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The Complete Guide to Cycling Bhutan

By Ankita Sharma

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Understanding Bhutan


Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia, sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south, east, and west.

It lies between 26°N and 29°N latitudes, and 88°E and 93°E longitude.

Bhutan is the most mountainous country in the world — over 98.8% of its area is covered by mountains of the Himalayan range. Gangkhar Puensum (7,570 m/24,835 ft), the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, is in Bhutan.

Cyclists should be prepared for challenging climbs when cycling in Bhutan. However, all of Art of Bicycle Trips' tours are available with e-bike upgrades to make cycling Bhutan's mountains easier and more enjoyable.

Flora and Fauna

Bhutan lies in the Eastern Himalayas which are classified as a global biodiversity hotspot due to their unique combination of high-altitude and sub-tropical latitude.

About 64% of the country is covered by forests.

One of the most notable trees found in Bhutan is called the Blue Pine or the Bhutan Pine. Native to Himalayan regions between the altitudes of 2,000 m to 4,000 m (6,566 ft to 13,123 ft), the tree is notable for its bluish-green needle-like leaves.

A notable characteristic of Bhutan’s topography is the wide variation in altitude. Within an expanse of about 250 kms (155 mi) between its northern and southern extremities, the elevation rises from 150 m to more than 7,500 m above the sea level ( 490 to 24,600 ft) . This results in a very diverse range of flora and fauna within Bhutan’s small geographical area. . Bhutan's southernmost, low altitude regions are home to tropical forests. The tiger, one-horned rhino, and the sloth bear are the most important wild animals found in this region. The temperate regions further to the north are home to bamboo forests where live animals such as the red panda and the Himalayan black bear. The high alpine regions of Bhutan are home to the critically endangered snow leopard and the marmot.

The Takin, also called gnu goat, is Bhutan's national animal.


Bhutan’s climate varies with altitude. The plains to the south can be hot and humid, while the higher mountains to the north remain snowbound for most of the year. The rest of the country enjoys a somewhat milder subtropical climate characterized by moderate to heavy rainfall and average temperatures ranging from 10 to 30°C (50 to 86°F).

Bhutan is also known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon due the thunderous rainstorms that often strike its valleys from the high Himalayan peaks.


Bhutan is among the most prosperous South Asian countries. By western standards, however, it is classified as a low income country, with an average income of $ 3,491

Being a small country of only 8 million people, Bhutan has a tiny GNP of $2.34 billion. However, Bhutan is perhaps the only country in the world which prefers to use gross national happiness as a measure of prosperity rather than gross national product or gross domestic product.

Gross National Happiness is a concept enshrined in the constitution of Bhutan, and defines four principles around which the country’s progress is measured — sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, ecological sustainability, preservation and promotion of a free and resilient culture, and good governance and equality before the law.

Agriculture and forestry is the sector that employs about 40% of the country’s population and contributes 16% to its GDP.

Bhutan is also a major producer of hydroelectricity, with India being the primary buyer. Bhutan’s economy is closely tied to that of India, and India purchases about 93% of all the products and services exported by Bhutan. India also provides financial assistance to Bhutan for various projects, while also providing labor for infrastructural projects such as roads.

Tourism in Bhutan is a nascent sector, and the country has only recently opened its doors to welcome tourists.


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Why Choose Bhutan for Cycling?

Stunning Natural Beauty

With 70% of its land area under forest cover, Bhutan is the second most forested country in the world after Finland.

Bhutan is also the world’s most mountainous country, with 98.8% of the country’s area being mountainous. And as if that was not enough, it is also the highest country in the world, with the average elevation being 3279m (10,760ft).

In fact, the world’s highest unclimbed mountain is located in Bhutan. The Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 m ( 24,840 ft), located in northern Bhutan holds the title of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Only 4 attempts have been made to climb it, and all 4 were successful. Since 2003, mountaineering of any kind has been banned in Bhutan.

This mix of pristine forests, mountains, highland plateaus results in some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll experience anywhere in the world.

Wide Variety of Terrains

Bhutan’s geographical diversity has to be experienced to be believed. From the low-lying Dooar plains located close to sea level, the terrain rises suddenly and spectacularly to snow-capped peaks well over 7,000m (23,000 ft) in altitude. In between the mountains and the plains are highlands, meadows, valleys, and gorges criss-crossed by numerous rivers. This makes biking in Bhutan

Practically No Traffic

Bhutan has a population of only about 7,50,000 inhabitants, with nearly 15% of this population concentrated in its capital city of Thimphu. This means that when you’re out biking in the Bhutanese countryside and through quaint Bhutanese villages, you will encounter next to no traffic at all.

