Places to Visit
The southern circuit is the ecological hub of the country comprising of seven southern districts of Bhutan, namely, Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, Zhemgang and Pemagatshel. Zhemgang, one of the districts in southern Bhutan is ideal for nature oriented tours though the cultural highlights are irresistible. The famous Dunmang hot spring is in Zhemgang district. There are also other hot springs in Sarpang district.
Eastern Bhutan welcomes travellers into a world of unexplored trekking, historical and cultural escapades, great scenery, textiles highlights and natural wonders. The districts of Mongar, Lhuntse, Tashi Yangtse, Tashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar include the eastern circuits. Of culture we offer you lots of spiritual festivals that include some of the rare animist rituals and Bon practices. Explore the hub of the country’s unexplored destination. For the first few years, this unique destination is offered to adventure spirited tourists. Only those who like to experience the Spartan accommodation and tented or farmhouse stays,will enjoy these least visited regions.
Lhuntse- The Ancestrol Home of the Kings
In the north-eastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe or Lhuentse as it is known today. It is the ancestral home of our Kings and boasts some sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. It is located 77 km from Mongar (3 hours drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Kishuthara is one textile that the Kurtoep women are deft in weaving.
Mongar- The Bastion of the Zhongarps
Mongar, one of the six districts that make up eastern Bhutan borders Bumthang, Lhuentse, Pema Gatshel and Trashigang. The district covers an area of 1,954 sq.kms with elevations ranging from 400 m to 4,000 m and has a population of about 38,000. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs an gorges and dense conifer forests. The region is known for weavers and textiles and fabrics considered one of the best in the country.It was known in the past as the bastion of the Zhongarps for it produced some of the finest administrators in the country whose descendants still continues to lay an active part in the political scene of Bhutan.
It is site of one of Bhutan’s newest Dzong built in 1930s. Yet the Dzong is built in the same method and traditions of all the other Dzongs; no drawings and nails have been used. A visit gives visitors an impression of how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
Located at about 20 minutes walk from Mongar town, this privately owned monastery was founded by Lama Sangdag, the sixth son of Terton Pema Lingpa. It is of great cultural significance and a repository of a wide range of spiritual treasures and other sacred objects known to have been revealed by Terton Pema Lingpa.
Dramtse Lhakhang means, ‘the peak without enemy’, is one of the largest and most important monastery in eastern Bhutan, situated about 18 km away from Trashigang to Monger highway. The lhakhang was founded by a highly accomplished Ani (nun) named Choten Zangmo in the 16th century, the granddaughter of the famous religious master Terton Pema Lingpa (the Treasure Discoverer). The lhakhang is deeply associated with Terton Pema Lingpa and the Peling tradition of Buddhism. It houses a full range of spiritual treasures and other sacred objects and is the source of spiritual inspiration to the people of Drametse and neighbouring communities.
The local people from Mongar and Tashigang gather at Drametse Lhakhang to witness the annual religious festival, celebrated every year on the 10th day of Bhutanese calendar and locally known as Kaggsol Chenmo, Trel Da Tshechu and Daw Drugpai Choep. The Drametse Ngacham (Dance of the drums of Drametse) was established by Lam Kuenga Gyeltshen, Ani Chhoeten Zangmo’s brother.
Samdrup Jongkhar- Gateway to Eastern Bhutan
The gate way to Eastern Bhutan, Samdrup Jongkhar is situated in the south eastern part and shares borders with the Indian state of Assam. It is by far the largest urban centre in eastern Bhutan. It lies at elevations ranging from 200 m to 3,500 m. In the earlier past, many British Political Officers stationed in Sikkim took the route from Samdrup Jongkhar to enter into Bhutan. Historically, it was administered by the Gyadrung stationed at Dewangiri. Today the road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar, completed in the 1960s, enables the eastern half of the country to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as across the Indian border as in the past where it was the main trading centre for the Bhutanese. Samdrup Jongkhar is a convenient exit town for tourists who have arranged to visit the neighboring Indian state of Assam.
Tashi Yangtse- The land of Spiritual Awakening
Trashiyangtse is a rapidly growing town and the administrative and religious center for the people of Trashiyangtse. It was carved out from Trashigang district in 1992 as a separate district. The district pushes up to into the north-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and elevations range from 1000 m to 5000 m. Situated in a small river valley, it is a lovely spot from which to take walk in the surrounding countryside. Trashi Yangtse is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful mementos of a visit to this remote region.
