Location: West of Thimphu
Distance from Thimphu: 65km (1hr 30mins)
Elevation: 2,250m (7,382ft)
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
This fantastic and very special monastery calls for a steep walk up the hill (900 meters), so it is advised to visit it at the end of your stay in Bhutan when you are more acclimatized to the altitude and rarified air. Your guide can organize a permit to enter the monastery.
The current structure of this impressive fort was built upon the remains of formerly destroyed 17th century structures; administrative offices occupy it today.
The National Museum is the main tourist attraction in Paro. This national museum is housed in Ta Dzong which is an ancient watchtower. The white and brown ringed fortress, built in 1657 was made into the National Museum in 1967. This museum is the country’s only archive.
Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins, located in the upper part of the Paro valley in the Paro District of Bhutan. The Dzong was probably built by Tenzin Drukdra in 1649 at the behest of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate victory over an invasion from Tibet. In the early 1950s Drukgyal Dzong was almost completely destroyed by fire.
The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songsten Gampo. It is considered to be one of the 108 border taming temples he built. In the 8th century the temple was visited by Guru Rinpoche and it is believed he concealed many spiritual treasures here.
Dungtse Lhakhang or Dungtseg Lhakhang is a Buddhist monastery in western Bhutan. The temple is notable as it is in the form of a chorten, very rare in Bhutan. It is located on the edge of a hill between the Paro valley and the Dopchari valley, across the bridge from Paro.
Paro Tshechu Festival
The Paro Tsechu is the most spectacular and deeply symbolic of the Buddhist festivals celebrated in Bhutan. Devotees dressed in traditional finery flock to the Paro Dzong monastic fortress to bear witness to their Buddhist faith and receive blessings.
Bitekha Dzong (en route to Ha)
Bitekha Dzong is located along the way to Haa from Chunzom (river confluence).
Some of the popular trek routes start and end in Paro (Jhomolhari, Laya-Gasa trek, Drukpath), Birding in Paro, etc.
Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan)
Location: Western Bhutan
Distance from Paro: 65km (1hr 30mins)
Elevation: 2,320m (7,610ft)
Tashichho Dzong is Bhutan’s most stately and arguably most impressive building. The Fortress of the glorious religion houses the throne room of His Majesty the King, the main secretariat building and the central monk body. Its courtyard is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tshechu and when the monks move to their winter residence in Punakha.
Thimphu Tshechu Festival
Thimphu Tshechu: Tshechu are religious festivals honouring Guru Rimpoche, the patron saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. He is regarded as the founder of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism, the “oldest school” of Lamaism which is still followed very popularly. His biography is highlighted by 12 episodes of the model of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life.
Simtokha Dzong is a small dzong, located about 3 miles south of the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. Built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who unified Bhutan, the Donzg is the first of its kind built in Bhutan. An important historical monument and former Buddhist monastery, today it houses one of the premier Dzongkha language learning institutes.
Dochula Pass is around 3150 meters from sea level and it’s mostly covered with white clouds, where on a clear day you can see a spectacular view of the mighty Himalayan mountain ranges. Dochula Pass serves as the stop for all the passers-by traveling to and from Punakha and Wandgi for a hot cup of coffee well served from the Dochula Cafeteria located just above beautiful Dochula Pass.
National Memorial Chorten (Stupa)
The National Memorial Chorten is located near the Jigme Dorji National referral Hospital. It was built in 1974 in memory of the third king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, ‘the father of Modern Bhutan’. The chorten (stupa) had a major renovation in 2008. The chorten (stupa) features mandalas, statues and altars dedicated to the third Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan.
Constructed in the 15th century, this is one of the oldest temples in the Thimphu Valley, and is dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of compassion. The temple affords wonderful views over the entire valley.
Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang)
Another place from where you can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley is from the Buddha point (Kuensel Phodrang). It is again a short drive from the town. You can pay your obeisance and offer prayers to the Buddha, the largest statue in the country and then walk around and take in the view of the valley.
Tango Cheri Monastery
It takes about an hour to arrive at the temple and is about a 900 feet climb. Tango Cheri Monastery is a Buddhist college, and it’s the residence of the Desi Tenzin Rabgye, a young boy who is the reincarnation of the 16th-century monk who built Tango.
