Phuntsholing is a frontier and thriving commercial center on the northern edge of the Indian plains and south of Thimphu, the capital City and Paro International airport, it takes about 6 hours by driving to reach Phuntsholing from Paro and Thimphu. Situated at the foothills of Himalaya, it serves as the main trading zone for Bhutanese with other neighboring countries of South Asia. Visitors can reach Phuntsholing by road from Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bagdogra airport in West Bengal. It takes about 3-5 hours of driving from the places mentioned above.
Places you can see are Kharbandi Gompa, built in 1967 by the Royal Grandmother, the monastery contains paintings on the life of Buddha and statues of Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpochey. The view from the monastery garden towards the Phuntsholing and surrounding Indian plains are superb.
ZangdoPelri Temple, located in the center of Phuntsholing town, represents the abode of Guru Rinpochey. On the ground level there are statues of Guru and his eight manifestations. And the wall is covered with paintings of Buddha’s life. On the second floor it contains of eight Bodhisattavas and statues of Avalokiteshwara and Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal while on the top floor the main statue is of Buddha Amitabha.
PARO Valley (Altitude 8500 feet)
Situated at an average elevation of 8000 feet high from sea level, home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, Paro valley has managed to keep its bucolic nature in spite of the Bhutan’s only airport and many development projects. Depending on season the valley floor is covered with brown or green fields, while small villages and isolated farms dot the landscape. The valley is also known for the produce of Bhutan’s Red Rice.
The places to see are Drukgyel Dzong, overlooking the beautiful village with Mount Chomolhari in the background, this ruin Dzong (Fortress) was built in 1646 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders led by Mongolion warlord, Gushri Khan. Historically and strategically it withstood all its glory and had captured western eyes in 1914 vide National Geography magazine. The Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951 and is now preserved as heritage site.
Rinpung Dzong meaning “fortress of the heap of jewels”, built at the same time of Drukgyel Dzong, it now serves as the administrative and judicial seat of Paro district and residence for the 200 monks of Paro. Walking up through the traditional bridge, and over a stone inlaid path, you enjoy the great view of the superb architecture and the life around the Dzong. It is also the venue for Paro festival, held in the spring.
Ta Dzong– Overlooking the Rimpung Dzong was built in 1951 as a watch tower, unlike the rectangular shape of the Dzongs, Ta Dzong is Round, more like parts of an European castle. From 1967 the Dzong was re-established as the National Museum and holds fascinating collection of arts, relics, religious thangkha, and many others.
Kyichu Lhakhang, to consecrate the entire region of Himalaya, a Tibetan king known as Songtsen Gompo in the 7th century miraculously built 108 temples. Kyichu is considered to be one of them and is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.
Paro Town, rows of shops line the main road built in traditional architecture. This stretch of about 250 meters, with farmers leading their horses, its occasional idlers leaning against the storefronts, the town of Paro strangely resembles a village of the old American West.
Farm House, Bhutanese farmhouses are colorful, decorative and traditionally built without any nails. Majority of the houses are with three story, first floor is utilized for sheltering cattle, second floor for the family to live in and the top for storing and drying of foods and fodder for animal. Almost all the farmhouses follow the same architectural pattern. A visit to farmhouse is interesting and provides you with an experience to the daily life of average Bhutanese.
Druk Choeding, Built in 1525, this town temple was built by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
DAY HIKES IN PARO:
Taktsang Temple (Tiger’s Nest), The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. We stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue our hike for short while until we see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the remains of Taktsang monastery. Dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. The history states that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantrum mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, had taken the wrathful form of Guru Dorje Droloe to subdue the evil and demon that were obstructing the spread of Buddhism in the Himalayas.
Kila Goemba, nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside below the Chele la pass and perched precariously along the rock face. This small nunnery is home to many nuns who have renounced their worldly life and have chosen to lead the path of enlightenment. The Temple is about an hour walk amidst magnificent wooded area.
THIMPHU Capital (Altitude 8500)
Thimphu is Bhutan’s capital city and center of government, religion and commerce. About two hours drive from Paro towards east is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Home to civil servant, expatriates and monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.
Places to see are Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 in the memory of Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of Modern Bhutan. The monument inside this stupa depicts the basic teaching of Nyingma tradition , Phurpa, Kagye and Lama Gondu. It also serves as a place where the Thimphu residents come to pay their daily respect and circumambulate the stupa.
Tashichhodzong, meaning “fortress of the glorious religion”, this fortress was initially erected in the year of 1641 and later in 1965 the Third King rebuilt it into the present form. The fortress serves as the office of the King, ministers and various government organizations and also headquarters for monastic body of Bhutan. Bhutan’s spiritual leader and the monks of both Thimphu and Punakha reside here during summer. It is also the venue for Thimphu Festival in the fall season.
