Top Places to Visit in Bhutan

1. Taktsang Monastery, the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ or the ‘Tiger’s Lair’ in Paro valley is one of the most visited hotspot tourist attractions in Bhutan. Located around 900 meters above the Paro valley on a precarious almost vertical mountain cliff, Taktsang Monastery is truly a wonderful and spectacular sight in terms of its location, setting and history. It is one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist arena. In the 8th Century, Buddhist saint and harbinger of Buddhism to Bhutan, Guru Padmasambhava reverently known as Guru Rimpoche flew on a female flying tigress in pursuit of a demon that he subdued at the present location. Following which, he meditated in a cave and emerged in eight manifestations and blessed the place. In 1692, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, the then secular ruler of Bhutan, built a temple to commemorate the holy site.Presently the Monastery is a complex of temples that abounds in paintings, statues and artifacts. Taktsang is one of the most sacred sites which is a must visit at least once in a lifetime for a Buddhist and for a traveler a must see and visit travel destination for its sheer spectacular site and architectural delight. It is an hour and half climb uphill through the beautiful natural splendor of Paro Valley.
Dzongs,Dzongs are mighty fortresses with exterior walls enclosing a complex of temples, administrative offices, monks’ accommodation, and courtyards. All the 20 districts (also called Dzongkhags) of Bhutan have a Dzong each and in some district more than one. Majestically located on a hilltop or a mountain side, these Dzongs are magnificent works of art and architecture, the most unique and incredible fact being that their construction did not require any architects or engineers, blue prints or elaborate concrete plans. Construction of a Dzong was commissioned by a high Lama who was inspired by spiritual and religious flashes. Moreover, the site and location was selected as directed by a sign or an omen in a dream or vision. All the Dzongs still houses several temples and monks’ accommodation, center for festivals and serve as administrative offices of the Dzongkhag government. Dzongs are architectural masterpieces and another favorite with the tourists. Dzongs were first introduced and built in Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a Buddhist saint who unified Bhutan and fought against the invading forces of Tibetans, establishing Bhutan as an independent country with its own unique culture and traditions. He built almost all the prominent and major Dzongs in the country.

2. Simtokha Dzong in Thimphu is the oldest and first Dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1616. Like the other Dzongs, Simtokha Dzong’s architectural grandeur is expressed in its height and massiveness. Simtokha Dzong stands at a strategic position at the crossroads between three prominent regions of Wangduephodrang, Paro and Thimphu. History has it that during that time, a demon was persistently disturbing and harming the local residents, so the Zhabdrung visited the place and subdued the demon, banishing her under a rock and commissioned for a Dzong to be built on top of the rock. Simtokha Dzong derives its name from the word sinmo meaning demon, dho meaning stomach and Kha meaning on top – on top of the demon’s stomach. Presently, Simtokha Dzong serves as a Institute for Language and Cultural Studies.

3. Punakha Dzong also called Punthang Dechenphodrang meaning Palace of great bliss was built by in 1673 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to commemorate the final victory against numerous Tibetan invasions. Punakha Dzongkhag is the old capital city and the Dzong served as the capital hub for all both religion and overall administration of the country. Located on a piece of land between two rivers Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu (literally meaning male and female rivers), the Dzong is massive, huge and magnificent in all its architectural grandeur. Although ravaged by flood, fire and earthquakes many times, the Dzong was always rebuilt with its original pattern and design. Punakha Dzong remained the centre of government until it was relocated to Thimphu. The first King of modern Bhutan was crowned in Punakha Dzong. Important religious ceremonies are still held in the Dzong. The Royal Wedding ceremony on 13th October 2011 of the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema was conducted in Punakha Dzong.

4. Tashichho Dzong meaning the fortress of the glorious religion is situated in Thimphu the capital city and houses the office and throne of the present king along with the Central monastic Body and Administrative offices. The original Dzong was built in 1216 by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa and over the years additional structures were added and expanded. Tashichho Dzong is another excellent example of Bhutanese architecture at its finest. As is the case with all other Dzongs, Tashichho Dzong was also built in the traditional style without any nails and written plans or designs.

