Highlights of Bhutan
1. The Tiger Nest
Taktsang Monastery also recognized as Tiger’s Nest in Paro is one of the holiest places in Bhutan. The monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800m, and overlooks the Paro valley and the river. It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche known as the second Buddha in Bhutan, meditated at the spot where the monastery is situated having alighted there on the back of a flying tigress. The steep climb to reach it is absolutely beautiful and well worth the effort.
2. The Punakha Valley
The warm Punakha valley is the rice bowl of the country with terraced rice fields grown in an organic way employing traditional methods. The main icon, the Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautifully crafted dzongs in Bhutan.
There is an interesting temple called Chimi Lhakhang (the temple of fertility), built in 1499 at a site blessed by saint Drukpa Kunley, also known as the divine madman. Twelve km from Punakha town one comes across the suspension bridge in Mitesgang and could trek through green fields and climb uphill to Guru Rimpoche caves.
Festivals or 'tsechus' are religious festivals honoring Guru Rinpoche and are a major part of Bhutanese life. They are colorful affairs with lots of masked dancing and bright costumes offering wonderful photo opportunities and a unique cultural insight into the Himalayan Kingdom. Families gather to receive blessings, masked dancers as well as other performers that entertain the crowd. Festivals do occur throughout the year and can be worked into an itinerary. Click here to see a list of dates and places.
4. Spend an early morning at a monastery
Ambiance in a monastery is a peaceful as you can picture it. Joining the morning ceremony is a unique and extraordinary experience. Imagine yourself listening to hundred monks chanting together, and feeling the vibration of the Dungchen (religious trumpet). You will get transported !
5. Bumthang Valleys
Bumthang Valley is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, full of the most ancient and precious Buddhist sites. It actually comprises four valleys: Chokhor, Tang, Chhume and Ura. Located at an altitude of 2,600 m, the religious hub of Bhutan houses some of the oldest Buddhist temples. Jakar is the main town in Bumthang Valley, and home to Bhutan's only brewery, brewing the famous Red Panda wheat beer. These fertile valleys are filled with apple orchards, dairy farms, potato patches, and rice and buckwheat fields.
6. Try the spicy cuisine with locals
We do recommend to tickle your taste buds with the national dish, Ema Datshi. This red hot mix of chilies and yak cheese is Bhutan's favorite dish.
7. The Druk Path Trek
The Druk Path trek is the most popular trek in the country as it passes through a gorgeous natural landscape of blue pine forests, high ridges and pristine lakes while at the same time offering the opportunity to visit some ancient lhakhangs, dzongs and villages. The trail begins near Paro and finishes close to Thimphu. It is one of the easiest trek of Bhutan but still goes to high altitude, making it moderately strenuous. This path was well worn long before any tourist came here. Historically, the most important figure to pass this way was the Buddhist saint Ngawang Namgyal, known as popularly as Guru Rimpoche.
8. DochuLa Pass
High on top of a mountain pass on the road from Thimphu to Punakas, is a concentration of 108 chortens (stupas) built in memory of Bhutanese soldiers killed in the 2003 war against insurgents from India. The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, commissioned the monument after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was victorious in the struggle to dislodge the rebels who were using Bhutan as a base to raid India. The view from here is breathtaking, it opens all the way to the Mt. Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan (7,158 m)
9. Centenary Farmer's Market
Top 3 festivals
1. Jambay Llakhang Drup
This festival is held over four days in one of the most ancient temples of Bhutan, built in the 7th century. The festival honors Guru Rimpoche (the man held responsible for spreading tantric or Tibetan Buddhism) as well as the founding of the temple itself. This festival is well known for the sacred naked dance performed in the courtyard of the temple at midnight – although it is not permitted for tourists to attend. A fire dance is also held in the evening to bless infertile women, hoping that this will help them to bear children.
2. Punakha Drubchen and Tshechu
This celebration lasts for five days with two days, devoted to Drubchen followed by three days for the Tshechu. The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country.
3. Thimphu Drubchen ans Tshechu
The annual Thimpu Druchen is famous for the masked dance performed here to appease and protect one of the key deities of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo. Thimphu celebrates tsechu with great aplomb over the course of three days and thousands of people across Bhutan flocking to the capital to partake in the festivities. Taking place in the courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong, the tsechu involves religious activities, symbolic dances and the finest local cuisine. It is the most important festival in the Bhutanese calendar.