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Places not to miss

There are times travellers are left to wonder if nature has been more kind to Bhutan than other parts of the world. The small landlocked country has many places that offer you great experiences, breath-taking moments and amazing views. Beautiful mountains and stunning valleys have a great deal to offer. While nature plays its game at its will on various locations, mankind had been playing its own game. Certain places are rich with manmade monuments and arts, while some have nothing special to boast of in terms of human being’s contribution. Very few places have the best of everything and Bhutan is one such place.
Bhutan Outlander Holiday will customise your trip with as many interesting places as possible to incorporate in your itinerary depending on your duration of stay in Bhutan.  
Here is the list of places which you cannot afford to miss.

In and around Thimphu

Exploring Thimphu

The best way to explore Thimphu is by foot. Along the main street, Norzim Lam, are the Clock Tower square, antique shops, art galleries, and a policed roundabout, a number of international standard restaurants and cafés, and shopping centres. Nightlife is starting to commercialise and there’s no dearth of entertainment places. There are clubs, pubs and modern discos popping up where you see young Bhutanese in modern outfit. If you want a quick cup of coffee, the dozens of coffeehouses and cafés that have mushroomed in this city are good places to sit and linger over exotic brews.
The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity makes Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and immerse themselves in the contemporary Bhutanese lifestyle. While in Thimphu, one shouldn’t miss a visit to the following places.

Buddha Dordenma:  
Situated at Kuenselphodrang, a small hill above Thimphu city, offers a magnificent panoramic view of the valley below and great photograph opportunities. This gigantic Buddha Dordenma Statue is 151m tall and houses over a hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the main statue itself are made of bronze and gilded in gold.  The statue sits high on a spur overlooking the southern approach to Thimphu.

Memorial Chorten:
This is a most impressive stupa built in the memory of Bhutan’s third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1974. It is situated in the heart of the Thimphu city and it is nice to take a walk in the evening and make circumambulation of the temple with local devotees. You will find elderly Bhutanese circumambulating the chorten throughout the day. It is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork.

Sangaygang view point:
You will have a wonderful viewpoint of the valley below from this point. You will enjoy your walk down the road in fresh and cool air with surrounding views.
Tashichho Dzong: This fort has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the Throne room and offices of His Majesty the King, the secretariat and the ministries of home and cultural affairs and finance. The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens. The dzong can be visited after office hours, weekends and government holidays. The annual Thimphu festival takes place behind the Dzong at Tendrel Thang. The parliament of Bhutan is housed in a modern building on the other side of the river from the dzong.
Takin Mini Zoo:   It is worth taking the time to visit this mini zoo, the takin reserve. The takin, which looks like a cross between a cow and a goat, is the national animal of Bhutan. According to legend, the unique animal was created by a 15th century saint Lam Drukpa Kunley, also known as the Divine Madman.

Dochula pass:
This is the most famous pass at an altitude of 3140 meters between Thimphu and Punakha highly decorated with colourful prayer flags. The pass offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range especially on clear winter days. This pass also has 108 stupas and newly built Druk Wangyel Chorten in honour of forth Druk Gyelpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  

Outside Thimphu

Punakha Dzong: 
As predicted by Guru Padmasambhava, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of the Bhutanese state, started the construction of Punakha Dzong in 1637. The dzong became the seat of the old capital of Bhutan, and it was in this dzong that the Machhen (sacred embalmed body) of Zhabdrung is preserved and safeguarded with great devotion and reverence to this day.

Punakha Dzong witnessed the establishment of the Wangchuck Dynasty on December 17, 1907. It was in this dzong that His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck received the Dhar Nay Nga, an arrangement of silk scarves in the five auspicious colours, representing the five elements, which is a direct empowerment from Zhabdrung himself, when His Majesty was enthroned as Chhoetse Penlop in 2004, crowned as the Druk Gyalpo in 2008, and wedded Jetsun Pema in 2011. In 2016, His Royal Highness the Prince of Bhutan was named in this dzong that remains majestically at the junction of two rivers – Phochhu and Mochhu. The dzong that served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 is still the winter seat of His Holiness the Je Khenpo (the chief abbot).

Chimi Lhakhang: This temple built by Tibetan lama Ngawang Chogyal (1465-1540) is today mostly associated with his cousin, Lama Drukpa Kunley, who was known for his outrageous behaviour aimed at ridiculing the hypocrisy of society. The temple is believed to have been built on the spot where Drukpa Kunley subdued a demoness fleeing in the form of a dog. It is today known as the temple of fertility. The temple is believed to bless childless couples with fertility. Our guide will elaborate on the significance of the temple and the life of Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as the Divine Madman, as we go around the temple.

Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten: Built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, this beautiful monastery is a splendid example of Bhutan’s fine architectural and artistic tradition. Numerous miniature chortens surrounds the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel and it is the only of its kind in the Kingdom. The chorten is about an hour hike uphill and 30 minutes down from the suspension bridge over Mochhu River. It offers a beautiful view of the Punakha valley.