The National Folk Heritage Museum
The National Folk Heritage Museum displays traditional Bhutanese ways of life in a traditional Bhutanese house. It provides an interesting window into Bhutanese culture and the domestic lives of the Bhutanese. There are also Bhutanese dances and exhibits held in the Museum compound.
The National Institute of Traditional Medicine
In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners. The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around it and visit the showroom.
Zorig Lobdra Choekhor Painting School (school of 13 arts and crafts)
Commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers you a glimpse of novices learning 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. It is a hands-on trip for you. Enjoy a few moments with the future artists of the country.
The National Library
The National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. There is also a small collection of foreign books, the stock of which mainly comprises works written in English. Take the opportunity to see the world’s biggest book stationed in the ground floor.
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA)
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) is the home of the Royal Dance troupe. The history of the academy dates back to 1954 when it was started under the command of His late Majesty the King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck with the gracious intention to preserve and promote Bhutanese performing arts. The academy was institutionalized in 1967 with a mandate to preserve and promote performing arts traditions. Folk music and dancing-group were introduced in 1970.
VAST (Voluntary Artists’ Studio, Thimphu)
Located along Chang Lam is a busy place with after-school and weekend drawing and painting classes for youngsters conducted by volunteer artists. A gallery on the top floor exhibits a mixture of both traditional and contemporary works. There is also a small library and coffee shop where budding artists are encouraged to meet.
Takin Zoo in Motithang
Motithang Takin Preserve, located in the Motithang district of Thimphu, is a wildlife reserve area for takin, the National Animal of Bhutan. Originally a mini-zoo, it was converted into a preserve when it was discovered that the animals refrained from inhabiting the surrounding forest even when set free.
Botanical Garden at Thimphu
The botanical garden in Serbithang, about 15 kilometres from Thimphu, is becoming a popular weekend spot for Thimphu residents who want to get away from the city. Sometimes there are people seeking solitude who go to the viewpoint from where the hill drops away sharply. From this point one can catch the afternoon breeze, see the Thimphu chu and farmers working in the fields below and the rising hills in the distance.
Paper Factory in Thimphu
This small factory produces watermarked paper as well as cards, lampshades, envelopes, calendars and other items made from traditional Bhutanese paper.
A wide assortment of colourful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for purchase at the Government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller handicrafts shops around the town. One can pick up small items as souvenirs.
Vegetable market, Rock climbing, Mountain climbing, River rafting etc
Location: Western Bhutan, South of Paro valley
Distance from Thimphu: 119km (3hrs 30mins)
Elevation: 2,670m (8,758ft)
The Haa Dzong will continue to serve as the headquarters of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) until the Bhutanese Government finds a new location for them. Whilst the Dzong is occupied by the IMTRAT, the dzongkhag administrative center is in the middle of Haa town and the religious seat is in a temple – Lhakhang Karpo – which is away from the main town and in the middle of a village.
This is one of several temples dedicated to the Haa valley’s protective deity, ‘Ab Chhundu’. The Temple is located 10 km north of Haa and accessed by a short 5-10 mins walk from the road in Gayekha village.
Once in every 3 years, celebrated for 3 days In December.
Haa lomba, beautiful lakes in Sangbe Geog, numerous treks etc.
Location: Between Thimphu and Wangdue
Distance from Thimphu: 77km (2hrs 15mins)
Elevation: 1,350m (4,430ft)
The Punakha Dzong was known in ancient times as the Druk Pungthang Dechhen Phrodang or “the palace of great happiness”. It is the second dzong to be built in Bhutan and was the seat of government when Punakha was the capital of Bhutan. Today, the dzong is the winter home for the clergy.
The highlight of Punakha festival, where you will spend one or one and a half days, according to your interest. The events and enactments are different on each day. The festival actually consists of two festivals. First, the Dromchoe, which lasts for 5 days, commemorates success over the invading Tibetan armies. Then the Tshechu or religious festival, consisting of typical masked dances, is usually held directly afterwards.
Chimi Lhakhang, also known as Chime Lhakhang or Monastery or temple, is a Buddhist monastery in Chukha District, Bhutan. Located near Lobesa, it stands on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kinley (1455–1529) who built a Chorten on the site.
Hot springs, Sinchula trek, river rafting and kayaking, biking, etc
Location: Between Punakha and Trongsa
Distance from Thimphu: 70km (2hrs)
Elevation: 1,400m (4,480ft)
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is perched on a spur at the confluence of two rivers, the Punak Chhu and Dang Chhu. Its position is remarkable as it completely covers the spur and commands an impressive view over both the north-south and east-west roads. It is obvious that the site was selected for this view of the valley below. However legend relates another reason for choosing this spot: as people searched for a site for a Dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spreading of religion to the four points of the compass.
