Lying at an elevation of 2320m above sea level the capital of Bhutan is a blend of the traditional and the modern. It is the only capital in the world without streetlights relying instead on the elegant gestures of the traffic policemen. The population of Thimphu stands at around 40,000. There are, many pleasant day hikes which can be enjoyed in Thimphu. (Please contact us for further information.)
Some of the sites you can visit in Thimphu are:
Tashichodzong. Dzongs are traditionally built without nails or written plans. The dzong houses the monk body in summer and is the seat of government, the king’s offices are in this dzong. There is a picturesque cantilever bridge below the dzong.
Memorial Chorten. Tibetan style Chorten built in memory of the third king – father of modern Bhutan. Throughout the day people come to go around the Chorten in prayer and worship.
National Library. Houses ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts in a huge traditional building. Each floor has an altar with statue of Bhutan’s most important historical/religious figures. People sometimes go around the building in prayer because the building houses many holy books.
School of Arts and Crafts. Traditionally there are 13 arts and crafts in Bhutan. The students sell the works in a shop nearby to supplement their income. The 13 arts and crafts are Painting, carpentry, carving, sculpture, casting, blacksmith, bamboo works, gold smithing & silver smithing, weaving, embroidery, masonry, leather works and paper works. Guests can visit the school to see the students master the crafts.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine. Diagnosis of diseases is done mainly by feeling the pulse. Bhutan has a rich array of herbs which are used for the treatment of diseases. The traditional system of medicine is incorporated into the National Health System.
Weekend Market. The bustling week end market where all Bhutanese buy their groceries etc. also houses a handicraft section.
Folk heritage museum preserving way of life in Bhutan for posterity
Textile museum encompassing different aspects of weaving which is an intrinsic part of Bhutanese culture
A traditional gate demarcates the entry point from India to Bhutan. The border town of Phuntsholing is situated above sea level and hence enjoys a warmer climate than most of Bhutan. This translates into a pleasant bracing winter and a decidedly hotter summer!
The centre of the town is dominated by a park, which has a monastery in the middle. You can see many people as they circle the monastery chanting prayers. The monastery is supposed to represent Guru Rimpoche’s abode in the heavens. (Guru Rimpoche – introduced Buddhism into Bhutan see section on history)
Neighbouring the Queen Mother’s residence is the Kharbandi Monastery which was built in 1967 and houses huge statues of the Historical Buddha, Shabdung (unifier of Bhutan) and Guru. The grounds contain Tibetan style chortens.
Paro lies at an altitude of 2280m above sea level. Paro valley has excellent agricultural land and is a prosperous valley. The airport is situated in paro valley. Before the construction of roads most of Bhutan’s trade came through Paro either from Tibet via Tremo la or from the south via Haa. Paro valley extends from Jumolhari on the Tibetan border to Chuzom which is the confluence of the Thimphu and Punakha rivers. There are many opportunities for day hikes. visits to traditional Bhutanese houses to experience Bhutanese hospitality (hot stone baths) can be arranged.
Some Sights in Paro
Paro Dzong The correct name of the Dzong is Rinchen Pung Dzong which means fortress on a heap of jewels. The Dzong was built in 1646 by Shabdung Ngawang Namgyel. The Dzong was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly. The Dzong is located on a vantagepoint on the hillside and has two Lhakhangs (monasteries) and a Central Utse (Central tower). As with all Dzongs the local administrative and monk body are housed on the premises.
National MuseumThe National museum is located above the Dzong in the ancient circular watchtower. The museum consists of six floors dealing with different aspects of Bhutanese culture. The museum also houses a great collection of Thangkhas (paintings or embroidered religious works). The Tshogshing Lhakhang (the temple of the tree of wisdom) is also located in the museum.
Taktsang Monastery The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is built on the where guru Padmasambhava is reputed to have flown to on the back of a Tiger. The monastery is a revered site for the Bhutanese. The walk up to the viewpoint takes roughly two hours and is an uphill climb through alpine forests. There is a very good viewpoint from a pleasant cafeteria which serves only vegetarian food out of respect for the shrine.
