Bumthang valley is described form ‘Bumpa’ that means the holy vessel for water, which is commonly found on the altar and ‘Thang’ means plain. Bumthang is home to some of the kingdoms ancient and historical Buddhist temples and monasteries sites. The district is divided into four blocks of Chhokhor, Chumey, Tang and Ura. All of which are broad and gentle valley. Agricultural activities predominate in the Chumey and Chhokhor valleys while Tang and Ura sheep and yak breeding is more popular. The district center is Jakar located in Chhokhor valley, dominated by a sparkling Jakar Dzong or “Castle of the White Bird”. Sacred in character, the Bumthang region has the highest concentration of temples and monasteries. The Bumthang region has embraced Buddhism in the eight century when Guru Rinpoche visited the region and its religious significance was enhanced when venerated Nyingmapa saints – Longchen Rabjampa, Dorji Lingpa and the Bumthang-born Pema Lingpa made their home. In the seventeenth century, the Drukpas gain power here. The wide and scenic valleys of Bumthang provides an ideal place for hikes and light treks and attract a large number of tourists each year.
The main commercial hub of Bumthang is Chamkhar. Beside its favorable location along the Lateral Route from west to eastern Bhutan – the highway to the east cuts through the main town of Chamkhar – making it the central hub and benefiting from the growth of tourism. Many of the best tourist lodges in the region are to be found in the valley surrounding Chamkhar. In general, the cuisine of Bumthang includes buckwheat pancakes called Khooli and buckwheat noodles known as Puta. Another well-loved specialty of the region is the chugo or hard cheese cubes made from Yak milk. Rice cultivation in the region is recently introduced and the former staple of Buckwheat remains a strong in the local diet. The region is also known for their skills in weaving, especially of Yathra, which are hand spun of yak hair and sheep wool and woven on trestle looms in a vibrant palette of colors and patterns. Another popular fabric from the region is the woolen Bumthap Mathra, check and plaid weavings popularly worn as gho (man dress) and kira (women dress) all across Bhutan.
Apart from its scenic valley, Bumthang offers many grand religious events celebrated on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava and other religious leader. However, the exact month of the festival varies from place to place and temple to temple. Among many, the Jakar Tshechu and Jambay Lhakhang Drub are considered the grand in the region in terms of participation and audience. Beside the locals many tourist from across the globe are attracted to these unique, colorful and exciting displays of traditional culture.
Places of Interest
Jakar Dzong: The Jakar Dzong or Castle of the White Bird initially built as a monastery and later converted to a dzong in 1677. It was later renamed as Yuelay Namgyel Dzong. Scenically located on the crest of a hill spur, it overlooks the Chhokhor valley. This dzong of white bird was so named by the great grandfather of Zhabdrung – Ngagay Wangchuk. Historically it is believed that while Ngagay Wangchuk was building a monastery, one day, a great white bird flew directly over the site and landed on the spur. Interpreting this as an auspicious omen the site of the monastery was immediately shifted and it was later converted into a dzong. Today the dzong functions as the administrative and the religious seat of the district. The temple inside Jakar Dzong is considered one among the oldest temple in the country and contains some of the finest paintings.
Jambay Lhakhang: Jambay Lhakhang was supposedly constructed on the same day as Kyechu Lhakhang in Paro. It is one of the oldest temple in Bhutan built in 659AD, built by the Tibetan ruler king Songtsen Gampo as part of his successful effort to subdue the ogress preventing the spread of Buddhism. It is one of the 108 temple strategically built on the left knee of the giant ogress whose body lay across the Himalayas. The temple is dedicated to Maitreya or Jowo Jampa, the Buddha of the future. The statue is surrounded by four biddhisattavas. The statue is guarded by iron chain mail handcrafted by Pema Lingpa himself and the walls of the circumambulation path are painted with the Thousand Buddha’s. From here Guru Padmasambhava is believed to have preached to Sindhu Gyab and his countries the teaching of Kagye Cycle of Buddhist philosophy.
Kurjey Lhakhang: Kurjey Lhakhang is one of the important place of pilgrimage for devout Bhutanese as it was built around a rock on which Guru Padmasambhava left an imprint of his body while meditating there in the 8th century. The name Kurjey means sacred body imprint. The rock around which the temple grew came to be known as Dragmar Dorje Tshepa (the Red Cliff of the Diamond of Long Life). A wall with 108 chortens was built around the complex by Her Majesty Kesang Choden Wangchuk in 1984.
Tamshing Lhakhang: Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa who was personally involved in its construction built the Tamshing Lhakhang in 1501. It is believed that he was assisted in his task by khandrums who are female celestial beings. The temple consists of thirty-six paintings on the inner walls at the ground level – these are attributed to Pema Lingpa himself and are the oldest extant paintings in the country. The inner sanctuary is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations. On the upper floor, the walls are elaborated illustrated with 1004 paintings of Buddha (Thousand Buddha’s) and those of the twenty-one Taras and striking yellow-on-red depictions of the Three Bodies of Buddha – Amitava, Avalokiteswara and Padmasambhava.
Kencho Sum Lhakhang: The Kenchosum Lhakhang believed to date back to seventh century and subsequently restored by Pema Lingpa in the fifteenth century. The three sacred Buddha statues, which grace the lhakhang’s main shrine, are said to have miraculously flown there from Khini in Kurtoe.
Wangduechholing Palace: The Trongsa Penlop (govener) Jigme Namgyel built the Wangduechholing Palace in 1857. It later became the primary palaces of the first and the second kings of Bhutan.
Ugyencholing Palace: The Ugyenchholing Palace was restored in the nineteenth century. It was originally built in sixteenth century. It is privately owned and has been turned into a museum depicting the life of Bhutanese nobility and also serves as a retreat for those engaged in religious studies.
Chhukha is one of the most significant regions in the past as well as its contemporary importance to the economy of Bhutan. The region boasts not only the power projects but also other major industries are located in the districts. It is also the important gateway to Bhutan and many British political officers enter Bhutan from Chhukha. The district was long used by many of western Bhutanese as a gateway for their trade and commercial lifeline and the first highway connecting Thimphu with India was built via Chhukha in 1961, which further stimulating economic activities of the country. Today the region boasts the Chhukha and Tala Hydropower Projects, which regularly gross the highest revenue earning in Bhutan. The power is generated by tapping the fast flowing rivers generating over 336 Megawatts of power for the Chhukha projects, and 1,200 Megawatts by Tala projects.
Geographically the region encompassing some of the most dense sub-tropical forest in the country boasting many of the important plants and wildlife species. Because of the diversity of region, Chhukha is also home to two major ethnic group including Ngalops and Lhotshampas (originally came from Nepal). Among the Lhotshampas there are several dialectical sub groups including Rai, Tamang, Sherpa, Limbu etc. Majority of the people in the region are agriculturist and grows rice and maize as their daily staple food. Cash crops like mandarin orange, cardamom and ginger are also highly grown in the region and mostly export to India and Bangladesh. Because of the diverse culture, the region is famous for its non-Bhutanese festivals and dances as part of regional celebration, celebrated during the auspicious months including Diwali and Dasara, along with the traditional holidays such as Losar (New Year) and Thrue (Blessed Rainy Day).
Phuntsholing: The bustling industrial border town of Phuntsholing is the southern gateway to Bhutan by road and it is the thriving commercial center on the northern edge (West Bengal) of Indian planes. Situated directly at the Himalayan foothills, Phuntsholing is the fascinating mixture of Bhutanese and Indian doing business together at the busy border. Phuntsholing also serves as the convenient entry and exit point for Bhutanese and foreigners.
Places of Interest
Kharpandi Goemba: This beautiful goemba was founded recently as 1967 by the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron. The monastery contains a paintings of the life of Buddha and statues of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and Guru Padmasambhava. One can also have a scenic view of the planes and Phuntsholing town from the goemba.
