Trashigang, “The Jewel of the East”, spans the easternmost corners of the kingdom, skirting up to the edge of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the country’s largest district, with an altitude ranging from 600 m to over 4000 m.
Bhutan’s largest river, Dangme Chhu, flows through this district. Trashigang town is set on a scenic hillside and was once a bustling trade centre for merchants looking to barter their goods in Tibet. Today, it is the junction of the East-West highway with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and the Indian state of Assam. Trashigang town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose unique way of dressing stands out from the ordinary Bhutanese Gho and Kira.
Trashigang is home to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, one of ten protected areas of Bhutan, was created in part to protect the migoi, a type of yeti, in whose existence most Bhutanese believe. The sanctuary covers the eastern third of the district (the gewogs of Merak and Sakteng), and is connected via biological corridor to Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary in Samdrup Jongkhar District to the south.
Trashigang contains one of the most reputed colleges in the country, the Sherubtse College. Sherubtse College was the first accredited college in Bhutan, founded in 1966 by a group of Jesuits under the leadership of William Mackey. As of 2003 it became part of the newly created Royal University of Bhutan system that comprises all public post-secondary schools in Bhutan. The college is located below the Yonphula domestic airport.
One of the newest dzongkhags in the country, Trashi yangtse was established as a distinct district in 1992 and spans 1,437 sq. km of subtropical and alpine forests. With its wealth of natural, historical and cultural resources Trashi yangtse is a destination that visitors to Bhutan will never forget.
At an elevation of 1750-1880 m, Trashi yangtse is an ethnically and culturally diverse district and the inhabitants include Yangtseps, the regions indigenous dwellers, Tshanglas, Bramis from Tawang, Khengpas from Zhemgang and Kurtoeps from Lhuentse. This rich cultural tapestry has resulted in an interesting mix of languages and cultural practices in the region. Three major languages are spoken in Trashiyangtse. In the north, including Bumdeling and Toetsho Gewogs, inhabitants speak Dzala. In the south, Tshangla (Sharchopkha), the lingua franca of eastern Bhutan, is spoken in Jamkhar, Khamdang, and Ramjar Gewogs. In Tomzhangtshen Gewog, residents speak Chocha-ngacha-kha.
The people of the region have developed incredible skill at woodworking and paper making. The items they produce such as traditional wooden bowls are prized throughout the country. It contains a major art school, the School of Traditional Arts, which is a sister school of the School of Traditional Arts in Thimphu and teaches six forms of art; painting, pottery, wood sculpture, wood-turning, lacquer-work and embroidery.
Trashi yangtse district is home to some of the country’s important protected areas. It contains the Kulong Chhu Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1993, which itself is part of the larger Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. Bumdeling Sanctuary currently covers the northern half of Trashi yangtse (the gewogs of Bumdeling and Yangste), as well as substantial portions of neighbouring districts.
In the northeastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe or Lhuentse as it is known today. It is the ancestral home of our Kings and hosts several of the sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. It is located 77km from Mongar (3 hours’ drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan.
The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Kurtoep women are especially adept at weaving a textile called Kishuthara. Eastern Bhutanese culture is distinctive in its high alcohol consumption in relation to other parts of Bhutan. Ara, the traditional alcohol of Bhutan, is most often home made from rice or maize, either fermented or distilled. It may only be legally produced and consumed privately.
Some of the attractions in the region include the Lhuentse Dzong, Khoma village (famous for weaving), Singye Dzong, the beyul Khenpajong and the Phunying Pass. The textile products of Khoma village in Lhuentse are stated to be the best in the country. The weaving handicraft looms are common sight in almost every household.
Most of Lhuentse district is part of the environmentally protected areas of Bhutan. The district contains parts of Wangchuck Centennial Park in the north, Thrumshingla National Park in the south and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east. These three parks are connected by biological corridors that crisscross the central and southern regions of the district.
The road approaching Mongar is one of the most spectacular journeys in the country. It passes over sheer cliffs and through beautiful fir forests and green pastures. Travelers passing this route will have the opportunity to visit the Rhododendron garden. There are countless varieties of rhododendrons here and on clear days you can even catch a glimpse of Gangkhar Puensum (7541 m), a strong candidate for the world’s highest unclimbed mountain.
