Bhutan is the isolated Himalayan Kingdom with many of the wonderful things to offer to the visitors. Known as the land of the Thunder Dragon, the country is famous for its exceptionally beautiful Himalayan landscapes, their unique culture and their Philosophy of life. The snow-capped mountains, rivers, forests, exotic wildlife and religious monuments such as Chhortens, Dzongs, stupas and monasteries are major attractions of Bhutan. But the authenticity of the Bhutanese people makes this country unique. Most of the people here follow Mahayana Buddhism and they apply the philosophy of Buddhism in their day-to-day life. You can see almost all the people in their traditional dress Gho and Kira.
Their approach of Bhutan in tourism is different than in other countries. Happiness is their major priority, so they focus on quality over quantity. With there, ‘low volume high impact’ tourism policy and their authenticity in food, culture, artefacts etc make tourism more special.
The unique architecture of the dzongs, arts found in the monasteries and dzongs and other buildings reflect the deep-rooted cultural values of Bhutan. The prayer flags and, colours and arts makes the street rich and vibrant. The combination of natural beauty and amazing culture makes Bhutan special. Visiting this country can be a perfect retreat from your everyday life. Below are some major tourist attractions in Bhutan.
1. Rinpung Dzong
The unique architectural style of Bhutan can be seen in Rinpung Dzong as you land in the city of Paro. Like any other dzongs, this amazing fortress is currently used as a centre for administrative and monastic activities. Surrounded by outstanding views of nature, Rinpung Dzong is a five-storey building with fourteen shrines and chapels inside it including temples of tantric Buddhist deities. Some scenes of the movie “Little Buddha” was filmed in this Dzong. Tsechu festival is celebrated in Rinpung Dzong which usually falls in March or April with dances wearing masks, hats, traditional clothes and drums.
2. National Memorial Chorten
One of the major attractions of Bhutan, Memorial Chorten or Memorial Stupa was built on the honour of third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. This stupa is worshipped by men, women and children daily to perform a ritual known as Kora. Some also light butter lamps, walk around the Chorten and mediate. You can see people dressed in traditional Bhutanese dress Ghos and Kiras. The exterior and interior of Memorial Chorten are full of paintings, bells, carvings, mandalas, statues, murals and a big prayer wheel. It is said that the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck wanted to build it depicting the Mind of Buddha.
3. Chele La Pass
Chele La Pass is the highest places in Bhutan where you can enjoy a ride. This scenic place at the height of 3988 meters is covered with white prayer flags hung on the memory of deceased ones. It lies amongst dense forest showcasing some outstanding mountains views and view of the serene landscape around it. Mountains like Jomolhari, Jichu Drake and adjacent peaks along with valley of Paro and Haa also can be seen from this high pass. As you drive towards Chele La, you can see a stone painting of Guru Rinpoche with his two consorts. Another amazing site around this area is a Nepalese style Chorten perched on a cliff only a few kilometres away. Almost half an hour away from this pass is the oldest nunnery of Bhutan which is also worth a visit.
4. Paro Taktsang
Paro Taktsang also is known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a beautiful monastery hanging on a cliff above the Paro valley. There is no roadway access to the monastery. Trekking uphill about an hour from Paro valley takes you there. However, the trail rewards you with the exceptional view of the landscapes and the mountains. The vehicle can be arranged to a cafeteria which is halfway through the monastery. You have to trek through the forests crossing the cliff to get to the monastery. You will have to walk through narrow stairs before reaching the monastery and you have to cross the Snow Lion Cave and descend to the waterfall. The monastery holds historical significance. Guru Rinpoche which is known as the Second Buddha in Bhutan said to have meditated in the caves here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. Legends have it that he came here in the back of the tiger hence it was named as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The view of the Paro valley and the surrounding landscapes look breathtaking from here. Even though the trekking is a bit strenuous, the final view of the monastery and the landscapes is worth everything.
5. Punakha Dzong and Punakha Suspension Bridge
Punakha Dzong is the second oldest dzong in Bhutan also known as Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang. The dzong is situated in the confluence between two rivers Pho hu and Mo Chu. This place looks mesmerizing with the surrounding landscapes, and because of the place where it is situated. It is connected with the mainland with a wooden arched bridge. And the structure of the dzong itself is mesmerizing. Apart from that, this dzong preserves the remains of Zhabrdung Ngawang Namgyal, the sacred relic known as Ranjung Karaspani. The relic is the image of Avalokiteshvara which is said to have emerged itself from the vertebrae of Tasangpa Garey. The Jacaranda trees surrounding the dzong makes it look more beautiful when they bloom. It is a must-visit place if you want to know in-depth about Bhutan.
6. Tashichho Dzong
Tashichho Dzong is a fortress on the northern border of the city. It is one of the most beautiful tourist places to visit in Bhutan. It is situated in the western bank of the Wang Chhu river. This dzong is the largest landmark of the capital city Thimphu. The fortress is divided into two major parts. One is a monastery where the monks reside. Another part is the administration with the office of the throne room and the King. It is the summer residence of the monks and people from the ministry. The flag changing ceremony in the evening is the major event in this dzong which begins in the country yard. The unique architecture of the dzong structure and the surrounding environments makes this dzong major attraction for the visitors.
7. Dochula Pass
Dochula Pass is a beautiful mountain pass which is on the way to Punakha and Thimphu. This pass offers a panoramic view of the mountains of the Himalayan range. The view of Cholmari, Druk Wangyal and Lhakhang temple looks amazing from here. This pass consists of 108 Chorten built in the memories of the departed Bhutanese soldiers who died during the war against India. These stupas/ Chhortens look beautiful against the snow-capped mountains. Bhutanese families often come here to celebrate their holidays. You can also enjoy your picnic in this serene environment of Dochula Pass.
8. Gangtey Valley
The Gangtey Valley is yet another beautiful valley in this Himalayan Kingdom. The dense forests of the valley are the home of the endangered black-necked cranes. They migrate here every winter from Tibetan Plateau. This glacial valley offers many nature trails to get a closer experience of the exquisite wildlife of Bhutan. The walk among the forest of Juniper, Magnolia and Rhododendrons is a refreshing experience to have. The flower bloom of spring, dark green forest in summer, the cranes in the winter and the falls of autumn makes every season special here. Apart from the natural beauty of the valley, it has many religious sites worth visiting such as Gangtey Goempa Monastery. The view from the top of the monastery is spectacular.
9. Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten is one of the major heritage sites in Punakha. It was built by the Queen mother for the well being of the country in 1999. What makes this Chorten the major tourist attraction is the amazing trail to get to the top and the view of the rice fields and landscapes from the top. The trekking takes you through the suspension bridge with prayer flags hovering above it and near the confluence of Mo Chhu and Po Chhu. While you ascend further toward the Chorten, you get the spectacular views of the landscapes. The design and architecture of the Chorten itself are so brilliant to observe. The arts on the wall of the building and the details makes it so aesthetic. The visit to this Chorten is rewarding in every way.
10. Wangdue Phodrang
Wangdue Phodrang is another beautiful town to visit in Bhutan. Located in the border near Punakha, this city is famous for local bamboo products, stone carvings and many other local artefacts. With colourful buildings around with prayer flags, the city looks calm and peaceful. The major attraction of the city is Wangue Phodrang Dzong situated in the confluence of Punakha Chhu and Tang Chhu. The dzong is open for tourists only during Wangdue Phodrang Tshechu celebration and provides with an amazing view of the surroundings. You can visit Radak Neykhang, Archery Ground where the national game of Bhutan (Archery) is played, vegetable market and shortens as well.
11. Jigme Dorji National Park
Jigme Dorji National Park is the largest conservation area in Bhutan. It is a biologically diverse park with subtropical to alpine vegetation. The park is the home of the mountains such as Jimolhari, Tsherimgang, Jichu Drakey etc. Apart from that, the landscapes of the park are spectacular. This park is an amazing place for wildlife exploration with more than 39 species of mammals, including some endangered species such as snow leopards, Bengal tiger, Himalayan blue sheep, Himalayan black bear, black musk deer, red panda, Ussuri dhol etc. You can also expect to see some exotic birds as more than 300 species of birds reside here. It is one of the best places to visit in Bhutan to explore nature.
12. Ruins of Drukgyel Dzong
Drukgyel Dzong used to be one of the greatest Buddhist monasteries and fortresses in the past. It is situated in the upper part of Paro district and was established in 1649 by Tanzin Drukdra. It was built after the triumph of Tibetan invasion. It is almost destroyed by the fire in 1950 and now only the ruins of the monastery remain. It is situated a few kilometres away from the city and it houses the office of the throne room.
It is the summer residence of monks too. The ruin itself and the surrounding views look amazing.
13. National Museum of Bhutan
National Museum of Bhutan was built-in 1986 above the Rinpung Dzong during the reign of Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Ancient Ta-dzong was renovated to built this museum and was first constructed to exhibit the Bhutanese arts. Ancient statues and paintings are exhibited here. These paintings are a way to learn about the Bhutanese culture and philosophy of the people. Currently, the museum has a collection of around 3000 masterpieces including paintings and statues as old as 1500 years. You can visit different parts of the museum which are specialized in wildlife, masks etc. You can enjoy the amazing lightings in the evening.
Bhutan offers some of the exquisite Buddhist monasteries in the world. As the country is dominated by the people who follow Tantric Buddhism, Monasteries are major heritage sites of Bhutan. These monasteries represent the culture, history and tradition of the country. So, monasteries have become the tourist attraction sites in Bhutan. All of the major cities in Bhutan such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha etc have different monasteries. Some of them are merged in dzongs where work of administration is also handled. You can expect to see life-size statues of Gautam Buddha, paintings and artefacts etc. Monasteries such as Tiger’s Nest Monastery and BumDra monastery do not have roadway access. You have to trek for hours to get there. However, the experience of trekking is amazing in itself as it offers some of the best views of the mountains and other landscapes.