Haa Valley (alt. 2,670 m / 8,758 ft)
Adjoining the districts of Paro, Chhukha and Samtse, Haa valley is one of the most picturesque places in the Kingdom, spread over an area of 1706 sq. km. During pre-Buddhist era, Haa valley was known for its animist tradition. Inhabitants then were enthused in offering animal blood to their local deities. Such animist belief however was transformed into peaceful Buddhist tradition in 8th century by Guru Padmasambhava. The tantric master, Guru Padmasambhava, subdued the local deities like Ap Chundu and made the guardians of the Buddhist tradition. However, the traces of this belief system are still noticed in the form of festivals and rituals.
The Haa valley was opened for the first time to foreign tourists in 2002. It is culturally rich valley and some of famous sites in this region are : 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum. The grand annual Haa Tshechu is also performed here at Lhakhang Karpo on the 8th-10th day of the 8th Bhutanese month.
The Haa Wangchuklo Dzong built in 1915 after the Dumchog Dzong was razed to the ground by fire is worth visiting. The other place of interest which involves some walking includes the hike to the 8th century Juneydrag, Katsho goenpa, Drana Trashidingkhag, Yangto goenpa, Jamtoe goenpa, Shelkardrag, Takchu goenpa and Haa goenpa.
The valley is also unparalleled in Bhutan in terms of the diversity of the folk culture, legends and shamanistic rituals. The shamanistic traditions is vividly practiced in almost all the communities, most notable of which is the annual ceremony to honour Ap Chundu, the guardian deity of the valley. The valley is also a paradise for nature lovers and travelling there is a very rewarding experience.
The drive to Haa valley crosses 3988m Chele-la pass, from where one can have a superb views of Mount. Chomolhari & Jichu Drakey. It is also an ideal place to take short walk, enjoying panoramic vistas.
Places of interest in and around Haa Valley
Lhakhang Karpo (white temple)
Lhakhang Karpo, the bastion of Haa valley’s revered guardian deity, Ap Chhundu is one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo during 7th century. Lhakhang Karpo literally translates to ‘White temple’ and according to local legend, black & white pigeons were released to select the site of the temple and white pigeon landed at the foothills of three towering mountains worshipped as Rigsum Gonpa and is where lhakhang stands today. Built mainly to protect the southern entrance of Haa valley, the Lhakhang houses the main seat of Haa’s guardian deity Ap Chhundu.
Lhakhang Nagpo (black temple)
Situated in Dumchoe village, the temple was established in 7th century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. Legend has it that when in search of auspicious locations for two temples, King Songtsen Gampo released black and white pigeons, the black pigeon landed little north to white pigeon where Lhakhang Nagpo (black temple) stands today thus temple got its name. Its inner shrine houses the statue of Jowo Sakyamuniadorned with lovely crown and jewels while outer chapel holds a shrine to red-faced protector Drakdu Tsen.
Located in westernmost part of Bhutan, Haa valley is blessed by presence of Meri Puensum, three small mountains symbolizing Manjushri (God of Knowledge), Avalotiteshvara (God of Compassion) and Vajrapani (God of Power). These three brother hills standing equal in height without touching one another present breath-taking views like heap of flour in the middle of valley and are a unique landmark of Haa valley.
It is one of the several shrines dedicated to the protective deity of Haa valley, Ap Chhundu. The chapel is a five-minute walk down a concrete path below Lechuna village.
Excursions around Haa Valley
Yangthang - Hatey Hike
Drive for about three kilometres (20 minutes) from Haa town to Yangthang village (2,770m) from where the hike starts. This beautiful, charming village is hub for various tourism attractions & activities such as archery and local sports at its picturesque ground, village walks, biking trails and centre for homestays / farm stays and camp sites.
Yangthang – Hatey day hike provides a rich cultural & natural exposure walking along the riverbank of calm Haa Chhu (river). This hiking trail is in fact on one of the famous trade routes with Tibet used by people of Haa valley, in olden days.
