There’s a lot more to Bhutan than meets the eye. The vibrant culture, the jubilant people, countless monasteries, a beautiful landscape and an other-worldly aura that never seems to escape the traveler’s thoughts. Most wanderers who have stumbled into Bhutan vow to come back and uncover more of the gems beneath its surface.
We list the top 9 surreal experiences one can have in Bhutan. These cover the popular tourist spots as well as the hard-to-reach alternative locations, which you can rave about once you’ve set foot for home, while holding a piece of this magical country close to your heart forever.
1. Chimi Lakhang:
Chimi Lakhang is a Buddhist Monastery in the Punakha district of Bhutan, built atop a circular mound. It dates back to 1499, at the time when the Drukpa lineage was lead by its 14th leader, Ngawang Choegyel. This site is known to have been given blessings by a saint also called “The Divine Madman”. The “Mad Saint”, Drukpa Kunley, bizarrely sanctioned the use of phallus symbols to be painted on the walls of the monastery, which one can plainly view while walking around the area.
The monastery also contains the genuine wooden phallus that Kunley carried with him from Tibet.
Built with a golden spire, this medium sized monastery has a yellow-golden roof that shines bright as the sun hits the walls. ChimiLakhang has all the characteristics of a traditional monastery: prayer wheels, carvings of saints, a statue of Kunley himself, along with tantric apparatus.
Type: Must See
Where: Sopsokha Village
How to get there: Walking, 20 minute hike from Punakha
2. Punakha Dzong:
Astounding in scale and artistry, this Dzong (fortress like-architecture), is one of the unparalleled wonders of the ancient world. It contains various monasteries within it and is a popular site among travelers. The architecture itself is breathtaking along with the location of this spiritually uplifting Dzong, which is located at the junction of the two rivers, Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu.
Punakha Dzong is also the administrative center of the Punakha District.
Springtime is truly blissful to visit this dzong, as Jacaranda trees are blossoming with mauve flowers.
Sacred artifacts of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism are found within the dzong. It was said to be built as “an embodiment of Buddhist values.”
Type: Must See
How to get there: Punakha can be reached via Thimpu(85km) or Paro (127 km) by bus or taxi.
3. Dochula Pass
Dochula Pass stands at 3000 ft above sea level. There is no other place in Bhutan that provides as surreal a view as this one. It offers a unique perspective into the landscape of Bhutan. Dochula Pass also has 108 stupas (Buddhist shrines) built as a memorial by the queen. On an unclouded morning, one can view the splendid Himalayan range, clear as day.
You can see prayer flags flutter in the wind, surrounding the inner area of Dochula Pass. You will come across this pass if you’re travelling to and from Punakha or Wandgi. A stop every traveler must surely make, this spot has a spiritual and serene environment, which will surely instill an unwavering bond with Bhutan in your heart.
Type: Must See, Popular
Where: East West Road from Thimpu to Punakha
How to get there: Taxi, self drive (30 kms) from Thimpu towards Central Bhutan
4. Phobjikha and Gangtey Valley:
Phobjikha can easily be declared as the most beautiful natural spots in all of Bhutan. A little under 3000 m floor elevation, at sunset, this U-shaped glacial valley sparkles with pink and orange hues alike, and the valley seems to emit an ethereal glow. One can spot the black-necked cranes at the observation deck (from the Black Necked Crane Information Center) around this area as they migrate for the winter.
What makes Phobjikha and Gangtey Valley unique on our list is its contrast from other valleys across Bhutan. Its not a densely covered, narrow forest but a vast, broad open space which can be liberating to behold. On the edge of Phobjikha, lies Black Mountain National Park, which is home to a variety of flora and fauna. The Gangtey Monastery, perched atop a tiny hill rising up from the base of the valley, is also found here.
Type: Must See, Offbeat
Where: District of Wangduephodrang
How to get there: Daily bus from Wangdue, taxi or private car
5. Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest):
One of the most popular and scenic places in Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is located atop a cliff in Paro Valley. The location and placement of this monastery makes the iconic structure feel surreal on a misty day, with clouds floating by its side. Paro Taktsang was built around a cave back in 1692.
Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (Rinpoche), founder of the meditations cave around which Paro Taktsang is built, flew from Tibet on the back of a tigress. Since the tiger demon had to be tamed, Rinpoche meditated here for that reason and proclaimed the place holy. Thus giving it the name, ‘Tiger’s Nest’.
Type: Popular, Must Visit
Where: Paro Valley
How to get there: Hike uphill (2-4 hours) from the floor of Paro Valley, Horseback rental
6. Tango and Cheri Monasteries
Tango and Cheri are located north of Thimpu, and can be trekked to within a day with some beautiful sights along the way. Tango is built similar to a dzong and has a rounded wall and prominent main tower. It was founded in the 13th century and rests near Cheri mountain.
The Tango and Cheri Monasteries rest on hills which are on either side of each other, with a river flowing right in the middle. This area is covered by a dense forest and offers a kind of tranquility that is ubiquitous to Bhutan. Which is why it is a significant place of meditation among monks.
Type: Offbeat, Trekking
Where: 18kms from Thimpu
How to get there: Cab from Thimpu, Shared cab (only till Pangri Zampa Lhakhang)
Phuentsholing is a border town in the south of Bhutan and shares its border with Jaigaon in India. This may not be as peaceful as the rest of Bhutan, even though it only has 20,000 odd people living in it. It thrives on cross border trade as a result, it has a growing local economy.
It is in fact known for two things: local shopping and crocodiles.
If you’re the adventurous kind and enjoy wildlife, visit the crocodile breeding center and get up, close and personal with a few reptilian friends. This is another unique adventure most people are not aware of while visiting Bhutan.
Type: Offbeat, Adventure
Where: Norgay Breeding Center, Phuentsholing
How to get there: Taxi or bus from Thimpu or Paro (over 4 hours)
8. Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
This stunning 4 story structure, was built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. It took a long 9 years to erect and it is an elegant example of Bhutanese architecture and artistry. Surrounded by paddy fields, you can hear the babbling sound of the flowing river as you take the short trek up to the temple.
You start trekking at the iron suspension bridge, which takes about 1.5 hours and is worth every step.
Once you hike to the temple, a smaller walk to the top of the chorten is warranted as it displays a panoramic view of Punakha valley. Even though this temple is newer than most others you will come across, it is in keeping with traditional Bhutanese architecture.
Type: Trek, Offbeat
How to get there: Taxi, drive from Thimpu(70 kms)
9. Haa Valley:
A beautiful and lush valley, steep with a narrow floor, rests in the Haa District. The Haa district is along the west of Bhutan and borders with western Tibet. Haa Valley in itself is a spectacular sight. With cattle, wheat and barley crops growing around it and an abundance of forests it is nothing short of picturesque.
A great but alternate way to get to Haa Valley is by hiring cycles in Thimpu and riding along the way.
The narrow path offers one of the most stunning and soothing rides one could ever experience.
Type: Offbeat, Cycling
Where: Haa district
How to get there: Drive, taxi from Paro(65 kms)