The western circuit comprises of the six western Districts in the country that includes Thimphu, Paro, 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 photographers’ delight in autumn. Do not miss the museums. Paro museum (Tadzong), reveals the history, cultural, and in Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with farmers’ livelihood.
Destinations in Western Bhutan
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… (more…)
Folk Heritage Museum
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… (more…)
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… (more…)
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… (more…)
Paro: The valley of unsurpassing beauty Paro’s cultural bonanza The cultural highlights of Paro resemble so much the intricate and beautiful textiles worn by the people during the valley’s annual festival…. (more…)
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… (more…)
Taktsang is located on a high cliff towards the north of Paro town. It was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup, a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three months… (more…)
Thimphu: Cruising the capital’s cultural core Thimphu, situated at an altitude of 2400m, is the centre of government, religion and commerce. The capital has an interesting combination of tradition and… (more…)
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… (more…)
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.
Folk Heritage Museum
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.
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 3800m, 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 cn 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, 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 bbot 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 herders livelihood. We present the best of Haa during the Summer Festival and other festivals as listed here.
Paro: The valley of unsurpassing beauty
Paro’s cultural bonanza
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 Paro’s 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 are 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.
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 it’s 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 ws 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
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 1300m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000m around Dochhula pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907 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 Gongsr 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. It’s 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
Taktsang is located on a high cliff towards the north of Paro town. It was first built in 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.
Perched on the high cliffs Taktsang is referred to as the Tiger’s Nest, it has always inspired and awestruck many a visitor. “Trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to Taktsang”, says one tourist. Indeed it’s true as the journey turns into a pilgrimage and fills you up in spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side it is the dramatic and the artistically structured monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. Let us take you to this magnificently set Buddhist relic hanging from a cliff. Feel the exhilaration of the uphill climb as you ascend more than two thousand feet from the valley floor.
Thimphu: Cruising the capital’s cultural core
Thimphu, situated at an altitude of 2400m, 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 Kings 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 1627 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Institute for Language and Cultural Studies is located here. 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 world’s 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, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life. One may come across some interesting facets from rural Bhutan that is slowly being replaced by modern amenities. The water driven grinding mill may captivate your zoom lens.
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 Wangchu 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 small zoo 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.
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 is 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 lunches 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.
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 1950’s 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, Ward’s 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.
Destinations in Central Bhutan
Bumthang: The spiritual heartland of Bhutan This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of… (more…)
Tang Mebar Tsho
Located along the way to the Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley, it takes thirty minutes drive to the Mebar Tsho from the Chamkhar town. Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred… (more…)
Trongsa: The Vanguard of the Warriors Pelela pass at 3300m is an important dividing range that separates Western Bhutan from Central and Eastern Bhutan. Crossing this important Pass, one may enjoy the… (more…)
Bumthang: The spiritual heartland of Bhutan
This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m 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 or 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. Jambey Lhakhang: 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.
A walk of about 30 minutes north of Kurje Lhakhang leads one to this monastery, situated in the middle of a wide fertile plateau overlooking the river. Founded in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyupa religious school, the building comprises two sanctuaries and a temple of terrifying deities. The sanctuary on the ground floor contains statues of the past, present and future Buddhas and three clay statues probably dating to the end of the 15th century. On the upper floor, the vestibule contains two remarkable paintings of Guru Rinpoche’s heaven, and the Buddha Amitabha’s heaven.
This temple is a few hours’ walk from Thangbi Gompa, situated about 100m above the valley floor in the small region of Ngang Yule (“Swan Land”). The site was visited by Guru Rinpoche. The present temple was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. A three day festival is held here each winter, with masked dances in honor of the founder of the temple.
From Jakar to Ura is 48 km., about one and a half hours’ drive. To reach here, the road climbs through amazingly open countryside, only occasionally running into forest. Sheep pastures line the road up to 20 km. behind the southern tip of the Tang valley. The road crosses Ura-la pass (3,600m), on the approach to which there is a magnificent view of Mt. Gangkar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan. Above Ura village (3,100m) there is a new temple is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, it contains a huge statue of the Guru and remarkable wall paintings of the cycle of his teachings. Within the last 25 years Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley.
Tang Mebar Tsho
Located along the way to the Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley, it takes thirty minutes drive to the Mebar Tsho from the Chamkhar town.
Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region as it relates to the renowned treasure reveler, Terton Pema Lingpa-incarnated disciple of Padmasambhava who discovered treasure from the lake somewhere around late 15th century.
