Bumthang or Jakar valley (alt. 2600m-4500m / 8530ft-14765ft)
Bumthang directly translates as beautiful field and consists of the four mountain valleys of Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekar. All of these valleys have for centuries been the religious heartland of Bhutan and therefore it is not surprising that many of the country’s oldest and most venerated temples are located there. The important Monasteries and monuments to visit in Bumthang are Jambay Lhakhang Temple, Kurjey Monastery, Tamshing Monastery, Jakar Dzong, Ura Temple, Kenchosum Lhakhang and Ogen Choling palace Museum.
From its ancient monasteries and rock solid fortresses to taking a stroll down open countryside as horses graze in meadows against the mighty Mt. Gangkhar Puensum; Bumthang, for a long time, was a quiet town caught in a happy time wrap. Now, with its pulse still finely tuned to tradition and culture, the breathtaking valley is finally making a transition to modernity with all the elements of its rich past very much intact. Here are 15 places for you to visit if you do find yourself in the most historic and sacred district of Bhutan.
Monuments to visit in Bumthang.
1. Jambay Lhakhang:
This Temple was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Srongtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 temples built by the King in this part of the Himalayas. One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay Lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days and the main highlight is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
2. Kurje Lhakhang:
Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rock face where Guru Rinpoche meditated in the 8th century. The second temple is built on a cave containing a rock with the imprint of the Guru’s body. The Royal Grandmother Her Majesty Ashi Kesang built the third temple in the 90s. 108 Chortens (Stupas) surround these three temples.
3. Tamshing Lhakhang:
Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this monastery was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padma Sambhava. The temple houses ancient religious scrolls and paintings among which are the 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras or the female form of Buddhistava.
4. Jakar Dzong:
Jakar Dzong literally means the Castle of the White Bird, constructed in 1549 by the Tibetan Lama Nagi Wangchuk. The Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense for the whole eastern part of Bhutan. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan. A special feature of the Dzong is the fifty meter high Utse or 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 population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
5. Konchogsum Lhakhang:
Although built in the 6th century, this temple was renovated in 1995 and so it has a modern look to it. Legend has it that the Lhakhang contained a large bell that when it was rung, the bell could be heard all the way in Lhasa, Tibet. During the 17th century marauding Tibetan Armies tried to steal the bell but because it was too heavy, they dropped the bell and in the process cracked it. It is now on display at the National Museum in Paro.
6. Chamkhar Lhakhang:
This temple was first built as the palace of the Indian King Sindhu Raja. When it was first built, before the 10th century, the palace was constructed of iron – hence the name Chakhar, meaning Iron castle. In the 14th century, Dorji Lingpa, a Buddhist saint, re-built it as a place of worship.
7. Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery:
This Nyingma monastery on a hilltop was founded in the 1970s by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche and has more than 380 monks in residence. The new Tshokhang has massive statues of Guru Rinpoche, Chenrezig and Sakyamuni. If you’re here between 4.30 pm and 6 pm, check out the mass debating in the courtyard of the Shedra. The monks reinforce their theological arguments with a stamp of the foot and a victorious slap.
8. Ura Yakchoe:
Ura valley in Bumthang is known for the famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. The dance is performed during the May festival that is held annually. During the festival a small sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings. According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she opened the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed down from generations and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.
9. Membartsho – The Burning Lake:
Mebar Tsho is about 30 minutes by car from Bumthang town. It is considered to be of immense religious significance drawing in pilgrims from near and far by the hordes. The importance of the lake is obvious for visitors by the line of prayer flags and clay offerings found in everywhere along openings in rocks.
10. Wangdichholing Palace:
This palace was built in 1857 on the site of a battle camp of the Penlop (Governor) of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyal. It was the first palace in Bhutan that was not designed primarily as a fortress. The son of Jigme Namgyal, also First King of Bhutan, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was born here and chose it as his principal residence. Wangdichholing palace was also for a time the home of the Third King, before he moved the royal court to Punakha in 1952.
11. Swiss Farm:
It was established by Fritz Maurer, one of the first Swiss to work in Bhutan. The Swiss Farm is a development project that is now run by his son. The project introduced farming machinery and fuel-efficient, smokeless wood stoves to the valley, as well as its first tourist guesthouse. The milk from large Jersey cattle is used in Bhutan’s only commercial cheese factory and Red Panda, Bhutan’s native beer is brewed here.
12. Ogen Chholing Palace Museum:
The family that owns Ogen (or Ugyen) Chholing has turned the complex into a museum to preserve its legacy. This palace provides a place for religious studies, research and solitude. The fascinating and well captioned exhibits offer real insights into the lifestyle of a Bhutanese noble family.
13. Ngang Lhakhang:
A little further from Tangbi is the region of Ngang Yul, meaning Swan Land. It was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup and the temple here is above the valley floor. It was built at the site where Guru Rinpoche is supposed to have visited. To honor the great Lama, a three day festival is held every winter where one can witness the famous masked dances.