Zangtopelri Lhakhang: This small town temple in the heart of Phuntsholing represents heaven of Guru Paddmasambhava.
Crocodile Zoo: It was established in 1976 with two different species Mugger crocodile and Gharial crocodile. It is situated at the back of Norgay cinema Hall. In total there are 21 crocodiles. Entry inside the zoo is restricted, however, everybody is welcome to peep in from the fence for free.
Gasa lies in the extreme north west of Bhutan and the district shares its borders with the other western Bhutan districts of Punakha, Thimphu and Wangduephodrang. Gasa is one of the small districts in the country with few habitants and the district is mostly known for the highlanders communities.
The beautiful and striking region of Gasa has a total area of 4,409.30 sq. km and the elevation of the district ranges from 1,450m to more than 4,500m above sea level. The region also experiences extremely long and hard winters and short but beautiful summers. Gasa received a scanty of 2000mm of rains annually! During the monsoon the valley are enveloped in magical swirling mists and the whole regions is unimaginably lush green but you rarely catch a glimpses of the snow-clad peaks. The region’s high altitude and extreme climatic conditions makes it difficult for the people to practice agriculture, however, raising livestock particularly yaks are the main source of income for the family and the daily need.
The regions landscape is more than 35% composed of scrubs forests while fir trees comprises another 27% of the total areas. Nearly another 15% of the land is covered under mixed conifers and with another 4% constitute the broad-leaved forest. The traditional pasturelands make up another 19% of land in use. Gasa is also proud with another two major river source of Bhutan, the Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chhu (Female River) that drains through deep valley and eventually drains down into the Bay of Bengal. The natural splendor of Gasa is unparalleled in the country and the region boast some of the highest peaks in the country, arrayed like the teeth of a saw in a protective natural border with the Tibetan autonomous regions. The region is also home to several glaciers fed virgin lakes on the foot of those giant snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas. The region is also famed for the series of important natural resource like hot springs, locally known as Tshachhus renowned for its medicinal properties, drawing numerous local as well as tourists. The rich natural environment of the regions is also home to incredible diversity of medicinal plants and wildlife, including the national animal, Takin, Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Mountain Goats, Marmots and Blue Sheep etc.
The semi-nomadic people of the regions especially the women are completely different from other women in the country particularly in term of the dress code. Their great love of coral and turquoise jewelry, colorful clothing, and their conical bamboo hats immediately set them apart in any crowd. Weaving is also another part of household enterprise, and the women use loom known as Zum to weave spun yak hair and wool into clothing that protect them from rain and moisture and keep them warm during the winter months. During the winter months, the semi-nomadic people of Laya and Lunana migrate to the warmer valley at lower elevation to barter their products of yak dairy and meat.
Gasa also boast many well-known religious monuments including Dzongridra Lhakhang, Drophel Choeling, Throe Lhakhang etc. The Gasa Dzong built in 1648 is the main headquarter of the region popularly known as Trashi Thongmoen Dzong. It was named after the regions protective deity, Trashi Thongmoen. Today the dzong serves as the administration centre for the local people of Gasa and serves as the monastic centre for Gasa.
The annually held Gasa Tshechu is one of the most important and biggest festivals held in Gasa Dzong in Gasa. During this annual festival people of Gasa along with the semi-nomadic people of Laya and Lunana come together to witness and participate in the celebration of this grand event. The festival displays numerous mask dances, highlanders’ cultural dance and local cultural folk dance.
Other great deal of fun and festivity celebrated by the people are Auwlay during the fall and the Bongko in the spring. During the annual festival celebration Goen Zey popular folk song celebrate the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to Bhutan, and the Ya Lebey Lhadai Gawo, a tribute to the strength, beauty and loyalty to yak are some of the renowned folk song of the region.
The Haa valley is blessed by the presence of Meri Puensum, the three small mountains symbolizing Rigsum Gonpo: Jampelyang (manjushri), Chana Dorji (Vajrapani), and Chenrezi (Avaloketeshvara). This beautiful cool valley of Haa is one of the smallest districts in the country and is marked as one of the highest district headquarters in Bhutan. Haa valley adjoins the districts of Paro, Chukha and Samtse, covering an area of 1706.8 sq. km. with sixty-three villages under six blocks. The rich fertile valley of Haa is the ancestral home of the great royal grandmother, Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuk. In the fertile valley of Haa the people grows high altitude crops such as wheat, potatoes and millet. As a high altitude region yak, raising is another significant contribution to the traditional economy and still has a great impact for the growth of economy in day-to-day lives of the people today. Yaks meats and variety of yak cheese were the main specialty of the region. One of the unique features of Haa people is that they celebrate their New Year much earlier than other regions of Bhutan. The region celebrates the New Year somewhere as early as November and is known as “Lomba” which translates as “to carry the year”. The regions people celebrate their New Year with a dish called “Habi Hoento” a dumpling made of buckwheat, filled with pungent grated turnip, dried turnip greens, mushrooms, garlic, onion, and chopped cabbage. During the celebration the entire family come together to enjoy. Religious ceremonies and rituals were also highlighted during the New Year where people seek guidance, receive blessing and pray for the fruitful upcoming year.
Places of Interest
There are many religious and historical sites in the region and among many the listed below are some of the most important places and sites for visitors.
Lhakhang Karpo(White Temple): Located in the tiny village of Dumchoe. The sparkling white temple can be seen clearly from a distance of the foothill of the three towering mountains venerated in the region as the Meri Puensum. It was built in 7th century and legend says that the ray of the light once emanated from the body of Songtsen Goempo, the dharma king of Tibet. The temple was built on the site where the white rays of the light had fallen.
Lhakhang Nagpo(Black Temple): Located just a few minute walk above Lakhang Karpo is said to built on the same date as Lhakhang Karpo in the 7th century and was built where the black rays of the light had fallen. There is another account regarding the construction of Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo where it says, a white and the black pigeon, which were the emanations of dharma king Songtsen Goempo, flew to the respective sites on where the two temples was built.
Dobji Dzong: Lama Ngawang Chogyel the brother of Lama Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the “Divine Madman” built the dzong atop a hillside in the year 1531. It is located 11 kilometers from the main confluence of Chhudzom towards Haa. This five-storied dzong was used mainly as one of the main centers of Drukpa Kagyu teachings.
Tagchu Goempa: This one hundred year old monastery was locaed in the Isu village and was founded by Lama Dali Sangay Jamtsho. It is said that it was built in line with the Nub Dali Dzong in Tibet where Lama Sangay Jamtsho served tenure as the abbot of the Tibetan monastery.
Wedged like an upside down tooth in the northeastern corner of Bhutan, Lhuntse is the ancestral home of our kings and hosts several of the sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. Geographically, the region is also one of the most isolated districts in the country offering a quiet sojourn with nature setting by the swirling waters letting their sound and wind-tossed spray sooth you. The route through the Lhuentse valley was a natural and important trade link between India and Tibet in the past.
The headquarter of the district is in Lhuentse with a small town dominated by the Lhuentse Dzong perched a 5000ft/1524m, with a commanding majestic view of the the Kuri Chhu valley. The dzong was built in 1552 by Nagig Wangchuk, the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. It was later enlarged in 1656 and renamed Lhundrup Rinchen Tse Dzong. The dzong functions as the centre for both administration and religious purpose.
The people of the region are mostly paddy farmers and the terrace hillsides grows mainly maize though some millet is grown too and used to brew the local alcohol ‘ara’. The conifers yield turpentine and lemon grass is grown for its oil. Other popular agricultural products grown in the regions are barley, wheat and buckwheat to supplement rice cultivation. The region is also renowned for its textile weavers who follow a brocading technique, using bright colored silk to make some of the best dresses in the country. The women of the regions during the winter are solely dedicated to weaving of textiles that are finding outlets in many of handicrafts stores throughout the kingdom, especially Thimphu, so to supplement their household income. The people of the region is also skilled pottery workers.
