Thimphu Valley (2,320m elevation)
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan with a population of approximately 100,000 people. Thimphu became the capital in 1961 and it is one and half hours drive from the Paro international airport. As you enter the valley you will be driving on Bhutan’s first four lane express highway which will take you to right into the heart of town, over the two flyover bridges. You can easily spend several days in Thimphu visiting various places and many of the sights in the main town can be reached on foot, which is a good way to see the way of life for the Bhutanese people and absorb the culture. As you walk through the streets, you will notice that there is not a single traffic light in the town.
There are many attractions in and around Thimphu Valley, on the banks of the Wang Chu, among weeping willows and terraces of rice fields, stands the Tashichho dzong museums, monasteries, temples, dzongs, a zoo, archery fields, restaurants, handicraft shops, the weekend market, National Memorial Chorten, the National Library, the School of Arts and Crafts, a traditional paper factory, BBS radio tower (you will get an aerial view of the valley), and the National Institute of Traditional Medicine. The two most interesting museums are the Textile Museum and the Folk Heritage Museum. The Textile Museum will take you to the past for a while where you will see beautiful display of the garments worn by the Bhutanese from the 1600s up to the present. The Folk Heritage Museum will give you a sense of feeling about the traditional Bhutanese home and teaches you about the daily life of the rural people. The weekend market is colourful; here you will find different kinds of vegetables, local produce and handicrafts.
A short distance from Thimphu is the Royal Palace, residence of members of the royal family and beyond the palace is Tangu Cherry, one of the oldest lhakhangs in Bhutan. Here monks come to practice the ancient disciplines of meditation and levitation.
On the road to the old capital Punakha from Thimphu you will come across Dochu- La pass the first mountain pass in the western region. Here you will sight the 108 Druk Wangyal chortens on the top of the pass and on a clear day you will be able to see the regal snow ranges of the Great Himalaya.
Paro Valley (2,280 m elevation)
Paro is the entry point for all visitors traveling by air to Bhutan, country’s only national carrier Druk-Air and here you will be touching down the Paro international airport leaving behind the beautiful high mountains and valleys in the sky. As soon as you get down from the aircraft you will be able to see the Paro Dzong. Paro valley is the most beautiful of all valleys in Bhutan’s and was historically the centre of two of the most important trade routes to Tibet.
The Paro Chu (river) flows south from its watershed in the Chomolhari range. Above it on the rocky outcrop of the steep hillside stands the Paro Dzong overlooking both sides of the valley, the National Museum, which used to be a watchtower (Ta dzong) for the dzong. It contains a collection of art, costumes, relics, religious paintings, handicrafts, and national stamps. Leaving behind the town is the Kyichu Lhakhangs, one of Bhutan’s two oldest and most sacred monasteries dating from the introduction of Buddhism in the 7th century. Further up the valley is the Drukgyel Dzong now in ruins recalls the days when Bhutan was frequently and unsuccessfully attacked by armies from the north. This dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951.
The gem-like Taktsang monastery or “the Tiger Nest” clings to a sheer, 900m above the ground which is the most popular spiritual heritage sites. An illusion to the popular legend that Padma Sambhava flew here from Tibet on the back of a tiger. It is a short climb of one hour thirty minutes to two hours to the top.
Punakha (1,300m elevation)
Punakha is two and half hours drive from the capital and was the ancient capital of Bhutan. The drive from Thimphu to Punakha is two hours forty five minutes and you will be passing Dochu-la pass. Further down you will feel the warm climate and see the fertile valley. The Punakha dzong stands alone in between Pho Chu and Mo Chu (rivers).The dzong was built in 1937 and was damaged four times by fire in the late 18th and 19th centuries and by earthquake in 189, also by glacial floods over the years. The dzong serves as the winter home for the clergy, headed by the Chief Abbott, the Je Khenpo. This dzong reflects on the example of Bhutanese architecture and craftsmanship. The least elevated of Bhutan’s central valleys and famous for its benign climate in which fruit trees flourish within sight of the snow crested Himalayan Mountains.