This dazzling white stupa is situated on the river bank below the town. Constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday, it is built in the same style as Bodhnath stupa in Nepal, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. During the second month of the lunar calendar there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora’. Bomdeling, a pleasant walk of about three hours from Chorten Kora, is an annual migration place for black-necked cranes, which fly over from nearby Tibet to pass the winter months in a warmer climate.
Trashi Yangtse Dzong meaning ‘Fortress of Auspicious Fortune’, was re-built in 1656 by Terton Pema Lingpa from the ruins of Dongdi Dzong of 9th century. It was further renovated and sanctified by a sacred consecration ceremony in 2000.
A pleasant walk of about three hours from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is an annual migration place for black-necked craens, which fly over from nearby Tibet to pass the winter months in a warmer climate.
Tashigang- The Jewel of the East
Tashigang spans the easternmost corners of the kingdom, skirting up to the edge of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and is the country’s largest district. The district has an altitude ranging from 600 m to over 4000 m and Bhutan’s largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through the district. Trashigang town, on the hillside was once the center for a brisk trade with Tibet.
Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam. Tashigang town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan.
Built in 1659, the Dzong serves as the administrative seat for the district as well as the home of the monk body. The Dzong commands a remarkable view over the surrounding countryside.
Ranjung Woesel Chholing
This monastery is more than half an hour drive from Trashigang town. It is a Nyingmapa monastery founded by Garab Rinpoche in 1990. One can get a good view of the valley from the monastery.
Gom Kora - 24 km from Tashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the river. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of banana tress, it looks like an oasis in an arid landscape. It is one of the famous places where Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue a demon who dwelt in a huge black rock.
The centre circuit comprises of the two central Districts of Trongsa and Bumthang. The Centre circuit boasts unique attractions and is home to many sacred monuments in the country. The two Districts in the centre circuit also defined much of our History and till the early 1950s was the seat of power for our two Kings. In this circuit one may attend the Nomads festival of Bumthang and delve into the wonders of a living culture of our nomads and participate in the Matsutake festival of Ura and taste the high altitude mushroom and drown in the Red panda beer. One can also witness numerous festivals including the annual tshechu of Trongsa and Bumthang, the Jampa Lhakhang tshechu, or witness the Ura tshechu that is unique. You may also visit the Ta Dzong that is now turned into a museum with its dominating four towers or visit the Wangdue Choling palace in Chamkhar built by our 1st King Ugyen Wangchuck.
You may also trek the Thrumshingla National Park and try and spot the six species of globally threatened birds that includes the Rufous necked hornbill, Rufous-throated wren-babbler, Satyr Tragopan, Beautiful nuthatch, Wards trogon and Chestnut-breasted partridge. Or further still try and spot the Red Panda or the foot prints of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The park forests range from alpine to sub-tropical broadleaf types.
Bumthang – The Spiritual Heartland of Bhutan
This region that spans from 2,600-4,500 meters is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (religious treasure-discoverers) still linger in this sacred region. The district is sub-divided into the four blocks of Chokhor, Chumey, Tang and Ura. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.
The Jakar Dzong the (Castle of the White Bird) dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defence of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
This monastery was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of 108 monasteries which he built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 against the rock face where Guru Padmasambhava meditated in the 8th century. The middle temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru’s body, and is therefore considered to be the most holy. The temple on the left was built in the 1990s by H.M. Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Grand-Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple, which was restored at the end of the 19th century.
It was built in the 6th century but was renovated in 1995, which accounts for its fresh look. It contained a large bell and it is said that when this bell was rung it could be heard all the way in Lhasa in Tibet. During the 17th century a Tibetan Army tried to steal this bell but was too heavy and they dropped it and cracked it. It is now displayed at the National Museum in Paro.
Beyond Jambay Lhakhang is Chakar Lhakhang, the site of the palace of the Indian King Sindhu Raja. Because of its simplicity it looks like an ordinary village house. The original palace was built of iron and this is why it was named Chakar, meaning iron castle. It was rebuilt in the 14th century by a Saint called- Dorji Lingpa.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery
Located above the main town, about 3 km from Chamkhar town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage dates back to the nearest disciples of the great 9th century master. Since then the monastery has developed considerably with increase in number of monks to almost four hundred. The monastey has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture. The monks regular curriculum include reading, memorizing the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandalas, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments and the art of making sacrificial objects, grammer, poerty, karika along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.