Mongar district covers an area of 1,954 sq. km with elevations ranging from 400m to 4,000m and has a population of about 38,000. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs and deep gorges set amidst dense conifer forests. The region is known for its weavers and textiles, and fabrics produced here are considered some of the best in the country.
Mongar is the fastest-developing dzongkhag in eastern Bhutan. A regional hospital has been constructed and the region is bustling with many economic activities. Mongar is noted for its lemon grass, a plant that can be used to produce an essential oil. It also has a hydro power plant on the Kuri Chhu river. The western part of Mongar district contains part of the Thrumshingla National Park, and northeastern part of Mongar district contains part of the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (the gewog of Sharmung).
In the past, this region was known as the bastion of the Zhongarps as it produced some of the finest administrators in the country whose descendants still continue to play an active part in the political scene of Bhutan.
Samdrup Jongkhar town holds the distinct honour of being the oldest town in Bhutan. This border town is a bustling little settlement packed to the brim with shopkeepers and hawkers from across the border.
The gateway to eastern Bhutan, Samdrup Jongkhar is situated in the southeastern region of the country and shares borders with the Indian state of Assam. It is by far the largest urban centre in eastern Bhutan. It lies at elevations ranging from 200 m to 3,500 m. In the past, British Political Officers stationed in Sikkim took the route from Samdrup Jongkhar to enter into Bhutan. Historically, the region was administered by the Gyadrung stationed at Dewangiri. Today, the road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar, completed in the 1960s, connects the eastern and southern regions of the country. This allows them to benefit from trade, especially through trade across the Indian border. Samdrup Jongkhar used to be the main trading centre for the Bhutanese and it is still a convenient exit town for tourists who have arranged to visit the neighbouring Indian state of Assam.
There are several tourist spots including the Mithun Breeding Farm and Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong. Mithuns are widely considered to be the best breed of cattle in Bhutan and this farm supplies farmers from the six eastern districts with this magnificent animal. The Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong is one of the newest Dzongs to have been built in the country. Unlike other Dzongs that are built on strategic locations atop mountains or between rivers, the Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong is built on a flat and fairly wide-open area.
The Samdrup Jongkhar Dratshang, the Zangdo Pelri, the local town and Dewathang are some of the other important places that the tourists can visit. The town in Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the oldest in Eastern Bhutan and has seen gradual development over the years. It is a bustling little town with shopkeepers and hawkers coming from the nearby border of Assam to sell their wares. It also houses the oldest cinema in the country that is popular among the Assamese from across the border for the Bollywood films it screens.
The name Pemagatshel translates to “Lotus Garden of Happiness”. This 517.8 sq. km district is located in southeastern Bhutan and its altitude ranges from 1,000-3,500 m. Over half of the small Dzongkhag is under the cover of broadleaf and coniferous forests and most of the remainder is farmland.
Pemagatshel is famous for its artisans and weavers. The religious instruments like Jalings (oboe-like instruments) and Dhungs (long ritual trumpets) produced here are highly prized and sold throughout the country. The weavers of Pemagatshel produce fine Kiras (traditional dress worn by women) from Bura (raw silk). Two particularly gorgeous examples that are a specialty of the region are the Lungsermo and Aiekapur. The region is also famous for a locally made sweet known as Tsatsi Buram. It is made from the abundant sugarcane that grows in the district and is well-liked throughout the country.
The region has its own special tourist attractions. Situated upon a dagger-shaped mountain, Yongla Goemba is one of the oldest and holiest shrines in Eastern Bhutan. One of the more interesting historical facts about the temple is that during the Duar War the Trongsa Poenlop (Feudal Lord) Jigme Namgyel, father of the First King Ugyen Wangchuck, used it as a base of operations in order to launch raids upon the British troops. There are various other shrines and temples in the region including the 15h century temple Kheri Goemba and the Lektiri Goemba in Goemba Singma village.
The district is known for its numerous festivals and folk songs. The most notable folk song is the Ausa, a song that is sung during the departure of family members, friends and relatives. Since the construction of the dzong in the early 1980’s, they have also celebrated the annual Tshechu over a three day period. The main crop grown in the region is maize but potatoes, oranges, bananas and other fruits are also cultivated. ‘Slash and Burn Agriculture’ (Tseri) was once the dominant agricultural practice in the district but nowadays most farmers have orchards and sell much of their crop.