The Spiritual Heartland
Central Bhutan covers Bumthang and Trongsa in the North and Zhemgang, Sarpang, and Gelephu in the South. The two districts of Trongsa and Bumthang are historically very important because they were the seats of power during the reign of the first and second Kings. In the 1950s the capital was shifted to Thimphu.
Bumthang is considered the spiritual heartland of Bhutan harboring immense cultural and religious treasures. It is in all essence a ‘sacred valley’ with tales of Guru Rinpoche and ‘tertons’ (treasure discoverers) still lingering throughout the place. Religious history manifests today in the many Lhakhangs (temples) and Nye (sacred spots) dotteding the breathtakingly scenic landscape in the four main valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang, and Ura.
In Bumthang you can experience the charm of alpine village life and encounter farmers in their daily lives and homes. The landscape is picturesque. While rice and asparagus cultivation has been introduced to Choekhor and Tang valleys, the tough terrain of Ura is known for livestock and dairy products as well as potato cultivation.
Buckwheat used to be the staple diet in Bumthang and is still cultivated as an important item for local religious rituals and customs. Furthermore buchwehat is the main ingredient for kuli (buckwheat pancake) and puta (buckwheat noodles).
Bumthang is also known for its textile art, in particular for the Bumthap matha pattern and the woolen yathra weaving.
Bumthang offers many beautiful hikes and treks where one can experience stunning natural beauty, encounter rare birds and wild animals. On a side note, mushroom aficionados will be happy to hear, that the forests around Ura are habitat to the boletus reticuloceps, a very tasty mushroom and highly sought after in Western cuisine.
Dzongs, Monasteries and Temples
Trongsa Choekhor Rabtentse Dzong was built in 1648; it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne. The Dzong contains 23 temples.
The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.
Trongsa Tadzong Museum
Ta Dzong, which means “watchtower”, was built by Choeje Minjur Tenpa, the first governor of Trongsa, in the year 1652. The tower stood guard over the Trongsa Dzong to protect the main stronghold of the town from any external threats. The temple located at the top of Ta Dzong is dedicated to the culture hero and protector King Gesar, and probably dates to the end of the 19th century.
From 2005 to 2008 the watchtower underwent extensive structural and interior designing work in order to become a museum. The funds were granted by the Austrian Government and work was done by the Royal Government of Bhutan.
Kuenga Rabten Palace
During the first half of the 20th century, the palace served as winter residence for the second King, Jigme Wangchuck and his senior Queen, Ashi Phuntsho Choden. At present, the palace is looked after by monks from the central monastic body in Trongsa. Around fifty monks are living at the palace, including two teachers. The room where the Queen used to stay has been altered to be the office of the monk body. Some rooms have also been made into a storeroom for the National Library of Bhutan.
Currently the palace is undergoing renovation works!
Buli Goenpa in Chumey, originally known as Phurling, was founded in the 14th century by Terton Dorji Lingpa, one of the 5 great tertons (treasure revealer). The main relics in this temple are statues of Tsepamey (Amitayus), Lord Buddha (Shakyamuni), Jowo Jamba, and Terton Dorji Lingpa.
Tharpaling monastery located at 3,600m is composed of a series of buildings overlooking the Chumey valley. Tharpaling was seemingly first established by Lorepa (1187–1250), a Drukpa Kagyupa lama from Tibet. Presumably, he founded a small building that was located lower than the current main complex. In the 14th century, another temple was founded by Longchen Rabjam, as part of one of the 8 sacred places (Ling Gyed). Longchen Rabjam is the great philosopher of the Dzogchen, a religious movement of the Nyingmapa School. Tharpaling is one of the main places from where Longchen Rabjampa spread his teachings.
Tharpaling was restored several times but most notably by the First King at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The monastery prospered and was always an active center for Nyingmapa teachings. In 1985, a monastic school (Jangchub Choeling shedra) was founded above the main complex. There are about 20 cells for monks.
The Eight Chortens commemorating events of the life of the Buddha (Chorten Degye) below the main complex are recent and were consecrated in 2001.
Higher up, a new temple, Dzambala lhakhang, has been built in the early 2000s to house the memorial chorten of the great master Nyoshul Khenpo (1932–1997) by his wife Ani Damchoe.
The spot of Choedrak Goenpa was identified as a holy site in the 8th century by Guru Rinpoche and blessed by his visit. Legend tells us that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress to the location and he left many imprints on the rocks nearby. This site is an important meditation seat of the saints of the Drukpa Kargyu Lineage.
This Monastery was founded by Lonchen Rabjampa in the 14th century. It was damaged by fire in the mid-1980’s but was restored.
