.jpg

As we crossed the line from the end of the sealed road onto dusty gravel, bounded on both sides by rolling green grasslands dotted with yaks and sheep, I knew this place was remote. Turning off the dusty road at last toward the Norden Camp, and driving under the tall banners of prayer flags whipping in the wind, I knew this place would be something different.

Founded by a local Tibetan man, based on the concept of traditional Tibetan nomadic culture mixed with modern eco-friendly practices and western comforts, Norden Camp is a unique accommodation near the famous Labrang Monastery in Xiahe, eastern Tibet.

Winding stepping stone pathways lead guests through the trees and bushes from the reception room out to the communal lounge, bar, library, dining, and relaxation areas, and further over the small ups and downs of the natural landscape to each carefully placed tent and wood cabin.

Glamping.jpg

The camp manager, Jamyang, led me around the wide space. Smiling broadly, he was clearly proud of the place he was leading into the start of a busy summer season. All of the staff are local Tibetan nomads – many from the owner’s extended family – who are being trained in specific tasks such as housekeeping, cooking, and waiting tables. Although many of them can’t speak a word of English, smiles seem to be the lingua franca and for the most part communication doesn’t need words for them to understand and expect what guests require.

The tents and cabins are built on raised platforms over the grasses, to reduce their environmental impact, and have systems in place to ensure water is conserved wherever possible. The interiors are beautifully appointed with wool and felt products from the Norlha handicrafts range – Norden’s older sister project based nearby. From blankets to slippers to pillowcases and hot water bottles, the simple yet elegant designs add warmth to the rooms. Each room also has a stove for extra cosiness on those cold nights, carefully tended by the housekeeping staff through the evening so that the guests feel comfortable and warm by the time they retire for the evening.

Bar with Jamyang Pouring Coffee.jpg

Boutique touches such as the wide space of the yoga room, located next to a low bubbling stream, the hot tub that overlooks the grasslands and mountains in the distance, and the Finnish-style sauna add to the experience guests looking for comforts and warmth in the high plateau.

 

Bar Coffee in the sun.jpg

After coffee on the deck outside in the last of the afternoon sun, I headed inside to the bar area to relax in front of the fire while waiting for dinner. With multiple dining spaces, groups have their own privacy to dine in without worrying about others. I was treated to the “Yak Story” – one of three “Stories” that Norden serves, created by the excellent American head chef who lived for two years in Bhutan running the kitchen of a luxury resort. At Norden he has embraced the creative challenge of using all locally sourced ingredients, mostly traditional Tibetan ingredients, to create a range of dishes that appeal to western palates while showcasing the best of the plateau’s unique flavours.

Yak Steak.jpg

The meal was stunningly presented and tasted as good as in any fine dining restaurant back home – a delicate broth of yak and barley, reminiscent of a French onion soup, followed by a main course of yak steak with mashed potatoes, spinach, and yak bone marrow served with barley toast. Finally, a small yak-milk crème brulee completed the menu.

But not every dish is so meat-based - the kitchen is well equipped for dealing with special dietary requirements, providing alternative menus for vegetarians, vegans, coeliac, and other allergies or requirements. After speaking with the chef about this, his passion for food and experimenting with the local ingredients became clear: he seemed to enjoy the challenge of adapting a traditional Tibetan meal – which is typically meat- and dairy- based – to suit individual needs of customers.

Bar Interior Seating.jpg

From inside the comfort of the wood-cabin bar, I watched as the grasslands outside turned from green to deep blue and purple and finally settled into darkness. With no light pollution from any nearby towns or houses, the night sky out here seems deep and endless, and completely peaceful.

Hidden out here in the rolling hills of the Amdo grasslands, under the brightly coloured prayer flags, a haven of peace has been built in harmony with the environment. Norden Camp is the perfect escape for anyone seeking a spiritual or romantic retreat with a difference; a touch of luxury in the Tibetan grasslands.

A Taste Of Trekking: Highlighting the Sagala Trail

 Camping on the Sagala Trek

Camping on the Sagala Trek

Many people dream of trekking in the Himalayas.

It's on thousands of bucket lists all over the world.

Travel writers rave about the unforgettable experience of being in the shadow of high mountains and crossing windswept passes. 

But what if you're not an experienced or serious trekker? 

The experience doesn't have to be missed. In western Bhutan, the short Sagala Trek is one of the most popular for giving a taste of trekking in the high altitudes of the Himalayas, without committing your time or your body to a more serious route. 

