The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along ridges of the Eastern Himalayas. Known to the natives as Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon), Bhutan is truly regarded as the last paradise on Earth for it’s isolation, Sepectacular mountains, varied flora and fauna, ancient Buddhist monasteries, vibrant culture and mystic aura. No where in the Himalayas the natural heritage is more rich and varied than in Bhutan.
The gate way to the south, it is a thriving commercial center. Phuntsholing is fascinating mixture of Indian and Bhutanese, a perfect example of mingling of people and their culture. Being the frontier town Phuntsholing serves as the convenient entry / exit point for Bhutan and also the important link with India. Phunsoling and the Indian border town of Jaigaon are both essentially one town and lie on the bank of the River Tosar. The bus stands of the two places are just a couple of minutes walk away from each other Ahuge gate made in typical Bhutanese style marks the entry point between Bhutan and India. On crossing the gate from Jaigaon to Phunsoling one can immediately feel the difference: the noise, jostling and disorderliness is suddenly replaced by a certain degree of tranquility and an atmosphere of relaxation so typical of Bhutanese way of life.
Generally vistores enter the Kingdom at Paro by the National Airline, Durk Air. This beautiful valley, if ever a place exists, here nature and man consulted to create their dearest image, it must be the valley of Paro. Mt. Chomolhari 7320m reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form the Pa – Chu(paro river). Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in the kingdom producing a bulk of the famous red rice from its terraced fields home to some of Bhutan’s oldest temples & monasteries.
Which means victorious fortress was built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders, led by Mongolian warlord, Gushri Khan in 1644. Strategically built over the only passage into Paro valley, the dzong helped to repel numerous invasions all through the course of Bhutanese history. It so impressed early visitors that in 1914 the dzong featured on the cover of the National Geographic magazine. The dzong was gutted by an accidental fire in 1951. The ruins, as it stands today still attract tourists.
Literally means the Tiger’s den. This temple clings precariously to a granite cliff 800m above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the great Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on back of a tigress and meditated in a cave during the 8th century. The temple was built around the cave and is a hallowed shrine for Bhuutanese pilgrims. A terrible fire in April 1998 destroyed Taktsang’s medieval wall paintings and all inner temples. A new construction has already begun by the royal Government.
The beauty of Paro valley is embellished by cluster of quaint farm houses. Bhutanese houses are very colourful and traditionally built without the use of a single nail. The house looks very big from outside but is quite simple inside. Its normally three storey. The ground floor is always used for cattle while the attic is used to store hay. The families live in the middle floor. The best room is always kept for the family chapel. Avisit to a farm house is very interesting and offers a good glimpseb into the lifestyle of a farmer.
The modern capital of Bhutan, lies at an elevation of 2300m in a valley traversed by the wang chu(river). Tashichho dzong the main Secretariat building which houses the throne room of His Majesty and a summer residence of the central monk body. Although not what one expects from a capital city, Thimphu maintains a story national character in its architectural style. It is also an adeal spot for day walks. Phajoding monastery is a 4hrs hike from the motithang area, Tango & Cheri monasteries are also another 3/4hrs hike from the capital or all where thousands of prayer flags obscure the view over Thimphu.
This stupa was built in 1974 in the memory of the late third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The paintings and images inside the monument provide a rare sight into Buddhist philosophy.
Built in the 15 century by lama phajo Drigom lies on a hill top commanding the Thimphu valley. The temple has very old scriptures and Thankhas. The main deity of the temple is Avalokiteshvara, God of compassion.
Punakha Dzong built between two rivers in the 17th century by shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel served as capital of Bhutan until 1955 and is still the winter residence of the central monk body. In spite of four catastrophic fires and an earthquake that destroyed many historic documents. Punakha Dzong houses sacred artifacts and embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Punakha’s climate and warmer temperatures make its valley one of the most fertile in Bhutan. Clime Lhakhang located on a hillock among the rice field is picturesque and is a pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is associated with the famous saint Drukpa Kuenly “The Divine Madman” who has built a chorten on the site during the 14th century.
Trongsa at an altitude of 2200 m. form the central hub of the nation and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched. The Royal family has strong links with Tronga. Both His Majesty King Ugyen Wangchuck and successor, King Jigme Wangchuck ruled the country from this Dzong.
Built in 1648 is an impregnable fortress. The massive structure is built on many levels into the side of the hill that includes countless courtyards, passage ways and corridors in addition to the twenty three temples inside the Dzong. Due to its highly strategic position as the only connecting route between east and west the Trongsa penlop (Governor) was able to control the whole region effectively for centuries. Above the Dzong a Ta Dzong (watch tower) was built to watch out for invaders and travelers. Now its a temple dedicated to the great hero Ling Gesar.
The power of the succeeding Shabdrungs gradually eroded and gave way to rivalry and functionalism amongst the various governors. On December 17, 1907 Ugen Wangchuck after taking control and unifying the country established the first hereditary monarchy in Bhutan. The present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck the fourth of the line was crowned in 1974. His father the late King Jigme Dorji Wanghuck is considered and architect of modern Bhutan. Under his guidance the political and administrative machinery was re - instructred and modernized and a programme of Five Year Development Plans begun.
Monasteries called dzongs dominate the valleys and are the administrative centres of the region. Classic examples of Bhutanese architecture, they have gently tapering walls, single roofs, large countryards with tall towers or “Ushi’ in the centre, and beautiful galleries. Until recent years, towns were almost unknown and today most of the people still live in small rural settlements where grow crops and rear animals.
Chhuka, which is situated midway between Phunsoling and Thimphu has now become synonymous with the Hydro electric power station which generates about 4000 Megawatts of electricity. As the requirement of electricity in Bhutan is not much, most of this power is sold to West Bengal and Sikkim. The power station which is built underground is an example of human ingenuity and engineering skill. The waters of the Wang Chu river have been diverted after Chhuzom to a tunnel which runs through Cimakhoti and then drops down more than a thousand feet to propel the turbines of Chhuka power station.
This imposing structure was rebuilt in the early part of this century after the old fort was destroyed by fire. It situated on a ridge in the Chhokhor valley of Bumthang district.
This fort is another place worth visiting and situated on the top of a mountain spur that separates the Sankosh and Tangchu rivers.
Sikkim / Darjeeling / Kurseong / Kalimpong / Mirik