“Zhung” – The administrative Center of the Kingdom
West Bhutan includes Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha, and Gasa. This part of Bhutan is considered more developed than the rest of the country. It offers many cultural sights and festivals during high season such as Tshechus (annual festivals with mask dances), the summer festival of Haa, or the Takin Festival in Thimphu, the mushroom festival in Geneka,and many more. You can also visit temples, dzongs (fortresses), and museums or attend a textile festival that brings to life the rich culture of Bhutanese weaving.
The West offers many well maintained hiking routes which range from a few hours to substantial long term treks. Thimphu has developed into a bustling capital where you can experience a different side of Bhutan due to rapid urbanisation over the past decade. You can visit galleries, meet Thimphu urbanites, a new generation, in various cafes around town which exist side by side with more traditional archery tournaments in the Changlimitang ground. Although Western clothing has become more common among youth and shop keepers, you will still find many locals in the traditional dresses, gho and kira, as it is mandatory to wear for civil servants in the offices.
Paro is the gateway into Bhutan by air and except for its quaint little town, Paro is still very rural. Paro is dotted with monasteries with great histories and legends, the most famous being Taktsang located high up the cliffs higher up the Paro valley.The valley of Haa has only very recently been opened to Tourism. This scenic Alpine valley is about 68km from Paro and can be reached quite easily driving through the Chelela Pass(3700m). Lechuna Heritage Lodge, a beautiful family home now a Heritage Lodge is located in this beautiful valley.
Punakha was the winter capital of Bhutan in the 1950s because of its warmer climes. Even to this day the central monk body migrate to Punakha for the six colder months of the year. The magnificent Pungthang Dechenphodrang (Punakha) Dzong where many famous events such as the coronation of the 5th King, the Royal weddings of the 4th and 5th Kings have taken place lies at the confluence of the rivers Pho(male) Chu and Mo(female) Chu.
Dzongs, Monasteries and Temples
Situated at an altitude of 2950m above sea level, this is one of the most venerated pilgrim sites of the Himalayan world. According to the legend, in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche came to Taktsang flying on the back of a tigress (a form taken by his consort). Guru Rinpoche meditated for 3 months in a cave at Taktsang in the form of Guru Dorji Drole in order to subdue local demons and convert them into protector deities of the Buddhist dharma. He consequently converted the people in the Paro valley to Buddhism.
This Dzong was built in 1647 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to protect the Paro valley from Tibetan invasions and to commemorate his victory over the Tibetans. It burnt down in 1951 due to a fallen butter lamp. The ruins of this dzong are a popular tourist site. There are currently plans to re-build the Dzong.
This Dzong was built by Zabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1644. It now houses the monk body and also the district/Dzongkhag offices.
Historically this was the watch tower, it now houses the National Museum.
This is one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to symbolically nail down a demoness who caused unrest in the Himalayan region. Kyichu lhakhang was built in the 7th century and is therefore one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.
This temple, in the shape of a chorten, was built by Thangtong Gyalpo’s (iron bridge builder) son and six disciples to protect the people of Paro from being inflicted with leprosy.
This Dzong is the main establishment of the speech incarnation of Zabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
Initially built by Siddhi Pawo Dorji, it was later rebuilt by Je Sherub Gyeltshen after it was razed to the ground by fire. At present it houses about 45 nuns. The main relics are the statue of Avaloketesvara and 2 stupas with a tooth each of the 25 Abbot Je sherub Gyeltsen and Zhabdrung Jigme Norbu.
This temple is located near the Paro-Thimphu highway and was built by the renowned iron bridge builder Dupthob Thangtong gyalpo in the 14th century.
This temple is located high in the Dotey valley and is about 4 hour walk from the nearest road head.The temple is dedicated to Dorje Phagmo. The main relic here is the levitating statue of the goddess.
This temple is perched on a cliff above Shaba Town and is about an hour’s walk but can now be reached by car. This is one of the holiest places as Guru Rinpoche is supposed to have landed right in the heart of the cliff. He dug out some rocks to medicate here and the rocks removed can be seen on one side of the cave making a wall.
Ragoedrak is located on top of a hill resembling a hat of a great Lama and is believed to be the second abode of Guru Rinpoche. This site was founded in the 8th century. The letter ‘Hung’ is inscribed on a rock in this site. One can also see imprints of Guru’s consort Yeshey Tshogyal, Dolma (Tara), a garuda, and the letters Ba Za Gu Ru. It is said that in this holy place one can attain enlightenment in one month instead of meditating many years in other places.
Lhakhang Karpo (the white temple)
This is yet another temple built by the Tibetan saint and King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. This temple is said to have been built by people who appeared ‘out of nowhere’ thus the name Haa deriving from ‘Haa Tohm’.
Lhakhang Nagpo (the black temple)
This temple was also built by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and is a single storey temple built on a lake.
This is a more recent temple built by Dali Lam Sangye Jamtsho in the beginning of the 20th century.
It is said that in the 15th century, while Lam Drukpa Kuenley was on his way to Bhutan from Tibet, he passed by Jiligang-a village in Punakha. He tossed away a partially burnt piece of wood he was carrying and it landed on the site where the temple now stands growing into a leafy tree.
Khamsum Yueley Namgyel Choeten
This temple in Punakha constructed with details and architectural designs drawn from scriptures by Dudjum Lingpa was built under the sponsorship of Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk to remove evil forces and to promote peace and harmony in the world. The construction of the temple was completed in 1999.
