Location: Central Bhutan, east of Trongsa
Distance from Trongsa: 68 km (2 hrs 30 mins)
Elevation: 2,600m, 8,530ft
Known as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, Bumthang houses some of the most ancient and precious Buddhist sites, chhortens, fluttering prayer flags, prayer wheels and other symbols of Buddhism which leave the deepest impression. The age-old traditions are very much alive, and it is a unique example of original Himalayan culture which adds to the number of distinctive priceless assets of the country.
The Jakar Dzong (the Fortress of the White Bird) was built by Ngagi Wangchuk, father of Zhabdrung, out of inspiration by a vision of a white bird settling on the hill at that spot. It is located in the Chhoekhor valley, which is the capital of the Bumthang region. Situated on a strategic summit, it is one of the most exquisite architecture in Bhutan.
Besides the fascination exclusively offered by the fortress, the land is scattered with highly venerated monasteries like the Kuje Lhakhang, Jampay Lhakhang, Tamshing, etc with a blend of preeminent conventional architecture that has reached the level of perfection.
1. Jakar Dzong
The Jakar Dzong (the Fortress of the White Bird) is located in the Chhoekhor valley, which is the capital of the Bumthang region. It was founded in 1549 by the Drukpa lama Ngagi Wangchuk, who saw a white bird landing there when he was looking for a place to build a temple. Located on a strategic point, it is one of the most exquisite architecture in Bhutan.
2. Wangdichholing Palace
The Wangdichholing Palace was built in 1857 by Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel and was later restored by his son, the first king Ugyen Wangchuck. It served as the summer residence of the second King, who later bequeathed it to his junior Queen Ashi Pem Dechen. The third king was said to have spent most of his youth in this palace. The place on which the Palace stands today was once a battle camp.Located in the valley beside the Chamkhar River, the Palace presents the true aesthetic Bhutanese infrastructure. The view of the glorious Jakar Dzong and the mighty mountains enclosing it is splendid. The long alleyway with stone walls leads to the courtyard of the Palace from the parking space. Now almost in ruins, there are plans to refurbish the Palace by the royal government.
3. Kuje Lhakhang
Across the fields from Jampey Lhakhang, the Kuje Lhakhang complex irresistibly attracts the eye.
Bumthang, in the 8th century, was ruled by King Sinda Raja who was at war with a king from the south. This rival killed Sinda’s son and, in his extreme grief, the king forgot to worship his personal deity who took revenge by snatching the king’s life force, causing him to fall mortally ill. Guru Rinpoche, because of his miraculous powers, was called to Bumthang to help the king recover. He went to Kuje where the deity was residing and tricked it with as magical device. The king recovered and Bumthang embraced Buddhism. In the rock where Guru Rinpoche meditated was left the imprint of his body, which is what Kuje means.
The complex is now enclosed by a fence of small stone chortens, making it extremely sacred. Facing the temples, the first on the right is the oldest and contains the rock with Guru Rinpoche’s imprint. The building dates from 1652. The second temple was built by king Ugyen Wangchuck in 1900 when he was still the Trongsa Penlop. The third temple is built in traditional style in 1990, and blends wonderfully with the older buildings. Patronised by the Ashi Kesang, the Grand Queen Mother, it is a superb example of the high standard of current workmanship in Bhutan.
4. Jampey Lhakhang
Jampey Lhakhang is revered as one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. Like Kyichu in Paro, it is said to date back to the 7th century. To overcome the demon that was encompassing Tibet and threatening Buddhism, King Songtsengampo built this temple on her knee.
5. Lamay Gompa
It is a beautiful Royal mansion which dates from the 19th century. Formerly a royal monastery, it now houses the Forestry Institute. Coming down to the road, there is an excellent view of the Jakar Dzong and water tower (Chhu Dzong).
6. Chakhar (the Iron Castle)
It is located about 3 km away from the Swiss Farm, and is the residence of king Sinda of the 8th century. It is still inhabited by one of his descendants, the Chakhar Lama.
7. Kenchosum Lhakhang
Kenchisum Lhakhang dates back to the 8th century. The inscription on the large bell testifies to it being cast for the Tibetan Royal Family. The pillar erected next to the entrance gate could be a megalith from prehistoric times.
