Bhutan – Drangme Chhu River

Planning is starting early for the first ever descent of the Drangme Chhu river in eastern Bhutan. This is an amazing journey of discovery down the largest and last unexplored river system in Bhutan. Until recently the east of Bhutan was totally restricted and our special permit will be the first group to ever run this river section. After pioneering Bhutan’s rivers in the 90’s this first descent closes the chapter on river exploration in Bhutan. The Drangme Chhu river is also potentially Bhutan’s classic multi-day expedition. The Drangme Chhu is an exciting journey, it is challenging and isolated, offering days of world class whitewater and some of the most dramatic mountain scenery and intact culture found anywhere in the Himalayas.

When we where the first paddlers invited by the Tourism Authority of Bhutan in 1997 to do a survey of rivers, I still remember meeting with Govt. representatives and talking with them about what we where looking for and what we planned to do. One comment from the Bhutanese ministry was that there where too many rocks in the river. As a group of expedition paddlers we could not help thinking yeah, right, what do they know? As it turned out on many of the rivers in Bhutan there are too many rocks when combined with the gradient of the rivers making them very committing, exceedingly powerful runs. On the initial survey we found some of the most amazing whitewater on the planet with some excellent shorter sections of river that could be run commercially, but the longer trip we where looking for just did not seem to be there. The Drangme Chhu is it.

Let's not mince words here: Bhutan is the cutest little kingdom on earth. A gigantic staircase rising from the Indian border to the high Himalayas of Tibet, the soaring peaks of Bhutan are an untapped treasure house of whitewater. The rivers are powerful and challenging. The mountains are magnificent. The people are delightful. The architecture and art is superb. All together, this is a world-class odyssey in a magical land. Far from being a static, restricted environment, Bhutan is a dynamic country whose development is focused on meeting the practical, spiritual and aesthetic needs of its people. Compared with the countries that surround it Bhutan is succeeding remarkably well.

A reflection of their intense Buddhist religious beliefs, the Bhutanese have treasured the natural environment for centuries and today more than 65% of the land is still covered by forest and some of the rarest of Himalayan wildlife, blue sheep, takin, Golden Langur and otters big enough to be considered a threat to human life are still common. As whitewater paddlers, we will share a unique view of this wonderful country, one rarely seen even by the Bhutanese. Join us in further challenging journeys in the "Land of the Thunder Dragon".

Day 1 Arrive in Paro then drive three hours to Thimpu the capital city. Overnight in Hotel.
Day 2 A long days drive to Tongsa (7 hours), stopping and exploring Punakha Dzong on the way and exploring Tongsa Dzong on arrival.
Day 3 Paddle the Ema Datzi canyon of the Mangde Chhu river. In 1997 this was undisputedly the favorite river of the whole expedition, as it was one of the few that all of us could paddle without indigestion. While the whitewater wasn’t as puissant or continuous as some of the other rivers we ran, it was one of the finest stretches of whitewater we’ve ever seen, in an absolutely dazzling river canyon. While the road follows the river for the entire run, the river quickly disappears into a sheer sided bedrock canyon, heavily overgrown with dense jungle. It’s a river canyon straight out of a fairy tale, with the emerald green water contrasting the shiny black walls and verdant jungle. The canyon walls are dotted with wild honey combs, and in the upper section we saw a band of rare Golden Langur Monkeys. It’s the type of place that you keep expecting to see a leopard eating something unlucky. This river begs for a group of expert to advanced kayakers, and with the right crew it will be a classic challenging paddle raft trip. Overnight at Ugyen’s family Dzong at Enduchholing (Palace of the first King), with a private festival for the group. This will include traditional religious mask dances and a sumptuous feast.
Day 4 Drive 7 hours to Bhumtang. Overnight Hotel.
Day 5 Drive to Trashigang. This section of road is absolutely stunning and changes from high passes to semi-tropical rainforest. Overnight Trashigang Hotel.
Day 6-8 The upper section of river is steeper and lower volume with some stunning challenging sections of continuous whitewater. With the road running beside the river we’ll be able to run most of this section form a river base camp. There will also be a chance to explore some of the smaller villages near the river.
Day 9-15 This is the crux of the expedition and once we leave the road access at the top of the river there is no other access till 100 km later down on the northern plains of India. We’ll be totally self-sufficient carrying all expedition gear on our rafts as we explore one of the last untouched rivers in the world.
Day 16 A drive across India brings us to Guhawati where we will overnight and celebrate the trip.
Day 17 Fly Guhawati to Delhi where our expedition finishes.
Day 10 Raft/Kayak (Self Support) to Pangthar.
Day 11 Pangthar (Self support) to Manas. Camp Manas.
Day 12 Manas. Nature walk. Camp.
Day 13 Drive to Gelephug. Camp.
Day 14 Drive to Thimphu.
Day 15 Depart.
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