Tourism in Bhutan – the very words give us glimpses of a remote land replete with monks, monasteries, yaks, Buddhist art and much more. Today, with time, Bhutan is no longer so remote and features as a must-see destination for many travellers.
When it comes to scenes of rural life or culture or even sights and sounds and even spirituality, Bhutan is different – it has its own charms.
And one of its biggest charms is that it measures the happiness quotient, making it the happiest country in the world. Modern life has touched it but not too much. Everyone has mobiles now and monks can be seen with laptops, but you will still get a rural village feel, even in Thimpu, its capital.
Rinpung Dzong is the main fortress-monastery of Paro which houses the monastic body and the governmental and administrative departments in its complex. This is the basic characteristic of any dzong in Bhutan, and Rinpung Dzong of Paro is no exception. It belongs to the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu School, and the stories of this place date back to as early as 15th century.
Because of its central importance in the entire district, Rinpung Dzong is simply referred to as the Paro Dzong. Before making a visit to this place, one must know about Paro Dzong and why it plays an important role in the development of Bhutan. The initial structure only had a five-storied dzong and was known as the Hungrel Dzong after the village block, or Gewog – as they call in Bhutan. It was built by Lama Drung Drung Gyal, whose descendants later offered this place in the 17th century as a gift to the great Ngawang Namgyal, the creator of unified Bhutan and the Zhabdrung Rinpoche as well. He ordered reconstruction of the dzong, and it was dismantled and revamped into the current structure.
Inside Paro Rinpung Dzong, there are 14 main shrines that one must see. Most of them are not open to the public, but a glimpse of the architecture and grandeur from the outside is good enough too. The Temple of the Guru Rinpoche Eight Manifestations is an important shrine, so is the Sandalwood Stupa, the Chapel of the Head Lama, Chapel of Amitayus, Chapel of Akshobhya, Temple of Bursar and the Treasure Revealer. The Protector’s Shrine, the Clear Crystal Shrine, Monks’ Assembly Hall and the apartments of the abbots and the king are the other spots worthy of a look.
Other than the history of Paro Dzong and the architectural marvel that it is, the courtyard of the place also hosts the annual Paro Tshechu with lots of folk music, dancing and other live performances – it is quite a lively affair and must not be missed if the trip is in March-April.
How to Reach ?
By Air: The Delhi to Paro flight is 2 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes long. Paro international airport is the only international airport in Bhutan, and the flights from Delhi to Paro are operated by Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. The cheapest flight from Delhi to Paro is INR 10,000. One can also get down at the Airport in Guwahati and Siliguri and proceed onwards on the road by hiring a taxi or taking the bus.
By Rail: Bhutan is not connected by railways with India. As such it is not possible to reach Paro by rail from Delhi. One can reach the Hasimara Railway station which is only 15 km from the Bhutan border. To reach Hasimara, one has to reach Kolkata from Delhi and then take a bus. One can also go to Siliguri and then make their way to Bhutan.
By Road: The 1770 km journey is not something that is recommended, but for those with a knack for adventure and enough time on their hands, the journey can be an enthralling one. One can take the NH27 and make their way towards Siliguri as they pass through Agra, Lucknow, Gorakhpur and Darbhanga. From Siliguri, one can then easily proceed to the Bhutan border and continue onwards on their journey.
Chele La Pass
Bhutan, being a country with a mountainous landscape, is linked with a series of passes. Located at approximately 13,000 feet between the valley of Paro and Haa, Chele La Pass is the highest motorable road pass in Bhutan. The pass is famous for the stunning Himalayan views it offers, especially Mt. Jhomolari which is Bhutan’s most sacred peak at 22,000 feet, Tsherimgang mountains, Jichu Drake as well as views of both the valleys, Paro and Haa.
Just a two-hour drive from the valley floor in Paro, you will reach Chele La Pass, covered in untouched forests, home to thriving flora and fauna. The surrounding area of this pass has several ancient trails, perfect for hikers. The slopes of the mountains around are covered in White Poppy, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The drive to Chele La Pass is through dense spruce and larch forests where you can see many sightings such as yaks grazing, frozen river, waterfalls, rhododendron forest and roadside springs.
