Places of Interest
Paro (Western Bhutan)
Elevation: 7480 ft/ 2,280 m
Paro is a town and seat of Paro District in the Paro Valley of Bhutan. It is home to Paro Airport, Bhutan's only international airport.
In & Around Paro
Paro Dzong: Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body and administration of Paro.
National Museum: Also known as watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dozng during inter-valley wars of the 17th century, since 1967 the Watch Tower is serving as the National Museum of the country. It holds fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan's exquisite postage stamps. The museum circular shape augments its varied collection displayed over several floors.
Ruined Drukgyel Dzong: This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951.
Kyichu Lhakhang: It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakahng in Bumthang). The lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in original pattern.
Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest): It is one of the most famous of Bhutan's monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called "Tiger's Nest". This site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendor.
Thimphu (Western Bhutan)
Elevation: 7656 ft/ 2,320 m
Bhutan’s capital, occupies a valley in the country’s western interior. In addition to being the government seat, the city is known for its Buddhist sites. The massive Tashichho Dzong is a fortified monastery and government palace with gold-leaf roofs.
In & Around Thimphu
Memorial Chorten: a whitewashed structure with a gold spire, is a revered Buddhist shrine dedicated to Bhutan’s third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
Changangkha Monastery: Built in 15th century by the lama PhajoDrugomZhipo. All new born babies of Thimphu valley are taken to receive first blessing from the deity of Changangkha.
Zilukha Nunnery: One of the few surviving nunneries in Bhutan.
Cheri Monastery: A hike about two hours from the motor road leads to Cheri Goemba (Cheri DorjiDhen) or Monastery. The trail starts by crossing a lovely covered bridge that spans the Wang Chu (River), and then climbs steeps to the monastery.
Painting School: Painting School where traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting Thangkas (sacred Buddhist religious scrolls).
Simtokha Dzong: Built in 1627(First ever Dzong or Fortress) by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands on a low ridge 8 km down the valley from Thimphu. The Institute for Language and Cultural Studies is located here.
National Library: History of Bhutan lies imprinted in archaic texts, which are preserved at the National Library.
Traditional Medicine Institute: In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants abundant in the Kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners.
The Folk Heritage Museum: The principal exhibit in the museum is a restored three storey traditional rammed mud and timber house, which dates back to the mid 19th century.
National Textile Museum: The textile museum has opened its exhibition on six major themes - warp pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textiles from indigenous fibers and the royal collection. The crowns of Bhutan's Kings, namzas (dresses), the first version of Royal Crown and other accessories used by members of Royal family can be found in the museum.
Jungzhi Handmade Paper Factory: Jungzhi Paper factory produces traditional handmade paper from natural plants mainly from ‘Daphne’ plant species which is insect-resistant.
Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang): Located at a short drive from Thimphu city centre, visitors can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley from the Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang).
National Zoo: The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and looks like a cross between a cow and a goat. Legend has it that the animal was created by the great Buddhist yogi, Drukpa Kuenley, and it can be found only in Bhutan and nearby areas. Taxonomists place the animal in a category of its own as it is not similar enough to any other animal to fit established categories.
Punakha (Central Bhutan)
Elevation: 4265 ft/ 1,300 m
Punakha is the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag, one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu.
In & Around Punakha
Punakha Dzong: Built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan's history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present Kings. It is the winter residence of the monks which moves to Thimphu in summer.
Chimi Lhakhang or Fertility Temple: The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humor, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings and due to this also known as "Divine Madman". This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not bear children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. It is about 30 minute walk across paddy fields from the road to the temple.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten: A beautiful hike takes one to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
Wangduephodrang (Central Bhutan)
Elevation : 4430 ft/ 1,350 m
In & Around Wangduephodrang
Wangduephodrang is the last town on the central highway before central Bhutan. The town is not more than an enlarged village with a few well-provided shops. Located in the south of Punakha, the higher reaches of the Wangduephodrang valley provide rich pastureland for cattle. This district is also famous for its fine bamboo products, slate and stone carvings.
The only one thing to visit at this place is the massive Dzong but unfortunately it got burnt down on 24 June 2012. The major renovation work is in progress. Therefore no one is allowed to visit the site as of now.
