Paro is probably one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. It is located at an altitude of 2280 meters above sea level. Home to Bhutan’s only international airport, the Paro international airport is one of the smallest airports in the world. Paro, in fact, is tourist’s first point of contact with Bhutan. The valley includes some of the most popular points of interest in Bhutan, such as the majestic Rimpung Dzong, National Museum, Kyichu Lhakhang, Drugyel Dzong Ruins, Jomolhari Mountain (7300 Meters) at the north end of the valley and world-famed Taktsang Monastery. Besides visiting the important Tourist places of Paro, the valley also offers an opportunity for a wide range of authentic tours such as cycling, astrology, hot stone bath, Bhutanese cooking classes, easy walks and a plethora of nature hikes.
Sightseeing Spots in Paro:
Tigers Nest Monastery: 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. 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 was obstructing the spread of Buddhism in the Himalayas.
Rimpung Dzong: Rimpung Dzong means “fortress of the heap of jewels”. Built in the mid-17th century, it now serves as the administrative and judicial seat of Paro district and residence for the 200 monks of Paro. It is also the venue for Paro festival, held in the spring. The Fortress is a prominent landmark in the town and houses many important old paintings and status.
Drukgyel Dzong: Overlooks the beautiful village with Mount Jomolhari 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 Mongolian warlord, Gushri Khan. The Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951 and was preserved as a heritage site.
National Museum: This monument dates back to 1951. It was built as a watchtower for the Rimpung Dzong. In 1967 it was converted to National Museum. It holds a fascinating collection of arts, relics, religious thangka, and many other interesting objects.
Kyichu Monastery: A Tibetan king was known as Songtsen Gampo 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. It is a popular place of pilgrimage for many Bhutanese.
Farm Houses: Bhutanese farmhouses are colorful, decorative and traditionally built without any nails. The majority of the houses are with three stories, the 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 the animal. Almost all the farmhouses follow the same architectural pattern. A visit to the farmhouse is interesting and provides you with an experience to the daily life of average Bhutanese.
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. Located at an altitude of 2320m this city is one hour drive from Paro international airport. Seat of all the government offices, religious bodies and the Royal family of Bhutan, the picturesque valley of Thimphu offers some interesting places to see in Bhutan such as, Buddha Point, Memorial Chorten, Semtokha Dzong , The Institute of Zorig Chusum , Folk Heritage Museum, National Library , Institute of Traditional Medicine, Centenary Farmers’ Market and Tashichodzong . The majestic Tashichodzong is Thimphu’s most iconic landmark and houses His Majesty’s office. In addition, the fortress also holds the annual Thimphu Festival. The outskirts of the city offer most amazing hiking trails, especially towards Tango Chari monastery, Kuenselphodrang, and BBS tower. The Druk path trek also can be alternatively undertaken from Thimphu as against normal route of Paro to Thimphu.
Sightseeing Spots in Thimphu:
Tashichodzong: The fortress serves as the office of the King and also as the headquarters of the monastic body of Bhutan. Bhutan’s spiritual head resides here during summer. The fortress is a hallmark of Bhutanese architecture.
Memorial Chorten: Built-in 1974 in the memory of Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, popularly regarded as the father of modern Bhutan. It also serves as a place for Thimphu residents to pay their daily respect and circumambulate the stupa.
Simtokha Dzong: Located approximately four 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 the 17th century.In 1961 the Third King of Bhutan converted the fortress into an Institute for traditional studies for the students to be trained as Bhutanese Language teacher.
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.
Folk Heritage Museum: Housed in a 19th-century farmhouse, the museum displays the living style of the 19th-century Bhutanese family. The premises also house an authentic Bhutanese restaurant.
Textile Museum: This museum displays the colorful and intricately handwoven old and new textiles of Bhutan.
