Monuments to visit & walking tour in Bumthang

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The Yotongla pass and the series of hair-raising bends at 11500 ft separate the valleys of Trongsa and Bumthang. This is one of the most beautiful valleys in the kingdom. It is also the religious heartland where many saints and masters meditated leaving their imprints as sacred places of worship and pilgrimage.

Apart from the Dzong at Jakar, smaller monasteries are situated all over the valley. Tales of Padmasambhava dominate these holy shrines. The valley is home to the Jambay and Kurjey Lhakhags where body imprints of Guru Rimpoche remains preserved upon a rock.

Jambay-Lhakhang1. 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. 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.

3. 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.

Jakar-Dzong4. 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. Chamkhar 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.

Lhodrak-Kharchhu-Monastery7. 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.

Wangdichholing-Palace10. 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.

Walking Tour & Day hikes:

1. Tangbi Goemba:

Approximately a half-hour walk from Kurje Lhakhang will get you to Tangbi Goemba. It was built in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Kagyupa school of Buddhism. The Goemba is famous for its two sanctuaries and a temple dedicated to the terrifying deities.

2. Ngang Lhakhang:

A little further from Tangbi is the region of Ngang Yul – meaning Swan Land. The Lhakhang here is above the valley floor and it was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup 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 native to Bhutan.