Bumthang or Jakar valley (alt. 2,600m – 4,000m / 8,528 ft – 13,120 ft)
Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.
Places of interest in and around Bumthang
This monastery was built in the 7th century by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is one of the 108 monasteries built by him to subdue evil spirits n the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.
Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru's body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.
Located across the river from Kurje Lhakhang, this temple was founded in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padsambhava. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.
Founded by great grand-father of the first Shabdrung, the Dzong was initially built as a monastery in 1549. It was upgraded after the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646. The Dzong is now used as administrative centre for Bumthang valley, and houses the regional monk body.
It was built in the 6th century but was renovated in 1995, which accounts for its fresh look. It contained a large bell and it is said that when this bell was rung it could be heard all the way in Lhasa in Tibet. During the 17th century a Tibetan Army tried to steal this bell but was too heavy and they dropped it and cracked it. It is now displayed at the National Museum in Paro.
Beyond Jambay Lhakhang is Changkhar Lhakhang, the site of the palace of the Indian King Sindhu Raja. Because of its simplicity it looks like an ordinary village house. The original palace was built of iron and this is why it was named Chankhar, meaning iron castle. It was rebuilt in the 14th century by a Saint called- Dorji Lingpa.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery
Located above the main town, about 3 km from Chamkhar town, the monastery was founded by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche in 1984 who was recognized at a very young age by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. 16th Karmapa as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama whose spiritual lineage dates back to the nearest disciples of the great 9th century master. Since then the monastery has developed considerably with increase in number of monks to almost four hundred. The monastey has become part of an extensive effort to preserve and revitalize Tibetan culture. The monks regular curriculum include reading, memorizing the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandalas, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments and the art of making sacrificial objects, grammer, poerty, karika along with the basics of contemplation and instruction on the different stages of tantra.
Tharpaling Monastery situated at 3600m is composed of series of buildings overlooking the Chumey valley. A feeder road starting from Gyetsa village of Chumey valley leads to the monastery in half an hour but it is often cut in monsoon season. Since its establishment by Lorepa (1187-1250), Tharpaling has been restored several times but most notably by Bhutan's First King at the beginning of the 20th century. The monastery later prospered and remained an active centre for Nyingmapa teaching.
The Tharpaling main building houses two temples; the temple on the ground floor called the Tshogkhang, is adorned with statues of Longchen Rabjam, Guru Rinpoche, Trisong Detsen, Shantarikshita (Shiwatso), the Indian monk first invited to build Samye monastery in Tibet, as well as the great 18th century master Jigme Lingpa. The small temple on the upper floor was restored at the time of the First King, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck and it contains beautiful paintings of the paradise of Amitabha; also of Longchen Rabjam, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and Guru Dewa, a rarely-seen form of Guru Rinpoche. The assembly hall of the monastic school with beautiful paintings of the sixteeen Arhats and the lineage of Longchen Rabjam, is well worth seeing.
Tharpaling monastery is an important landmark of Bhutan, a monastic school where an ancient specific monastic tradition is taught, and holds an annual prayer, a monlam, in the first lunar month.
Located on a hilltop towards left side while driving from Yutonlga pass to Chumey valley, Buli Lhakhang was founded in 15th century by Choeying, the ‘heart son’ of great religious figure Dorji Linga and later extended in 20th century. The complex consists of three temples; The Jokhang downstairs has beautiful pillars, paintings and statues dating back to its construction while the two temples upstairs were restored in early 20th century and have respectively, the Buddha of Three Times and Three longevity deities as their main statues. Buli Lhakhang plays an important role for this region of Chumey valley and holds an important festival, the Buli Mani, every two years on the 16th day of the first month of Bhutanese calendar.
Dorjibi weaving Centre - Bumthang
Located in Chamkhar town of Bumthang, Dorjibi Weaving Centre, the first of its kind was established in 2011 to build on the culture of weaving prevailing in Bumthang valley and also to explore and develop new design and technologies. The group of women from nearby villages formed this weaving co-operative and centre with support from Wangchuk Centennial Park (WCP), WWF-UK and WWF Bhutan, to generate additional income for their families and to achieve self-sufficiency. The weavers here produce some of the exquisite weaves like the gho (male dress), kira (female dress), and kabney (scarf) and others. With empowerment to create and manage their own weaving association and cooperative centre, the women here are now geared up to add more value to their initiative and share their weaves with rest of Bhutan and the world.
