The western circuit comprises of the six western Districts in the country that includes Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha and Gasa. What makes this circuit special is that the Tourism Council of Bhutan has categorized new ways of exploring the existing great sights.
In this circuit you can attend the summer festival of Haa and delve into the wonders of the ancient living culture of the Haaps (People from Haa). The festival highlights Shamanic rituals and other folk dances. You may also enjoy the beauty of rare Himalayan flowers in bloom or take a daring trek to Nob Tsonapatra, immersing you in the interesting legends of the area.
In Thimphu you can witness the newly introduced Takin Festival, MICE & GNH conferences, meditation and wellness facilities. You can also visit temples, dzongs (fortresses) and museums or attend a textile festival that brings to life the rich culture of Bhutanese weaving.
You’ll marvel at the historical depiction of medieval Bhutanese warriors who defended Bhutan with swords and shields during the Punakha Tsechu/festival. The various festivals are scheduled throughout the year and trips can be tailored in accordance.
Experience the plantation of rice in early summer or the harvests of the same in autumn. The golden hue of ripening rice fields is a photographers’ delight in autumn. Western Bhutan is home to some of the country’s finest museums, and you’ll not want to miss the opportunity to learn about our storied history and traditional culture. Paro museum (Tadzong), displays hundreds of artifacts revealing the history and culture of Bhutan, In Thimphu, let the Folk Heritage museum enthuse you with an in-depth look into a typical farmers’ livelihood.
Paro valley extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom upto Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a beautiful, crystalline river meandering down the valley.
Accentuating the natural beauty are the many elegant, traditional-style houses that dot the valley and surrounding hills. Paro town has been growing rapidly in recent years and there are plenty of restaurants, bakeries and cafes to choose from. One of the distinctive features of Paro town is that it is situated in a flat valley bottom and follows a grid-like pattern. The central plaza is adorned with a large prayer wheel and a small amphitheater at which events such as concerts are often organized
Visitors often spend several days in Paro as there are over 155 temples and monasteries in this area, some dating as far back as 14th century. Among them is the temple that is considered Bhutan’s most iconic landmark Taktsang Monastery, the Tiger’s Nest. This awe-inspiring temple was constructed upon a sheer cliff face, hundreds of meters above forests of oak and rhododendrons and the valley floor. Dzongdrakha Temple and Kila Gompa are secondary examples of cliff-side temples that are also located in Paro Dzongkhag.
The country’s first international airport is located in Paro. Due to the close proximity of the airport and the many historical and religious sites in the region there are a large number of luxurious, high-end tourist resorts in Paro.
Paro is also home to the National museum. The museum is set in Paro Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower that now displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artifacts and artwork including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snap-shot of the rich cultural traditions of the country.
Another site worth visiting Paro is Drugyel dzong or The Fortress of the Victorious Bhutanese. This dzong was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over marauding Tibetan armies. Though the fortress was destroyed by fire in 1951, the ruins remain an impressive and imposing sight.
The Paro Tshechu is held every spring and is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro Dzongkhag (district).
The Tsehchu is considered a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the festivity. Early in the morning on the last day of the celebration the monks display a gigantic thangkha (embroidered painting) , the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong. Thongdrols are especially impressive examples of Buddhist art and never fail to amaze viewers. They are considered so sacred that simply seeing a Thongdrol is said to cleanse the viewer of sin.
The Tiger’s Nest Temple
Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of 3.120 meters. In order to arrive at the temple visitors must trek for around 2-3 hours through beautiful, shady pine forests. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.
The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion and government in the country.
Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers, however it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization.Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency.
One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and just immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese.
It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa where Dechen Phodrang now stands above Thimphu.
In 1641 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal acquired it but finding it too small, he built another one, known as the lower Dzong. The original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and everything was moved to the lower dzong. The new building was later expanded several times over the years. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck had it completely renovated and enlarged over five years after he moved the capital to Thimpu in 1952 in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans.
Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby.
The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens.
It is a monument to the Third Druk Gyalpo and to World Peace.
Visitors will find elderly Bhutanese people circumambulating the Chorten throughout the day. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. The chorten is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures.
The chorten is a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monuments.
Buddha Dordenma Statue
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8 inch tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens- the construction of these108 chortens was commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. The pass is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple) was built in honor of His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appears to merge in the details of the lhakhang (temple) and its structure tells the story of a supreme warrior figure, whose vision pierces the distant future in a fine blend of history and mythology.
Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists this is ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.