Weekend Market: If you are in Thimphu during weekends, then you should not miss a visit to the weekend market. Vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and sell their goods until Sunday night. It’s an interesting place to visit, where village people bring their products to sell such as vegetables, foodstuffs, and handicrafts at the northern end of the market is a collection of stalls called the indigenous goods and handicrafts section.
Zoo: Takin is national animal of Bhutan. This animal’s appearance resembles a cow from behind and goat from the front. It is worthwhile taking the time to see these strange animals in Zoo of Thimphu. It’s a five-minute walk from the road to a viewing area where you can take advantage of few holes in the fence to take photographs.
Buddha Point: This iconic landmark is located approximately five kilometers from the city at Kuenselphodrang. Buddha point houses the statue of the tallest sitting Buddha in Asia. A landmark is a popular place for locals to unwind or go for a walk. From the point, one can have a 360-degree view of Thimphu city.
Punakha is Bhutan’s old capital. Located at an altitude of 1200 meters this city has played a very important role in shaping Bhutan destiny and even today it is home to Bhutan’s chief abbot in winter. In 2011, Punakha Dzong hosted the wedding of the present King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and the Queen Jetsun Pema. Punakha valley is basically agricultural in nature with fertile low lands, fed by Pochu and Mochu rivers. It is approximately two and half hour drive from Thimphu, passing through beautiful Dochu La pass. One can choose to do a day tour from Thimphu or alternatively organize an overnight stay. Indian national would require special permits to visit Punakha and it can be obtained from Department of Immigration in Thimphu.
Sightseeing Spots in Punakha:
Punakha Dzong: Built-in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the Dzong sits in the confluence between Mo Chhu and Po Chhu River. One of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan, it has witnessed the coronation of five generation of Bhutan’s kings. The interiors of the dzong are one of the best in the country with intricate woodwork at its best.
Chhimi Lhakhang: Widely known as the “Divine Madman’s Temple” the temple was built by lam Drukpa Kinley. It is said that aspiring mothers, wanting to conceive a baby, who visits the temple and prays, will be blessed with one. The phallic symbol, one comes across, in many areas of Bhutan is also associates with Lam Drukpa Kinley and tales of his deeds abounds the walls of Chhimi Lhakhang.
Khamsum Yuley Temple: Built by Queen Mother of the 5th king of Bhutan to bring universal peace to the world. The temple enjoys one of the best views of Punakha valley. The interiors are intricately hand painted and some of the best Bhutanese art is displayed.
Wangdue Phodrang is a gateway to the eastern part of Bhutan. To reach Wangdue it takes thirty minutes’ drive from Punakha and two and half hours’ drive from Thimphu. The district is the biggest district in Bhutan, comprising of 4300 Sq m area and spread across altitude ranging from 800- 5800 meters. The area is characterized by numerous small villages and Bhutan’s rural culture at its best can be experienced here.
West of Wangdue lies a village called Shaa. The locals practice animism here. The animists are nature worshippers, a festival occurs every three years called the “Bonko’ (an animist festival) which is a delight for the locals and a rare treat for the visitors. Other festivals hosted in the district are Wangduephodrang Festival and Black neck crane festival.
Sightseeing Spots in Wangdue Phodrang:
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong: Located atop a hill, the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is one of the most iconic structures in Bhutan. The Dzong commands a majestic view of the Punatsangchhu and Dhangchhu rivers. The fetters are currently been rebuilt after the tragic fire which razed it to grounds.
Dargay Goempa: This temple is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley, Bhutan’s iconic saint, known for his unusual religious practices. The temple is built in the area where the lam met Ashi Genzo, who was famed for her beauty.
Phobjika Village: Home to the rare blacked necked cranes, Phobjika valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. The village is popular for its conservation efforts directed at maintaining the valley as the natural habitat of the migratory endangered cranes. The famous black-necked crane festival takes places in the village annually. The village is also very popular for overnight camping, nature walks, and hikes.
