Central Bhutan is an exciting destination for all visitors. It includes some of the most significant historical and religious sites in the country. The district of Trongsa has always been of great political importance to the leaders of Bhutan due to its commanding location in the center of the nation while Bumthang district has some of the most ancient and important temples and monasteries in Bhutan.
Some of the important landmarks in central Bhutan are: Kurje Lhakhang built in 1652 at the site where the great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche meditated. Tamshing Lhakhang, the great religious treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa built dating back to 1501. Mebar Tsho: A sacred lake from which Terton Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures hidden by Guru Rimpoche.
The Watchtower of Trongsa Museum: This ancient tower has been made into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and provides visitors with unparalleled insight into Bhutan’s political history, Chendebji Chorten: An interesting and visually striking religious building with eyes painted towards the four cardinal directions. Legend states that it was constructed to subdue the remains of an evil spirit that manifested as a gigantic serpant.
In addition to the traditional annual religious festivals (Tshechus) there are also many newer festivals showcasing the rich traditions of the region like the annual Nomad’s Festival and the Matsutake Mushroom Festival in Ura, Bumthang.
Central Bhutan is a region blessed with great natural beauty and there are miles of pristine alpine and sub-tropical broadlead forests teeming with all manner of flora and fauna. The Thrumshingla National Park is located in this region and is famous for the many rare and endangered birds that inhabit it including the Rufous necked hornbill, Rufous-throated wren-babbler, Satyr Tragopan, Beautiful nuthatch, Ward’s trogon and Chestnut-breasted partridge. Visitors may even catch a glimpse of the exotic animals that live in the park such as the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger or the adorable Red Panda.
This region that spans from 2,600-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.
Bumthang Dzongkhag consists of four main valleys Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four mountain valleys and is widely considered as ‘Bumthang Valley’. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.
The name Bumthang has two probable origins; the first is that it is named after a Bumpa, a vessel for holy water which the valley resembles in shape. The second origin implies that it is the Valley of Beautiful Girls as Bum translates to ‘Girl’ and Thang means ‘flat piece of land’.
These fertile valleys are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.
This dzongkhag is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang. According to legend this ancient temple was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 659 A.D. as part of a chain of 108 simultaneously constructed temples in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region. It is the oldest lhakhang in Bhutan.
There are numerous other temples and shrines worth visiting in Bumthang and many of them are linked to Guru Rinpoche’s visit in 746 A.D.
Jambay Lhakhang Festival
Jambay lhakhang is located in Bumthang and is situated on the way to the Kurjie Lhakhang. It’s a ten minutes drive to the temple from the Chamkhar town.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
The first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885. Later, Ashi Wangmo, the younger sister of the second king of Bhutan, built the Chorten lhakhang.
The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days (check with your tour operator to confirm these dates). The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
Trongsa: The Vanguard of the Warriors – Trongsa Dzongkha is located near the center of Bhutan and was considered crucial to controlling the kingdom in earlier years due to its strategic position.
This town is situated on a steep ridge and offers spectacular views of the deep valleys surrounding it. The various hotels, guesthouses and restaurants all offer stunning views from their balconies. Trongsa Dzong is easily visible from anywhere in the town and is always an impressive sight as it is situated atop a steep ridge that drops off into the clouds on its south side.
Trongsa also boasts an impressive museum. The watchtower of Trongsa has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and is a good place to learn about the history of the kingdom.
The following is a list of noteworthy sites and monuments in Trongsa Dzongkhag:
Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat. All four kings were invested as Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne. The dzong is a massive structure with many levels, sloping down the contours of the ridge on which it is built. Because of the dzong’s highly strategic position, on the only connecting route between east and west, the Trongsa Penlop was able to control effectively the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country from here.
This watchtower, which once guarded Trongsa Dzong from internal rebellion, stands on a promontory above the town. It was built by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, the 1st Governor of Trongsa in 1652. It has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda, and Dragon. Climb up the path to visit Ta Dzong which now houses a shrine dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. A visit to this former watchtower provides visitors with an insight into the significance of Trongsa in Bhutan’s history. As of date the Ta Dzong of Trongsa is the most fascinating museum of the nation.
This two storied simple palace situated just above the highway in the town is the birth place of our Late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It was here that on 2nd May 1928, His Majesty was born to King Jigme Wangchuck and Ashi Puntsho Choden. He spent most of his early childhood days here in this Thurepang Palace. The other palace of interest is the Eundu Choling Palace which was the winter residence of the 1st King Ugyen Wangchuck.
Kuenga Rabten Palace
The 23 km. drive from Trongsa to Kuenga Rabten takes about an hour and passes through open countryside high above a river gorge. The land slopes quite gently in this region, and farming is well developed, so there is much of interest to observe in the fields and in the villages as one speed along.
As one approaches Kuenga Rabten, the Palace is clearly visible just below the road on the right. It was the winter palace of the second king and is now looked after by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. This pleasant afternoon excursion from Trongsa offers further insights into the early days of Bhutan’s monarchy.
End route to Trongsa is Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Zhida, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. Legend says that the evil spirit manifested as a gigantic snake.