Located 10 minutes’ drive from heart of town, at Bathpalathang, where Bumthang’s domestic airport also located, this state-of the-art microbrewery produces Swiss-style unfiltered Weiss beer locally famous as ‘Red Panda Beer’. When launched, this was first of its kind Brewery in Bhutan, producing draught beer, apple cider, wine, apple brandy. The brewery was established by Swiss gentleman Mr Fritz Maurer who moved to Bhutan in 1960s and known for introducing modern farm equipment as well as fuel efficient smokeless wood stove (Bukhari) widely used in Bumthang and other part of the country. Mr Maurer also established Swiss Farm, a small family run enterprise producing variety of Swiss cheese and clover honey. At the Brewery, one can see the entire process of making unfiltered Weiss beer while at adjacent Swiss Farm get an insight into the cheese-making process, also taste Red Panda Beer and procure cheese, apple brandy, clover honey etc.
Opening Hours:Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. & Saturday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Closed on Sundays & National Holidays
Excursions around Bumthang or Jakar valley
A drive of 3.5km north of Kurje Lhahang leads to this monastery, founded in 1470 by Shamar Rinpoche of the Kagyupa religious school. The monastery has two sanctuaries and a temple of terrifying deities. The sanctuary on the ground floor contains statues of past, present and future Buddha and three clay statues probably dating end of the 15th century. On the upper floor, the vestibule contains two remarkable paintings of Guru Rinpoche's heaven and the Buddha Amitabh's heaven. One of the popular, Thangbi Mani festival is held here during autumn which is famous for its fire dance performed by monks, as well as purification rituals involving fire.
A drive of 14 km north to heart of Bumthang town (Choekhor valley) takes one to small region of Ngang Yul (Swan Land) and the temple here is located 100m above the valley floor. Guru Rinpoche visited this site, and the present temple was built in the 15th century by Lama Namkha Samdup, a contemporary of Pema Lingpa. Also known as Swan temple, the history behind its name is that when master reached the place where temple stands today, a beautiful swan flew in circle and landed at this spot. The Tibetan master considered this auspicious sign and built the temple at same spot. At the time of Bhutan’s first King, temple was taken over by one of the lama’s collateral lineage and later restored in the 1970s. In architectural appearance, the temple looks like a traditional farmhouse. Its lower level has beautiful statues of Guru Rinpoche with his two consorts while the upper level is dedicated to three protective deities Amitayus, Tara and Usnishavijaya. A three-day festival is held here each winter with masked dances in honour of the founder of the temple.
Wide valley of Ura that sits at an elevation of 3,100 metres is located in south-eastern part of Bumthang district about 48km, 1.1/2-hour drive from heart of the town. To reach here, the road climbs to amazingly open countryside, only occasionally running into forest. Large sheep pastures line the road up to 20 km behind the southern tip of the Tang valley. The route crosses Ura la pass (3,600m) with a magnificent view of Mount. Gangkhar Puensum. Villages in Ura have about 50 or so clustered houses, with cobbled walkways that gives it a charming medieval look. Above Ura village (3,100m) is a new temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Inaugurated in 1986, the temple contains a huge statue of the master and remarkable paintings of the cycle of his teachings. The people of this region have been primarily yak and sheep herders and engaged in agricultural activities with potato being the main cash crop along with seasonal wild mushroom collection especially the high price fetching species like Tricholoma matsutake and Lyophyllum sp. Now a days, Ura has been transformed from a marginal community to a prosperous valley.
Terton (treasure discoverer) Pema Lingpa, the famous saint, was born in the pristine Tang valley (2800m) which is one of the four fascinating Bumthang valleys so of great spiritual significance. The people of this valley primarily engaged in livestock rearing and agriculture mainly growing buckwheat, wheat, barley with potato and apples as their cash crops.
