WESTERN BHUTAN TOURISM
Western Bhutan comprises of Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gasa and Wangdue Phodrang districts constitute the Western Circuit. The summer festival of Haa is very interesting which showcases the wonders of a living culture and the festival highlights Shaman rituals and other folk dances. You can enjoy the beauty of rare Himalayan flowers in bloom or take a daring trek to Nob Tsonapatra. The lakes of Nob Tsonapatra are full of legends. Discover Bhutan’s history with visits to the temples, dzongs, museums and festivals. Festivals abound throughout the year and trips can be tailored in accordance. Experience the plantation of rice in early summer or the harvests of the same in autumn. Chillies, Bhutan’s favourite dish are dried on the roof tops in the months of September. The golden hue of ripening rice fields are photographers’ delight in autumn. Textiles come to life during the festivals. Enjoy the reunion of medieval festivals with the innovation in modern textiles. Punakha festival marvels you with the historical depiction of medieval warriors who defended Bhutan with swords and shields. Explore Paro festival to be part of the new life starting in spring. Let the autumn festivals of Thimphu, Gasa and Wangdi take you through the livery of family passed down textiles. Do not miss the Western Circuit highlights of museums. Paro museum (Ta dzong) reveals the history, cultural, some natural history and even baffles every visitor with the collection of world famous stamps of Bhutan. While in Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with farmers’ livelihood. When you visit the Textile Museum, do not miss the Raven Crown and some Royal dresses of old.
[ Click here for Best Bhutan tour packages ]
Bhutan is an ideal place for MICE destination. The conference can be hosted in 3-star hotels to luxury 5-star hotels.
PARO - The cultural highlights of Paro resemble so much to the intricate and beautiful textiles worn by the people during the valley’s annual festival. Let us take you through the rice fields, orchards, farmhouses and temples of various ages. Some spectacular sites in Paro are the cliff -hanging temples of Taktsang. Drukgyel Dzong tells you stories of invasions and how this small country defended it zealously in the 17th century. Kila Gompa and Dzongdrakha. Let your muscles baffle your spirits as you climb these rocky stairs to the temples. To complete your tour of Paro, time yourself for 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 let you experience rice plantation or harvest.
Taktsang Monastery - The “Tiger’s Nest”, perched on the cliffs and has awestruck many a visitor. A trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to “Taktsang”. Indeed it’s true as the journey there fills you up in spiritual bliss. For those not choosing the spiritual side, it is the dramatic landscape and the artistically built monument that becomes a hiker’s delight. Let us take you 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.
Drukgyel Dzong - The fortress will tell you a tale of how medieval warriors defended Bhutan from the invaders from the north. This Dzong was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fi re in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep still remains an imposing sight. If you want to know how this ruin looked like in those glorious days then flip through the photos of the coffee-table book, the Raven Crown or visit the archives of National Geographic Magazine of 1914 issue. On a clear day, treat yourself with the splendour of Mt. Jumolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.
Rinpung Dzong - Rinpung Dzong the locals call the ‘fortress of a heap of jewels’, built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the dzong stands on a hill above Paro township. You can pose yourself for a photo on the traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam). Experience a walk up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. Once
inside the jewels will gleam at you in form of monks and frescoes.
Ta Dzong - originally built as a watchtower. In 1968 it was inaugurated as the first 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. Start or end your trip with a visit to this marvellous museum.
Kyichu Lhakhang - visit to this 7th century of Kyichu is like going back into the time. As the name suggests, a reservoir of peace, you will really feel at peace here. In 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Grand Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one, in the same style.
Dzongdrakha temple - The mini Taktsang, Dzongdrakha temples are built on the cliff s 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.
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.
Farm Houses - A visit to a farm house gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family. Thrill yourself as farmers welcome you to their homes with genuine smiles. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farm houses are unique in appearance, with colourfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built without the use of a single nail. All houses follow the same architectural style.
