BHUTAN

I & I Bhutan

“Bhutan” the land of the “Thundering Dragon”. Bhutan does not often make headlines – it makes a small paragraph in a Western newspaper infrequently. From time to time a full-scale article on Bhutan dose appear, but then it reaches only a limited audience.

Yet, a handful of people around the world, who from a sort of “initiates” club, eagerly follow events there by carefully reading the weakly journal Kuensel, published in Thimphu. Some of them have visited Bhutan on professional trips, some as official guests, and others as tourists. All of them have come back enthralled by this secret land.

BHUTAN PLACES TO VISIT

PUNAKHA

Punakha is a town in the Himalayas of Bhutan. It's known for the Punakha Dzong, a 17th-century fortress at the juncture of the Pho and Mo Chhu rivers. The fortress hosts the Punakha Tshechu, a religious festival featuring masked dances and music. In the surrounding Punakha Valley, temples include the fertility-focused Chimi Lhakhang and the hilltop Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, which has river and mountain views.

DOCHULA PASS

Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists this is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of the Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.

BUMTHANG

This region that spans from 2,600-4,500 m 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 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.  

CHE LE LA PASS

Popular for short excursion (2 and half hours), many tourists are seen visiting the vantage point. Some prefer driving, some hiking and many wheels down either to Haa or Paro valley in their mountain bikes. The drive to Chele La is through dense spruce and larch forests. Depending on season you will encounter various sights such as frozen river, waterfall, rhododendron forest and yaks grazing peacefully.  On a clear day, you can view Mt. Jumolhari(Bhutan's most sacred peak at over 22,000 ft) along with Jichu Drake and adjoining peaks to the North West, as well as the view of both the valley (Paro and Haa). 

THIMPHU

The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary to immerse themselves in the contemporary Bhutanese lifestyle.

Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centres. However, it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization. There are several attractions in Thimphu such as the National Post Office, the Clock Tower Square, the Motithang Takin Preserve, Tango and Chari Monasteries, Buddha Dordenma, National Memorial Chorten, Centenary Farmer's Market, Semtokha Dzong to name a few. 

The culture of Bhutan is fully reflected in Thimphu in respect of religion, customs, national dress code, the monastic practices of the monasteries, music, dance, literature and the media. 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. 

PARO

Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom up to Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a beautiful, crystalline river meandering down the valley.

Accentuating the natural beauty are the elegant, traditional-style houses that dot the valley and surrounding hills. One of the distinctive features of Paro town is that it is situated in a flat valley bottom and follows a grid-like pattern. 

There are over 155 temples and monasteries in the area, some dating as far back as the 14th century. The country’s first and only international airport is also located in the region. 

The region contains one of Bhutan’s most iconic landmark, Taktsang Monastery, the Tiger’s Nest. This awe-inspiring temple was constructed upon a sheer cliff face, above forests of oak and rhododendrons. The national museum, Ta Dzong, is also set in Paro. An ancient watchtower that displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artefacts and artwork including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snap-shot of the rich cultural traditions of the country. Another site worth visiting in Paro is Drugyel Dzong or The Fortress of the Victorious Bhutanese. It was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over marauding Tibetan armies. The fortress was destroyed by fire in 1951 but the ruins remain an impressive and imposing sight.

PHOBJIKHA VALLEY

Phobjikha is a bowl-shaped glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Because of the large flock of black-necked cranes that winters here, it is one of the most important wildlife preserves in the country. In addition to the cranes there are also muntjacs (barking deer), wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes in the surrounding hills. The Nakey Chhu drains the marshy valley, eventually flowing into the lower reaches of the Punak Tsang Chhu. Some people refer to this entire region as Gangte (or Gangtey), after the goemba that sits on a ridge above the valley.

PHUENTSHOLING

The gateway of the land of thunder dragons, Phuentsholing is often regarded as the abode of kings and queens of the Himalayan Kingdom. Time moves at a slow pace here and the simplicity of the inhabitants complements the serenity of nature. At an altitude of only 300 meters, this commercial center in Bhutan lies adjacent to Indian town Jaigaon on the Himalayan foothills. There are a number of places to visit in Phuentsholing where you can catch a glimpse of the diversity of Bhutanese, Nepalese and Indian cultures.

The frontier town serving as the corridor to Sikkim, West Bengal and Assam is certainly worth a visit when you are exploring Bhutan. 

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