Places to Visit in Bhutan
The town of Paro (2280m) lies in the center of the valley on the banks of the Paro Chhu and is a short distance northwest of Paro Dzong. The beautiful valley, where nature and man conjured to create their dearest image, is home to some of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries – as well as its only airport. Mount Jomolhari (7300 M) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form the Pa-chhu (Paro River). Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in the Kingdom, producing a bulk of famous red rice from its Terrance fields.
The fortress was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders, led by Mongolian warlord Gushi Khan in 1644. Strategically built over the only passage into Paro valley, the dzong helped repel numerous invasions all through the course of Bhutanese history. It so impressed early visitors that in 1914 the dzong featured on the cover of National Geographic Magazine. Unfortunately, the dzong was gutted by an accidental fire in 1951. The ruin, as it stands today, still attracts tourists. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mt. Jomolhari from the village nestled below the dzong.
Literally meaning the tiger’s nest, this temple clings precariously to a cliff 900 ft above the floor of Paro valley. Legend has it that the great Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave for three months in eight century. It remains a most sacred and pilgrimage spot for the Buddhist followers. The round trip hike to the monastery is 4 to 5 hours and is breathtaking, thrilling which will be remembered in a lifetime.
This temple is said to have been built in 659 A.D by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. It holds down the left foot of an ogress whose body is large that it covers Bhutan and most of eastern Tibet.
The Fortress on a heap of Jewels was built in 1645 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel. The approach to the dzong is through a traditional roofed wooden bridge and a walk through the stone inlaid path offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the dzong as well as life around it. The Dzong now houses the state monastic school and the civil administration of the Paro region. It is also the venue for the Paro Tsechu (festival) held once a year in spring.
Ta-Dzong: at the top of the hill looking down over the Rimpung Dzong, the Ta-Dzong (watchtower) was built in 1656, unlike the rectangular shape of dzongs, it is round more like parts of a European castle. Since 1968 the watchtower was transformed into the National Museum and holds fascinating collections of arts, relics, thangka (religious paintings), Ancient armors gallery, old stamp collections, and farmer’s tools, etc.
THIMPHU VALLEY: The Capital
Thimphu Alt. 2320m, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is a bustling town on the banks of the Thimphu Chhu and set gloriously in the hills of Thimphu valley. Thimphu is home to the revered Bhutanese Royal family, the Royal Government and Judiciary and to several foreign missions and development projects. Thimphu really exists as a town until it became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. The first vehicles appeared in Thimphu in 1962 and the town remained very rural until the late 1970s. The populations have grown dramatically since 1990 and now estimated to be 70,000. It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. Although what one expects from the capital city, Thimphu is still a very interesting place to be visited.
A pious landmark for Thimphu’s residence was erected in 1974 be the mother of the Third King in memory of her son. Bhutanese pays respects to his photograph inside the memorial. The tantric images and paintings inside the monument provide a very rare insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Originally the dzong was built in 1641 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and renovated and enlarge the Dzong in 1962s by third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and offices for ministers. During the warmer summer months, the monk bodies led by His Holiness, the Je Khenpo, make its home in the dzong.
The oldest and first dzong built by Shabdrung in 1629, stands on a lofty ridge overlooking the Thimphu valley. At present, the dzong is established for the institutes of language and cultural studies and higher monastic studies.
One of the oldest Drukpa Kagyu temples founded by Phajo Drugom Zhingpo 1208 – 1276. It is worth visiting the temple where one will witness the Bhutanese families’ making ceremonies for the newborn babies. The Buddhas images and religious paintings are well preserved.
The nunnery was founded by the incarnated lama Drubthob Cha-zampa in the 1950s. The Lama took refuge in Bhutan during the Chinese invasion in Tibet. The temple is very interestingly built with huge statues, colorful paintings and above all the nuns performing the rituals.
Museum of Traditional Herbal Medical
In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both Allopathy and Traditional Medicines. The rich herbal medical lesson is put into practiced and produced here. It is worth visiting to observe the minerals and herbs used for the medicine and figure for diagnoses the patients.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum
The Royal Government of Bhutan built this school to preserve the traditional way of building the thirteen types of Arts and crafts in the country. Both boys and girls are given the opportunity to take their interest in these Arts and Crafts where they learn the painting thangkas, sculptures, embroidery, woodcarvings, metal works, etc.
Textile Weaving Center
The Royal Government has given the opportunity to the private people for the business in several lines. Out of which, this weaving center was introduced and one can have the opportunity how the textile is dyed and woven mainly by females. One can have a good price for souvenirs here.
The library preserves 1000s of ancient Buddist texts of different sects. Besides, it displays the manuscripts written in different ink like gold, red, black, etc. Also, the building is built in a temple style and houses different buddha statues.
The Textile Museum
The museum was introduced with the initiative of a queen of Bhutan to preserve the old traditional textile used in early times in the country. Also, it will give an idea of how the weaving is done on different handlooms, and how the dying is done from the minerals and plants.
Folk Heritage Museum
A three-story rammed mud and timber building houses the Folk Heritage Museum. The house has been turned into a replica of a traditional farmhouse as it would have been equipped about a century ago.
