1) PARO(Altitude: 2280m)
Temp. Max 26 degree centigrade & Min -5 degree centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

This beautiful valley, which encapsulates within itself rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends, is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, the country’s only airport and the National Museum. Mount. Jhomolhari (7300m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro River). Paro is also one of the most fertile valleys in the Kingdom, producing a bulk of the famous red rice from its terraced fields.

What to see in PARO

Rinpung Dzong : Also known as ” fortress of the heap of jewels “, it was built during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge called the Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge to the Dzong, over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also venue of the Paro Tshechu, held once a year inspiring.

Taa Dzong: The cylindrical building was built in 1641 AD. by Desi Tenzin Drukda, the then Governor of Paro, as a watchtower to look over the Paro Dzong in case of invasions from the north. As was the situation in those days, invasions were occasional and the Dzong, which was the center of administration in the state, needed to be overlooked by such towers to look out for invaders. The unique structure has six floors that go spiraling down from the top. During the olden days the building not only housed soldiers but also prisoners of war, mostly invaders. Since 1967 the Dzong was re-established as the National Museum and holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious Thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps.

Drukgyel Dzong: This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders led by Mongolian Warlord, Gushri Khan. Historically and strategically this Dzong withstood all its glory and had captured western eyes in 1914 vide National Geographic magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mount. Chomolhari , below the Dzong

Kyichu Lhakhang /Monastery: The origin of Kyichu Lhakhang dates back to the seventh century, it is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of Bhutan (the other is Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang ). Kyichu Lhakhang is composed of twin temples, the first temple was built by Buddhist Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kessang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one, in same style.
Paro Taktsang / Tiger’s nest: One of the most sacred nyes in the Buddhist world, Taktshang was established in the eighth century by Guru Rinpoche. The guru in the wrathful form of Guru Dorji Droley subdued the evil spirits and then meditated in the Pelphug in Taktshang. Other saints who meditated in the cave include Milarepa, Phadampa Sangye, Machi Labdoenma, Thangthong Gyalpo and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The main monastery around the Pelphug in Taktshang was constructed in 1692 by the great fourth Desi, Tenzin Rabgye. Between 1961 and 1965 it was renovated by Je Sheldrup Yoezer. The latest additions were made in 1982. The Taktshang monastery was severely damaged by fire on April 19, 1998, but the Dubkhang, the most sacred sanctum of the monastery, was found to be safe. Restoration work on the lhakhang began two years later after the fire because of the lona and the danger of loosened rocks from the cliffs overhead.
Kila Goemba: It is serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their life for spiritual fulfillment and leading undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer and meditation. The Goemba is nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside below the Chele la pass and perched precariously along the rock face. From Chele la pass, the Lhakhang is about an hour walk amidst magnificent wooded area.

2) THIMPHU (Altitude: 2320m)
Temp. Max. 25 deg. centigrade & Min. -3 deg. centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

The capital of Bhutan, and the center of government, religion and commerce, it is a unique city with an unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Although not what one expects from a capital city, Thimphu is still a fitting and lively place. Home to civil servants, expatriates and the monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.

What to see in Thimphu

MEMORIAL Chorten/Stupa: This stupa was built in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan’s third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is popularly regarded as the Father of Modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

TASHICHHO Dzong: Also known as ” fortress of the glorious religion”, the Dzong was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1965. Tashichhodzong houses the main secretariat building and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during Thimphu Tshechu and when the monk body moves to warmer Punakha in the winter months.

SEMTOKHA Dzong: Five miles from Thimphu, on a lofty ridge stands Simtokha Dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The oldest fortress of the Kingdom, it now houses the School for Buddhist studies.

NATIONAL Library: The history of Bhutan lies imprinted in archaic texts which 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 School teaches the techniques of traditional paintings. On a visit one can actually see students at work producing intricate design on cloth.

TRADITIONAL Medicine Institute: In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines abundant in Kingdom are prepared here. The Institute also imparts the art of herbal medicines to would be practitioners.