The trek begins in the tranquil valley of Haa, bordering on Tibet and shaped by the Haa Chhu River.  Local people consider the hills around Haa to be holy and inhabited by local protector deities, so you'll see shrines and temples dotting the forested slopes and around every village. A walk through the quaint villages of the Haa valley allows you to experience traditional Bhutanese customs and everyday life, as you can interact with the local people. 

From the small village of Talung, resting at 3,150m at the top of the valley, the trail gradually climbs through meadows and coniferous forest to the Sagala Pass - the highest point of the trek at 3,720m above sea level. Enjoy the excellent views as far as the Tibetan border, Mount Jomolhari, Tiger's Nest Monastery near Paro, and Drukgyel Dzong. Crossing over the pass toward Paro, the descent begins through rhododendron forest to the peaceful Dongney Tso Lake where camp is set up for the night. 

ANNE 12.jpg
P1000608.JPG

Waking up in the morning to the sound of birdsong in the trees and sunrise illuminating the distant peaks, enjoy a coffee with your breakfast as you warm up and prepare for the day's hike. Trek down a steep hill through thick vegetation that's thriving with animal life - see how many laughing thrushes, magpies, and pheasants you can spot - until you reach a small village and temple. From here there isn't far to go to Balakha Chhu, where the trail ends and your car will meet you to take you the rest of the way to Paro. 

Done as a three-day/ two-night, or a shorter two-day/ one-night journey from Haa over to Paro, the Sagala Trek is the perfect introduction to Himalayan hiking for those who have never done it before. You will be accompanied by a guide, mules to carry your luggage, and a cook to prepare nourishing meals. Camp will be set up for you each night, complete with mattresses, warm sleeping bags and blankets, a dining tent and bathroom tent - you don't have to worry about the cold or your comfort. 

Short on time, unsure of your trekking stamina, or nervous about committing to a multi-day hike at high altitude? Don't let these stop you; the Sagala Trek could be the right one for you. 

Check out our trip page here for more information, or contact us to enquire more

 Cairns and prayer flags at the Sagala Pass

Cairns and prayer flags at the Sagala Pass

The Top 5 Festivals to Visit in Tibet

 Lhasa locals gather in the Norbulinka Summer Palace to watch traditional Tibetan Opera performances during Shoton Festival in summer. 

Lhasa locals gather in the Norbulinka Summer Palace to watch traditional Tibetan Opera performances during Shoton Festival in summer. 

For the ultimate cultural experience, nothing can beat a festival in the land of snows. 

There's something so enchanting about Tibetan festivals - the rich colours of the Buddhist robes, the warm smell of butter lamp candles, the melodious chanting of prayers punctuated with droning trumpets and thundering drumbeats, and of course the enthusiastic atmosphere created by the local pilgrims and monks in attendance. 

All across the Tibetan plateau various different festivals are celebrated, each with their unique practices and traditions. From the month-long Saga Dawa (often in May/June) during which thousands of Tibetans renounce meat, to the sunrise unveiling of a giant thangka at Drepung and Sera Monasteries in Lhasa, to the lighting of thousands of butter lamps in towns and villages across the country. Eastern Tibet's Kham and Amdo regions are well known for their horse racing festivals, while central Tibet's monasteries take center stage for a number of important days throughout the year. 

Out of all the festivals in Tibet, we've got a few favourites of our own. Which ones appeal to you? 

Here are our picks for the top 5 festivals to visit in Tibet: 

1. Shoton (Yoghurt) Festival, Lhasa. 
August 11 - 16, 2018 / August 30, 2019

This week-long festival in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa begins at sunrise with the grand unveiling of a giant thangka (embroidered image of the Buddha) that is only brought out for this one day, once a year. Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery - the two largest monasteries in Lhasa - each have their own thangka, which are simultaneously unravelled, but devoted pilgrims who wish to see both usually begin at Drepung in the morning, then carry on to Sera for the afternoon. The ceremony involves dramatic traditional music with much clashing of cymbals and pounding of drums, and a ritual dance by trained monks. Thousands of local pilgrims queue for hours to see the thangka and receive a blessing from it. 

After the first day, the environment relaxes as Lhasa locals all spend a week's holiday picnicking at the Norbulinka (the summer palace of the Dalai Lama) and watching Tibetan Opera performances in the park. 

 The giant thangka at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. 

The giant thangka at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. 

