The Western Bhutan circuit comprises of the six western Districts in the country that includes Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha and Gasa. What makes this circuit special is that the Tourism Council of Bhutan has categorized new ways of exploring the existing great sights.
In this circuit you can attend the summer festival of Haa and delve into the wonders of the ancient living culture of the Haaps (People from Haa). The festival highlights Shamanic rituals and other folk dances. You may also enjoy the beauty of rare Himalayan flowers in bloom or take a daring trek to Nob Tsonapatra, immersing you in the interesting legends of the area.
In Thimphu you can witness the newly introduced Takin Festival, MICE & GNH conferences, meditation and wellness facilities. You can also visit temples, dzongs (fortresses) and museums or attend a textile festival that brings to life the rich culture of Bhutanese weaving.
You’ll marvel at the historical depiction of medieval Bhutanese warriors who defended Bhutan with swords and shields during the Punakha Tsechu/festival. The various festivals are scheduled 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. The golden hue of ripening rice fields is a photographers’ delight in autumn. Western Bhutan is home to some of the country’s finest museums, and you’ll not want to miss the opportunity to learn about our storied history and traditional culture. Paro museum (Tadzong), displays hundreds of artifacts revealing the history and culture of Bhutan, In Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with an in-depth look into a typical farmers’ livelihood.
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. Paro town has been growing rapidly in recent years and there are plenty of restaurants, bakeries and cafes to choose from. One of the distinctive features of Paro town is that it is situated in a flat valley bottom and follows a grid-like pattern. The central plaza is adorned with a large prayer wheel and a small amphitheater at which events such as concerts are often organized
Visitors often spend several days in Paro as 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 Taktsang Monastery, 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.
The country’s first international airport is located in Paro. Due to the close proximity of the airport and the many historical and religious sites in the region there are a large number of luxurious, high-end tourist resorts in Paro.
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. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snap-shot of the rich cultural traditions of the country.
Another site worth visiting Paro is Drugyel dzong or The Fortress of the Victorious Bhutanese. This dzong was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over marauding Tibetan armies. Though the fortress was destroyed by fire in 1951, the ruins remain an impressive and imposing sight.
The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country.
Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers, however it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization.Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency.
One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and just immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese.
Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens- the construction of these108 chortens was commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. The pass is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple) was built in honor of His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appears to merge in the details of the lhakhang (temple) and its structure tells the story of a supreme warrior figure, whose vision pierces the distant future in a fine blend of history and mythology.
Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists this is ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.
Punakha Dzongkhag has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures in the country.
On October 13, 2011, the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancé, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong.
Punakha valley has a pleasant climate with warm winters and hot summers. It is located at an average elevation of 1200 meters above sea level. Owing to the favorable climatic conditions, rice grows very well in this region and is the main cash crop cultivated here.
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.
Wangduephodrang is one of the largest dzongkhags (districts) in the country. As the district covers 4,308 sq km and ranges from 800-5800 m in altitude it has extremely varied climatic conditions ranging from Sub-Tropical forests in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north.
One of the most notable sites in the district is Phobjikha Valley. This valley is the habitat of rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes that roost there during their annual migrations. The residents of the valley have garnered much acclaim for their conservation efforts to preserve the habitat of these beautiful birds. Every year the Black Necked Crane Festival is held in Phobjikha in order to protect and spread awareness of the cranes. The Festival includes songs, masked dances and plays by the local school children. This event is one of the most unique and popular festivals in the country.
Wangduephodrang district has a rich tapestry of ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries that is sure to enrapture any visitor. The following are a few of the most notable religious sites:
Gangtey Monastery: Situated atop a hill at an altitude of 2800m, Gangtey Monaster (also known as Gangtey Sanga Choeling Goemba) offers a stunning view of Phobjikha valley, winter home to the rare Black Necked Cranes. This venerable monastery was founded in 1613 by Je Kuenga Gyaltshen.
Dargay Goempa: This monastery was built in the spot where Divine Madman Drukpa Kuenley first met Ashi Genzo who was renowned for her beauty. When it was first constructed the monastery was a simple Drubdey or meditation center. Lam Drukpa Kuenley is widely considered to be Bhutan’s favourite and most iconic saint due to his unorthodox method of teaching through ribald humor.
With its diverse climates and rich natural resources Wangdue Dzongkhag is home to many rare and exotic animals like Red Pandas, Tigers and Leopards. There are also large numbers of rare birds such as the Black Necked Crane, White-Bellied Heron and the Spotted Eagle.
Located in South West of Paro and covering an area of roughly 1706 sq. km. Haa is the smallest Dzongkhag in the country. This tiny region is one of the most beautiful and isolated areas in the kingdom, adorned with pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks.