It is believed that Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision about hidden treasures to be found at the foot of Tang Valley which was indicated by Guru Rinpoche many centuries before. Since the people of tang and the local ruler was cynical about it, he held a butter lamp in his hand, he jumped into the lake, remained under water for a long time, and he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper in his hand and the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake).
Today this small fresh water lake is a sacred pilgrimage place for Bhutanese with bright multicolored prayer flags surrounding the place and on auspicious days people go and offer butter lamps on the lake. Many tourist visit the site to observe spectacular beauty of the place and it is also an important site for historians.
Trongsa: The Vanguard of the Warriors
Pelela pass at 3300m 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 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.
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.
Here are some of the Attractions and Festivals in Eastern Bhutan…
Destinations in Eastern Bhutan
Lhuentse: The Ancestral 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… (more…)
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… (more…)
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… (more…)
Trashiyangtse: 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… (more…)
Trashigang: The Jewel of the East. Trashigang 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. … (more…)
Lhuentse: The Ancestral 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 77km 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.
Popularly known as Lhundub Rinchentse, the Dzong was built in 1654 by the Trongsa Penlop Chogyal Minjur Tempa at a site where once stood a small temple built by Nagi Wangchuk in 1552. Built on a hill overlooking the Kurichu, the dzong is today the administrative and the religious centre of the district. The Dzong houses many sacred artifacts that was installed by the 4th Druk Desid Tenzin Rabgay.
A twenty minutes drive from the Dzong on the route towards Kurtoe Dungkhar will take you to the small village of Kilung inhabited by the Tshanglas who migrated during the late 1880’s and settled there. In the village one will come across the Kilung Lhakhang situated on a ridge overlooking the Kurichu river built on the former site of the Kilung Gyalpo, a regional chieftain. It houses the sacred chain mall once used to recapture a statue that miraculously flew away from the Lhuentse Dzong.
This is another monastery worth paying a visit. It was founded in the 18th century by Pekar Gyatso and till recently was under the patronage of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorji. The daughter of 1st King, Ashi Wangmo lived here at the monastery as a nun. The monastery is well connected by a feeder road.
Among the noble lineages to emerge from Kurtoe, the house of Dungkar was home to the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal, progenitor of the Wangchuck dynasty. Dungkar Naktshang the ancient home of the Dungkar Chojie and the ancestral domicile of the Wangchuck Dynasty, stands tall amid the scenic backdrop of towering mountains overlooking the tiny Dungkar village below. It is a 40km rough road from Lhuentse leading up to the Dungkar Lhakhang. The Dungkar expedition will surely be a voyage into Bhutan’s past.
At a distance of two kilometers from the Dzong is situated the Gangzur village that is most popular for pottery. The women folk from the village are skilled artisans and adept in the art of pottery. A dying art, the Government has now tried to revive it through financial support. You can witness the women folk displaying their skills.
A walk to this village will truly be a pleasant trip. Situated about two hours walk from the Dzong through gentle slopes amongst pine trees, this village is known throughout the country for its woven textile, the Kishuthara. A culture that has evolved over the years is a row of women in a makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. Picking up a Kishuthara will be much cheaper than buying one from the handicraft shops in the capital.
The famed Singye Dzong, one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan is a three days uphill walk from Lhuentse Dzong. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Tantric Master once meditated here. Singye dzong is the main sacred place where Guru Rinpoche meditated. A journey to Singye dzong will be a rewarding experience.
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 400m to 4,000m 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.
Although built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs, it is constructed in the same way as all earlier dzongs, without plans or nails. However unlike the earlier Dzongs, that are located in strategic positions, Mongar Dzong is located on a small gentle slopy area just above the town. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
The ruin of Zhongar Dzong endures to this day as a testimony to the skill of its builders, most notably the renowned master craftsman, Zowo Balip. It is located on a hilltop overlooking the village of Themnangbi and is visible as one descends to Lingmenthang from the highway. Built in the 17th century, the Dzong is believed to have been built at a site where the master architect Zow Balip saw a white bowl. Embedded inside is a life frozen in time, a wealth of history that can be still recounted orally by those who also heard it from their grandparents. A visit to the ruins can be a memorable experience and will give you a sense of the medieval Bhutanese administration.
One of the most notable religious sites is the Dramitse Lhakhang built in the 16th century by Ani Cheten Zangmo, the daughter of the renowned terton Pema Lingpa. The Dramitse Ngacham or the “Dance of the Drums of Dramitse,” was born in this lhakhang in the 16th century. Today, it is a popular dance performed at all major festivals. It is also on the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage list.
