BHUTAN – A COMPLETE OVERVIEW
Travel to the far away Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and discover a Shangri-La of green valleys, snow capped mountains and friendly people. Physically isolated in its mountain fortress, this mystical Buddhist nation was closed to outsiders until 1974 and even today regulates tourist numbers. Bhutan is known as the land of “Thunder Dragon”. In comparison to other countries Bhutan is much is much cleaner and well maintained. In comparison to other countries the life of the locals of Bhutan are very peaceful. While going to Bhutan, one will get to see 2 different town lies at two different countries adjacent to each other, one is Jaigaon, India and the other is Phuntsholing, Bhutan and in the middle there is the entry gate to Bhutan, built in the year 1960. After Jigme Singye Wangchuk became the King of Bhutan in the year 1974 many establishments of Bhutan were reestablished during that time. After the year 1974 Bhutan was opened for tourists visit. Though for Indians, passport is not required for entering Bhutan, only a permit is required which is available from Phuntsholing Immigration office. The capital of Bhutan is Thimpu. In the year 1960 during the time of King Jigme Singhe Wangchuk, Indian Border Organization started the work of developing the connectivity of Phuntsholing to Thimpu National Highway. In the year 1971 bus service started from Phuntsholing to Thimpu and Bhutan got its connectivity with rest of the world. There is a canteen run by the “Indian Border Road Organization” one can have a break here. After that will come “Chukha” one of the five source of hydroelectric project at Bhutan . In India “River Chukha” is known by the name “Raydak”, the whole area is under the shades of numerous Pine, Chir and Deodar trees. On proceeding further after passing by “Chimakothi” and “Chazam” one will get to see “Simtokha Dzong” beautifully decorated with lights. The national dress of Bhutan for men is known as ‘Goh’ and for women are ‘Kira’. At Bhutan the locals produce Apple and Ambe. Bhutan mainly grows two types of apples, one is big sized red coloured apple and another is the small sized green coloured apple which are also known as ‘Golden Apple’. And ‘Ambe’ is a local fruit that grows at Bhutan and it resembles to Oranges. It says “Lama Yeti Dorji” of ‘Ralung’ province of Tibet came to Bhutan and started meditation, during that period he saw a illusion of a thunder resembles to a dragon like image and named his tribe ‘Drukpa’ from then onwards Bhutanese claimed themselves as “Drukpa Tribes” and the name of the country became “Druk” means ‘Thunder Dragon’ and ‘Pa’ means ‘Tribes’. Later around 1300 century, the locals of Bhutan named their country as ‘Druk- Gyel, the word ‘Gyel’ means country. From then onwards till date, Bhutan is known as the ‘Country of Thunder Dragon’ or ‘The Land of Thunder Dragon’. Bhutan lies on the eastern part of Himalayan range. To the north and northwest is Tibet and from Southeast to West is India. At Chapcha, there is a check post of Royal Bhutan, the army checks the permit. At Bhutan the armies are known are Bafra. The locals of Bhutan are known as Bhutia, the main source of income is agriculture, tourism and farming, the local language is Dzongkha, total area is around 47000 sq km. River Ama – Chu flows through Bhutan, in Indian it is known as ‘Torsha River’. The total population of Bhutan is around 700000. The currency of Bhutan is known as Bhutanese Ngultrum. There are all total 20 different districts all over Bhutan. Bhutan is a deeply Buddhist country and religion is part of everyday life, evidenced by the sacred ceremonies performed by red – robed monks in ancient monasteries and the prayer flags which flutter over hills and villages. Sacred chortens (stupas) and carved colourful prayer wheels are everywhere. Traditional festivals or “Tsechus” are celebrated across the country throughout the year. This is one of the most unique travel destinations on earth and should only be embarked upon by those with a sense of adventure and a relaxed attitude.
Dzong: All over Bhutan there are several Dzongs built almost at every nooks and corners of each entrance and exits of all the places. These Dzongs are mainly acts as a political and religious headquarters of different places of Bhutan. There are separate places inside these Dzongs where the Buddhists monks used to live. These Dzongs were built in Bhutan during the ancient period by Samdrup Rimpoche Nwang Namgial for protecting the country from outside attacks. The central Dzong of Bhutan is at Thimpu, Tashi-Cho Dzong.