Places of Interest
Lhuentse is also the ancestral home of the royal family – Jigme Namgyel, father of the first king, was born in Dungkar village, which is a full day’s hike from Lhuentse town. Other important structures in the regions are:
Dungkar Nagtshang: It was built by the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel – the father of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan.
Singye Dzong: The famed Singye Dzong is one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan. The temple complex of Singye Dzong lies at an elevation of over 3,000 meters above sea level and according to the legend Guru Padmasambhava meditated here during the 8th century.
Choeje Nagtshang: It was founded by Kuenga Wangpo, the youngest son of the great ‘Treasure Revealer” Terton Pema Lingpa.
Khanyel Lhakhang: It dated back to 8th century and later renovated by Terton Pema Lingpa in the 15th century.
Kilung Lhakhang: Stands on the formal site of the fortress of Kilung Gyelpo, a regional chieftain who lived here in the ancient time. It lies on a ridge overlooking the Kurichu valley and the temple houses a sacred chain mail that was once used, according to the legend, to recapture a statue that miraculously flew away from Lhuentse Dzong.
Jangchubling Monastery: It is one among the significant religious monument in the region. It was founded in 18th century by Choeje Pekar Jamtsho. The monastery in the recent history was also under the patronage of the great sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorji. Ashi Wangom, the daughter of the first king of Bhutan also lived here in her old age as a devoted nun in the monastery.
Almost every village in Lhuentse boasts of festivals that are unique and distinct from those in other communities in Bhutan. Two notable festivals are the Cha and the Ha festivals. They are celebrated to honor the deities and avert misfortunes. However, the most important festival is the annual three-day Lhuentse Tshechu or festival. The Tshechu is normally celebrated in the month of November and draws large numbers of people together for the religious celebrations. During the Tshechus attendees can cleanse their sins by watching masked dances and can also receive blessings from sacred relics that are publicly displayed. One of the most interesting and visually appealing aspects of these Tshechus is the colourful attire of Kushithara that Lhuentse is famous for. You will come across various intricate and beautiful patterns of Kira and rich ornaments on display.
Mongar district previously known as Zhongar and is one of the six districts that make up eastern Bhutan. Mongar marks the beginning of the eastern Bhutan and borders Bumthang, Lhuntse, Pemagatsel and Trashigang districts, covering an area of 1,954 sq. kilometers. The journey from Bumthang to Mongar is one of the most beautiful in the Himalaya, crossing the 3,800m high Trumshingla pass. Mongar is the district headquarters and true o the trend in eastern Bhutan this town is situated on the mountainside instead of the valley. Parts of this district used to belong to the ancient region of Khyeng where people engaged in agriculture and many observed shamanistic Bon practices. Though large sections of Mongar people are traditional Buddhist, Bon practices features permanently in the religious life of the region. Four ethnic group inhabits the valley of Mongar: Tshanglas who forms the bulk of the populations, Kurtoeps who have moved to the district through marriage and migration, the Chhalips who inhabits a small parts of Mongar, and finally the Gongdueps. The dialects spoken by the people of Chali and Gongdue are very unlike those spoken anywhere else, and their local dialects are under threat of vanishing as their people learn and assimilate the national language Dzongkha as well as other language widely spoken like Tshang La Kha and Lhotsham Kha.
The people of Mongar are more engaged in agriculture farming. Bush farming is also practiced widely in the region. Potatoes and corns are grown abundantly in the region and are principal cash crops. The staple food of the region is Karang commonly known as the ground maize. Woodworking is one of the daily activity and important skill in the region. Places like Khenkhar is well known for the production of wooden items such as liquor container, wooden bowl and cups, masks, Bhutanese wooden musical instruments and religious hand-carved religious instruments.
Mongar upholds several religious events and celebration and among many, the Drametse Tshechu (festival) is one of the most important festivals in the region as well as in the completely eastern Bhutan. It was here that the popular Drametse Ngachham (Dance of the Drums from Drametse) was born. UNESCO selected the mask dances as one of the 80 global masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. It is a highly revered dance and performed in tshechu all over the country. The dance is a dramatization of the dance performed in Zangtopelri, the Copper Colored Palace of Guru Rinpoche.
Place of Interest
Mongar Dzong: The Mongar Dzong was built in 1953. The dzong is the new one and it has most un-dzong-like exterior but is still a pleasant two-storey building located half way up the hillside.
Drametse Monastery: The Drametse Monastery was built in sixteenth century by Cheten Zangmo, the daughter of the ‘treasure revealer’ Terton Pema Lingpa. It is the place where the Drametse Nga Chham (Dance of the Drums from Drametse) was born.
Aja Ney: The Aja Ney is one of the most sacred sites in the country where pilgrimages from other parts of the country converge to receive blessings from the sacred rock bearing the 100 renditions of the sacred syllable ‘Aa’, is said to have been discovered by Guru Padmasambhava.
Yagang Lhakhang: The Yagang Temple was built in sixteenth century by Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa on his return from Trashigang, after having built the Kupijigtsam Lhakhang in Yangneer. Today the temple plays an important role in the religious life of the people of Mongar.
Jarung Khashor Chorten: The Jarung Khashor Chorten located in Lingmithang is one of the few chortens in the country built in the likeness of the original Jarung Khashor Chorten in Nepal.
The wide and beautiful Paro valley spread over a total area of 1285.5 sq. km, and has both an ancient and a modern look. It is visually stunning and historically fascinating. The bountiful field of paddy turns green to brown depending on the season, covers most of the valley floor, while hamlets and isolated farms dots the landscape. The enchanting Paro valley is believed to be one of the first valleys to have received the influence of Buddhism and is home to many of Bhutan’s ancient and historical temples – there are as many as one hundred and fifty five temple and monasteries in Paro district and it boasts the only international airport in the country. The truly enchanting countryside is dotted with elegant farmhouses and traditional homes that are considered the most beautiful in the country. The beautiful village of Paro now transforming itself into a small town, with booming construction of numerous homes, shops and resorts throughout.
Like many other districts in Bhutan, the people of Paro too celebrate their new year on the 29th of the tenth month of the Bhutanese lunar calendar. During the new year celebration all the families come together to celebrate the new year and conduct special ceremonies and prayers to wade off evils and bring in good fortunes for the upcoming year.
Apart from this New Year, the five-day Paro Tshechu (Festival) is one of the biggest religious celebrations in Paro. The festival has been held annually since the seventeenth century. The festival is observed in three – the pre-festival ritual of awakening the gods was celebrated on the first day and the ceremonial cleanness was undertaken on the second day and the final main festival was host outside the dzong on the festival ground and last for three days. During the festival, every mask dances performed during the tshechu has special meaning and story behind it and was performed to illustrate the Buddhist moral tales and the lives of the various Buddhist masters. Several cultural and folk dances were also performed during the entire three-day festival. During the grand event the entire community come together to witness the religious mask dances, receive blessing, cleanse their sins and socialize.
Today Paro has been reshaped by the impact of booming tourism. With the only airport in the country is located here, Paro has been seen today as the village now transformed into bustling town and undeniably Paro is going through a construction boom with numerous homes, shops and some of the most renowned international hotels and resorts were now well established in the region like Ziwaling, Uma, Amankore, and Le Meriden.
Places of Interest
Paro Dzong: The impressive Paro Dzong known or Rinchen Pung Dzong known as ‘fortress on the heap of jewels’, commonly known today as Rinpung Dzong. Historically in the fifteenth century a man called Gyelchok, who was the descendent of Phajo Drukgom Zhipo (founder of Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan), went to Tibet to study theology and on his return, it was said that he constructed a small retreat for himself by the river at Humrelkha, to honor the guardian deity Humrel Goempo. Later his descendent took over the site and controlled most of the valley. In 1645, the descendent of Gyelchok accepted the authority of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel both as religious and political leader and surrendered the site to Zhabdrung, and after becoming the property of Zhabdrung he later constructed the dzong which is visible today in the following year 1646. Today the dzong serves as the flourishing school of the monastic studies and government administrative headed by district administrative officer and the district judiciary.
