A small, landlocked country high in the Himalayas, Bhutan is one of the least known travel destinations in the world, which actually suits its own unique brand of tourism. Dedicated to environmental tourism, the country actually limits the number of people that it has visiting it at any one time by making it very complex to get into the country, and requiring all visitors to be on a pre-arranged tour through one of the hundreds of approved and accredited travel agents.
The major attractions of Bhutan are located in western and central region, largely in and around Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. It’s where you will find iconic Buddhist sites, stunning Himalayan trek and cultural heart of Bhutan. If you are preparing for the Holidays Escape in Bhutan, here is a list of the top ten places to visit for any tour of the last great Himalayan kingdom.
Thimphu, one of the culturally must see places in Bhutan, is charming capital city nestled in the Himalayas with the beautiful sights of the Chuu River flowing through it. Incredible, it is the only city in the world with no traffic lights. Thimphu has retained its culture and old world charm as modern development is closely monitored and new buildings can be built only in Bhutanese style and up to a certain height.
Plan your holidays andexplorethe top landmarks of Bhutanese capital. Basically, Tashichho Dzong, National Memorial Chorten and Takin Preserve, Simply Bhutan are the top attractions of Thimphu for visitors.
Paro, the foremost must see place in Bhutan, is a gorgeous beautiful valley, surrounded by lush green rice fields. Paro is a historic town with many sacred sites and historical buildings scattered through the area. In Paro, Rinpung Dzong mostly attracts the visitor. Rinpung Dzong is one of the finest examples of a Bhutanese monastery. The Dzong hosts the Paro Tsechu i.e festival of masks. Beyond this, National Museum of Paro holds the visitors in Paro.
The museum exhibits rich stamp collections, slate carvings, Thangka paintings, prehistoric items, jewelry, traditional weapons and other articles reflecting Bhutanese culture.
3. Bumthang Valley Bumthang Valley, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, is full of most ancient and precious Buddhist sites. Located at an altitude of 2,600 meters, the religious hub of Bhutan houses some of the oldest Buddhist temples.
Besides, Jakar is the main town in Bumthang Valley and its undulating terrain, which is filled with apple trees and numerous temples, is a tourist’s delight.
4. Phobjikha and Gangtey Valley
Phobjikha and Gangtey Valley, both the places are also must see locations in Bhutan. The Gangtey and Phobjikha are glacial valleys with a stream flowing through their open grasslands presenting one of the most beautiful landscapes in Bhutan. It is home to endangered black-necked crane.
The famous Black mountain national park, home to diverse specie of flora and fauna is also nearby. It is around 6 hours drive from Thimpu. The drive among Dochula Chortens and Rhodos is mind-blowing. The entire region is sometimes called Gangtey. Gangtey Monastery and Jigme Singye National Park are famous among visitors in the region.
5. Haa Valley
Haa Valley, a relatively new but must see destination in Bhutan, is popular for virgin beauty of nature. Along with scenic sights, you will also find some temples and fortresses around this valley.
Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo-the famous White and Black temples, Shekhar Drak-an unique temple, Tagchu Goemba-a100 year old temple and Dobji Dzong- a five storeyed fortress on a hilltop are the things that engage you in the valley.
Also known as Pungtang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang, which translates into “the palace of happiness and bliss”, Punakha Dzong is a 17th century monastery that was constructed by the first Bhutanese Zhabdrung Rinpoche, and it is the second oldest Buddhist dzong in the kingdom. Once the administrative seat of government in Bhutan until 1955, the dzong houses some of Bhutan’s most sacred relics of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu School of Buddhism, as well as the sacred remains of the first Zhabdrung Rinpoche.
The dzong was also the site of the wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his bride, Jetsun Pema, in October 2011, which was the first national TV broadcast to the Bhutanese people.
7. Jhomolhari Jhomolhari huge mountain sits at 7,326 meters, yet is not the tallest mountain in Bhutan. Sitting astride the border between Tibet and Bhutan, the mountain is the source of the Paro River, which flows down the southern side of the mountain, and the Amo River, which flows down the north side. Known as the “bride of Kanchenjunga”, Bhutanese Buddhists believe it to be the home of one of the Five Tsheringma Sisters, the female protector goddesses of Bhutan and Tibet, who were bound by Padmasambhava to protect the people, the lands, and the Buddhist faith from evil demons.
On the south side of the mountain, at 4,150 meters, lies the Jhomolhari Temple, where religious pilgrims visiting the mountain stay, and just an hour’s walk up the mountain lies one of Bhutan’s highest lakes, the Tseringma Lhatso, or “spirit lake”.
8. Taktshang – Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Sitting more than 800 meters above the Paro Valley, perched on a ledge halfway up the cliff face of the mountain, sits the awesome Taktshang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Renowned around the world for its unique and spectacular position, the Taktsang Monastery has become something of a legend in Bhutan, and across many parts of Asia and around the world where Buddhism resides. Believed to be the meditation place of the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who first brought Buddhism to Bhutan, legend has it that he landed on the mountain after flying on a giant tigress believed to be a consort known as Yeshe Tsogyal.
After meditating in the 13 caves on the ledge for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours, he emerged in eight manifestations and the place became holy. The monastery was built around the caves in 1692, and has since become a cultural icon of the Bhutanese people.
Wangduephodrang, another popular place in Bhutan, is the last town on the central highway before central Bhutan. Located in the south of Punakha, the higher reaches of the Wangduephodrang valley provide rich pastureland for cattle. This district is also famous for its fine bamboo products, slate and stone carvings. Wangduephodrang Dzong, sitting on top of the hill at the confluence of Punakha Chhu and Tang Chhu rivers, is the attractive landmark of Wangduephodrang.
The Dzong is open for visitors during Wangduephodrang Tsechu celebration in autumn.
10. Mongar and Lhuntse
Although geographically separated, these two places are considered as one by tourists. Located on the eastern part of the country, Mongar is a small town, which is one of the beautiful ones in Himalayas. You can find small structures, monasteries, nature and ruins in this region.
Mongar Dzong is built in the place of the ruins and as a tradition, the entire monastery was built without a single nail or drawing.