At 7,710 ft in the fertile valley of the Wang chu river, the capital Thimphu is an engaging blend of the old and the new. A unique law, which retains the forms and motifs of Bhutan’s traditional architecture even in new buildings give Thimphu a delightful structural harmony. The capital’s most striking visual landmark is the magnificent Tashichhodzong, which is the seat of the Royal Government and Central Monastic Body. A number of institutions in Thimphu such as the Royal School of the Performing Arts, the School of Traditional Painting, the National Textile Museum and the Institute of Traditional Medicine offer the visitor an insight into Bhutanese culture.
At 4,300 ft Punakha with its sub-tropical climate is Bhutan’s ancient capital and winter seat of the Central Monastic Body. The unique Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong, built in 1637 by the Shabdrung, is situated on a triangular spit of land at the confluence of the Mo chu and Pho chu rivers. Punakha has its own festival, the Punakha Dromchoe that concludes with the Serda, a colourful re-enactment of an episode of the war against the invading Tibetans in the 17th century. The body of the Shabdrung, who died in 1651 while in meditation at Punakha, is preserved at the dzong.
At 4,300 ft Wangduephodrang is distinguished primarily by its dzong, which completely covers the spur of a hill and commands excellent views of both the east-west and north-south routes. The town has a colourful local market and is known as the cleanest town in Bhutan, due to the efforts of its local council.
A broad glacial valley (10,000 ft) on the flanks of the Black Mountains, Phobjikha with its gently sloping hillsides is a place of astonishing beauty described as “the most beautiful valley in the most beautiful country in the Himalayas”. Every winter, the rare and beautiful black-necked cranes return from Tibet to the Gantey valley where they are protected. Gantey also has a very interesting Nyingmapa monastery, the only one of its kind west of the Black Mountain range. There is a lovely 3 day walk which begins in this valley and ends near the Kyichu Resort.
Laya and Lingshi
In the far north of western Bhutan, lies this region of high pastures (up to 16,000 ft), glaciated valleys, colourful semi-nomadic yak herders in their conical bamboo hats, hot springs, and snow covered Himalayan peaks, This region is also camping country – the trekking trail takes you through alpine meadows and picturesque mountain hamlets. You may also, if you’re lucky, see the elusive snow leopard and the rare blue sheep.
Located in the south-east of Bhutan, the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar is the eastern overland gateway to Bhutan. During winter months eastern Bhutanese come to this trading town to sell their hand-woven textiles and other wares. Other attractions include the National Memorial Chorten, the Handicrafts Emporium, the National Library and the quaint weekend market.
At 7,382 ft Paro is the site of Bhutan’s only airport and is the most beautiful western valley. Besides the colourful spring tsechu, Paro has a number of sights. The pastoral beauty of Paro valley, magnificent views of Mount Jhomolhari, the incredible monastery of Taktsang which clings to a sheer rock cliff, the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (fortress of the victorious Drupas) and the National Museum, housed in an ancient watchtower, are the main attractions.
Bumthang – Central Bhutan
The undulating and verdant valleys of Bumthang are known for their beauty, temples and palaces of historical significance. Bumthang offers some of the best treks in Bhutan, ranging from easy walks in the idyllic countryside to extended treks to explore hidden alpine valleys, where the warm, unquestioning hospitality of the people and the pristine beauty of the land belong to another age. The major town, Jakar is a crossroads and meeting for many people of the surrounding region.
Ancestral home of Bhutan’s ruling dynasty and site of Bhutan’s most impressive fortress, Trongsa is a strategically located town on the east-west route. The sprawling dzong is built at the head of the valley and the view of the Mangde river valley extends for many kilometres.
At 3,773 ft Trashigang is the biggest urban centre in eastern Bhutan. Trashigang is known for its woodwork and fine weaving. Trashigang dzong, built on a spur, overlooks the Gong Ri river, 1,300 ft below. In winter, handsome semi-nomadic people from the northeastern glacial valleys of Merak and Sakteng, dressed in their characteristic burgundy jackets, come here to sell their cheese, butter and yak wool.
Phuentsholing is a bustling trading town and the overland western gateway to India.