Excursions around Bumthang
A walk of half an hour north of Kurje Lhahang leads to this monastery, founded in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Kagyupa religious school. The temple has two sanctuaries and a temple of terrifying deities. The sanctuary on the ground floor contains statues of past, present and future Buddha and three clay statues probably dating end of the 15th century. On the upper floor, the vestibule contains two remarkable paintings of Guru Rinpoche’s heaven and the Buddha Amitabh’s heaven.
A few hours walk from the Tangbi Goemba is the small region of Ngang Yul (Swan Land) and this temple here is 100 m above the valley floor. The site was visited by Guru Rinpoche and present temple was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. A three days festival is held here each winter with masked dances in honor of the founder of the temple.
Jakar to Ura is 48 km, about one and a half hour drive. To reach here, the road climbs to Ura valley amazingly open countryside, only occasionally running into forest. Large sheep pastures line the road up to 20 km behind the southern tip of the Tang valley. The route crosses Ura la pass (3,600 m) with a magnificent view of Mount. Gangkhar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan. Above Ura village (3,100 m) is a new temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, it contains a huge statue of the master and remarkable paintings of the cycle of his teachings. Since last 25 years, Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to prosperous valley.
Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Lingpa, the famous saint, was born in the Tang valley of Bumthang. The people of this valley raise sheep and at higher elevation, yaks as the soil in this region is not so rich for agricultural activities. From Bumthang central, it is a short drive past the Dechenpelrithang sheep farm to an unpaved road that leads to the north. Just under a kilometer ahead, there is a rough track on the left and another kilometer ahead, there is junction where vehicle can be parked. From parking, it is a short walk down to the river. The path is lined with prayer flags and ends up above a gorge where the river forms a pool before it rushes on. Images of Pema Lingpa and his two sons are carved on a rock here.
Membartsho (The Burning Lake)
Membar Tsho (The Burning Lake) in Tang valley is a wide spot on the Tang Chhu (chhu – water / river) and is considered to be one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of Bhutan. Pema Linga found several of Guru Rinpoche’s hidden treasures here. The importance of this site is indicated by the extensive array of prayer flags and the small clay offerings called ‘Tse Tsa’ in rock niches.
Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang valley is another attraction. Restored in 19th century, it is now housing the family museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The visitors will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan’s history truly unfolds here.
Tang Rimochen Lhakhang
Tang Rimochen Lhakhang in the valley is a sacred place of Guru Rimpoche. A rock in front of temple bears a body print of the Guru and two khandroms (female celestial being). The site is named after the tiger stripe markings on the cliff. Footprints of the Guru and his consorts Mandarava and Yeshe Chhogyal are found below the lhakhang. Two large boulders nearby are said to be male and female jachungs (garudas).
Kunzangdrak Goemba is two hours walk above Tang Valley. It is one of the most important sites related to Pemalingpa the great treasure discoverer in Bhutan, who also constructed the Goemba in 1488. Most of his sacred relics are kept here including the gilded stone bearing his footprint.
Pelseling Goempa is a sacred monastery with rich historic values. Situated on a steep mountain, it is a half day trek (3-4 hours) from the area of Jakar. The trek starts off at a mild pace but later gains momentum. Along the trek route, travelers are gifted with breathtaking views of the valley and large species of flora and fauna. About two thirds of the way, there is a beautiful meadow which is the perfect picnic spot. The last part of the hike requires more uphill trek until eventually the destination is on sight.
Trongsa – The Vanguard of the Warriors
Pelela pass at 3300 m is an important dividing range that separates Western Bhutan from Central and Eastern Bhutan. Crossing this important Pass, one may enjoy the pastoral feeling as you drive deeper into the valley with meadows where sheep and yaks graze. The bamboos that grow plenty on these hillsides are trimmed by yaks. Yaks love the dwarfed bamboos. If you are a bird watcher, look out for the specialty called the Wren Babbler taking refuge underneath those bamboos. In the months of April-June, the hillsides are painted with the rhododendron blooms. Trongsa, the sacred and the temporal heart of the country is the first district that you will come across.
Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.
This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It was built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the 1st Governor of Trongsa in 1652. It has four observation pints resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history. As of date the Ta Dzong of Trongsa is the most fascinating museum of the nation.
This two storied simple palace situated just above the highway in the town is the birth place of our Late third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It was here that on 2nd May 1928, His Majesty was born to King Jigme Wangchuck and Ashi Puntsho Choden. He spent most of his early childhood days here in this Thurepang Palace. The other palace of interest is the Eundu Choling Palace which was the winter residence of the 1st King Ugyen Wangchuck.
