Opening for tourism only in 1974, Bhutan remains one of the world’s most exclusive tourist destinations. Touring is extraordinarily breathtaking experience in Bhutan. The culture, religion, unique architecture, parks and reserves, festivals, picturesque valleys and the people all build up a rather alluring picture for your eyes. You will only know the reason why you want to visit this amazing country once you set your foot in this majestic land.
Top things to do in bhutan
1. Dochula pass
The Dochula pass is the most well known pass in Bhutan, located an hour from Thimphu at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It is on the way to Punakha (also a favorite destination among tourists and locals alike). There are 108 stupas overlooking the Himalayas. When the sky is clear, the Mountain View is spectacular. The pass is a popular destination among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range.
2. Ganteng Monastery
The Ganteng Monastery generally known as Gantey Gonpa is an important monastery of Nyinmapa school of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. It is located in the Phobjikha valley in the Wangdiphodrang district in central Bhutan. The monastery is one of the main seats of the religious tradition based on Pema Lingpa’s revelations and one of the two main centre’s of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism in the country.Tshechu, the popular Bhutanese festival that is held all over Bhutan in all major monasteries is also held here from the 5th to the 10th days of the eighth lunar month as per the Bhutanese calendar. The festival attracts many foreign tourists.
It is Buddhist monastery in Punakha district located near Lobesa. It stands on a hillock and was built in 1499 by 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyal after the site was blessed by the ‘’divine madman’’, the maverick saint Drukpa Kuenley (1455-1529) who built a stupa on the site to suppress a demoness.
The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that the ‘’divine madman’’ brought from Tibet. This wooden phallus is decorated with a silver handle and is used to bless people who visit the monastery and particularly, women seeking blessings to beget children.
4. Trashi Choe Dzong (the fortress of the glorious religion)
It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa where Dechen Phodrang now stands above Thimphu. In 1641 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal acquired it but finding it too small, he built another one, known as the lower Dzong. The original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and everything was moved to the lower dzong. The new building was later expanded several times over the years. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck had it completely renovated and enlarged over five years after he moved the capital to Thimphu in 1952 in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans.
Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby.
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.
5. Bumthang Valley
This region that spans from 2,600m-4,500m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of the 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 valley 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.
6. Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong is arguably the most beautiful dzong in the country, especially in spring when the lilac-colored jacaranda trees bring a lush sensuality to the dzong’s characteristically towering whitewashed walls. This dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned here.
7. Drukgyal Dzong
Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress now in ruins, located in the upper part of Paro district. The Dzong was built in 1649 to commemorate victory over an invasion from Tibet. In the early 1950s, the Dzong was completely destroyed by fire. Now the Dzong is under construction upon the command of His Majesty the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck.
8. National Museum of Bhutan
It is located in the Paro district in western Bhutan. Established in 1968, the museum houses some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, including master pieces of bronze statues and paintings. Today, the national museum has in its possession over 3,000 works of Bhutanese art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan’s cultural heritage.
9. The national memorial chorten (stupa)
Visitors will find elderly Bhutanese people circumambulating the Chorten throughout the day. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. The chorten is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures.
The chorten is a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monuments. The stupa was built in memory of His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as the ”father of modern Bhutan”.
10. Taktshang Lhakhang
Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it. Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of 3.120 meters. In order to arrive at the temple visitors must trek for around 2-3 hours through beautiful, shady pine forests. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.
11. The Buddha Dordenma Statue
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, one hundred thousand 8 inch tall and twenty five thousand 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
Travelers who journey to this magical kingdom will find themselves in a land of wholesome and striking mysticism. Our various Cultural Tours introduce visitors to unique aspects of Mahayana Buddhist culture, including visits to religious festivals and pilgrimage sites. Whichever tour you select, you will enjoy fascinating excursions to villages, temples and scenic spots, for a closer look at a culture and a land which remain the most unspoiled and model of the traditional Himalayan way of life in existence today.
The sample Cultural Tour Programs given below can be modified to meet your preferences. We will send you the details about the tours and the cost once you have finalised your intended duration of stay and your likely travel dates.
1) Bhutan At a Glimpse (5 days)
- Day 1- arrive Paro, Paro-Thimphu
- Day 2-Thimphu- Punakha
- Day 3-Punakha- Wangdiphodrang- Paro
- Day 4- Paro
- Day 5- depart Paro
2) Bhutan Inner Sanctum (11 days)
- Day 1-arrive Paro, Paro-Thimphu
- Day 2-Thimphu
- Day 3-Thimphu-Punakha
- Day 4-Punakha-Bumthang
- Day 5-Bumthang
- Day 6-Bumthang
- Day 7-Bumthang-Phobjikha
- Day 8-Phobjikha-Thimphu
- Day 9-Thimphu-Paro
- Day 10- Paro
- Day 11-depart Paro
3) Bhutan Western Valleys (7 days)
- Day 1-arrive Paro
- Day 2- Paro
- Day 3-Paro
- Day 4-Paro-Haa
- Day 5- Haa-Thimphu
- Day 6-Thimphu-Paro
- Day 7-depart Paro
4) Discover Bhutan (4 days)
- Day 1- arrive Paro, Paro-Thimphu
- Day 2- Thimphu-Paro
- Day 3-Paro
- Day 4- depart Paro
5) Explore Bhutan (10 days)
- Day 1-arrive Paro, Paro-Thimphu
- Day 2-Thimphu
- Day 3-Thimphu- Gangtey
- Day 4-Gangtey-Bumthang
- Day 5-Bumthang
- Day 6-Bumthang-Punakha
- Day 7-Punakha-Paro
- Day 8- Paro
- Day 9-Paro
- Day 10-depart Paro
Please write to us if you would want us to arrange any customized cultural tours suiting your preferences.
Tshechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of the Buddhist Saint Padmasambhava, popularly known as ‘Guru Rimpoche’, the saint responsible for introducing Buddhism in Bhutan. Tshechu draws hundreds of Bhutanese people in a collective spirit of reverence, blessing, festivity and celebration, and is one of the best ways to discover the rich cultural heritage of Bhutan. Tshechu comes to life with colour, music, dance and drama as villagers and city dwellers gather to witness the masked dances, sword dances and other sacred rituals. These events, most of which are performed by monks in colourful and elaborate costumes bring blessings to the onlookers, as well as instructing them about the Buddhist Dharma.
Every year Tshechus are held round the year in temples, Dzongs and monasteries throughout Bhutan.
For a full list of 2017 tentative Bhutan festival dates, please click here.
Please write to us if you would want us to co-incide your travel plans with any particular Tshechu/festival dates of your preference.
Red Rice and Red Chillies can easily tailor your tour of Bhutan to incorporate any kind of striking cultural and festival tours. All of these tours also include visits to Dzongs, temples, palaces, monasteries, markets, farmhouses, schools and museums. All our tour programs are flexible and can be easily tailored to suit your interest.