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Haa - The Hidden Land Rice Valley

Haa Valley is situated in the western part of Bhutan, closest from the city of Paro, is a hidden gem known for its unspoiled natural beauty and rich cultural history. It is one of the least visited valleys in Bhutan and was not even open to tourists up until 2002. The valley is flanked by majestic mountain ranges and lush alpine forests, providing a stunning backdrop to its picturesque villages and serene landscapes. The town of Haa is located merely 21 km from the disputed Indo-China border at Dokhlam and holds a strategic position for its proximity to the Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese borders. The valley, which is approximately 1700 sq. km., connects the districts of Paro, Samtse, and Chukha. On the way to Haa valley from Paro is the Chele La Pass which is considered one of the highest motorable roads in Bhutan and has clear views of Mount Jumolhari and Jichu Drake.

The thinly populated Haa valley houses two ancient temples of major significance in the kingdom - Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo - both built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century at the foothills of Meri Puensum (the collective name given to the three towering mountains in the region).

Lhakhang Karpo or the White Temple, as the name suggests is an embodiment of Buddhist values of kindness and Dharma and its walls are covered with paintings and murals of great Buddhist saints, deities and masters. Lhakhang Nagpo or the Black Temple which is a 10-minute walk from Lhakhang Karpo is a representation of tantric Buddhism practices in the region. The inner shrine houses an ancient statue of Jowo Shakyamuni, the outer shrine houses Drakdu Tsen.

Haa Valley experiences a temperate climate all throughout the year. Winters are cold with temperatures often falling below 0℃ (32℉), while summers are generally mild and comfortable, making it an ideal season for visitors seeking a blend of crisp mountain air and serene landscapes.

Trongsa - The Gateway to the East

Trongsa, formerly known as Tongsa, is a historic town in Central Bhutan holding great significance as it is the ancestral town of the Wangchuk royal dynasty. In 1647, the construction of the Trongsa Dzong began and it became the seat of power of the Wangchuck Dynasty before they became the rulers of modern-day Bhutan in 1907. The town is perched dramatically on a steep ridge overlooking the Mangde Chhu showcasing breathtaking panoramic views of surrounding valleys and mountains. The name “Tongsa’ itself means new village and was where the great grandfather of Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan, built the first temple in 1543. Trongsa is a strategic central location to control the trade and power between east and west Bhutan. It is situated around 186 km (115.5 mi) from the capital city, Thimphu and the town of Jakar is another 66 km from Trongsa.

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan and was built over the sacred site of the first temple in the region. Its commanding location on a steep ridge overlooking the Mangde Chhu has served as a vital defensive stronghold in Bhutan’s history, controlling the east-west trade routes. The dzong, an exemplary Bhutanese dzong architecture, is an extensive complex set on many different levels. There are 23 different Lhakhangs situated inside but are not all accessible at all times. The atmospheric northern kunrey (assembly hall) and Jampa Lhakhang with a two-storey statue of Maitreya (Jampa) are a must visit.

Overlooking the magnificent Trongsa Dzong and along the left banks of Mangde Chhu lies the Ta Dzong or the Trongsa National Museum, a meticulously restored 5-storeyed, circular tower flanked by two lower towers. It functions as a fascinating museum that is home to various religious and royal artifacts and gives insight into the rich and royal legacy of the Wangchuck Dynasty. A visit to this grand museum and its 11 galleries is bound to make anyone well-versed in Bhutanese history, culture, and art.

Trongsa experiences a subtropical highland climate characterized by four distinct seasons. The spring and summer seasons are relatively mild and pleasant, providing an inviting climate for exploring the historical and cultural treasures of this picturesque town. While winters experience colder weather with temperatures below freezing point and monsoons see ample rainfall.

Phuentsholing - The Gateway to Bhutan

The bustling border town of Phuentsholing is located in the southern part of Bhutan in the Chukha District and serves as the primary entry point, by road, for travelers entering the country from India. Phuentsholing is a significant commercial hub, known for its vibrant markets, and offers a unique blend of Bhutanese and Indian cultures. It takes approximately 5 hours to cover the distance of 165 km (102 mi) to reach Thimphu from Phuentsholing by road and is the only way to do so. While there are no airport and railway facilities in Phuentsholing, the Indian Railways does have railway stations nearby making it accessible to both countries.

While most travelers use Phuentsholing as a rest stop or an entry point into Bhutan, it does have a few remarkable sightseeing places including the beautiful temple complex at Zangto Pelri Lhakhang. This temple is adorned with intricate Bhutanese artwork and is said to represent the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. The Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Center is another unique feature in Phuentsholing where endangered crocodile species, as well as migratory birds, turtles, and fish can be seen. The Palden Tashi Chholing Shedra is a Buddhist school for nuns and monks in their teens and early twenties that was started in 2014 that is open to visitors.