Best Time to Visit
May to September is known to be the best time to visit Chele La Pass since the weather is pleasant and perfect for a one day picnic. Although, these are also the months of monsoon and therefore, before planning a trek here, you should definitely check with the locals about the weather beforehand. July, in particular, is a good time to visit here because of the Haa Summer Festival that takes place. It involves the display of traditional Bhutanese performances, food stalls, sports and other cultural celebrations where the locals, known as the nomadic Haaps, and some tourists come together. It takes place every year, spread over two days in the month of July.
How to Reach ?
You can take a car or a motorbike from Paro or Thimpu to get to Chele La Pass. If you go from Paro, it would take you approximately one and a half hours, and from Thimpu, it would take you approximately two and a half hours to reach. Both ways, the scenic surroundings while on the way to Chele La is breathtaking. Many tour companies in Paro and Thimpu offer cars and motorbikes on rent.
Punakha Dzong is arguably the most beautiful dzong in the country, especially in spring when the lilac-coloured 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. The dzong is still the winter residence of the dratshang (official monk body).
Guru Rinpoche foretold the construction of Punakha Dzong, predicting that a person named Namgyal would arrive at a hill that looked like an elephant. When the Zhabdrung visited Punakha he chose the tip of the trunk of the sleeping elephant at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu as the place to build a dzong.
A smaller building called Dzong Chung (Small Dzong) housed a statue of the Buddha here as early as 1326. Construction on the current dzong began in 1637 and was completed the following year, when the building was christened Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness). Later embellishments included the construction of a chapel to commemorate the victory over the Tibetans in 1639. The arms captured during the battle are preserved in the dzong. The Zhabdrung established a monk body here with 600 monks from Cheri Goemba.
Punakha Dzong is 180m long and 72m wide and the utse (central tower) is six storeys high. The gold dome on the utse was built in 1676 by local ruler Gyaltsen Tenzin Rabgye. Many of the dzong’s features were added between 1744 and 1763 during the reign of the 13th desi (secular ruler), Sherab Wangchuk. One item he donated was the chenmo (great) thondrol, a large thangka (painted or embroidered religious picture) that depicts the Zhabdrung and is exhibited to the public once a year during the tsechu festival. A brass roof for the dzong was a gift of the seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso.
Frequent fires (the latest in 1986) have damaged the dzong, as did the severe 1897 earthquake. In 1994 a glacial lake burst on the Pho Chhu, causing damage to the dzong that has since been repaired.
Access to the dzong is across the Bazam bridge, which was rebuilt in 2008 after the original 17th-century bridge was washed away in floods in 1958. The room above the bridge entrance has displays on the renovations and on Bhutanese cantilevered bridge architecture.
In addition to its strategic position at the river confluence, the dzong has several other features to protect it against invasion. The steep wooden entry stairs are designed to be pulled up, and there is a heavy wooden door that is still closed at night.
The dzong is unusual in that it has three docheys (courtyards) instead of the usual two. The first (northern) courtyard is for administrative functions and houses a huge white Victory Chorten and bodhi tree. In the far left corner is a collection of stones and a shrine to the Tsochen, queen of the naga (snake spirits), whose image is to the side.
The second courtyard houses the monastic quarters and is separated from the first by the utse. In this courtyard there are two halls, one of which was used when Ugyen Wangchuck, later the first king, was presented with the Order of Knight Commander of the Indian empire by John Claude White in 1905.
In the southernmost courtyard is the temple where the remains of the terton, Pema Lingpa, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal are preserved. The Zhabdrung died in Punakha Dzong, and his body is still preserved in the Machey Lhakhang (machey means ‘sacred embalmed body’), which was rebuilt in 1995. The casket is sealed and may not be opened. Other than two guardian lamas, only the king and Je Khenpo may enter this room. Both come to take blessings before they take up their offices.
