Although the interiors of some temples, monasteries and Dzongs [fortress] are forbidden to foreign travelers at present, the tourists can still get a good insight into the unique cultural heritage of the Kingdom. The closure of religious institutions is to ensure that monastic life can continue unhindered.
All visitors are now required to enter the kingdom at paro by the national airline, Druk-Air.It may be more convenient for some visitors to leave the kingdom via the southern outlets of Samdrup Jangkhar in the east or phuentsholing in the west. Twenty-five years ago all visitors would have had to walk for five days across the mountains to each paro from the Indian border. Now the journey by air is only 45 minutes from Calcutta, kathmandu or Dhaka. The mythical dream-like kingdom comes into view as Druk-Air’s BAE-146 aircraft swings in giant arcs and descends onto Bhutan’s only airstrip at paro. Once on the ground the dexterity of the international flight crew can be fully appreciated as a glance in any direction provides an aweinspiring view at very close range of the Himalayan mountains.
Places to visit in and around Paro:
• Kyichu Lhakhang [ Lhakhang means Temple ]
• Taksang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest [ Taksang means Tiger ]
• Drugyel Dzong [ Dzong means Fortress ]
• Dungtse Lhakhang
• Ta Dzong [ National Museum ]
• Paro Dzong
Thimpu, perhaps the most unnsual capital city in the world, is a bustling town on the banks of its own river and set gloriously in the hills of its own valley. A regal town, Thimphu is home to the revered Bhutanese Royal family and to several foreign missions and development projects. On the blank of the river lies Tashichho Dzong, the main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty the king of Bhutan. The National Assembly King of Bhutan. The National Assembly Hall is housed in a modern building on the other side of the river from the Dzong. Visitors are strictly prohibited from entering the government building at all during an active session. Next to the Dzong is Bhutan’s only golf course. A nine-hole circuit that is far more picturesque than it is testing. The thangka painting school in the heart of Thimphu is well worth visiting. With sun streaming through the window panes casting long shadows across the wooden slats, student monks in burgundy robes sit in the classroom for hours at a time learning from a saffron-robed elder.
Places to visit in and around Thimphu :
• The Memorial Chorten [ Chorten means Stupa ] • Changlimithang [ Battle Ground ] • Weekly Market [ Saturdays and Sundays ] • Tashichoe Dzong [ The biggest fortress in Bhutan ] • National Library • School of Arts and Crafts • Royal Academy of Performing Arts • National Institute of Traditional Medicine • Zangto Pelri Lhakhang • Zoo • Changangkha Lhakhang • Drubthob Goemba [Nunnery] • Dechencholing Palace • Pangri Zampa Temple • Tango Goemba • Chari Goemba • Simthoka Dzong
The road winds up from simtokha Dzong into pine forest and through small villages for 20 kilometers and then opens miraculously onto the northern ridge of the mountains. The view over the Himalayan panoply at Dorchula pass at 10,500 feet is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan. Punkha lies about two hours drive from Dorchula down low in its valley. Commanding a sparse population, punkha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo during the milder winter months. A temperate climate and natural drainage from the phochu(male) and Mochu (female) rivers, the fertile punakha valley produces abundant crops and fertile punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruit. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1995. Punakha Dzong was strategically built at the junction of the two rivers in the 17th Century by the first Shabdrung to serve as the religious and administrative center. In spit of four catastrophic fires and a devastating earthquake that destroyed many historic documents, punakha Dzong houses sacred tempes including the Marchen where the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lies in state.
Wangduephodrang is the last town on the central highway before central Bhutan. The town is no more than an enlarged village with a few well-provided shops. One hotel with basic facilities is situated behind Wangduephodrang’s square. Sitting on top of the hill looking out over the junction of the two rivers, Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. In the 17th Century Wangduephodrang played a critical role in unifying the western,central and southern Bhutanese districts.
In the center of Bhutan four hours by road from Wangduephodrang, Tongsa offers a welcome rest to travelers. The approach to the involves a frustrating 14-kilometer trip around Tongsa Valley. A vantage point from the opposite side of the valley, still 14 kilometers from Tongsa, provides a welcome view of the Dzong and the town. Like almost all towns in the kingdom, the secular and religious center, the Dzong, dominates the horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. The Royal Family’s ancestral home is Tongsa. Both His Majeasty King Ugyen Wangchuck, the Penlop of Tongsa, who was elected the country’s first hereditary monarch, and his successor, king Jigme Wangchuck, ruled the country from Tongsa’s ancient Dzong. The Crown Prince of Bhutan normally holds the position of the Tongsa Penlop Prior to ascending the throne, including the present King who was appointed Penlop in 1972, shortly before his succession to the throne.
The Bumthang region encompasses four major 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 origin of the name Bumthang. The valley is supposed to be shaped like a Bumpa , a vessel that contains holy water, and Thang meaning flat place. The religious connotation of the name aptly 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:
• Jakar Dzong [ Castle of the White Bird ]
• Wangdichholing Palace
• Lamey Goemba
• Kurje Lhakhang [ Ku means “body”, Je means “imprint” ]
• Tamshing Lhakhang [ Temple of Good Message ]
• Kencho Sum Lhakhang [ famous for its broken bell and Lamae Gompa ]
• Member Tsho
• Peling Sermon Chorten [ Stupa ]
Trashigang is one of the most densely populated districts in Bhutan . After Thimphu , Trashigang is the biggest urban center in mountainous Bhutan . It is the heart of eastern Bhutan and was once the center of important trade with Tibet . There are several goembas and villages that make a visit worthwhile, but it is a remote region and requires a lot of driving to reach.
Places to visit:
• Zangtho Pelri Kanglung Lhakhang
• Khaling Lhakhang
• Radhi Lhakhang
• Trashigang Dzong
• Tashiyangtse Dzong
• Gom Kora
• Chorten Kora
The drive across the Thumsingla pass and the subsequent descent from high altitude pine forest to lush pastures and orchards is one of the most exciting drives in all of the Himalayas. Gushing waterfalls, steep cliffs with even steeper drops, blazing flowers, and constantly changing vegetation combine to make this journey as varied as it is beautiful. If the weather is clear the high eastern range of mountains comes into view from range of mountains comes into view from the top of the pass and in inclement weather misty mountain views across many peaks can be seen. Eastern people speak a different dialect to westerners and they often cannot understand each other. The country is more rugged and the population more sparse. However some of the best trekking can be made in the east of the country.
Bhutan – South West
The road from Tashigang to Samdrup Jongkhr was completed in the early 1960s and enables the eastern half of the country to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as to cross the Indian border. It is possible to drive from Samdrup Jongkhar to Phuentsholing via the Indian territories of Assam and West Bengal. There is little for travelers to see in this area but some visitors choose to use samdrup Jongkhar as a more convenient exit town. The journey from Tashigang passes pemagatshel, a newly created independent district with its own Dzong. The road descends with its own abruptly through thick jungle before arriving at Samdrup Jongkhar. This town is no more than a frontier post with a couple of decent hotels and restaurants to wile away the time when the border is not open. Phuentsholing in the south west is a bustling broder town and can also be used as an exit point from Bhutan.