Thimphu, the capital of the kingdom, is not as modern as the other world capitals by any measure. It is relaxed and strongly driven by tradition.
One of its landmarks is the Tashichhodzong, a whitewashed complex where the throne room of the king is located. It is also the summer residence of the central monk body. Foreign visitors are allowed to enter the premises only during Thimphu Tshechu, but foreigners may view the fortress’ royal beauty from outside all year round.
The National Memorial of Chorten is another popular landmark in Thimphu. The whitewashed stupa, which is accentuated by a gold spire, was built as a memorial to the third king of Bhutan. The chorten has religious paintings and Buddha statues and is visited by the locals as a place of prayer and worship.
Punakha is one of Bhutan’s prettiest destinations, not to mention one of the most historically significant. It used to be the country’s capital and stood as a witness to the different events that shaped the country’s history.
Punakha Dzong is an important evidence of Punakha’s close tie to Bhutan’s history. The dzong was built in 1637 and served as the seat of government.
Although it has been devastated by fires, floods, and earthquakes during different periods of its existence, the Punakha Dzong still stands spectacularly, with ancient features such as temples, wall and ceiling paintings, wooden staircases, and assembly hall (Kuenrey) continuing to amaze tourists.
Also showing off its glory is the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal, a four-storey temple built by Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck. It boasts of fine architectural features and offers impressive view of the surroundings from the top floor.
The Chimi Lhakhang temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman, who lived in the 1500s. Today, Chimi Lhakhang is popular as a fertility temple, usually visited by people who want to have children.
Of course, Chimi Lhakhang is not only for the childless. Anyone can visit the temple to see the paintings and the Divine Madman’s statue, among other things.
If you happen to travel from Thimphu to Punakha, you will most likely want to stop at the Dochula Pass. Offering a full view of the Himalayan mountain range, Dochula Pass is famous among locals and tourists alike. The Bhutanese, too, like to visit the area on weekends and holidays to relax and enjoy the surrounding.
On a clear day, you’ll see the amazing range of the Himalayas, which proudly displays its unparalleled natural grandeur.
Dochula Pass is an even more visually interesting place because of the Druk Wangyal Chortens, a cluster of 108 stupas constructed in 2004 by the initiative of Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate the war fought in southern Bhutan.
At the pinnacle of the pass, overlooking the stupas, is the Drung Wangyal Lhakhang, a temple constructed to honor His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck for his leadership and victory in the war.
With rich cultural and historical heritage, Paro is one of the most interesting destinations in Bhutan. From its display of imposing and historical structures to the valley that surrounds the place, Paro doesn’t fail to impress.
A visit to Paro is never complete without a trip to Rinpung Dzong, also known as Parong Dzong. Built in the 15th century, the dzong used to be Bhutan’s strongest citadels. It even set the architectural standard for the future fortresses in the country.
On a hill on top of Rinpung Dzong is a watchtower called Ta Dzong. Now functioning as the National Museum, the watchtower has a collection of stamps, coins, paintings, tea ware, weapons, and other arts and handicrafts.
Taktsang Lhakhang, also called Tiger’s Nest, is a monastery constructed on a cliff, so visitors have to hike for around three hours to reach it. Pony rides are also available. After the seemingly arduous climb, what awaits the visitors is a sight of remarkable beauty.
Situated in the northern part of Bhutan, the Gasa district offers nature at its finest. Gasa, after all, is declared an organic district.
In fact, the Jigme Dorji National Park, where a rich collection of flora and fauna resides, encompasses the entire district. The takin (the national animal), the red panda, the snow leopard, and the blue sheep are some of the animals that can be spotted in the park. Even the blue poppy – the national flower – can be found here.
The hot springs in Gasa are said to have healing properties, drawing Bhutanese from all over the country. A dip in these springs is definitely a rejuvenating experience.
The mountains in the district and the glacial lakes at the feet of these peaks also provide an unforgettable sight; the natural heritage of Gasa is truly very rich.
