Locating 3,000 meters above sea level, Gangtey Monastery (also known as Gantey Gongpa) is uniquely positioned overlooking the largest the largest and the most significant wetland valley in the country – Phobjikha Valley. It was first built as a small village monastery in 1613 and later expanded into a monastery complex with a main central tower surrounded by 5 temples. The monastery has been completely restored from 2002 to 2008, preserving the old structures, carvings and paintings while putting in 104 new pillars. Today, Gangtey Monastery Complex consists of the main tower, surrounded by monks’ living quarters, meditation halls and a guest house. It is a tranquil monastery with a spectacular view of Phobjikha Valley which is 3,000 above sea level.
Locating at an average of 1,200 meters above sea level valley and the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers, the magnificent white-washed Punakha Dzong (Fortress) is one of the most beautiful fortresses in Bhutan. Punakha Dzong is significant in Bhutan history. It was served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 before the capital was moved to Thimphu. It is the second oldest and second largest in Bhutan. The wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was held here, the “palace of great happiness”.
Archery is the National Sport of Bhutan since 1971 when the Kingdom became a member of United Nations. This traditional sport has been a popular sport/game among the Bhutanese. There are archery fields in every village. There are many practices and competitions throughout the country. The shooting distance is 145 meters, more than double of the Olympic standard which is 70 meters! The bows are made of bamboo and the arrows are made of bamboo or reed. Bhutanese archery teams consists of 13 members and they wear traditional Bhutanese costume even when they are practicing. Watching it real life in Thimphu, I was amazed at the distance and the fact that the archery team would stand around a small target. It takes a lot of physical strength and skill to shoot that distance without hitting anyone across the field! The competing team would shout with hand motions to point out how better shoot the next shot. That’s also called “verbal battle” which consists of teasing words I think. When the target is hit, the competing team would sing and dance…
Want to go off the beaten path? Well, it’s pretty much everywhere in Bhutan due to the “Sustainable Tourism” strategy and the road condition in Bhutan. Having said that, some popular tourist spots such as Tiger’s Nest and Punakha Dzong are still crowded with tourists. If you are travelling in a small group, more flexible in timing and schedule, there are a lot of places where you can explore further and learn more about the local culture in this Kingdom of Happiness.
One of the best things to see in Bhutan is the spectacular scenic view on the road as you travel around the country. Locating at 3,150 meters above see level, Dochula Pass is one of the most popular stop over en route Thimphu to Punakha. You may stretch your legs, take a short walk around the Chortens (pagodas), go to the temple or have a coffee break. On a good day, you will see a spectacular view of the Himalayas. There are 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens (pagodas) commissioned by Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the first wife of the Fourth King to commemorate the lost insurgents during an operation to flush out the invaders in South Bhutan, to tribute to the Fourth King of Bhutan, and for the well being of all sentiment beings. It’s a spiritual place for the locals and breathtaking stopping point for tourists.
The National Memorial Chorten is an iconic landmark in Thimphu, Bhutan. It was originally built as a monument of world peace by the Third King of Bhutan, Jagme Dorji Wanchuck who was known as the “Father of Modern Bhutan”. He was well respected to open Bhutan to the outside world, initiating modernization in all aspects. The construction of the chorten completed in 1974. The untimely death of the Third King in 1972 has made this monument a memorial as well. Unlike many other monuments in other countries, the National Memorial Chorten is a popular place where the locals would come visit to pray and gain merits every day.
Sitting atop a hill overlooking south of Thimphu in Bhutan, this 52 meters tall Buddha statue is one of the largest in the world. The statue is made of bronze and gilded in gold. 125,000 small buddha statues also gilded in gold were placed inside the big Buddha. It is spectacular and very shiny!
First built in 1649, the conch shape watchtower (or Ta-Dzong) was established to protect the Paro Dzong (Fortress) below by overlooking the entire Paro valley from all directions. Conch shell has been the horn trumpet in Buddhism since the beginning of time. The conch shape design encompasses the union of sun (circular shape outside) and moon (crescent shape inside) which symbolizes fame and victory, making it very meaningful as a watch tower. In 1950s, the watch tower was closed to a collapse state. The third king ordered a renovation project to enhance the structure of the building and turned it into the National Museum. It now houses historic artifacts, antiques, ritual objects used in traditional festivals, as well as some preserved specimens of animals in Bhutan.
Sitting on the steep hill overlooking Paro Valley, the Paro Dzong (fortress) was built in 1644 to protect the valley from Tibetan invasions. It’s formal name is Rinchen Pung Dzong (usually shortened to Rinpung Dzong), means ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’. The site was first built as a monastery then a big fortress for protection purpose. Like most other Fortress, Paro Dzong is well-sited on a steep hillside adjacent to a main river and there is a watch tower at the back. Many of them remain in use, housing both monastic body and district government office.