HANDICRAFTS Emporium: There are various Handicrafts Emporium in town such as Government owned Emporium and other private Handicrafts, displaying wide assortment of beautifully hand-woven and crafted products.

ZANGTHO PELRI Lhakhang: Dasho Aku Tongmi, a musician who composed Bhutan’s national anthem, built this chapel in 1990s. The country’s tallest lhakhang, it is replica of Guru Rinpoche’s celestial abode.

WEEKEND MARKET: Every Saturday and Sunday most of the Thimphu’s scant population and many valley duelers congregate on the banks of the river where the weekend market is held. It is an interesting place to visit and provides opportunity to mix up with the local people.

TANGO GOEMBA or MONASTERY, the famous Tango monastery in Thimphu derived its name from a deity. The word Tango literally means ‘horse head’. It is derived from the deity Tandin (Hayagriva), which is represented as horse – headed. In 1222, when Phajo Drugom Zhigpo was teaching in Dodeyna, he heard the neighing of a horse from the direction of Tango. On approaching the place, he saw a cliff (behind the monastery) believed to be the body of deity Tandin in flames. The deity appeared before him and prophesied that Phajo would build a meditation centre in Tango and lay foundations for the Drukpa Kagyud school in Bhutan. It’s an hour and half hike (to and fro).  The present building was built in the 15th century by the divine madman “Drukpa Kunley”. In 1616 Shabdrung Nawang Namyal visited Tango Goemba and meditated in a cave nearby. The head lama, a descendent of Lama Drukpa Kunley, presented the Goemba to the Shabdrung, who carved a sandalwood statue of Chenresig, which he installed in the monastery.

CHERI MONASTERY is an hour and half hike (to and fro) Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620 and established the first monk body here. A silver chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of the Shabdrung’s father.

3) PUNAKHA (Altitude: 1300m)
Temp. Max. 35 degree centigrade & Min. 04 degree centigrade
Best season: Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

Punakha served, as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (chief Abbot). Blessed with temperate climate and fed by Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. There are splendid views of the distant Himalayas at Dochula pass (alt. 3,100 m) on Thimphu – Punakha road.

What to see in PUNAKHA

PUNAKHA Dzong : Built strategically at the Junction of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King. The Dzong is open for visitors during Punakha festival and in summer months when the monk body moves to Thimphu.

CHIMI LHAKHANG/TEMPLE : Chimi lhakhang (1hr walk approx from the motor road) of the Divine Madman who is popularly known as Drukpa Kuenley. He inherited the Divine madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time. He taught the people that religion is an inner feeling and it’s not necessary that one should be an ordained monk. He is believed as a symbol of fertility and most childless couples go to his temple for blessing. The translation of the life of Drukpa Kuenley is done by Keith Dowan.KHAMSUM YUELING temple on a hill: This temple has the best present day architecture and is being built by the crown prince’s mother Ashi Tsering Yangdon Wangchuck.

4) WANGDIPHODRANG (Altitude: 1350m)
Temp. Max. 30 degree centigrade & Min. 04 degree centigrade
Best season: Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

The last town before central Bhutan, Wangdiphodrang is like an enlarged village with a few well provided shops. Located towards the south of Punakha, the higher reaches of the Wangdiphodrang valley provide rich pastureland for cattle. This district is also famous for its fine bamboo work and its slate, stone carvings.

What to see in WANGDIPHODRANG

Wangdiphodrang Dzong: Sitting on top of the hill at the confluence of Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers Wangdiphodrang Dzong is a town’s most visible feature. The Dzong is open for visitors during Wangdiphodrang Tshechu, celebrated in autumn.

Gangtey Gompa/Phobjikha (altitude 3000m): Towards the east of Wangdiphodrang, there is an old monastery of Gangtey Gompa dating back to the 17th century. A few kilometers past the Gompa, on the valley floor is the village of Phobjikha. This is the winter home of black-necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climate.

