According to 800zipcodes, the village of Laya, located in the very northwest of Bhutan, is one of the highest villages in the country – it lies at an altitude of 3700 m, on the slope of the Tsenda Gang mountain. All around are high mountain pastures (the average height of these places is about 4600 m), cold intermountain valleys and snow-covered Himalayan peaks, which contrast sharply with the colorful conical bamboo hats of the Layap shepherds. This ethnic group has only 800 people, but has its own language, customs and costumes. Village women wear specific bamboo hats with a bamboo spike at the top, richly beaded black wool jackets, long wool skirts and adorn themselves with a large amount of silver jewelry, among which even teaspoons come across. You can get here only by helicopter or by long caravan trails through the mountains and the Laya Gasa pass – one of the most difficult passes in the world. But if successful, you can go through the most unusual routes on the planet, passing through untouched alpine meadows and picturesque mountain villages. Also, if you’re lucky, you can see the elusive snow leopard or rare blue sheep here.
The ancient capital of Bhutan (until 1955) and the winter residence of Je-Kempo, Punakha lies in the eastern part of the country, in the valley of the same name formed by the Punakha River. The city itself is located at an altitude of 1300 m above sea level, which is almost a lowland for Bhutan, and has a mild subtropical climate, which makes the surrounding valley one of the most fertile places in the country.
The main attraction of the city is the unique temple complex Pungthang-Dechen-Fodrang-Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness) or Punakha-Dzong (1637), located at the confluence of the Mo-Chu and Pho-Chu rivers. No less interesting are Chimi-Lakhang (“Temple of Abundance” – a place of pilgrimage for childless couples, XIX century), the monastery of Wangdiphodrang-Dzong (1638) covering the entire top of the mountain (1638) and Dzong-Chang (XVIII century). The road running from the city to the north, to the Dochula pass (3150 m), is famous for its beautiful views of vast pine forests and small mountain villages. The road from Wangdiphodrang to Trongsa is no less picturesque, passing through the picturesque passes of the Black Mountains, past the beautiful Phobzhikha (Phobzhika) valley, Gantsi-Gompa monasteries (XVII century) and Nyingmapa, the resort village of Kyichu, and crossing numerous mountain rivers and streams. The Phobjikha Valley is home to the Black Mountains National Park, which is home to endangered black-necked herons, Himalayan black bears, snow leopards and red foxes. The surrounding area of Wangdiphodrang (Wangi) is well known for its stone carvers and weavers.
An ancestral domain of the ruling dynasty of Bhutan and home to the country’s most imposing fortress, Trongsa City is located in the heart of Bhutan. From here, a dynasty of local monarchs ruled the country for centuries, and the residence of the prince is still located here. The valley of the Mandge-Chhu River, stretching for almost 30 km, is literally overflowing with numerous dzongs that form a whole network around Trongs. And the city itself is the largest secular and religious center of the country, whose labyrinth of temples, narrow streets and colorful carved wooden buildings attract thousands of pilgrims here. The center of the city is the impregnable fortress of Trongsa Dzong (1648) – the hereditary home of the royal family. This is the most impressive dzong in the kingdom, which is a vast multi-tiered mini-city with its streets, stepwise running down the hill, which is almost entirely occupied by the buildings of the dzong. Trongsa Dzong is considered one of the most significant examples of traditional Bhutanese architecture, and one of the main holidays of the country, the Trongsa Festival (December-January), is held annually within its walls.
Also attractive are the defensive tower Ta-Dzong (XVII century), the winter palace of the second king of Bhutan, Kuenga-Rabten (23 km from Trongsa-Dzong, XVII century) with its luxurious library, as well as the beautiful Chendeji-Chorten (XIX century), built by a Tibetan lama. Shida at an altitude of 2430 m, at the site of the victory over one of the evil spirits of the local pantheon.
The spiritual center of Bhutan and the location of the country’s oldest Buddhist monuments, Bumthang province lies at an altitude of 2600 meters above sea level in the eastern part of the central region of the country, at the intersection of four mountain valleys – Choskhor (more often simply “Bumthang Valley”), Tang, Ura and Chhume. The provincial capital, Jakar (Byakar), is the region’s main transport hub and is widely known for its honey, cheese and fruits.
