The Vanguard of the Warriors – Trongsa Dzongkhag is located near the centre of Bhutan and was considered crucial in controlling the kingdom in earlier years due to its strategic position.
This town is situated on a steep ridge and offers spectacular views of the deep valleys surrounding it. The various hotels, guesthouses and restaurants all offer stunning views from their balconies. Trongsa Dzong is easily visible from anywhere in town and is always an impressive sight as it is situated atop a steep ridge that drops off into the clouds on its south side.
The Trongsa Dzong, which was built in 1644, used to be the seat of power of the Wangchuck dynasty before they became rulers of Bhutan in 1907. Traditionally, the King of Bhutan first becomes the Trongsa Penlop (governor) before being named the Crown Prince and eventually the King. Built on a mountain spur high above the gorges of the Mangde Chhu, the dzong controlled east-west trade for centuries. Trongsa also boasts an impressive museum. The watchtower of Trongsa has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty and is a good place to learn about the history of the kingdom.
A five-day festival known as the Trongsa tsechu is held in the northern courtyard during December or January. Every monastery in Bhutan observes this festival, which celebrates the arrival of Guru Rimpoche to Bhutan in the 8th century, a mark of triumph of Buddhism over evil. It is held in spring and autumn seasons according to the Bhutanese calendar.
This region that spans from 2,600-4,500 m is the religious heartland of the nation and home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.
Bumthang Dzongkhag consists of four main valleys, Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four and is widely considered as ‘Bumthang Valley’. The valleys are broad and gentle carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys draws a large number of tourists each year.
This dzongkhag is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang. According to legend this ancient temple was built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in 659 A.D. as part of a chain of 108 simultaneously constructed temples in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region. It is the oldest lhakhang in Bhutan. There are numerous other temples and shrines worth visiting in Bumthang and many of them are linked to Guru Rinpoche’s visit in 746 A.D.
The fertile valleys of Bumthang are covered in fields of buckwheat, rice and potatoes. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also common sights here. This serene region is one of the most peaceful places in the kingdom.
Zhemgang is a region blessed with incredibly rich biodiversity. Its lush forests are home to 22 endangered animal species including the Golden Langur. Though much of the district has warm and humid climatic conditions, its northern regions have moderately cool temperatures.
Zhemgang is notable for being one of the last regions where ancient Bon (Animist) religious practices are still carried out. Though Buddhism has been growing in popularity, every region of the district still continues its animist traditions and Bon priests known as Bonpo are considered respected religious leaders. The inhabitants of Zhemgang are famous for their rich culture, particularly their folk songs and dances. They are also famed for their skill at crafting various goods out of bamboo such as Bangchungs (matted bamboo bowls), Palangs (alcohol containers), Balaks (hats), mats and boxes. They are also adept potters and their earthenware products were highly prized throughout the country in the past.
There are also a number of famous Buddhist temples in the region such as Buli Lhakhang and Tharpa Choeling Lhakhang. These ancient temples were built by Terton Pema Lingpa, a famous revealer of the lost religious treasures of Guru Rimpoche.
One of the most interesting features in Zhemgang is the Royal Manas National Park. This protected park is the oldest nature preserve in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Its incredible biodiversity includes hundreds of rare animal and plant species such as Golden Langurs, Gangetic Dolphins and the Asian One-horned Rhinoceros that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The park is the most biologically diverse protected area in the kingdom as well as one of the most outstanding nature preserves worldwide.
Dagana is a verdant region and over 80% of the district is under forest cover. Hardy trees like Champ, Augury, Chirpine and Sal grow throughout the region. Located below the major valleys of Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang, Dagana stretches all the way down to the southern border of the kingdom.
The place gets its name from the historic Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong which was established in 1651 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the first man to unify Bhutan. This historic landmark still functions as the district administration centre today. The district is mainly inhabited by two major ethnic groups, the Ngalops and the Lhotshampas. Although, in recent years, people from other regions have migrated to the region. This has added to the cultural diversity of the region with the introduction of new festivals and traditions.
One of the more interesting features of Dagana are the three stone Megaliths, known as “Sky Pillar Rock” (Do Namkhai Kaw), “The Rock of Ancient Steps” (Do Kelpai Genthey) and “The Frontier Sky Fortress” (Tha Namkhai Dzong). Legend has it that when Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong was being constructed, the megalith known as the Frontier Sky Fortress emitted telepathic messages to the builders stating that the Dzong would collapse if it was built any higher than it currently stands. Even today the golden cupola of the Dzong is said to be level with the tip of the megalith.
Similar to all Dzongkhags, there are Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the district. Two temples that elicit special mention are the Shathong Lhakhang, founded by the Buddhist Master Dupthob (Siddhi) Shawa Ripa and the Nyindukha Lhakhang founded in the 18th century. Shawa Ripa is an ancient Buddhist Master that is said to have lived for over 900 years. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the Dzongkhag. Two of the main crops cultivated in the region are oranges and rice.
A large portion of the Samtse Dzongkhag falls under the Royal Manas National Park, a preserve with an incredible biodiversity. Although there is not much in the way of an actual town, the surrounding area is extremely beautiful.
The country’s first and only safari experience will soon be offered here and it is well worth a visit. This small settlement is ethnically diverse with members of every ethnicity in Bhutan present here. The diverse population gives visitors an interesting cultural experience with a wealth of disparate religions and traditions. The dominant language in Sarpang is Nepali, an Indo-European language spoken by the heterogeneous Lhotshampa community. The East Bodish Kheng language is also spoken in the northeastern reaches of the district.
Much of Sarpang District consists of environmentally protected areas; far western Sarpang District contains part of the uninhabited Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary along the India border, northern Sarpang District is part of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park and eastern and southeastern Sarpang District lie within the Royal Manas National Park. Sarpang is bisected by a wide swath of biological corridor connecting all three environmentally protected areas.
Gelephu is the major town within the dzongkhag and is an important border town with India.There’s a tsachhu (hot spring) in Shershong, 15km from Gelephu, along the road leading north towards Trongsa.
Tsirang District is located in the southwestern part of Bhutan on the Wangdue-Gelephu highway.
Tsirang is noted for its gentle slopes and mild climates. The dzongkhag is also noted for its rich biodiversity, however, it is one of the few dzongkhags without a protected area. One of Bhutan’s longest rivers, the Punatsang Chhu or Sankosh river flows through the district. It is the main district where the Lhotshampas (Nepali-speaking Bhutanese) reside. The dominant language in Tsirang is Nepali, spoken by the heterogeneous Lhotshampa. In the north of Tsirang, Dzongkha is also spoken.
Damphu is the administrative headquarters and capital of Tsirang District. It is located on the north-south highway running from Wangdue Phodrang to Sarpang and Gelephu on the border with India. It is also where the Tsirang Dzong is located.
The route from Wangdue Phodrang to Tsirang is quite scenic; one will see one of the largest hydro power projects in the country being constructed. The project is powered by the Puna Tsang Chhu, the river that flows from Punakha.