Blessed with temperate climate lies at Alt.1300m and fed by Pho-chu (Male River) and Mo-chu (Female River), Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Until 1955, Punakha served as the capital and is even to-day the winter seat of Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and central Monk Body. The dzong was built at the confluence of the male and Female River in 1637 by Shabdrung. After the slight destruction of fire in 1984 and major by flood in 1994 the present Dzong was renovated from 2000 – 2005. Punakha valley is flourished with rich vegetation and the dzong is extraordinarily renovated with detailed arts and crafts.
Khe-mi Lhakhang: Chimi Lhakhang was built by the divine mad Lama Drukpa Kuenley in the 15th century. The legend says that the lama subdue the evil spirit who appeared half human half dog. Khe means dog and Mi is human. The temple is a short hike from the motor road through the paddy fields and villages.
Khumsum Yuele Chorten: The temple is newly built by the queen mother of the crown prince for the well being of Prince and the country. The temple is built on the ridge of a mountain looking over the Punakha valley and one has to hike with gradual uphill through the agriculture field and pine forests for almost 1 hour. For Birders: Punakha valley is in the temperate climate and has many kinds of Himalayan birds including the water birds like Heron, kingfishers, lapwing, ibis bill, shell duck, cormorant, etc. which migrate in winter.
WANGDUE: is the last town on the highway before entering Central Bhutan. The town sitting on top of the hill looking out over the junction of the two rivers, Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature and it was built in 1638 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. In the 17th century, Wangdi (as it is called) played a critical role in unifying the western, central and southern Bhutanese districts.
GANGTEY GOEMBA: Overlooks the large green expense of the Phobjikha valley. Pema Lingpa prophesied that a goemba named gang-teng (hilltop) would be built on this site and that his teachings would be spread from there. A temple was founded here in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinley, the grandson, and reincarnation of the mind of Pema Lingpa, and Goemba was built by Tenzing Legpai Dhendup, the second reincarnation. This Goemba is vacant during winter months as the monk body retreats further into the valley.
PHOBJIKHA VALLEY is a glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains. The valley is a designated conservation area and borders the Black mountains national park. Because of the large flock of black-necked cranes winter homes that migrate from Tibet to pass the winter in lower climes.
TRONGSA: This town alt.2180m in the middle of the country, separated from both the east and the west by mountain passes. The Royal family’s ancestral home is Trongsa. Both His Majesty King Ugen Wangchuk, the Penlop of Trongsa, who was elected the country’s first hereditary monarch, and his successor, King Jigme Wangchuk, ruled the country from Trongsa’s ancient dzong. The Crown Prince of Bhutan normally holds the position of the Trongsa Penlop prior to ascending to the throne. The present King continued this tradition as he was appointed Trongsa Penlop in 1972 shortly before he ascended the throne of Bhutan. The dzong was built in the 17th century; Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress. The dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors, and offices holding court over the local community. Trongsa is one of the quaintest and most charming of all Bhutanese towns.
Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitor and separates it from other regions. Comprised of four smaller valleys, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Apart from the Dzong at Jakar, smaller monasteries are situated all over the valley. Tales of Padma Sambhava dominate these holy shrines. The valley is home to the sacred Jampa and Kurjey monasteries where holy marks of Guru Rimpoche are impressed upon a rock. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pemalingpa to whose descendants the present monarchy traces its ancestry.
Jampa Lhakhang: This temple was built in the 7th century by the first Tibetan Buddhist King, Songtsen Gembo. The King had taken the vow to built 108 temples in the Himalayas and two are found in Bhutan. Kyichu in Paro and Jambay in Bumthang. This temple is one of the very special pilgrimage spots for the Buddhist people.
Kurjee Lhakhang: Kur means the body and jee means the imprint. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava meditated in a small cave leaving his body print to subdue the local spirit which caused unbearable sickness to the King Sindu Raja of Chamkhar valley in the 8th century. The temple where Guru meditated was built by his followers in the 12th century and renovated in 1652. The other temple was built by the first monarch Ugen Wangchuck in 1907 where you will witness the largest statue in the country. The new temple was built by the present Royal Queen Mother in the 1980s.
Tamshing Lhakhang: The temple was built in 1501 by the Terton Pema Lingpa (treasure discoverer) who discovers the religious treasure from Member Tso (burning lake). He was also a great architecture and built the temple personally. The monastery has very interesting statues and the paintings of his work.
Jakar Dzong: Ja means a bird and Kar means white. While Choeje Minjur Tempa the first Trongsa Governor was wondering where to built a fortress for the administration in Bumthang region, he found a folk of white birds at the site of the present dzong, which was taken the sign of auspicious and built the fort in 1646 and named Jakar dzong, white bird fortress, It now serves as the administrative body and the state monastery for the Bumthang valley. In Bumthang, one can make an excursion to Ura and Shingkhar for a picnic trip with a visit to the Ura and Shingkhar villages. There is Ugencholing dzong, transformed into a museum, in the Tang valley but you have to hike for an hour to the dzong. For the hiking trip, one can hike to Tharpaling villages on the hilltop, Kuenzang Drak monastery on the rocky cliff, Thodrak monastery in the chokor valley, Nimalung Monastery in Chummy valley.
