This beautiful terraced valley, full of legend and myths is home to many of Bhutans oldest temples – and its first airport. The National Museum is located in an ancient watchtower here, and Taktshang Monastery clings to sheer cliff 900 meters above the valley; plus so many other attractions that requires few days to explore.
Places of interest in Paro
Drugyal Dzong: This dzong, with a delightful village nestling at it foot, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetans invaders led by the Mongolian Warlord, Gushri Khan. This dzong captured the first western eyes (John Claude White) in 1914 and was featured on the cover of the US National Geographic magazine.
Ta Dzong: Above the Rimpung zong, this unusual building served as the watchtower to defend Rimpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th and 18th century. In 1967 it was converted into the only National Museum and holds vast collections of Bhutanese thanka paintings and other artifacts.
Rimpung Dzong: Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the Dzong controls all the secular and religious activities in the valley. It is also the venue of the Paro Tshechu (festival) held once a year in springtime.
Druk Choding: At the starting point of Paro town, this temple was founded in 1525 by Lama Nawang Chogyal – one of the prince-abbots of Druk Ralung in Tibetand an ancestor of the Shabdrung.
Dzongdrakha Monastery: A meditation place of Guru Rimpoche, clings to the rock above Bondey valley, also known as second Taktshang. The first and the last day of the Paro festival takes place here. From the valley, it take only 30 minutes to reach, through forests of rhododendron and oak trees, with white monkeys on it.
Kyichu Temple: It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrine in the Kingdom dating back to 7th century, when Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built to pin down the left foot of an ogress that is so large that it covers Bhutan snd most of eastern Tibet.
Taktshang Monastery (half day excursion): Taktshang – the most famous of Bhutans monasteries, clinging on a granite rock face – 900 meters above the valley floor. The name means “Tiger’s Nest”; it was named because Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) is said to have flown to this site from eastern Bhutan on the back of a tigress. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure and it is now fully restored to its original splendor.
Farm House : The beauty of Paro is seen in the typical farm houses, built following the same architectural plan which are decorative and colorful. A visit to such a farmhouse will enlighten you about their lifestyles.
Kila Goemba (full day excursion): It is a serene home to more than 30 Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their life in search of the Noble Truth. This monastery was built in the 9th century by Drubthob Choje Norbu and Drubthob Temba as meditation site and later renovated by the 25th Je Khenpo (chief-abbot), Sherub Gyeltshen. From the car road below Chele la, it takes more than one hour to reach this site, and the hike is beautiful.
Thimphu has been the capital of Bhutan since 1955. Once a small rural settlement, today it is home to more than 50,000 inhabitants. It is the center of government, religion and commerce; it is perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions.
Places of interest in Thimphu
Memorial Chorten: Built in 1974 in memory of Bhutan’s third king., His Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, this stupa represents the mind of Buddha. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into the Esoteric Buddhism.
Tashichhodzong: Built in 1641 on the banks of the Wang Chu river, it houses the throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Govt. Ministries, the nation’s largest monastery and headquarters of His Holiness the Je Khenpo (chief abbot). It is open to tourist only after 5:00 in the evening and during weekends.
Simtokha Dzong: 7 kms from Thimphu, perched on a hillock, Simtokha is the oldest Dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrun Nawang Namgya. It houses the school for Buddhist studies. Paintings and statues inside are beyond expression.
National Library: This building contains thousands of manuscripts and ancient xylographs, as well as many wooden printing blocks. Western books and magazines can be consulted on subjects relating to, Bhutan and Buddhism.
Painting School: In this school, children learn the traditional Thirteen Arts and Crafts of Bhutan. Traditional Medicine Institute: This Institute continues the tradition of healing the sick in the most ancient form using herbal medicines which may include, plants, minerals, animal and even human parts. The Institute also imparts the traditional art of healing to would be practitioners.
Changangkha Temple: This is one of the oldest temples in Thimphu valley, having built in the 15th century by a descendant of Lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo, the founder of Drukpa school in Bhutan in the 13th century. The main statue is of Avaloketeshvara in bronze and gold plated. There is a magnificent view of the city below from this temple.
Handicrafts Emporium: There are several Handicrafts Emporiums in town, displaying wide varieties of Bhutanese handicrafts. Except for the Govt. owned, make sure to bargain the prices (10-15 percent ) even to 20 percent!
Weekend market: Every Saturday and Sunday most inhabitants of Thimphu and some from as far as Punakha and Wangduephordang converge here on the banks of the Wang Chu, to buy and sell vegetables, cereals, and as well as some handicrafts. Please follow your guides instruction, as some handicrafts may look old and Bhutanese, but not; they are mostly from India, most stones are plastics.