Kuenga Rabten Palace
The 23 km drive from Trongsa to Kuenga Rabten takes about an hour and passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. The land slopes quite gently in this region, and farming is well developed, so there is much of interest to observe in the fields and in the villages as one speed along. As one approaches Kuenga Rabten, the Palace is clearly visible just below the road on the right. It was the winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. This pleasant afternoon excursion from Trongsa offers further insights into the early days of Bhutan’s monarchy.
En route to Trongsa is Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Zhida, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. Legend says that the evil spirit manifested as a gigantic snake.
The western circuit comprises of the six western districts in the country that includes Paro,Thimphu, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha and Gasa. What makes this circuit special is that the Tourism Council of Bhutan has categorized new ways of exploring the existing great sights. In this circuit one may attend the summer festival of Haa and delve into the wonders of a living culture. The festival highlights Shamanic rituals and other folk dances. You may also enjoy the beauty of the rare Himalayan flowers in bloom or take a daring trek to Nob Tsonapatra that is full of interesting legends. In Thimphu you may witness the newly introduced Takin Festival, Balloning, Hand Gliding, MICE & GNH conferences, meditation and wellness facilities. You may visit temples, dzongs (fortresses) and museums or attend to a festival where textiles come to life. Festivals abound throughout the year and trips can be tailored in accordance. Punakha festival marvels you with the historical depiction of medieval warriors who defended Bhutan with swords and shields. Experience the plantation of rice in early summer or the harvests of the same in autumn. The golden hue of ripening rice fields are photographer’s delight in autumn. Do not miss the museums. Paro museum (Ta Dzong), reveals the history, cultural, and in Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with farmer’s livelihood.
Paro – The Valley of Unsurpassing Beauty
The cultural highlights of Paro resemble so much the intricate and beautiful textiles worn by the people during the valley’s annual festival. Here we take you through the rice fields, orchards, farmhouses and temples of various ages. The pride of Paro is the hanging temples on the cliffs from the legendary Taktsang to Kila Gompa and Dzongdrakha. Let your muscles baffle your spirits as you climb the rocky stairs of these medieval temples.
To complete your tour of Paro, take an opportunity to time yourself with the Grand Festival of Paro. If you are looking for a quite visit then choose one of the village festivities or be a guest of the annual family ritual. The farmers of Paro will be too happy to have you join them during plantation or harvest.
Let the ruins of this dzong tell you a tale of how Bhutanese warriors defended Bhutan from the invaders from the north in the 17th century. This dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the outer walls and the central tower remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, treat yourself with a splendid view of Mt. Jumolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.
Explore the Rinpung Dzong which the locals call the (fortress of a heap of jewels). Built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the dzong stands on a hill above Paro Township. It is linked by the traditional cantilever bridge (called the Nemi Zam) over the Pa chu where one may pose a photograph. Experience a walk up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. Once inside the Dzong, you will be welcomed by the monks, architecture and the ancient frescoes.
On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is the Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect the Dzong from intruders and warring factions. In 1968 Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.
Go back in time and history and visit the 7th century Kyichhu temple. As the name suggests, the temple is a reservoir of peace, where you will really feel at peace here. Next to the temple is the house that is now turned into a museum dedicated to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. One can come across photographs and other artefacts belonging to Rinpoche.
Often called the mini- Taktsang, Dzongdrakha temples is built on the cliffs above Bondey village. The walk there is not as strenuous as to Taktsang. Legend says one of the temples is built around a levitating monument. Folks built a stronger temple around this monument with the hope that the levitating monument does not fly away into the sky.
If you are as fit as the mountain goat, Kila Gompa awaits you. This magnificent clusters of temples built on the cliffs have been home for nuns for a long time. Kila in Sanskrit means a subjugating spiritual dagger that destroys the negativities. Hike up this temple and subjugate all the negative energies within you. If it does not give you the spiritual satisfaction do not worry because you will feel physically rejuvenated after the hike.
Taktsang is located on a high cliff towards the north of Paro town. It was first builtkin 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup, a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three months in the 8th century. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) flew to this location from Khenpajong, Tibet on the back of a tigress and subdued a demon. He then performed meditation in one of the caves here and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and blessed the place. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the Tiger’s Nest. Guru Padmasambhava is known for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen caves in which he meditated. Often called the Tiger’s Nest, perched on the cliffs, has awestruck many a visitor. Trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to Taktsang, says one tourist. Indeed its true as the journey there fills you with spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side it is the dramatic, artistically built monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. Take a trip to this dramatically set Buddhist relic hanging from a cliff. Experience the uphill climb as you ascend more than two thousand feet from the valley floor.