PHUTSHOLING: Phuntsholing lies at an altitude of about 1476 ft. On the way from Phuntsholing to Thimpu after 5 km there is a check post where one needs to show their permit. After that one by tourists comes across “Sarchen” and “Golakha” mainly famous for its production of Potatoes and Cardamom. After that one will come across “Gedu” significantly known for the recent establishment Bhutan’s second college, the first college is at “Tashigang”. From the bus stand of Phutsholing within few km there is a crocodile breeding centre and around 5 km there is a huge idol of Guru Padmasambhav built around 1967. From Phuntsholing, the road winds north over the southern foothills, through lush forested valleys and around the rugged north – south ridges of the inner Himalayas to the western valleys of Thimpu and Paro
Kharbandi Monastery: Built in the year 1967. Kharbandi Monastery has a huge collection of pictures and manuscripts of Lord Buddha along with an idol of Guru Rimpoche. There is a garden adjacent with this monastery that offers wide view of Phuntsholing along with the Dooars and Terai regions.
THIMPU: Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan, lays on the banks of Wangchu River. In the middle of Thimpu there is National Memorial Chorten. From Thimpu one can visit the nearest ‘Lorab Choling Gompha’ (Monastery). Here one gets to see the Buddhists Lamas are praying their morning rituals. Around Thimpu one can visit ‘Wangchu’ in Bhutan the word ‘Chu’ means river. Thimpu is developed city lies on the banks of ‘Thimpu-Chu’ 6 km in length and 2 km wide. The altitude of Thimpu is about 8300 ft (2530 meter). Until 70s Thimpu was a developed village. The city of Thimpu is very clean and every house has a traditional Bhutanese architecture. The main road of Thimpu is ‘Norjim Lam’, at Bhutan road are termed as ‘Lam’. All over Bhutan there is no traffic signal available. There is a football stadium nearby at Bhutan which is also worth watching. From here the ‘Memorial Chorten’ is also worth visiting, wrapped with gold. In the year 1974 the mother of the third ‘King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk’ built this Chorten just outside the city of Thimpu. This is a national symbol of Bhutan. Around Bhutan there are numerous Chortens spread all over. There are around 8 different types of Chortens spread all over in Bhutan. In the year 1955 the capital of Bhutan was shifted from Punakha to Thimpu.
Thimpu Dzong (Trashigang Dzong): Presently this is the main centre of political activities of Bhutan.
Takin Reserve Centre: Takin Preserve Centre is an open area of Wildlife conservation. ‘Takin’ is the national animal of Bhutan.
Dordenma Statue: Buddha Point’ or Buddha Dordenma Project Changri Kuenselphodrang – Thimpu, locally known as ‘Dordenma Statue’ made of Bronze and its height is about 170 feet i.e. around 52 meter, it is one of the main landmark of Thimpu.
Other local watch able: Othe local watch-able around Bhutan are National Library, Textile Museum, Handicraft Market, Simtokha Dzong and the famous Peace Pagoda.
Art Gallery: The Art Gallery at Thimpu is located just beside the Folk Heritage Museum. In this Art Gallery small child mainly learns traditional Bhutan’s handicrafts. The children’s are taught how to make old religious paintings, wood engravings handicrafts and mask making.
PUNAKHA AND DOCHULA PASS: Punakha nestled at an altitude of about 3700 feet i.e. 1130 meter. On stepping in Punakha one gets to see the first glimpse of ‘Punakha Dzong’ lies on above the river. Two adjacent rivers ‘Pho-Chu and Mo-Chu’ flows at the front of the Punakha Dzong and Punakha – Chu emerged from these two rivers. Till the year 1955 Punakha was the capital of Bhutan. One can reach the interior of Punakha Dzong lies above ‘Mo-Chu’ river; here around 600 Buddhists Lamas live. The actual name of Punakgha Dzong was ‘Pung Thang Dochen Phodang’. “Nwang Namgial” in the year 1639 claimed to be the first ruler of Bhutan and gained the title “Shabdrung Rinpoche”. For the first time named Bhutan as a single state and at every entry he built one Dzong. In the later days these Dzong became as the main political and religious centre of Bhutan. Centering the Buddhists monasteries these Dzong were build up. From Punakha Valley to the far horizon Chimi Lhakhang Gompha is visible established by religious head Drukpa Kuenley, he was locally known as the ‘Divine Madman’. From Thimpu around 23 km is ‘Dochula Pass’. At ‘Monsur Checkpost’ the government officials check the permits. Dochula Pass nestled at an altitude of about 10400 ft, from here the road has diverted on two different sides. At Dochula Pass one gets to see 107 Chortens on a piece of plain land. These Chortens are the symbol of peace built in the year 2004 by ‘Tashi Dorjee Wangmo Wanchuk’ mother of the King of Bhutan. From Dochula Pass at a distance of 38 km is ‘Lobesu Valley’, depicts the picture of step cultivation the hilly terrains along with a picturesque view of ‘Chimi Lhakhang’. On a clear day Dochula Pass offers magnificent view of Mt. Masangang which is around 23484 ft. From one side of ‘Lobesu Valley’ ‘Punakha – Chu’ has flown by.