[ Click here to check more Bhutan tourist places ]
THIMPHU - the capital of Bhutan, situated at an altitude of 2400m is the centre of government, religion and commerce. The capital has an interesting combination of tradition and modernity. It is home to civil servants, expatriates, politicians, business people and monks. Enjoy this cultural mix based on livelihood. We will take you through temples, dzong, museums, handicraft stores and nunneries. Allow yourself to meet both traditional and contemporary artist. Among the festivals, the popular one is the Thimphu Tsechu and there are others, though small yet captivating, happening on the outskirts of the capital.
National Memorial Chorten - Meet the elderly generation in circumambulation at the National Memorial Chorten. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. Treat yourself with a fantastic depiction of Buddhist teachings in form of paintings and sculptures at this temple. As the name denotes this National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974, in memory of the Third King.
Buddha Dordenma Statue - The Buddha Dordenma is located on top of a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfils an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. The statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8 inches tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddha’s has also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
Tashichho dzong - The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially constructed in 1641 and restored by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in the 1960s. Tashichho dzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body.
National Library - The National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. There is also a small Foreign Books Collection, the stock of which mainly comprises works written in English, with the subject interest in Buddhist studies, Bhutan, the Himalayan region and neighbouring countries. Take a chance to see the world’s biggest book stationed on the ground floor.
Institute for Zorig Chusum - commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers you a glimpse of novices
learning 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. It is a hands-on trip for you. Enjoy a few moments with future artists of the country.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine - In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners. The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around and visit the showroom.
Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums - These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.
Handicrafts shops - A wide assortment of colourful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for
purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller crafts shops around the town.
Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory - showcases traditional methods to produce the authentic Bhutanese paper known as Deh-sho. The factory uses the bark of two tree species, the Daphne tree and Dhekap tree in the manufacture of traditional paper. Visitors can observe the entire process of producing handmade paper using ancient traditional methods that have been practised for generations. You can even try your hand at this ancient craft and make some paper of your very own as a souvenir. The Deh-sho paper was originally used by monasteries for woodblock and manuscript books and also for writing prayer books. They produce various other products, such as stationery and greeting cards.
Semtokha Dzong - Stroll through the very first dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Institute for Language and Cultural Studies is located here now. Enthral yourself with the most noteworthy artistic feature in from of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.
Dochula pass - is located on the altitude of 10,000 ft on the Thimphu – Punakha highway. A pass is a popular place among tourists as it offers a stunning panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is scenic on clear winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquillity of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Weekend Market - The population of Thimphu and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the river. A wide range of foodstuff s and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy souvenirs.
HAA VALLEY - was one of the main commercial gateways until roads opened through Phuentsholing in the earlier 1960s. The route via Haa was an important access for the Bhutanese just as the Silk Route was for many Himalayan countries. Bhutanese traders used Haa to connect Phari and Chumbi, the nearest trade centres beyond the Bhutanese borders. The historic journey of Indo-Bhutan friendship took place on this route when the then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru walked to Bhutan in 1958. One may see the old documentary fi lm of this travel with barefooted Bhutanese protocols and Indian delegates arriving into Haa valley. During those days Haa was an important frontier valley and the Haa-drungpa (the governor) held an influential post. Chuzom confluence divides the road to Haa, Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing. Chhuzom means, “Where rivers meet”. Bhutanese believe that much negative energy meets at the junction where rivers and spurs