The unusual and circular lhakhang, reminiscent of the Shanag, or the black hat worn by the Bhutanese Black Hat dancers was built by the great Builder of Iron Chain Bridges, Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. Experience a visit to this unique temple whose founder was extended invitation by the two guardian deities of Ap Chundu and Jowo Drakey.
This 14th century temple located on the base of a mountain across the Pa chu on the Paro-Thimphu highway, is a must visit temple in the Paro valley. Built by the great master architect Thangtong Gyalpo, the temple houses some unique statues. To get to the temple one may actually walk over the iron chains that spans over the Pa chu.
The five-day Paro Tshechu is one of the biggest religious celebrations. Mask dances are performed to illustrate Buddhist moral tales from various Buddhist masters. You may attend the tshechu together with the Bhutanese people from all walks of life who join the residents of Paro in their best finery to attend the dances. One can witness the popular folk dance called the Wochubi Zhey that commemorates historical events.
Picturesque farm houses dot the valley amongst fields and hillsides. We welcome you to enjoy the hospitality of the Paro farmers. Thrill yourself as the farmers welcome you to their homes with genuine smiles. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farm houses are handsome in appearance, with colourfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built. A visit to a farm house gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family.
Thimphu – Cruising The Capital’s Cultural Core
Thimphu, situated at an altitude of 2400 m, is the centre of government, religion and commerce. The capital has an interesting combination of tradition and modernity, and includes some of the most advanced and remotest parts of the kingdom. It is home to the King and the Royal family members, civil servants, expatriates, politicians, business persons and monks. Enjoy this cultural mix based on livelihood. Of culture we will take you through temples, dzongs, chortens, museums, handicraft stores, nunneries, parks and many more. Allow yourself to meet both traditional and contemporary artist.
National Memorial Chorten
Meet the elderly generation in circumambulation at the National Memorial Chorten. Chorten literally means (Seat of Faith) and Buddhists often call such monuments, the (Mind of Buddha). Treat yourself with the extraordinary depiction of Buddhist teachings in the form of paintings and sculptures. As the name denotes this National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974 in memory of the Third King.
The fortress of the glorious religion was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body.
Stroll through the very first dzong, built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Enthral yourself with the most noteworthy artistic feature in the form of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.
This temple situated atop a small hound overlooking the Thimphu valley was built in the 13th century by the illustrious Lam Phajo Dugom Zhigpo. The temple is considered the spiritual home of children born in the Chang valley.
Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery
The only nunnery in the Capital it is popularly known as Zilukha Anim Dratshang. It is located above Zilukha Lower Secondary School, overlooking Tashichodzong in Thimphu valley and is a few minutes drive from the town. It was built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo, Drubthob Rikey Jadrel. You may interact with some 60 nuns or so that has devoted their life to spirituality and Buddhism.
The National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. There is also a small collection of foreign books, stock of which mainly comprises works written in English. Take the opportunity to see the worlds biggest book stationed in the ground floor.
Institute for Zorig Chusum
Commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers you a glimpse of novices learning 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. It is a hands-on trip for you. Enjoy few moments with the future artists of the country.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine
In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners. The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around and visit the showroom.
Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums
These museums that were established in 2001 in Thimphu provide visitors and tourists with fascinating insights into the Bhutanese material culture and way of life. The Folk Heritage Museum with a three storied, 19th century traditional house provides you a glimpse of the Bhutanese lifestyle, and artifacts from the rural households. One can come across typical household objects, tools and equipments.Besides, the museum also organizes demonstrations of rural traditions, skills, habits and customs and educational programs for children.
The activities of the museum follow a seasonal rhythm, just like the activities of a true rural household, offering you something new to see, every time you visit it. The rural setting and flavor has been well-preserved and you can see paddy, wheat and millet fields here, a traditional water-mill with mill stones more than 150 years old, traditional style kitchen gardens with vegetables that were grown over the past 100 years and the famous traditional hot stone bath. Native trees and plants that had domestic uses in Bhutanese rural household are being grown here in an effort to keep indigenous knowledge about the use of natural resources alive and have a patch of greenery, right in the heart of the capital city of Thimphu.