Another sacred site in the district is the renowned Aja Ney where pilgrims from all other parts of Bhutan converge to receive blessings and wash away their sins. A rock that bears 100 renditions of the sacred syllable “Aa,” is said to have been discovered by Guru Padmasambhava. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and falls under Ngatsang geog. It is approximately a two days trek from Serzhong village.
The Yagang lhakhang in a small village next to the town is another sacred monument in the Dzongkhag. It was built in the 16th century by Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa. It was built after having built the Kupijigtsam Lhakhang in Yangneer village in Trashigang. Today, the lhakhang plays an important role in the religious life of the people.
Jarung Khashor Choeten:
The Jarung Khashor Choeten in Lingmethang next to the bridge over the Kurichu river is another monument in the district that is worth paying a visit. The Choeten is modelled after the Jarung Khashor Choeten in Nepal.
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 200m to 3,500m. In the earlier past, many British Political Officers stationed in Sikkim took the rote 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.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong:
The Dzong that serves as the administrative centre of the district is one of the newest dzongs to have been built in the country. Unlike other dzongs that are built on strategic locations, the dzong in Samdrup Jongkhar is built on a sprawling ground.
The newly built Dratshang that is next to the Dzong houses the monk body. It has many new novices looked after by the religious functionaries.
The three storied Zangdopelri in the heart of the town serves the spiritual needs of the locals. One may come across intricate frescos and statutes, work of the Bhutanese master craftsmen.
The small town situated 18 kilometers from Samdrup Jongkhar along the highway used to have the office of the Gyadrung, the administrator in the earlier times. It was also the site where, in 1884, the last battle with the British was fought. Jigme Namgyal, the father of the first King, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, who led the Bhutanese troops put up a strong resistance against the British though he ultimately signed the treaty of Sinchula with the British in 1865.
Mithun breeding farm:
Along the highway enroute to Samdrup Jongkhar, above the town of Dewathang, in Orong one will come across the only Mithun breeding farm in the east. The Mithuns are considered the best breed in Bhutan and it will be worthwhile to stop for a while and take photographs of these magnificent animals. The Mithuns raised here are supplied to the farmers of the six eastern districts.
The town in Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the oldest in Eastern Bhutan and has seen gradual development over the years. It is a bustling small town with shopkeepers and hawkers from the nearby border of Assam. It also houses the oldest cinema theatre in the country that is frequented by Assamese from across the border especially to view the Hindi films.
Trashiyangtse: 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 1000m to 5000 m. Situated in a small river valley, it is a lovely spot from which to take walks in the surrounding countryside. Trashiyangtse is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful mementos of a visit to this remote region.
One of the oldest Dzongs to have been built in the region, Dongdi Dzong is located on a small spur flanked by Kholong chu and Dongdi chu. A traditional cantilever bridge over Kholongchu links with the Dzong. It was established sometime in the 8th century by Gongkar Gyalpo, son of Lhasey Tsangma, a Tibetan Prince who sought refuge in Bhutan after his exile from his native country. In the 14th century it was reconstructed by Terton Pema Lingpa and named as Trashiyangtse. The current structure was renovated in the early 1990’s. Today it houses the monk body and a sacred relic is a statue of Avaloketeshvara that was offered as a relic or nangten by the deity of the river.
This dazzling white stupa is situated on the riverbank below the town. Constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday, it is built in the same style as Bodnath Stupa in Nepal, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was consecrated by the 13th Chief Abbot Sherub Wangchuk. During the second month of the lunar calendar there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora’ during which it is frequented not just by the locals from eastern Bhutan but also by the people from Arunachal Pradesh.
Institute of Zorig Chusum:
A visit to the traditional institute of Arts and Crafts above the town will provide you with an insight into the different arts and craft works practiced in Bhutan. The institute started a few years back and with support from the Government, trains many school drop outs in the arts and crafts.
A pleasant walk of about three hours following the Kholongchu river from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is an annual migration place for black necked cranes, which fly over from nearby Tibet to pass the winter months in a warmer climate. On the way one can also visit the farm houses and their make shift cottage industry where they churn out bowls, cups and plates of wood.
An hour’s walk through the paddy fields and a gradual climb over the woodlands will take you to the sacred temple of Rigsum Goemba. This temple was founded in the 18th century by Lam Tshering Gyatso, the disciple of Sakya Rinchen, the 9th Chief Abbot of Bhutan. Unlike other structures in eastern Bhutan, the wall is built with pounded mud, a style used in western Bhutan.