intersect. Triangulated aerial view of such junctions is called Nam-go-dru-sum taken to means as ‘sky’s triangle door’. This belief comes from the astrological directions and might have some connections to mysteries such as the ones of ‘Bermuda Triangles’ if explored. Respect of such a belief has inspired the Bhutanese to build the three styled Chortens here. Chorten is literally a stone monument translated as the “Relic of the faith”. Devotees believe that such would ward off negative complexities. As one drives southward on the Haa road, the views of Tsanda Goenpa and upper Chapcha villages are panoramic. The stately fortress of Dobji stands picturesquely on a ridge which at one time was joked as the Bhutanese Alcatraz. Now an abbot has been appointed transforming the place into another peaceful Buddhist monastery. The hairpin road leads to stone quarries and other scattered villages. These farmers here were once known for growing wheat and mustard. Village elders
tell tales of how their elders worked hard and carried wheat and mustard to Paro where the Paro Penlop (Governor) awaited eagerly for the tax. The motor road has wrought magic in these villages now. They have become proud farmers producing tonnes of potatoes and other vegetables. The hillsides are lush with cabbages and some innovative farmers have chicken farms too. Dawakha village is a popular stone quarry region. Geologically, this area has lots of limestone deposits that lead to the formation of many calcite caves. These calcite caves have spiritual values to the Bhutanese. Some of the spiritual caves in this part are the famous Wangdue Nye, Chikar Gompa and Tashiling Gompa. The area is also a haven for Cantrell mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) in summer. Jabana village got its name from Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal (Shabdrung unified Bhutan under one rule in the 17th century), literally translated as the “Realm Behind”. The most populated of Jabana region is Jaba-beteykha where a small fortress called Beteykha dzong exists. This dzong as elders says functioned mainly for taxation purposes. It is worth to visit the old water-run fl our mill close to Jabana village. The drive from Jabana to the main valley is very picturesque. Look out for several huge old traditional farmhouses. Haa valley is beautiful with the three ridges, locally called the Rig-sum-Goemn, artistically shaped like identical ridges. Rig-sum- Goemn means the three types of goemns (spiritual pathfinders) and is represented by the Lords of Compassion (Chenrigzee), of Knowledge (Jampelyang) and the destroyer of negativity (Chana-Dorjee). The main deity of this valley is Chundu, the great warrior guardian affectionately referred to as Ap Chundu. Ap Chundu is honoured by most farmers in western Bhutan and one may note that the three striped flags on the roof of the houses are often called the Chundudharchu. This shows that the deity is being honoured during the Choeguu (the family annual ritual). People who seek Ap Chundu’s protection are happy when they see a dream of a Dasho (title formally bestowed by the King for meritorious service rendered to the kingdom. Literal meaning-the best) whom they interpret as Ap Chundu and thus pay their homage in accordance. There are many stories associated with the deity especially around Haa and Paro. Many, who take refuge under Him, would often call themselves Ap Chundu’s bastards- always told in jest but honourable. Haabi Lomba, the New Year for the locals here, is another delicious highlight. Many who have had a chance to eat Hoentay (the vegetable fi lled dumpling) would agree. To the delight of many naturalists, Haa has pockets of shaman festivals taking place in several hamlets. These animist traditions lost their importance in the eyes of modern Bhutanese and the clergy for sometime. But now the animist traditions are coming back as special interests to enthusiastic environmentalists. Such animist traditions place greater respect to the natural world which is something the present world is losing fast.
Chelila La Pass - Another trekking trail heads east towards Paro and goes via Chelila-la pass. This trek is best during the month of autumn for good mountain views or late spring months for varieties of sub-alpine & alpine flowers. While in Haa, one of the best areas to go for the excursion is a visit to Tachu-Gonpa. There is a farm trail where a 4wd can ply easily but on foot, it will take an hour and a half uphill and an hour downhill using the old footpath. Do not miss the great temple built on a rock cliff known as Shelkar-dra temple. Chelila-la pass (3800m), a favourite place for many visitors, is one of highest motor able passes in the country. For the Buddhists, it is also a sacred place to festoon the pass with prayer flags. For naturalists, the Chelila ridge offers gardens of Himalayan flowers, plants and of special pheasant species. Water is scarce on these ridges and it is recommended to have enough water supplies with you. There are lots of beautiful and peaceful ridge tops offering views of valleys below and of Mount. Jumolhari (7315m). The blooming season for most flowers are in June and early July and the best time to watch pheasants on the ridges are in April and May months. Blue Poppy, beautiful but rare blooms in June and can be spotted few minutes’ walks towards the southern ridges.