Phobjika Bhutan is a glacial valley located on the western slopes of the Black Mountain at an altitude of 9840 feet above the sea level. Although it is part of the Wangdiphodrang district, it is located in a separate valley. Known for its beautiful scenery, it is approximately two hours’ drive from Wangdi Phodrang. The valley is the largest alpine wetland in Bhutan and a designated eco-tourism hotspot in the country. The beautiful wide valley offers the tourist a sense of vast tranquil expanse and is the winter home to the rare endangered black-necked crane that migrates from high plateaus of Tibet in late autumn. Phobjika is a designated conservation area and also a hallmark of community-based tourism in Bhutan.
Sightseeing Spots in Phobjika:
Gangtey Gompa Monastery: Gantey Gompa monastery sits on a hilltop that overlooks the Phobjikha valley. It is headed by the ninth Gangtey Trulku and is the largest Nyingma monastery in western Bhutan. Gyalse Pema Thinlay built a small temple in 1613, which was later built into larger Goemba by the 2nd reincarnation Tenzin Legpai Dhendup.
Black Neck Crane Information center: Located on the edge of the forest and marshland along the main road of the valley, the information center offers observation room with a high powered telescope for best safe viewing of the cranes. In addition, the center also has a small handicraft shop and offers information on the natural and cultural history of the Phobjika and Gangtey.
Day Hikes: Shasila Trail, Khotokha Trail, and Gangtey nature trail are some of the popular day hikes in the valley. These trails offer access to the pristine biodiversity of the valley and remote villages. The Shasila Trail is highly recommended for Brid watchers and takes approximately six hours from Phobjika to reach Kheylaykha. The Khotokha trail offers more challenge in terms of gradient and takes approximately four hours to reach Khotokha. The Gangtey nature trails take approximately six hours to take one through the stunning blue fine forest and local villages.
The lovely Bumthang valley is the cultural and religious center of Bhutan and has some of the oldest Buddhist sites, temples, and monasteries. Cultural tours through the area are very popular. Must visit attractions include Jambey Lhakhang, Tamshing Lhakhang, Jakar Dzong and Kurje Lhakhang. Bumthang is approximately two and half hours’ drive from Trongsa and eight hours drive from Thimphu. One can also take a domestic flight from Paro to access the district. Located at an altitude of 8530 – 13125 feet, 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. The valley is host to some of the most popular festival including Kurjey festival, Nimalung festival, Ura festival and Jambay Lhakhang festival featuring the famous naked dance.
Sightseeing Spots in Bumthang:
Jambay Lhakhang: The temple is one of the 108 temples built miraculously by a Tibetan King Songtsen Gompo in the 7th century in order to consecrate the Himalayan region. This is also the venue for popular Jambay Lhakhang Festival during October or November.
Kurjey Lhakhang: Kurjey is a complex of three temples, on the right beneath a giant cypress tree, lies the main temple, built in 1652 by Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Trongsa. This temple houses the cave where Guru Rimpoche 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 was recently constructed under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Wangchuk. This beautiful edifice is surrounded by 108 stupas and hosts to the famous the Kurjey 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 Rinpoche, he discovered many religious treasures around the country. The mural paintings inside the temple are known to be un-restored ancient painting.
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 believed that Pema Lingpa in the early 16th century discovered many religious items from a pond here. It is approximately 20 minutes’ drive Bumthang town.
Ura Village: It is approximately 50 kilometers from Chokhor valley and takes about one and half hour to reach Ura. Located in a broad valley, the village is a cluster of traditional houses fenced by cobblestone streets that give the village a medieval 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 a cushion and as well as to protect their cloth from the loads they carry. This is the venue for Ura Yakchu Festival.
Tang Village: Tang is the remotest village in Bumthang. As it is higher than Choskhor and the soil is not as rich. There’s not much agriculture here, although the valley, through which runs the Tang Chhu, turns bright pink with buck white flower in October. People raise sheep in this valley and yaks at higher elevations. There is a small chorten here, but no longer a village. The road climbs high above the river. After a short descent to the river, it’s 3km to school at Mesithang and to Tang Rinpoche Lhakhang.