Drugyel Dzong A pleasant 14-km drive from Paro town takes us to the site of the ruins of Drugyel Dzong. Drugyel Dzong was built to commemorate a Bhutanese victory over Tibetan invaders in the mid seventeenth century. It is situated at the point where the trail from Tibet enters Paro. The Dzong was destroyed by fire in this century. On a clear day there is a magnificent view of the Mount. Jumolhari from the site.
Winter resting home of the endangered species the Black Necked Crane this lush wetland valley is believed to be a Bae-yul or a mystical hidden valley. Besides viewing the black necked crane in their habitat you can also visit the Gangtey Goemba which overlooks the valley. The monastery was founded in the 17th century.
The royal society for Protection of nature has built an observatory overlooking the valley. Some of the walks which can be experienced are as follows;
Gangtey Nature trail: Extending from Gangtey Gompa through the forest down into the valley. The trail then splits into three trails – one leading north, another across the Western side of the valley and the last extending down south on the Eastern side of the valley to the school.
Tselela Trail: this trail leads to the Tselela pass (altitude 3400m) and finally leads to Gogona.
Kilkhorthang trail: located between the upper and lower valleys of Phobjikha and extends from Kilkorthang on the eastern side and crosses the main river to the other side of the valley.
Punakha lies at a lower altitude of and hence has a warmer climate than Thimphu the capital. The valley used to serve as the winter capital of Bhutan. It is still the winter residence of the central monk body. This valley also played a decisive role in Bhutan’s history as Shabdung (the founder of unified Bhutan) too resided in this winter capital.
Some of the sights in Punakha:
Punakha Dzong: the seat of the local governance lies in a island in the middle of the river. The two sides of the river are identified as the male and female rivers which meet to form the main river. The Dzong has built rebuilt several times due to floods and fire.
Chimi Lhakhang: This monastery is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kinley who is also popularly known as the Divine Madman. It is located atop a hillock past a picturesque village. Many people go there to pray for progeny.
There are many pleasant day walks which can be taken and which pass by several traditional villages. There are also several wonderful treks, which can be arranged in this area. These are primarily cultural in nature and afford a delightful insight into Bhutanese life. Bird watchers will be thrilled at the variety of birds that abound in this area
Wangdiphodrang stands as a gateway to Central and Eastern Bhutan. The dzong is perched atop a ridge and the town adjoins the dzong area on the ridge. Shabdung Ngawang Namgyel founded the Dzong. Legend has it that the site was chosen as four ravens were seeing flying in the four directions at that site.
This district lies to the North of Punakha. It boasts of medicinal hot springs, which are very popular with the Bhutanese. The Dzong is built in circular towers which overlooks the town and hot springs. In winter the yak herders from Laya pass by Gasa on their way to their lower altitudes. The layaps dress differently, from the Bhutanese who live at lower altitudes, with plenty of silver jewellery on display.
The town of trongsa is located in the Centre of the country and also serves as a transit point for many journeys within Bhutan. The Trongsa Dzong is a magnificent example of Bhutanese Architecture. It is also the ancestral home of the royal family. In the old days the only road from East to West passed through the Dzong which gave the ruler of the Dzong complete control over east-west travel and the right to levy tariffs on such travel.
The Watch tower overlooks the entire valley of Mangde Chhu and is a short hike up from the main road.
The winter palace of the second king is located an hour’s drive from Trongsa. There is a prayer room in the palace and the drive itself is fairly pleasant taking you past fields of rice. This palace provides an insight into life in the early days.
Bumthang is often known as the cultural heartland of Bhutan. Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan by The Guru Padmasambhava who was invited into Bhutan by a local king of Bumthang. (At that time unified Bhutan under one ruler did not exist as such).