Wangduephodrang (1,350m elevation)
Wangduephodrang lies towards the south of Punakha and is the national highway towards central Bhutan. At the confluence of the river stands Wangduephodrang dzong and the town is a narrow street with traditional Bhutanese storied houses. After crossing the town the roads leads you to Trongsa in central Bhutan and as you drive up hill you will be in Pelela pass and from this point you can get into valley called Phobjikha which is the home for the rare Black Necked cranes that has made this valley as their winter home. The birds fly from Tibet in October and November and leave just before spring. There is another landmark in this valley, is the famous Gangtey Gompa monastery, built in 17th century. The higher reaches of the valley provide a rich cattle pastures and a dairy research station has been set up at Gogona. The district is also known for its fine bamboo work and for its slate and stone carvings.
Trongsa (2,316m elevation)
The drive to Trongsa from Wangdue is about four hours and this place is the central district and ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family and from here the first two monarchs ruled the kingdom. Before you reach the Trongsa Dzong you will see the dzong right in the middle but its little tricky, you can experience yourself. A massive, many leveled structure which slopes down the contour of the hill on which it is set all these add up to a masterpiece in Bhutanese architecture. Among the dzong’s treasures is a magnificent collection of rhino horn sculptures.
If you are traveling to the east or the south of Bhutan, this place is a convenient place to halt for the night and The Trongsa Tsechu(festival) usually falls between late November and mid-December.
Bumthang (2,600 – 4,000m elevation)
To the east of Trongsa, in the wide valley lies Bumthang, described as the spiritual place in the country. Here you will be excited to see the monasteries and spiritual sites where history and mythology has helped to bring alive the culture and traditions of Bhutan. Bumthang is one of the most beautiful valleys, where you will find beautiful landscapes, houses, field of buckwheat, barley and apples.
The Jakar Dzong stands on the hill which has a majestic view of the valley and legends say that when the site was decided for dzong, a big white bird rose suddenly in the air and settled on a spur of the hill and it was here that the “Castle of the White Bird” was built. The building itself is surrounded by an impressive wall approximately one mile in circumference in its center a tower soars nearly 150 feet into the air.
The valley is home to the sacred Jampey Lhakhangs and to the Kurjey Lhakhangs Monastery where the bodily marks of the Guru remain to this day impressed on a sold rock face, both temples are believed to have been built around the 8th century.Bumthang tsechu (festivals) are well known and you can see the insight of the culture and spirit of Bhutan during these festivals
Trashigang (1,151m elevation)
If you have enough time, you should not forget to see the eastern Bhutan which has different to offer altogether. Here you will find people who speak their own language, who has their own culture and can really weave beautiful textiles, they are known as the Sharchops.
In the far east of Bhutan, on the banks of the Sheri Chu, lies Trashigang Dzong, the hub of the regions largest and important district. If you drive from Mongar that is almost three and half hours drive and from Thimphu its five hundred seven kilometers to this place. Today it is the junction of the east-west highway with the road which runs north from the foothill town of Samdrupjongkhar. Here you will find lots of specialties the vividly coloured hand loomed cloth and silk, spun from cocoons bred on castor oil plants.
Tropical crops and fruits thrive here well. Further down you drive for half an hour from Trashigang is Kanglung, a new town which has the only college offering undergraduate degrees.
Trashi Yangtse (1,830m elevation)
This place is the home for the Black Necked crane in the east. The drive is about three and half hours from Trashigang. Across the border, lies the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (north east) both Bhutanese and local tribes from across the border enjoy the Chorten Kora festival at Trashi Yangste.
Southern Samdrup Jongkhar is a small border town and takes six hours from Trashigang. The temperature is warm and this place is ideal for bird watching.
This place is the entry or exit point to get into eastern Bhutan.
Phuentsholing is a small border town bordering India (Jaigoan, West Bengal) and Bhutan. The drive from Phuentsholing to Thimphu is pretty exciting journey as you will be climbing from the tropical plains to the changing of vegetation up to the higher altitude. Phuentsholing is the modern trade route entry and exit point also.