Gangtey or Phobjikha Valley (Central Bhutan)
Elevation :9800 ft/ 3,000 m
Gangtey or Phobjikha valley is also a part of Wangduephodrang which is more than two hours drive on the way to Central Bhutan. The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful Valleys in Bhutan. The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the hard climb through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, and extremely rare experience in Bhutan where most of the valley’s are tightly enclosed.
A few kilometers beyond the Gangtey Monastery, on the valley floor lies the valley of Phobjikha. This place is the winter home of black necked cranes that migrate from Tibet in winter.
In & Around Paro
Gangtey Goempa or Monastery: Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery and also the biggest Nyingmapa school in the western part of the country.
Gangtey was founded by Pema Trinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa, the famous Nyingmapa saint of Bhutan. In 1613, Pema Trinley established the monastery and became the first Gangtey Tulku. The religious traditions of Pema Lingpa still taught there. The second Tulku, Tenzin Legpa Dondrup (1645 to 1726), enhanced the size of Gangtey while keeping up good relations with Drukpas, and rebuilt the monastery in the form of a Dzong.
Trongsa (Southern Bhutan)
Elevation : 7598 ft/ 2,316 m
Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. Both His Majesty King Ugyen Wangchuck, the Penlop of Trongsa, who was elected the country's first hereditary monarch and his successor, King Jigme Wangchuck, ruled the country from Trongsa ancient seat. The Crown Prince of Bhutan normally holds the position of the Trongsa Penlop prior to ascending the throne including the present King. The entire landscape around Trongsa is spectacular.
In & Around Trongsa
Chendbji Chorten: approximately four hours drive from Wangduephodrang is Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. It was built in 18th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.
Trongsa Dzong: Like almost all towns in the Kingdom, this Dzong architecture dominates the entire Trongsa horizon dwarfing the surrounding buildings. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second King ruled the country from this ancient seat.
Protected from invaders by an impenetrable valley, Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress. 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 side of the hill and can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold.
Ta Dzong: The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. There are 224 items on display including a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries-old treasures like dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings and scrolls, and textiles.
The Ta Dzong is a living museum and the main lhakhang in the Utse is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha (Gyaltsab Jampa), also known as the Future Buddha). A Khesar Lhakhang is dedicated to Khesar of Ling. The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in lifelong meditation. The Ta Dzong is the only structure that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan celebrates the centenary of the Monarchy.
Bumthang (Southern Bhutan)
Elevation : 8530 ft – 13,123 ft/ 2,600m – 4,000m
Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
In & Around Bumthang
Jambay Lhakhang : This monastery was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits n the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
Kurje Lhakhang: Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru's body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Tamshing Lhakhang: Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padsambhava. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.
Jakar Dzong: Founded by great grand-father of the first Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as administrative centre for Bumthang valley, and houses the regional monk body.
Konchogsum Lhakhang: 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.
Chankhar Lhakhang: Beyond Jambay Lhakhang is Changkhar 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 Chankhar, 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 monastery 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, grammar, poetry along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.
Excursions around Bumthang or Jakar valley
Tangbi Goemba: 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.
Ngang Lhakhang: 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 honour of the founder of the temple.
Ura Valley: Bumthang to Ura is 48 km, about one and a half hour drive. Large sheep pastures line the road up to 20 km behind the southern tip of the Tang valley. The route crosses Ura la pass (3,600m) with a magnificent view of Mount. Gangkhar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan. Above Ura village (3,100m) 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..
Tang 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 kilometre ahead, there is a rough track on the left and another kilometre 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): A five minute walk from the parking lot the road leads to a picturesque pool in the Tang-Chu(River) that is known as Mebartsho or the burning lake. Terton Pema Lingpa found several of Guru Rimpoche’s Terma or Treasures from this pool.
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: 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 Chel 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.
Phuentsholing (Western Bhutan)
Elevation : 984 ft/ 300 m
The frontier town, it is a thriving commercial centre, situated directly at the base of Himalayan foothills. It is a fascinating place where different ethnic groups mingle prominently Indian, Bhutanese and Nepalese. Being the border town, Phuentsholing serves as the convenient entry/exit point for Bhutan and also the important link to visit the Indian state of West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam.
In & Around Phuentsholing
Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang: Situated in city centre, this small temple represents the heaven of Guru Rinpoche.
Kharbandi Goemba: Founded in 1967 by Royal Grand Mother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron and situated at the altitude of 400m, this beautiful monastery contains paintings on the life of Buddha, statues of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. From the monastery garden there is a fascinating view of Phuentsholing town and surrounding plains.