In Tshenkharla, just above the school, is situated one of the oldest Dzongs to have been built in Bhutan. Widely known as Tshenkharla Dzong, the ruins are still standing and surrounding it, one can come across the remnants of the settlement such as large stones used for pounding grains. It was built by Lhasey Tsangma, a Tibetan Prince who sought refuge in Tshenkharla in the 8th century AD. He is regarded as the founder of many important clan systems in Bhutan that dominated the political scene till the mid 17th century. A visit to the ruins will give you a glimpse of ancient Bhutan besides a scenic view of the Dangmechu river and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in India.
24 km. from Trashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the Dangmechu river. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of banana trees, 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 which dwelt in a huge black rock. An annual tshechu held for three days in spring draws a lot of attraction with pilgrims coming as far as from Arunachal Pradesh, India.
Trashigang: The Jewel of the East.
Trashigang 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 4000m 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. Trashigang 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, atop a spur overlooking the Dangmechu river, Trashigang dzong or the fortress of the auspicious hill has been the political stronghold of eastern Bhutan for over 300 years. The Landscape on which the Dzong stands is not only picturesque but arouses curiosity. The hillock like Mount Meru is the site of the palace of the Druk Chhoglay Namgyal (victory of Bhutanese Over enemies in all directions). It is accessible only from the north, through a slender road, paved by blasting the cliff. Due to its location Trashigang Dzong is one of the most strategically placed Dzongs in Bhutan. The present Dzong was enlarged by Dzongpon Dopola, in 1936.
An hour and a half drive away from Trashigang through a feeder road will take you to the village of Bartsham. One can visit the Goemba Ringbu or the popularly known Chador Lhakhang that is known for fascinating tales revolving around its famous thumbsize replica of Chador, Vajrapani.
A ten minutes drive from Bartsham will take you to the village of Bidung where you can visit the most venerated temple in Trashigang, the Bremung lhakhang. It dates back to the 15th century and a sacred relic is the embalmed remains of its founder Kuenga Wangpo, son of Terton Pema Lingpa.
On the other side of the valley across Dangmechu, is the village of Yangneer where one can visit the Kupijigtsam lhakhang or the temple of the cuckoo. Built in the 15th century, this lhakhang is another sacred monument in Trashigang. Besides one can visit the Tsengmi lhakhang in Gongthung village and the Jarung Khashor temple.
A 22 kilometres drive on the highway that connects Trashigang with Samdru Jongkhar will take you to Kanglung where one can visit the Zangdopelri lhakhang. Built in the early 1970’s at the initiative of the late Tamzhing Jagar, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs, the lhakhang houses some of the most intricately designed statues besides a Shedra, a monastic school headed by a Khenpo.
In Kanglung, besides the Zangdopelri, another place of visit is to Sherubtse College or the Peak of Learning. Founded in the late 1960’s as a Higher Secondary School, Sherubtse College was until recently the only Institute of Higher Learning in the Country. It was run by the Jesuits from Canada and Late Father William Mackey was its first Principal. The College has been instrumental in providing the much needed human resource for the country as much of the Graduates were employed by various Ministries, Corporations and Organziations.
Further up the road from Sherubtse College is located the oldest temple in Trashigang – the Yonphu Lhakhang whose establishment cannot be ascertained. It houses several sacred relics and a Tercham that is conducted twice in a year commemorates the feats of religious luminaries like Guru Padmasambhava.
Further east from Trashigang, driving north will take you to another commercial hub in Trashigang, the Rangjung town. This once sleepy town is today a major commercial center where people from five gewogs congregate and carry out brisk businesses. Besides the town one can visit the Rangjung temple located on a small hillock overlooking the town. The temple built in the architectural style of the Tibetans has a monastic school supported by HH Garab Rinpoche.
Above the Rangjung town is the famous Radhi village known as the Rice Bowl of the East. A drive through the terraced rice fields is an unusual experience and one can visit the traditional farm houses and peep into women folks strapped to the traditional looms. Radhi women are experts in weaving and are known for the silk textiles that has found their way into many handicraft shops in the capital town of Thimphu.
Namdru Choling lhakhang:
An hour’s drive from the Rangjung town will take you to Phongmey a quiet but a quaint village through the rice fields. At the end of the road is the Namdu Choling lhakhang widely known as the Phongmey lhakhang. Built in the late 1890’s this lhakhang serves the spiritual needs of the village. Opposite the lhakhang across the Gamri Chu river is the abode of the local deity Meme Ralang where one can see hermitages on its top.
The inhabitants of Sarpang are a mixture of almost every ethnic group in Bhutan comprising of the Sharchopas, Ngalops, Bumthaps, Khengpas, Kurtoeps and then Lhotshampas. The vastness of agricultural land… (more…)
Traversing the realm of Kheng culture Inhabitants of Zhemgang are culturally called the Khengpas. The region remained closed to tourism for many years. In the recent years only a small part was opened… (more…)
The inhabitants of Sarpang are a mixture of almost every ethnic group in Bhutan comprising of the Sharchopas, Ngalops, Bumthaps, Khengpas, Kurtoeps and then Lhotshampas.