Tourists may also avail the special offers of the museum at a nominal fee and advance booking of at least one week. They include demonstrations of the traditional way of extracting oil or Markhu Tsene, brewing ara or Ara Kayne, roasting rice or Zaw Ngowni and pounding rice or Tham Dhungni within the museum premises and organizing an open air buffet lunch and dinner offering a taste of the traditional cuisine at the museum. The menu for such arrangements is available at the Museum and consists of a variety of traditional food items from all parts and regions of the Kingdom of Bhutan. However, lunch and dinner arrangements are only done so for groups with five or more than five members at a time. The museum closes only on government holidays. The museum remains open from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm from Monday to Friday, from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays and 11:30 am to 3:30 pm on Sundays.
A wide assortment of colourful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller handicrafts shops around the town. One can pick up small items as souvenirs.
Most of the Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held by the side of Wang chu river. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from friday afternoon till sunday evening. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy souvenirs.
The best place for photographers is perhaps a visit to the Sangaygang hill. A short drive from the town, the hill provides visitors with an opportunity to pause and reflect in the hustle-bustle of a busy city-life. You can also have a panoramic view of the valley. On the way back you can visit the takin preserve area dedicated to the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan.
Buddha Point (kuensel phodrang)
Another place from where you can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley is from the Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang). It is again a short drive from the town. You can pay your obeisance and offer prayers to the Buddha, the largest statue in the country and then walk around and take a glimpse of the valley.
The Thimphu tshechu that is held for four days is a major event in the capital drawing hundreds of people from the villagers to the civil servants and the politicians. It also draws a large number of tourists. One attraction of the tshechu is the Wang Zhey, a folk dance from the Thimphu valley.
Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is popular for tourists for its ideal location from where one can enjoy 360 degree of beautiful panoramic view of Himalaya mountain range, especially on clear winter days. The beauty of this place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyal Chortens-108 stupa built by the eldest Queen Mother Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. The pass is also popular spiritual place for both locals and tourists because of an important temple that is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has achieved a fine blend of history and mythology in the construction of The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple) to honor His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appear to merge in the details of the lhakhang (temple) that tells the story of a supreme warrior figure whose vision pierces the distant future.
Besides the spirituality of the place many Bhutanese families visit the pass during holidays and weekends to simply enjoy the scenery of the place with their pack lunch and hot tea. For the tourist the place is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalaya mountain range during clear warm days.
Punakha –The Ethereal Ancient Capital
Punakha has been inextricably linked to some of the most momentous events in the Bhutanese history and deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and significant regions at the heart of Bhutanese culture. This district, levelling from 1300 m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000 m around Dochula Pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1960s and the 1st National Assembly was held here. The dzong is historically important and stands as the symbol for a unified Bhutan. Visit Punakha Domche and relish the revelry of medieval warriors and also the coming of textiles to life.
Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At the dzong enrich your trip with the opportunity to see the highest standards in woodwork. Do not miss the massive Kuenray, the Coronation Hall of all Bhutanese kings, the Dzongchung at the entrance to the dzong and the cantilever bridge over the Mochu that has been recently renovated.
Khamsum Yuley Temple
There is no temple in Bhutan built elaborately as this. This fascinating temple was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King to bring universal peace in this world. The best of the spiritual art works are painted on the inner walls. There are also paintings of Buddhist teachers and tutelary deities of the country. This is a great temple to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures.
The divine madman also known, as Drukpa Kinley is a famous teacher with whom the phallic symbol is associated. Tales told by your guide would have excited you to visit Chhimi Lhakhang. The Divine Madman sits there though a statue this time. Do not miss the master’s deeds painted on the walls. Japanese and several American couples visited this temple and were blessed miraculously with children. Ask yourself, do I need this Fertility Tour or not?
A day excursion to Talo would be great with picnic lunch. The festival there happens in spring and will capture any visitor’s attention. Let your tour take you there in summer during corn harvest. Its an adventure to enjoy corn harvest with the farmers and also an opportunity to look for Himalayan bear. A walk through Talo and down to the other village of Nobgang will be a great day’s itinerary.
Nalanda Buddhist College
Locals call this place Dalayna and the monks call it Nalanda Buddhist College. If you want to chat up with monks in English then this is the place to go. The monks here are dying to practise the new language they learn. Drive there in the afternoon and enjoy your evening tea supplemented by the ravishing view in front of you.
