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Mountain Tours & Treks

Places to Visit in Bhutan

THIMPU - The Capital City

Thimpu, perhaps the most unusual capital in the world, is a bustling town on the banks of the Thimpu River and set gloriously in the hills of the Thimpu Valley. Thimpu is the home of the revered Bhutanese Royal family, the Royal Government and Judiciary and to be several foreign missions and development projects.

On the banks 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 hall located in a new building opposite the banks of the river from the dzong. During the warmer summer months, the monk body led by His Holiness the Je Khenpo makes its home in the dzong.

Next to the dzong is Bhutan's only golf course nine-hole circuit, popular with Thimpu's residents, that offers a break from sightseeing for visiting players.

Thimpu's charm is not embedded in its wealth of museums or places of historic interest. Visitors must wander along the main street and into shops, all of which are decorated in a traditional style. Thimpu's shopkeepers are helpful and will do their best to oblige even the smallest requests.

Tourists can enjoy Bhutanese and Indian food in a growing number of free-standing restaurants. Here you will see Thimpu's society taking time off from their schedules. The Swiss Bakery located in the center of town is a popular meeting place for coffee and cake.
Bhutan's capital is an ideal spot for day walks. Phajoding Monastery is a three-hour hike from the Mothithang area of Thimpu. The walk is steep and will test an average walker but the efforts are more than rewarding with the stunning views over the city and a good sample of Bhutanese flora on the way up.

PARO - Valley of temples and monasteries

If ever a place exists where nature and man consulted to create their dearest image, it must be the valley of Paro. Generally, visitors enter the kingdom of Bhutan at Paro by the national airline, Druk Air. Thirty years ago all visitors would have walked for five days across the mountains from the Indian Border. Now the journey by air is about one hour from Calcutta, India, or Kathmandu, Nepal.

Paro Valley is one of the most populated areas in the country. Because of its proximity to the airport, there are hotels and tourist amenities close by. The Paro Valley contains a wealth of attractions and requires a few days to be properly explored.

Casting a shadow across the town of Paro and controlling all secular and religious activities in its valley is the elegant and perfectly symmetrical Rinpung Dzong( above image). It is a fortress situated on a knoll across the Paro Chu river with a commanding view of the Paro valley.

Behind Rinpung Dzong, on the high hillside, is the castle-shaped Ta Dzong. Once a watchtower built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars in the 17th Century, Ta Dzong has housed the nation's heritage in Bhutan's National Museum since 1967. The museum provides an excellent way to pass an afternoon and its circular shape augments its varied collection.

Paro was the first stop of Guru Rimpoche on his crusade from Tibet to Bhutan (over a thousand years ago). Guru Rimpoche is said to have arrived on the back of a tigress and meditated at Taktsang monastery, now a hallowed shrine for Bhutanese pilgrims. A terrible fire in April 1998 destroyed Taktsang's medieval wall paintings and all the inner temples. The monastery will be rebuilt by the Royal Government. Tourists are still able to visit the look-out point and cafeteria about three hours of walk from the road. There are few handicrafts, souvenirs,s and grocery shops in Paro. All hotels in the town have souvenir shops where visitors can buy last-minute gifts before leaving.

Eighteen kilometers from Paro town on the north side of the valley are the burnt ruins of Druguel Dzong (Victorious Fortress). It was from here that the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century.  

PUNAKHA - the old capital

The road from Simkotha winds into pine forests and through small villages for 20 km and then opens miraculously into the northern ridge of the mountains. The view over the Himalayas at Dochula Pass, at 10,500 feet, is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan.

Punakha lies about two hours drive from the Dochula down low in its valley. Punakha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (spiritual leader) during the winter months. Punakha's climate and warmer temperatures make its valley one of the most fertile in Bhutan.

One of the most striking features of the valley is its abundance of crops and the vast terraces of rice fields which change from lush green in summer to golden yellow in autumn. Chime Lakhsang located on a hillock among the rice fields is picturesque and it's a pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is associated with the famous saint Drukpa Kuenlay who built this Chorten on the site.

Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. The town of Punakha, while dominated by dzong, grew in the 1990s under several Royal-inspired development programs. In spite of four catastrophic fires and an earthquake that destroyed many artifacts and the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.  

ANGDUE PHODRANG-the rich pastureland Wangdue Phodrang is the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan. The town is little more than an enlarged village with a few well-provided shops and hotels. Wangdue Phodrongs formidable Dzong is the town's most visible feature. The road from Wangdue to Trongsa is one of the prettiest in Bhutan, passing streams, forests, and villages before climbing to the Pelela pass and on the dramatic Trongsa Valley. South of the highway is the Gantey Gompa and is an old monastery dated from the 17th century. This dramatic place is house to the rare black-necked cranes that migrate from Tibet to pass the winter in lower climates. The rare birds can also be seen in East Bhutan at Yangtse.

BUMTHANG - the valley of pilgrimage importance 

The Yutongla Pass and a series of hair-raising bends at 11,500 feet separate the valleys of Trongsa and Bumthang. Views of Trongsa Valley on the ascent are superb. Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates other regions. Comprised of four smaller valleys, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend.

Apart from the Dzong at Jakar, smaller monasteries are situated all over the valley. Tales of Padma Sambhava dominates these holy shrines. The valley is home to the sacred Jampa and Kurjey Monasteries where bodily marks of Guru Rimpoche are impressed upon a rock. Kurjey Monastery located at the end of the valley is the most sacred monastery or temple in the country. Its golden roofs and ornate façade make a perfect backdrop for a morning stroll around the valley.

The Bumthang District is home to Bhutan's Spiritual history.  


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