The vastness of agricultural land has enticed many farmers to Sarpang. Majority of the inhabitants are the Lhotshampas and nature worshippers which makes a great diversity of cultural experiences. The summer months are not recommended due to heat and humidity of the region.
Let us reveal the colours of the fall festivities or mesmerize you with some animist rituals. Sarpang district is one of the newly opened destinations when Gelephug was made feasible for entry and exit of tourists. At the moment Gelephug is the only destination opened for cultural highlights.
Explore the South Circuit’s Natural side
We often call the southern circuit as the hub of Bhutan’s unique nature trips. Talk of Zhemgang, we have the endemic species of primates called the Golden Langur. Next we have the Rufous-necked Hornbill which is another speciality. It is the only circuit where we can watch wild gaurs, elephants, rhinos, tigers, clouded leopard and any you would want to see in a tropical jungle.
Zhemgang’s altitude rises from 300m to almost 3000m above sea level. This makes a good haven for flower enthusiasts from spring till early summer. Sarpang is basically a low land region and the best known flowers in these regions are the tropical orchids.
Summer is the bane of tourism in the southern circuit. Due to monsoon rains, tours to these regions can be restrictive. Otherwise spring, autumn and winter are ideal bird watching months in the southern circuit. Zhemgang itself is a haven for many specialities in the Himalayas. Almost all the extinct species in the north-east Himalayas are still seen in the south circuit.
Highlights are endemic Golden Langur, tigers, clouded leopards, elephants, wild gaurs and many more. Manas is accessible from Zhemgang as well as from Sarpang. Excursions on the great Royal Manas Park and Kayaking on the Manas River are the highlight. As for Sarpang, the highlight will be Phibsoo Wildlife sanctuary. Do not expect 5 star hotels in these areas though tented camps will be readily available.
Explore the Kheng region on foot and you will be surprised to see a world you have not seen. Some villages still live traditionally in bamboo huts roofed in traditional bamboo leaves. Water is still being carried in small bamboo containers. The remoteness of Zhemgang region is itself a trekker’s delight. Explore the unexplored that is the watch word. As for Sarpang the best trekking route available is the one to the Royal Manas National park.
Traversing the realm of Kheng culture
Inhabitants of Zhemgang are culturally called the Khengpas. The region remained closed to tourism for many years. In the recent years only a small part was opened for bird watching. This newly opened region is the jewel of tourism in Bhutan. Zhemgang people here are grouped under three regions of upper, middle and lower Kheng.
If you are interested in the last of the animist traditions in Bhutan, this is the region. They invariably celebrate a number of shamanistic practices which is locally known as Bon. Khengpas are adept artisans and are known for their bamboo products like wine containers, baskets, matted bamboo carpets and other cane products.
In the good old days this region cultivated a substantial amount of cotton, a major part paid as tax to the government, besides textiles woven out of cotton. Historically there are traces of the advent of Guru Rinpoche (from the 8th century) though visible records can be seen mostly from the 15th century.
Temples like Buli lhakhang in Buli village and Tharpa Choeling is associated with the treasure revealers Terton Pema Lingpa who is famous for the Peling tradition of Buddhism. The Bhutanese Royal Family is a direct descendent of Pema Lingpa. Traditionally, the Kheng region was divided into three regions of Chikhor (Uper Kheng), Nangkhor (Middle Kheng) and Tamachok (Lower Kheng).
Chikor (upper kheng)
Chikhor or upper Kheng comprised of eleven villages of Nimshong, Thashong, Zangling, Thrisa, Bardo, Khomshar, Langdurbi, Digala, Radhi, Wamling and Shingkhar. All of these eleven villages fall in the upper Kheng.
Nangkor (middle kheng)
Nangkhor or Middle Kheng consists of nine villages situated between the Mangde River and Dakphay and Dunmang villages. The villages are Dakphay, Norbugang, Kikhar Tali, Buli, Goling, Zhobling, Nyakhar and Tsheldang. This region had four noble families in the past.
Tamachok/Matpala (lower kheng)
The villages of Bjokha, Dali, Panbang, Nangla, Goshing, Shidrong Toed, Phangkhar, Edi, Mamung, Gomphu, Subrang, Zurphel, Tshangla Jong and Berti below Tama and above Bjokha villages form the Tamachok or the Matpala villages.