Chumey valley en route to Bumthang has a yathra weaving centre. Yathra is a woollen embroidered cloth peculiar to Bumthang. You can watch the production of yathra while shopping for souvenirs.
Bumthang is dotted with monasteries and historic sites. Among some are there:
Mebartsho: This revered site is the lake in which Pema Lingpa (a Buddhist treasure discoverer) discovered some treasures. People were unbelieving of this discovery and legend has it that Pema lingpa stated to the unbelievers that he would once again descend into the depths of the lake with a butter lamp. Should he be false the lamp flame would be extinguished, should he prove to be a true the lamp’s flame would not be extinguished. He is said to have descended into the lake and emerged from its depths with the flame still intact thus proving the validity of his discoveries.
Jambay Lhakhang: This revered monastery is said to be built by the Tibetan King Songsten Goembo and is also the site of the Jambay Lhakhang Drup a festival which takes place in late fall. Inside the Lhakhang there are three steps which are said to represent the three ages. One for the age of the historical Buddha, the next the age of the Guru (also the present age) and the last represents the new age. It is believed that when all three steps sink into the earth the world as we know it will end.
Tamshing goemba:It is believed that Pema Lingpa built this monastery with the help of fairies. In the main temple there are three thrones – one each for each incarnation of Pema Lingpa (body, mind and speech). In the lower floor is a chian mail armour made by Pema Lingpa and it is believed to be auspicious to carry it around the goemba three times
Kurjey Lhakhang: There are three temples dotting this sanctuary. The oldest monastery holds a body print of the Guru on a rock. The first King of Bhutan and the present Queen Mother built the second and the third temples respectively. This monastery complex is revered by the Bhutanese as one of the most sacred sites and there is a spring located just above the monastery complex which is believed to be blessed with curative properties.
Jakar Dzong: The meaning of this word translates as ‘fortress of white bird’ as legend has it that while the monks were deciding on a site for the dzong, a big white bird rose into the air and settled on the hill. The dzong overlooks the valley below.
Ngang Lhakhang:This monastery is accessed via a walk of several hours and is located in the land known as Ngang-yul – land of swans. The temple holds statues of the Guru and his consorts.
the picturesque village of Ura lies 2 hours away from Bumthang proper. It is a quaint village with cobblestone paths and celebrates a festival every spring. Visiting this village will allow our guest to experience traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
The drive from Bumthang to Mongar can include breaks to allow for excursions into the forested areas where a wide variety of flora and fauna flourish. The sheer difference in altitude changes (from Thrumsingla pass at over 3000 m above sea level to around 600m) provides us with a rapid and interesting change in flora and fauna. Moist ridges cloud forest and cliff vegetation can also be viewed along the drive.
The town of Mongar is dominated by the Dzong which overlooks it. Like most dzongs in the country the building houses the local government and the local monk body.
The inhabitants of Mongar and Eastern Bhutan belong to the ethnic groups called Sharchopas. They speak a dialect, which is different from Dzongkha the national language.
This is one of the most isolated regions in Bhutan. The traditional name for the region is Kurtoe. This is the ancestral home of the Royal Family. The Dzong is used by local administration and the local monk body. The village of Khoma is two hours walk from Lhuentse. This village is where Kushuthara (silk weaving) originated and is still renowned for its quality of weaving. This elaborate brocade pieces take a weaver at least a year to weave a full body set and involve intricate designs which have their origins in Buddhism and Bonism
Trashigang Dzong dominates the town and a drive of one hour will take us to Gom Kora.
Gom Kora: This site is the site of Guru Rimpoche’s meditation. There is a body imprint which is attributed to Guru Rimpoche. There are also many treasures which were revealed by the Guru including a dragon egg. There is a yearly festival in Spring in this temple where people circle the temple meditating on the temporary nature of existence
Another two hour drive from trashigang will see us in Khaling where the country’s school for the blind is located. Here the students are taught in Braille and are also given skills to function effectively in the outside world. Khaling also has a weaving centre which produces the Khaling kiras and ghos.