Jakar Dzong: Jakar Dzong is a picturesque fortress, overlooking the Choskhor valley. The current structure was built in 1667 and is said to be the largest Dzong in Bhutan, with a circumference of more than 1500 meters. Its official name is Yuelay Namgay Dzong in honor of the victory, over the troops of Tibetan ruler Phuntsho Namgay. The fortress is currently the office of Governor of Bumthang.
Chankhar Temple: Located behind Jambay Lhakhang, this temple is a site of a palace of Indian King Sindhu Raja. It looks like a conventional village house. However, prior the structure was built of iron, only in the 14th century, the temple was rebuilt in its current form by Dorji Lingpa.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Temple: located approximately three kilometers from Chamkhar town, the temple was built by Namkhai Rimpoche in 1984. It would be interesting to visit the temple to witness the simple lives of monks.
Ugenchholing Palace: Located in Tang Village, the palace in its current form is a museum, which depicts the life of Trongsa Penlop Tshokey Dorji.
Kunzangdrak Temple: The temple is dedicated to Saint Pema Lingpa, the treasure discoverer of Bhutan. It takes two hours to reach the temple from Chel Tang Village and makes for a pleasant walk. The temple houses some of the important artifacts related to the saint, importantly the stone bearing his footprint.
Pelseling Monastery: The temple is a four-hour trek from Jakar and considered very sacred because of its religious significance.
Trongsa is the central hub of Bhutan and is historically important because the unification of nation is said to have taken place here. Approximately, 8 hours’ scenic drive from Thimphu, the valley can also be accessed via a short flight to Bathpalathang Airport in Bumthang (2 hours’ drive from Bumthang). The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and for miles on end, the Dzong is visible and seems to tease one, wondering if one will ever reach there. The town is situated on a stiff ridge and offers 360-degree views of valleys surrounding it.
Sightseeing Spots in Trongsa
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 a 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 (Watch Tower): Built-in 1652, the tower offers four observation deck resembling a Tiger, Lion, Garuda and a Dragon. This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong against internal rebellion, stands impressively over a hillock and provides visitors a rare insight into Bhutan’s history. Today it has been converted into a museum and houses important artifacts related to Wangchuk dynasty.
Kungarabten Palace: 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 used to be storage for food, 2nd floor was the residence of royal attendance and the army and the 3rd floor was the royal residence and king’s chapel. Part of this floor is presently used as Library. The top floor is an altar room with statues of Sakyamuni, the Shubdrung, and Guru Rinpoche. Right above the palace is the nunnery, it is about 40 minutes’ walk uphill. There are about 70 nuns enrolled.
Chendebji Chorten: The monastery is located 41kms prior to reaching Trongsa. It is said to be a replica or resembles the Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu. Built in 18th century by Lam Zhida, the monastery is an important place of pilgrimage for Bhutanese.
Gasa is one of the most far-flung places in Bhutan. The valley is gifted with pristine natural beauty and very popular for nature trips.The nomadic layap tribe is indigenous to the valley and their lifestyle features Yak herding, Yak cheese & butter production, Yak textile, and harvesting of rare fungi cordyceps. The valley borders Punakha and Wangdi district in the south and Tibet in the north. Home to 3000 odd inhabitants, Gasa is en-route to many popular treks such as Snowman Treks and Laya-Lunana Trek. It has some of the highest peaks in the country which forms a natural wall to Tibet. The entire valley falls under Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park and houses hundreds of Himalayan glacier lakes. The national park is home to rare flora and fauna such as Snow leopard, Takin, Red Panda, the Mountain Goats, Blue Sheep and the Blue Poppy.