5) TRONGSA (Altitude: 2316m)
Temp. Max. 26 degree centigrade & Min. -1 degree centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and for miles on end, the Dzong seems to tease you, wondering if you will ever reach there.

What to see 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 this ancient seat. All four Kings held the post of Trongsa Penlop (honorary governor) prior to being crowned as 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 of the eastern region effectively.

TAA Dzong : This watch tower which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands impressively and provides visitors an insight into historical significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history.CHENDEBJI Chorten : Enroute to Trongsa is Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. It was built in 19th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was killed at this spot.

6) BHUMTHANG (Altitude: 2600m – 4000m)
Temp. Max. 23 degree centigrade & Min. -5 degree centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

This fascinating valley is religious heartland of the nation and home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Here tales of Guru Padsambhava and his re-incarnates, known as Lingpas, still linger in most nook and corners that have become now sacred ground.

What to see in BUMTHANG

Jambey Lhakhang: Tibetan King, Songtsen Gembo, believed to be the reincarnation of the Buddha of compassion, built this monastery in 7th century. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region

Kurje Lhakhang: Located above Jambey Lhakhang, the Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rock face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy. The present Royal Queen Mother recently built the third temples. These three temples are surrounded by 108 chorten wall, symbolic of each joint of the human body.

Tamshing Lhakhang: Located opposite Kurje Lhakhang on the other side of the river, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava. The monastery has very interesting religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.

Jakar Dzong: Founded by great grandfather of Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as administrative center for Bumthang valley.

Membertsho: 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.

Thangbi Goemba
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.

Ngang Lhakhang
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.

Ura valley
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.

7) MONGAR (Altitude: 1600m)
Temp. Max. 26 degree centigrade & Min. 08 degree centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

The journey from Bumthang to Mongar is one of the most beautiful in the Himalayas crossing 3,800 m high Thrunsingla pass. Mongar marks the beginning of eastern Bhutan. The second largest town in the subtropical east, Mongar, like Tashigang further east, is situated on the side of a hill in contrasts to other towns of western Bhutan which are built on the valley floor.

What to see in MONGAR

MONGAR Dzong: It is the site of one of Bhutan’s newest Dzongs, built in 1930s. Yet the Dzong is built in the same method and traditions of all the other Dzongs, no drawings and nails have been used. A visit to the Dzong gives visitors an impression of how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.

8) TRASHIYANGTSE (Altitude: 1000 m- 5000 m)
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.
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.

What to see in TRASHIYANGTSE

Dongdi Dzong:
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.

Chorten Kora:
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.

Bomdeling:
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.

Rigsum Goemba:
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.

Tshenkharla Dzong:
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.

Gom Kora:
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.

9) TRASHIGANG (Altitude: 1151m)
Temp. Max. 31 degree centigrade & Min. 10 degree centigrade
Best season: Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

In the far east of Bhutan, on the bank of Gamri Chu River, lies Trashigang, the country’s largest district. Trashigang, once the center of a busy trade with Tibet, is today the junction of east west highway with road connecting to Samdrup Jongkhar and then to the Indian state of Assam. This town is also used as the market place for the hill people from Merak and Sakteng who are remarkable for their exceptional features and costumes.

10) SAMDRUP JONKHAR: Gateway to Eastern Bhutan
Temp. Max. 35 degree centigrade & Min. 22 degree centigrade
Best season: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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.

11) PHUNTSHOLING (Altitude: 1829m)
Temp. Max. 40 degree centigrade & Min. 17 degree centigrade
Best season: Jan, Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov.

It is the gateway to the south, is a thriving commercial center on the northern edge of the Indian plains. Situated directly at the base of the Himalayan foothills, Phuntsholing is a fascinating mixture of Indian and Bhutanese, a perfect example of mingling of people and their culture. Being the frontier town Phuntsholing serves as the convenient entry/exit point for Bhutan and also the important link to visit the Indian state of West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam.