Bumthang, considered by the Bhutanese as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, has some of the most ancient and precious Buddhist sites. The age-old indegenious traditions are very much alive, and it is a unique example of original Himalayan culture which adds to the number of distinctive priceless assets of Bhutan. Bumthang is a must-vist destination if you have a week in Bhutan.
Bumthang – The Spiritual Heartland of Bhutan
- Location: Central Bhutan, east of Trongsa
- Distance from Trongsa: 68 km / Drive time: 2 hrs 30 mins
- Distance from Thimphu: 268 km / Drive time: 9 hrs
- Altitude: 2,700m / 8,858ft
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the defence fortress for the eastern regions. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the fortress access to water during times of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
The Jakar Dzong also hosts an annual masked festival. The Jakar Tshechu is usually towards the end of the year.
This monastery was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. It is one of 108 monasteries which he built to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayas. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
The temple festival, the Jambay Lhakhang Drub was the 4th most popular festival among tourists in 2011.
The Kurjey Lhakhang complex comprises of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 against the rock face where Guru Rinpoche meditated in the 8th century. The middle temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru’s body, and is therefore considered to be the most holy. The temple on the left was built in the 1990s by H.M. Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Royal Grand-Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
The Kurjey Tshechu festival for 2012 is on the 29th of June.
Located across the river from Kurjey Lhakhang, the Tamshing Lhakhang temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, a re-incarnation of Guru Rinpoche. There are very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple, which was restored at the end of the 19th century.
Tamshing Choepa is the temple festival held in the fall. This festival has some beautiful masked dances unique to Tamshing.
A walk of about 30 minutes north of Kurjey Lhakhang leads one to this monastery, situated in the middle of a wide fertile plateau. Founded in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyupa religious school, the building comprises two sanctuaries and a temple of terrifying deities. The sanctuary on the ground floor contains statues of the past, present and future Buddhas and three clay statues probably dating to the end of the 15th century. On the upper floor, the vestibule contains two remarkable paintings of Guru Rinpoche’s heaven, and the Buddha Amitabha’s heaven.
In 2011, the Thangbi festival, which is called the Thangbi Mani has the 3rd most popular festival among tourists.
Constructed as a private residence in 1857 for Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, a legendary Bhutanese warrior, the palace was the birthplace of the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, Jigme Namgyel’s son. Under King Ugyen Wangchuck, Wangdichholing was the seat of national power in the early twentieth century.
The Bumthang Cultural Trek
Bumthang is well known as one of the main cultural centres of Bhutan and there are many opportunities to visit temples and small Bhutanese villages along this trek route. Although relatively easy, this 3-day trek has a few major climbs like the hike up-to Pephe La with an ascent of about 500m.
This temple is a few hours’ walk from Thangbi Gompa in the region of Ngang Yul (“Swan Land”). The site is believed to have been visited by Guru Rinpoche. The present temple was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. A three day festival is held here each winter, with masked dances in honor of the founder of the temple. This temple falls en-route, on the popular Bumthang Cultural trek.
Tang Ogyen Choling
This manor house in Tang was constructed in the 16th century. It also has associations with the great Buddhist saint Lonchen Rabjam. Today the building serves as a museum, preserving the rich religious and cultural history of Tang and Bumthang.
Mebar Tsho – The Burning Lake
Mebar Tsho is about 30 minutes drive from Chamkhar. Mebar Tsho is more a gorge than a lake. It is considered a very sacred site and the name refers to a significant episode from the famous 16th century treasure discoverer, saint Pema Lingpa’s life.
At a distance of 48km from Jakar is the picturesque Ura valley. To reach Ura, the road climbs through amazingly open countryside, only occasionally running into forest. Sheep pastures line the road. The road crosses Ura-la pass (3,600m), on the approach to which there is a magnificent view of Mt. Gangkar Puensum. Villages in Ura have clustered houses, which is quite unusual in Bhutan. Above Ura village (3,100m) there is a new temple is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, it contains a huge statue of the Guru and remarkable wall paintings of the cycle of his teachings. Within the last 25 years Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley.