The Spiritual Heartland

Central Bhutan covers Bumthang and Trongsa in the North and Zhemgang, Sarpang, and Gelephu in the South. Particularly the two districts of Trongsa and Bumthang are historically very important as they were the major seats of power of the first and second Kings till in the 1950s when the capital 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. They are still manifest today in the many Lhakhangs (temples) and Nye (sacred spots) dotted all over the breathtakingly scenic landscape in the four main valleys: Chumey, Chokkhor, Tang, and Ura.

In Bumthang you can also experience the charm of alpine village life and meet farmers in their homes as well as in their fields. The landscape is breathtakingly picturesque. While rice and asparagus cultivation has been introduced in Chokkhor and Tang valleys, the tough terrain of Ura is known more for livestock products and potato cultivation. Buckwheat used to be the staple diet in Bumthang and is still cultivated as it is a very important item for local religious rituals and customs. In the local cuisine it can be found in the forms of kuli (buckwheat pancake) and puta (buckwheat noodles).

Dzongs, Monasteries and Temples

Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Tadzong-Museum

Kuenga Rapten Palace in Trongsa

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.

Muktsen Phodrang – This is a colossal castle-like structure perched on the tip of a ridge and is dedicated to the deity of the region.

Chakharzur Lhakhang – 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.

Sherling Lhakhang – 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.

Buli Goenpa – This Goenpa at Buli 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 – This monastery was founded in the 14th century by Longchen Rabjampa as part of one of the 8 sacred places (Ling Gyed). Tharpaling is one of the main places from where Longchen Rabjampa spread his teachings.

Choedra Goenpa – This place was identified as a holy site in the 8th century by Guru Rinpoche and blessed by his visit. Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress to the spot and left many imprints on the rocks nearby the Goemba. This site is an important meditation seat of the saints of the Drukpa Kargyu Lineage.

Samtenling Monastery – This Monastery was founded by Lonchen Rabjampa in the 14th century. It was damaged by fire in the mid-1980’s but is now restored.

Nyimalung Monastery, Prakhar Village  – This Monastery 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.

Wangdecholing Palace – 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.

Lhodrakarchu Monastery – 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.

Kurjey Lhakhang – 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.

Thangbi Lhakhang – This temple was founded in the 15th century by the fourth Shamar Rinpoche of the Karmapa religious school.

Jampa Lhakhang – 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.

Chakar Lhakhang – 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.

Kunzangdra Lhakhang – 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.

Mountain Passes

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: yatra weavers
  • Family run Incense manfacture Chumey
  • Highlights: Jampay and Kurje lhakhang, Tharpaling Monastery, Tamshing lhakhang, Tang and Ura valleys, wonderful hikes and pilgrimage, everyday Buddhism, textile workshops, yathra weaving, meditation, horse riding, and much more...
  • Hotels and Homestays: Wonderful farm/homestays all over Bumthang with authentic village experience
  • Best season: Throughout the year but during monsoon domestic flights are recommended