The bordering town of Phuentsholing sits adjacent to the Indian town of Jaigaon, representing two striking contrasts in the architecture, culture and the environment of the two neighboring countries. The massive, intricately detailed Bhutan Gate welcomes you as you visit Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon via road. As you pass by the hand painted dragon motifs adorning the walls of the border gate, you must pay a visit to the exotic crocodile breeding centre that sits beside a river bank. The town is a serene stop to pass by, dotted with quaint hutments and buildings capped with sweeping roofs of crimson, brown and gold. The city centre hosts the residence of a temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche – the demon chaser & the patron saint of Bhutan. The highlights of the temple are the statues of Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and eight manifestations of the patron saint himself. A quick visit to the upper quarters of the temple welcomes you to the visual of the eight Bodhisattvas as well. For newlyweds, the Karbandi Monastery is a must visit. A trip to this monastery is said to bless the seekers with the boon of fertility.
The former capital of Bhutan (1637-1955) stands tall in all its ancient glory, dotted with majestic dzongs and timeless natural sceneries. Situated in the north western direction and 77 kilometers away from Thimphu, Punakha is the winter residence of the presiding monk body. This sun-kissed valley stretches up to an extent of 1,096 square kilometers and is flanked by the sparkling rivers of Pho Chhu & Mo Chhu. It is home to the famous fertility temple of the guardian deity Chhoekim – the Chimi Lhakhang where the couples are offered to an iron bow and arrow as a token from the gods. During your Bhutan trip, you shouldn’t miss the Khamsum Yueling Monastery either. It was built and consecrated in the year 1999 by the Queen Mother herself to promote world peace.
Do check for the mention of Punakha Dzong in your Bhutan holiday packages.The Punakha Dzong is perhaps Punakha’s most popular landmark & a tourist attraction. With stark white walls that stand against the crisp blue sky, the dzong is a beauty to behold. This multi-storey establishment exhibits uncompromised beauty with is rich gold topped roofs, glinting under the summer sun. When spring arrives, the purple rows of jacaranda add a dash of color to an already splendid piece of architecture to behold.
The capital city of Thimphu is one of the must places to visit in Bhutan. It is situated in the north western chunk of Shangri La, and exhibits a unique blend of tradition and modernity. Spread across an expanse of 2,067 square kilometers, Thimphu is the seat of the royal residence. It is also the summer residence of the central monk body. From traditionally designed buildings and lush valleys contrasting pulsing nightlife inside entertaining bars, the capital has something to offer for every taste. However, the one thing that lets you enjoy the taste of a classic Bhutanese scenario is a visit to the Centenary Farmer’s Market, which opens for business from Friday to Sunday. A tour through the alleys of this local establishment will offer you access to some of the most exotic edibles in the country. From fresh fern fronds, fermented local cheese blocks, hand rolled incenses, cured meat strips, authentic fur apparels, the freshest of organic produce and spices; everything comes at your reach under one bustling roof.
A visit to Thimphu calls for a morning trip to the Dochu La Pass, where a hundred and eight chortens or mini pillars are erected by the Queen Mother in memory of the Fourth King. The arrangement sits at an altitude of more of three thousand meters above the sea level, standing proud against the beautiful backdrop of the unfolding Himalayas. Before leaving, peek into the vibrant classrooms and workshops inside the Zorig Chusum Painting School where amateurs as well as experts can be seen hand painting some of finest thangkas (scrolls), indulging in clay, silver, gold and woodcraft to create some of the most breathtaking handicrafts that Bhutan is famous for.
Paro as a destination tops the list of every adventure enthusiast, since it is home to the globally acclaimed Tiger’s Nest, or the Paro Taktsang. Situated in the north western corner of Bhutan at an altitude of 2,250 meters, Paro is spread over an area of approximately 1259 square kilometers. The sweeping rice fields, peach & apple orchards, colorful markets and serene forest hideaways make Paro one of the most beautiful locations to be in. Landing on the Paro International Airport, amidst the emerald fog laden valleys is said to be one of the most thrilling and adrenaline pumping experiences. And an upward trek to the three thousand feet high Tiger’s Monastery adds further to the thrill. The monastery is marvelously perched on a cliff, built around a cave where Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress to meditate. It calls out to the daredevils to enjoy the spectacular view of the mountains it has to offer from its premises
Other landmarks worth checking out are the National Museum, also known as the Paro Ta-Dzong. This building holds immense historical significance since it is an actual watch tower which was built to defend the country from Tibetan invasion. The tower has been renovated and preserved as a museum since 1967 open for public viewing and is a treat for all the cultural enthusiasts. Another landmark linked with an interesting mythological back story is the Kyichu Lhakhang, which was built by King Songsten Gampo of Tibet to pin down the left foot of a female demon. It is a beautifully whitewashed settlement punctuated with mustard yellow frills and multi-tiered golden roofs worth admiring.