It Is the World’s Only Carbon Sink

Bhutan is the first and only carbon negative country in the world. It absorbs more carbon than it produces, in effect, making it a carbon sink — the only one of its kind in the entire world. This also means that it is one of the least polluted countries in the world. So when you’re biking in Bhutan, all you get to breathe is clean, crisp Himalayan air.

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery

You’ve no doubt seen pictures of the world famous Tiger’s Nest monastery, perched precariously atop a cliff in the Paro Valley. Cycling in Bhutan allows you to experience this man-made miracle from an entirely different perspective altogether.

Gross National Happiness

You’ve heard of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but have you heard of Gross National Happiness (GNH) ? Come to Bhutan and you’ll find out. Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures productivity in Gross National Happiness rather than in GDP. This is because Buddhism, Bhutan’s state religion, emphasizes that happiness extends beyond mere material possessions. This makes Bhutan one of the happiest countries in the world, even if it is not the richest.

Well-preserved Ancient Culture

Bhutanese don’t just preserve their culture, they enforce it among themselves. For instance, it is mandatory for every citizen to wear the traditional Bhutanese national dress whenever they attend a government office, visit a religious place, or enter a judicial building. Preservation of the country’s cultural heritage is one of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness, the country’s guiding philosophy.

A Haven of Spirituality

Buddhism is not just the state religion, but has been a way of life in Bhutan for over 2 millennia. Everywhere you go, you will encounter beautiful monasteries and peacefully meditating monks. When cycling in Bhutan, it is hard not to feel a deep urge to connect with your own spiritual side.

Which Are the Best Regions to Cycle in Bhutan

Bhutan may be a small country, but is not short on places to enjoy cycling in. Here’s a list of the best regions on go for cycling in Bhutan:

1. Paro Valley

Located on the north-western corner of Bhutan, Paro has an average altitude of 2,200 m (7,217 ft). It is home to the town of the same name, as well as the river called Paro that rises from a glacier to the north and flows south.

Paro was the political, cultural, and commercial center of Bhutan till Thimphu was announced as the capital in 1962. It continues to remain an important region.

Bhutan’s only international airport is located in the city of Paro, with the Paro river flowing just to its west, making it one of the most picturesque airports in the world.

Besides its scenic beauty, the major attractions in Paro are:

Taktshang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable landmarks of Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery sits precariously on the edge of a cliff 10 kms north of the city of Paro. Located 3,120 m ( 10,240 ft) above sea level, the cliff itself rises 900 m (3,000 ft) above the city of Paro, with the Paro river flowing to its right, while the monastery clings on the cliff like a gecko.

Dating back to the 8th century AD, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is an excellent example of Bhutanese architecture.

Rinpung and Drukgyal Dzong

Dzongs are fortified Bhutanese monasteries that also serve as the seats of temporal and religious authority locally.

The Rinpung Dzong is one of the largest Dzongs in Bhutan that houses the administrative headquarters of the Paro district.

It was also the location where large parts of the Bernardo Bertolucci film Little Buddha were shot. Starring Chris Isaak, Keanu Reeves,and Bridget Fonda, the film was released in December 1993.

The Drukgyal Dzong is listed on Bhutan’s tentative list of sites to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. This fortress served as a strategic watchtower and played a vital role in repelling numerous Tibetan invasions during the 1600s. O

On a clear day, we can catch a glimpse of the majestic Jumolhari, also known as the 'Mountain of the Goddess,' towering at 7,329 meters (24,029 feet) from the Dzong.

Kyichu Lakhang

Dating back to the 7th century AD, the Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.

2. Punakha Valley

Located 72 kms (45 mi) northeast of Thimphu, Punakha is a picturesque valley that is home to the town of the same name. Due to its relatively low altitude of about 1,200m (3,937 ft), milder weather, and easy accessibility, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan till 1955.

This intimate connection with Bhutan’s history means that Punakha has several beautiful monuments of great historical and cultural importance, the prime among them being the Punakha Dzong.

Located at the confluence of two major Bhutanese rivers — the Pho and the Mo river — the Punakha Dzong is truly a sight to behold. It would not be amiss to say that it is, perhaps, the most beautiful Dzong in all of Bhutan. The Dzong also houses the most sacred relics of Bhutanese Buddhism.

Punakha is also home to critically endangered white-bellied herons.

The bicycle journey from Thimpu to Punakha is picturesque and takes you through the beautiful Dochu La pass situated at 3,100 m (10,171 ft) and offering a dazzling view of the snow-covered Himalayas.