Drukgyel Dzong: Standing on the scenic knoll at the northern end of the valley where the road ends around 16km further from the main Paro town lies the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, “Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa”, to be found. Historically this ruin reminds of the numerous Tibetan attempts to invade Bhutan. To mark the victory over the invading Tibetan in 1644, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built the dzong in the year 1647 at the strategic point where the road leads to into Paro valley from Tibet. Sadly, the dzong was completely damage by fire in 1951 and only the shell remained today.
Taktsang Goempa: More importantly, the beautiful Paro valley is home to many of wealth of monasteries and temples. The most fascinating among these holy sites is the Taktsang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery, clings preciously on a Cliffside at 3000ft/915m from the valley below and 9700ft/2950m from the sea level. According to legend Guru Rinpoche visited the site in the eight century, flying from the east of the country on the back of the pregnant tigress (a form that one of his consort is believed to have taken). He spent for three months in the cave donning his terrifying form of Dorjee Droloe subjugating the evil spirit residing in locality. Many permanent religious leaders visited the sites including the favorite disciple of Guru Rinpoche, Longchen Pelkyi Singye in AD 853 and centuries later notably Milarepa, Machig, Labdoenma, Thongtong Gyelpo, Phajo Drukgom Zhipo and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The first site of Taktsang was built by Nyingmapa Lama and later handed over to Zhabdrung in 1645. Zhabdrung intended to rebuilt the site but his untimely death resulted in his wish being fulfilled only in 1692 by the fourth Desi (Deb Raja), Gyelsey Tenzin Rabgyel, considered to be the “heart-son” of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, built the monastery on the site to fulfill the wishing of Zhabdrung and named the monastery Taktsang, as a reminder of its origin in the Guru Padmasambhava legends. Unfortunately, the mysterious devastating fire in 1998, the complex was completely burned down, rebuilt to the previous structure in the following year under the supervision of Dasho Zepon Wangchuk, and completed in 2005.
Kyichu Lhakhang: The historical Kyichu Lhakhang, which is located a few kilometers up the valley following the Pa Chhu was built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in AD 659. It is one of the hundred and eight temple built by the Tibetan King. As the legend goes when a gigantic ogress lay supine, sprawled over entire Tibet and Himalaya mountain, preventing the spread of Buddhism, the king order to built simultaneous construction of hundred and eight temples throughout Tibet and Himalaya to pin down the giant ogress for all time to come. Kyichu Lhakhang was built over the left foot and later the temple was visited and blessed by many spiritual personages as Guru Rinpoche, Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhipo and Je Sherab Gyeltshen. Later another temple “Guru Lhakhang” was added by the Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Choden in 1968, and dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava and his sacred teachings.
Ta Dzong: The valley of Paro also boasts the “Ta Dzong” or National Museum, which is the premier repository of Bhutanese history in the kingdom. It was originally built as Watch Tower, and later converted into National Museum of the Kingdom in 1968 and boasts antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armour, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts.
Tachogang Goemba: Around six kilometers before reaching Chhundzom, the striking Tachoggang Goempa lies over a barren small hillside on the opposite side of the riverbank. This privately owned temple was founded by Lama Saint Thongtong Gyelpo, popularly known as the “Iron Chain Bridge Builder” in 1420 after he saw a vision of Avalokiteswara in the form of a horse and the temple name means the “Temple of the Excellent Horse.”
Jangsa Dumtse Lhakhang: Lays just out of the town, across the river and en-route the National Museum. Dumtse Lhakhang was built by Saing Thongtong Gyelpo in 1421 who came to Bhutan in search of iron ore to be used for construction of bridge in Tibet. It is possibly the only temple built in the shape of a Chorten and it is literally chained down since the local people believe that otherwise fly off to heaven. The three storied temple contains one of the impressive and finest painting collection in all of Bhutan.
Zuri Dzong: A thirty-minute uphill climb from the National museum takes you to Zuri Dzong which stands like a silent sentinel, surrounded by pine and cypress trees overlooking the valley below. The cypress surrounding the dzong was believed to be more than 400 years old. The massive six storied dzong was blessed by Guru Rinpoche and was built in 1352 and was built to protect the valley.
The valley of Punakha is home to people known as “Punaps” and these groups of people have good-humor and hard-working people. They speak the main language Dzongkha. Inextricably linked to some of the most momentous events on Bhutanese history, Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It was the place where Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel first established the Chhoesid Nyiden the dual system of government and in 1651, Punakha was chosen to be the capital from where the newly unified kingdom would be administered. It is the place from where the Bhutanese people elected the first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk as the king of Bhutan in 1907. The first session of the National Assembly was also held in Punakha in the year 1953. Today Punakha continually served as the winter residence of the national clergy and His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. The region deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and significant regions at the heart of Bhutanese culture.
Punakha region is surrounded by immense wealth of flora and fauna and the region’s part is included in the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Park and has warm and humid summer with cool winter. The region receives abundant rainfall of about 500 – 1500mm, allowing variety of farming cultivation. The region usually harvests two-time paddy cultivation and is a major district in the country of rice production. Other crops such as wheat, chilies, persimmon, bananas, orange, mangoes and many other vegetables are also yield in the region.
The more interesting part of Punakha during the winter months of the year is the highlanders of Gasa district popularly known as the Layaps and Lunaps migrates to Punakha. These nomadic people come to exchange their goods with rice and spent in the dry cultivation field for 2-3 months.
Punakha boast two main festival held annually and falls between the months of February and March. The unique three days Punakha Drubcen is a unique festival hosting a dramatic recreational scene for the 17th century battle with Tibet. The “pazaps” or local military dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. In 2005, another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced in response to the request made by Punakha District Administration and local people to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. These two festivals not only play an important role in preserving country’s rich cultural and traditional values and heritage but also provide an opportunity for people to receive blessings and offer pray.
Places of Interest
Punakha is home to several historical and ancient temples and monasteries and some of the most significant spiritual treasures were located in Punakha.
Punakha Dzong: The punakha Dzong cuts a striking picture with its imposing walls rising up from the tumbling clear waters of the river and framed against startling blue skies – the row of delicately flowering jacaranda trees surround it provides a beautiful color ascent. The dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1637 and name it Pungthang Dechen Phodrang the “Palace of Great Happiness.” The Dzong is beautifully saddled the confluence of Pho Chhu (Male River) and Mo Chhu (Female River). It was the second of the mightiest dzong, built by Zhabdrung. The Punakha dzong surrounds with stories and myths. It serves as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. The establishment of the Wangchuk dynasty on 17 December 1907 took place here and the first National Assembly was also held in the dzong in 1953. Punakha Dzong continues to be the winter residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monastic body.
Chemi Lhakhang: A pleasant 30-40 minute walk from the road head of Sobsokha village, through cultivated fields and up gentle slope takes you to Chemi Lhakhang on a small barren hillock. This temple was built in 1499 and famous for its fertility endowments or rites due to the blessings of Lama Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the “Divine Mad Man”. Te temple sites on a hillock shaped, and defined by Lama Drukpa Kuenley as it is “like a women’s breast.” The word ‘Chemi’ literally translates as ‘No Dogs’ and is traced to the story of how Lama Drukpa Kuenley subdued the demons of Dochula. Apprantely, Lama Drukpa Kuenley had followed the demon of Dochula down to the valley of Punakha and Wangdue. It is believe that the demon had disguised herself in the form of a dog. He subdued the dog and buried it under a mound of earth, marking a place with a black stupa and making a prophecy that a temple would be built on the spot in future. The temple houses Lama Drukpa Kuenley’s iron bow and arrow, a small alter chorten made by the lama himself and some of his personal effects and scriptures. A wooden effigy of Lama Drukpa Kuenley’s male organ is used to bless pilgrimages, popularly childless couples or those who have suffered miscarriages or early deaths of their children.
