Antique Expedition in Bhutan

Western Bhutan

The western circuit comprises of the six western Districts in the country that includes Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha and Gasa. What makes this circuit special is that the Tourism Council of Bhutan has categorized new ways of exploring the existing great sights. In this circuit one may attend the summer festival of Haa and delve into the wonders of a living culture. The festival highlights Shamanic rituals and other folk dances. You may also enjoy the beauty of the rare Himalayan flowers in bloom or take a daring trek to Nob Tsonapatra that is full of interesting legends. In Thimphu you may witness the newly introduced Takin Festival, Balloning, Hand Gliding, MICE & GNH conferences, meditation and wellness facilities. You may visit temples, dzongs(fortresses) and museums or attend to a festival where textiles come to life. Festivals abound throughout the year and trips can be tailored in accordance. Punakha festival marvels you with the historical depiction of medieval warriors who defended Bhutan with swords and shields. Experience the plantation of rice in early summer or the harvests of the same in autumn. The golden hue of ripening rice fields are photographers’ delight in autumn. Do not miss the museums. Paro museum (Tadzong), reveals the history, cultural, and in Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with farmers’ livelihood.

  • Wangdue Phodrang

    Wangdue Phodrang: The Land of Ornamental Speech or lozeys

    Wangdue Phodrang is an important gateway to the far flung districts of Eastern Bhutan. The dzong perched on a ridge overlooking the Punatsangchu and Dangchu rivers was built in 1639. As the name speaks the dzong of Wangdue held a powerful position during pre-monarchy days. Apart from the great dzong, its cultural wonders lie in the villages. Detour the villages of Gaselo and Nahee towards the west of the dzong. Likewise enjoy the tales of shaman culture in the Shaa regions of Wangdue and listen to the ornamental speeches or Lozeys of Shaa and visit the ancestral home of Pema Tshewang Tashi, the knight whose Lozey still remains a favourite amongst the Bhutanese.

    Wangdue Phodrang Dzong:

    Stretched along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punatsangchhu and Dhangchhu rivers, the imposing Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. During pre-monarchy days, the governor of this dzong played an important role. The annual festival takes place in autumn so be the guest and enjoy the tour of the dzong.

    The temple of Sha Radap:

    The temple of Sha Radap, the guardian deity of Wangdue Phodrang region is worth paying a visit. The temple located close to the town is houses the image of the deity. Locals pay frequent visits to the temple to seek his blessings and to name their new born child. You can roll the dice at the temple, seek his blessings and your wishes may come true and fulfilled.

    Gangtey Goemba:

    In the mountains east of Wangdue Phodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha valley, on the slopes of which is situated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km. down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate.

    Villages of Gaselo and Nahee:

    Enjoy the delights of the two villages in the west of the province. Take picnic lunches and drive to these villages on day excursions. Village life there is still medieval and farmers are ever happy to see visitors. Fascinate yourself during rice plantation in early summer. Experience the joy and drudgery of farming life. In autumn share the happiness of farmers over a bountiful harvest.

    The southern villages of Adha and Rukha:

    To experience the grandeur of these villages, you must prepare yourself for a tented night. You could also use a farm house stay and help distribute tourism income to the villages. Summer months are not recommended for cultural groups. The biting midges (sand flies), mosquitoes and leeches are instrument of raw adventure and may not entice the cultural visitors. The highlights are an experience into Adha and Rukha farming life. The farmers will tell tales of mermaids and kings. Let them show you the secrets of making roasted fish.

    Legends of Shaa region:

    East of Wangdue province lays the region of Shaa. The region celebrates Bonko (an animist festival) once in every three years. The farmers here practise animism but call themselves Buddhists. That is the thrill to experience for every visitor. The animists are nature worshippers and it makes great sense for a farmer to be an animist than a Buddhist. Brave yourself and drive on the farm roads to visit these villages or book few nights of camp services.

  • Taktsang Monastery

    Taktsang is located on a high cliff towards the north of Paro town. It was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup, a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three months in the 8th century. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) flew to this location from Khenpajong, Tibet on the back of a tigress and subdued a demon. He then performed meditation in one of the caves here and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and blessed the place. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger’s Nest”. Guru Padmasambhava is known for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. Today, Paro Taktsang is the best known of the thirteen caves in which he meditated.

    Perched on the high cliffs Taktsang is referred to as the Tiger’s Nest, it has always inspired and awestruck many a visitor. “Trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to Taktsang”, says one tourist. Indeed it’s true as the journey turns into a pilgrimage and fills you up in spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side it is the dramatic and the artistically structured monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. Let us take you to this magnificently set Buddhist relic hanging from a cliff. Feel the exhilaration of the uphill climb as you ascend more than two thousand feet from the valley floor.

  • Punukha

    Punakha: The ethereal ancient capital

    Punakha has been inextricably linked to some of the most momentous events in the Bhutanese history and deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and significant regions at the heart of Bhutanese culture. This district, levelling from 1300m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000m around Dochhula pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907 and the 1st National Assembly was held here. The dzong is historically important and stands as the symbol for a unified Bhutan. Visit Punakha Domche and relish the revelry of medieval warriors and also the coming of textiles to life.