PUNAKHA - is known for its varieties of cultural opulence created by the country’s history. This district levelling from 1300m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000m around Dochula pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907. The dzong of Punakha is historically important as the symbol of unified Bhutan. You could witness Punakha festival in the month of spring and relish the revelry of medieval warriors along with textiles coming to life.
Punakha Dzong - Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires, floods and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the Fourth 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 which is the Coronation Hall of all Bhutanese kings.
Khamsum Yueling Temple - There is no temple in Bhutan built elaborately as this. This fascinating temple built by the Queen Mother (Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck) 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 most 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 was 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 as 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 the 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 eager to practice the new language they learn. Drive there in the afternoon and enjoy your evening tea supplemented by the ravishing view beneath.
Chorten Ningpo 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 hardcore walkers, we recommend a detour to Hokotso, a lowland lake that holds many legends. This is recommended in autumn and winter months though.
Rafting & Kayaking in Punakha - Bhutan has some fast moving rivers fed by the glaciers. In the western circuit, the best sporty developed place is in Punakha. Explore the Mochhu River from near Tashithang and combine your trip with bird watching. If you are looking for a more exciting two-hour rafting try the rapids of Pochhu. As of now, we have two experienced rafting and kayaking outfitters. A complete package with nights in camps can be arranged. Why not try your fly fishing trip with a rafting experience. If you are looking for a wilder side of water sports we could create one by harnessing some nasty rapids of Punatsangchu river.
WANGDUE PHODRANG - also means a power gathering citadel (empowerment castle). As the name speaks the dzong of Wangdue held a powerful position during pre-monarchy days. During those days the highway from west to centre passed through the dzong. This gave this dzong an immense power. Apart from the great dzong, other cultural wonders lie in the villages. Detour villages of Gaselo and Nahee towards the west of the dzong. Likewise, enjoy the tales of shaman culture in the Shaa regions that constitute a major portion of Wangdue district.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong - stretched along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punatsangchu and Dhangchhu rivers, the imposing Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. During pre-monarchy days, the governor of this dzong played an important role. In those days the highest political positions under the regent were called Chila. Chila was the title given to
the regional head of Trongsa, east of Wangdue, Daga in the south and Paro in the west. Chila of Trongsa and Daga had to pass through Wangdue province which gave weight to the latter’s position. The annual festival takes place in autumn to be the guest and enjoy the tour of the dzong.
Gangtey Gompa / Phobjika - In the mountains east of Wangdue Phodrang lies the beautiful Phobjika valley, on the slopes of which is situated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjika lies scattered around the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis), 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 these two villages situated west of the province. Take picnic lunches and do 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 farmhouse stay and help distribute tourism income to the villages. Summer months are not recommended for cultural groups. The biting midges (similar to sand flies), mosquitoes and leeches are instruments of raw adventure lovers 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. Do not miss the Adaps’ & Rukhaps’ secret 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 every three years. The farmers here practice 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.
GASA - Gasa the northernmost district of the country has the smallest population. The entire district falls under the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. Of culture meet the people of Laya, the nomads of western Bhutan. These people live on yaks and harvest of Cordyceps (fungi of high value, used in oriental medicine). Gasa means a place of happiness or a place to laugh. Experience for yourself and see which suits you.
Gasa Dzong - Locally known as the Tashi Thomson Dzong, the fortress served as a defending barrack in the 17th century. The beauty of the dzong is heightened during clear days with a 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 from Punakha. Situated at an altitude of 3800m, this village will mesmerize you with their unique culture. It is amazing how a small pocket of the 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 about medicinal herbs and have benefited a lot from cordyceps harvesting. This wonder worm (Cordyceps Sinensis) has given the nomads an extra income which will eventually lead to the preservation of this nomadic culture.
Laya Village - let your adventurous spirit take you on a four days trek to Laya from Punakha. Situated at an altitude of 3800m, this village will mesmerize you with their unique culture. It is amazing how a small pocket of the 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 Olay festival. This festival happens once in three years and the other festival you can bank on is the Takin Festival.