5. Drugyal Dzong meaning fortress of victory was built to commemorate the the victory over the allied Tibet-Mongol forces. In the early 1950′s the Dzong was completely destroyed by fire and sadly the Dzong is now in ruins. However, the Dzong is still a tourists hotspot for its ruins of charred huge wooden beams, watch towers, mud walls and the courtyard, all remnants of an impressive Dzong. On a clear day Mount Jomolhari can also be seen.

6. Trongsa Dzong meaning new fortress was built in 1644 and from a distance before reaching Trongsa one can see its spectacular sight and its strategic location on a mountain spur high above the Mangde Chhu (River). As per tradition, all the Kings of Bhutan had to first become the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) before being installed as the Crown Prince and finally the King of Bhutan. For centuries the Dzong controlled the east-west trade and the only road or path connecting east and west Bhutan passed through the courtyard of the Dzong. The Trongsa Penlop was so powerful that at his behest, the massive doors of the Dzong could be closed cutting off all communication between eastern and western Bhutan. Above the Dzong is a Watch Tower called the Ta Dzong to guard and keep an eye for possible invasions. Presently the Ta Dzong has been converted to a National Museum.

7. Dogar Dobji Dzong meaning fortress of the White Stone was built in 1531 and believed to be the first model of a Dzong. Legend has it that Ngawang Chogyal, brother of Drukpa Kuenly the Buddhist saint popularly known as the ‘Divine Madman’ followed a spring water with its source in Druk Ralung in Tibet and reached Dogar from where the same spring water gushed out from a rock, and hence the site was selected to construct a religious center. The center was named ‘stone castle of Bhutan’ and was built by 100 carpenters and masons brought in all the way from Tibet. The spring is still visible and is known for its medicinal wonders. Dobji Dzong located on top of a rocky cliff barred by natural high gorge is accessible only through the main entrance and served as a prison for life serving convicts for decades. Later the Dzong was handed over to the people of Dogar and there is a plan for a Zorig Chosum (School for Traditional Arts and Crafts) Institute to be established inside the Dzong.

8. Dochula Pass situated at 3150 meters above sea level and almost 30 kilometers away from Thimphu is a must stopover for every passerby travelling towards Wangdue, Punakha and eastern Bhutan. Every traveler, both international and the local Bhutanese people stop by at Dochula Pass just to breathe in the cool mountain air and greedily be immersed in the view for a few minutes out of the busy life and schedule. Dochula pass has fabulous views of some of the most beautiful and spectacular Himalayan Mountains such as the Masangang, Table Mountain, Tiger Mountain and others.

The major eye treat is the 108 chortens/stupas built close to each other and surrounded by numerous colorful prayer flags. Yes of course one can walk in between the temples and admire the architectural splendor up close and enjoy the spectacular Himalayan ranges from amongst the temples. The 108 chortens were built by Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate the victory and in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives during the war against the terrorists groups in 2003.

9. The Royal Botanical park, also known as the Rhododendron Garden at Lamperi is about half and hour drive towards Punakha/Wangdue. With your spirits still high from the visit to the awesome sites of Dochula Pass with its 108 stupas and the beautifully arranged Himalayan mountain ranges, you will descend down to Rhododendron Botanical Garden, a nature reserve rich in flora and fauna and beautiful in itself. After the almost surreal experience of the flutter of colorful prayer flags, the image of Dochula’s sublimity and a most wonderful sight where the earth touched the sky, you will be enthralled to find yourself amongst another similar natural environment: fresh air breeze, the twittering of the birds, distant barking of a Barking Deer that breaks the silence of the garden. The recorded species are the monal pheasants, blood pheasants, musk deer, tiger, leopard, red panda and the leopard cat. A Rhododendron garden with 46 species of the plant is the theme of the botanical garden. Located 30 KMS from capital, the park has numerous view points, trekking routes, a lake and a canteen. At this park, you can indulge yourself amongst these rich biodiversity. The clean air is fluttered from the cool broad leaf and mixed conifer forests. More than hundreds of species of fauna in this rich eco diversity park will let you experience the wild as though during the olden days when time stood still. You can walk around through the green lushes and maroon pregnant strawberries, wild and rare flowers in bloom and catch glimpses of runaway mountain birds.

