Bhutan is certainly no ordinary location. The Himalayan kingdom has a reputation for magic and mystery – being a place that carefully embraces global developments while retaining much of its traditional Buddhist culture. These are just a handful of the reasons that this little slice of heaven is worth the $200 tourist tax that you have to pay for every day that you stay.
While the Thimphu Valley has been able to support small settlements for many centuries, the current city did not develop until the King of Bhutan declared that it would become the new capital in 1961. Only a year later, the first vehicles were seen on the streets. This is one city that slowly started to adapt to its newfound role of nation capital.
If you want to learn more about the religious aspect of Bhutan, we highly recommend that you travel to some of the monasteries that you can find here. These include the Changangkha Lhakhang (which dates back to the 15th century, making it one of the Thimphu Valley’s oldest temples), and the Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of compassion.
Another good example is the National Memorial Chorten. Especially as the locals are heading here for evening prayers, this is certainly worth a visit. It was built in memory of the third king back in 1974.
Finally, located atop the Kuensel Phodrang hill you will find the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. This is a 51-meter tall bronze statue of the founder of Buddhism. The site offers you some unobstructed views over the Thimphu Valley. Especially around sunset, this is a stunning scene.
Another place worth a stop is the Folk Heritage Museum. The goal behind the Folk Heritage Museum is to help people connect with the impressive building practices, customs traditions, and rural past that Bhutan is known for. These are timber and mud homes, farmhouses that have three stories. The kitchen in these farmhouses is upstairs, and the ladder is solid, craved with minimal footholds.
Punakha was Bhutan’s capital until the 1960s. It still has the sense of a regal past once you arrive here. The main attraction is the Dzong, but this pleasant little town also has a number of interesting sights. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations along with Punakha and Jakar.
The Punakha Dzong is undoubtedly one of the more photogenic ancient fortresses in Bhutan. You will see pictures of the ancient fortress in many restaurants and hotels across Bhutan. There is a single arched wooden bridge that joins the Punakha Dzong with the mainland. The monastic body also uses the Punakha Dzong as their winter home.
On the western slopes of the Black Mountains, you can find the glacial valley known as Phobjikha. It is a designated conservation area and is home to endangered black-necked cranes that come here from Tibet every winter.
A few of the things worth seeing here include the Gangtey Gompa – a 17th century monastery – which is dramatically situated at the head of the valley. The monks live here in the summer. Additionally, the rare black-necked cranes are worth a look if they are here.
The stunning light found in the long stone hall of the Amankora is going to be worth more than a few pictures. You can find a number of beautifully painted temples here. One of the highlights here is the Kurjey Lakhang. This monastery gets its name from the body imprint in the rock. The temple complex is made up of three old buildings.
The Paro Taktsang Monastery
If you are looking for the cultural icon of Bhutan and one of the more famous touristic destinations of the country, the Taktsang Palphug Monastery offers a single unforgettable experience. The reason that you get an unforgettable experience here is because of the unique location and the views of surrounding emerald green valleys and majestic mountains.
It is only accessible by mountainous paths, making the isolated location one of the main peculiarities of the monastery. This Buddhist temple complex clings to a cliff, 3120 meters above the sea level. This may create technical difficulties in actually getting there, but also makes it unique and amazingly beautiful.
The importance of the right guide
Given that Bhutan has a rich history and is still trying to find its way between old and new, it is important that you have a guide that can not only pass on information, but also explain how certain things are pertinent to the country’s history.
It should be obvious that Bhutan has plenty to see. If you are going to explore this spectacular country, we recommend that you do so with the right tour guide, otherwise you are spending a lot of money without getting the full benefits of what Bhutan has to offer as a unique experience.