Tango Monastery (Full day excursion): 17 kilometers to the north of Thimphu, this monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century. The present building was built in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as the “Divine Madman”. The utse or the central tower was built in the 18th century by the fourth Temporal Ruler – Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgye whose present re-incarnation lives at Tango studying. From the car road it takes 1 hour to climb up to the monastery.
Cheri Goemba (full day excursion): Near Tango, this monastery was built by Shandrung Nawang Namgyal in 1620. Bhutans first Clergy was established at Cheri. There is a cave where Shabdrung meditated in1616. In the central tower, there is the temple which with a huge silver stupa studded with coral and other gems, which holds the ashes of Shabdrungs father,Tenpe Nima. The hike starts from the car road – crossing the lovely traditional wooden bridge that spans the Thimphu river, then climbs to the monastery. It takes about an hour to reach the top. Cheri is a retreat center for Buddhist monks.
Both Cheri and Tango monastery can be visited in one full day excursion, but you will require a special permission.
Phajoding Monastery (full day excursion): It is situated at 3700meters overlooking Thimphu valley. As its name implies, the complex of Phajoding takes its name from the saint Phajo Drugom Shigpo, ho meditated here in the 13th century. At one time it used to be one of the richest monastries in the country. It takes about 4 hours hike through thick forests to the monastery and the most popular Druk-path trek ends or starts at Phajoding.
Punakha is 3 hours drive from Thimphu over the Dochu La pass (3100m) from where the view of Bhutan Himalayas is spectacular. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955, and it is still the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (chief-abbot) and the central clergy. Blessed with temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu (Male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is one of the most fertile valleys in Bhutan, abundant with crops and vast terraces of rice fields.
Places of interest in Punakha
Punakha Dzong: Situated strategically at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, it was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of Bhutan. Damaged by fires, earthquakes and flood, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King and is one of the most impressive of all Dzongs. The Dzong is open to visitors through the year. In the month of February/early March, a unique festival known as “Dromchoe” takes place inside the Dzong; it ends with a procession known as “Serda”, and every after two years, a huge thanka of Shabdrung is displayed on the day after the Serda.
Khamsum Yuele Namgyal Chorten: Located 7 kilometers north of Punakha dzong , on a hill called Nizergang, this is the most beautiful stupa in the whole country. Conceived in a form of a temple, it was built by the Royal Family in early 1990’s. View of mountains and valley below is spectacular from this chorten. From the car road, hike across the bridge that span the Mo Chu take less than an hour till the top.
Chimi Lhakhang (temple): Located between Punakha and Wangduephordang (same valley), this temple on a hillock among the rice fields is a famous pilgrimage site for the childless couples. Blessed by the Lama Drukpa Kuenley “Divine Madman”, the objects inside are unbelievable!
Daleyda Goemba: Situated below the Royal estate, Talo, this monastery is famous for its sixteen corner temple. In the 17th and 18th century, it used to be the retreat place for retired Je Khenpos (chief-abbot).
The last town on the highway before entering Central Bhutan, below rich cattle pastures at the junction of the Mo Chu and Tang Chu rivers, a striking Dzong guards the windy valley.
Places of interest in Wangduephordang
Wangduephordang Dzong : Built on spur at the confluence of two rivers with an impressive view over both the north-south and east west roads, Wangduephordang played a critical role in unifying the Western, Central and Southern Bhutan , in the 17th century. It is also the venue for the 3 days festival (tshechus) held around September end/beginning October every year and on the last day of the festival a huge Thanka is displayed.
Gantey Gomba (Phobjikha valley): Towards the east of Wangduephordang, this small village at the edge of the Black Mountain range is awash in golden hues- from its yellow-roofed temple to the wheat fields where black neck crane begin their migration before soaring off to Tibet in Spring.
Trongsa is in the center of Bhutan and five hours by road from Wangduephordang across the Black Mountains – through a long valley, the ancestral house of Bhutan’s royal Family the Wangchuk Dynasty. Spectacular views frame the massive many-leveled Trongsa Dzong, strategically located to guard what has been for centuries the only east-west route through Bhutan.
Places of interest in Trongsa
Trongsa Dzong: Founded in a form of a temple in 1543 by Shabdrung’s great grandfather and later built as a Dzong in 1644, this is the most impressive Dzong in the Kingdom, and can be see from a great distance in its strategic position high above the Mangde Chu river. The Royal family has strong links with Trongsa. Both His Majesty the King Ugen Wangchuk, the Penlop (governor) of Trongsa and his successor, King Jigme Wangchuk ruled the country from Trongsa’s ancient Dzong. The crown Prince of Bhutan has always held the position of the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) prior to ascending 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 is the masterpiece of architecture, a maze of courtyards, passageways and corridors containing, in addition, 21 temples.