To reach here, from Bumthang central valley, follow west-east road for about 11km towards Ura valley that later branches north to Tang valley. Immediately after the diversion, stop for a short walk on path lined with prayer flags to Membartsho (the burning lake) where Pema Linga said to have discovered several of Guru Rinpoche's hidden treasures. The road then ascends towards Dranchel village followed by Jamzhog village, arriving at Mesithang and short distance from here is Tang Rimochen Lhakhang, where Guru Rinpoche had performed meditation. The road then approaches the bridge at Kizum over Tang chhu river, climbing up the hill to Ogyen Choling manor built in 1898 while its origin going back to 14th century. Located 37km from heart of Bumthang town with 1.1/2 hour drive, the Ogyen Choling Heritage House is an important highlight of Tang valley excursion and an ideal place for guests interested in the history and culture of Bhutan, guests who appreciate the special setting with the calming spiritual ambiance and the solitude off the beaten track.
Membartsho (The Burning Lake)
Located about 12.5 km drive from heart of Bumthang town, Membartsho in Tang valley is a wide spot on the Tang Chhu (chhu - water / river) and considered to be one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of Bhutan. Pema Linga, the famous Buddhist saint found several of Guru Rinpoche's hidden treasures here. The importance of this site is indicated by the extensive array of prayer flags and the small clay offerings called Tse Tsa in rock niches.
A five-minute walk from a parking spot at a bend in the road leads to a picturesque pool in a shadowy ravine of the Tang Chhu that is known as Membartsho (Burning Lake). The 27-year-old Pema Lingpa found several of Guru Rinpoche's terma here. It's a lovely, if slightly unsettling, spot, where nature, religion and mythology blur into one.
A wooden bridge crosses the prayer-flag-strewn gorge and offers a good vantage point over the 'lake'. Only the enlightened will spot the temple that lurks in the inky depths. The sanctity of the site is made evident by the numerous small clay offerings called tsha-tsha piled up in various rock niches.
Under a rock shrine with a carving of Guru Rinpoche flanked by Sakyamuni and Pema Lingpa is a cave that virtuous people can crawl through, no matter how big they are. Beware: it's quite small, and very dusty. Also, don't venture too close to the edges of the ravine for that elusive photo angle. Vegetation hides where the rock ends and a treacherous drop into the river begins. Sadly there have been several drownings in the swift waters here.
Ogyen Choling Palace
Built in 1898 while its origin going to back to 14th century with the visit of the great Tibetan master of Buddhism, Longchen Rabjam (1308-63), a most celebrated writer and philosopher of the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism, Ogyen Choling Palace is the most prominent site in Tang valley. This place with its special physical features and blessing by the presence of Longchen Rabjam, later became a center of the Tibetan saint Dorji Lingpa (1346-1405), one of the great tertons (Religious treasure discoverer) of the Nyingmapa school. The families of Ogyen Choling had the status of Lama choeju (religious nobility). The best-known historical personality of this lineage is Tsokye Dorji who was the fifteenth-generation descendant of Dorji Lingpa. He was the Trongsa Penlop (Governor of Trongsa) and in 1853 he handed over the post of governorship to Jigme Namgyal (1825-1881) the father of Ugyen Wangchuck (1862-1926), who in 1907 became the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan. Restored in 19th century, historically significant Ogyen Choling Palace is now housing the Family Museum, a place that transports visitors to another world and time. The visitors here view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop (Governor) Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history. Bhutan's history truly unfolds here.
Tang Rimochen Lhakhang
Tang Rimochen Lhakhang in the valley is a sacred place of Guru Rimpoche. A rock in front of temple bears a body print of the Guru and two khandroms (female celestial being). The site is named after the tiger stripe markings on the cliff. Footprints of the Guru and his consorts Mandarava and Yeshe Chhogyal are found below the lhakhang. Two large boulders nearby are said to be male and female jachungs (garudas).
Kunzangdrak Goenpa is two hours walk above Chel Tang Valley. It is one of the most important sites related to Pemalingpa the great treasure discoverer in Bhutan, who also constructed the Goenpa in 1488. Most of his sacred relics are kept here including the gilded stone bearing his footprint.
Pelseling Goenpa is a sacred monastery with rich historic values. Situated on a steep mountain, 800m above the valley floor, it is about 2.1/2 hours walk from the area of Jakar. The trek starts off at a mild pace but later gains momentum. Passing through mix of forests, meadows and villages, along the trek route, travellers are gifted with breath taking views of the valley and large species of flora and fauna. On about two thirds of the way, there is a beautiful meadow which is the perfect picnic spot. The last part of the hike requires more uphill trek until eventually the destination is on sight. One can descend via Tamshing monastery, making it a total 4.1/2 hour round trip excursion.