Simtokha Dzong, About 4 miles from Thimphu, this small Dzong situated on a lofty ridge is the first fortress among the chain of fortresses built around the country by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal in 17th century. It was in 1961 the Third King turned this into an Institute for traditional studies for lay students who would be trained as Bhutanese Language teacher and have become co educational institute since 1989.
National Library, The history of Bhutan lies imprinted in archaic texts that are preserved at the National Library. Besides thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts, the library also has modern academic books and printing blocks for prayer flags.
Painting School, This institute teaches the techniques of traditional paintings, sculptures and other forms of traditional arts and one can view the students at work.
Traditional Medicine Institute, Equal emphasis is given on both allopathic and traditional method of healing. The rich medicines abundant in Kingdom are prepared here. The institute also imparts the art of herbal medicines to would be practitioners.
Heritage Museum, opened recently, this heritage museum, housed in a 19th century farmhouse displays the living style of the 19th century Bhutanese family.
Textile Museum, a recent addition in the capital city, this museum displays the colorful and intricately hand woven old and new textiles of Bhutan.
Weekend market, if you are in Thimphu during weekends than you should not miss a visit to the weekend market. Vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and remain selling their goods until Sunday night. It’s an interesting place to visit, where village people bring their products of vegetables, foodstuffs and handicrafts to sell. At the northern end of the market is a collection of stalls called the indigenous goods and handicrafts section. Here you will find locally produced goods, including religious objects, baskets, fabrics and different hats from various minority groups.
DAY HIKES IN THIMPHU CITY:
Phajoding Temple: A saint known as Shacha Rinchen built the temple in 15th century and is located at an altitude of 12,138 feet, overlooking the Thimphu Valley. Surrounding the temple are many retreat houses for the people who come here and spent about 3 years in retreat. The hike is uphill north of Thimphu through mixed conifer forest with great views of Thimphu valley behind.
Tango Temple: With about 12 kilometers of drive you arrive at the starting point of Tango hike. It takes about an hour to arrive at the temple and is about 900 feet climb. Built in 12th century by Gyalwa Lhanampa, at present it serves as the monastic school for study of Buddhist Philosophy, metaphysics, mathematics, poets and many other Buddhist studies. On the same day you can hike to Cheri Temple, return back to the road, your car will drive you to the traditional bridge over the Thimphu River. From here you hike for about an hour and half. Crossing the lovely covered traditional bridge you climb steeply to the temple. Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal founded the temple in 1620.
Located at an altitude of 4430 feet above sea level, Punakha had once served as the winter capital of Bhutan. It is still being used as the winter home to Bhutan’s spiritual leader and the monks of Thimphu and Paro. Blessed with temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu (Male) and Mochu (female) rivers, it is the most fertile valley and best red rice grower in the country. During a clear weather there are splendid view of the distant Himalayan snowcapped peaks at Dochu La Pass on Thimphu – Punakha road. Takes about two and half hours to reach from Thimphu.
It’s a 20 minutes walk across fields through the village of Sopsokha from the roadside to the small temple located on a hillock in the center of the valley below Metshina. Ngawang Choegyal built the temple in 15th century after the ‘divine Madman’, Drukpa Kuenley built a small chorten there. It is a pilgrim site for infertile women.
Punakha Dzong: Pungthang Dechen Phodrang “Palace of Great Happiness” popularly known as Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal after Simtokha Dzong and is located strategically between the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu Rivers Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King. Punakha served as the capital of the country until second king who moved the capital to Bumthang as summer and Trongsa as the winter. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king was crowned. It is also the venue for Punakha Festival held in February or March.
Samtengang winter trek, this three day low altitude cultural trekking not exceeding an elevation of 8500 feet connects you to Wangdue District. The trek offers great scenic views of snowcapped mountains and pristine forest.
There are various places for day hike, bird watching and trekking in Punakha. For more details please contact us.
Located at same elevation as Punakha, it’s about 30 minutes of drive from Punakha. It is the last town of western Bhutan before you enter into the central part of Bhutan. Known for fine bamboo work and its slate stone carvings.
Wangdi Dzong: Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal in 1638 had built this massive fortress sitting on a hilltop at the confluence of Punakha Chu and Tang Chu Rivers. Wangdi festival is celebrated here in the fall.
Rinchengang Village: A small clustered village facing the Wangdi Dzong is known for its skill in traditional method of stone masonry. It is about 20 minutes hike uphill with great view of the Dzong, valley and the river.