This temple was founded by Lam Thinley Rabyang in the 14th century is located in Shegana village, Punakha.
This temple was founded in 1767 by Chogtrul Jigme Singye.
This temple is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley, the divine Madman and is visited by many childless couples for his blessings. It is here where he banished a demoness that caused havoc for travelers at Dochu la into the ground.
This holy site is situated on a cliff and is about an hour’s drive from Chuzomsa, Wangdiphodrang. One can see Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint on the rock. There is also a spring of holy water said to have been dug out by Guru Rinpoche. A cypress tree still grows to this day at the spot where Guru Rinpoche planted his staff.
Gangtey Sangacholing Goempa
This temple is located on a hillock from where one can see the beautiful valley of Phobjikha. It was founded in 1613 by Pema Thinley, the grandson of Pema Lingpa (the great treasure discoverer from Bumthang). It now houses a monastic institute, the Peling Nyingma school of Buddhism.
This temple is located in Phobjikha valley and is a Bon lhakhang built in the 13th century. There are 1000 images of Bon founder Tonpa Sherub painted in gold on the walls of this temples thus its name ‘Kubum’.
Nyinzergang village is once said to have been afflicted by Zanay (a form of epilepsy) caused by evil spirits. Terton Wugpa Lingpa who built this temple came to Nyinzergang in the 13th century. He subdued the evil spirits and freed the people from epilepsy.
This is the pass between the valleys of Paro and Haa. It is a place where many Bhutanese visit to hoist prayer flags and to hold smoke offerings. From here you can also hike to Kila nunnery.
Here you can enjoy a wonderful view of the HImalayan range in the distance and visit the 108 Chorten als well as Druk Wangyal lhakhang.
This is the pass that has to be crossed in order to reach Trongsa
This beautiful valley is the winter habitat of the black necked cranes. Every year a crane festival is held here. There are many rambling walk paths all over this valley.
- Memorial Chorten – This chorten was built in 1974 in memory of the 3rd King H.M. Jigme Dorje Wangchuck who died in 1972.
- Tashichoedzong – This Dzong dates back to the 13th century although the original Dzong was built in a different location. The current Dzong was consecrated in 1969.
- Folk Heritage Restaurant – The restaurant is located in the same compound with the Folk Heritage Museum and is run by a passionate chef and Ex-Colonel. She offers a wide range of traditional cuisine from various parts of Bhutan. Some of the food is cooked on traditional mud-stoves using traditional vessels. The food is served in traditional wooden bowls (thapa).
- Folk Heritage Museum – The museum is actually a preserved old heritage farmhouse that contains all sorts of interesting paraphernalia related to rural life before modern technology was introduced. It also provides a glimpse into spacial utilization in oldern days.
- Takin Reserve – A large compund to walk around where the National animal and some deer are kept
- Sangaygang – Hilltop above Thimphu, starting point for hikes, also BBS tower
- National Institute for Zorig Chusum – The School of the 13 Traditional Arts
- National Institute for Traditional Medicine and Menkang – Institute and Hospital for Traditional Medicine (Sowa Rigpa)
- Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory – It got established in 1990 by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The paper made here is based on unique materials of the Himalaya, the bark of the Daphne Papyri, also known as dey sho.
- Royal Textile Academy and Museum
- Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre
- The National Library – Established in 1967, the National Library of Bhutan comprises of an extensive collection of Tibetan and Bhutanese books, manuscripts and xylographs, printing boards and the wood printing books for religious books. The library boasts of one of the largest holdings of Mahayana Buddhist literature in the world, originally written in classical language, called choekad. It also has a sizeable and rich collection of English or Western books related mostly to Himalayas, Bhutan and Buddhism. It is dedicated to the collection, preservation and promotion of the cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan.
- Bhutan postal museum – Inaugurated on 7th November, 2015 by Her Majesty Galyum, Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk in dedication to His Majesty the Fourth King on his 60th birth Anniversary. The museum tells the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the evolution of communication and postal system in the country. It features Garb Lungikhorlo, a historical “postman” who had to run between Dzongkhags to deliver news. The journey told through anecdotes, artifacts and the rich assortment of stamps the country has produced. You can get customized stamps with your own photo!
- Centenary farmers market – Thimphu weekend market is one of the largest domestic markets for Bhutanese farmers. It has a local section, where all the fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese were grown, raised or processed by the people selling them. I also has a separate section for imported produce from India.
- Buddha Point at Kuenselphodrang
- Pangri Zampa Temple (Institute of Astrology)
- Simtokha Dzong – The first Dzong built by Zhabrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1616.
- Cheri Monastery – A meditation place for monks who graduated from Tango Shedra
- Tango Monastery – University for Buddhist Studies
- Changangkha Lhakhang – Houses the local birth and protector deity and babies who fall under its protection have to be blessed here
- Zilukha Anim Dratsang or Thangthong Dewachen Nunnery: – Nunnery, built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo, Drubthob Rikey Jadrel.
- Tadrin Ney
- Phajoding Monastery – A wonderful dayhike to meet the young monks
- 108 Druk Wangyel chortens – Drive to Dochula
- Druk Wangyal Lhakhang – at Dochula, built in 2003 in honor of HM the 4th king by the Royal grandmother
- Lingtsho tshi Lhakhang – approx. 3 hours hike from Dochula uphill
- Tashigang Gompa – from Dochula or Hontsho, appr. 3 hours in total