Talo Sanga Choling: The Talo Sanga Choling was founded by Chotruel Jigme Singye, the 4th reincarnation of Lama Thripa Galsey Tenzin Rabgyel in eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century Lama Jigme Drakpa, the third mind reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, renovated and rebuilt a monastery. He also installed in the temple the statues he brought from Samye in Tibet.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyel Chorten: This newly founded temple was consecrated in 1999 after a mammoth of eight years of construction period. Built under the patronage of Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. This Chorten is a splendid example of the Bhutanese architecture.
Tshephu Ney: This Goemba was founded by Tshephu Trulku Gyeltshen Palzang, a keen follower of Saint Goe Tshangpa. Among the relics at the monastery is a gold-plated replica of the Zhabdrung.
Chorten Ningpo: It is said that in 15th century, Lama Drukpa Kuenley when he rested at a village called Jiligang he tossed the partially burned wood he had carried with him during his journey. When it fell to the ground, it sprouted into a vigorous and leafy tree. The lama saw this as an auspicious sign and later decided to built a temple near the tree. Later in the eighteenth century, Lama Chogtrul Jigme Singye, the fourth reincarnation of Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgyel built the temple that you see today.
Sandrup Jongkhar is situated in the southeastern corner of Bhutan and is the important gateway to Bhutan as well as to Asam, India. The southeastern town of Samdrup Jongkhar is a small border town, and is about 7 hours drive from Trashigang. Geographically with warm weather, the region is ideal place for bird watching. It lies between elevations of 200m – 4,500m above sea level with a portion of its landfalls under sub-tropical belt. The region produces hardwoods with a surfeit of teak, tall bamboos, sal and sisoo used to create furniture. Samdrup Jongkhar is the only land entry and exit points in the eastern region to Bhutan.
The Samdrup Jongkhar dzong was built very recently and is the main administration center of the region along with the Draktsang that houses the monk body and a Zangtopelri where people congregate during auspicious occasions. Historically the district was administered by the Gyadrung stationed at Dewathang. It was also the important site where, in 1884, the last battle with British was fought. The Trongsa Penlop, Jigme Namgyel, the father of the first king of Bhutan led the Bhutanese troops put up a strong resistance against the British though he ultimately signed the treaty of Sinchula with British I 1865.
Samdrup Jongkhar consist of two major ethnic groups namely the Tshanglas and the Lhotshampas. The Tshanglas are the original settlement of the region. Both the group is identical with different culture, traditions and beliefs. The Tshanglas are strong believers of Buddhist doctrine and the Lhotshampas are predominantly Hindu followers. The majority of the people are dependent on agriculture growing maize and rice, which are the staple diet of the people. Cash crops like orange and chilies are widely grown in the region and are exported to India and Bangladesh.
The name ‘Thimphu’ originates from a sinking stone in front of Dechenphu Lhakhang. ‘Thim’ means to sink and ‘phu’ meaning to fly in local language. Oral history says that the stone is placed on top of a subdued ogress to prevent her from flying away. The bustling Thimphu is unlike most of the capital cities of the world. It has an area of 1809 sq. km. The affluent and vibrant district is home to the Bhutanese Royal Families, the Royal Government and to several mission, development, and projects. It also serves as the cultural hub for ten and thousands of foreigners and locals. The enchanting Thimphu city is undergoing one of the fastest expansions in the kingdom with traditional mud-rammed homes and agricultural life of the local coexists with its modern development. It has well preserved cultural heritages, serene environment and accessibility of modern amenities. The broad valley represents from the valleys to the hilltops and with beautiful buildings built and maintained with the traditional Bhutanese architecture.
The ethnic composition of Thimphu district is mainly the Ngalops means ‘the earliest risen’, who consider themselves as the earliest inhabitants of Bhutan. The other groups are the Soi Narops, Lingship, Dagala. They are the highlanders and mainly live their lives depending upon livestock farming. Today the capital city owns a widest variety of people from all over the country.
Places of Interest
The fascinating valley is home to some of the spiritual temples and monasteries like the Changangkha Lhakhang (temple), is considered the oldest temple in Thimphu located on the hilltop overlooking the valley below. It was founded by the illustrious Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhipo in 13th century, and was later enlarged and emblellished by his son Nyma. The temple serves as the spiritual home of children born in the Chang valley.
Phajoding Goemba: Phajoding Goemba (11,939ft/3640m) was first founded by Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhipo in 13th century. He built the Thujidrak Goemba on the cliff side above the main Phajoding complex. Later in the 18th century that the ninth chief abbot Je Sakya Rinchen (1744-55) and the thirteenth Druk Desi Chogyel Sherab Wangchuk (1744-63) added the large complex that you see today. This comprises ten lhakhangs and fifteen monastic residences. Here, Guru Padmasambhava is shown in his terrifying form holding a sward in his right hand and a bowl made of a skull in the left hand. The hike to Phajoding from Moththang is about 5km and takes around four hours uphill with its commanding valley view.
Samazingkha Lhakhang: The Samazingkha Lhakhang was built by Tibetan Lama Nayub to cleanse the sins of all sentient beings and generate peace in the world. Situated on top of a mountain at the south end of the valley, Tashigang Goemba, stands majestically overlooking the valley. It was while meditating here that the 12th Je Khenpo had a dream in which he was instructed to built the monastery at its present site. Today it serves as a Geden Labdra or monastic school for some 35 monks.
Chari Goemba: Chari Goemba was built in 1620 on a hilltop, built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and is the place where he established the first monastic body. The main relic inside the temple is the silver Chorten which holds the ashes of Zhabdrung’s father Yab Tenpei Nima. It is a 300m hike and takes around one hour to the goemba. It starts by crossing a lovely wooden bridge that spans the Thimphu Chhu, and then ascending steeply till the monastery.
Tango Goemba: Tango Goemba is another 300m long uphill walk on the other side of Cheri Goemba. The name ‘Tango” means head of the horse. It is believed that when Lama Phajo Drukgom Zhipo was meditating in the area, he heard a horse neigh three times and named the place as “Tango”The goemba sits at the edge of a richly forested hill at Thimphu’s northern end. Its great white walls appear stunning in contrast to the surrounding foliage dominating the entire hillside. Lama Gyelwa Lhanangpa founded the goemba in the 12th century. The goemba also has its connection in line with Lama Drukpa Kuenley opoularly known as ‘Divine Mad Man’ and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The three-storied building is dedicated to the body, speech, and mind of Buddha and was constructed by the fourth Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgyel in memory of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and the masters of Drukpa Linage.
Thimphu Tashichhoe Dzong: Tashichhoe Dzong locally known as the ‘fortress of the glorious religion,’ its history dates back to the thirteenth century and initially erected in 1702 by the 13th Druk Desi Sherab Wangchuk and later the dzong was redesigned and sections were rebuilt in 1955, when the capital was moved from Punakha to Thimphu under the commission of the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Tashichhoe Dzong, in its present incarnation, was consecrated as late as 1969. Today Tashichhoe Dzong serves as the main secretariat building and the central monk body. The dzong can be visited only after 5 pm on weekdays, when the government office is closed or can be visited during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday.
Semtokha Dzong: Semtokha Dzong originally called Sinmo Dokha (Demon of the Stone). It was built by in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel after he cleansed and purified the area controlled by the demon and named it San Ngay Zabdon Phodrang meaning the ‘Palace of Profound Tantric Teaching.’ This was the first of many dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. It was during the reign of the Third King where he decided to convert the dzong into the school of traditional studies in 1961. Today it serves as the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies.
