1. TAKTSHANG/TIGER’S NEST
Taktshang or the Tiger’s Nest is a monastery located 3,000m above the Paro valley. It takes around 2-3 hours’ hike to reach the monastery but when you do, the beauty of the sight of rhododendron and pine forests below will spellbind you. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to the location on the back of a flying tigress, a manifestation of his consort Khandu Yeshey Tshogyel, and meditated here for more than three months to subdue an evil spirit. Legend has it that Guru incarnated his eight manifestations at Taktshang for the first time. A restaurant stands along the trail if refreshments are required.
2. TA DZONG/NATIONAL MUSEUM
Ta Dzong or Bhutan’s national museum is located on top of the hill above Paro Dzong. It is an old watchtower that was renovated in 1968. The unusual round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell, with 2.5m-thick walls; it was completed in 1656 and was originally the watchtower of Paro Dzong. An underground tunnel is said to lead from the watchtower to the water supply below.
Displays in the various galleries include an impressive collection of thangkas (religious scrolls), both ancient and modern, depicting Bhutan’s important saints and teachers, as well as festival masks. There’s a Heritage Gallery that displays a collection of religious statues and early stone carvings, plus a few original iron links from the nearby Tamchhog Bridge.
After visiting, you can walk down a path from the museum to the Paro dzong and back to the town, enjoying views of the valley and of the Ugyen Pelri Palace.
3. KYICHU LHAKHANG
Kyichu Lhakhang, a Buddhist temple in Paro, is one of the oldest monasteries in the country. It is believed that the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo built the temple in the 7th century. According to folklore, a giant ogress lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayas and was preventing the spread of Buddhism therefore to overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples, which would be placed on all points of her body. Of these 108 temples, the Kyichu lhakhang was built at the point where it pinned the left foot of the ogress. It is also popularly believed that the two orange trees at Kyichu Lakhang bear fruit throughout the year.
4. JAMBAY LHAKHANG
Located in Bumthang, Jambay lhakhang is situated on the way to the Kurjey Lhakhang. It takes a drive of 10 minutes to reach the temple from Chamkhar town.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom and a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo, founded it in the 7th century AD. The king was supposed to build 108 temples in a day to subdue a giant ogress that was residing in the Himalayas and thwarting the spread of Buddhism. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. The second, Kyichu Lhakhang, is located in Paro.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wanghcuck in 1887.
The Jambay lhakhang Drup a five-day festival is hosted here. The highlights include the fire ritual that is held in the evening when crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance.
5. CHIMI LHAKHANG
Chimi or Chime Lhakhang is the “fertility temple” located in Punakha. Built in honor of the “Divine Madman” Lam Drukpa Kunley, it is believed that couples who want children should visit the temple. The temple has a wooden effigy of the Lam’s thunderbolt that the lhakhang’s presiding lam blesses the childless woman with so that she can bear children. The lam also gives names to newborn children who are inevitably named Chimi/Chime. Drukpa Kunley who came to Bhutan from Tibet is known for his eccentric ways and for propagating “sex as a way to salvation”. Lam Drukpa Kunley’s cousin built Chimi Lhakhang in honor of Lam Drukpa Kunley in 1499 after the lama subdued the demoness of the nearby Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom”.
6. PUNAKHA DZONG
One of the most magnificent structures in the country, also known as the most beautiful dzong in the country, the Punakha Dzong stands on the confluence of the Pho Chhu (Male River) and Mo Chhu (Female River). In season, the lush jacaranda trees in its courtyard blooms lending it an even majestic and sensual air. This is also the winter residence of the Je Khenpo, the country’s Chief Abbot and the Central Monk Body. It was built in 1637. The dzong was the second dzong to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government before Thimphu.
7. NATIONAL MEMORIAL CHORTEN
One of the most common sights one can see in Thimphu is people – young and old circumvallating the National Memorial Chorten which is located next to the National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. Built in honor of the Third King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, in 1974, it is a particularly charming sight to see devout Buddhists whirling the large red prayer wheels inside the gate and the room-size giant prayer wheels beside the main entrance. It is also a common playground for children.
Tashichhodzong is the central headquarters for the country and houses the King’s throne room and the secretariat as well along with the Je Khenpo and Central Monk Body. First constructed in 1216 AD by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa, the original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771, and the new building was later expanded several times over the years. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. The Third Druk Gyalpo, 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. The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. Immaculate lawns and beautiful gardens surround it.