10. The Royal Botanical Garden at Serbithang is a few minutes drive away from Thimphu town and a perfect place to visit during spring and summer. Various types of flowers and medicinal plants populate the park and is ideal for a picnic lunch. In the Spring season the park comes alive with beautiful and colorful flowers in bloom. Located on a side of a hill, the park offers a great view of Thimphu valley. The landscape of Bhutan is dotted with numerous Lhakhangs, temples, monasteries, stupas, prayer wheels and colorful prayer flags. Each one of them with its common function and purpose as a religious center and congregation during auspicious days. Built over the years, each Lhakhang and temple has its own unique story and history abounding in mystical and supernatural phenomenon.

11. Kyichu and Jambay Lhakhangs are one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan built in the 659 AD in the seventh century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gyampo. Jambay Lhakhang is located in Bumthang and Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro. Both the Lhakhangs are two of the 108 Lhakhangs that King Songsten Gyampo built in a single day. According to legend, the King built all 108 Lhakhangs over the body of a giant demoness to pin her on the earth forever. The Lhakhangs were built on her body parts spanning Bhutan, Tibet and border areas. The Jambay Lhakhang Drup is one of the most unique and different festivals of Bhutan. The most popular and legendary Tercham (Dance of Treasure) is performed during the festival. The dancers perform the dance completely naked wearing only a mask around a bonfire. It is believed that witnessing this dance blesses infertile men and women with children. This dance is performed only at night. The Kyichu Lhakhang houses some of the oldest relics and an original 7th century statue of Buddha Sakyamuni. The wooden floor of the main Lhakhang is inlaid with turquoise and other precious gems and stones.

12. Chime Lhakhang or the Temple of fertility stands on a picturesque hilltop between Punakha and Wangdue. Built by the Buddhist saint Lam Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the ‘Divine Madman’, the Lhakhang is famous for its fertility wish grants to childless couples. Not only Bhutanese but even foreigners who heard of it come specifically to visit Chime Lhakhang to pray to Lam Drukpa Kuenley for a child or two. And of course a couple genuinely praying and wishing are blessed with children. Amazing but true! It’s a pleasant 30 minutes walk from the road junction between Punakha and wangdue through mustard and paddy fields. There are beautiful prayer flags fluttering in the wind all the way to the Lhakhang. The Lhakhang is situated on top of a hillock and Lam Drukpa Kuenley used to call the hillock the breast of a woman because of its round shape. Woman who come to the Lhakhang seeking blessings of children are lightly hit on the head by a ten inch ivory wood and bone phallus. Inside the walls of the Lhakhang there are beautiful frescoes depicting the colorful life of Lam Drukpa Kuenley.

13. There are two National Museums in Paro and Trongsa. Initially they were Ta Dzongs (Watch towers) located slightly above the Paro and Trongsa Dzongs. Ta Dzongs are watch towers built to guard the main Dzongs and also from where possible invasions from outside could be seen. Both the Ta Dzongs were converted into National Museums and are a must visit. The museums have a huge and finest collection of specimens of Bhutanese antique artifacts, religious objects, traditional household items, collected works of Thankas, paintings and bronze statues. The Paro Ta Dzong was converted into a Museum in 1968 and the Trongsa Ta Dzong in December 2008. The Ta Dzong in Trongsa is dedicated to the Monarchs of Bhutan and is more focused on the history of the Kings of Bhutan.

14. Phelchey Toenkhyim or The Folk Heritage Museum in Thimphu is a complete example of the Bhutanese rural life. The Museum building itself is a model of a traditional three storied house built with mud and wood with typical artifacts, household items, crude domestic utensils and agricultural tools that were used by people in the 19th century. Inside the premises of the Museum, like a true rural house, activities are carried out as it used to be in the olden days. There are paddy fields, traditional water mills and vegetable garden. Depending on the season and time of the day, a tourist will have many different things too see and experience here every day in this living Museum.

15. The National Institute of Zorig Chosum in Thimphu is a premiere institution of traditional arts and crafts with the sole objective of preserving the culture and tradition of Bhutan. Students are trained in the Zorig Chosum – the 13 traditional arts and crafts. The thirteen crafts are paper making, stone work, black smithing, clay art, painting, bronze casting, wood slate and stone carving, wood turning, wood working, weaving, silver and gold smithing, cane and bamboo work, and needle work. There are two Zorig Chosum institutes in Thimphu and Trashiyangtse.

16. Motithang Takin Reserve, located in the capital city Thimphu, is a wildlife reserve area for Takin, the National Animal of Bhutan. The reason for declaring takin as a National Animal of Bhutan on 25 November 2005 (Budorcas taxicolor) is attributed to a legend of the animal’s creation in Bhutan in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley.

Lama Drukpa Kunley, a Buddhist saint and preacher also popularly known as “The Divine Madman” is credited with creating the Takin with unique features. Drukpa Kunley, who was not only a religious preacher but also a proficient tantric, was requested by the people of Bhutan during one of his religious lectures to conjure a miracle before them. The saint agreed to do so provided he was fed for lunch, a whole cow and a whole goat. Once served, he devoured the meat of both animals and left out the bones. He then took out the head of the goat and fixed it to the skeleton of the cow, chanted a prayer and voila! the magic worked. With a snap, he created a live animal, which had the head of the goat and the body of the cow. The animal sprang up and moved on to the meadows to graze. The animal was then given the name dong gyem tsey (Takin). Since then this animal has been a common sight in the hills of Bhutan. Because of this magical creation with high religious connotation, the animal has been adopted as the National Animal of Bhutan.

The preserve also holds a few sambar and barking deer. The Motithang Takin Reserve has been an integral part of Thimphu city and is an ongoing tourist attraction. There are plans to expand the collection of the preserve by introducing other rarely-seen animals of Bhutan such as the Red panda, and the Himalayan Serow.

17. Membar Tso or the Burning/Flaming lake is another most sacred and religious place in Bumthang and also abound in the supernatural and the spiritual. Located few kilometers away from Bumthang town, Membar Tso is another holy site of Guru Rinpoche and Terton Pema Lingpa. Tertons are Buddhist saints and treasure seekers usually an incarnate of one of the disciples of Guru Rinpoche. Treasure here does not mean gold, silver or other precious stones, but actually means religious texts and artifacts. Guru Rinpoche deliberately hid such treasure in various places in Bhutan, so that the teachings of the Buddha could still be continued and would flourish forever. Over time, many tertons were born who discovered such treasures. Since the tertons are highly religious and spiritual minded, Guru Rinpoche would appear in their meditation or in dreams and visions showing them signs about the hidden treasure. This was how over the centuries, Buddhism continued to prosper in Bhutan as compared to its disappearance in Tibet and India. Today, Bhutan is the only country practicing Mahayana Buddhism. century, Terton Pema Lingpa, a treasure seeker, in his vision was instructed by Guru Rinpoche to uncover sacred relics from the bottom of the lake. However, the people did not believe Pema Lingpa and so to asce rtain what he said they all gathered at the lake. Pema Lingpa dived into the lake carrying a lit butter lamp in his hand. Minutes later to the astonishment of all he appeared with the lamp still burning in his hand and in the other hand relics and artifacts. This is how the lake came to be called Membar Tso, the Burning Lake.