Sightseeing Spots in Gasa:
Gasa Dzong: Built-in 17th Century, the Gasa Dzong acted as defending barrack against Tibetan invaders. The fortress is distinctive with its strategically placed three watch towers and circular shape. The exquisiteness of the dzong is further augmented by Mount Gangboom as its backdrop.
Laya Village: The Laya village is a three-night trek from Gasa and is home to Nomadic tribes, layaps. Located at an altitude of 3000 meters, the valley is enthralling and gripping. Laya falls en route to one of the most challenging treks, the Snowman trek. It is interesting to note, how a small indigenous group has survived for so long and untouched by the modern way of life.
Lunana Village: Lunana is the furthest village of Gasa and is renowned for its glacier lakes. The village offers a surreal experience of nomadic lifestyle of upper Himalayan, were Nomadic Tribes and the Himalayas co-existing in perfect harmony.
Hot springs: The hot springs at the banks of the Mochu River are natural and known to have healing properties. The place is a popular hotspot for locals in winters. While road connectivity is available, one may also choose to drive halfway to Damji village and trek for six hours to Gasa traversing through beautiful natural forests, villages, and mountain passes.
Till 2002 Haa is a restricted zone for tourist. After open, it has gained prompt popularity with nature lovers and campers. The valley is characterized by important landmarks such as the majestic Meri Phuensum Mountains locally known as three brothers. Mystically the three mountains are believed to represent scared protecting deities of the valley, Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokiteshvara. The valley is an easy one and half hour drive from Paro via scenic Chela la pass (3700 meters). The route is highly popular for picnics, cycling tours, and motorcycle tours. The valley features popular nature treks and is ideal for overnight camping admits pristine natural forest and bountiful impressive biodiversity. The white rhododendron is common to the valley.
Sightseeing Spots in Haa Bhutan:
Lhakhang Karpo (Black Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (White Temple): Believed to have been built in the 7th century the temples are considered highly auspicious and a popular place of pilgrimage for Bhutanese.
Haa monastery: It is said that the Haa Goenpa is an outcome of a celestial event and is built in an area were a pigeon, actually lord Buddha in the different avatar, was found by a local farmer, who was drawn to the area by enigmatic fires and unexplained sounds of monastic music for several days.
Gyechu Lhakhang: Is dedicated to Ap Chhundu, the dominant guardian deity of the valley and is a popular pilgrim place for Bhutanese.
Haa Dzong: The Indian military uses the Dzong as its administrative section.
Phuentsholing is located at an altitude of 350 meters and is a thriving commercial center on the northern edge of the Indian plains and southern part of Bhutan. The gateway hub is 5-6 hours’ drive from Paro and Thimphu and 4-5 hours’ drive from Bagdogra International airport in India. Bedside, being the strategic trading zone for Bhutanese with other neighboring countries of South Asia, it also facilitates tourism with other popular tourist destination such as Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong. It is notable that tourist entering Bhutan through Phuentsholing should bring along the approved Bhutan visa along with them. Indian Tourist, on the other hand, may apply for permits, at the immigration. Please note immigration offices are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.
Sightseeing Spots in Phuentsholing:
ZangdoPelri Temple: This Temple is located in the center of Phuntsholing town. Zangdoperli means the abode of Guru Rinpoche. The temple has 3 floors. On the ground level, there are statues of Guru and his eight manifestations. And the wall is covered with paintings of Buddha’s life story. On the second floor, it contains eight Bodhisattvas and statues of Avalokiteshvara and Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal, while the top floor displays a statue of Buddha Amitabha.
Kharbandi or Richending Monastery: This monastery is a short distance away from Phuntsholing along the road to Thimphu on the ridge. It was built in 1967 by the Royal Grandmother and the monastery contains paintings on the life of Buddha and statues of Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. The view from the monastery garden towards the Phuntsholing and surrounding Indian plains are superb.
Crocodile Farm: Established in 1974, the farm is located at a short distance of 10 minutes’ drive from Phuentsholing town. The farm is home to Muggar, Gharial, and Marsh Crocodiles.
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