National Memorial Chorten: Memorial Chorten serves as the gathering place for both young and old. The complex was visited by people of all walks throughout the day and is one of the most public religious places in the country. Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuk built this Chorten in 1974 in memory of her late son the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is regarded as the ‘Father of Modern Bhutan.’ The painting and the statues contain inside the Chorten is one of the finest monument and provides deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.
13 Arts & Crafts: National Institute of Zorig Chusum (Painting School). It was initiated by the government in 1971, to serve preserve the heritage and promote the traditional thirteen arts and crafts in Bhutan. The studies follow a comprehensive course of six years and students learns and understand the traditional meaning and value of enshrined Buddhist art like painting, calligraphy, embroidery, wood carving, sculpture, weaving, etc.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine: The institute offers a course for learning how to prepare the traditional medicine and offers rich herbal medicines, which abound in Bhutan.
National Library: The kingdoms National Library was open in 1967 to preserve and promote the rich cultural and religious heritage in the country. The national scriptures and documents are fundamental sources of Bhutanese history, religion and culture. Its main aim is to function is primary objective of collecting and preserving mainly ancient Bhutanese written and printed resources as well as the wooden blocks used for printing.
National Textile Museum: Textile Museum was built under the patronage of Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk. The museum serves six major themes: wrap pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, and role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textile from indigenous fibers and the royal collections.
Handicraft Emporium: Handicraft Emporium is located in the main town and has a wide variety of handcrafts, displaying assortment of beautiful hand-woven and handcrafted products.
Weekend Vegetable Market: Weekend Market: If you are here on the weekend every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday many farmers and small business vendors gather on the bank of Thimphu Chhu where the weekend market is held. It is an interesting place to visit and provides opportunity to mix with the local people.
Folk Heritage Museum: The Folk Heritage Museum locally known as Phelchey Toenkhyim with its interior styled to resemble a typical Bhutanese farmhouse dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through exhibits, demonstration, educational programs, and documentation of rural life. In order to preserve the typical Bhutanese rural setting and flavor, paddy, wheat and millet fields; traditional watermills (with mill stone dated back more than 150 years), traditional styled kitchen gardens with vegetables that were grown and consumed over hundred years, and the famous traditional hot stone bath complements the museum building and the exhibitions within.
Royal Academic of Performing Arts: The Royal Academic of Performing Arts has four sections namely the Mask Dance Section carries the role of to preserve and promote the traditional mask dances through teaching, learning, research and live performance. The Music Section and the Folk Dance Section serves to preserve and promote the traditional music folks dances and traditional songs through the same method of research, teaching, learning and live performances. The Drama Section. Each one has their distinct roles and responsibilities to play and help enhancing and promoting the national identity such as the dress, language and culture through stage performance.
Trasigaing is one of the central and biggest regions in the eastern Bhutan with several international development projects. The district lies on the banks of the river Gamri Chhu. Trashigang was once the center of busy trade with Tibet. It has a true atmosphere of its own, which helps to make it one of the most pleasant towns in Bhutan even if it is a little congested and prone to floods and landscapes. It has a temperate climate with an annual rainfall ranging from 1,000 mm to 2,000mm. For the administrative purpose the district is sub-divided into three Dungkhags (sub-districts) with office in Sakteng, Thrimshing and Wamrong. A Dungpa looks after each sub-district. Topographically the town of Trashigang was built on the spur and backing on to the side of a mountain and the main commercial center is immediately at the back of the spur where the dzong stands.
The Tshangla communities are considered the aboriginal people of the region. These groups of people are easy going in nature and love to brew and drink local alcohol. They are skilled people, especially the regions women are well known for their weaving skills, which are passed down through the generations. There are many recent re-settlers in the region like Kurtoeps of Lhuntse settled in Bartsham and Galing areas while the Khenpas from Zhemgang have settled in Tongling. There are other groups of people like Bramis and the Brokpas (highlander) of Merak and Sakteng. The ethnic diversity gives the region an interesting variety of dialects and some unique cultural practices. The people of Merak and Sakteng dress differently than other people and are one of the unique cultures in eastern Bhutan. These people make their living by raising yaks in harsh mountainous environment. Their garments are made of heavier material woven from a combination of animal hair and yak hide. The Brami and Brokpas are expert bamboo and cane weavers. The regions houses are usually built with combination of mud and rocks. The people of Barshong are considered skilled metalworkers, which they used to trade in the region and other parts of the country. A special sword called Barshongpa is popular in the region.
Agriculture is the main significant livelihood of the region especially among the Tshangla community. The main staple diet of the region consist of Kharang or ground maize mixed with rice, while potatoes are widely grown in the southern region of Trashigang and is the main source of cash income of the region. The people of Kangpara and Thrimshing are well known for cane and bamboo products and dried red chilies. The people of Merak and Sakteng depends their livelihood on raising yaks and sheep and their products are bartered with maize and rice. Their main diets of Merak and Sakteng people consist of maize flour that is cooked and consumed with cheese and chili curry.
Trashigang boast several ancient religious sites, which provides spiritual anchors for the people of the regions and serves as the centers for communal gathering when annual religious festival take place. There are several religious festivals celebrated in the region and among them the grandest is Trashigang Tshechu held in Trashigang Dzong. It is one of the biggest religious festivals in the eastern Bhutan. During the annual Trashigang Tshechu people from all over eastern Bhutan comes to witness the festival. The nomadic community of Merak and Sakteng stands out of the crowed with their unique culture and appearance. Different sacred mask dance are performed apart from several traditional cultural dances.
Places of Interest
Trashigang Dzong: The Trashigang Dzong stands at atop the hillside with a remarkable commanding view over a surrounding countryside. It was built in 1659 by Pekar Choepel on the order from the Trongsa penlop (govener), Minjur Tenpa, after the eastern Bhutan was finally conquered by the Drukpas. The dzong was named Trashigang ‘fortress of the auspicious mountain’. Today it houses the district administration and the court and as well as serves as the spiritual heart for the region’s people.
Guru Goempa and Labrang Lhakhang : These two temple of Sakteng are the spiritual background of the people of Sakteng and was founded by Lama Tenpai Droma’s disciple and his reincarnations.
Merak Gengo Tashichholing: The Merak Goengo Tashichholing in Merak was founded in the fifteenth century by Buthrung Kelpa Zangpo, the fifth son of Lama Thongtong Gyelpo commonly known as the ‘Iron Chain Bridge Builder”. Locally it was said that the remains of Buthrung Kelpa Zangpo’s body was preserved inside the goenkhang.
Samtenchholing Lhankang: The Samtenchholing Lhakhang in Merak is also one of the spiritual heart of the Merak people. The main relic contain in the temple is the saddle and the wooden phallus of Amu Jomo’s horse.
Kupijigtsham Lhakhang: The Kpijigtsham Lhakhang in Yangneer was founded in fifteenth century, during the visit of Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa the ‘treasure revealer”.
There are several historical monasteries and temples in the southern Trashigang and among the most popular are Lami Goempa, Boka Dzong, Yongphu Lhakhang and Samdrupchholing Monastery. The Boka Dzong in Dawzor, contains some rare relics of Meme Dangling and Aum Jomo.
Trashiyangtse is filled with lush green vegetations. It is the eastern most part district of Bhutan border with Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It was formally part of Trashigang district and separated later as a different district in 1992. The total area of the region is about 1,437.8 sq. km. The district is sub-divided into eight blocks. The regions climate range from sub-tropical in the south to alpine temperature in the north. Almost all the village of Trashiyangtse is connected with motor roads and easily associable. The region boast several wealth of flora and fauna, and Bumdeling is one of the finest winter roosting ground for the rare and endangered Black-necked Cranes. Officially reported that there are more than 293 species of birds and 23 species of butterflies were found in the region. Many other wildlife species like red panda, the Himalayan black bear, barking deer and the wild dogs were found in the region. The Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the richest temperate fir forest in the eastern Himalayas, and is home to the protected Bengal tiger and common leopard.
