CENTRAL BHUTAN TOURIST PLACES
The districts of Trongsa and Bumthang have been selected as Centre Circuit. Apart from the richness of culture in these two regions, TCB seeks to promote Alpine Flower Bhutan Tours, Nomad festivals and Matsutaki festivals.
TRONGSA – The Pelila pass (3300m) separates west and centre Bhutan. Enjoy the deep pastoral feeling as you drive into the valley of meadows where sheep and yaks graze. Bamboos that grow plenty on the hillsides are trimmed by yaks. Yaks love the tender leaves and thus dwarfed the bamboos. Birdwatcher; look out for a speciality called the Wren Babbler that refuges amongst the dwarfed bamboos. In the months of April- June, the hillsides will greet you with multiples of rhododendrons in bloom.
Chendebji Chorten: En route to 2 Nabji Drup Nabji temple winter Trongsa is Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida, to cover the remains of a demon subdued at this spot.
Trongsa Dzong: Built in 1648, this dzong holds a great historical importance. It is customary for all the kings of Bhutan to be invested as Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne. You will be thrilled by the massiveness of this dzong that literally covers a hill top. Another exciting thing you can do here is enjoying the two hours hike following the old Royal Route that passes through the dzong. Enjoy the legends of Trongsa as you tour the fortress or while you take this walk.
Ta Dzong: This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong against civil wars, stands on a steep slope above the town. Climb up the cobbled stairs to visit Ta Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into Trongsa’s significance in Bhutan’s history. Enjoy this fascinating museum that includes several personal items of the kings. A great documentary show and then spiral up to the top with a view point enclosure.
Kuenga Rabten Palace: Kuenga Rabten palace is 23km from Trongsa dzong. The road passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. Enjoy the drive as the terrain slopes quite gently opening opportunities for good bird watching and cultural sightseeing. This palace functioned as winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural affairs. Nevertheless, this is a place to witness the aura of Bhutan’s medieval royalty.
BUMTHANG – is known as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. This region spans from an altitude of 2,600-4,500m. If you are looking for the religious heartland of Bhutan then Bumthang beckons a region famous for some of Bhutan’s oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava’s and the tertons “religious treasure-discoverers” still linger in this sacred region.
Jambey Lhakhang: This 7th-century monastery was one of 108 monasteries built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century. However, the inner shrine with the Future Buddha is believed to be there some 1400 years ago. Jambay festival (in the late autumn) is famous for the Tercham. English speaking Bhutanese refer to this dance as the Naked Dance. Indeed some dancers appear naked!
Kurje Lhakhang: Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises three temples. The exciting thing here is comparing the 17th-century structure on the right side with the 20th century on the left (the one built by H.M. Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Grand-Queen Mother). These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall. Kurje is very special as the kings of Bhutan and other Royal Family membersare cremated here.
Tamshing Lhakhang: Take a walk from Kurje Lhakhang to Tamshing Lhakhang. This temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Padmasambhava’s. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple. Take an experience before restoration.
Jakar Dzong: Constructed in 1549 by the great grandfather of the first Shabdrung, the dzong was initially built as a monastery. It was upgraded in 1646 after the Shabdrunghad firmly established his power. Jakar Dzong is now used as the administrative centre for Bumthang valley and also houses the regional monk body.
Thangbi Gompa: If you are fond of walking take an opportunity to Thangbi Gompa. A walk of about 30 minutes north of Kurje Lhakhang. It was founded in 1470 by H.H Shamar Rinpoche of a Buddhist lineage called Karma Kagyu. If you happen to be around here, in autumn, look out for the dates of Thangbi festival.
Ngang Lhakhang: Enjoy some 3 hours of valley walk, north of Thangbi, Ngang Yule (“Swan Land”). The temple here dates from the 15th century founded by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. Do not miss the three-day festival held here each winter, with masked dances in honour of the founder of the temple.
Ura valley: Enjoy an excursion to Ura valley which will be around four hours driving back and forth. The drive is exciting as it passes through some sheep rearing farms. Serthang-la pass at 3600m above sea level offers a great view of Gangkar Puensum (the highest unclimbed mountain in the Himalayas). Farmers at Ura village are enterprising and they have a community library initiated by Global READ (an NGO from the US). The highlight of Ura village is the festival that takes place in spring.