    Punakha Dzong:

    Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At the dzong enrich your trip with the opportunity to see the highest standards in woodwork. Do not miss the massive Kuenray, the Coronation Hall of all Bhutanese kings, the Dzongchung at the entrance to the dzong and the cantilever bridge over the Mochu that has been recently renovated.

    Khamsum Yuley Temple:

    There is no temple in Bhutan built elaborately as this. This fascinating temple was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King to bring universal peace in this world. The best of the spiritual art works are painted on the inner walls. There are also paintings of Buddhist teachers and tutelary deities of the country. This is a great temple to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures.

    Chhimi Lhakhang:

    The divine madman also known, as Drukpa Kinley is a famous teacher with whom the phallic symbol is associated. Tales told by your guide would have excited you to visit Chhimi Lhakhang. The Divine Madman sits there though a statue this time. Do not miss the master’s deeds painted on the walls. Japanese and several American couples visited this temple and were blessed miraculously with children. Ask yourself, do I need this Fertility Tour or not?

    Talo Excursion:

    A day excursion to Talo would be great with picnic lunch. The festival there happens in spring and will capture any visitor’s attention. Let your tour take you there in summer during corn harvest. It’s an adventure to enjoy corn harvest with the farmers and also an opportunity to look for Himalayan bear. A walk through Talo and down to the other village of Nobgang will be a great day’s itinerary.

    Nalanda Buddhist College:

    Locals call this place Dalayna and the monks call it Nalanda Buddhist College. If you want to chat up with monks in English then this is the place to go. The monks here are dying to practise the new language they learn. Drive there in the afternoon and enjoy your evening tea supplemented by the ravishing view in front of you.

    Chorten Nigpo walks:

    The walk to Chorten Ningpo passes through several villages. Many visitors love this walk in summer and in autumn. In summer the rice fields are lush and gardens are filled with multitudes of vegetables and fruits. Likewise autumn enchants visitors with the golden hue of ripening rice. For adventure loving hard core walkers we recommend a detour to Hokotso, a lowland lake that holds many legends. This is recommended in autumn though

  • Paro

    Paro: The valley of unsurpassing beauty

    Paro’s cultural bonanza

    The cultural highlights of Paro resemble so much the intricate and beautiful textiles worn by the people during the valley’s annual festival. Here we take you through the rice fields, orchards, farmhouses and temples of various ages. The pride of Paro is the hanging temples on the cliffs from the legendary Taktsang to Kila Gompa and Dzongdrakha. Let your muscles baffle your spirits as you climb the rocky stairs of these medieval temples.

    To complete your tour of Paro, take an opportunity to time yourself with the Grand Festival of Paro. If you are looking for a quite visit then choose one of the village festivities or be a guest of the annual family ritual. The farmers of Paro will be too happy to have you join them during plantation or harvest.

    Drukgyel Dzong:

    Let the ruins of this dzong tell you a tale of how Bhutanese warriors defended Bhutan from the invaders from the north in the 17th century. This dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the outer walls and the central tower remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, treat yourself with a splendid view of Mt. Jumolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.

    Rinpung Dzong:

    Explore the Rinpung Dzong which the locals call the ‘fortress of a heap of jewels’. Built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the dzong stands on a hill above Paro Township. It is linked by the traditional cantilever bridge (called the Nemi Zam) over the Pa chu where one may pose a photograph. Experience a walk up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. Once inside the Dzong, you will be welcomed by the monks, architecture and the ancient frescoes.

    Ta Dzong:

    On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is the Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect the Dzong from intruders and warring factions. In 1968 Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.

    Kyichu Lhakhang:

    Go back in time and history and visit the 7th century Kyichhu temple. As the name suggests, the temple is a reservoir of peace, where you will really feel at peace here. Next to the temple is the house that is now turned into a museum dedicated to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. One can come across photographs and other artefacts belonging to Rinpoche.

    Dzongdrakha temple:

    Often called the mini- Taktsang, Dzongdrakha temples are built on the cliffs above Bondey village. The walk there is not as strenuous as to Taktsang. Legend says one of the temples is built around a levitating monument. Folks built a stronger temple around this monument with the hope that the levitating monument does not fly away into the sky.

    Kila Gompa:

    If you are as fit as the mountain goat, Kila Gompa awaits you. This magnificent clusters of temples built on the cliffs have been home for nuns for a long time. Kila in Sanskrit means a subjugating spiritual dagger that destroys the negativities. Hike up this temple and subjugate all the negative energies within you. If it does not give you the spiritual satisfaction do not worry because you will feel physically rejuvenated after the hike.

    Taktsang Monastery:

    Often called the Tiger’s Nest, perched on the cliffs, has awestruck many a visitor. “Trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to Taktsang”, says one tourist. Indeed it’s true as the journey there fills you with spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side it is the dramatic, artistically built monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. Take a trip to this dramatically set Buddhist relic hanging from a cliff. Experience the uphill climb as you ascend more than two thousand feet from the valley floor.

