Known as the last ‘Shangri-La’ on earth, the land of the thunder dragon, of ancient temples and fortresses, Bhutan is a country of breathtaking natural beauty and manmade cultural treasures.
Bhutan officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. To the west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Bhutan’s capital and largest city is Thimphu. Located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan surrounded by mountain, valleys and endless miles of green plains, leaving you with awe. Here are our top 10 things to see in this Asian treasure.
In Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, visit its colourful weekend market and quirky shops, museums and landmarks like the National Memorial Chorten, built by the third king His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. This small city was established as the capital in 1961 and is famous for being the only capital in the world without traffic lights!
2. Tiger’s Nest Monastery
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery hangs on a cliff, and stands above an enchanting forest of blue pines and rhododendrons. As this beautiful and very exceptional monastery is a sheer climb up the hill (900 meters), a pony can be arranged for the ride up, but only until the cafeteria. From then on, it is another steep walk and some narrow stairs towards the monastery itself. The trail crosses a chapel of butter lamps and descends to a waterfall by the Snow Lion Cave. The view of the Paro valley from here on is breathtaking, and the atmosphere very holy, a place where every Bhutanese will want to come at least once in his/her life. This is the place where Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism into Bhutan, arriving on the back of a tigress
3. Punakha Dzong
Being the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan, Punakha Dzong, or some call it Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), is also the country’s most gorgeous and majestic dzong. Punakha is accessible from a 3 hours drive east of the capital Thimpu, and after crossing a pass in the mountains, the place is a breathtaking and glorious sight on the first glimpse from the road. It is placed strategically in between two rivers, Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (females) that has noticeable color differences of the rivers’ water. Punakha Dzong is joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge, and contains many precious relics from the days when successive kings reigned the kingdom from this valley. Furthermore, it is blessed with a temperate climate, and lovely lilac colored jacaranda trees grow around the dzong during the spring season.
4. Gangtey Valley (especially during winter)
The valley of Gangtey is one of the most stunning valleys in the Himalayas, and many call it the Shangri La of Bhutan, just as how Bhutan is well known for being “one of the world’s happiest nations,” and “the last Shangri La on Earth.” The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the hard climb through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, which is an extremely rare experience in Bhutan as most of the valleys are tightly enclosed. This moderate trek visits the villages of Gogona and Khotokha, passing through meadows and fields, then forests of juniper, magnolia and rhododendrons, which will be in full bloom in April. Besides the attractive scenic valley and mountain trails passing through the magnificent forest with its undergrowth changing from rhododendron and magnolia to ferns and dwarf bamboo, we can also visit the historical Gangtey monastery and the blacked necked crane information centre. Additionally, there will be a special treat for those visiting the Gangtey during the winter season, as they will be able to catch the graceful Black-necked Cranes in action as they head to roost.
5. Panakha Festival
Join hundreds of pilgrims from all over Bhutan and enjoy the most colourful and vibrant festival. Watch re-enactments of the Bhutanese victory over invading Tibet. Firecrackers explode as battle scenesare acted out, culminating in the colourful Serda (procession) to the river. Punakha Dzong (fortress) is the magnificent backdrop, probably the most beautiful building in Bhutan.
6. Chime Llakhang
This small 16th century temple of fertility is dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley, the ‘Divine Madman’, decorated with colourful phalluses and visited by childless couples seeking a special blessing to beget children. This is one of the most revered temples in all of Bhutan.
7. Dochu La Pass
Dochu La Pass with its fluttering prayer flags and views over the majestic Himalayas, takes your breath away on a clear day. Visit the highly ornate Drukwangyal Lhakhang (temple) and the 108 chortens, built by the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed when fighting the Indian rebels in 2003.
Small village with a bazaar, hotel and a restaurant. Paro Dzong and Ta Dzong, which also houses the National Museum, are two places of awareness. Ta Dzong was built in 1651 as a watch tower. A six-storey structure, it has a number of objects of religious and cultural interest, along with a collection of thankas.
9. Tashicho Dzhong
Known as the ‘fortress of glorious religion’, the Tashicho Dzhong was originally built in 1641. It was rebuilt in 1952 by the third king and is now used as the seat of the Royal Bhutanese Government. Situated in beautiful gardens, it is also the summer residence of the central monastic body.
The Dzong dominates the town of Trongsa. Perched above the Dzong, the actual town is little more than one street. Many of the town’s inhabitants are of Tibetan origin and so you may have the chance try some Tibetan specialities here.The new museum situated in the 300 year old Ta Dzong, watch tower, provides an insight into the religious history of Bhutan, the significance of Trongsa in the history of the Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty.