Altitude : 1,300 m / 4,430 feet Located at same elevation as Punakha, it's about 30 minutes of drive from Punakha. It is the last town of western Bhutan before you enter into the central part of Bhutan. Known for fine bamboo work and its slate carvings.
Wangdue Dzong: Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1638 had built this massive fortress sitting on a hilltop at the confluence of Punakha Chu and Tang Chu Rivers. Wangdue Festival is celebrated here in the fall. However in 2012, a tragedy struck and burnt the Dzong, now its in ruins but works are underway to restore it to its ancient glory.
Rinchengang Village: A small clustered village facing the Wangdue Dzong is known for its skill in traditional method of stone masonry. It is about 20 minutes hike uphill with great view of the Dzong, valley and the river.
Phobjikha Valley (altitude 9600 feet): It takes about two hours of drive from Wangdue Phodrang, a glacial valley located on the western slopes of the Black Mountain at an altitude of 9840 feet above the sea level. There is no telephone or electricity and is the winter home to the rare black-necked crane that migrate from high plateaus of Tibet in late fall to escape harsh winters. There are also muntjak (barking deer), wild boar, sambar, Himalayan black bear, leopard and red fox. The valley is a designated conservation area and borders Black Mountain National Park.
Gangtey Goenpa A place to see is Gangtey Goenpa, the largest Nyingma monastery in Bhutan. Gyalse Pema Thinlay built a small temple in 1613, which was later built into larger Goenpa by the 2nd reincarnation Tenzin Legpai Dhendup.
You can take a day hike around the valley visiting villages and observing the cranes during November - March. It is very scenic and mind soothing hike that would provide you with rewarding surprises.
The Roosting Ground for cranes is about 20 minutes walk from the bridge crossing the swamp on rough wooden slabs. The best time is at dawn and dusk when all the birds in the valley congregate for the night (only possible during November - March).Visit to the Crane Observation and Education Centre, activities within the Centre are; early morning crane observation and counting/ crane study using nature trails. The centre was established by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), the first NGO in the country
Altitude: 1,600 m / 6000 feet
The drive from Bumthang to Mongar will surely enchant you as it offers one of the most spectacular views of the country. Evergreen junipers and colourful Rhododendrons cover the hillsides, as fresh new scenery unfolds with every twist and turn of the winding road. Sound of the rushing streams and cascading waterfalls greets you as you look down at the valley looming in the distance below the precipitous rock face.
MONGAR is the place to get to another exotic place called Lhuentse in east Bhutan.
HIKE IN MONGAR
Drive to Shershong via Yadhi from Mongar and start hiking for three hours to reach Aja, which is one of the most sacred places of Guru Rimpoche in Bhutan.
Altitude: 2,300 m/7,600 feet
It takes about 4 hours from Phobjikha to reach Trongsa by car. Located at an altitude of 7600 feet above sea level, Trongsa forms the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where the nation was unified. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and for miles on end, the Dzong seems to tease you, wondering if you will ever reach there.
Trongsa Dzong, built in 1648, is the ancestral home of the Royal family. Both the first and second King ruled the country from the ancient seat. All four Kings held the post of Trongsa Penlop (Honorary Governor) prior to being crowned as the King. The Dzong is massive structure with many levels, which slope down the contours of a hill on which it perches. Because of its highly strategic position as the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control the whole eastern region effectively. It is in this Dzong the annual Trongsa Festival is performed during December or January.
Ta Dzong, this watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands impressively and provides visitors an insight into historical significance of Trongsa in Bhutan's history. It is now one of the best museums in the country.
Kungarabten, about 15 miles from Trongsa was the winter palace of second King Jigme Wangchuk. It is a splendid building with superb woodwork and decorations. The 1st floor was used as storage for food, 2nd floor as the residence of royal attendance and the army, 3rd floor as the royal residence and king's chapel. Part of this floor is presently used as Library. The top floor is an alter room with statues of Sakyamuni, the Shabdrung and Guru Rimpoche. Right above the palace is the nunnery; it is about 40 minutes walk uphill.
DAY HIKE IN TRONGSA
It is about 23 kilometers, one hour pleasant drive from Trongsa. Kinga Rabten was the winter palace of the second King and it offers a good insight into the early days of the Bhutan’s monarchy. The first floor of the palace was used to store a food, the second was the residence of the riyal attendants and the army, and the third housed the royal quarters and the king’s private chapel. Part of the third storey has been converted it into a library and many books from the National Library are stored here. On the top floor is the Sangye Lhakhang with contains the statues of Sakyamuni, Shabdrung and Guru Rimpoche
Altitude: 1,100 m/ 3,775 feet
In the far east of Bhutan, on high above the bank of Gamri River, lies the second largest district in Bhutan. It has once served as the center of a busy trade with Tibet prior to Chinese occupation, now serves as the junction for east - west highway. It is also the market place for all the 6 districts of eastern Bhutan. Trashigang is also the market place for people from Merak & Sakten who stroll the town with their unique little yak hair hats and different costumes than the mass Bhutanese.
Place you can visit is Trashigang Dzong, a 17th century fortress standing at the extreme end of the spur, overhanging the Gamri River. If you are interested in rural life and textiles, there are several villages where you can make day excursions.
