Ah… decisions, decisions. It turns out that life is full of them. Bath or shower? Swipe left or right? One more drink and a taxi later or stagger home via the kebab shop now? High altitude trekking is no exception. Here you’re literally presented with a world of options, and there are decisions both big and small to be made.
Deciding on a country shouldn’t be too hard. If you like the craic of crampons, glacial terrain and dramatic mountainous landscapes, then somewhere like Nepal is a no-brainer. If, on the other hand, you’re a sun-seeker with a penchant for wildlife spotting, Africa is bound to be your bag.
Chances are, though, that whichever destination you decide upon you’ll be faced with a handful of awesome treks to choose from. Here, let me give you an example. Let’s say you’ve plumped to go trekking in the tiny, beautiful and culturally rich Kingdom of Bhutan (good decision – well done you).
Bhutan boasts two of the world’s most popular high altitude treks, but if time is limited on your walking holiday – perhaps because you want to take in some of the country’s cultural highlights – which should you choose? Well, we like to be helpful so here’s our guide comparing the Chomolhari trek versus the Druk Path; the differences from a trekker's perspective.
Trekking experiences are largely a subjective thing, so to help you decide between the Chomolhari trek and the Druk Path we’ve compared five of the basic elements that apply to any self-respecting high-altitude trek so you can judge which trek is likely to be your best bet. Here we go then....
Chomolhari trek v Druk Path - duration and distance
If you find yourself up against the clock as a result of all the fab things to see and do in Bhutan, or you’re just not ‘feeling it’ for a longer trek, then the Druk Path is your best choice here. This little beauty can be achieved in just four days, but don’t be fooled; the Druk path’s 61km trail is absolutely chock-full of trekking goodness. Meanwhile, if you’ve got the hots for a full on Bhutan trekking experience we’d have to recommend the Chomolhari trek. Here you get six days of top-notch trekking during which your little leggies will get a proper work out over 112km of undulating – but spectacular – Himalayan terrain.
Difficulty and fitness comparison - Chomolhari v Druk Path
You know the score; we’re talking about high altitude trekking here, which means that whichever path you choose you’re going to need to pre-prepare for reduced oxygen levels. If you skip taking the time to acclimatise before you trek, you’re potentially looking at altitude sickness and that can be properly nasty. Cards on the table, you’re going to need to be reasonably to attempt either trek, but inevitably the longer Chomolhari trek is going to be more demanding as you’ll be walking twice the distance of the Druk Path and encountering steeper gradients and higher elevations. Don’t panic though; neither route requires you to have superpowers (be nice though, wouldn’t it?) and both offer unforgettable trekking experiences.
Comparison of altitude on Druk Path v Chomolhari
Go trekking in Bhutan and you’re gonna get high baby! Whether you go for Druk Path or the Chomalhari trek you’re in for some pretty decent climbs, stunning mountain passes and top-of-the-world panoramic viewpoints. On the shorter trek you’re going to attain a maximum elevation of 4,210m – pretty impressive! But this is edged by the Chomolhari trek, during which you’ll virtually be able to grab a passing cloud at a maximum elevation of 4,950m as you traverse the fearsome(ish) but exhilarating Yale La Pass.
Cultural things to see on Chomolhari v Druk Path trek
Yep, it’s not just about the trekking y’know. If you want the Bhutan full monty you just have to immerse yourself in the local culture along the way. On the Druk Path you’ll encounter a small 16th century hill fortress (Jele Dzong) which, although sadly ruined by fire in 1951, is still pretty impressive. Nearby is Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan's oldest monasteries; check out the statue of Buddha here. Elsewhere along the route you’ll probably bump into nomadic yak herders (and nomadic yaks too, obvs) – this is a great opportunity to get an insight into their challenging yet free-spirited lifestyle.
Cultural exchanges with yak herders are on also on the cards if you decide to try your hand (or should that be ‘foot’?) at the longer Chomolhari trek. You’ll also counter Buddhist monks at the beautiful 17th century Lingshi Dzong which also serves as an administrative centre for the region. The route is punctuated by the occasional chorten (or stupa); these easily recognised monuments are shrines, usually dedicated to Buddha or to an important lama or saint.
Regardless of whichever trek floats your boat, though, Bhutan is positively dripping with outstanding cultural experiences. Decent trek itineraries will include options to take in some of these, such as a visit to the spectacular Tiger’s Nest monastery or explorations Paro or Thimpu; places that are bursting at the seams with historical, cultural and sacred sites.
Highlights of Chomolhari and Druk Path treks
Of course, if you ask us, we’re bound to say that either trek is just one big highlight from start to finish. Press us a bit more (careful, we may be ticklish), and we’d probably tell you that some of the highlights of the Druk Path are: views of the gorgeous Paro Valley from on high; glacial lakes that teem with giant trout; the sight of the majestic Mount Jichu Drake and, of course, time spent in the company of those yak herders.
Inevitably, a big highlight of the Chomolhari trek is the jaw-dropping view of big ole’ Mount Chomolhari and its neighbouring peaks, but there are plenty of others too. We could mention the amazing ever-changing scenery which one minute is Rhododendron forest, the next yak-nibbled pastures and the next rocky mountain trails. Then there are the ancient fortresses and beautiful stupa to explore; stone staircases set into cliff faces and, as mentioned previously, that thrilling traverse of the Yale La Pass which is likely to have you taking photos like some kind of frenzied paparazzo.
But remember: highlights are a bit subjective, so something that might be ‘meh’ to one trekker could be ‘wowsville!’ to the next…
Comparison of Chomolhari trek vs Druk Path: to sum up
Like so many decisions in life, whether you choose the Chomolhari trek or the Druk Path in Bhutan will largely depend on your personal taste and circumstances. Could we choose between the two? No. And we’re not sitting on the fence here (because a fencepost up the backside can be uncomfortable) – the fact is that both treks are utterly fantastic. We know; we’ve trekked them both many times. But don’t just take our word for it, join us and you can discover your own perspective of two of Bhutan’s finest high altitude trekking adventures.