Wangdue

An old strategic location, Wangdue today is a vibrant community centered around the Dzong (Fort and Administrative Headquarters). The Fort was earlier established by Zhabrdung Nawang Namgyal (a Tibetan monk who is credited to have unified the provinces of Bhutan) and the name was given after he met a boy named Wangdue playing by the river. The hilly lowland is extremely beautiful with the river adding a lot to the landscape. The village is close to the Phobjika valley, famous for great hikes and landscapes. Wangdue is also famous for its bamboo work, slate stone carvings, and a unique conservation effort for the rare and endangered Black-necked Crane.

Every year the Black Necked Crane Festival is held in Phobjikha in order to protect and spread awareness of the cranes. The Festival includes songs, masked dances and plays by the local school children. This event is one of the most unique and popular festivals in the country. Legend has it that the cranes are re-incarnations of the 2 dieties that protect the valley.

Experiences of India’s first Prime Minister in Bhutan

Tashigang

Tashigang (3,775 ft) is the country’s largest district. It lies in the Eastern part of Bhutan, on the banks of the Gamri Chu River. Tashigang, once the center of a busy trade with Tibet, is today the junction on the east-west highway with the road connecting Samdrup Jongkhar to Assam in India. This town is also the market place for the hill people from Merak and Sakteng who are remarkable for their exceptional features & costumes. The hat that they wear is unusual and has a significance of its own. It is very different from customary Bhutanese clothing.

With the Thunder Dragon II

We arrived in Bumthang feeling much more confident about the place we were travelling in and the people we were talking to. The feeling was, for lack of a better word, rather temporary. Bumthang took us completely by surprise with its deep roots in spiritual life. Perhaps the holiest valley in Bhutan, it holds myths, stories and deities from the most ancient periods of Bhutan’s history which pre-date the arrival of Buddhism as well. The number of nunneries and monasteries in the valley gave us a hint of the pervasive religious thought. Bumthang’s location is perhaps most crucial because of how deeply pre-Buddhist religious thinking persisted in the valley. Not surprisingly, the stories tell you that Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan only after performing various miracles here at Kurje in the Bumthang Valley. It is also in Bumthang valley that Pema Lingapa, a supposed incarnation of Rinpoche, discovered spiritual knowledge from the bed of the Mebar Lake. To us, it was the ethos at Bumthang more than the other places we travelled to, that seemed to be the richest and the most complicated in terms of its negotiation with religion and spirituality. On other terms, Bumthang is perhaps best described as a broader opposite of the Paro valley. Read more…

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Thimphu

A land locked away and kept a mystery to most who cannot afford it, Bhutan has been my preferred Shangri La after Ladakh. The water is pure. The people are pure. The alcohol is cheap. The cigarettes are illegal. Its how life should be. The fact that I love it is cliched and quite an understatement. After you have somehow escaped Assam, Bhutan feels like one of those lost paradises that movies keep talking about. A four-hour journey from Agra to Delhi felt taxing.

Blessed Bhutan

It is said that a trip to Bhutan can give you a bad case of ‘Shangri-La’, an affliction you never quite shake. In a world where you can virtually count the last truly untouched places on one hand, the eternal yearning for the mystical, earthly paradise totally isolated from the outside world (as immortalised in James Hilton’s novel, Last Horizon) pretty much describes the otherworldly mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Nestled between China and India at the eastern end of the Himalayas, this independent country has managed to remain remote and virtually unscathed by modernity and political turmoil well into the millennium. But then foreigners have only been allowed to visit in the last 30 years or so, with TV and internet having arrived in 1999, followed by cellphones in 2003 and luxury tourism in 2004. Read more…


Punakha

The Punakha Dzong is built between two rivers- Mochu & Pochu. It was built in the 17 th century by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal and served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It is still the winter residence of the Monk Body and its Chief Abbot. The Dzong was restored in 1998. It houses sacred artefacts and the embalmed body of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal. The main hall of worship is beautifully restored with great statues of Sakya Muni Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal, Avalokiteshwara and numerous figures and wall paintings depicting the life story of the Buddha and the many manifestations of the Guru.

Paro

The Paro valley is one of the most beautiful in the Kingdom of Bhutan. To its north, Mt.Chomolhari (Goddess of Mountains) reigns in glory and the glacier waters from its “five sisters” peaks come down to form the Paro Chu River that nourishes the lush rice fields and apple & peach orchards of the Paro valley.

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Mongar

Mongar Dzong is a new dzong built in the 1930s. It is built in the same traditional method as all the dzongs. No nails are used in the constructions. A visit to the Dzong gives visitors an idea of how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.

Jakar

As an area famed for its monasteries and sacred sites, Jakar plays host to several tshechu(religious) festivals throughout the year. Prakhar Tsechu is one of the important festival help in Prakhar monastery. The highlight of a tshechu is the masked dances conducted by monks, which were developed according to precise instructions given by past Buddhist masters. According to Buddhist philosophy, all experiences leave an imprint in the mind stream that produces a
corresponding result in the future, and so viewing dances, such as these, that are imbued with sacred symbolism is considered to be a very auspicious and sanctifying experience.

Haa

Haa Valley is a steep north-south valley with a narrow floor. The main crops grown in the valley are wheat and barley, although some rice is grown in the lower reaches of the valley. Pottatos, Chiilies, apples and other cash crops are grown by farmers on the valley floor, along terraced hillsides, and in some of the more accessible side valleys. Haa is also known is Hidden-Land Rice Valley.

In 2002 the valley was opened to foreign tourists. although its tourist resources remain largely undeveloped compared with Paro, Thimpu & Bumthung districts.

Gangtey

The Monastery at Gangtey was built in 1613. That’s 19 years before the Taj Mahal and more than two hundred years before the Statue of Liberty. As in any other country, such monuments are maintained at huge costs. but unlike other countries, government funds are not sufficient to ensure a good restoration. The monastery at Gangtey stands as a testament to the people of Bhutan. In their aim to hold on to a cultural tradition that is constantly under attack, various authorities and institutions came together to restore this monument. This harks back to their forefathers where the community was involved in building the Gangtey Monastery from scratch – including sourcing wood, mixing construction material and making roofs.

It is this zeal towards conservation and preservation that flows as the undercurrent of the Black Necked Crane Festival – one where the locals perform rituals and mask dances to welcome the Black Necked Cranes – birds that summer in the Tibetan Plateau and winter in the lower sheltered valleys of Phobjika (of which Gangtey is a part). The birds come a little later in the year while the dances happen in autumn.

In all this, if you thought that Gangtey is only worth spending a couple of nights in (for the festival and the cranes), think again. The valley is known for some excruciatingly beautiful hiking routes and 2-3day treks. If you are in the mountains, you’d like to climb a few and a route from Gangtey to Bumthang helps you achieve just that – without making your calves or knees scream.