Ta Dzong: Built to guard the Dzong below, this watchtower has a fairly narrow tower section and two wings which extend in front of the main part of the building. The temple inside the main tower is dedicated to King Gesar, the hero of a great epic.
Kuenga Rabten: From Trongsa it takes one hour by car to this the winter palace of the second King of Bhutan. The drive is very beautiful with views of mountains, valleys and the Trongsa dzong.
Chendebji Chorten: On the way to Trongsa – Chendebji Chorten is Nepalese in style, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century to overcome a demon who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley.
Nestled in the barley fields and apple groves, Bumthang valley is the cultural hub of Bhutan, with temples dating back to the seventh century, myths and legends about kings and serpents, it is one of THE most sacred valleys of Bhutan.
Places of interest in Bumthang
Jambey Lhakhang: This temple was built in the seventh century AD., by the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo to subdue an ogress that hindered the spread of Buddhism. In the eight century, Guru Rimpoche meditated here, and gave teachings to the king and people of Bumthang. During fall (Oct/Nov) one of the most spectacular festivals in Bhutan, the Jambey Lhakhang Drub, is staged here. It starts with the fire blessing on the first night, where people rush under the fire gate burn away their bad deeds, and at mid-night of the following 4 days festival, lama dancers perform the sacred dance called the Tercham, without any cloth on their body.
Kurjey Lhakhang : Kurjey temple is named after the body imprint of Guru Rimpoche – which is preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings that make up the Kurjey complex. The oldest one on the far right was built in 1652, the second was built in 1900 and the last one, was built in 1990 by the Royal Queen Mother, Ashi Kesang Wangchuk.
Padmasambhava temple: It was one of Guru Rimpoche’s meditation site and the temple was founded by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Rimpoche in 1490.
Tamshing Lhakhang: Located in the valley opposite Kurjey complex, this temple was built by Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501. Pema Linpa was a short man and it is said that he built the low ceiling of the balcony to his exact height. Beautiful paintings of 100000 Buddha’s and other Buddhist saints, that were never re-painted, decorate the walls of the temple inside. This is also the venue of the Tamshing Phala Choedpa, a 3day festival held around September/October, where monks of Tamshing monastery perform sacred dances to honour Guru Padmasambhava.
Thangbi Lhakhang: Located in the middle of a wide, fertile plateau overlooking the river, the yellow-roofed temple was built in 1470 by Shamar Rimpoche, Lama of Karma Kagyu lineage. After a quarrel, it was take over by Terton Pema Linga. Around end of September/beginning October, there is a beautiful 3 days festival held at Thangbi (also known as Thankabi), starting with a big fire ceremony to bless the devotees. To go there you have to drive few kilometers north of Kurjey till Tokto Zam (bridge) and walk for 15 minutes to this valley.
Tharpaling monastery (full day excursion): This monastery is located at 3700 meters above Bumthang’s first valley, Gyetsa (Chume). It was built in 1352 by Longchen Rabjampa, a great Philosopher of the Dzogchen, a sect within the Nyimapa(Red hat) school. Statues and paintings inside the monastery are worth viewing. From Gyetsa valley it takes about 3 hours till the top.
Kunzangdrak monastery (full day excursion): This monastery is one of the most important sites related to Pema Lingpa. In 1488 Pema Lingpa built this temple all by himself and many of his relics are kept here, one of which is a gilded stone bearing his footprint. Apart from Pema Lingpa’s living quarters, the monastery consists of three temples: the Wangkhang with the statue of Avaloketeshvara with thousand arms and eyes; Oezerphug, the meditation cave of Pemalingpa’s son Dawa Gyaltshen; and the Khandroma Lhakhang, which contains a gilded copper statu of Pema Lingpa. It takes 2.5 hours uphill from the car road above Membertsho.
Membertsho: 12 kilometers from Jakar following the highway towards east, Membertsho is a famous pilgrimage site of Bhutan where Pema Lingpare-discovered treasures hidden by Padmasambava in the eight century, and thus became a terton, a ‘ treasure discoverer’.
Ura valley: It is the highest of Bumthang’s valley and is believed by some to have been the home of earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. From Jakar the road follows the highway to east Bhutan, passing below Membertsho, through the Tansibi village and across the Sheltang pass (3600m), from where Bhutan’s highest mountain Gangkkhar Punsum can be seen to the most picturesque Ura village. There is a temple above the village, which has some of the fine paintings. During April/May, there is a five days festival held here at Ura. The drive takes about 2.5 hours.