Bumthang, aptly situated at the geographical centre of Bhutan, is also essentially the spiritual heart of the Shangri La. It was Bumthang, where Guru Rinpoche was first invited by a local king to help him subdue a demon and bring prosperity back his kingdom. This started the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan as the king embraced and propagated the preaching of Buddhism throughout his kingdom. He did this token of gratitude to Guru Rinpoche. Today, Bhutan is the only existing Buddhist kingdom in the world, practicing the timeless philosophy with great zeal and faith. The valley of Bumthang is shaped like a bowl, and is an avid producer of rice, buckwheat and apples.
Bumthang is home to the famous Kurjey Lhakhang, which is supposed to be visited by every Buddhist. It enshrines the body imprint of Guru Rinpoche, who emanated such a strong energy while meditating inside a cave, that the energy left a visible imprint in the rock. The Jakar Dzong is the largest of its kind in Bhutan and a must visit site, along with the Jambey Lhakhang which is believed to be built in one single night by King Songten Gampo. Another temple that sports a legend is the Sumthrang Lhakhang, where two flowering trees is said to have been sprouted from the walking stick of Guru Rinpoche, and they bloom even in the cold winter of January while other trees lay bare.
Simply known as Wangdue, the second largest district of Bhutan sits at the immediate west to the central heart of the country. Wangdue is situated at an altitude of approximately four thousand feet and enjoys warm sunny summers and cool winters, making it an ideal location to visit throughout the year. Wangdue’s biggest attraction is the Black Neck Crane Festival, which is hosted every year to punctuate the return of the migrating birds back to Bhutan, symbolizing the return of good luck and prosperity. The festival also aims to raise awareness regarding the protection of the natural habitat of this beautiful endangered species. Rich in culture, history and lore, every building, every temple and every landmark unfolds an untold story. It the location where Guru Rinpoche faced an angry red bull and subdued him, leaving a thumbprint on a rock near the Bai Village at Langra Nye.
Tourists who are interested in delving deeper into the life of Bhutan’s famous Mad Monk come to Wangdue. The town hosts the residence of the Chhime Lhakhang dedicated to a saint named Drukpa Kinley, popularly referred as the Mad Monk for his antics, beliefs and methods of teaching. The beautiful Gangtey Monastery looks out from the paddy fields, propagating the teachings of Nyingma School of Buddhism. Wangdue is an unending legacy of lush paddy fields that emanate a feeling of tranquil and country side beauty. A visit to this sleepy yet colorful town is sure to rejuvenate every tired soul.
Trongsa is situated at the central part of Bhutan, and was the seat of administration of the first and the second kings. Every King of Bhutan adorns the title of the Trongsa Penlop or the Governor before ascending the throne in the modern day capital of Thimphu. The entire region commands unparalleled views the majestic Black Mountain Ranges, which are mostly unexplored to respect the forest spirits and deities. This part of the country is reached after a six hour drive from the capital of Thimphu, and is ofte termed to the be the getaway to the east owing to its topographical location. The entire beauty of the small town of Trongsa can be witnessed entirely on foot, as visitors embark on a leisurely hike with the help of a knowledgeable travel guide.
You will run into the Chendebje Chorten on the way to this district, which stands proud exhibiting its all-seeing eye, looking out at the four cardinal directions resembling the omnipresence of the almighty. Next is the majestic expanse of the mighty Trongsa Dzong Fortress is a famous Bhutan tourist spot, which was built in the year 1644 to serve as the location adept for administering & monitoring the central part of Bhutan. The dzong hosts the famous Trongsa Tsechu, which is an extremely colorful affair, laden with rich attires, elaborate mask dances and performances by monks that are sure to awe inspire you to the core.
The district of Trashigang is situated in the extreme east, adjacent to the kingdom of Tibet. Inhabiting roughly four thousand residents, who live together in a quaint town, it was once an important international trade centre. It might take a two-day drive from the capital to reach here, but the views are extremely rewarding. A stroll through the wound up streets of Trashigang will take you to the central prayer wheel, where local vendors sell their organic produce. Simply sneak inside a local eatery in Trashigang and enjoy a piping hot plate of buckwheat pancakes, loaded with generous helpings of butter. If you are in mood for something spicy, a bowl of ema datsi expertly prepared by a loving local will spike up your taste buds just right.
The best time to drop by Trashigang is during the end of the year, when the town hosts the Trashigang Tsechu, which is a popular local festival that marks the birth of Guru Rinpoche in the lunar calendar. The festival hosts the unfurling of a giant thondrol or the scroll, which has a hand painted or hand embroidered image of the patron saint of Bhutan. The festival takes place in the decked up courtyard of the Trashigang Dzong, which was built in the year 1659. A further twenty four kilometer trip from Trashigang will bring you to a location where Guru Rinpoche subdued a demon. A temple stands there now, known as the Gom Kora, and is visited by many aspirants who come here to seek the blessings of the saint.