Chorten Nigpo Walks
The walk to Chorten Ningpo passes through several villages. Many visitors love this walk in summer and in autumn. In summer the rice fields are lush and gardens are filled with multitudes of vegetables and fruits. Likewise autumn enchants visitors with the golden hue of ripening rice. For adventure loving hard core walkers we recommend a detour to Hokotso, a lowland lake that holds many legends. This is recommended in autumn though.
Gasa –On the Trails of Discovery
Gasa the northern most district of the country adjoins the districts of Punakha, Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang and with Tibet to its north. This starkly beautiful region with elevations ranging from 1500 to 4,500 metres experiences extremely long and hard winters and short but beautiful summers. It has the smallest population with just about 3000 inhabitants. Of culture meet the people of Laya, the nomads of western Bhutan. These people live on yaks and harvest of Cordycep (fungi of high value, used in oriental medicine).
Locally known as the Tashi Thongmon Dzong, the fortress served as a defending barrack in the 17th century. It was named after the region’s protecting deity Tashi Thongmon. The fortress is unique with a circular shape and three watch towers that are placed at strategic points. The beauty of the dzong is heightened during clear days with view of Mt. Gangboom. Time your trip there during the annual autumn festival.
Let your adventurous spirit take you on a three nights trek to Laya. Situated at an altitude of 3800 m, this village will mesmerise you with their unique culture. It is amazing how a small pocket of ethnic group survived for so long in the north of this small country. Anyone on the Snow Leopard Trek or the Grand Snowman Trek will converge through Laya. To experience the maximum cultural richness, why not time during their Owlay festival. This festival happens once in three years and the other festival you can bank on is the Takin Festival.
The valley of Lunana is the most remote of Gasa district. To see Lunana is to experience the culture of Himalayan people residing amongst the glaciers. The people here make their living from yaks and sheep. The nomads here know a lot on medicinal herbs and have benefited a lot from cordycep harvesting. This wonder worm (Cordyceps sinensis) has given the nomads an extra income which will eventually lead to preservation of this nomadic culture.
Gasa has about thirteen well known religious monuments that includes the Zabsel and Phulukha choetens, Throe Lhakhang, Dung Goemba, Drophel Choling, Yonzho Lhakhang, Jangchub Choling, Bumpa lhakhang, and the ruins of the ancestral home of the 1st Deb Raja of Bhutan, Tenzin Drugyel.
Gasa is famed for its numerous hot springs or Tshachus with renowned medicinal properties. The hot springs at the base of the Mochu river draws not just the locals but as well as Bhutanese from other parts of the country and tourists. Taking a hot dip in the Tshachus will be not just a wonderful experience but give you a healing experience.
The natural splendour of Gasa is unparalleled in the country. It has some of the highest peaks arrayed like a saw along the natural border with Tibet. Over a hundred glacial lakes are at the foot of these mountains that feed the two major rivers in the country. The entire district falls under the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park that has some rare flora and fauna species. One can come across the elusive snow leopard, Takin-the national animal, Red Panda, the mountain goats, Blue sheep and the Blue Poppy, the national flower of the country. Each year a number of tourists pass through the region along its popular trails including the famous Snowman Ttrek, one of the most arduous treks in the world.
Haa – The Valley of the Guardian Spirit
The ancestral home of the Royal Grandmother and the Dorji family, the Haa district is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque of the districts in the country. The district adjoins the districts of Paro, Chhukha and Samtse, covering an area of 1706 sq. Km. It is one of the smallest districts in the country. Legend says that the Haa valley, before the 8th century, was wrapped up in animist tradition. Still some elements of this belief system exist in form of festivals and rituals. The tantric master Padmasambhava visited the valley in the 8th century and transformed some blood sacrificing animist beliefs into peaceful Buddhist traditions. Ap Chundu and several other deities, once hostile animist forces, were subdued and made the guardians of the land.
The construction of the Wangchulo Dzong was commissioned by Gongzim Ugyen Dorji, the Grandfather of the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck. The Dzong structure resembles the Wangdicholing palace in Bumthang that was the seat of the 1st and 2nd Kings.
This is another fortress in the Haa valley. The fortress is located on 11 kilometres away from Chunzom towards Haa proper and was built in the 16th century by a Tibetan Lam Nawang Chogyal. The five storied fortress is perched on a hilltop and flanked by a hair-raising ravine descending to the basin of the Pachu-Wangchu. It was once one of the main centres of Drukpa Kagyudpa teachings, the state religion of the country. From the fortress one can view the lush green forests of Chhukha Dzongkhag with the highway running across it.