The people of the regions are known as Yangtseps and are considered more devoted Buddhist. These groups of people are considered the aboriginal people of Trashiyangtse and there are other group of people known as Tshanglas, Bramis, and Kurtoeps. These ethnic groups of people provide range of interesting cultural aspects and languages of different kind. Agriculture is the main source of the region and the local farmers in the region grows chilies as cash crops, and their main staple diets consist of maize, rice, buckwheat and barley. The people of Trashiyangtse are easy going in their nature and love local drinks and brewed alcohol. The people of the region are also skilled wood workers and women are gifted with weaving skills. The handmade paper of the region is one of the well known handmade paper and popular in other parts of the country, as it is used for wrapping gifts, envelopes, cards and notebooks.
There are several well known temples and monasteries in the region and annually most of the monasteries performed religious festivals and among them the most notable festival celebrated in the region is the Chorten Kora and Gom Kora Tshechu. The Chorten Kora Tshechu is one of the most popular Tshechu in eastern Bhutan. The biggest activity of the festival is circumambulating the Chorten Kora. The annual festival also attracts people from the neighboring Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It brings out colorful aspects of Bhutanese culture such as mask dances, rich textiles and brocades worn by the locals and the triumphant atmosphere of the festival itself. The Gom Kora Tshechu is another festival in the region and popularly known for circumambulation festival where people go around the temple cave day and night.
Places of Interest
Trashiyangtse Dzong: Gongkar Gyalpo, son of Lhasey Tshangma, first built the Trasiyangtse Dzong formally known as the Dongdi Dzong. The Tibetan invasion made the people of Donglum flee and the Dzong lies in ruin. It was later rebuilt by the treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa in the 14th century and named it Trashiyangtse Dzong. The third Druk Desi Chogyel Minjur Tempa later renovated the existing structure that you see today.
Chorten Kora: The Chorten Kora lies like a gleaming white jewels set in a large flat field just below the township. It is probably the largest Chorten in the country built by Lama Ngawang Lodray in eighteenth century. It was modeled after the great Bodhnath Stupa in Nepal, the replica of which was carved out of a radish and brought to this sacred spot of the region.
Gomkora Chorten: The Gomkora Chorten lies at an undulating meadows along the riverbank and was founded in the seventeenth century. The site was the meditation cave of Guru Padmasambhava. The small cave below the giant black rock that lies adjacent to the temple amidst vibrant lush rice fields, is said to be the spot where Guru Padmasambhava have meditated and bears the imprint of his body.
There are several historical sites that you will find in the region apart from the places mentioned above. The Iron Chain Bridge over Kholung Chhu at Duksam was built in the fifteenth century of Tibetan Saint Thongtong Gyelpo and is considered to be one of the eight bridges built by him. The castle at Tshenkharla was in fact the first castle to have been built in Bhutan. Lhasey Tshangma, a Tibetain prince who settled there following his exile from his native land Tibet, built it. The ruined of the ninth century Tshenkharla Dzong at Khamdang are other important monuments of the regions.
Trongsa is the ancient home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty. It is the sacred and temporal heart of the kingdom and has played an significant role in the history of Bhutan that in line with the linage of Bhutan Kings. It is the central hub of the country and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country are launched. This importance of the region is reflected today in the fact the future king of Bhutan must first be instituted as the Trongsa Penlop, before assuming the throne. Historically it is also written that the father of first king of Bhutan had received intimations of the illustrious future of his family in the Trongsa Dzong.
Trongsa boast about several royal places like Eundu Chholing in Lnagthel, which was the winter residence of the first king of Bhutan. The Thruepang Palace serves as the birthplace of the third king of Bhutan. Kuenga Rabten palace is the historical significant winter home to the second king of Bhutan.
The region covers an area of 1807 square kilometers, and is separated from the neighboring districts by high mountain passes. It share border with Wangduephodrang to the west, Bumthang to the northeast, Zhemgang to the southeast and Sarpang to the south. The Trongsa district comprist of five blocks and is home to about 261 Monpas, one of the ethnic inhabitance of the region. These groups of people formally depend on forest resources for their daily needs, but today community base tourism is providing alternative sources of income and livelihood for people. The Trongsapa and Mangdips are the largest ethnic groups. Buddhism and Bon practices coexist peacefully in the cultural lives of the regions people. The regions people are primarily substance cultivators and their daily diet consist of maze, rice, millet, and buckwheat. Maize and rice constitute the staple food of the regions people. The region’s people are also skilled artisans, especially for making bamboo and cane related products. Trongsa is also well known for the folk songs, dance and some of them are regarded as the best traditional singers in the country. The notable “Nubi Zhey” is the exotic folk dance of the region and was performed during special occasions, during the three-day Trongsa festival and during the National Day on 17 December.
Trongsa also shared the the fully operational Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park covers an area of 1,300km. It is one of the second largest protected national parks in the country with an area under 172,760ha covering the districts or dzongkhags of (Zhemgang, Wangdue and Trongsa). The Park range from the low conifer and broad-leaf forests to high permanent snow-covered peaks, reserving the large and rich temperate forest of the entire Himalaya with alpine lakes, pastures and broad-leaf forest. The varying altitude and climatic condition of this wide diversified ecosystem is home for more than 449 species of birds with several species are globally threatened birds. The park has highest coverage of forest and the animal species found are Musk Deer, Himalayan black Bear, golden Languor, clouded Leopard, red Panda and the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Places of interest
Trongsa Dzong: The historical Trongsa Dzong is one of the most impressive dzong in the country. Historically it was said that when Zhabdrung’s great grandfather Lama Ngagi Wangchuk while meditating he obsorbed a strange light on the spur below. Perceiving this as an auspicious omen he clambered down to investigate and found the footprints of the guardian deity Pelden Lhamo’s horse. Later he built a small meditation center and subsequently many small huts came up. Viewing from his meditation center the cluster of buildings resembles a small village and refer to it as Trongsa meaning new village. Centuries later Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built the present structure in 1648. Today Trongsa Dzong serves as the center of administrative headquarter of Trongsa Dzongkhag and the center of monastic body of Trongsa region. Trongsa served as the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and the second king of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat.
Ta Dzong: Lama Chogyel Minjur Tempa built the Ta Dzong or “watch tower”, which sits permanently above the impressive Trongsa Dzong, in 1652. The watchtower has four observation points resembling Tag (Tiger), Seng (Lion), Chung (Garuda) and Druk (Dragon). It has an unusual tower section with wings extending in front of the main building. Today the Ta Dzong has been converted into a museum. It serves as the National Museum, monastic residence and a place of meditation.
Chendebji Chorten: A Tibetan Lama Shida commissioned this large impressive chorten in Chendebji village located on the riverbank of Nikar Chhu River in 19th century to suppress a demon that had been troubling the inhabitants of the valley. This white startling white stone chorten, was built in the Nepali style with eye painted on all four sides.
Kuenga Rabten Palace: The three-storied Kuenga Rabten Palace is located 23km south of Trongsa town, is historically significant as the winter home of the second king of Bhutan. The first floor is used to store food, the second floor was used as a living room of the royal attendants and the third floor is used as the royal quarters and the king’s private chapel.
Nubji Lhakhang: It is one of the sacred religious monuments, located in Korphu village. The temple was built to commemorate with a belief that Guru Padmasambhava meditated on the sacred spot while returning from Bumthang, while on his way to India in the 8th century. The place also served as a battle field in the war between Sindhu Raja and Naoche of Assam. The holy rock on the spot marks the peace agreement brokered by guru.