MONGAR is the region in the east and the newly established Mongar town in the 1930s with administration and the monastery for the Mongar region. The dzong is built in traditional form without the drawing and single nails. Originally the Mongar’s administration and the monastery were in Lemithang called Shongar Dzong which was destroyed by fire. The government moved on the hill to escape the hit of the summer from Shongar leaving in ruin. The Mongar region is an idle place for birders.
LHUENTSE: is an isolated district although there are many sizeable villages in the hills throughout the region. Compare to other towns it is very rural. Formerly known as Kurtoe, the region is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. Many Lhuentse women are weavers, but it is usually necessary for you to ask from house to house to find textiles for sale. Khoma village is especially famous as the home of special weaving known as kushutara (brocade).
Trashigang is the heart of eastern Bhutan and was once the center of important trade with Tibet. Trashigang is a reasonably large town with a lot to explore; it is a good base for excursions to Tashi Yangtse, Khalin, Kanglung, Radi, Phongme and elsewhere in eastern Bhutan. There are several Goembas and beautiful villages that make a visit worthwhile.
TRASHIGANG DZONG: The dzong is on a high promontory that overlooks the confluence of the Drangme Chhu and the Gamri Chhu. It was built in 1667 by Mingyur Tenpa, Bhutan’s third desi.the entire eastern region was governed from this dzong from the late 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century. Today the junction of the east-west high way with roads connecting it to Samdrup Jongkhar, and then to the Indian state of Assam.
RANGJUNG: Above the town hilltop there is very beautiful Rangjung Wodsel Chholing Monastery, a large Nyingma Goemba founded in 1990 by Garub Rinpoche. Here the festival is on the month of mid-Febevary.
RADI Village: there is very interesting to hike village to village. Tsangkhar is one of the beautiful and unique villages in Radi, women here are weavers who specialize in fabrics made from bura (raw silk) and its fun to walk from house to house to see the results. These village peoples are friendly and helpful, they will arrange some traditional Bhutanese picnic lunch for you.
MERAK & SAKTENG: Here are inhabited by semi-nomadic tribe-men called Brokpa. They mostly depend on yak; every household family will have minimum of 100 yaks. They made butter and cheese from yak milk. Brokpa man often comes into Phongme village and Trashigang to trade. You can recognize them by their sheepskin and yak-hair clothing and unusual yak- hair hates called shamo, which have hanging spider-like legs that act as rainspouts.
Previously a drungkhag (subdistrict) of Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse became a fully-fledged Dzongkhag (district) in 1993. It borders the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and there is some cross- border trade. The old trade route between east and west Bhutan used to go through Trashi Yangtse, over the mountains to Lhuenthe and then over Rodang La (4200m) to Bumthang.
TASHI YANGTSE DZONG: The dzong in Tashi Yangtse was inaugurated in 1997 and is high on the side of a ridge overlooking the valley. It’s not as architecturally stunning as other dzongs and being new, has little historical significance.
GOM KORA: Gomphu mean is a sacred meditation site of Guru Rinpoche and Kora means circumambulation. The Guru meditated here and left a body impression on a rock, similar to that in Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang.
CHORTEN KORA: Chorten Kora is large, but not nearly as large as the stupa of Bodhnath, after which it was patterned. A small goemba has been built next to it and several rows of prayer flags flutter in the wind in the cornfields at its front. It was constructed in 1740 byLama Ngawang Loday, who had three purposes for the construction of this chorten. The first purpose was as a religious monument in memory of his late uncle, Jungshu Phesan. Secondly, the people of this valley were very religious and wanted to go to Nepal to see the Bodhnath stupa. The lama went to Nepal himself and brought back a model of Bodhnath carved in a radish. He had it copied here so that people could visit this place instead of making the trip to Nepal. The third purpose of the chorten was to subdue the many evils and devils that were here in those days. The 13th Je Khanpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) consecrated the site.
SAMDRUP JONGKHAR: is a border town to the Indian town of Darranga. Samdup Jongkhar town is the main gateway and access of to markets in India for most of the interior districts of eastern Bhutan. These days most of the tourists enter from Paro and Phuentsholing border town, and visit further central and eastern Bhutan and then exit from this border town. Also, it’s nearby Gauhati international Airport northern city of India
PHUENTSHOLING is the southwest gateway border town and can also be used as an exit point from Bhutan and entry point from India border town of Jaigon. The route follows the first road in Bhutan, which was built in 1962 by Dantak, the Indian border – roads organization. At the top end of the town, the road turns east and passes through the gate where you will notice an instantaneous change in the degree of cleanliness and organization. You can make road connections from Jaigaon or Phuentsholing to the Airport in Bagdogra or the train station in Siliguri, both in West Bengal (169km about 3 hours drive). There are also convenient connections to the Nepal border at Kakarbhitta or the Indian hill stations of Kalimpong, Gangtok, and Darjeeling.