A forty five minute drive from Trashigang takes us to Kanglung which is the site for the only university in Bhutan
In Trashigang there are several sights to see besides viewing the Dzong and the traditional village houses.
There is a Rigney Institute or a traditional learning institute. The curriculum here encompasses both religious learning as well as arts such as woodcarving, painting etc.
Chorten Kora: is a temple/stupa, which is styled after Boudanath in Nepal. It was constructed in the late 18th century. Legend has it that the people of the region had deeply desired to visit Boudanath in Nepal as they were deeply religious. Lama Ngawang Loday visited Nepal and brought back a copy of the temple carved into a radish. The reason for this being that it could be used as a model to construct a copy of the temple in Bhutan. As the radish had shrunk slightly the temple ended up being of different proportions from the temple in Nepal.
Bomdeling : for nature lovers the Bomdeling sanctuary is located one hours walk away from Chorten Kora. It is the roosting home of the endangered black necked crane.
Haa is regarded as a hidden valley – or Baeyul. The Bhutanese believe that some valleys/land was hidden by the Guru to guard against enemies of Buddhism. Haa has only recently been opened to tourism and is one of the most unspoiled valleys in Bhutan. Haa can be accessed either via Thimphu or via Paro.
On the way to Haa there are several picturesque sites to see:
Dobji Dzong: formerly used as a prison. This dzong has been renovated recently and lies en route to Haa. This dzong can also be accessed from the Thimphu to Paro road though that entails a short hike up the hillside. You will also pass by picturesque Bhutanese farm houses where life continues as it has done through the ages.
In Haa itself you can visit the following:
Lhakhang Kharpo: dedicated to the guardian diety of Haa- Aup Chundu. The monastery is located beyond the town of Ha and is revered by all residents of Haa.
Village sightseeing: You can visit traditional Bhutanese villages, which have retained their simplicity and charm as the valley has had very little contact with the outside world.
Phuntsholing to chuzom : Duration is 5 hours approximately. The drive goes from the hotter climes of Phuntsholing to the higher regions filled with pine forests. Tea/lunch break at Bunakha lakeview cafeteria. This drive takes us past Chukha Dzong where in early spring a festival takes place. We pass Chuzom (meeting of the rivers or confluence). Bhutanese believe that evil influences gather at such places and hence three shrines have been built on this spot. The shrines have been built in three different styles – Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese. There are immigration and vehicle checks at the start of the journey and en route.
Thimphu to Paro: The drive takes 2 hours and en route we pass once Tamchog Lhakhang and Chuzom. The Tamchog Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo (iron bridge builder – a saint from the 14th /15th century who introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains). There’s an orange tree which fruits in the courtyard due to the blessings of the saint and monastery (oranges are not native to that region).
Paro to Haa: beautiful route- crossing Chelela which is the highest pass in the country. Takes approximately 2-3 hours drive.
Thimphu to Haa: route takes approximately 3 hours crossing chuzom and driving past the village of Jabana to reach Ha valley.
Thimphu to Punakha/Wangdue: Drive takes 3 hours approximately and en route we cross Dochula pass where on a clear day we can see beautiful views of the Himalayas.
Punakha/Wangdue to Trongsa: The drive should take around 4-5 hours passing Chendibji chorten and the village of Rukubji. A magnificent drive with many waterfalls alongside the climbing road.
Trongsa to Bumthang: this pleasant two hour drive first climbs but then mellows into pleasantly winding roads. We pass chume village which is known for its yathra weaving
Bumthang to Mongar: The 6 hour drive from Bumthang to Mongar is the best in the country, with dense forest, waterfalls, sometimes encountering wildlife and beautifully built traditional villages.
Mongar to Trashigang:This three hour drive crosses dense forests of rhododendron and orchids while passing private monasteries and villages.
Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar: 6 hour drive crossing the village of Khaling which is renowned for its weaving and its school for the blind.