Punakha Dzong: Punakha Dzong was established during the year 1637 as the capital of Bhutan and built by Shabdrung (the unifier of Bhutan), is situated on a triangular spit of land at the confluence of two rivers. The body of the Shabdrung, who died in 1651, is entombed at the Dzong. Its main temple is breathtaking with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. Until 1952 when Thimpu was declared as the capital of Bhutan.
Royal Botanical Garden: For bird watchers and bird lovers Royal Botanical Garden at Punakha is an ideal place. Tourists often visit this place for a sight of the Black Necked Crane a local inhabitant of this region. Royal Botanical Garden is very close to Phobjika Valley nestled at an altitude of 2900 meter is often described as “the most beautiful valley in the most beautiful country in the Himalayas”. Every winter, the rare and graceful black – necked cranes return from Tibet to the safety of this remote valley. Gangtey, located above the valley has a very interesting 17thcentury Nyingmapa monastery, the only one of its kind west of the Black Mountain. Adventure lovers can travel further via Bumthang towards Tashi Gaon of East Bhutan.
PARO AND CHELELA PASS: Paro Valley nestled amidst of mountains and valleys at an altitude of around 7382 ft (2250 meter). The view of Paro Valley offers long stretched of unending mountain ranges, beneath the foot lays the valleys and from north to south flow Paro – Chu. All over the valleys of Paro, one gets to see houses of the locals those engraved in Bhutanese architectural style. During the winter Oranges, Apple and Cherries grows at Paro. The market area of Paro is well planned. Paro lies within 65 km from Punakha. On the other side of Paro – Chu one gets to see Paro Dzong. Tourists need to cross a wooden bridge to reach Paro Dzong. From Paro on a day tour tourists can get around and visit Taksthang Gompha and Drukgyel Dzong.
Taksthang Gompha (monastery) – Tiger’s Nest: Nestled at an altitude of about 10240 ft, vehicles stops at ‘Jangthang’ after that one needs to avail the distance either by foot or on horseback. The locals named this ‘Tiger’s Nest’ and it is a pilgrimage site for the Buddhists of both Bhutan and Tibet. From ‘Jangthang’ one needs to trek 3000 ft uphill to reach ‘Tiger’s Nest’. Taksthang monastery is located within 15 km from Paro and built in the year 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated during the 7thcentury. To reach Takshtang Gompa (Tiger’s Nest) car will drop travelers 4.5 km before the monastery, because the last 4.5 km is a trekking route on steep uphill. History says in the ancient time Guru Padmasambhav flew away from Tibet on the back of female tiger and reach at a cave for his mediation later a monastery was built here and named Tiger’s Nest.
Rinchen Poong Dzong: Built in the year 1646 and it literary means ‘Tomb on an abandoned land’.
Kichu Lankha Monastery: Kichu Lhakhang Monastery has a special significance as one step inside this monastery tourists get to see there is a huge idol of Lord Buddha and surrounding it numerous candles lighten up. In the courtyard of this monastery there are two orange trees where sweet oranges grows throughout and these oranges are presented to the Lord as offerings.
Folk Heritage Museum – Exhibition Hall: Built around 250 years ago by King Kawajagsa. Here tourists get to know the traditional culture of Bhutan and the stages of their early lifestyles. Here visitors get to see many products like fishing equipments, Arms and Ammunitions, things made from Yak skin. In the second floor of this museum there is an office of the King.
Rinpong Dzong: Depicts old Bhutanese history with a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings and exquisite postage stamps. Other sites include the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (fortress of the victorious Drukpas) with its magnificent views of Mount Jumolhari and the 7th century Kyichu Temple.
Chele- La- Pass: The highest motor able road of Bhutan also known as highest point on Dontak Road, altitude is about 13116 ft; (3998 meter) distance from Paro is nearly 40 km. On the way to Chele- La – Pass one can enjoy the bird’s eye view of Paro Airport. From Paro just 4 km before entering Chele – La Pass one will come across ‘Bonde’ village the locals named it ‘Botanical Paradise’ as this villages hosts numerous species of Rhododendrons those are in full bloom during March – April. From Chele – La – Pass two mountain peaks ‘Chomolhari’ and ‘Didudar’ are clearly visible. The altitude of Chomolhari is around 23996 ft. From Chelela – Pass to the far horizon Chumbi Valley of Tibet and Pangola range of Sikkim are visible.
Paro Airport: The geographical location of Paro international airport, is set amid the pastoral beauty of the Paro Valley and decorated with wooden pagoda. The name of Bhutan airlines is Druk Airlines named after the first king of Bhutan Tenzin Drukgyel, he ruled Bhutan during 1650 – 55.
