Places of Interest in Bhutan

Paro (2,200 m)
A trip to Bhutan normally begins and ends at Paro, and there can be few more charming valleys to be welcomed by, or from which to remember the Land of Thunder Dragon. As you climb down from the aircraft and take your first breath of Bhutanese air, you will be stuck by the silence and peace of Paro valley. The town of Paro is small with most of the inhabitants living in the valley that surrounds the town. Paro has the highest yielding farmlands in the kingdom. A destination all its own, Paro is home to the national museum and one of the oldest and most celebrated dzongs in Bhutan, Rinpung Dzong, which means "Fortress of the Heap of Jewels".

Apart from commanding a slightly elevated strategic point overlooking the longest strategic point overlooking the longest stretch of the Paro valley,Rinpung Dzong is symbolic as the religious and secular centre of all affairs in the valley, It is also an architectual wonder, setting the tone for offical dzongs throughout the kingdom and inviting the visitor to wonder at the cutural strength of the kingdom's heritage. The dzong was built in the 15th century and was finally consecrated in 1646. Above the dzong is the old watch-tower which has been converted to the national museum. The museum's collections include ancient Bhutanese arts, artefacts, weapons, stamps, birds and animals. This is typical of the eclectic beauty of Bhutan - its prized objects bear little relation to each other but as a whole stand together as the history of one of the world's most pristine people.

It is said that Guru Rinpoche, the founding father of the Bhutanese strain of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived in the valley of Paro more than a millenium ago on the back of a legendary tigress. He meditated for three months in a cave where a monastery was later built. The monastery, Taktsang, or the Tigher's Nest, is one of the most sacred pilgrim sites for every Bhutanese. Most unfortunately early in 1998, the monastery suffered a fire. However, the pelghug, or the holy cave, in which Guru Rinpoche meditated was found intact and safe. The reconstruction of the monastery to its original splendour is already in process. Visitors to Paro can take a closer look at the monastery by ascending either on foot or by pony for about three hours to the Tiger's Nest.

What to see in Paro

 

 

Thimphu

Thimphu is a bustling town on the banks of the Wangchhu River. In Thimphu, on the bank of the river, is Bhutan's most stately and arguably the most impressive building, the Tashichhodzong. It houses the throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and is the summer residence of the venerated monastic community. The current dzong is the impressive result of a redesign of the original medieval structure sanctioned by the Third King, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, when he moved the capital to Thimphu from Punakha.

Other places of interest in Thimphu include the Traditional Painting School where age-old styles of Bhutanese painting, including thangkha painting are taught, and the nearby National Library which houses a vast collection of books and research documents of Buddhist studies. The Memorial Chorten, an important monument in Thimphu, was built in memory of His Majesty, the Third King of Bhutan.

Another pride of Bhutan is its multifarious collection of stamps. These are best seen in commemorative books include Thimphu's Central Post Office.

An enjoyable way of passing time in Thimphu is to wander along its main street. Thimphu's weekend market is another opportunity to watch the way life in the capital. Farmers from the neighbouring villages come to sell their produce and wares; mountains of bright red chillies, fresh mushrooms, sprouts of asparagus in season, and cereal of all kinds. You might be surprised to see orchids being sold as a vegetable. In addition, brightly coloured Bhutanese handicrafts are on sale. Thimphu also provides a sporting opportunity on its picturesque nin-hole golf course.

A delightful day on the outskirts of Thimphu is a visit to the Tango and Cheri Monasteries. Simtokha Dzong, 6 km from the city limits, is the kingdom's oldest dzong, which now houses the School for Buddhist Studies.

Thimphu's urban development is strictly monitored and buildings cannot exceed a certain height, nor be designed in anything other than traditional Bhutanese style.

