What to See
Even though the interiors of some temples, monasteries and Dzongs [fortress] are forbidden to foreign travelers at present, the tourists can still get an excellent insight into the unique cultural heritage of the Kingdom. The end of religious institutions is to make sure that monastic life can continue unhindered.
The first thing you will notice as you arrive in port is the transparent purity of air and the nonattendance of noise. The Paro valley has kept its rural nature in spite of the airport and the survival of development projects. Fields, brown or green depending on the season, cover most of the valley floor, while hamlets and remote farms dot the countryside. The houses of Paro valley are considered to be among the most beautiful in the country. Paro is believed to be one of the first valleys to have received the mark of Buddhism.
Places to visit in and around Paro:
Thimphu lies in a wooded valley, extensive up a hillside on the West Bank of the Thimphu Chhu [Chhu means River]. Thimphu is not like any other world capital. Small and secluded the city is quiet and there are never the traffic jams familiar in other Asian Capitals. It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. Thimphu’s main shopping street is a delight not so much for what you can buy there, but for the picturesqueness of the architecture and national outfit. Beautiful weaves in wool, silk and cotton, basketwork, silver jewelers, thankas and other traditional crafts of the Kingdom are available in a variety of Handicraft Emporiums.
Places to visit in and around Thimphu :
Punakha plays a primordial role in the history of Bhutan; in fact it was the country’s winter capital for 300 years. Punakha Dzong, or Punthang Dechen Phodrang, was built in 1637. The Dzong resembles a gigantic ship exactly covering a split of land at the confluence of two rivers. The history of Punakha Dzong dates back to the year 1328 when a saint named Ngagi Rinchen build a temple there which can still be seen today opposite to the great Dzong. Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel a key figure in the History of Bhutan built the Punakha Dzong and his body is preserved in one of the Dzongs temples, Machen Lhakhang. The Dzong was damaged six times by fire, once by floods and once by earthquake. The coronation of Ugyen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan, took place at Punakha Dzong on 17 th December 1907.
Places to visit:
Wangdue Phodrang, meaning ‘the palace where the four directions are gathered under the power of the Shabdrung. However the popular story has it that the Shabdrung arrived at the river and happened to see a boy building a sand castle. He asked for the boy’s name, which was Wangdue, and thereupon decided to name the Dzong Wangdue Phodrang or ‘Wangdue’s Palace.’ Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is perched on a spur at the confluence of 02 rivers. The position of the Dzong is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view over both the north-south and east-west roads. The main road climbs the length of the spur and on the left, across the river, comes the first glimpse of the picturesque village of Rinchengang whose inhabitants are celebrated stonemasons.
This small new town in the south is the doorway of Bhutan for overland travelers. Like all other border towns, it is also a prelude. Phuntsholing is also a fascinating mixture of Bhutanese and Indian, a lively center for the mingling people, languages, customs and goods. On top of a low hill at nearby Kharbandi, a small Gompa situated in a garden of tropical plants and flowers overlooks the town and surrounding plains.
The Amo Chu, commonly known as the Torsa River flows alongside this town and it is favorite spot for fisherman and the picnickers. From Phuntsholing, the road winds north over the southern foothills, through lush forested valleys and around the rugged north-south ridges of the inner Himalayas to the central valleys of Thimphu and Paro. It is a charming journey; forests festooned with orchids cover the mountains on the other side and exciting hairpin curves greet travelers with colorful sculptures of Tashi Tagye (The eight auspicious signs of Buddhism).
Trongsa means ‘the new village’ and the founding of Trongsa first dates from the 16 th century, which is certainly relatively recent for Bhutan. It was the Drukpa lama, Ngagi Wangchuk (1517-54), the great grandfather of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, who founded the first temple at Trongsa in 1543. The scenery around Trongsa is stunning, and for miles on the end the Dzong seems to tease you so that you wonder if you will ever reach Trongsa. The view extends for many kilometers and in the former times, nothing could get away the awareness of its watchmen.
Places to visit:
The Bumthang region encompasses four main valleys: Choskhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume. The Dzongs and the most important temples are in the large Choskhor valley, commonly referred to as Bumthang valley. There are two versions of the source of the name Bumthang. The valley is supposed to be shaped like a Bumpa, a boat that contains holy water, and Thang meaning flat place. The religious connotation of the name appropriately applies to the sacred character of the region. It would be difficult to find so many important temples and monasteries in such a small area anywhere else in Bhutan.
Places to visit:
Day Hikes: Choskhor valley
East of the Valley
The Mongar district is the northern part of the ancient region of Kheng. Mongar is the district headquarters and hardly more than a stopping place surrounded by fields of maize. It is also the first town built in a mountain side instead of in a valley, a characteristic of eastern Bhutan where the valleys are usually little more than riverbeds and mountain slopes which rise suddenly from the rivers, squash out as they approach their summits. One would never imagine that the upper parts of the mountains are so densely inhabited.
Shongar Dzong, Mongar’s original Dzong, is in ruins and the new dzong in Mongar town is not as architecturally amazing as others in the region. Dramtse Goemba, in the eastern part of the district, is an important Nyingmapa Monastery, but it is difficult to get there.
Places to visit:
Lhuentse is a remote district although there are several sizeable villages in the hill throughout the region. It is very rural and there are fewer than five vehicles, including an ambulance, and not a single petrol station, in the whole district. Formerly known as Kurtoe, the region is the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal Family. Though geographically in the east, it was culturally identified with central Bhutan, and the route over the Rodung-la was a major trade route until the road to Mongar was completed. To see and appreciate Lhuentse properly, with its many small villages and ancient temples, you should really explore on foot.
Trashigang is one of the most densely populated districts in Bhutan. After Thimphu , Trashigang is the biggest town center in mountainous Bhutan . It is the heart of eastern Bhutan and was once the center of important trade with Tibet. There are several gombas and villages that make a visit worthwhile, but it is a remote region and requires a lot of driving to reach.
Places to visit:
The small frontier town is located at the exact point where the mountains meet the plains. There is almost nothing of interest to the traveler in south-eastern Bhutan. It is the headquarters of a district boasting a brand new Dzong, although it is basically a town of small shopkeepers who serve all of eastern Bhutan as far as Mongar and Lhuntshi. The tropical heat gives a languid air which is accentuated by a lack of busy traffic.
Dzong: Fortress, Lhakhang: Temple, Chorten: Stupa, Gomba: Monastry
Religious establishments open for tourists Not all-religious establishments are open for tourists but still tourists get a good insight into the Kingdom’s unique cultural heritage. The closure of religious institutions is to ensure that monastic life can continue unhindered. Given below dzongs, monasteries, festivals open for tourists
Special permission can be granted upon request to enter some of the religious institutions, dzongs and monasteries.