    Dungtse Lhakhang:

    The unusual and circular lhakhang, reminiscent of the Shanag, or the black hat worn by the Bhutanese Black Hat dancers was, built by the great “Builder of iron chain bridges,” Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. Experience a visit to this unique temple whose founder ws extended invitation by the two guardian deities of Ap Chundu and Jowo Drakey.

    Tachog Lhakhang:

    This 14th century temple located on the base of a mountain across the Pa chu on the Paro-Thimphu highway, is a must visit temple in the Paro valley. Built by the great master architect Thangtong Gyalpo, the temple houses some unique statues. To get to the temple one may actually walk over the iron chains that spans over the Pa chu.

    Paro Tshechu:

    The five-day Paro Tshechu is one of the biggest religious celebrations. Mask dances are performed to illustrate Buddhist moral tales from various Buddhist masters. You may attend the tshechu together with the Bhutanese people from all walks of life who join the residents of Paro in their best finery to attend the dances. One can witness the popular folk dance called the Wochubi Zhey that commemorates historical events.

    Farm Houses:

    Picturesque farm houses dot the valley amongst fields and hillsides. We welcome you to enjoy the hospitality of the Paro farmers. Thrill yourself as the farmers welcome you to their homes with genuine smiles. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farm houses are handsome in appearance, with colourfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built. A visit to a farm house gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family

  • Gasa

    Gasa: On the trails of discovery

    Gasa the northern most district of the country adjoins the districts of Punakha, Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang and with Tibet to its north. This starkly beautiful region with elevations ranging from 1500 to 4,500 metres experiences extremely long and hard winters and short but beautiful summers. It has the smallest population with just about 3000 inhabitants. Of culture meet the people of Laya, the nomads of western Bhutan. These people live on yaks and harvest of Cordycep (fungi of high value, used in oriental medicine).

    Gasa Dzong:

    Locally known as the Tashi Thongmon Dzong, the fortress served as a defending barrack in the 17th century. It was named after the region’s protecting deity Tashi Thongmon. The fortress is unique with a circular shape and three watch towers that are placed at strategic points. The beauty of the dzong is heightened during clear days with view of Mt. Gangboom. Time your trip there during the annual autumn festival.

    Laya Village:

    Let your adventurous spirit take you on a three nights trek to Laya. Situated at an altitude of 3800m, this village will mesmerise you with their unique culture. It is amazing how a small pocket of ethnic group survived for so long in the north of this small country. Anyone on the Snow Leopard trek or the grand Snowman Trek will converge through Laya. To experience the maximum cultural richness, why not time during their Owlay festival. This festival happens once in three years and the other festival you can bank on is the Takin Festival.

    Lunana village:

    The valley of Lunana is the most remote of Gasa district. To see Lunana is to experience the culture of Himalayan people residing amongst the glaciers. The people here make their living from yaks and sheep. The nomads here know a lot on medicinal herbs and have benefited a lot from cordycep harvesting. This wonder worm (Cordyceps sinensis) has given the nomads an extra income which will eventually lead to preservation of this nomadic culture.

    Sacred places:

    Gasa has about thirteen well known religious monuments that includes the
    Zabsel and Phulukha choetens, Throe Lhakhang, Dung Goemba, Drophel Choling, Yonzho Lhakhang, Jangchub Choling, Bumpa lhakhang, and the ruins of the ancestral home of the 1st Deb Raja of Bhutan, Tenzin Drugyel.

    Hot springs:

    Gasa is famed for its numerous hot springs or Tshachus with renowned medicinal properties. The hot springs at the base of the Mochu river draws not just the locals but as well as Bhutanese from other parts of the country and tourists. Taking a hot dip in the Tshachus will be not just a wonderful experience but give you a healing experience.

    Nature trip:

    The natural splendour of Gasa is unparalleled in the country. It has some of the highest peaks arrayed like a saw along the natural border with Tibet. Over a hundred glacial lakes are at the foot of these mountains that feed the two major rivers in the country. The entire district falls under the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park that has some rare flora and fauna species. One cn come across the elusive snow leopard, Takin – the national animal, Red Panda, the mountain goats, Blue sheep and the Blue Poppy, the national flower of the country. Each year a number of tourists pass through the region along its popular trails including the famous Snowman, one of the most arduous treks in the world.

  • Dochula

    Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is popular for tourists for its ideal location from where one can enjoy 360 degree of beautiful panoramic view of Himalaya mountain range, especially on clear winter days. The beauty of this place is further enhanced by the Druk Wangyal Chortens-108 stupa built by the eldest Queen Mother Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. The pass is also popular spiritual place for both locals and tourists because of an important temple that is located on the crest of Dochula pass.

    Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has achieved a fine blend of history and mythology in the construction of The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple) to honor His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appear to merge in the details of the lhakhang (temple) that tells the story of a supreme warrior figure whose vision pierces the distant future.

    Besides the spirituality of the place many Bhutanese families visit the pass during holidays and weekends to simply enjoy the scenery of the place with their pack lunch and hot tea. For the tourist the place is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalaya mountain range during clear warm days.