Bhumthang

This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.

Bumthang Dzongkhag consists of four main valleys Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four mountain valleys and is widely considered as ‘Bumthang Valley’. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.

The name Bumthang has two probable origins; the first is that it is named after a Bumpa, a vessel for holy water which the valley resembles in shape. The second origin implies that it is the Valley of Beautiful Girls as Bum translates to ‘Girl’ and Thang means ‘flat piece of land’.

These fertile valleys are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.

This dzongkhag is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang. According to legend this ancient temple was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 659 A.D. as part of a chain of 108 simultaneously constructed temples in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region. It is the oldest lhakhang in Bhutan.

There are numerous other temples and shrines worth visiting in Bumthang and many of them are linked to Guru Rinpoche’s visit in 746 A.D.

Punakha

Punakha Dzongkhag has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.

On October 13, 2011, the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancé, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong.

Punakha valley has a pleasant climate with warm winters and hot summers. It is located at an average elevation of 1200 meters above sea level. Owing to the favorable climatic conditions, rice grows very well in this region and is the main cash crop cultivated here.

Two major rivers in Bhutan the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu converge in this valley. Punakha Dzong is built at the confluence of these two rivers and is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its white-washed walls.

In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifer of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. This relic is a self-created image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.

Thimphu

The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country.

Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers, however it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization.Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency.

One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and just immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese.

Paro

Paro is a valley town in Bhutan, west of the capital, Thimphu. It is the site of the country’s only international airport and is also known for the many sacred sites in the area. North of town, the Taktsang Palphug (Tiger’s Nest) monastery clings to cliffs above the forested Paro Valley. Northwest of here are the remains of a defensive fortress, Drukgyel Dzong, dating from the 17th century.

Closer to town, Rinpung Dzong, another imposing fortress, is reached via a covered bridge across the Paro Chhu River. A former watchtower nearby houses the National Museum of Bhutan. On display are traditional clothing and jewelry, armor and Buddhist paintings. Set amid woodlands, Ugyen Pelri Palace is a royal residence and a good example of Bhutanese architecture. The 3-story Dungtse Lhakhang, a distinctively shaped temple with a tower, features religious murals. Southwest of Paro, Chele La Pass, with views of the surrounding peaks, is the highest point on a mountain road that winds through thick forests, ending in the Haa Valley.

Best time to Visit

The Paro Valley has a mild climate, with warm summers (Jun–Aug) and dry, cool winters (Nov–Feb). Popular times to visit are Apr–Jun, late summer (Aug) and mid-fall (Oct). Elaborate dances mark the Paro Tshechu religious festival (spring, dates vary), which also features a huge Buddhist painting presented by monks. Monsoon season runs Jun–Sep.