Punakha

The road to Punakha winds up from Simtokha Dzong into pine forest and passes by farm houses and villages for 20km. Dochula Pass, at an altitude of 10,500 ft, is just 45-minute drive from Thimphu. On a clear day, the pass offers visitors a panoramic view of the Eastern Himalayan range. The road continues down the to the relative lowlands of the Punakha valley. Punakha Dzong dominates the valley floor. Before Thimphu was made the capital of Bhutan, Punakha held the title of Winter Capital because of its temperate climate. Today, the old custom of moving from Thimphu to Punakha and back is still followed by the Je Khenpo (Head of Bhutan's religious order) and the monk body. If your visit coincides with the monk's migration, you might be able to watch the ceremonial procession from Punakha to Thimphu.

Punakha Dzong was strategically built at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (Male River) and the Mo Chhu (Female River) by the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, Ngawang Namgyal, in 1637. The dzong has been destroyed by four fires and an earthquake in 1807, and has been frequently devastated by flood water coming from the great northern glaciers. The dzong has now been fully restored to its original splendour. In 1993, the largest thongdrel, a religious embroidery composed entirely of applique on silk brocade, that has ever been created was dedicated to the dzong and the people of Punakha by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and the Je Khenpo at a three-day consecration ceremony.

Trongsa

Trongsa, a four-hour drive from Wangdue Phodrang, offers a welcome rest to travellers. Like almost all towns in Bhutan, the dzong, dominates the valley, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. About 5 miles before Trongsa, the road winds around a cliff and takes a sharp turn to the left. The view is one of the most beautiful sights, and one of which you will never tire. Sited on the contour of a ridge stands the multi-level Trongsa Dzong, built in 1648. It is at least another 20 minutes drive from the first look-out of the town and dzong before you arrive in Trongsa proper. Trongsa is the ancestral home of the Royal Family and the dzong acted as a defensive fortress to attacking armies. The Crown Prince of Bhutan traditionally becomes the Penlop or Governor of Trongsa before being crowned King.

Trongsa Dzong is impregnable. The dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over the local community. It is built on many levels into the sides of the hill, and can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold. Ta Dzong, or the watchtower, which once guarded the dzong from internal rebellion, stands impressively above the dzong and provides the visitor with more insight into historial significance of Trongsa in Bhutan's history.

Trongsa is one of the quaintest of all Bhutanese towns. The town's vista is traditional in appearance, with wooden slatted houses lined up together on the side of the hill. The local population weaves its own textiles from hand-dyed wool. Trongsa is a good shopping stop on your journey to the east of the country.

Bumthang
The Yutongla Pass and a series of hair-raising bends at an altitude of 11,500 feet separate the valleys of Trongsa and Bumthang. Views of Trongsa valley on the ascent are superb. Comprised of 4 smaller valleys, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in a religious legend. Jakar is the centre, containing the dzong area and the town. Apart from Jakar Dzong, a number of smaller monasteries can be found throughout the hills. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava dominate these holy shrines. The valley is home to the sacred Jambay and Kurjey Lhakhangs. At the Kurjey, bodily marks of Guru Rinpoche are impressed upon a rock. Bumthang valley is host to spectaular religious festivals in October and November. Bumthang is also the traditional home of the great Buddhist teacher Pema Lingpa to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its ancestry.

The town of Jakar is the largest between Thimphu in the west and Trashigang in the east. Jakar is famous for its honey production, cheese, apples and apricots. Visitors to Jakar should plan to spend a few days taking advantage of the valley's relatively gentle slopes to hike to nearby medieval temples (the valleys are filled with history) and glimpse Bhutan's rural population.

Ura, the last valley in central Bhutan, falls within the Bumthang district. Wide-open spaces characterise the valley that sits in the shadow of Thrumsingla Pass, which separates the East from the West of Bhutan. Ura Village and its dzong are a charming stop before the climb to the East. Cobbled streets and a medieval feel give Ura an unusual and attractive atmosphere. The old women of Ura still wear sheepskin shawls on their backs, which double as both a blanket in the nighttime and a cushion during the daylight hours.

