There are many interesting places that merit a visit in Bhutan. However, if you are in Bhutan for only for a very short duration and do not have to opportunity to venture beyond Western Bhutan, here are five top places that will enable you to get a glimpse of the beautiful landscape, culture, and traditions so that you have a uniquely Bhutanese experience.
- Chime Lhakhang: Situated on a small hillock overlooking rice paddies and a traditional village on one side and the sultry Punatsangchu river on the other, this temple is one of its kind. The temple is dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humor, songs and outrageous behaviour to dramatize his teachings. Due to his unconventional style, he is also known as the ‘Divine Madman’.The temple is well-known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couple who are unable to conceive are usually blessed with children if they pray at the temple. People also come to the temples to seek protection for the children they have. There are many stories about tourists and visitors who have made the pilgrimage to Chimi Lhakhang and have conceived a child within a year of the visit.Legend has is that a demoness called Loro Duem resided on a high pass presently called Dochula. Along with two other demonesses that lived in nearby passes, they terrorized everyone who crossed the pass and caused them misery and suffering. When Lam Drukpa Kuenley heard of this, he took it onto himself to hunt them. Recognizing his power, the two other demoness dissolved into body of Loro Duem, who then ran into the valley and transformed herself into a dog to avoid detection. But Lam Drukpa Kuenley recognized the demoness dog, and killed her and buried her under a mound of a hill. He said “Chi-med” (no dog) and built a black chorten atop the hill. Before killing the demoness, however, he made her pledge service to the Buddha and become a protector of the dharma. She is now the local deity called Chhoekim – the guardian deity of Chimi Lhakhang.
2. Dochula Pass: This mountain pass between Thimphu and Punakha is the gateway to Central and Eastern Bhutan. At 10,130 ft (3,088 m), Dochula Pass is an hour drive from Thimphu and can boast of an incredibly spectacular view of the Eastern Himalayan mountains. Against the majestic backdrop of these mountains, you will see the tranquil 108 chortens that have been built on the top of the Pass.
At the Pass, you can visit the Druk Wangyel Lhakhang which has been commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck as a beautiful tribute to honor His Majesty the Fourth King in his courageous service of the country. The open grounds in front of the temple is the venue of the famous Druk Wangyel Festival that takes place every year on 13th December.
The 60th Anniversary Park was inaugurated in 2017 and dedicated to His Majesty the Great Fourth King for his visionary and selfless leadership. Some salient features of the park include the 11 meditation caves depicting the birth anniversary of His Majesty on the 11th day of the 11th month, the 16 steps – the age when His Majesty took on the responsibility of a King and the 34 stones depicting the 34 years of his glorious reign.
- Punakha Dzong: The Punthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Bliss) is known more popularly as Punakha Dzong is a spectacular landmark built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is a picturesque fortress that has been built at the junction of two rivers – the Pho Chu (male river) and Mo Chu (Female River). The fortress which is 600-foot long and 240-foot wide, and has a six-storied rectangular tower in the center is one of the most beautiful and well-known fortress connected with Bhutan’s historical traditions.The valley of Punakha and the Dzong was the seat of power and politics in medieval Bhutan. It was in Punakha that the first heridatry king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, was enthroned on 17 December 1907. Punakha was the winter capital of Bhutan until 1955 and the Dzong continues to be the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body. It has witnessed four catastrophic fires and earthquakes but it continues to remain one of the most prominent places in Bhutan, housing many sacred artifacts and the embalmed body of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
If time permits, you should definitely take a short 15-minute walk to see the one of the longest iron suspension bridges of Bhutan. Spanning 350 metres, this iron bridge goes over the gushing Pho Chu river. It is used by the locals who use it as a short cut from across the valley to Punakha Dzong and town. Draped with fluttering flags, this is a unique experience and is guaranteed to give you a quick adrenaline shot.
- Buddha Dordenma Statue: At 169-feet (52 m), the Buddha Dordenma statue in Kuenselphodrang is one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. Made of bronze and gilded in gold, it stands atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang and commands a majestic view of Thimphu valley. The construction of the statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century AD that a statue would be built in the region and would bring blessings, peace and happiness to the entire world. For more information on this visit: http://www.lhayul.com/blog/2017/08/07/5-things-know-worlds-tallest-buddha-statue-2/
- Taktsang Monastery: Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest as it is popularly known as, is one of the most iconic landmarks of Bhutan. It clings to a vertical granite cliff 1,000 meters above the valley floor. It is believed the Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) in the 8th century AD flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress and subdued a demon. He then meditated in one of the caves and emerged in the eight incarnated forms (manifestations) to bless the place.
The temple was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup, a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three months in the 8th century. A fire broke out in 1998 and destroyed the original monastery. It has, since then, been reconstructed and continues to be one of the most frequented places of worship.The walk to Taktsang monastery takes about 2 -3 hours uphill depending on your walking pace. For those who would prefer not to walk all the way, you can walk about 1-hour uphill and stop at the viewpoint cafeteria where you can rest, enjoy a cup of tea/coffee and look at the monastery from a distance. As for the rest of you adventure seekers, another 1 hour walk uphill will take you to the cliffs opposite the monastery. An additional 15 minutes will take you along a narrow cliff path, below a waterfall that appears to fall from the sky and alongside colorful fluttering prayer flags and straight into the Tiger’s Nest.
It is one of the most sacred places in Bhutan and it is believed that all Bhutanese people must make a visit to this place at least once in their lifetime. For visitors and traveler alike, no trip to Bhutan would ever be complete without a visit to this majestic place.