8. Tamshing Monastery
Tamshing Monastery is a kilometer past Kenchosum Lhakhang. It was built from 1501 to 1505 by Pemalingpa, the great Bhutanese Nyingmapa Lama. The monastery contains some of the most remarkable paintings of this period in the Himalaya. Lining the circumambulation path on the ground floor of the monastery, and despite some damage, they constitute a unique documentation of Pemalingpa’s teachings. From the Monastery, there is a good view of the Kuje Lhakhang, just the other side of the river. Monks come to study and meditate at Tamshing. The place has a charming and peaceful atmosphere which has enchanted many.
9. Yathra weaving centre
In the village of Zungney in Chumey, there are ladies weaving yathras, the speciality of the region. The brightly coloured wool fabrics are displayed outside the houses. Quality, patterns and colour vary widely.
10. Thangbi Lhakhang
Located beyond Kuje Lhakhang, it is an easy 2 hr walk through the beautiful upper Chhoekhor Valley from where the motorable road ends. It was founded in 1470 by the 4th Shamar Rinpoche, an important lama of the Karma Kagyudpa sect. Pemalingpa later took over and it became Nyingmapa. The iron curtain at the entrance is said to have been cast by the saint himself.
11. Mebar Tsho
Mebar Tsho (or The Burning Lake) is located in the southern part of the Tang Valley. It is more a gorge than a lake. It is a very sacred site and the name refers to the most famous episode of Pemalingpa’s life.
In the early 1475 the saint discovered holy relics hidden here by Guru Rinpoche and thus received his holy mission to propagate religion. To silence skeptical minds, he plunged into the river with a burning lamp and declared: “If I am a demon, I shall die! If I am not, and I am the true spiritual son of Guru Rinpoche, this lamp will continue to burn and I will recover hidden treasures!” That happened, and the place took the name of the Burning Lake. Devout Bhutanese always send a little lamp floating on the water and make a wish.
12. Kunzangdra Monastery
On the cliff opposite of the Tang Valley, is where the Kunzangdra Monastery is located. It was founded by Pemalingpa in 1488 and is one of his residences.
13. Tang Rimochen
A huge rock overlooks this temple marking one of Guru Rinpoche’s meditation spots. It was established in the 14th century by the saint Dorjelingpa. The Trongsa Penlop Tshokye Dorje whose own residence Ugyenchhoeling Dzong overlooks the area, half an hour walk from the end of the road.
14. The new Ura Lhakhang
Ura Valley (3,100m/19,200ft) is the highest and the most eastern of the Bumthang valleys. It is located about 2 hrs from Jakar. The Ura temple was consecrated in 1986 dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Paintings represent different teachings and are beautifully executed.
15. Royal Heritage Trail
The history of the royal family and its heritage are of great significance to the Bhutanese people. To commemorate the past 100 years of the Monarchy’s royal heritage and historic travel routes within the Kingdom of Bhutan, the Royal Heritage Trail has been developed.
Except for a few herders and the locals around, the trail has not been used for so many years as Bhutan moved into the modern era and so many roads were built throughout the country. It has now been rediscovered as a potential trekking route offering an invigorating adventure with every section of the trail contributing its own attractions.
The trail is a 4-day moderate hiking, which starts from Wangdicholing, Bumthang and ends in Kuenga Rabten, Trongsa or vice versa.
The trail has an abundance of flora and fauna. Over 40 species of birds have been identified including the Yellow and Black Billed Magpies and the Spotted Nut Cracker. Along the trail, you’ll also enjoy the splendor of violet Primula and other beautiful wild flowers.
Besides the natural attractions and the exotic experience, the trail has a blend of valued history, traditional mores and stories which date back to as early as the 1950s.
Location: Jakar and Chumey Geog, Bumthang (first 2 days)
Drakten Geog, Trongsa (last 2 days)
Season: April-May and October-November
Duration: 4 days; start at Wangdicholing Palace and end at Kuenga Rabten Palace (or vice versa)
Tourist Profile: healthy / fit; young or old; enjoys moderate hiking/walking combined with sites and stories on history and culture
1. Dhur Hot Spring
2. Peling Sermon Chhorten, Palrithang