Our top 10 experiences in Bhutan
Known as the last ‘Shangri-La’ on earth, the land of the Thunder Dragon, of ancient temples and fortresses, Bhutan is a country of breathtaking natural beauty and man-made cultural treasures. Here are our 10 top places to visit:
1. A BHUTANESE FESTIVAL (TSECHU)
Bhutan's Tsechu's are religious festivals where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. celebrated on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). The exact month of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple. It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins
This small city was established as the capital in 1961 and is famous for being the only capital in the world without traffic lights! In Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, visit its colourful weekend market and quirky shops, museums and monuments. Join locals circumambulating the National Memorial Chorten, built by the third king His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
3. DOCHU LA PASS
On a clear day, Dochu La pass with its fluttering prayer flags and views over the majestic Himalayas, takes your breath away. Visit the highly ornate Drukwangyal Lhakhang (temple) and the 108 chortens, built by the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed when fighting the Indian rebels in 2003.
4. TAKTSANG LHAKHANG
Perched on a rocky mountainside 800m above the Paro valley, this temple – known as the Tiger’s Nest –was built in the 8th century. Legend has it the 2nd Buddha, Guru Rimpoche, meditated here, having flown from Kurtoe valley on the back of one of his consorts who had taken the form of flying tigress. To Buddhist pilgrims this is one of the most sacred sites in the Himalayas, to anyone it has to be one of the most spectacular.
5. PHOBJIKHA VALLEY
This beautiful glacial valley lies at 2900m. After climbing up through dense forests dripping with lychen, the wide, open expanse of dwarf bamboo can come as a surprise. The valley boasts two beautiful meandering rivers, Nakay Chhu and Gay Chhu. Perched overlooking this beautiful, bowl shaped valley is the village and monastery of Gangtey. As well as the sacred black-necked cranes that roost here in the winter, there are also barking deer, wild boar, red fox, leopard and Himalayan black bear.
6. TASHICHO DZONG
Known as the ‘fortress of glorious religion’, the Tashicho Dzhong was originally built in 1641. It was rebuilt in 1952 by the third king and is now used as the seat of the Royal Bhutanese Government. Situated in beautiful gardens, it is also the summer residence of the central monastic body.
7. KURJE LHAKHANG
Located in the sacred Bumthang valley, Kurje Lhakhang is a monastery of particular significance as Buddhists believe that Guru Rinpoche meditated here and left the imprint of his body on a rock. It is also the final resting place of Bhutan’s first three kings. There are many religious and historical legends connected with this place which consists of three large temples and many smaller structures, rich with impressive adornments.
8. CHIME LHAKHANG
This small 16th century temple of fertility is dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley, the ‘Divine Madman’, decorated with colourful phalluses and visited by childless couples seeking a special blessing. This is one of the most revered temples in all of Bhutan.
The Dzong dominates the town of Trongsa. Perched above the Dzong, the actual town is little more than one street. Many of the town’s inhabitants are of Tibetan origin and so you may have the chance try some Tibetan specialities here. The museum situated in the 300 year old Ta Dzong, watch tower, provides an insight into the religious history of Bhutan, and the significance of Trongsa in the history of the Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty.
A remote village in the Jigme Dorje Wangchuk National Park, Rukha is a hidden jewel. Accessible only by a precarious rope bridge, this collection of 20 houses dotted around the hillside are built in the traditional style with steep steps leading up to the first floor with the kitchen on the outside. Experience the other face of Bhutan close up with a homestay in this hospitable rural community.