Wangduephordang Tshechu Festival
The annual Wangduephordang Tshechu was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after the completion of the dzong. The three-day annual Tshechu is witnessed by people from Punakha and Thimphu and provides the people with an occasion to partake of entertainment and revelry. The Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham or the dance of the Ox. It concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdroel where people throng to receive blessings.
Gangtey Gompa or Phobjekha
This monastery of Gangtey was established in another valley named Phobjekha. Gangtey Gompa was built in the 17th century. The village situated in this valley is also known as Phobjekha. Here the black-necked cranes come in the winter from Northern Tibet and stay here till the end of winter.
Bamboo Products in Sephu
The path follows the Nikka Chhu to reach a large grassy area overlooking the road and the village of Sephu. You finally reach the road at the Nikka Chhu bridge at Sephu where you will find several stores (mainly selling bamboo products) and small restaurants.
Gangtey trek, and more.
Location: Central Bhutanac
Distance from Thimphu: 199km (6hrs 30mins)
Elevation: 2,180m (7,150ft)
Also called Chorten Charo Kasho the Chendegbiji Chorten was built in the 19th century by a Tibetan lama. It is a Nepalese style stupa like Swayambhunath or Bodnath in Kathmandu, Nepal. According to the legend, it was built to cover the remains of an evil spirit who was killed there. It is located 41 km west of Trongsa in Bhutan at 2430 meters elevation.
Trongsa Dzong, the largest Dzong at a striking location, is an important administrative building, providing the headquarters of the Government of Trongsa District. Trongsa provides a strategic central location to control Bhutan and for centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty of penlops (governors) who effectively ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan.
Trongsa Tshechu Festival
The tshechu falls sometime in the month of December. Besides the mask dances, one can witness the unfurling of the sacred Thongdrol and receive blessings. People also receive blessings from the sacred Nangtens that is open during the last day of the tshechu.
This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It was built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the 1st Governor of Trongsa in 1652. It has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history. Today the Ta Dzong of Trongsa is the most fascinating museum of the nation.
Palaces in Trongsa
This two-storied simple palace situated just above the highway in the town is the birth place of our Late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It was here that on 2nd May 1928, His Majesty was born to King Jigme Wangchuck and Ashi Puntsho Choden. He spent most of his early childhood days here in this Thurepang Palace. The other palace of interest is the Eundu Choling Palace which was the winter residence of the 1st King Ugyen Wangchuck.
Kuenga Rabten Palace
The 23 km drive from Trongsa to Kuenga Rabten takes about an hour and passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. The land slopes quite gently in this region, and farming is well developed, so there is much of interest to observe in the fields and in the villages as one motors along. As one approaches Kuenga Rabten, the Palace is clearly visible just below the road on the right. It was the winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs.
Royal Heritage Trail
Trekking is easily one of the most popular tourism activities in Bhutan. The diversity in nature and the range of exotic culture makes the country ideal for trekking. The Royal Heritage Trek is yet another tourism product developed to commemorate the past 100 years of the Monarchy’s royal heritage and historic travel route between the Bumthang and Trongsa Dzongkhags.
Location: Central Bhutan, east of Trongsa
Distance from Trongsa: 68km (1hr 30mins)
Elevation: 2,600 m(8,530ft)
Jakar Dzong means the ‘Fortress of the White Bird,’ and it was constructed in 1667. Apparently, when a group of lamas were in the area searching for a suitable site for the new dzong, a single white bird continuously circled overhead before settling on the top of a hill. This was considered a good omen, and the hill was selected as the site for the dzong and White Bird was adopted as its name.
Wangdichholing Palace was built in 1857 as the Kingdom’s first palace and is now the residence of a small monk body that also shares residence in an adjacent Goemba, all overlooking five square chortens (Buddhist reliquary monuments) housing water-driven prayer wheels.
Jambey Lhakhang is said to be one of the 108 monasteries that were miraculously constructed by King Songten Gampo within one night. It is located in the town of Jakar in Bhutan. Jambey Lhakhang monastery is said to be placed holding down the left knee of the demoness while Kyichu Lhakang monastery pins down her left foot.