This hundred year old temple was founded by Dali Lam Sangay Gyatso who served as the Abbot of Nub Dali Dzong in Tibet. People believe that the temple is thus modelled on the lines of the Nub Dali Dzong. It is located in Lungsekha village in Isu gewog.
A place of importance in the valley is the Shekhar Drak temple that is ensconced at the foot of a cliff with its walls melded in the rock. A visit to the temple will be truly an spiritually fluffing one.
Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo
Explore the two great temples namely the White (Lhakhang Karpo) and the Black (Lhakhang Nagpo). The temples are both located in the tiny village of Dumchoe. Lhakhang Karpo can be distinguished by its sparkling white walls while lhakhang Nagpo is easily distinguished by its grayish black wall. The temples are both located in the foothills of the three towering identical mountains venerated as Rigsum Gonpo. Mesmerise yourself with the stories of how the temples and the mountains were formed. They represent the essence of Wisdom, Knowledge and Subjugation. Maybe you can draw your own parables here. The people of Haa have a tradition of going on pilgrimage to the temples and you can join the pilgrims on foot.
The Summer festival at Ha valley is an annual festival where you get an opportunity to explore the Alpine valley which is a favourite haunt of the nature lovers with lakes and mountains. You also get an opportunity to participate in the nomadic life styles of the Haaps and feel the experience of ancient Bhutan besides savouring the delicacies of the Haaps, especially the Haapi Hoentoe, a dumpling. You may also take rides on Yaks and horses back and compete in the traditional game of khuru, archery and soksum and try hitting the bull’s eye.You may also share a night or so in the traditionally built farmhouses and experience the true essence of cultural exposure. We can design tours that will allow you to experience farming of the valley’s staple crops of wheat, potatoes, barley, millet and ample green vegetables. Trekking will reveal the legends of Nob Tsonapatra (highland lakes) and yak herder’s livelihood. We present the best of Haa during the Summer Festival and other festivals as listed here.
Wangdue Phodrang – The Land of Ornamental Speech or Lozeys
Wangdue Phodrang is an important gateway to the far flung districts of Eastern Bhutan. The dzong perched on a ridge overlooking the Punatsangchu and Dangchu rivers was built in 1639. As the name speaks the dzong of Wangdue held a powerful position during pre-monarchy days. Apart from the great dzong, its cultural wonders lie in the villages. Detour the villages of Gaselo and Nahee towards the west of the dzong. Likewise enjoy the tales of shaman culture in the Shaa regions of Wangdue and listen to the ornamental speeches or Lozeys of Shaa and visit the ancestral home of Pema Tshewang Tashi, the knight whose Lozey still remains a favourite amongst the Bhutanese.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
Stretched along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punatsangchhu and Dhangchhu rivers, the imposing Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. During pre-monarchy days, the governor of this dzong played an important role. The annual festival takes place in autumn so be the guest and enjoy the tour of the dzong.
The Temple of Sha Radap
The temple of Sha Radap, the guardian deity of Wangdue Phodrang region is worth paying a visit. The temple located close to the town houses the image of the deity. Locals pay frequent visits to the temple to seek his blessings and to name their new born child. You can roll the dice at the temple, seek his blessings and your wishes may come true and fulfilled.
In the mountains east of Wangdue Phodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha valley, on the slopes of which is situated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km. down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate.
Villages of Gaselo and Nahee
Enjoy the delights of the two villages in the west of the province. Take picnic lunch and drive to these villages on day excursions. Village life there is still medieval and farmers are ever happy to see visitors. Fascinate yourself during rice plantation in early summer. Experience the joy and drudgery of farming life. In autumn share the happiness of farmers over a bountiful harvest.
The Southern Villages of Adha and Rukha
To experience the grandeur of these villages, you must prepare yourself for a tented night. You could also use a farm house stay and help distribute tourism income to the villages. Summer months are not recommended for cultural groups. The biting midges (sand flies), mosquitoes and leeches are instrument of raw adventure and may not entice the cultural visitors. The highlights are an experience into Adha and Rukha farming life. The farmers will tell tales of mermaids and kings. Let them show you the secrets of making roasted fish.
Legends of Shaa Region
East of Wangdue province lays the region of Shaa. The region celebrates Bonko (an animist festival) once in every three years. The farmers here practise animism but call themselves Buddhists. That is the thrill to experience for every visitor. The animists are nature worshippers and it makes great sense for a farmer to be an animist than a Buddhist. Brave yourself and drive on the farm roads to visit these villages or book few nights of camp services.