Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom nestled between India and China. Despite being a small country, they have managed to protect itself from outside cultural influences. They have restricted the number of tourist by making a minimum spending requirement for foreign travelers. That’s why Bhutan trip cost is many folds higher than neighboring Nepal. There … Read moreBhutan travel guide and important things to know before traveling
Bhutan is a very small country in terms of the area still they have preserved their culture very well. Bhutan is also known as “Land of Thunder Dragon” and thunder dragon is its national symbol. They have preserved their culture and heritage while accepting modernization. There are some really beautiful places to visit in Bhutan. … Read moreBest places to visit in Bhutan – My Bhutan itinerary
We spent our first day in Paro and then next morning we started for Thimphu, which is approx 70 km (2 hours driving time). Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan and also the biggest city in Bhutan. There are some really nice places to visit in Thimpu. There are some must-see places in Thimpu and Punakha. Here is my list of places.
Places to visit in Thimpu
Iron Chain Bridge Bhutan
On the way we stopped at “Iron Chain Bridge” – This bridge was built by great Buddhist saint Thangtong Gyalpo in 1400 on Pro Chuu, he said to had built many chain bridges in Bhutan. This bridge connects to a small monastery across the river Paro Chuu but these days this bridge is closed for public use and only with the special permission.
After a brief stop here we drove to our final destination Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. There are many small and big places in & around Thimpu but one should not miss some of these places.
It’s one of those places from where we can get a good overview of the Thimphu valley. It is a short drive from the town. This a big bronze Dordenma Buddha and towers 169ft over the hill. There is a temple inside it, there are several small statues of Buddhas.
Also known as “fortress of the glorious religion” and popularly called as Thimpu Dzong. It’s an impressive structure that houses the Bhutanese government and houses the secretariat, throne room, and offices of King of Bhutan. It was renovated by late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1962.
The entire Dzong was rebuilt in traditional fashion, without nails or written plans. We went around early evening because during the day government official work here and tourist are generally not allowed.
While we were roaming around in the compound, we saw the flag lowering ceremony. Everyone cleared the compound and we stood on sides to see the ceremony, which was small but nice. Try to see the ceremony, it takes only 15 minutes and it is one of the must-see in Thimpu.
The king’s residence is also close to it and its upper part can be seen from outside the dzong.
This monastery was built in 1627 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies. The most interesting artistic feature of this dzong is the series of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.
This stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the third king, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of modern Bhutan. There are beautiful statues and paintings inside it. Buddhist people circle around Chorten for while offering prayers.
It is housing an extensive collection of priceless Buddhist manuscripts. They have maintained it well and it is one of the pride possession of the country.
The Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as the Painting School), here students undergo a 6-year training course. They teach students (Girls and boys) Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts and crafts.
It is situated near the market and place worth a visit to get to know about the national art of weaving. Here I had seen major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men. They also have a showroom, where they sell different products.
Local Market of Thimpu
It is a small market in comparison to any other countries capital but I managed to buy some interesting traditional things including local dress Kira from here. There is an amphitheater also in the market.
Takin Mini Zoo
The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and only attraction of this place. It looks like a cross between a cow and a goat. The legend has it that Takin was created by the great Buddhist saint, Drupa Kunley and it can be found only in Bhutan or nearby areas.
While we were staying in Thimpu, we went to Punakha for a full day excursion. We started after early breakfast and our first stop was Dochula viewpoint after that we went to Punakha Dzong.
Places to see in Punakha
Dochula View Point
When we left for Punakha on the way after 45 minutes, we stopped at Dochula viewpoint. On a clear day, the Himalayan range is seen prominently more specifically Mt. Masanggang. Here in the middle of the road on slightly elevated place 108 memorial Chortens or stupas have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother.
These marks the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who dislodged the rebels from their camps and also in honor of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India. There is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang and it was built in honor of the fourth Druk Gyalpo.
We started for the Punakha, which is situated in relative lowlands of the Punakha valley and is winter capital of Bhutan. This Dzong is most majestic and beautiful, it is standing on an island between the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers.
This dzong is one of the most photogenic of all Bhutan’s ancient dzongs (fortresses). The dzong is joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge. This dzong contains many precious relics from the days when successive kings reigned the kingdom. The Dzong also serves as the residence of the royal family when they visit. Punakha is a beautiful valley with tropical climate throughout the year.
Paro is the second biggest town in Bhutan and located in Paro valley as the name suggests. It is small neat and clean town. There are some beautiful buildings and a small market which consists of two rows of shops on both sides of one road. There are mostly souvenir shops and restaurants in this market, don’t expect something big. Here is my list of places to see in Paro and photo blog.