Around 750 AD, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche (“precious master”) came to Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche is the most important person in the history of Bhutan. He is regarded by the Bhutanese as a revered saint, because he brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
This is a beautiful Royal mansion dating from the 19th century. Formerly a royal monastery, it now houses the Forestry Institute. Coming down to the road, there is an excellent view of the Jakar Dzong and water tower (Chhu Dzong).
Chakhar (the Iron Castle)
Chakhar is located about 3 km away from the Swiss Farm, and was the residence of King Sinda in the 8th century. It is still inhabited by one of his descendants, the Chakhar Lama.
Kenchisum Lhakhang dates back to the 8th century. The inscription on the large bell testifies to it being cast for the Tibetan Royal Family. The pillar erected next to the entrance gate could be a megalith from prehistoric times.
Tamshing Monastery is a kilometer past Kenchosum Lhakhang. It was built from 1501 to 1505 by Pemalingpa, the great Bhutanese Nyingmapa Lama. The monastery contains some of the most remarkable paintings of this period in the Himalaya.
Yathra Weaving Centre
In the village of Zungney in Chumey, there are ladies weaving yathras, the speciality of the region. The brightly coloured wool fabrics are displayed outside the houses. Quality, patterns and colour vary widely.
It was founded in 1470 by the 4th Shamar Rinpoche, an important lama of the Karma Kagyudpa sect. Pemalingpa later took over and it became Nyingmapa. The iron curtain at the entrance is said to have been cast by the saint himself.
Mebar Tsho (or The Burning Lake) is located in the southern part of the Tang Valley. It is more a gorge than a lake. It is a very sacred site and the name refers to the most famous episode of Pemalingpa’s life.
On the cliff opposite of the Tang Valley is where the Kunzangdra Monastery is located. It was founded by Pemalingpa in 1488 and is one of his residences.
A huge rock, marking one of Guru Rinpoche’s meditation spots, overlooks this temple. The saint Dorjelingpa established the temple, known as Tang Rimochen, in the 14th Century. It is half an hour’s walk from Uugyencholing Dzong, the residence of Tshokye Dorji.
The New Ura Lhakhang
Ura Valley (3,100m/19,200ft) is the highest and the most eastern of the Bumthang valleys. It is located about 2 hrs from Jakar. The Ura temple was consecrated in 1986 dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Paintings represent different teachings and are beautifully executed.
Palrithang, Duer hot spring, Royal Heritage Trail, etc
Location: Eastern Bhutan, Between Bumthang and Trashigang
Distance from Bumthang: 198km (6hrs 30mins)
Elevation: 1,600m (5,250ft)
Although built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest Dzongs, it is constructed in the same way as all earlier Dzongs, without plans or nails. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
Ugyen Dorji Paper Factory at Ngatshang
The Paper Factory was constructed in the eastern part of Bhutan since the local communities in this district have traditional expertise in handmade paper manufacturing. In 1992, the late Dasho Ugyen Dorji, Chairperson of Tashi Group of Companies and a well-wisher of NWAB donated a paper unit in the eastern part of Bhutan. Since then, NWAB has been manufacturing Bhutanese Paper from the unit.
Thrumshingla National Park
Thrumshingla National Park is one of the 9 protected area systems of Bhutan and was gazetted in 1998. It is located in the central part of Bhutan and contains spectacular mountains with a rich cultural and biological diversity.
Another sacred site in the district is the renowned Aja Ney where pilgrims from all other parts of Bhutan converge to receive blessings and wash away their sins. A rock that bears 100 renditions of the sacred syllable “Aa,” is said to have been discovered by Guru Padmasambhava. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and falls under Ngatsang geog. It is approximately two days trek from Serzhong village.
The Yagang lhakhang, in a small village next to the town, is another sacred monument in the Dzongkhag. It was built in the 16th century by Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa, after having built the Kupijigtsam Lhakhang in Yangneer village in Trashigang. Today, the lhakhang plays an important role in the religious life of the people.
Jarung Khashor Chorten
The Jarung Khashor Chorten in Lingmethang next to the bridge over the Kurichu river is another monument in the district that is worth paying a visit. The Chorten is modelled after the Jarung Khashor Chorten in Nepal.
The ruin of Zhongar Dzong endures to this day as a testimony to the skill of its builders, most notably the renowned master craftsman, Zowo Balip. It is located on a hilltop overlooking the village of Themnangbi and is visible as one descends to Lingmenthang from the highway.
