Best places & monuments to visit in Bumthang
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.
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.
Places of interest in and around Bumthang or Jakar:
1. Jambay Lhakhang:
Jambay Lhakhang was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. The monastery is one of the many (108 to be precise) 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:
Located just before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack 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 while the Royal Grandmother Her Majesty Ashi Kesang built the third temple in the 90s. 108 Chhortens 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 Padmasambhava. 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. The Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk constructed it in 1549, and the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense for the whole eastern Dzongkhags of Bhutan. 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 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 Lhakhang 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 really heavy, they dropped the bell and in the process cracked it. It is now on display at the National Museum in Paro.
6. Chankhar Lhakhang:
A little further from Jambay monastery lies Chankhar Lhakhang. It 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 Chankhar, meaning iron castle. In the 14th century, Dorji Lingpa, a Buddhist saint, rebuilt it as a place of worship.
7. Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery:
On a hilltop, this Nyingma monastery was founded in the 1970s by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche and has more than 380 monks in residence. The new Tshokhang (Assembly Hall) has massive statues of Guru Rinpoche, Chenresig and Sakyamuni. If you’re here between 4.30pm and 6pm (April to November), check out the mass debating in the courtyard of the shedra, behind the main monastery, where 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 every year. During the festival a 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:
Mebartsho is about 30 minutes by car from Chamkhar and 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:
Wangdichholing palace was built in 1857 on the site of a battle camp of the Penlop 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 the 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:
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 brewing, 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 Bhutan’s native beer, Red Panda, is brewed here.
12. Ugyen Chholing Museum:
The family that owns Ogyen (or Ugyen) Chholing has turned the complex into a museum to preserve its legacy and provide 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.