Haa is the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother and the illustrious Dorji family. This valley remains one of the least visited areas in the country and retains the air of an unspoiled, primeval forest. The wooded hills of Haa provides an ideal location for hiking and mountain biking. Biking around the valley to visit the dozen or so local temples is an enjoyable way to spend the day when visiting.
Haa is home to a number of nomadic herders and hosts an annual Summer Festival that showcases their unique lifestyle and culture. The festival is an ideal occasion to immerse yourself into the traditions and unchanged lifestyles of nomadic Bhutanese herders, as well as to sample some delectable Haapi cuisine.
The town has been developed along the Haa Chu River and can be divided into two distinct sectors; the Northern part of town has the central bazaar, main shops and restaurants while the Southern half of town is occupied by an IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team) camp and a Bhutanese army training camp. Rather uniquely, Wangchulo Dzong is located inside the IMTRAT compound. This is one of the newer dzongs having been constructed in 1913.
Situated at an altitude of 3800m, this village is accessible only by a three day trek but is definitely worth the effort. The scenic journey will have you walking through some of the most pristine natural environments in the country and the village will mesmerize you with its unique culture.
The inhabitants of Laya village are ethnically distinct and have been continuing their traditional way of life since time immemorial, hidden away in the far north of the kingdom. Hikers embarking on the Snow Leopard trek or the legendary Snowman Trek will pass through Laya.
The best time to experience the amazing culture of Laya is during the Owlay festival. This ancient festival occurs once in every three years and is an absolutely unforgettable celebration of the culture and religion of Laya. Another festival worth attending is the Takin Festival, it’s the perfect opportunity to mingle with the local nomads and get a taste of their traditions and culture. You’ll learn all about the national animal of Bhutan, the distinct and majestic Takin. Let your adventurous spirit take you on a three nights trek to Laya.
ADHA AND RUKHA
The villages of Adha and Rukha are excellent places to gain insights into the lives of rural Bhutanese farmers.
While it is possible to camp out during your visit we recommend asking your guides to arrange a home-stay with one of the local families. The farmers will happily welcome you into their homes and regale you with local legends of mermaids and ancient kings. It is usually better to schedule your visit during autumn as these areas are prone to leeches, sand flies and mosquitoes during the summer.
Dagana is a verdant region and over 80% of the district is under forest cover. Hardy trees like Champ, Augury, Chirpine and Sal grow throughout the region. Located below the major valleys of Thimphu and Wangduephodrang, Dagana stretches all the way down to the Southern border of the kingdom.
The place gets its name from the historic Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong which was established in 1651 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel the first man to unify the Bhutan. This historic landmark still functions as the district administration center today.
One of the more interesting features of Dagana are the three stone Megaliths, known as “Sky Pillar Rock” (Do Namkhai Kaw), “The Rock of Ancient Steps” (Do Kelpai Genthey) and “The Frontier Sky Fortress” (Tha Namkhai Dzong). Legend has it that when Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong was being constructed, the megalith known as the Frontier Sky Fortress emitted telepathic messages to the builders stating that the Dzong would collapse if it was built any higher than it currently stands. Even today the golden cupola of the Dzong is said to be level with the tip of the megalith.
As in all Dzongkhags there are Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the district. Two that elicit special mention are the Shathong Lhakhang (temple), founded by the Buddhist Master Dupthob (Siddhi) Shawa Ripa and the Nyindukha Lhakhang founded in the 18th century. Shawa Ripa is an ancient Buddhist Master that is said to have lived for over 900 years.
Two of the main crops cultivated in the region are Oranges and Rice. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the Dzongkhag. The district is mainly inhabited by two major ethnic groups, the Ngalops and the Lhotshampas though in recent year’s people from other regions have migrated to the region. This has added to the cultural diversity of the region with the introduction of new festivals and traditions.
The valley of Lunana holds one of the remotest settlements in all of Bhutan. At Lunana Village you will get to experience the unchanged culture of the Himalayan people residing amongst the glaciers.
The people here are chiefly herders, making their living from their yaks and sheep. These nomads are especially knowledgeable about medicinal herbs and is benefiting a lot from cordycep harvesting. This amazing fungi (Cordyceps sinensis) provides the nomads with a lucrative source of extra income, which is incredibly useful to the preservation of their nomadic culture.
Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan, and is the administrative seat (Dzongkhag Thromde) of Chukha District.
The town occupies parts of both Phuentsholing Gewog and Sampheling Gewog. Phuentsholing lies opposite the Indian town of Jaigaon, and cross-border trade has resulted in a thriving local economy. For example, the town serves as headquarters for the Bank of Bhutan. In 2005, Phuentsholing had a population of 20,537.