PHOBJIKHA (altitude 9600 feet): Takes about two hours of drive from Wangdi Phodrang, a glacial valley located on the western slopes of the Black Mountain at an altitude of 9840 feet above the sea level. There is no telephone or electricity and is the winter home to the rare endangered black-necked crane that migrate from high plateaus of Tibet in late fall. In addition to the cranes there are also muntjak (barking deer), wild boar, sambar, Himalayan black bear, leopard and red fox. The valley is a designated conservation area and borders Black Mountain National Park.
Places to see, Gangtey Gompa: Headed by the ninth Gangtey Trulku is the largest Nyingma monastery in Bhutan. Gyalse Pema Thinlay built a small temple in 1613, which was later built into larger Goemba by the 2nd reincarnation Tenzin Legpai Dhendup.
Villages: You can take day hike around the valley visiting villages and observing the cranes during November – March. It is very scenic and mind soothing hike that would provide you with rewarding surprises.
Roosting Ground, It is about 20 minutes walk from the bridge crossing the swamp on rough wooden slabs. The best time is at dawn and dusk when all the birds in the valley congregate for the night (only possible during November – March).
It takes about 4 hours from Phobjikha to reach Trongsa by car. If you plan to skip visiting Phobjikha Valley than it takes about 6 hours from Punakha area. Located at an altitude of 7220 feet above sea level, Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where the nation was unified. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and for miles on end, the Dzong seems to tease you, wondering if you will ever reach there.
Trongsa Dzong: Built in 1648, it is the ancestral home of the Royal family. Both the first and second King ruled the country from the ancient seat. All four Kings held the post of Trongsa Penlop (Honorary Governor) prior to being crowned as the King. The Dzong is massive structure with many levels, which slope down the contours of a hill on which it perches. Because of its highly strategic position as the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control the whole eastern region effectively. It is in this Dzong the annual Trongsa festival is performed during December or January.
Ta Dzong: This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands impressively and provides visitors an insight into historical significance of Tongsa in Bhutan’s history.
Kungarabten: About 15 miles from Trongsa is the winter palace of second King Jigme Wangchuk. It is a splendid building with superb woodwork and decorations. The 1st floor was used as storage for food, 2nd floor as the residence of royal attendance and the army, 3rd floor as the royal residence and king’s chapel. Part of this floor is presently used as Library. The top floor is an alter room with statues of Sakyamuni, the Shubdrung and Guru Rinpochey. Right above the palace is the nunnery, it is about 40 minutes walk uphill. There are about 70 nuns enrolled.
It is about two and half hours drive from Trongsa to Bumthang. Located at an altitude of 8530 – 13125 feet above sea level, Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys- Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on the animal husbandry. Bumthang is considered the holiest valley in Bhutan, many Bhutanese from all over the country visit here on pilgrim to pay their respect and to be blessed by the many holy sites where in ancient times various religious masters have meditated.
Jambay Lhakhang Temple: A Tibetan king known as Songtsen Gompo miraculously built 108 temples in 7th century in order to consecrate the Himalayan region. This is the venue for Jambay Lhakhang Festival during October or November.
Kurjey Lhakhang: It takes about 30 minutes of hike north to reach Kurjey Lhakhang. It was during 8th century a king from Bumthang, known as Sendhu Raja had invited Guru Rinpochey (Precious Teacher), who brought Buddhism into Bhutan, to cure him from a dreadful disease that was killing him. Guru meditated at Kujey for three months, left his body print on the rock and subdues the local deities including powerful Shelging Karpo, who had stole the king’s life force and was the cause of King’s disease. Kurjey is complex of three temples, on the right beneath a giant cypress tree, the main temple built in 1652 by Minjur Tenpa, Trongsa Penlop. This temple houses the cave where Guru Rinpochey had meditated and left his body imprint. The middle temple was built by the First King of Bhutan during his tenure as Trongsa Penlop in 1900. The third temple is recently constructed under patronage of Her Majesty queen mother Ashi Kesang Wangchuk.
Thangbi Temple: Founded by Shamar Rinpochey in 1470, this temple is located in the midst of buckwheat field. After a dispute the temple was taken over by Pema Lingpa from Shamar Rinpochey. It is 17 Kilometers drive north of Kurjey Temple on an unpaved road to Toktu Zampa. You start your walk from here by crossing a small suspension bride and walk 20 minutes past fields of buckwheat to the Thangbi Temple. This is the venue of Thangbi Festival.