This hike also provides opportunity for the visitors to virtually walk on the footsteps of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India who came to Haa valley through same trail, crossing Tibet on foot before continuing journey to Paro and Thimphu. This day walk along the river is on the same historical route that he followed.
Time: approx. 4 hours exploration
Bjungneydra – Katsho goenpa (3,070m) Hike
This fascinating hike commences from Bali village which used to be known as Bayul (land of monpas). The village houses Bali Lhakhang (temple) built during the 8th century by King Thrisong Detshen of Tibet which is the starting point of the hike. It is a pleasant walk via pine forests filled with lovely flowers and also provides opportunity to explore beautiful villages and to see semi-permanent cowsheds, cow milking, churning milk to produce butter and cheese ball. Picnic lunch can be enjoyed in the meadow above Kadam chorten. The end point, Katsho goenpa, dedicated to Guru Rimpoche is highly sacred monastery founded by Lama Choying Gyatsho and it holds a monastic school also. Every year, a hundred million recitation is held here from the beginning of the 30th day of the twelfth month and continue until the 20th day of the first month.
Time: approx. 4 hours exploration
Yangthang Village (2,770m)
The picturesque village of Yangthang is located about 3km from Haa town and acts as hub for various tourism activities and attractions such as hike to Yangto goenpa, Gemtey goenpa and Tshenka goenpa, biking excursion to Haa town and Damthang, experiencing village homestays, local sports and hot stone bath. The village is also bordered by beautiful campsites.
Jangkhakha is an open beautiful meadow near the farm road and located only few metres away from Yangthang village. This site is a fascinating campsite and importantly at same place prayers and offerings to Ap Chundu (the protective deity of Haa valley and Paro) are made. These celebrations (locally known as the birthday celebration) in honor of Ap Chundu are offered annually during the 10th month of the Bhutanese calander. Once an appropriate date is fixed by astrologers, people form the long traditional procession from the glorious Lhakhang Karpo and proceed to the meadow to make sacrificial offerings every year.
Jangkhakha is also the centre of various tourism activities and attractions like nature walk, hike to Jamtoe goenpa and Yangto goenpa, bird watching, butterfly tour, picnic, mountain biking. Haa – Paro Sagala trek and Chelela trek also begins from Jangkhakha.
Lechuna Village – Jamte goenpa hike
Begin your walk through the lower village of Lechnua and continue on down to the Haa Chhu (river) before crossing a quaint wooden bridge. From here the walk to Jamte goenpa is gradual ascent taking about 1.5 hour through pristine forest which later opens up to the village. Visit the monastery which is more than 300 years old followed by visit to a village house. The view of southern Haa valley can be enjoyed best from here. Then we take a seldom used animal track that connects on to the main trail after an hour’s walk. Continue onto Chumpa bridge to stop for picnic lunch beside the river. After lunch, we walk slowly through the beautiful Chuma village taking time to see the villagers at work and even have some interaction with them. Walking along the village path, we reach to motorable road and drive on to our lodge.
Time: approx. 4 hours exploration
A picturesque nature trail of about an hour from Yangthang village leads to Yangto goenpa. The route also provide opportunity to witness village life, visiting farms and experiencing lifestyle of Haaps (people of Haa valley). According to legend, the monastery was founded by Lama Thinley Gyatsho, the great disciple of Lama Drakpa Gyatsho, a renowned Buddhist master of 17th century. It’s a two storeyed structure with an Avalokiteshvara shrine at the lower level and a shrine of Dhrmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya and the shrine of the lama at upper level. Every year a hundred million recitation ceremony is held here during the first month of the Bhutanese calendar.
Haa Panorma Hiking Trail
This one-day hiking trail covers a distance of eleven kilometres in about five hours and overlooks four major monasteries of upper Haa: Yangthang, Katsho, Dranadingkha and Takchu Goenpas. The hike could either start from Yangthang Goenpa or Wangtsa village through thick pine coverings and provides bird’s eye view of Haa valley, gently ascending up to an altitude of 3,150 metres.