Located at altitude of 3,100m, Ura is one of the most charming of Bhutan villages, comprising of about 50 traditional houses with cobbled walkways and a medieval ambience. Situated right in the middle of village, Ura Lhakhang (temple) was consecrated in 1985 and dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. The beautifully depicted paintings here represent different teachings. The annual Ura Yakchoe festival is performed here during the month of Apr / May during which various sacred mask dances performed along with popular folk dances and sacred relic displayed for public, to receive blessing.
Shingkhar Dechenling Lhakhang
Shingkhar Dechenling temple is located 58km from Bumthang city centre or Chamkhar town, about 2-hour drive. It was founded by Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam (1308-1364) and its main relics include the statue of Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjam, Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and painting of Guru Rinpoche. Every year from 6th to the 11th day of the 9th Bhutanese month, a festival called Shingkhar Rabney is held at this temple. The Shingkhar Yak Cham dance is performed during this festival for the public. According to local legends, a Choe Yak (sacred yak) is believed to have appeared from a lake at Chuling Stingma and was regarded as protective deity of the region. The yak dance of Shingkhar is performed every year to appease this protective deity.
Nestled in one of the most idyllic and picturesque valleys of Bhutan, at an altitude of 3,400 metres, the traditional lovely village of Shingkhar is located about 48km from centre of Bumthang town (1.1/2 hour drive) and 8km from Ura valley (30 minutes’ drive). This region falls under buffer zone of Thrumshingla National Park.
Situated in the middle of the village, one can visit Shingkhar Dechenling temple founded by the great Nyingmapa master Longchen Rabjampa (1308–1364) around 1350 during his stay in Bumthang, who propounded the philosophy and practices of the Dzogchen School of Buddhism. It is one of the Eight foremost ‘Ling (pleasant places) that he established in Bhutan. The village got named ‘Shingkhar’ when Longchen Rabjampa’s followers built a throne and a little cabin (Shing means ‘wood’ & Khar means ‘house’) for their master.
Shingkhar has 35 households and people of the village primarily engaged in rearing livestock and subsistence farming. The village is believed to be well guarded by three local deities one of which accompanied Longchenpa as his horsemen (this is one source of the present famous Yak dance performed during Shingkhar Rabney festival). The deity on the east, Yangmogen Pholha, is known guarding beautiful monal pheasant and against any defilement. The deity on the south is known as Yangbrag Naybo (Dragpa Gyeltshen) who also safeguards the village from defilement.
Time: 3-hour exploration, Difficulty: Moderate
Rising above the Choekhor valley which is the central & spiritual heart of Bumthang valley, this pleasant multifunction path, called ‘Bushman Trail’ has been mainly introduced as a biking trail and connects Jakar with Tang valley. The hike starts from Kharchu monastery junction on a farm road for half an hour along the pastureland and later path traverses through pine forest to the hilltop up to 3100m from where one can have superb view of Chamkhar valley. The path then descends gently to Benzur village near Pemacholing Monastery which also serves as Shedra (Buddhist Institute) for nuns of the Pema Linga Lineage. From here, one can get back to Jakar by road with stop at Membartsho, the ‘Burning lake’ where saint Pema Lingpa discovered treasure of Buddhist scriptures in 15th century.
50-minute drive one way, 30-minute hike up, 20 minute hike down, Difficulty level - Easy
Resembling Tiger Nest monastery in Paro, Shugdrak temple is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and is said to have been blessed by the Saint in the 8th century. The hike up to the Shugdrak temple is easy and the view from the top is mesmerising. The drive to the starting point for the Shugdrak hike takes one along the river down the Choekhor valley. The trail starts shortly after passing Thangbi Goemba on the left. Initially, one will walk upwards through flower meadows before catching a smaller trail which leads towards a handful of farmhouses. It continues past an old water mill and then straight up to Shugdrak, beautifully situated on a cliff overlooking the surrounding valleys. Steps imprinted in the mountain side lead up above the roof top of the temple where hermits reside in a charismatic farmhouse surrounded by prayer flags and with spectacular view from all directions.