Tamshing Temple: Located opposite Kurjey Lhakhang this temple was founded by Bhutan’s own religious treasure discoverer, Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501. Believed to be the reincarnation of Guru Rinpochey, he discovered many religious treasures around the country. The mural paintings inside the temple are known to be unrestored ancient painting. The best way to enjoy the serene and the beauty of valley is to hike, it is about one hours walk from Kurjey over Chamkhar River to arrive at Tamshing.
Konchogsum Temple: Ten minutes walk south will bring you to Konchogsum temple. The temple was restored in 1995 and looks new, but it actually dates back to 7th century. This temple has many interesting stories to tell.
Membertsho (Burning Lake): It is about 20 minutes drive from the hotel where you stay and then about 10 minutes of walk. The significant of this place is that Pema Lingpa in the early 16th century discovered many religious items from a pond here.
Ura Village: It is about 50 kilometers from Chokhor valley and takes about one and half hour. Located in a broad valley, Ura village is a clustered of traditional houses fenced by cobblestone streets that give the village a mediaeval atmosphere. The women in Ura village cover their head with white cloth piece to protect from the harsh cold wind and carries sheepskin (behind their back) used as cushion and as well as to protect their cloth from the loads they carry. This is the venue for Ura Yakchu Festival.
MONGAR (Altitude 5575 feet)
The drive from Bumthang to Mongar will surely enchant you as it offers one of the most spectacular views of the country. Evergreen junipers and colorful Rhododendrons cover the hillsides, as fresh new scenery unfolds with every twist and turn of the winding road. Sound of the rushing streams and cascading waterfalls greets you as you look down at the valley looming in the distance below the precipitous rock face. You will be so captivated by its beauty that the seven hours journey will hardly be noticed.
LHUNTSHI: While traveling from Bumthang to Mongar, you can take a different road to Lhuntshi district from the Gongola before arriving Mongar. It is about 6 hours from Bumthang and 3 hours from Mongar. Lhuntshi is among the few remote districts of Bhutan and is famed for its intricate and colorful weavings. Formerly known as Kurtoe, the region is ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs, gorges and dense coniferous forests.
TRASHIYANGTSE: (altitude 6,000 feet) Driving from Mongar to Trashigang you take the left road to Trashiyangtse before crossing Chazam (Bailey bridge) to Trashigang. The road traverses north and takes about 2 hours to reach at Trashiyangtse. Tashiyangtse Dzong is half-hour walk from the main road. Established in 1656, the Dzong was completely renovated in 1976.Tashiyangtse is a small village with a garden aspect and a lovely place from where to launch a couple of hour’s stroll into surrounding countryside. This region is known for its specialty in making of various kinds of wooden utensils. Stroll the small town and observe the master craftsmen in work.
Chorten Kora, a large stupa designed similar to Nepal’s Boudnath stupa, this large white stupa was constructed in 1740 by Lama Nawang Lodey. During the second month of Lunar calendar that is March or April the people in Trashiyangtse celebrate a festival known as Chorten Kora.
Bomdeling, winter home to the black-necked crane, it is about one hour scenic hike from Trashiyangtse. The broad valley of Bomdeling is another bird sanctuary preserved as habitat for migrant birds specially the endangered black-necked crane.
Gomkora: 15 miles from Trashigang before arriving Trashiyangtse is a popular pilgrim site where Guru Rinpochey had meditated and subdue the demon that dwelt in the vicinity. This is also the venue for Gomkora Festival held in early spring.
TRASHIGANG (altitude 3775 feet)
In the far east of Bhutan, on high above the bank of Gamri River, lies the second largest urban center in mountainous Bhutan. This largest district of Bhutan had once served as the center of a busy trade with Tibet prior to Chinese occupation, now serves as the junction for east – west highway. It is also the market place for all the 6 districts of eastern Bhutan. Trashigang is also the market place for people from Merak & Sakten who stroll the town with their unique little yak hair hats and different costumes than the mass Bhutanese. Places you can visit are Trashigang Dzong, a 17th century fortress standing at the extreme end of the spur, overhanging the Gamri River. If you are interested in rural life and textiles, there are several villages where you can make day excursions.
There is almost nothing of interest to the traveler in Samdrup Jongkhar except for the scenic drive and the few places while driving from Trashigang. The primary reason for driving to Samdrup Jongkhar would be to reach the nearest airport at Guhati in Indian State of Assam, from where you can fly to Calcutta or New Delhi. En route you will stop at the Zangdo Pelri temple, Khaling Blind School, Khaling Weaving Center and finally at Deothang. At present due to security, exit to Indian State of Assam is closed. As such, you will have to travel back retracing the lateral highway.