Captivating in its rustic tranquility, the Bumthang district is often referred to as Bhutan’s religious and cultural heartland. Many of the country’s oldest temples and monasteries are located here amid tightly-knit farming communities, rice paddies, and fields of golden wheat. Bumthang consists of Jakar, the district capital, and four broad, glacier-carved valleys, each with their own distinct culture and dialect: Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor, also known as Bumthang Valley, as it holds several of the most significant landmarks. Together they promise some of the finest scenery in all Bhutan.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Rich in sacred artefacts and spiritual heritage, Bumthang is the cradle of Bhutanese Buddhism. Many sites here are associated with Padmasambhava, the Guru Rinpoche, who is said to have arrived from Tibet atop a flying tigress. Padmasambhava visited Bumthang to deal with a troublesome deity, and legend has it that he hid many Buddhist teachings to be discovered by the faithful at later dates. Mebar Tsho, ‘the Burning Lake’ is a pilgrimage site thanks to the legend of Pema Lingpa, where Lingpa had a vision of hidden treasure below the surface and dived in naked holding a lit butter lamp. When he emerged several minutes later, not only was he clutching a scroll and a chest, but the lamp was still alight.
Bumthang’s protected, pine-clad mountains, deep valleys and fragrant meadows are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. Sheep graze peacefully in pastures, while farmers tend herds of dairy cows and gather apples from the orchards. There’s a small chapel where you can see what is reputed to be the footprint of Guru Rinpoche left in a stone, and the impressive Kurjey Lhakhang complex is named after a body print (kurjey) which the guru left in a cave, now preserved inside the oldest of the three buildings. There are many fascinating myths and stories associated with the temple, including the tunnel said to clean away your sins if you crawl through it, and a cypress tree which supposedly sprouted from the guru’s walking stick.
The myriad temples, monasteries and shrines dotting the Choekhor Valley are definitely Bumthang’s main attraction, and the reason why many travellers base themselves in the small town of Jakar. Hike through astonishing natural beauty, trace Bhutan’s religious history, or simply immerse yourself in an atmosphere of complete serenity. Overlooking the Choekhor Valley, the 17th century Jakar Dzong is a masterpiece of strategic fortification, built to endure siege conditions and defend eastern Bhutan. Elegantly simple in its design, the dzong is known as the ‘Castle of the White Bird’, because when choosing a location to place their monastery, the lamas were convinced that the sight of a large bird perching on the hilltop was a good omen.
Find peaceful moments in monasteries and temples, and experience Paro’s distinctive, small-town feel. Wander through Bumthang’s green fields and Phobjikha valleys where the Black Necked Cranes land.