Gangkar Puensum, the highest unclimbed mountain in the world is visible from the Dochu La Pass.

The pass is also home to the 108 Chortens or Buddhist monuments built in memory of Bhutanese soldiers fallen in battle.

The mountainsides around the pass are covered in forests of cypress.

Also located in the vicinity is the Royal Botanical park that has an excellent collection of rare and endangered Himalayan plants. This is also a great site for birdwatching.

3. Bumthang Valley

Bumthang is the spiritual heart of Bhutan. It is home to the largest number of temples and monasteries in the country, including the Jakar Dzong, the largest Dzong in Bhutan by area.

Located 11 kms (6.8 mi) from the town of Jakar is the Mebar Tsho, or Burning Lake, one of the holiest places in Bhutan. The lake is maintained by the nuns of the Pema Tekchok Choling Nunnery, which is Bhutan’s first Buddhist nunnery for women.

The Bumthang Valley is located in north-central Bhutan, with its northern half bordering Tibet being a part of the Wangchuck Centennial National Park, the largest national park in Bhutan. This park is home to some of the most endangered animals on earth, including the snow leopard, the Bengal tiger, and the Tibetan wolf.

Bumthang is, in fact, a large and sparse region made up of four valleys. However, for convenience’s sake, the entire Bumthang region is referred to as a valley. The town of Jakar, its administrative and commercial hub is situated at an altitude of 2,587 m (8,488 ft), and is well connected with the rest of the country.

4. Phobjikha Valley

Located close to the geographical center of Bhutan, Phobhjikha is a beautiful valley at an average altitude of 3,000 m (9,800 ft) above sea level. It is surrounded on all sides by mountain peaks reaching an elevation of 4,616 m (15,145 feet ) that remain covered in snow all year round.

And if that was not enough, large parts of the valley are covered with wetlands that serve as the winter breeding grounds for the critically endangered, yet globally-threatened black-necked cranes that migrate south from the Tibetan highlands to the Phobjikha valley in winter each year.

In fact, there is even a crane festival held each year at the onset of winter in Phobjikha to welcome the arrival of the cranes.

There are no major cities in the Phobjikha Valley. The entire valley has a population of about 4,500 inhabitants, several of whom migrate to lower altitudes during the winter.

Phobji and and Ganteng are two medium-sized towns in the valley.

The nearest major cities are Wangdue Phodrang and Thimphu, located to the west of Phobjikha. To reach Phobjikha, one can take a bus from Wangdue Phodrang, or a bus or a cab from Thimphu. .

5. Haa Valley

Tucked away on Bhutan’s western edge, adjoining the Sikkim province of India, Haa Valley is a thinly populated paradise that was opened up to tourists only in 2002.

The reason for the valley’s long isolation was its remoteness and inaccessibility. There are only two roads that connect Haa to the rest of Bhutan.

The first one, which is the shorter path, connects the Paro Valley to Haa Valley through the Chele La Pass. At 3,988 m (13,083 ft), the road over the Chele Pass is the highest motorable road in Bhutan.

The distance between Paro and Haa is only about 70 kms ( 43 mi) through this route. However, the road is treacherous, with steep climbs, sharp turns and sheer drops. When cycling Bhutan, this is the route most cyclists take from Paro to Haa.

On the flip side though, the views all around are simply stunning.

The pass also offers some excellent hiking routes, such as the hike to Kila Goemba, a Buddhist nunnery, located just below the pass. Dating back to the 9th century AD, the Kila Goemba nunnery is believed to be the oldest nunnery in the world.

The hike from the Chele La pass to Kila Goemba takes a little over an hour, and offers stunning views of Mt Jomolhari (7 314 m/23 996 ft), Jichu Drake (6 794 m/22 290 ft) and and the world’s third-highest mountain Kangchenjunga (8 586 / 8 170 ft).

The only other road connecting the Haa Valley to the rest of Bhutan takes a much longer, circuitous route, eventually connecting Haa to Thimphu.


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Which Are the Best Cycling Routes in Bhutan?

Bhutan is a small country, and much of it is inaccessible to cyclists due to very high altitude or dense forests.

As a result, there are only two main cycling routes in Bhutan.

1. Bumthang to Paro and Haa

This route is roughly a straight line that has the Paro and the Haa Valleys as its western extreme and the Bumthang valley as its eastern end, with Thimphu, Phobjikha, and Punakha making up the major stops in between. Cyclists can do the route from either end, although its more convenient to do a Bhutan cycling tour starting from Paro or Thimphu due to their better air connectivity.

