is Tashichho Dzong (" Fortress of the
Glorious Religion"), standing in the valley alongside the
river bank, surrounded by groves of fresh young willows and
poplars and an ornamental garden of roses.
Another landmark that rises above the shingles and more
recently constructed green-weathered roofs of Thimpu, is the
gold topped Stupa built in memory of the Late King, Jigme
Dorji Wang chuck, popularly known as the Father of modern
The road from Simtokha winds into pine forests and through
small villages for 20 kilometers and then opens miraculously
onto the northern ridge of the mountains of the mountains.
Dochula Pass at 10,500 feet gives one of the most
spectacular views of the Himalayas.
Punakha Dzong is home to the Central Monk Body and the Je
Khenpo (the spiritual leader) during the winter months.
Punakha's climate and warm temperature makes the valley one
of the most fertile in Bhutan. Chime Lhakhang located on a
hillock among the rice fields is picturesque and is a
pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is
associated with the famous saint Drukpa Kuenlay who has
built a chorten on the site.
Punakha served as a capital of Bhutan till 1955. In spite of
four catastrophic fires and an earthquake that destroyed
many historical documents, Punakha Dzong houses sacred
artifacts and the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
The Dzong is one of the most spectacular dzongs in the
country situated at the confluence of two rivers.
Paro Airport, the only airport in Bhutan is located in Paro.
This valley is one of the most populated areas in the
country. The valley contains a wealth of attractions and
requires a few days to be properly explored. The elegant and
perfectly symmetrical Rinpung Dzong looks after the
religious and secular activities in the valley. Behind
Rinpung Dzong, on a high hillside is the castle shaped Ta
Dzong - a watch tower built in 1651 to defend Bhutan from
Tibetan invasions. This Dzong houses the National Museum
Eighteen kilometers from the town is the burnt ruins of
Drugyel Dzong (victorious fortress) from where Tibetan
invasions were repelled. On a clear day one can get a view
of Mount Chhomolhari - the Mountain of Goddess (Alt
24,000ft). Paro is also a paradise for pilgrimages as it is
the first stop of Guru Padma Sambhava also known as Guru
Rimpoche on his crusade from Tibet to Bhutan in the 8th
century. He is believed to have arrived on a back of a
tigress and mediated at the Taktsang Monastery, now a
hallowed shrine for Bhutanese pilgrims. A terrible fire in
1998 destroyed the medieval wall paintings and all the inner
temples. The temple is now under reconstruction.
The valleys of Trongsa and Bumthang are separated by Yutola
Pass (Alt 11,500ft) . Bumthang has an individuality that
separates it from all other regions. Composed of four
smaller valleys, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is
shrouded in religious legend.
Apart from the Dzong at Jakar smaller monasteries are
situated all over the valley. Tales of Guru Padma Sambhava
dominate these holy shrines. The valley is home to the
sacred Jampa and Kurjey monasteries. Bumthang is also the
traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Lingpa
whom, the present monarchy traces it ancestral lineage. The
town of Jakar is the largest between Thimphu in the west and
Trashigang in the east. Jakar is famous for its honey,
cheese, apples and apricots. Bumthang is also famous for
yathra which is a unique material woven from coarse sheep
wool, intricately designed and colored to form breathtaking
patterns. Bumthang Tsechu (festival) along with the Paro and
Thimphu Tsechu are the most popular festivals in Bhutan.
This is the last town on the highway before entering Central
Bhutan. Sitting on the top of a hill the formidable Dzong is
the town's most visible features. In the 17th century
Wangdue played a critical role in unifying western, central
and southern Bhutan. The town itself is little more than an
enlarged village with well-provided shops and hotels.
The road from Wangdue to Trongsa is one of the prettiest in
Bhutan passing streams, forests and villages before climbing
the Pelela Pass on the Black Mountain ranges in to the
Trongsa valley. South of the highway is the Gangtey Gompa an
old monastery dating from the 17th century. A few kilometers
past the Gompa is the village of Phobjikha - one of the
winter homes of the Black Necked Cranes who migrate to
Bhutan from Central Asia to pass the winters in lower climes