This Monastery in Prakhar Village was co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Tulku Jamyang Kunzang, the third mind reincarnation of Terton Jigme Lingpa. The main relic is a statue of Guru Rinpoche and the lhakhang is decorated with murals of Nyingmapa and Drukpa traditions.
This palace was constructed in 1857 by Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel whose son Ugyen Wangchuck was born here. Ugyen Wangchuk became the first King of Bhutan in 1907.
Shugdrak Singye Dzong
This Dzong was built on the place where Guru Rinpoche meditated and transformed into a very intimidating manifestation in order to subdue Shelging Karpo. Terton Rinchen Lingpa supposedly revealed treasures at this site.
Konchogsum Lhakhang (Tsilung)
The lhakhang has its roots in the 7th century but the current structure dates back to the 15th century. The main relic of the temple is Jowo Jampa. It contains some of the oldest mural paintings in the country.
belongs to Namkhe Nyingpo the reincarnation of one of Guru Rinpoche’s disciples
Tamshing (Lhundupcholing) Lhakhang
This Lhakhang was founded by Terton Pema Lingpa in 1501 AD. It is believed that the inner offerings of the statues here are some of the treasures discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa.
This famous temple is historically associated with Chakhar Gyab (Sintu Raja) and the visit of Guru Rinpoche to Bumthang in 746 AD. Guru Rimpoche was invited to subdue evil spirits and demons that were harming people but most importantly to get back the soul of Chakhar Gyab from Shelging Karpo, his guardian deity. Shelging Karpo had cursed him with a terrible illness after the Sindhu Raja neglected to worship him. Guru Rinpoche meditated in a cave in this place and left many imprints. There are 3 main lhakhangs at Kurjey.
This temple was founded in the 15th century by the fourth Shamar Rinpoche of the Karmapa religious school.
This is one of the oldest Lhakhangs of the kingdom, founded by king Songtsen Gampo of Tibet in the 7th century. Songtsen Gampo was destined to build 108 temples in order to subdue a demoness who was residing in the Himalayas. He built two of these temples in Bhutan. Jampa Lhakhang is one of the two and is supposedly erected on the left knee of the demoness. Guru Rinpoche visited the place many times.
This temple’s rich history dates back to the 8th century when Chakar Gyab (Sindhu Raja) is said to have built an iron castle at the temple site.
This temple is located on the face of a cliff. Kunzangdra was founded by Terton Pema Lingpa, the great treasure revealer, in the 15th century. It consists of 3 temples. The oldest was founded by Terton Pema Lingpa.
Mebar Tsho (the burning lake)
This is one of the most sacred sites in the region and relates to the famous treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa. Following a vision by Guru Rinpoche, Terton Pema Lingpa unearthed a treasure from the bottom of the lake. He dived into the lake with a burning butter lamp and reappeared with the butter lamp still burning and a chest and scroll of paper in his hand (treasures).
Tag Rimochen Lhhakhang
This site was an important meditation seat of Guru Rinpoche and he is said to have flown on his tigress here in the 8th century AD. and subdued a demoness. In the 15th century AD,Terton Pema Lingpa built a small temple on the site where Guru Rinpoche had meditated. The present structure was rebuilt by the Jakar Dzongpon, Pema Wangdi. There are many relics are inside the temple and the place is surrounded by Nye (sacred spots).
Shingkhar Dechenling Lhakhang
This temple was founded by Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam in the 14th century AD.Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam (originally from Tibet) identified Ling Gyed (the 8 vast lands) of which Shingkhar Dechenling is one.
Bemji Choeje Naktshang
This is the ancestral home of the Bemji Choje family who are the direct descendants of Terton Pema Lingpa. There are numerous Drupchhus (holy springs) in the area.
This is a colossal castle-like structure perched on the tip of a ridge and is dedicated to the deity of the region.
This temple was founded by Zabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s father,Tenpai Nima and was constructed in a day. Legend has it that Tenpai Nima anchored the sun to a rock (which is still seen today) next the lhakhang till the construction was completed.
Sinpo Guru Lhakhang
The area where this temple stands is said to have been infested by demons and evil spirits known as sinpos till Guru Rinpoche subdued these evil spirits taking on a wrathful manifestation. The temple was built much later by lopen Pelbar. Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint can still be seen on a rock in the area.
This temple was founded by Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam in the 14th century. This place was also visited by Guru Rinpoche to subdue demons. There are various square shaped stones on the way to the temple which are said to have been used by Longchen Rabjam and the Dakinis as resting spots.
Thrumshengla pass between Bumthang and Mongar
Korila Pass between Mongar and Trashigang
More places of interest in this region
- Ogyen Choling Palace in Tang
- Domkhar Tashicholing – this was a Royal palace built in 1937 as a summer residence for the second king
- Zugney Village in Chumey: yathra weavers
- Family run Incense manfacture Chumey