2. Butter Lamp Festival, All Over Tibet
Dec 2, 2018 / Dec 21, 2019 

To celebrate the achievements of the great Tibetan saint-scholar Je Tsongkhapa, people across the country lights tens of thousands of butter lamps in every monastery and ordinary house's windows and rooftops. Known in Tibetan as "Ganden Ngamchoe", it has become famous in English as the "Butter Lamp Festival". Je Tsongkhapa was responsible for creating the Gelug, or "Yellow Hat", school of Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is now the head. 

In Lhasa, hundreds of locals and tourists pack into the Barkhor Square to see the lamps lit on the roof, balconies, and windows of the sacred Jokhang Temple. In Kangding and other towns across eastern Tibet families spend the day in the monasteries helping to fill empty lamps with yak butter, ready to light at night. 

 The Butter Lamp Festival in Kangding, Kham. 

The Butter Lamp Festival in Kangding, Kham. 

3. Tsurphu Monastery Festival, Lhasa
May 24, 2018 / June 12, 2019 

The head monastery of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and home of the Karmapa Rinpoche, is tucked away in a narrow valley west of Lhasa. Not many tourists visit Tsurphu, making it an ideal place to have an authentic festival experience, surrounded by Tibetan pilgrims from near and far, immersed in the Buddhist culture. 

For three days monks perform symbolic dances while wearing elaborate costumes and masks, representing and embodying different deities. Interspersed are comedic acts with laypeople dressed as clowns, yaks and snow lions who entertain the crowd to lighten the mood. It's a jovial experience that has everyone laughing. 

 Monks in elaborate costumes and masks parade around the courtyard during the Tsurphu Monastery festival and cham dance performance. 

Monks in elaborate costumes and masks parade around the courtyard during the Tsurphu Monastery festival and cham dance performance. 

4. Yushu Horse Racing Festival, Kham
July 25 - Aug 1, 2018 & 2019

Khampa people are known for being the horsemen of Tibet - wild and strong, fierce on horseback, but lovers of having a good party! Horse racing festivals are a highlight of any trip to the Kham region, and are also popular in Amdo. The horse racing festival at Yushu is one of the biggest events of the year in eastern Tibet, and a unique experience for any visitor. 

For a week, watch as Tibetan men show off their talents on horseback, performing acrobatic tricks such as standing, firing a bow and arrow at targets, and sweeping up scarves from the ground while at gallop. There are also yak races and a full carnival of fun and games for families to enjoy. This is nomad Tibetan culture on display at its finest, as the empty grasslands fill with traditional yak hair tents as families pour into the area, wearing their best new clothes. Mingle with local people, and have the experience of a lifetime. 

 An agile rider shows how he can lower himself to the ground, and then pull himself up again, during the horse racing festival in Tibet. 

An agile rider shows how he can lower himself to the ground, and then pull himself up again, during the horse racing festival in Tibet. 

5. Cho-Kor/ Ri-Kor Festival, Lhasa
July 16, 2018 / August 4, 2019

The whole of Tibet celebrates the Cho-kor festival - the anniversary of the day the Buddha first "turned the wheel of dharma" by teaching his disciples about the four noble truths. But in Lhasa the celebration is unique - hundreds of people take to the mountains to complete a day-long pilgrimage from hermitage to hermitage across the mountains that form the northern border of Lhasa city. This pilgrimage is called the "Ri-Kor", or "Mountain Circuit". 

From early in the morning friends, families, young children and grandparents walk along the old mountain trails from Pabonkha Monastery to Sera Monastery, via 3 or 4 different hermitage retreats. They carry with them new prayer flags to hang from the mountain, and bags full of juniper and dried herbs to burn in piles of incense. Many sing and tell jokes as they walk, and at lunchtime stop to play games as they picnic high on the mountainside with panoramic views of Lhasa city below. 

 A Tibetan woman waits for her friends in the mountains, during the Rikor festival. 

A Tibetan woman waits for her friends in the mountains, during the Rikor festival. 

Bonus: Losar, All Over Tibet
February 5, 2019

The Tibetan New Year is usually a time for Tibetan people to be with their families and at home, similar to Christmas in the west. However, for tourists it can still be a beautiful time to be in Lhasa as people come to the holy city from all corners of the plateau wearing their best new clothes and showing off the fashionable dresses and jewelry of their home region. In Amdo, at Labrang and Langmusi Monasteries, the ceremonies to welcome in the new year go for days and involve displays of painted butter sculptures. People from all of the surrounding villages come to the monastery for blessing and to see the celebrations for the new year begin. 

 A Tibetan woman from Kham walks the Barkhor in Lhasa during Losar. 

A Tibetan woman from Kham walks the Barkhor in Lhasa during Losar.