I traveled by Druk air, so my trip started and ended in Paro because it’s Bhutan’s only international airport. I spent my first two days and last two days in Paro. Here is the list of places I had visited during my stay.
Airport Well…. It may sound strange but it is built beautifully in traditional Bhutanese style and surrounded by mountains. It is the only international airport of Bhutan is located here and it is considered to be the most challenging airport in the world. Paro airport is situated in a deep valley and a select number of pilots are certified to land here. Before landing pilot warns passengers that “you may see the mountains to close, please don’t bother with the distance from mountains”. So, my advice is to look around when you get down from aircraft because your sightseeing starts the moment you put down your foot 😀
Market and Restaurants It’s a small market or says shops on both sides of one road consist of the market. They have the weekly market on Sunday and it is must visit if one is interested in experiencing local culture. Unfortunately, I was not in Paro on Sunday. One thing, one must remember in Bhutan. Waiting time for food after ordering is between 30 to 45 minutes because most of the local shops do the final preparations after you order. I had experienced this on my first 2 days and after that made it a point that I make good use of waiting time….Either go out to market or do my calling or internetwork during this waiting time or if the view is nice then enjoy the view.
Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery) It is a 3-4 hours hike to Monastery though some people use pony but it is a bit risky because of skidding issue. The Monastery is situated on edge of a cliff. It is considered one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Bhutan. According to legend Guru Rinpoche (Most scared and high religious figure of Bhutanese Buddhism) arrived here from Tibet on the back of a tigress and meditated here.There is a cafeteria on the way to relax and have tea/coffee. The menu is limited and the food is simple. There are some restriction and code to follow when inside monastery. The place has peaceful vibes. It is almost a full day excursion and somewhat tiring also. Wear sports shoes or comfortable shoes as there is lots of walking involved.
National Museum of Bhutan We went to National Museum in morning after breakfast. It is located next to an ancient watch tower. The museum has a collection of artifacts from all over the country representing different eras, as early as 4000 BC to the present day. The collections here consist of old coins, stamps, ancient weapons and art/artifacts. They had tried to show the transition of the country from the stone age to a modern multicultural kingdom with its cultural heritage in different galleries. They had displayed a fragment of the moon’s surface brought by Neil Armstrong here.
Paro Dzong (Rimpung Dzong) It is a massive fortress and monastery situated on the banks of Paro chu (River). It is a symbolic center of religious and secular affairs. Dzong houses the district monastic body and government administrative offices like Thimpu Dzong. There were some restrictions during my visit, so we can go to a certain point. There is a small wooden bridge over Paro chu and it connects the city with the Dzong. From bridge we went down to river and spend some time relaxing on the banks of a river, water was super cold.
Drukgyel Dzong (Bhutan Victory Fort) It is on the outskirts of Paro town. This fort was built to commemorate the victory of Bhutan over the invading Tibetan forces but now it is in almost destroyed and it is in ruins. The view of mountain range around it was beautiful. It is a place of historic importance but nothing much to see here.
Chele La Pass It took us approx two hours from Paro to reach Chele la pass, one of the highest vantage point of Bhutan. The road is winding to the pass and trees are dense and high on both sides of the road. On the way, we saw famous Himalayan Yaks grazing at some distant. In Paro it was pleasant but at Chele la pass, it was cold and very windy. So it is advisable to carry warm jackets even if it is warm in Paro. We spent some time there and moved around, had tea from the small shop at pass and then came back to Paro.
Most of the hotel organize the traditional Bhutanese dance performances. So, check with them for the schedule. I really enjoyed the 1.5 hours performance.
I had seen local people doing archery in open areas, they have archery grounds in every city because it’s their national game and Bhutanse are very passionate about it.
Paro is a laid back town, it is more to relax than site seeing. Roam around and explore it walking or may be cycled if you are comfortable cycling.
Important things to remember –
If traveling by air than Paro is the first city of trip, if traveling via road from Phuntsholing then it will be after Thimpu.
Buy a Bhutanese sim card in Paro and it activate instantly. It is cheaper than using Indian number.
Bhutan is the country of a stunning and wide variety of ancient traditions, impressive monasteries, a deeply revered king; who is loved by people. Buddhism is a natural way of life and the whole country follows its age-old traditions. It’s also the country having introduced Gross National Happiness to the world as an alternative for … Read moreTravel to Bhutan & Ist day in Paro