At the south end is the kunrey, or ‘hundred-pillar’ assembly hall (which actually has only 54 pillars). The exceptional murals, which were commissioned by the second Druk Desi, depict the life of Buddha. The massive gold statues of the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung date back to the mid-18th century, and there are some fine gold panels on the pillars. The elaborately painted gold, red and black carved woods here add to the artistic lightness of touch, despite the massive scale of the dzong. This is the only chapel that is reliably open to visitors.
Bhutan’s most treasured possession is the Rangjung (‘Self-Created’) Kharsapani, an image of Chenresig that is kept in the Tse Lhakhang in the utse of the Punakha Dzong. It was brought to Bhutan from Tibet by the Zhabdrung and features heavily in Punakha’s famous dromchoe festival. It is closed to the public.
After you exit the dzong from the north you can visit the dzong chung and get a blessing from a wish-fulfilling statue of Sakyamuni. The building marks the site of the original dzong. North of the dzong is a cremation ground, marked by a large chorten, and to the east is a royal palace.
Buddha Dordenma Statue
As you gradually climb the hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, the enormous statue of Lord Buddha starts revealing itself. It is a view that leaves you impressed at first sight. Seated against the backdrop of a mountain, the statue of Lord Buddha bathes the surroundings with his benevolent stare. From a distance, all you see is one gigantic statue. However, there is a surprise that awaits you, and it is only when you come closer that you come to know what it is.
The Buddha Dordenma Statue is one of the most beautiful sights in Bhutan to come across. It extends to almost 169 feet in height, and encloses within its bronze chest 1,25,000 miniature Buddhas. These range from 8 to 12 inches tall. Come to think about it, Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, has a population of around 1,00,000, which is less compared to the number of Buddhas on this structure!
The enormous statue of Lord Budhha baffles everybody with its colossal size. It sits at a height of 51.5 meters, which makes it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The throne upon which he is seated is a large meditation hall.
Like so many other religious structures in Bhutan, this statue too is associated with two prophecies. The first of these was made by Yogi Sonam Sangpo, who said that a statue would be built in this region to bestow blessings, peace and happiness to the entire world”. The second prophecy was made by Guru Padmasambhava in the eight century (Guru Padmasambhava is widely.
How to Reach ?
|By Road||By Train||By Sea|
|New Delhi to Thimpu||5.0 hours||32.0 hours||–||–|
|Mumbai to Thimpu||2.0 hours||50.0 hours||–||–|
|Kolkata to Thimpu||3.0 hours||–||–||–|
|Siliguri to Thimpu||–||–||–||–|
|Guwahati to Thimpu||–||11.0 hours||–||–|
|Bagodara to Thimpu||2.0 hours||8.0 hours|
A beautiful bowl-shaped glacial valley located against a background of the Black Mountains, the Phobjikha Valley in Bhutan is a treat for those with a deep affection for nature. The valley is located on the borders of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
You can find a large flock of black-necked cranes, wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, muntjacs (barking deer), leopards and red foxes in the surrounding hills, making this place as one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan. This entire region is referred to as Gangte (or Gangtey), after the Goemba that is known to sit on a ridge located right above the valley. There is a river by the name Nakey Chhu that flows through the valley and reaches the Punak Tsang Chhu.
Best Time to Visit
Bhutan has always been a dream destination for nature lovers. Bhutan has a tremendously sundry climate. The best time to visit this beautiful valley would be around the months of October, November and December. The temperature during the day takes rise from 5 degree Celsius to 8 degree Celsius. If you visit the valley in November, then you are in the right time for the Crane Festival that takes place every year, giving the black-necked crane a celebrity status.
It is recommended that you shouldn’t visit western Bhutan during the monsoon and winter season, due to snow-capped mountains and dropping temperature. If you visit Bhutan in the beginning of the spring season, you’ll explore the beautiful flowers that bloom by the start of this season. This time is regarded as an ideal time to visit the valley, however, it is recommended to make an early reservation in the hotels.