Asia has been a tourist hotspot for quite some time now, with travelers all over the world being enamored by its distinctive charm and beauty. While most non-Asian tourists flock in East and Southeast Asia, the other parts of Asia are equally stunning.
South Asia is one such region often overlooked. But, take my word for it, it’s definitely worth exploring. In this article, I’d focus on Bhutan, the Buddhist Kingdom right on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. For those of you who have yet to check out this country, here are the top places to visit in Bhutan.
Dubbed as the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan, the Punakha Dzong is a must-see for first-time visitors to Bhutan. The dzong’s towering whitewashed walls stand in sharp contrast with the lilac-colored jacaranda trees in spring. This combination creates a truly picturesque scenery.
Punakha Dzong was built in 1637. It was originally named Puntang Dechen Phodrang Dzong or the Palace of Great Bliss. This dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan. It served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned in this majestic dzong.
This majestic dzong is roughly a three-hour drive east from the capital Thimphu. To get to Punakha Dzong, one was to go through a pass I the mountains. This imposing and breathtaking structure can immediately be glimpsed from the roadside.
This dzong is placed strategically between two rivers, the differently colored Pho Chu and Mo Chu. Its location is the reason Punakha Dzong was able to successfully fend off attacks in the past. The dzong is joined to the mainland by an arch wooden bridge called the Bazam bridge, which was rebuilt in 2008.
At present, the Punakha Dzong houses precious relics from the time that Punakha Dzong was still the seat of government. Housed inside is Bhutan’s most treasured possession – the Rangjung Kharsapani. This relic is an image of Chenresig kept in the Tse Lakhang in the utse of the Punakha Dzong.
Perched 7,500 feet on a hillside in a fertile valley located on the banks of the Thimphu Chhu River, the Thimphu Valley is the capital, administration, religion, and commercial city of Bhutan. Despite being the center of Bhutan, the valley still retains its distinctive countryside charm.
For one, Thimphu is the only capital city in the world which does not have traffic lights. Wooden houses, all painted and constructed in tradition Bhutan fashion, also stand side by side with modern, concrete buildings. The conscious effort from the government to preserve Bhutan’s culture is evident in Thimphu.
Despite being very different from most capital cities, Thimphu Valley remains a lively place. Home to monks, civil servants, and expatriates, Thimphu Valley has an interesting mix of cosmopolitan panache and distinctive ancient traditions.
With an estimated population of roughly 100,000, Thimphu Valley is the largest city in Bhutan. Thimphu was a wooded farming valley up until 1951 when the massive 17th-century fortress Trashichho Dzong was revamped by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It then became the capital, replacing Punakha Dzong.
In addition to the Trashichho Dzong, other must-see places in the valley include the Simtokha Dzong, the Memorial Chorten, the Textile and Folk Heritage Museum, the Handicraft Emporiums, the Weekend Market, and the Changangkha Lhakhang. There are also a number of other excursion sites in the valley.
Located in Eastern Bhutan is the Trashigang district, which is an administrative town with some 4,500 residents. Reminiscent of Italy’s small and quaint villages, Trashigang is distinct for its traditional architecture and narrow streets.
Despite its small village charm, the Trashigang district is actually the largest town in the Eastern region of Bhutan. It used to be the center of an important trade route with Tibet. At present, Trashigang serves as a base for tourists and visitors who want to venture in the surrounding mountains and villages.
One famous architectural structure in Trashigang is the Trashigang Dzong. This dzong is located on a mountain ledge overlooking the Dangmehchu and is one of the most strategically located dzongs in the country. Unlike other dzongs, the Trashigang Dzong is only accessible from the north.
Dating back to 1659, this monastery is organized around a rectangular courtyard which is protected by battered walls. Despite having been built nearly 400 years ago, this monastery still houses a thriving monastic community at present. It also houses the central administration for the Trashigang district.
The Trashigang Dzong is well taken care of by the local community and is a popular spot for tourists. It now serves as a hub for traditional arts and crafts. It is also the venue of major festivals and cultural events. For those who just want to relax and meditate, this dzong is also the locus of daily rituals.
The Taktsang Monastery or “The Tiger’s Nest” is Bhutan’s most iconic and landmark religious site. Located some 10 kilometers north of the town of Paro and towering some 3,000 feet above it, it’s easy to see why so many people are enamored by its beauty.
This iconic monastery hugs the side of a rocky cliff overlooking Paro Valley, which is considered as the heart of Bhutan. With the only international airport in the country located in Paro, foreign visitors are immediately greeted by the charming site that is the Taktsang Monastery.
There are three paths to the famous Taktsang Monastery. The first path is a trail passing through a nearby pine forest. The pine forest is well-lighted and is decorated with bright prayer banners with prayers, well-wishes, and messages for good luck.
The other two paths, meanwhile, passed through a plateau called the “hundred thousand fairies’ plateau”. Aside from its location, the monastery itself is an architectural wonder. True to its Buddhist roots, the complex consists of white buildings with golden roofs.
Inside the monastery are eight caves, four of which are fairly east to access. These caves serve as the living and dwelling spaces of a lot of monks in the monastery.
Last but definitely not the least is Haa Valley, one of the smallest districts in Bhutan. This picturesque valley measures 1,706 square kilometers and is located northwest of Bhutan, close to the border of Tibet. It also borders three other districts: Paro, Samtse, and Chhukha.
The Haa Valley was not opened for tourism until early 2002, which is why it remains to be a fairly unknown destination for tourists, making it all the more enigmatic for first-time travelers to Bhutan. This little town remains beautifully quaint and largely traditional.
Haa serves as the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother, as well as the illustrious Dorji family. This valley looks straight out of a storybook, with its pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks. Its unspoiled primeval forests are the perfect invitation to trekkers and nature-lovers.
Home to nomadic herders and venue of the famed annual Summer Festival, Haa Valley is the perfect destination for tourists who want to have a taste of the unique lifestyle and culture of the district’s population. The Summer Festival is also the perfect opportunity to try out Haapi cuisine!
Bhutan is an enigmatic country which has a lot to offer in terms of beauty and history. Although often left unexplored, this country actually has a lot to offer to foreign visitors. These five spots are just a few of the interesting and must-see sites in this South Asian country.
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