18. Thrumshingla Pass Enroute to Monggar from Bumthang, you may stop over at Thrumshingla Pass, the highest pass in Bhutan at 3750 meters (12400 ft) above sea level. Enjoy the scenic views of high mountain ranges and nearby Sengor village. The Pass falls under the Thrumshingla National Park, home to species of globally threatened birds and animals. More than 11000 people live within the Thrumshingla Park and are a fine example of harmonious co-existence between man and nature. In the spring, the Pass is dotted with different hues of rhododendron flowers amid old grown fir trees. The Bhutanese believe that local deities and spirits reside in high mountain passes and is believed that we should either take a small offering of a leave or a flower and offer incense to supplicate the spirits and pray for a safe journey ahead.

19. Lingmithang After passing through the bone chilling cold of Thrumshingla Pass across Sengor and Namling Brak, you will gently descend to the warm and lush settlement of Lingmithang. Kuri chhu (river), the major hydropower generator in the East flows through Lingmithang, making the nearby villages ideal for growing all types of vegetables and fruits.

20. Lhuentse Dzongkhag Lhuentse Dzongkhag is the furthest dzongkhag and home of the Royal Ancestry and is a leisurely three hour drive from Monggar town. You will enjoy the lovely drive through pine trees and by the riverside without much traffic on the way. It is also said that the drive is one of the best and beautiful highway ride in the country. You may visit Lhunetse tse Dzong, Khoma Weaving Center and Tangmachu. Lhuentse Tse Dzong – strategically located on top of a hill and perched on an elephant shaped mountain, Lhuentse Tse Dzong stands majestic and breathtaking.

Khoma Weaving Center – Khoma village is popular for its woven textile especially the Kishuthara, a fine type of woven cloth. Kishuthara is silk woven on silk with intricate and beautiful patterns. However, other types of textiles are also woven. You can spend the day with the Khoma weavers and they will also teach you to weave and learn the art of making dyes from different plants and vegetables. Buying woven cloths here are far cheaper compared to other retail shops in towns.

Tangmachhu and Guru’s statue – Before reaching Lhuentse, you can take the diversion if you wish to visit the beautiful valley of Tangmachhu and the huge statue of Guru Rinpoche. It is a lovely drive uphill through lush paddy fields and traditional houses. A huge statue of Guru Rinpoche is being built on a flat piece of land overlooking the beautiful valley of Tangmachhu.

Drametse village in Monggar – A diversion from the Monggar-Trashigang highway will take you on a farm road through the tall and thick lemon grasses, pine trees and to Drametse village. The road has numerous long hairpin twists and turns till you reach the majestic mountain top from where you can see the faraway mountain ranges at par. Drametse means ‘peak without enemy’ and offers you a panoramic view of villages of Ozorong, Kanglung, Yonphula, Rongthong, and Rangshikhar, all on the other side of the mountain across the Drangme chhu (Trashigang river). Drametse and the surrounding villages showcase ancient Bhutan and how people used to live in settlements not far away from each other but within range. Being on the top, Drametse sunrise and sunsets are spectacular and mesmerizing and the scene overlooking the villages down the foot hills is breathtaking.

21. Drameste Lhakhang is the symbol of supremacy and pride of the village and is a main attraction to the tourists. The Lhakhang was founded in the 16th century by Ani Choten Zangmo, a highly accomplished nun and granddaughter of Terton Pema Lingpa. The very famous and popular Drametse Nga Chham (Dance of the Drums) has its roots and origin from the Lhakhang. Even though the Dance is part of every Tshechus and festivals throughout the Kingdom, the original version is performed only in Drametse during the Annual Tshechu. The Drametse Nga Chham is listed in the World Heritage by the UNESCO. The Lhakhang houses spiritual treasures, sacred objects and traditional arms and armaments. Sungtrul Rinpoche, the speech incarnation of Terton Pema Lingpa is the residing high Lama and a prominent figure in the village.