Hungja Nye, monasteries and temples, bird watching, etc
Location: Eastern Bhutan
Distance from Mongar: 76km (2hrs)
Elevation: 1,700m (5,580ft)
Lhendrup Rinchentse Dzong
Popularly known as Lhundub Rinchentse, the Dzong was built in 1654 by the Trongsa Penlop Chogyal Minjur Tempa at a site where once stood a small temple built by Nagi Wangchuk in 1552. Built on a hill overlooking the Kurichu, the dzong is today the administrative and the religious centre of the district. The Dzong houses many sacred artifacts installed by the 4th Druk Desid Tenzin Rabgay.
The famed Singye Dzong, one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan, is a three days uphill walk from Lhuentse Dzong. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Tantric Master once meditated here. Singye dzong is the main sacred place where Guru Rinpoche meditated. A journey to Singye Dzong will be a rewarding experience.
It is said to have been constructed at the same time as Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and Jampey Lhakhang in Bumthang in the 7th century.
‘Priu’ in Gangzur, ‘Haa’ in Metsho, and ‘Lhacham’ in Khoma Geogs.
The Underground Palace
The ancient ruins of the underground palace of the Bangtsho King in Tsenkhar Geog can still be seen.
Varied Flora and Fauna
Besides the many day hike trails, picnic spots and camping sites, there is a wide variety of flora and fauna. The Black-Necked Crane arrives in Membi Geog in the first Bhutanese month and can be seen in flocks in the paddy fields of Tangmachu.
Aja Nye Trek via Phuningla, Rodongla Trek via Khini Lhakhang, etc.
Location: Eastern Bhutan
Distance from Mongar: 90km (3hrs)
Elevation: 1,070m (3,510ft)
Built in 1659, atop a spur overlooking the Dangmechu river, Trashigang dzong or the ‘fortress of the auspicious hill’ has been the political stronghold of eastern Bhutan for over 300 years. The landscape on which the Dzong stands is not only picturesque but arouses curiosity.
Trashigang Tshechu Festival
While every village has their own tshechus to celebrate annually, the highlight is the three day tshechu that is held in the dzong from the 7th to 11th of the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar that corresponds to the month of December. The tshechu is witnessed by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic community of Merak and Sakteng, the Khengpa community, and people from as far as Samdrup Jongkhar, Pema Gatshel and Trashi Yangtse.
24 km from Trashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the 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 that dwelt in a huge black rock.
A 22 kilometres drive on the highway that connects Trashigang with Samdru Jongkhar will take you to Kanglung where one can visit the Zangdopelri lhakhang. Built in the early 1970s at the initiative of the late Tamzhing Jagar, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs, the lhakhang houses some of the most intricately designed statues besides a Shedra, a monastic school headed by a Khenpo.
In Kanglung, besides the Zangdopelri, another place of visit is to Sherubtse College or the Peak of Learning. Founded in the late 1960s as a Higher Secondary School, Sherubtse College was until recently the only Institute of Higher Learning in the country. It was run by the Jesuits from Canada and the late Father William Mackey was its first Principal. The College has been instrumental in providing the much needed higher skill base for the country as many of the graduates were employed by various Ministries, Corporations and Organizations.
Further up the road from Sherubtse College is located the oldest temple in Trashigang – the Yonphu Lhakhang whose establishment cannot be ascertained. It houses several sacred relics and a Tercham that is conducted twice in a year commemorating the feats of religious luminaries like Guru Padmasambhava.
Further east from Trashigang, driving north will take you to another commercial hub in Trashigang, the Rangjung town. This once sleepy town is today a major commercial center where people from five geogs congregate and carry out brisk businesses. Besides the town one can visit the Rangjung temple located on a small hillock overlooking the town. The temple built in the architectural style of the Tibetans has a monastic school supported by HH Garab Rinpoche.
Location: North-Eastern Bhutan
Distance from Trashigang: 53km (1hr)
Elevation: 1,871m (6,137ft)
Constructed near the river, it is based on the stupa of Bodhnath in Nepal and was built in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday. During the second month of the lunar calendar there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora’.
About one hour’s walk from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is the winter resting place of a flock of black-necked cranes.
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 practised in Bhutan. The Institute started a few years back and with support from the Government, trains many school leavers in the arts and crafts.
Thrichu Gompa, Pang Chorten, etc.