Central Bhutan is an exciting destination for all visitors. It includes some of the most significant historical and religious sites in the country. The district of Trongsa has always been of great political importance to the leaders of Bhutan due to its commanding location in the center of the nation while Bumthang district has some of the most ancient and important temples and monasteries in Bhutan.
Some of the important landmarks in central Bhutan are: Kurje Lhakhang built in 1652 at the site where the great Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche meditated. Tamshing Lhakhang, the great religious treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa built dating back to 1501. Mebar Tsho: A sacred lake from which Terton Pema Lingpa discovered religious treasures hidden by Guru Rimpoche.
The Watchtower of Trongsa Museum: This ancient tower has been made into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and provides visitors with unparalleled insight into Bhutan’s political history, Chendebji Chorten: An interesting and visually striking religious building with eyes painted towards the four cardinal directions. Legend states that it was constructed to subdue the remains of an evil spirit that manifested as a gigantic serpant.
In addition to the traditional annual religious festivals (Tshechus) there are also many newer festivals showcasing the rich traditions of the region like the annual Nomad’s Festival and the Matsutake Mushroom Festival in Ura, Bumthang.
Central Bhutan is a region blessed with great natural beauty and there are miles of pristine alpine and sub-tropical broadlead forests teeming with all manner of flora and fauna. The Thrumshingla National Park is located in this region and is famous for the many rare and endangered birds that inhabit it including the Rufous necked hornbill, Rufous-throated wren-babbler, Satyr Tragopan, Beautiful nuthatch, Ward’s trogon and Chestnut-breasted partridge. Visitors may even catch a glimpse of the exotic animals that live in the park such as the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger or the adorable Red Panda.
This region that spans from 2,600-4,500 m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its 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 and is widely considered as ‘Bumthang Valley’. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.
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.
This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
The Vanguard of the Warriors – Trongsa Dzongkhag is located near the centre of Bhutan and was considered crucial in controlling the kingdom in earlier years due to its strategic position.
This town is situated on a steep ridge and offers spectacular views of the deep valleys surrounding it. The various hotels, guesthouses and restaurants all offer stunning views from their balconies. Trongsa Dzong is easily visible from anywhere in town and is always an impressive sight as it is situated atop a steep ridge that drops off into the clouds on its south side.
The Trongsa Dzong, which was built in 1644, used to be the seat of power of the Wangchuck dynasty before they became rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Traditionally, the King of Bhutan first becomes the Trongsa Penlop (governor) before being named the Crown Prince and eventually the King. Built on a mountain spur high above the gorges of the Mangde Chhu, the dzong controlled east-west trade for centuries. Trongsa also boasts an impressive museum. The watchtower of Trongsa has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and is a good place to learn about the history of the kingdom.
Zhemgang is a region blessed with incredibly rich biodiversity. Its lush forests are home to 22 endangered animal species including the Golden Langur. Though much of the district has warm and humid climatic conditions, its northern regions have moderately cool temperatures.
Zhemgang is notable for being one of the last regions where ancient Bon (Animist) religious practices are still carried out. Though Buddhism has been growing in popularity, every region of the district still continues its animist traditions and Bon priests known as Bonpo are considered respected religious leaders. The inhabitants of Zhemgang are famous for their rich culture, particularly their folk songs and dances. They are also famed for their skill at crafting various goods out of bamboo such as Bangchungs (matted bamboo bowls), Palangs (alcohol containers), Balaks (hats), mats and boxes. They are also adept potters and their earthenware products were highly prized throughout the country in the past.