Drukgyel Dzong: Drukgyel Dzong lies towards the northern side of Paro Valley. There is a watch tower at Drukgyel Dzong.
HAA VALLEY: Located around 40 km from Chele- La Pass. Haa Valley is around 110 km from Thimpu and 79 km from Chuzom, this is the confluence of Thimpu – Chu and Paro – Chu. The altitude of Haa Village is around 2670 meter. On the way to Haa Valley one gets to see the step cultivation fields of rice, wheat, barley, potatoes and other organic vegetables along with numerous apple and orange trees on the road side. After few distances one will come across Dopaji – Dzong, it is an age old jail of Bhutan, in the year 2011 this was shifted to Thimpu. One will pass by small villages like Nago, Dzongkhanag, Dawakha and Bitekha, the locals of these villages are mainly involved in farming. After the year 2002 tourists are permitted to enter Haa Village. Haa – Chu River has divided the village in two parts. Haa Village is located on the western part of Bhutan. Haa Village is surrounded by Tibet on North west, Samsi Dzongkhag on South west, Chukha Dzongkhag on the South east and Paro Dzongkhag on the North east. At Haa village there is a army training centre jointly operated by Indian and Bhutan government and it is known as IMITRAT. During the winter season Haa Village receives snowfall. Near the army training centre there is a Dzong, the only in Bhutan built in the year 1913 named Wangchulu Dzong. The village of Haa is surrounded by three small hilltops namely Jampeliang, Chana Dorjee and Chenreji. For the locals of Haa village these three hilltops are sacred and gained religious importance. In the month of July Haa village hosts a summer festival. From Haa three different routes has connected with three different villages Takchu, Yangthang and Talung. From Thimpu bus service is available for Haa village but it is available only on fixed days of the week. For visiting Haa village a special permit is required which is available from Thimpu Norjim Lam area.
BUMTHANG: Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. It is distinguished in history as the first place where Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan by Guru Rimpoche. Its undulating green valley’s are renowned for their natural beauty, historic palaces and many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries. Bumthang also known as the Switzerland of Bhutan nestled at an altitude of about 2600 meter. The way to Bumthang is via Wangdufodrong. Bumthang is guarded by four different valleys by four sides these are Choskar, Tang, Ura and Chume. Among these four valleys Choskar is the largest and all the Dzongs and monasteries are situated here. The word Bumthang means Bum – Monastery like place, where holy water is kept and Thang – Plain land. On the way to Bumthang one will come across Trangsa 2200 meter and Pelila Pass 3390 meter. The word Trangsa means ‘a new village’. At Trangsa in the year 1543 Druppa Lama and Wangchuk established the first monastery. From Trangsa another 68 km is Bumthang, on the way one will come across Yotongla Pass 3825 meter. The route to Bumthang is full of lush greenery all over. During the winter Bumthang receives huge amount snowfall. All over Bumthang one gets to see unending agricultural farmlands, mountain peaks to the far horizon, school for the local children, Dzongs. A local sweet fruit is found at Bumthang known as ‘Khartum’. Around Bumthang there are few places of tourist’s interest.
Zakar Dzong: Built in the year 1667, one needs to trek uphill to reach the Dzong. But during an earthquake of 1897, this Jakar Dzong was seriously affected and again the later days it was renovated. It is locally known as ‘Castle of White Bird’. Due to the geographical location of all these Dzongs, one can get a bird’s eye view of the whole region.
Kurje Lhakhang: The word Kurje means Ku – Body and Je – Spot. This place is reserved for the education and staying accommodation of the Lamas. From here Bumthang Domestic Airport is visible, though this airport is a recent construction. Bumthang Domestic Airport is situated beside river ‘Chamkar – Chu’. This is the home to a rock featuring the imprint of Guru Rimpoche body, 7th century Jambay Lhakhang.
Wangdi Choling Palace: Built in the year 1857, this was the residence of the first and the second king of Bhutan. There is also a museum adjacent with this palace. From here tourist can visit Chaskar river, here one gets to see the breeding process of trout fish.
Other points of tourist’s interest include Tamshing Monastery containing some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan. Tales of Guru Rimpoche and the tertons (‘religious treasure – discoveries’) linger throughout this sacred religion. Another highlight is Ugyenchholing Palace, an exquisite private mansion housing a small eco – museum.
THINGS TO KNOW: In terms of Arial distance, Bhutan is well connected with Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. On entering Bhutan tourists need to collect the SIM card, as Indian SIM cards do not work at Bhutan. The permit office at Phuntsholing remains open from 08.00 Am to 04.00 PM. Tourists needs to present required documents along with photo id proofs for the permit. Mobile phones and cameras are strictly prohibited inside the monasteries. While entering the Dzongs, tourists are not allowed to wear anything on their head.
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