2. Tour the Dragon Bike Route

Tour the Dragon is a famous mountain bike race that is held in Bhutan each year in August-September. Aimed at promoting mountain biking in Bhutan, the race is organized by the Government and Bhutan, the Bhutanese king himself being a cycling enthusiast.

The grueling 255 km (158 mi) follows a subsection of the previous route, starting from Jakar in the eastern Bumthang Valley, and ending in Thimphu towards the west after passing through Trongsa and Wangdue Phodrang.

Along the way, cyclists ride through four high-altitude mountain passes:

  1. Kiki La Pass (2,870 m / 9,416 ft)
  2. Yutong La Pass (3,434 m / 11,266 ft)
  3. Pele La Pass (3,430 m / 11,253 ft)
  4. Dochu La Pass (3,150 m / 10,334 ft)

When Is the Best Time for Cycling Bhutan?

The best time for cycling in Bhutan is spring-summer and fall. (March to June and September to November)

During these months, the weather is generally mild with clear skies, making it perfect for cycling.

The maximum temperature in June, which is the hottest month, seldom crosses 30°C ( 86 °F). The minimum temperature in November can come down to 1.4°C ( 34.5°F).

Enjoying Bhutanese Cuisine

Given its high-altitude Bhutanese cuisine relies on the crops and foods that grow abundantly in its harsh and unique climate — red rice, buckwheat, poultry, and dairy products obtained from yak and cow milk.

The Bhutanese also love chili peppers, and most Bhutanese dishes are served with copious amounts of chili pepper. In fact, Bhutan has the highest per capita consumption of chillies in the world, with the average Bhutanese consuming 1 kilogram of chili in a week.

One of the hottest chilies in the world, Dalle Khursani is grown widely in Bhutan, and the adjoining regions of Nepal and Sikkim in India. With a pungency measure of 3,50,000 scoville heat units (SHU), the Dalle Khursani is also known locally as the “murderer chili”.

1. Ema Datshi (Spicy Cheese Stew)

Considered Bhutan's national dish, Ema Datshi is a spicy stew made with melted cheese, chili peppers, and sometimes vegetables like potatoes or mushrooms. It is prepared by melting cheese in a pot, then adding chopped chili peppers, tomatoes, and onions. The stew is then allowed to simmer until it thickens. It is then served hot with red rice.

2. Phaksha Paa (Pork with Red Chilies)

One of the most popular Bhutanese dishes, Phaksha Paa is made of tender pieces of pork cooked with red chili peppers, onions, and sometimes radishes or spinach. It's a spicy dish that goes well with rice or traditional Bhutanese buckwheat noodles.

3. Jasha Maroo

A spicy chicken dish cooked with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and green chili peppers. The dish is then flavored with Bhutanese spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric, resulting in a flavorful and aromatic dish.

4. Suja

A traditional Bhutanese beverage made with butter, salt, and tea leaves, Suja is savory tea that provides richness and warmth, making it a comforting drink, especially in the cold regions of Bhutan. It is prepared by brewing tea leaves, straining, and pouring them into a pot, then adding butter and salt to it. The resulting brew is then whisked until it is frothy and ready to drink.

5. Ara

A traditional Bhutanese spirit, Ara is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice, maize, or barley. It is commonly consumed during festivals, celebrations, and social gatherings, and is considered an integral part of Bhutanese culture and hospitality.

Bhutan Visa Requirements

All visitors require a visa before traveling to Bhutan, except Indian nationals who only require a permit. Permits for Indian nationals should ideally be obtained in advance to reduce processing time, however such permits can also be issued on arrival.

Visitors can apply for their Bhutan visa through the official e-visa portal of the Department of Immigration, Kingdom of Bhutan.

The following documents are required in the digital format in order to apply for a Bhutan visa:

  1. A copy of the applicant’s passport. The passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the intended date of arrival in Bhutan.

  2. A recent passport size photograph.

The maximum duration for which the visa is issued in 90 days.

Bhutan Visa Fees

Applicants need to pay the following fees when applying for a Bhutan visa:

  1. A US $40 Bhutan non-refundable visa processing fee.

  2. A special development fee (SDF) of US $200 per person per night. The SDF must be paid while applying for the visa. This fee is used to develop Bhutan, including providing healthcare and education facilities in Bhutan’s remote and far-flung areas, and in developing tourism infrastructure. In case the applicant cancels their Bhutan visit, the SDF can be refunded.

Bhutan visas are usually processed within 5 working days.

Handy Info


The official currency of Bhutan is Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN) abbreviated as Nu. As of May 2024, 1 US Dollar = 83 BTN.