Gangtey Monastery and Phobjikha:  The valley of Gangtey is one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. In Gangtey, tourists can explore the beautiful village of Phobjikha – the winter roosting ground of Bhutan’s endangered black necked cranes. Bhutan takes a special care to protect these species, and for the purpose of conversation it has established the conservation area at Phobjikha under the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature. Gangtey is popular tourist spot and it is known for its scenic splendour and cultural uniqueness. A colourful masquerade Dance Festival called Tsechu and Crane festival are marked in in the courtyard of Gangtey Monastery. The temple is a beautiful yet simple, consisting of just one main building, temple overlooking the Gangtey Valley. The building is cold during the winter. The cranes can be seen circling the monastery clockwise three times upon arrival and before departing the valley annually.

Trongsa Dzong:  Trongsa – the vanguard of the warriors – is located at the centre of Bhutan and for this reason it was considered crucial to controlling the country in the earlier years. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan. The massive dzong is the largest fortress in the country. The dzong stands on a spur overlooking the mighty Mangduechhu River. Above the dzong is the Ta-daong. It was once a watchtower that has four surveillance points resembling a dragon, a garuda, a tiger and a lion. Today the Ta-dzong is converted into Art Museum. Also near the dzong is a two-storied Thruepang Palace, the birth place of His Majesty the third Druk Gyalpo. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from Trongsa. All the Kings of Bhutan were invested as Trongsa Penlop prior to ascending the golden throne.

Kurje Lhakhang: Kurje Lhakhang, also written as Kurjey Lhakhang or Kurjey Monastery, is located in the Bumthang valley. It is a very important monument in the history of Bhutan. There are three temples in a row enclosed by 108 Chortens. A short distance beyond a small ridge is a spring believed to have been taken out by Guru Rimpoche.

It is believed that Guru Rinpoche was invited to Bhutan by Sendah Gyab, the local ruler, to help him overcome evil spirits that have been harassing the people. His mission was also to get back the king's soul which had been taken by the guardian deity Shelging Karpo, who inflicted the king with a terrible illness. Guru Rinpoche, referred to as Padmasambhava mediated in a cave called Dragmar Dorji Tsegpa where he is believed to have left imprints of his body. The temple is today called Kurje Lhakhang, the temple of body imprint.

Tachogang Bridge: When you are driving directly to Thimphu from Paro airport, Tachogang Bridge is the first landmark you will encounter. The bridge that leads to Tachogang Lhakhang, founded by Tibetan saint, Thangthong Gyalpo, was designed by him in early fifteenth century. He also designed and erected many such iron suspension bridges across the country and made some part of Bhutan accessible for the first time. Thrill seekers will enjoy the walk over the Pachu River.
Dzongdrakha Temple:  A small cliff-side temple located, near the airport, about 30 minute walk from Bondey, rejoice an annual tshechu festival before and after the larger Paro tshechu. Built in the 16th century by the local King Chogay Dragpa, the temple complex is constituted of four shrines, devoted to Drolma (Tara), Tsheringma (Goddess of Longevity), Guru Rinpoche and the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya. Locals believe that Guru Rinpoche when first came to Paro, from Nepal, he first landed at Drakarpo, and then Dzongdrakha before arriving at Taktsang.

National museum: The National Museum of Bhutan is housed in the medieval watch tower or Tadzong. The circular building on the ridge overlooking Rinpung Dzong and part of Paro valley is a piece of Bhutanese heritage. It is among the few educational institutions that interpret the history and culture of Bhutan through its exhibits, conducting symposiums, publication of research findings and conservation of artefacts. Opened to the public in 1968, the national museum has over 3000 artworks and pasterpieces displaying more than 1500 years of Bhutanese cultural heritage. At the museum you will see an eclectic mix of past and present art forms. It is a must visit for all local, regional and foreign visitors to Bhutan.

Kyichu Lhakhang: The 7th  century, Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the two in Bhutan built by Tibetan dharma king Songtsen Gampo as part of his grand project of the construction of 108 temples to suppress a supine demoness. Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang is believed to have been built on the demoness’s left knee and Kyichu on its left foot. The temple is small but very historic. Visiting it will take only a short time, but our guide will take some time explaining to you its historical and religious importance. The temple was restored in the 19th century and a similar one was built by Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck in 1968.

Tiger’s nest Monastery: Taktshang Monastery, known to outsiders as the Tiger’s Nest is the most famous Bhutanese monastery perched on a cliff 900 metre above the Paro valley. Taktshang is a place blessed by a large number of enlightened masters. The foremost of them is Guru Padmasambhava (popularly known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan). Guru Rinpoche is believed to have flown to the place riding a tigress. Taktshang is among the most sacred places in the entire Himalayan Buddhist world. The hike to this monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion.  As legend has it, Padmasambava landed at Paro Taktshang to meditate when he brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the seventh century. He is said to have arrived on a flying tiger. He then meditated in a cave high on the mountain for four months after which he subdued the local 'demons' and began the conversion of the Bhutanese to Buddhism. High and deep inside the temple is the cold cave where Padmasambabva is said to have meditated and one can feel the chill breath coming from the cave.

Drukgyel dzong: Drukgyal Dzong (fortress of Drukpa victory) was built to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644 and destroyed by fire in 1951. The Dzong was built to guard the approach to Paro Valley from Tibet and is only accessible from one side, which is defended by three prominent towers. Jhomolhari Mountain, the abode and embodiment of the Mountain Goddess Tsheringma who watches over the land, forms the backdrop of Drukgyel dzong. To commemorate the birth of Royal Prince in Bhutan in 2016, and 400 years since arrival of Zhabdrung to Bhutan, Drukgyal dzong will be restored to its former glory.

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