22. Trashigang Dzong – Meaning ‘fortress of the Auspicious Hill’ was built in 1659 to defend the Tibetan invaders who had described the Dzong as ‘not a Dzong on the ground but in the sky’. Located on a hill top, the Dzong does look awesome as if placed on the sky. Due to its location on a hill top, Trashigang Dzong is considered as the most strategically located Dzongs in Bhutan.

23. Ranjung - Ranjung town is 16 away from the main town and a hub of activities and business for the people of five gewogs (Blocks). You can also visit the beautiful Ranjung Osel Choling Monastery established by His Holiness Dungtse Garab Dorji Rinpoche in 1989.

24. Radhi – popularly known as the ‘rice bowl of the east’ Radhi village is a short drive from Ranjung. Travelling through beautiful paddy fields, lush green jungles and cool mountain air will take you to Radhi, a small village. You can visit few houses where women are busy at their looms weaving away.

25. Gom Kora – Another sacred temple of Guru Rinpoche, Gom Kora temple is located 24 kilometers away from Trashigang town towards Trashiyangtse. Situated on the side of the Drangmechhu (river) and surrounded by paddy fields and banana trees, Gom Kora is worth a visit for its sacred sites and caves inside the precinct of the temple. The very famous and popular Gom Kora Tshechu (Festival) is held for three days here and people from as far as Arunachal Pradesh come for blessings.

26. Chorten Kora – Chorten Kora is beautifully and ideally located on the banks of Drangmechhu river below the town. This white stupa was built in 1740 in the shape and style of the Boudhanath Stupa of Nepal, with four eyes painted towards the four directions. A local festival is also celebrated and here too apart from the local people, pilgrims from Arunachal Pradesh also convene.

27. Institute of Zorig Chosum – A brief visit to this school will introduce you to the 13 different traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. You can watch over as students carry out carve or paint beautiful paintings, art work, sculptor, etc. The other 13 traditional Arts and Crafts School is located in Thimphu.

28. Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail Butterfly (Bhutanitis Ludlowi) and Black Necked Cranes (Grus Nigricollis) – Bomdeling valley falls under the Bomdeling Nature Reserve and is the winter roosting ground for the endangered Black Necked Crane who migrates all the way from Tibet towards the end of October. It is a pleasant three hour walk by the side of Kholong Chhu river and on your way you can also visit the farm houses where people are busy making wooden bowls, cups and plates. The Black Necked Cranes can be seen only in the Last week of October and November.

The Bomdeling Nature reserve is home to the exotic Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail butterfly (Bhutanitis Ludlowi) found only in this part of the world. The Swallowtail was first discovered by Frank Ludlow and George Sheriff during their British Expedition of the Himalayas in 1939 in Bomdeling, Trashiyangtse. 75 years later a Bhutanese forester Karma Wangdi rediscovered the butterfly in the same area inside the Nature Reserve. Until its rediscovery, Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail was believed to be extinct. The Reserve has now quite a few numbers of these beautiful butterflies flying around with its three unique tails and feeding on even more exotic but poisonous wild flowers.

29. Samdrup JongkharSamdrup Jongkhar is in the south eastern part of the country and is the main gateway to and exit from Bhutan. Popularly known as SJ, the town borders the Assam state of India and is one of the most important trading commercial hub of the east. The Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong is newly built and may not be built on a ridge or a cliff, but is nevertheless another fine example of Bhutanese Art and Architecture.

The nearest Airport is located in Guwahati in India which is a 3 hours drive from SJ.

Contact at:

Bhutan Retreat

P.O. Box 1534, Thimphu, Bhutan

Genaral Manager : Mr. Yeshi Gyeltshen

E-mail : yeshigyeltshen82@gmail.com

Tel&Fax : +975-2-327841

Mobile : +975-77373777