The US Dollar and the Indian Rupee may be accepted at commercial establishments. However, it is good to carry some local currency with you.

Currency can be exchanged at the international airport in Paro, or at branches of the Bank of Bhutan in cities such as Paro and Thimphu.

Bhutan is a cash-heavy economy, and for small purchases and for transactions in smaller towns, cash is the preferred mode of payment. Credit cards may be accepted at larger establishments in the bigger cities such as Paro and Thimphu.


Bhutan has only 1 international airport, which is situated in Paro.

It has 3 other domestic airports located in Jakar, Trashigang, and Gelephu respectively.

Given its altitude, there is no railway service in Bhutan.

Most transportation happens by road. Buses and taxi cabs are the main means of transport.

Bhutanese cities themselves are small, and tourists can get by with taxi cabs which aren’t very expensive, or can even walk around.


The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, spoken by the majority of the Bhutanese population. Various regional languages like Tshangla, Lhotshamkha, and Bumthangkha are spoken by different ethnic groups.

English is widely understood, especially by people in the urban areas, due to its importance in education and administration.

Culture and Religion

Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan, and is also followed by a little over 84% of its population. Of the remaining, 12% follow Hinduism, while 4% follow the animistic Bon religion.

Bhutan’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all, and Bhutanese society in general is tolerant of diversity.

However, religion, especially Buddhism plays a central role in the lives of the people. Drukpa Kagyu, a special lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is followed by the majority of Bhutanese.

It is important to note that, it is customary to remove shoes before entering temples and monasteries as a sign of respect-a practice rooted in Buddhist tradition. Visiting certain religious sites may also require a special dress code.

Photography at certain religious places and military establishments may be prohibited. Please follow the instructions provided by your local tour guide in such matters.

Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy, and the king is the head of the state in Bhutan. The king and the royal family are held in high esteem in Bhutan.

Mobile Coverage

Bhutan has decent mobile coverage, particularly in urban areas. However, mobile connectivity is usually poor outside of the major cities.

Mobile signals may also be frequently disrupted while traveling on the highways.

Among the major destinations that most cyclists cover when cycling Bhutan, Paro and Thimphu have good 4G coverage, while Phobjikha and the Haa valley have poor mobile service.

State-owned Bhutan Telecom Ltd or B-Mobile is the most popular mobile and telecommunications service provider in Bhutan. Tashicell is another popular cellular operator.

For making regular international calls, it is better to buy a local SIM card which is easily available at most general stores. It is also a good practice to share your tour guide’s number with your family/friends back home in case of an emergency.

Most hotels in Bhutan provide free wifi, and this can be used to communicate with your friends and family using your existing number.

Appliances and Devices

Power is supplied in Bhutan at 220V and 50 Hz. This voltage is also used in most other parts of the world, except the US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Japan, where 200-127 V is used. Travelers from these countries might need to use a voltage converter if their device does not support these voltages.

Power plugs and sockets in Bhutan are of three types:

  1. 2-pin Type F
  2. 3-pin Type D
  3. 3-pin Type G

If your device does not plug into these sockets, you might need to use a travel adapter.

Time Zone

Bhutan follows Bhutan Standard Time (BTT), which is six hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC+6).


It is important to note that only 3 countries have their embassies in Bhutan — India, Bangladesh, and Kuwait.

For all other countries, their embassies in New Delhi, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh, may serve as the office responsible for Bhutanese affairs. Thus, in case of an emergency, or for any other embassy-related work, visitors may need to contact their country's embassy in New Delhi or Dhaka.

The number of countries having their embassies present in Bhutan is the fourth-fewest in the world, after Andorra and Tuvalu, each of which hosts only 2 embassies, and Liechtenstein, which does not host any other country’s embassy.

Through the Notes

Read: Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered On My Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli Listen: Music from the Mountains of Bhutan: Songs of Kheng Sonam Dorji Watch: Little Buddha (1993) by Bernardo Bertolucci Eat: Emma Datshi, Bhutan’s national dish, and momos, steamed dumplings filled with veggies, meat, or cheese. Drink: Ara, Bhutanese liquor made from high-altitude barley or rice

Saddle Up for a Bhutan Cycling Adventure

Our Bhutan bike tours are designed for travelers who want to take the scenic route, allowing the sights, sounds, and scents of the destination time to sink in. Each guided bike tour comes with expert local trip leaders, a comfortable support vehicle, and world-class bikes. Electric bikes are also available for this trip.

Come, explore Bhutan by bike with us.

Also, make sure to check out our guides to cycling in India and cycling in Japan for other cycling adventures in Asia.


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Explore our Bhutan bike tours