Wangdue Phodrang (colloquially known as Wangdue or Sha) is one of the biggest districts covering a large area, from the northern snow capped mountains to the clod damp glacier valley of Phobjikha, to the warm breezy town of Wangdue. It covers an area of 4308 sq km with extreme climatic conditions ranging from sub-tropical forest in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north. Wangduephodrang is an important gateway to the far-flung corners of Bhutan. It share borders with the central districts of Trongsa in the east, Thimphu and Punakha in the west, Gasa in the north and Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang and Zhemgang in the south. Wangduephodrang is famous for Lozeys or Ornamental Speeches. The two notable lozeys are the tragic song of Gaylong Sumdar Tashi that of Pema Tshewang Tashi who served as an official at the Dzong. Wangduephodrang presents a rich linguistic and ethnic group of people. Most of the people speak Dzongkha and other languages spoken in the region are Monkha, Lahka, and Mangdekha.
The region is surrounded by rich natural resources with diverse flora and fauna. More than 65% of its geographical area is covered under forest and the 1300 square kilometer Black Mountain National Park falls under Wangdue. More than 40 species of mammals has been officially recorded that inhabits the lush forest of Wangdue including Tiger, Red Panda, and Leopard. It is also a region abound with bird life and there are more than 391 species of birds were found in the region including the rare and endangered Black-necked Crane, White-bellied Heron and spotted Eagle.
Phobjikha Valley: The lush green Phobjikha Valley lies at an elevation 2900m and is often described as the most beautiful valley in the country. The valley famed for the migratory black-necked cranes (Grus Nigricollis) that make it their winter home. This endangered species arrives Bhutan during the months of October, marking the end of the harvest season and a time to move the people and their cattle down to the warmer place. The people of Phobjikha have a great affection about the crane and have been featured in many local folk songs and folk lore. Local people says that the crane circle the only historical Gangtay Goemba three times at their arrival and also when they depart the valley in the month of March. The people here exclusively cultivate potatoes, turnips, and radish. The potatoes are a region’s primary cash crop and an important export to India.
A wide range of religious festival are celebrated in the region and among the most important and the grand one is Wangdue Tshechu celebrated annually. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal introduced the annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu after the completion of the dzong. The three-day annual Tshechu is attended by people from Punakha and Thimphu and provides the people with an occasion for merrymaking 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 Thongdrol where people throng to receive blessings.
Places of Interest
Wangduephodrang district is rich in historical sites of Buddhist monasteries and temples.
Wangduephodrang Dzong: The Wangduephodrang Dzong is strategically located atop a hillside between the confluence of Punatshang Chhu River and Dang Chhu River. It lies on the opposite side of the quaint and ancient village of Rincending which is known for producing the best stone mansions in the country. This beautifully located dzong was founded by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the year 1638 at the gateway controlled routes to Punakha, Trongsa, Tsirang, Dagana and Thimphu. Currently the Wangduephodrang Dzong was the headquarter of Wangdue district and the central monastic body of Wangdue. Historically it is believed that when Zhabdrung arrive in the area he encountered a boy building a grand sand castle on the bank of the river. Zhabdrung has taken this as an omen and when he finally built the dzong it was named after the boy – Wangduephodrang which means “Wangdue’s Palace.”
Drolung Goemba: Drolung Goemba was located in Khotokha region. It is believed that the second Chief Abbot Je Sonam Yozer built the goemba towards the end of 17th century after he encountered with a peculiar rock with a hole through it. He took this rock as an auspicious relic and later built the monastery in seventeenth century.
Gangtay Sanga Choling Goemba: The Gangtay Sanga Choling Goemba lies at an elevation of 2,800m above sea level on a small promontory overlooking the lush green valley. It was prophesied by Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa in 15th century that a goemba would be built on a hilltop and his teaching would be carried forth from here. The monastery was later founded by Je Kuenga Gyeltshen in 1613. Today the monastery was controlled by current emanation of Terton Pema Lingpa, the ninth reincarnation, Kunzang Pema Namgyel, who is the chief abbot of the monastery.
Kumbu Lhakhag: The Kumbu Lhakhang in the plain glacier valley of Phobjikha was built by Lama Zhabdrung Tshenden Dulea in the 13th century. It is a Bon temple and the name of the temple was derived from the 100,000 images of the Bon founder Tonpa Shenrab painting in gold on the walls of the Lhakhang.
Nyezergang Lhakhang: The temple lies on a ridge above Dangchhu River opposite of Wangduephodrang Dzong. It was built by Terton Wugpa Lingpa in the 13th century. The temple was originally called the Gedungchholing and the main relic inside the temple is the object called Za “planetary deity” and a necklace with a bead of Za “rare knots of wood”. It was the seat of Nyezer Trulku.
Rinchenling Shedra: The Rinchenling Shedra is a monastic school located in Khotokha. The monastic school was originally built on a site founded in 14th century by Lama Longchen Rabjam. The site is one of the important monastery of the Lingchen Gyed (the eight vast plains).
Dragay Goemba: The Dragay Goemba in Chungseygang was built on the spot where Lama Drukpa Kuenley popularly known as the “Divine Mad Man” met Ashi Genzo, a famed beauty of the region. The site was originally built as a meditation centre used by Lama Ngawang Drakpa, the son of Lama Ngawang Chogyel, the brother of Lama Drukpa Kuenley.
Boe Langdra: The site is one of the important pilgrimage sites in Wangduephodrang region and the Ney or “Sacred Site” is associated with the subjugation of a local deity by Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. This sacred site remain unknown until it was discovered by Terton Dorji Lingpa. It was later restored to a religious significant sites by the 14th Chief Abbot Je Tenzin Namgyel.
Zhemgang district is located in the southern-central of Bhutan and covers an area of about 2,126 sq. km. It shares its border with the districts of Bumthang, Mongar, Trongsa, Samdrup Jongkar and Sarpang and blessed with incredible rich biodiversity. The district has been divided into three main regions called the Khengrigi Namsum the “Sacred Relam of Three Hills”. (1) Upper Kheng (Chikor), (2) Middle Kheng (Nangkor), and (3) Lower Kheng (Tamachok). It is one of the least developed districts in the country. Most of the villages are situated in far-flung areas that take days on trek. Modern amenities such as schools and basic health units have sprung up in recent years. Zhengang is also considered as the last strongholds of non-Buddhist and their religious practice still holds on to the Bon practice of the ancient traditions. Nearly every local village of Zhemgang has their own local Bon priest known as Bonpa. However, with the establishment of the central monk body the people today practice both Buddhism and their old Bon religion. Khengpas remain the main inhabitants of the region; among them the other ethnic groups consist are Tshanglas, Bumthaps, Ngalogpas, and Lhotshampas.
Most of the region’s inhabitant lives in traditional homes built from bamboo, rocks, mud and woods, while in the more remote areas people still practice simple dwelling homes made from bamboo thatch and planting leaves. The regions people are well known for their skills in weaving cane products. The people like Khengpas are known as skilled craftspeople, and the region’s most famous and nationally recognized products such as Bangchung (matted bamboo plates), Palang (alcohol container), Balaks (hats), Paris (mats), Zems (bamboo boxes), Aumbuli (small containers) and Bangkhab (bamboo winnowers). They are also skilled potters and make earthenware for cooking and distilling alcohol, which are traded favorably in other parts of the country for the necessity such as salt, knives and baking powders. The main cash crop of Zhemgang is citrus mandarin (orange) which is exported to India and Bangladesh, and their staple diets are maize, rice and wheat.
About 86% of the Zhemgang is under forest cover, and the region is blessed with rich biodiversity and the regions lush forest is home to 22 endangered animal species including the Golden Languor. Much of the district climatic condition varies significantly with warm and humid in the south and cold temperate or moderate temperatures in the north. Zhemgang is the gateway to the Royal Manas National Park, which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth if biodiversity.
The historical sites of Zhemgang include the Buli Lhakhang and Tharpa Choeling Lhakhang, which were built by the treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa in the fifteenth century. The Gomphu Lhakhang located in te middle Kheng includes a sacred crematorium founded by Lama Shacha Yoezer believed to be sited over an area formally occupied by a sacred lake.