Trashigang is one of the largest districts in Bhutan, and even though it takes around seventeen hours to get here from Thimphu, it is worth seeing.
A lot of sites await your visit; chief among them is the Trashigang Dzong. It was built in 1659 on a hill and was instrumental in defending Bhutan against Tibetan troops. Today, the dzong generously provides breathtaking scenery.
Then there is Bremung Lhakhang, said to be the most revered temple in Trashigang. It was built in the 15th century and has the embalmed remains of Kuenga Wangpo, the temple’s founder.
You can also visit Chador Lhakhang, Kupijigtsam Lhakhang, Zangdopelri Lhakhang, Rangjung Lhakhang, and Yonphu Lhakhang, the oldest temple in Trashigang.
Trongsa lies at the center of Bhutan and is as rural as the rest of the country. It invites you to an exploration, with Trongsa Dzong as its main attraction.
Built in the 17th century, the dzong has a commanding presence. It is perched on a hill, seemingly overlooking the entire area. Two kings of Bhutan ruled from this dzong, and presently, it serves as the ancestral home of the royal family.
Ta Dzong is another imposing 17th century structure. This watchtower is situated above Trongsa Dzong and was used to protect the said dzong from internal rebellion. Today, it functions as a museum, showing rare Bhutanese artifacts that draw thousands of tourists.
You may also want to check out Thruepang Palace, Eundu Choling Palace, and Kuenga Rabten Palace.
Bumthang’s shape is suggestive of its religious significance. It takes the shape of a bumpa, the holy water vessel found in a lhakhang. Indeed, it is considered the religious center of Bhutan, for it holds some of the oldest temples and religious sites in the kingdom.
One of the most popular sites is the Jambey Lhakhang, built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. Out of the 108 temples that the king built, only this and the other one in Paro survive.
Kurje Lhakhang is another important structure. It has three temples, with the one in the middle containing the remains of Guru Padmasambhava; therefore, this middle temple is considered the holiest of the three. The temple on the right was constructed in 1652 at the site where the guru used to meditate, and the one on the left was built by Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck in the 1990s.
Tamshing Lhakhang also holds a significant position in the Bhutanese religious culture. It is actually considered the most important Nyingmapa temple in the kingdom. The temple was said to have been built by Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa in 1501. Although it’s not in a very pristine condition, Tamshing Lhakhang can provide insights into the religious and cultural heritage of Bhutan, as it houses old religious paintings.
Thangbi Goemba and Ngang Lhakhang, both constructed in the 15th century, are also worth a visit. So is Jakar Dzong, a 16th century fortress and the administrative seat of the first Bhutanese king.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzongkhag
Located in central Bhutan, Wangdue Phodrang offers diverse attractions. But like in other districts, its dzong is its scene stealer.
Built in the 17th century, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is situated at an elevation between the rivers Punatsangchhu and Dhangchhu. If you want to see it at its most festive, visit it during the annual autumn festival.
Go to the temple of Sha Radap to witness the locals’ religious devotion as they pray to Sha Radap, the district’s guardian, and ask for his blessings in this sacred place. If you wish, you could also seek his blessings by rolling the dice found in the temple.
The villages in Wangdue Phodrang are also worth visiting. Go to the villages of Nahee and Gaselo on a day trip, spend a night in the villages of Rukha and Adha, and check out the village of Phobjikha. You might also want to swing by Gangtey Goemba, which is perched on the Phobjikha valley.
Haa, which lies in the western part of Bhutan, is one of the country’s most beautiful districts. It is best to visit the district during the Haa Summer Festival, which showcases traditional sports, religious performances, and local drink processing, among other things.
Of course, if you arrive in the country outside of the summer festival, Haa is still worth visiting. See the famed Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) situated at the foot of Rigsum Gonpo, the three identical mountains. The temples are constructed close to each other and are very easily identifiable by the color of their walls – white for Lhakhang Karpo and black for Lhakhang Nagpo.
You can also stop by at the Tagchu Goemba and Shekhar Drak, both of which are important religious structures, and the Wangchulo Dzong and Dobji Dzong.
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