It is in eastern Bhutan 205 kilometers away from Bumthang. The breathtaking journey across some of the highest motor passes and descending as low as 600 meters at Lemithang. Along this trip, you will see cascading waterfalls and many, wildlife in its natural habitat. This is also the best stretch for bird watching groups where you will see many species of birds including the Rufus Necked Hornbill.
Places of interest in Mongar
Mongar Dzong : It is one of the newest Dzongs, built in 1930’s, yet as other old Dzong’s, it houses both the administration as well as monks who pursue their knowledge in the religious affairs.
Drametsi Monastery: Though under Mongar district, this monastery is accessible only from far eastern Bhutan. 10 kilometers before reaching Trashigang, the road turns left following a steep unpaved road for 19 kilometers, completing 22 turns till the monastery. The monastery was founded by Choden Zangmo, the grand daughter of Pemalingpa in the 16th century. In most of the tshechu’s (festivals) the Dance of the Drametsi , originated from this monastery. During fall there is a 3 days festival here, at Drametsi.
Lhuentse or popularly known as Kurtoe, is an isolated districts, 75 kilometers north of Mongar. But the landscape is beautiful with stark cliffs and deep gorges filled with chir-pine trees and terraced rice fields. It is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. The region is notably famed for its weavers, embroidery of a special silk fabrics ‘Kushuthare’ woven in open space in front of the farm houses.
Places of interest in Lhuentse
Lhuentse Dzong: Founded in the form of a temple in the 16th century and later enlarged as Dzong by Trongsa Penlop (Govenor) Mingyur Tenpa in 1654, the Dzong sits high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley below and houses both administrative block as well as the religious part with numerous temples. There is a 3 days festival performed here, around December/January.
Khoma village: It takes less than two hours from the car road crossing the bridge across Kuru Chhu. This village is famous for it young women weavers who, in small bamboo houses in the open rice fields, produce some of finest silk textiles in the whole of Bhutan. These textiles, worn by Bhutanese women during festivals are known as ‘Kushuthare’, with intricate designs and lots embroidery works; it takes women more than one a year to complete one such kira.
This easternmost district, which is Bhutan’s largest, is accessible by road from the south and west. It is also home to the Dakpas or nomads, who live in the valleys of Merak and Sakteng.
Places of interest in Trashigang
Trashigang Dzong: Built in 1659 as a fortress practically impregnable, being protected on three sides by river and ravines, and from behind by the mountain, it now serves both for administrative and religious blocks.
Radi Valley: It is 18 kilometers to the north Trashigang. This valley is beautiful with terraced rice field and well known for dying and weaving of textiles known as ‘burre’. In the past people in this valley used to rear cocoons for silk. They use only vegetable colors while dying silk. There is also a huge Nyimapa monastic school known as Ranjung Wosel Chholing, located on a hill at Rangung (Radi).
Formally under Trashigang, but separated in the early 1990’s it border’s the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. From Trashigang it takes 3 hrs. to cover 53 kilometers till Trashiyantsi. When highway was not built, Trashi Yantse was important because it lay on one of the caravan routes leading from Trashigang through Trashiyantsi, over the high mountains to Lhuntsi and then over Rodung La (4200m) to Bumthang.
Places of interest in Trashiyantsi
Gom Kora temple: At a point 15 kilometers from Trashigang, this temple is one of the famous places where Guru Rimpoche meditated and took the form of Garuda in order to subdue a demon who dwelt in the big rock. Guru Rimpoche’s imprints are visible on the big rock behind the temple. It is also the venue of Gom Kora festival, where people from as far as Arunachal in India, walk across high mountains to attend this special event. Two kilometers from Gom Kora, at Doksum, there is an old, abandoned iron chain-link bridge, believed to be the last surviving bridge of those built by Tibetan saint Thangtong Gyalpo.
Chorten Kora: This gigantic stupa near the river was built in the 18th century as per the prediction of Guru Rimpoche. It is in Nepalese style with eyes painted on all four sides. In early spring, a great religious festival takes place annually at Chorten Kora, where masses of people from all parts of eastern Bhutan and some from as far as Arunachal, India, circumambulate the stupa with prayer beads and whirling wheels, chanting the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’.
Bomdeling: About an hour walk north of Chorten Kora, this is the roosting place of a flock of black-necked cranes during winters.
]It is 185 km drive from Trashigang to Samdrupjonkhar and there are not many important historical places en route, but for bird lovers, this stretch of the journey is the best; besides many other species, the very rare Tragopan the ‘Rufus Necked Hornbill’ can be seen here. Samdrupjonkhar is a very convenient town for exit to the Indian sate of Assam.