6 Amazing Places You Can Visit In Bhutan
By: Pinki Thu, 07 Dec 2023 11:08:09
Bhutan, a Himalayan realm steadfast in its ancient values and traditions, exudes an air of mystery and enchantment. These qualities permeate every aspect of the country, whether it be the pristine natural landscapes showcasing unique biotic treasures, the profound influence of Buddhism, or the society's distinctive approach to life. In Bhutan, there are myriad activities and experiences waiting to be embraced, promising an unforgettable journey through the last Himalayan Kingdom on Earth.
What sets Bhutan apart is its unique emphasis on measuring happiness, considering it more vital than its rapidly growing economy. The country has incorporated this distinctive approach into its five-year planning process, defining success through the lens of Gross National Happiness. Within this secluded kingdom lies a wealth of exploration, delving deep into its rich tapestry of culture, adventure, nature, spirituality, and festivals. The following list unveils the top 14 things to do in Bhutan, providing a pathway to truly capture the essence of this remarkable land, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
# National Museum
As a guardian and advocate for Bhutan's cultural values, the National Museum stands as a remarkable synthesis of the country's past and present, making it a prominent attraction in Bhutan. Located in the town of Paro in western Bhutan, this museum is renowned for housing some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, dating back an estimated 1500 years, according to authorities. The museum's captivating exhibits include fine arts, 3-D stamps, silken stamps, a triangular stamp featuring the mythical yeti, as well as paintings and bronze statues, all contributing to its allure as a cultural treasure trove. Originally established in 1968, the museum found its home in the historic Ta-dzong building, leading locals to affectionately refer to it as the Ta-Dzong museum.
As the residence of the royal family of Bhutan, Thimphu not only serves as the administrative capital but also holds cultural and commercial significance. Adding to Bhutan's repertoire of surprises, Thimphu boasts a unique distinction – it is the only capital city globally where roads function seamlessly without the need for traffic lights. While this may present a challenge for traffic police, it accentuates the city's intriguing contrast, prompting tourists to appreciate both the traditional and modern facets of Bhutan.
Supporting this duality, the capital features the formidable Simtokha fortress, known locally as Simtokha Dzong, an artistic structure dating back to the 16th century. Meanwhile, modernization is evident in structures like the Memorial Chorten, National Library, Institute for Zorig Chusum, and Folk Heritage Museum. Thimphu has adapted to the evolving trends of the modern world while maintaining a harmonious coexistence of urban culture within the traditional and spiritual essence of Bhutan.
Key attractions in Thimphu include the Thimphu Tshechu festival, the Buddha Dordenma Statue, the National Memorial Chorten, the Jungshi paper factory, and the Centenary Farmer’s Market. These places provide a glimpse into the dynamic blend of tradition and progress that defines Thimphu's unique character.
# Chime Lhakhang
Can you fathom a place where reverence is bestowed upon penises? Well, Chime Lhakhang in Bhutan stands out as such a locale. While this might come across as shocking in many religious contexts, in Bhutan, it is regarded with the same sanctity as the Buddha himself. Chime Lhakhang is dedicated to a unique saint named Lama Drukpa Kunley, who decidedly did not conform to conventional saintly behavior. Stories depict him as a figure with unconventional ideals—he enjoyed alcohol and the company of women, defied norms by urinating on religious drawings, and became entangled in various scandals.
Despite these unconventional traits, he remained a follower of Buddhism, and his teachings, though unconventional, were delivered in good spirits. Legend has it that the saint used his penis, dubbed the 'Magic Thunderbolt,' to slay the demon of Dachu La. Subsequently, people began venerating the saint, and Chime Lhakhang emerged as a monastery dedicated to him. Located approximately 77 kilometers from Thimpu, Chimi Lhakhang is frequented by numerous infertile women seeking blessings for childbirth. The tale of the saint also sheds light on the tradition of adorning Bhutanese homes with prominent images of penises.
# Paro Valley
Emerging from the convergence of two significant rivers in Bhutan—Paro Chuu and Wang Chuu—Paro unfolds as a picturesque valley, recognized as the lifeline of Bhutan. Blanketed with expansive rice and paddy fields, the valley gains further allure from a crystalline river meandering through its lush greenery. The beauty of this paradise is heightened by forests of oak and rhododendrons.
As one of the most frequented landscapes in Bhutan, Paro is an ideal destination for those seeking spiritual tranquility. Boasting over a hundred temples and monasteries, some dating back to the 14th century, Paro captivates visitors with its rich religious heritage. The Taktsang monastery, perched on a cliff, stands out as a prominent landmark in the Himalayan kingdom, offering an aerial perspective of the scenic Paro valley. Other religious sites in the valley, such as Kila Gompa and Dzongdrakha temple, contribute to the spiritual tapestry of the region. For those planning a visit to Bhutan in the spring, the vibrant Paro Tsechu festival is a must-attend event, adding a burst of color to the cultural experience.
# Taktsang Monastery
Perched atop a cliff in the enchanting valley of Paro, the Taktsang monastery stands as an essential pilgrimage site in Bhutan. Revered as one of the holiest places in the country, this monastery holds a profound connection to the founding figure of Bhutanese Buddhism, Guru Padmasambhava. Legend tells of a colossal tigress carrying Guru Padmasambhava on her back and choosing this location as their dwelling, leading to the monastery's popular moniker, the Tiger's Nest.
Situated on a mountainside, reaching the temple involves a climb along mountainous paths, each holding significant meaning for the Bhutanese people. The initial path winds through pine forests, symbolizing a shield against malevolent forces and infusing the journey with positive energy. The subsequent two paths traverse a plateau, believed to be inhabited by a multitude of fairies—numbering a hundred thousand—adding a touch of mystique to the ascent.
# Punakha Festival
Originally referred to as Punakha Drubchen, this festival serves as a commemoration of the 17th-century battle between the Bhutanese and Tibetan armies. During the celebration, locals don full battle attire, engaging in a reenactment of the historical clash. Originating as a means to honor the victory, the festival has evolved into an annual tradition.
In addition to Punakha Drubchen, there exists another rendition known as Punakha Tsechu. Introduced in 2005, this festival is specifically designed to uphold the teachings of Lord Buddha and perpetuate the legacy of Zhabdrung Rimpoche. Both iterations of the Punakha festivals play a vital role in preserving Bhutan's rich traditions and heritage, a source of immense pride for the country.