Chhukha is a hot, wet region of dense Sub-Tropical forests located in South Western Bhutan. The region is home to many important plant and animal species.
There are two main ethnic groups present in Chhukha, the Ngalops and the Lhotshampas. The Lhotshampas are Southern Bhutanese with Nepalese origins and this creates wealth of cultural diversity in the region with various non-Buddhist festivals and practices being carried out.
The Chhukha region is religiously significant as it has been blessed by many renowned Buddhist masters including the venerable Lama Drakpa Jamtsho in the 17th century. He established the Jabar Goemba (Monastery) at a site surrounded by five mountains with an auspicious resemblance to the five religious hats worn by lamas. The main relic of this monastery is a holy Phurba or ritual dagger that is said to have flown to the monastery from Tibet. Legend holds that even today the dagger continues to defy gravity.
Another important religious site in the region is the Tshamdrak Goemba. This monastery dates back to the 17th century and was founded by Lam Ngawang Drakpa. It contains important relics such as 100 Ceremonial Drums and a large stone slab that is attributed to Ap Chundu the guardian deity of Haa.
The most distinctive feature of Chhukha is the Chhukha and Tala Hydropower projects. The two projects tap the fast-running waters of the Wangchhu and Paachhu Rivers to produce more than 1,500 Megawatts of power. These two dams are absolutely crucial to the country as they are still the largest providers of revenue for the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Gasa, the northernmost district of the country adjoins the districts of Punakha, Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang and with Tibet to its north. This starkly beautiful region with elevations ranging from 1500 to 4,500 metres experiences extremely long and cold winters and short but beautiful summers.
It has the smallest population with just about 3000 inhabitants. This region is inhabited by the Layaps, nomadic herders with a unique culture. Their main sources revenue come from trading products made from their yaks, such as yak hair textiles, cheese, butter and yak meat . They also harvest and sell Cordyceps, (a fungus of extremely high value that is frequently used in oriental medicine).
GASELO AND NAHEE VILLAGE
These two villages are located in the west of the province. Take picnic lunches and drive to these villages on a day excursions.
Village life here is still medieval and farmers are always happy to see visitors. If visiting during early summer you’ll be fascinated by the age old traditional methods used during rice plantation. Experience the joy and simplicity of farming life. In autumn you’ll be able to share the happiness of farmers over a bountiful harvest and truly experience Gross National Happiness.
Located in Southern Bhutan, Samtse Dzongkhag covers an area of 1,582 sq kms and ranges from 600-3,800 meters in altitude. The main crops grown in the region are Oranges, Cardamom, ginger and areca nuts. These cash crops are exported to the nearby Indian state of West Bengal and even to Bangladesh.
The population of Samtse is divided into two main ethnic groups, the Lhotshampas and the Doyas. Smaller groups of Bumthaps, Tshanglas, Ngalongs, Khengpas and Kurtoeps have started inhabiting the region in recent years.
Samtse is also a religiously diverse district and both Hinduism and Buddhism are widely practiced in the dzongkhag. Visitors will find temples belonging to both religions all over the beautifully forested district. The main festivals celebrated in the region include Losar (New Year), Thrue and Lomba by the Buddhists and Diwali and Dussehra by the Hindus.
Though the main form of employment remains agriculture, there are also agricultural and construction based industries in Samtse.
Minerals like Dolomite and Quartzite are mined at Pugli, providing raw materials for two major cement plants. Agricultural Industries in the area are Samtse’s Fruit and Food Products Factory and the Cardboard Factory.
One of the most important facets of the Dzongkhag is the Samtse College of Education. It was started in 1968 and has provided the country with countless valuable teachers. This college is widely considered to be one of Bhutan’s premier educational institutions.
With its’ hot and humid climate, Samtse has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. One of the more exotic animals found in this district are the local elephants, some of which have been domesticated.
Gelephu is a region of the Dzongkhag of Sarpang. It is located in Southern Bhutan on the border with India and this makes it a hub for cross-border trade. Gelephu is a warm, fertile region with plenty of rainfall.
Gelephu is one of the areas through which visitors can enter Bhutan overland through the Indian state of Assam and it is also a gateway to the Royal Manas National Park, the oldest nature preserve in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Its incredible biodiversity includes hundreds of rare animal and plant species that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world such as Golden Langurs, Gangetic Dolphins and the Asian One-horned Rhinoceros. The park is the most biologically diverse protected area in the kingdom as well as one of the most outstanding nature preserves worldwide.
The two most defining aspects of the Gelephu region are the new Gelephu Airport and the Gelephu Hotsprings (Tshachu).