This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Bumthang Dzongkhag consists of four main valleys Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four mountain valleys and is widely considered as 'Bumthang Valley'. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers.
These fertile valleys are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.
This dzongkhag is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan's oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang. According to legend this ancient temple was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 659 A.D. as part of a chain of 108 simultaneously constructed temples in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region. It is the oldest lhakhang in Bhutan.
The road approaching Mongar is one of the most spectacular journeys in the country. It passes over sheer cliffs and through beautiful fir forests and green pastures. There are countless varieties of rhododendrons here and on clear days you can even catch a glimpse of Gangkhar Puensum (7541 meters), the world's highest unclimbed mountain. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs and deep gorges set amidst dense conifer forests.
Like many other settlements in Eastern Bhutan Mongar town is situated atop a hill rather than within a valley. This town is considered the main trade and travel hub of eastern Bhutan. The main street is lined with traditionally painted stone buildings with wooden facades and verandas. Near the clock tower there is a large prayer wheel around which people often gather to meet old friends.
Mongar Dzong ( Mongar Fortress )
Although built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan's newest Dzongs, it was constructed in the same way as all earlier dzongs, without plans or nails. A visit to Mongar Dzong demonstrates how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
The ruin of Zhongar Dzong endures to this day as a testimony to the skill of its builders. It is located on a hilltop overlooking the village of Themnangbi and is visible as one descends to Lingmenthang. Constructed in the 17th century, the Dzong is believed to have been built at a site where the master architect Zow Balip saw a white bowl.
Dramitse Lhakhang ( Temple )
One of the most notable religious sites is Dramitse Lhakhang. It was built in the 16th century by Ani Cheten Zangmo, the daughter of the renowned Terton (religious treasure seeker) Pema Lingpa. The Dramitse Ngacham or the "Dance of the Drums of Dramitse," was created in this lhakhang in the 16th century. Today, it is a popular dance performed at all major festivals. It is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom upto Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a beautiful, crystalline river meandering down the valley. Accentuating the natural beauty are the many elegant, traditional-style houses that dot the valley and surrounding hills. The central plaza is adorned with a large prayer wheel and a small amphitheater at which events such as concerts are often organized.
There are over 155 temples and monasteries in this area, some dating as far back as 14th century. Among them is the temple that is considered Bhutan's most iconic landmark, the Taktsang Monastery, or the Tiger's Nest. This awe-inspiring temple was constructed upon a sheer cliff face, hundreds of meters above forests of oak and rhododendrons and the valley floor. Dzongdrakha Temple and Kila Gompa are secondary examples of cliff-side temples that are also located in Paro Dzongkhag.
Paro is also home to the National museum. The museum is set in Paro Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower that now displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artifacts and artwork including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life.
Taktsang Lhakhang ( The Tiger's Nest Temple ) - PARO
Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan's most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to "The Tiger's Nest". This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 meters above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of 3.120 meters. In order to arrive at the temple visitors must trek for around 2-3 hours through beautiful, shady pine forests. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.
Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan, and is the administrative seat (dzongkhag thromde) of Chukha District.
Phuentsholing lies opposite the Indian town of Jaigaon, and cross-border trade has resulted in a thriving local economy.
Punakha Dzongkhag (district) has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.
Two major rivers in Bhutan the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu converge in this valley. Punakha Dzong is built at the confluence of these two rivers and is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its white-washed walls.
In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifer of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. This relic is a self-created image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.
Samdrup Jongkhar town is the oldest town in Bhutan. This border town is a bustling little settlement packed to the brim with shopkeepers and hawkers from across the border. A little way outside the town you can find the Mithun Breeding Farm. Mithuns are widely considered to be the best breed of cattle in Bhutan.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong
This Dzong serves as the administrative center of the district and is one of the newest Dzongs to have been built in the country. Unlike other Dzongs that are built on strategic locations atop mountains or between rivers, the Dzong in Samdrup Jongkhar is built on a flat and fairly wide-open area.
The Dratshang (Monastery)
This Dratshang was only recently constructed next to the Dzong. It houses the monk body and has many new novices looked after by the religious functionaries.
This three storied temple set in the middle of town, is adorned with the work of the master Bhutanese craftsmen. Its intricate frescos and beautiful statues are truly a sight to behold. Due to its religious significance and convenient location Zangdopelri is at the heart of the spiritual lives of the people of this area.
The Kingdom's capital city is home to the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country.
It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa where Dechen Phodrang now stands above Thimphu. Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby. The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens.
Buddha Dordenma Statue
This massive 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. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
Trashigang is the country's largest district, with an altitude ranging from 600m to over 4000m. Bhutan's largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through this district. Trashigang town is set on a scenic hillside and was once a bustling trade center for merchants looking to barter their goods in Tibet. Trashigang town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose unique way of dress stands out from the regular Bhutanese Gho and Kira.
Trashigang Dzong ( Trashigang Fortresse )
Trashigang Dzong or 'The Fortress of the Auspicious Hill' was built in 1659, to defend against Tibetan invasions. This imposing fortress is strategically situated high atop a spur overlooking the Dangmechu River. It has been the political stronghold of Eastern Bhutan for over 300 years.
Mount Meru is the site of the palace of the Druk Chhoglay Namgyal (victory of Bhutanese Over enemies in all directions). It is accessible only from the north, via a narrow road, paved by blasting through the cliff-side. Due to its location Trashigang Dzong is one of the most strategically placed Dzongs in Bhutan.
Trongsa Dzongkha is located near the center of Bhutan and was considered crucial to controlling the kingdom in earlier years due to its strategic position.
This town is situated on a steep ridge and offers spectacular views of the deep valleys surrounding it.
Trongsa Dzong is easily visible from anywhere in the town and is always an impressive sight as it is situated atop a steep ridge that drops off into the clouds on its south side.
Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong's highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.
This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan's history. The Ta Dzong of Trongsa is the most fascinating museum of Bhutan