Altitude : 1,700 m/6,000 feet
Driving from Mongar to Trashigang you take the left road to Tashiyangtse before crossing Chazam (Bailey bridge) to Trashigang. The road traverses north and takes about 2 hours to reach at Tashiyangtse. Tashiyangtse Dzong is half-hour walk from the main road. Established in 1656, the Dzong was completely renovated in 1976.Tashiyangtse is a small village with a garden aspect and a lovely place from where to launch a couple of hour's stroll into surrounding countryside. This region is known for its specialty in making of various kinds of wooden utensils.
Chorten Kora, a large stupa designed similar to Nepal's Boudhanath stupa, was constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Lodey. During the second month of lunar calendar (March or April) the people in Tashiyangtse celebrate a festival known as Chorten Kora.
Bomdelling, winter home to the black-necked crane, it is about one hour scenic hike from Tashiyangtse. The broad valley of Bomdelling is another bird sanctuary preserved as habitat for migrant birds specially the endangered black-necked crane.
Gom Kora, 15 miles from Trashigang before arriving Tashiyangtse is a popular pilgrim site where Guru Rimpoche had meditated and subdued the demon that dwelt in the vicinity. This is also the venue for Gom Kora Festival held in early spring.
Altitude : 2,600 m / 8,530 feet, 500 m/ 13,125 feet)
It is about two and half hours drive from Trongsa to Bumthang. Located at an altitude of 8530 - 13125 feet above sea level, Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys- Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on the animal husbandry. Bumthang is considered the holiest valley in Bhutan. Many Bhutanese from all over the country visit here on pilgrim to pay their respect and to be blessed by the many holy sites where various religious masters have meditated.
Jambay Lhakhang, Tibetan king Songtsen Gempo miraculously built 108 temples in 7th century in order to consecrate the Himalayan region. Jambay Lhakhang is one of those temples. This is the venue for Jambay Lhakhang Festival during October or November.
Kurjey Lhakhang, it takes about 30 minutes of hike north to reach Kurjey Lhakhang. It was during 8th century a king from Bumthang, known as Sendhu Raja had invited Guru Rimpoche (Precious Master), who brought Buddhism into Bhutan, to cure him from a dreadful disease. Guru meditated at Kurjey for three months, left his body print on the rock and subdued the local deities including powerful Shelging Karpo, who had stolen the king's life force and was the cause of King's disease. Kurjey is complex of three temples, on the right beneath a giant cypress tree, the main temple built in 1652 by Minjur Tempa, Trongsa Penlop. This temple houses the cave where Guru Rimpoche had meditated and left his body imprint. The middle temple was built by the First King of Bhutan during his tenure as Trongsa Penlop in 1900. The third temple is recently constructed under patronage of Her Majesty queen mother Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuk.
Thangbi Temple, founded by Shamar Rimpoche in 1470, is located in the midst of buckwheat field. After a dispute the temple was taken over by Pema Lingpa from Shamar Rimpoche. It is 17 Kilometers drive north of Kurjey Temple on an unpaved road to Toktu Zampa. You start your walk from here by crossing a small suspension bride and walk 20 minutes past fields of buckwheat to the Thangbi Temple. This is the venue of Thangbi Festival.
Bhutan’s religious treasure discoverer, Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501, founded Tamshing Monastery, located opposite Kurjey Lhakhang. Believed to be the reincarnation of Guru Rimpoche, he discovered many religious treasures around the country. The mural paintings inside the temple are known to be unrecorded ancient painting. The best way to enjoy the serene and the beauty of valley is to hike fro about one hour from Kurjey over Chamkhar River to arrive at Tamshing.
Konchogsum Temple, ten minutes walk south will bring you to Konchogsum temple. The temple was restored in 1995 and looks new, but it actually dates back to 2nd century.
Mebertsho (Burning Lake), it is about 20 minutes drive from the hotel where you stay and then about 10 minutes of walk. Pema Lingpa in the early 16th century discovered many religious items from a pond here.
Jakar Dzong: The great grand father of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal founded this monastery in 1549. After Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646 he rebuilt the Dzong. At present the Jakar Dzong is used as an administrative centre for Bumthang valley.
Ura Village, it is about 50 kilometers from Choekhor valley and takes about one and half hour. Located in a broad valley, Ura village is a clustered of traditional houses fenced by cobblestone streets that give the village a mediaeval atmosphere. The women in Ura village cover their head with white cloth piece to protect from the harsh cold wind and carries sheepskin (behind their back) used as cushion and as well as to protect their cloth from the loads they carry. This is the venue for Ura Yakchoe Festival.
DAY HIKE IN BUMTHANG
From Chamkhar hike for about three and half hours to reach Petseling Goenpa. Hike little above the Goenpa to reach at Bathela mountaintop, from where you can have the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
Kunzang Drak: It is two hours walk above Chel Tang Valley. It is one of the most important sites related to Pemalingpa the great treasure discoverer in Bhutan, who
also constructed the Goenpa in 1488. Most of his sacred relics are kept here including the gilded stone bearing his footprint.
Wangthang Goenpa: Drive to Ura, which is 48 kilometers from Chamkhar town. Explore the Ura village en route to Wangthang Goenpa. The villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan. Since last 25 years Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley. From Ura hike to Wangthankha Goenpa which is situated above 3420 m.
Ngang Lhakhang: Three hours walk from Thangbi Goenpa is a small region of Ngang Yul “Swan Land” and this temple is 100m above the valley floor. Guru Rimpoche visited the site and Lama Namkha Samdrup, contemporary of Pemalingpa, built present temple in 15th century. Three-day festival is held here each winter with mask dances in honour of the founder of the temple.