A beautiful road trip from Thimphu to the Bumthang (or Jakar) valley amidst snow-capped mountains and splendid natural beauty!
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan offers a variety of flora and fauna. The tranquil landscape provides a lot of peace to the visitors looking for some solace, away from the struggles of everyday life. The tiny kingdom has several picturesque valleys, each of which has its own charisma.
One such valley is Bumthang, unknown to the tourists wriggling like serpents in Thimphu or hiking the Taktsang Monastery in Paro. Although slowly and steadily Bumthang has also begun to grab attention these days.
How To Reach:
It takes a long 10-hour drive from Thimphu to the quaint valley. At first we decided to take an early morning bus to Bumthang. The local buses usually takes 12-13 hours to reach the valley. But as we reached the terminus, we learned that the bus was booked out. . Disappointed, we were ready to go back home. Suddenly out of curiosity, we asked one of the private taxis about their charges. He quoted NU 18,000/- for the return journey along with sight seeing. We negotiated hard and closed the deal at NU 15,000!
After 2 hours, the first stop was outside the city of Punakha for tea and breakfast. These tiny roadside eateries in Bhutan may not have the finest spread, but they serve fantastic local cuisine and hot tea. The toilets are very clean as well. (Read about Punakha here)
Next stop was Wangdue Phodrang, renowned for the Wangdue dzong. The dzong was burnt down by fire in 2012 and several religious manuscripts were lost. A little further from Wangdue, the highway splits into two – one leading to Phobjikha and the other to Trongsa.
The landscape changed after Wangdue as we began to gain altitude. We could catch glimpses of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, while there were lush green fields down below. After a few hours of arduous drive we reached Trongsa.
Trongsa is a significant town in Bhutan. The Wangchuk family used to be the Trongsa dzong’s highest authorities before they became the rulers of Bhutan. Even today, the King of Bhutan becomes the Governor of Trongsa before being named the Crown Prince and ultimately the King.
Another 3-3.5 hours drive from Trongsa and we reached Bumthang. It took us almost 10 hours to reach the town. The lush green valley with quaint little houses seemed like a sleepy European countryside.
Bumthang is the district’s capital by the same name. Its significance lies in the number of sacred places there. Bumthang is known for dairy products, honey, apples and rice. There are a number of Swiss dairy farms and you can take tours to these farms. There is a tiny airport at Jakar- the Bathpalathang Airport that gets few flights from Paro and Gelephu.
We checked into the Hotel Home, which was situated a little away from the main town. The rooms were cozy and overlooked a beautiful garden. Since it can get quite chilly, the rooms are equipped with traditional fireplaces. Hotels in Bumthang may run out of water and electricity at times.
What to See:
The next day started with a visit to the famous spots in Bumthang. Our first stop was the Jakar Dzong, the primary administrative building.
- Jakar Dzong
Jakar dzong is Bhutan’s biggest dzong and is situated on a ridge. It takes a few minutes of uphill climb on cobbled paths to reach the entrance to the dzong. The dzong got its name from “Jakar” meaning a “white bird”. It is believed that the dzong was built when a white bird flew and perched on this ridge. The dzong’s interior has several courtyards lined with administrative offices. One could see from the dzong the lovely Chokhor valley below.
From the Dzong, we headed to Kurjey Lhakhang.
2. Kurjey Lhakhang:
The Kurjey Lhakhang lies a little away from the primary city. It is named after Guru Rinpoche’s “kur” (body) and “jey” (print), which is believed to be preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings. It is also the resting place of Bhutan’s first three kings.
The first temple is Guru Lhakhang, which is the oldest temple. There is a statue of Garuda with a snow leopard depicting the renowned fight between Guru Rinpoche (Garuda) and the local demon Shelging Kharpo (snow leopard).
Sangay Lhakhang is a tiny passage that the Bhutanese believe will leave behind your sins. A thousand tiny sculptures of Guru Rinpoche are kept in the upper floors of the lhakhang, along with those of Pema Lingpa and Drolma. The cypress tree behind the lhakhang is said to have sprouted from the walking stick of the Guru.
Bhutan’s first king had constructed the second temple-Sampa Lhundrup Lhakhang. There are several paintings of local deities and a figure on Shelging Kharpo’s white horse.
Queen Ashi Kesang Wangchuck constructed the third temple. She also constructed a wall surrounding the temple complex with 108 chortens.
From Kurjey Lhakahng, we visited the Burning Lake.
3. Mebar Tsho (or Burning Lake)
This is a sacred place where Pema Lingpa, Bhutan’s greatest treasure-finder has discovered several of the terma or sacred teachings of Guru Rinpoche.
According to legends, Pema Lingpa, Bhutan’s biggest treasure finder, saw a temple in his dreams at the bottom of the lake. He reached the place, dived right in and discovered a treasure chest. At that very moemnt he again found himself back on dry land. The local people didn’t believe him and they took him to the same spot. There, Pema Lingpa dived again with a lit lamp in his hand, and told all those gathered that if he is speaking the truth, he will return with both the treasure and the lamp still alight and if he is lying, he will drown. After a while, he came out of the water with a statue, a treasure chest, and the lamp still burning in his hand.
The lake is very picturesque and quiet, and one can see tiny conical mounds as religious offerings to the living or dead. Visitors are prohibited to walk down to the lake since it is very slippery and 5 people have already drowned there.
From the Mebar Tsho, we headed across the river towards Ngang Lhakhang.
4. Ngang Lhakhang:
The monastery contains several Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung paintings and sculptures. It also has a heavily woven iron cloak inside the temple. It may not be as well conserved as the Kurjey Lhakhang, but it definitely has its relevance in the history and culture of Bhutan.
5. Jambey Lhakhang:
Also, when in Bumthang, don’t miss the Jambey Lhakhang, a monastery constructed in Guru Rinpoche’s honor. A 4-day festival is held at the lhakhang every year in November. The festival, held for “Mewang”-the fire ceremony and “Tercham”-a traditional religious masked dance, is of great importance in Bhutan. A fire dance is also performed to bless infertile women.
Bumthang is a very safe place and you don’t have to worry about pickpockets or snatching. But one requires to be careful about the valley’s remote location, which makes it difficult for visitors to find decent hotels there. The shops and restaurants shut down quite early and after sunset it would not be wise to stay away from the main town. As a Himalayan kingdom, Bhutan has a fair share of diverse flora and fauna. Himalayan bear sightings and attacks are quite frequent in the valleys. Be careful of the surroundings after dusk since the valley is surrounded by dense forest.
And last but not the least, enjoy the hot dumplings (or momo), soupy noodles and few drinks of Bhutan Highland whisky or Raven vodka to keep yourself warm!!!