Jakar Dzong (1549) is the largest and one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. It was originally built as a simple monastery, but after the coming to power of King Shabdrung (1646), it was rebuilt, and now its walls are 1.5 km long. Currently, Jakar Dzong is used as the administrative center of the Choskhor Valley and a major cult center. Jampei Lagang Monastery (Jambi Lhakhang) was founded in 659 by the Tibetan king Songten Dzhempo as one of the 108 monasteries surrounding the Southern Himalayas as a line of protection from evil spirits. Now the monastery complex is surrounded by four chortens, and in October-November, the Hungry Ghost Festival or Jampei-Lagang-Drapa is held here, accompanied by night dances with torches. The Kurje Lhakhang complex lies slightly higher than Jampei Lagang and consists of three temples and several stupas (XIX-XX centuries, the first temples on this site appeared in 1652), built near the cave, on the walls of which there is an imprint of the body of Guru Rinpoche. Tamshing Lhakhang Temple, located opposite Kurje Lhakhang, was founded by the religious leader of Bhutan, Terton Pema Lingpa, in 1501. The inner walls of the temple, restored at the end of the 19th century, are covered with ancient frescoes on religious themes.
Not far from Jakar, in the valley of the Tang River, there is the holy lake Mebartso (“Burning Lake”), at the bottom of which sacred texts and several Buddha statues were allegedly found in the 15th century. Pilgrimages are organized to the shores of the lake, mass meditations are held here, and along the Naring River, which forms the lake, boards with lighted candles are launched. The small monastery of Dorjebi, lying on the river bank a few kilometers from the Choskhor valley, is widely known for its elegant white stupa (XVI century). Thangbi Temple, founded by Shamar Rinpoche in 1470, is located 17 km north of Kurje Lhakhang, surrounded by fields and orchards. And a little to the north lies the traditional village of Ura, famous for its colorful buildings, cobblestone pavements and the Ura-Yaksho Festival.
The rolling green valleys of Bumthang are known for the beauty of their landscapes, as well as for their many temples and palaces. Here you will find the best conditions in the country for mountain and hiking, whose routes wind between the green slopes of the mountains, through the Jutola Pass (3450 m), pass through the idyllic countryside and climb to the hidden Alpine valleys. There are also many Buddhist schools and tiny temples, so characteristic of the central part of the country. Bumthang is also widely known for its artisans of “yathra” (“yatra”), a unique material that is specially woven from the coarse wool of local sheep, then dyed in all the colors of the rainbow and made into breathtaking woven panels.
Mongar Township, the second largest in the region, is built on a hillside like many towns in the east of the country because the valleys in Eastern Bhutan are too narrow for urban development. The seven-hour drive from Bumthang to Mongar follows one of the most breathtaking roads in the country, literally carved into vertical mountain slopes. She runs past magnificent waterfalls, majestic cliffs and green valleys hiding between ridges and rocks. And at the end of the journey, in Mongar itself, you can see one of the youngest monasteries in the country – Mongar Dzong (1930), built in full compliance with ancient traditions, without a single drawing and nail. And 77 km from Mongar begins one of the most isolated areas in Bhutan – the province of Lkhentse, famous for its dense forests, weavers and the best fabrics in the country.
The pretty lively city of Tashigang, lying in the very east of the country, is the center of the largest province in Bhutan. Situated on a small mountain, Tashigang is considered the religious and secular center of the eastern provinces, as well as a growing commercial center linking Tibet, Indian Assam and the local Merak and Sakteng hill tribes. The main attractions of the city are the monastery of Tashi-Thongmoen-Dzong (XVII century), located 24 km from the city Gom-Kora temple (XVII century, built in front of the mouth of the cave, which contains the prints of Guru Rinpoche), as well as the Chorten-Kora temple in the Nepalese style near Yangtse Master City.
The isolated Sakten Valley lies in the very northeast of Bhutan. Civilization has clearly bypassed these beautiful places, and the inhabitants of the valley – the Sakten, Sharchop and Brokpas peoples live the same as they did centuries ago. All of them, and first of all “brokpas”, consider themselves the indigenous population of Bhutan, and their language and culture are related to the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Myanmar (Burma). They differ from other ethnic groups of Bhutan not only in language, but also in their original style of dress, phenotype and way of life. Many scientists consider them the descendants of the most ancient population of Asia, but it is absolutely known that this is one of the last ancient semi-nomadic mountain tribes of the continent, whose life is still completely dependent on yaks and sheep.