Eastern Bhutan

The drive across the Thrumsingla Pass and the subsequent descent from high altitude pine forest to lush pastures and orchards is an interesting drive. Gushing waterfalls, steep cliffs with steeper drops, blazing flowers and constantly changing vegetation combine to make the journey as varied as it is beautiful. If the weather is clear, the high eastern mountain range comes into view from the top of the pass and views of misty mountains across many peaks can be seen. Certainly the most spectacular drive in Bhutan is the 20 km of road between Sengor and Namning on the eastern side of the Thrumsingla Pass. Sheer drops of a thousand metres, huge cascading waterfalls, endless turns and frequently fog from a rise in temperature make for unnerving but exhilarating travel.

The country is more rugged and the population more sparse. However, some of the best trekking can be done in the East.

Mongar

Arriving at Mongmar marks the begining of your eastern Bhutan experience. Towns in eastern Bhutan are built on the wides of the hills, in contrast to western Bhutan where towns develop on the valley floor. Mongar town is small with a sprinkling of shops. The Mongar Dzong is modern compared to others in the kingdom. It was built on the orders of the Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The high school, located above the dzong, is also worth visiting. The Kuricchu hydroelectric project will change the industrial emphasis of the Mongar area after it is complete.

Traashigang

The road from Mongar passes the Yadi loops. Arriving in Trashigang is momentous as it marks the end of a 547 km drive from Thimphu. Its proximity to Samdrup Jongkhar, in the southeast bordering the Indian state of Assam, has enabled it to grow as a centre of commerce in the East. Trashigang is also a melting pot of hill tribe people who come to the town to trade. In particular, the unusal Merak and Sakteng people come to trade yak butter for provisions they need in the mountains. Merak and Sakteng (now declared as a restricted area for tourists) are located about 50 miles east of Trashigang close to the border with India's Arunachal Pradesh. Trashigang Dzong sits on a jagged piece of land jutting out from the town and is the first landmark that can be seen from the road winding up to Trashigang. The dzong was built in 1659 and commands a spectacular view over the valley for which it is the administrative centre.

Yangtse

The village of Doksum is a few kilometers past Gom Kora, a small temple on the roadside. A large boulder sits in the garden of Gom Kora and legend has it that anyone who can climb below the rock and emerge from its summit will be cleansed of his sins. Doksum is a weaver's village where women sit on their balconies in fair weather weaving and rocking back and forth to the rhythm of their looms.

Yangtse is a small village, a lovely place from which to stroll around the surrounding countryside. Chorten Kora is one of the only two stupas in Bhutan with styles similar to those found in Nepal. It is host to a great festival every March, which attracts all of East Bhutan's residents. The Chorten is ideally situated on the banks of a running stream.

Samdrup Jongkhar
The road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar was completed in the early 1960s and enables the eastern part of the kingdom to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as to cross the border into India. It is possible to drive from Samdrup Jongkhar to Phuentsholing via the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal.

The road descends fairly abruptly through thick jungle before arriving at Samdrup Jongkhar. The town is no more than a frontier post with a couple of hotels and restaurants.

Visitors can use Samdrup Jongkhar as an exit town, instead of driving back to fly out from Paro or driving out from Phuentsholing. The Guwahati airport is located about 100 km from the border and there are Indian domestic daily flights to Calcutta and Delhi.

Phuentsholing
Popularly known as the "Gateway to Bhutan", Phuentsholing is a vibrant town located adjacent to the Indian border town of Jalpaiguri, a district of the Indian state of West Bengal. The town is a bustling commercial centre providing a glimpse of Indian merchants in their particular attire and Bhutanese in khos and kiras. The climate of Phuentsholing (alt. 300 m) contrasts greatly with the higher lands of Bhutan. It is tropical, hot and humid during the summer, and warm and pleasant in the winter. It is located 180 km from Thimphu and is about 6 hour drive. Phuentsholing can be used for entry or exit from the country. The closest Indian domestic airport is the Bagdogra Airport, about 160 km from the Bhutanese boarder, which has daily flights to and from Delhi and Calcutta.

 

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Last update 25/07/2008