Special Festivals in Bumthang
Matsutake festival in Ura - What awaits you in Ura, are the wild mushrooms and the Matsutake festival. Locally known as Sangay Shamu, Matsutake mushrooms are found in abundance here. A few decades ago Japanese discovered this special mushroom in Bhutan. Hence this mushroom has become a helping hand to most farmers. Join the locals for Matsutake and another mushroom picking. The festival extends other attractions such as arts and crafts display by the villagers. Witness for yourself the local delicacies weaving around folk songs and dances. It is definitely a great opportunity to catch with some local brew such as Red Panda beer. It is an occasion to walk around the cobbled steps, peep into a traditional village home or spend a warm night by the Bhutanese hearth listening tales of old. The farmers display freshly collected edible mushrooms along with medicinal herbs, textiles and other bamboo products. Here is a chance for you to experience a hot steamy stone bath in a traditional Bhutanese style.
Nomad’s festival in Bumthang - The ethnic diversity of Bhutan has always enthralled the outside world. A small Kingdom both in terms of its size and population yet has more than three major ethnic groups. Many nomadic tribes inhabiting the country speak as many as 17 dialects. The two major nomadic tribes in Bhutan are the Brokpas and Layaps inhabiting rugged terrains. Economically the tribes depend on the Yaks for livelihood; the yak products are either bartered or sold off to buy their necessities. Nomad Festival brings the Highlanders of Bhutan together. It is an opportunity for these tribes to interact and learn from each other. The government makes sure that some knowledge infused exhibitions are demonstrated. Grasp this opportunity to interact with the nomads and get a sense of their unchanged lifestyles. Here is a chance to see all the nomads in Bumthang. You will save all your time trekking to those regions otherwise. Nomad Festival set in central Bhutan allows you to see most part of Bhutan. You will be travelling through some districts. This allows you to experience the variance in vegetation, architecture, food and culture. Display of freshly collected edible mushrooms along with medicinal herbs, textiles and other bamboo products. Here is a chance for you to experience a hot steamy stone bath in a traditional Bhutanese style. A night in camp or a farmhouse is yet another exciting line to add in your journal. This gives you a chance to forget your iPod as the bucolic music sweep you off your feet. Be an early riser, take your binoculars and play hide and seek with the birds. For those who love nature, be the adventure yourself and go for a day hike around the Thrumshingla National Park. This adds to the sighting of some endangered species. Should lady luck be on your side, you may also bump into a Bengal Tiger. You will have the real experience of harvesting this rare mushroom. Your personal enjoyment will trickle some income to the upland farmers of Ura.
Attractions - Unique attires and the nomads have distinct lifestyles befitting their environment. The Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng have unique dress spun out of Yak hairs: men wear black caps with five long fringes hanging from the sides. The upper body wear is a thick jacket woven out of Yak hairs. For torso wear a knee-length short known as Kongo is worn. Women keep long hair tied up in plaits with colourful ribbons. They wear a sort of an apron that reaches their knee level tied at the waist designed with colourful motifs of animals and flowers. Layups (nomads from Laya) do have unique attire. Men dress like the rest of Bhutanese men with Gho tied at the waist. It is the Layap women who dress differently. They wear a conical bamboo hat and the necklaces are filled with pieces of jewellery of corals and agates. Layab women wear an overcoat like garment under which a sarong kind is worn. Both made from yak hairs and sheep wool. Lifestyles: As Yak herders, nomads spend most of their lives in tents made of Yak hair. During this festival, we offer you an experience of such facilities. The hearth is in the centre of the tents that generates heat. Sitting around the hearth and cooking your own meal will be quite an experience. Traditional arts and crafts: Arts and crafts have played a pivotal role in the lives of the Bhutanese. At the festival witness the artisans breathing life into statues beautifully crafted onto a slate or blacksmiths forging swords out of locally produced iron. There are extensions such as a potter displaying the skill of pottery, layup women weaving conical hats out of bamboos, Brokpa spindling yak hairs or artisans carving wooden bowls. Traditional games: Bhutanese still continue playing traditional games such as archery, dego, khuru, soksum and wrestling. Here at this festival, we offer you an opportunity to enjoy archery played out with bamboo bows and arrows. You may even try the Bhutanese dart game called khuru, a stone-disc hurling (dego) or the Bhutanese javelin called soksum.
Cuisines: Bhutanese people love cuisines such as ones displayed at the Nomad Festival. Bumthang’s noodles (Puta), the fl our and the maize cuisines of Brokpas known as Bokpi and Kharang, the red rice cuisine from western Bhutan together with ema datshi –a dish prepared with chilli and cheese are some popular cuisines. Some peculiar Bhutanese cuisine such as fried liver, heart and intestines might enthral you. Display of a village folklife: Village life in rural Bhutan is still unchanged and unaffected by modernity to a large extent. People still make use of the olden ways of living. The rounded stones are still used for grinding maize, and paddy is pounded traditionally to separate the grain from the husk. Oxen still plough the fields and drinking water is carried from the water source using traditional containers of wood and bamboo. In this festival, one can have a glimpse of the traditional Bhutanese folk life and get a sense of rural Bhutan.