Places to see: Bhutan

PARO (7,500 FT)

Generally visitors enter the Kingdom from Paro by the National Airline, Druk Air. Mt. Chomolhari 7320 reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form the Pa-Chu (Paro river). Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in the kingdom producing a bulk of the famous red rice from its terraced fields and the home to some of Bhutan’s oldest temple & monasteries. 

Drugyal Dzong: It means victories fortress built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders, led by Mongolian warlord, Gushri Khan in 1644. Strategically built over the only passage into Paro valley, the dzong helped to repel numerous invasions all through the course of Bhutanese history. It so impressed early visitors that in 1914 the dzong featured on the cover of the National Geographic magazine. An accidental fire gutted the dzong in 1951. The ruins, as it stands today still attract tourists. 

Taktsang Monastery: Literally means the Tiger’s Nest (den). This temple clings precariously to a granite cliff 800m above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the great Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on the back of a Tigress and meditated in a cave during the 8th century. The temple was built around the cave and is a hallowed shrine for Bhutanese pilgrims. A terrible fire in April 1998 destroyed Taktsang’s medieval wall paintings and all inner temples. A new construction has already begun by the Royal Government. 

Rinpung Dzong (Paro Dzong): Rinpung Dzong, meaning the fortress on a heap of jewels was built during the time of Shabdrung in 1646. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge. A walk to the Dzong offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. The Dzong now houses the Paro monastic school and the office of the civil administration. It is also the venue of the great Paro Tsechu (festival) held once a year in spring. 

Ta Dzong: The castle-shaped Ta Dzong was built in 1651 as a watchtower to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century. Ta Dzong has housed the nation’s heritage in Bhutan’s National Museum since 1976. It holds a fascinating collection of arts, relics and religious Thanka paintings. 

Farm House: The beauty of Paro valley is embellished by cluster of quaint farmhouses. Bhutanese houses are very colourful and traditionally built without the use of a single nail. The house looks very big from outside but is quite simple inside. It’s normally three storeys. The ground floor is always used for cattle while the attic is used for hay. The families live in the middle floor. The best room is always kept for the family chapel. A visit to a farmhouse is very interesting and offers a good glimpse into the life style of a farmer. 

THIMPU (7,500 FT)

The modern capital of Bhutan, lies at an elevation of 2300m in a valley traversed by the Wang Chu (river). It is the home to civil servants, expatriates and the monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style. It is also an ideal spot for day walks. Phajoding monastery is a 4 hrs hike from the Moti Thang area, Tango & Cheri monasteries are also another 3/4hrs hike from the Capital or all the way to the top of telegraph hill where thousands of prayer flags obscure the view over Thimphu. 

Memorial Chorten: This stupa was built in 1974 in the memory of the late third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The painting and images inside the monument provide a rare sight into Buddhist philosophy. 
Tashichho Dzong (Thimpu Dzong): It was initially built in the 17th century and was rebuilt in early 1960s by the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Tashichho Dzong is the main secretariat building which houses the throne room of His majesty and a summer residence of the central monk body. It is open to visitor during Thimpu festival and when the monk body moves to their winter home in Punakha. 

Changangkha temple: Lama Phajo Drigom built it in the 15 century. It lies on a hilltop commanding the Thimpu valley. The temple has very old scriptures and Thankas. The main deity of the temple is Avalokiteshvara, God of compassion. 

Simtokha Dzong: 

Indigenous Hospital: since Bhutan has its own brand of Himalayan medicine, the Government has given equal emphasis to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicine is prepared here. The old art of healing like acupuncture is still practiced today. 

National Library: The history of Bhutan lies imprinted in archaic texts, which are preserved at the National library. Beside thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts the library also has modern academic books and printing blocks for prayer flags. 

Painting School: It is the place, where young children learn the ancient art of paintings. One can actually see students at work. Education is free for the students. These children after passing out, are sent to different districts in the country to apply the same art form of traditional paintings in their areas, which is one reason that Bhutanese houses have almost the same type of colour and design. 

Vegetable Market: Every Saturday & Sunday most of the Thimpu’s population and many valley dwellers congregate on the banks of the river where the weekend market is held. This is the only time in the week when fresh vegetables are available. 

PUNAKHA (5,000 FT)

It was built between two rivers in the 17th century by the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and is still the winter residence of the central monk body. In spite of the four catastrophic fires and earthquake that destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong houses sacred artifacts and the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The road from Simtokha winds into pine forests and through small villages for 20 kilometres and then opens miraculously onto the northern ridge of the mountains. The view over the Himalayas from Dochula Pass at 3,200m is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan. One of the most striking features of the valley is its abundance of crops and vast terraces of rice fields, which change from lush green in summer to golden yellow in autumn. Chime Lhakhang located on the hillock among the rice fields is picturesque and is pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is associated with the famous saint Drupka Kuenlay “The Divine Madman” who has built a Chorten the site during the 14th century. Punakha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (the spiritual leader) during the winter months.


It is situated south of Punakha at an elevation of 1300 m and the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan. This Dzong built during the 17th century played a critical role in unifying the western, central and southern Bhutanese districts. Further up is Gangtey Gompa, an old monastery dating from the 16th century. It is in fact the only monastery, which follows the Pelling Nyingmapa sect of school. This valley of Phobjikha is also a home of the rare Black necked crane, an endangered species that migrate from the Tibetan plateau in winter. There are about 450-500 cranes residing the Bhutan out of which 250-300 lives in this beautiful valley. 
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