Phuentsholing, which is situated in the foothills of the Himalaya with its border adjoining the Indian town of Jaigaon, experiences a sultry subtropical climate and is heavily influenced by the South Asian monsoon. Summers are warm and humid while winters can receive colder temperatures up to 5℃ (41℉). This region receives heavy rainfall during the monsoons which stretch from June to September.

Samdrup Jongkhar - The Gateway to Eastern Bhutan

Samdrup Jongkhar is located in southeast Bhutan and is a bustling border town that serves as a vital gateway for trade between Bhutan and the Indian state of Assam. Samdrup Jongkhar has the honor of being the oldest town in Bhutan and has been one of the main economic zones in the country due to its proximity with India. The town is renowned for its vibrant marketplaces, offering an array of goods from both Bhutan and India, making it a hub for commerce and cultural exchange. The road network connects Samdrup Jongkhar to places like Phuentsholing, Thimphu and Paro with cab and bus services available on both ends.

The town itself has two main tourist attractions which are the Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong and Mithun Breeding Farm where a specific breed of bisons called Mithun, that are highly coveted are managed by farmers. The Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong is the newest dzong to be built in Bhutan and unlike its counterparts, it lies on a flat and fairly wide open area. It primarily serves as an administrative center for the Samdrup Jongkhar district and encapsulates Bhutanese architecture at its finest. Other attractions include visits to nearby towns like Dewathang or more remote areas like Bjamdrak Pemako, an untouched part of Bhutan’s natural charm.

Due to its lower elevation, Samdrup Jongkhar also experiences a sultry, subtropical climate characterized by distinct seasons. Summers are extremely hot and humid while winters do not see temperatures below 10℃ (50℉). Spring and autumn are considered the best time to visit the town and region as the weather is neither too hot nor too cold at these times. This town also experiences a significant amount of rainfall during the monsoon season, from June to September, which contributes to the lush greenery of the surrounding region.

Due to its lower elevation, Samdrup Jongkhar also experiences a sultry, subtropical climate characterized by distinct seasons. Summers are extremely hot and humid while winters do not see temperatures below 10℃ (50℉). Spring and autumn are considered the best time to visit the town and region as the weather is neither too hot nor too cold at these times. This town also experiences a significant amount of rainfall during the monsoon season, from June to September, which contributes to the lush greenery of the surrounding region.

Gasa - The Roof of Bhutan

Gasa, a remote district in the northernmost region of Bhutan spanning the Middle and High regions of the Tibetan Himalayas. The district is renowned for its pristine natural beauty and rugged landscapes and is home to the picturesque Gasa Dzong, which also serves as the district’s capital. The district prides itself for having some of the highest mountain peaks in the Kingdom and the whole region falls under the Jigme Dorji National Park. There are over a hundred glacial lakes that feed other river systems including Po Chhu and Mo Chhu. It takes about 4 to 5 hours to cover the 135 km (84 mi) distance between Thimphu and Gasa town.

There is plenty to explore in the region including the Gasa Dzong itself. This 17th century dzong is perched on a hilltop at an elevation of 2800 m (9,186 ft) and is the only dzong in the Kingdom that has three watchtowers at strategic points. Its rich architectural style blended with its scenic location with a backdrop of Mt. Gangboom makes it another landmark of significance in Bhutanese culture and history. Gasa is also famous for its hot springs, Gasa Tshachu, known for its therapeutic mineral-rich spring waters that provide a relaxing experience surrounding breathtaking mountainous sceneries. Additionally, the region is a trekkers' paradise, with trails like the Snowman Trek passing through, providing adventurous hikers with the opportunity to explore the high Himalayas and encounter the unique culture of the semi-nomadic Layap people who inhabit the area.

Located at an average elevation of 2,500 m (8,202 ft) and above, the region in Gasa experiences a subarctic, dry winter, cool summer climate. Winters in this Bhutanese district can be harsh, with temperatures plummeting well below freezing, particularly in the higher elevations. Summers are relatively milder, with daytime temperatures ranging from 10°C to 25°C (50℉ to 77℉), providing a more comfortable environment for outdoor activities. Gasa also receives a substantial amount of rainfall during the monsoon season from June to September, which contributes to the lush greenery that blankets the landscape.

Trashigang - The Jewel of the East

Situated in the eastern part of Bhutan, Trashigang is the largest district in Bhutan and the town of Trashigang serves as its administrative center. The region is known for its rugged terrain and serene natural beauty and its proximity to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh has made it a significant hub for trade and cultural exchange between the two nations. The town of Trashigang boasts a rich cultural heritage and has played a vital role in the trade flow between Assam and Tibet. Yonphula Airport, one of the few domestic airports in the country, is located close to the town and direct flights from Paro are available. The road connectivity from Thimphu and Paro are also viable, however it takes at least 15 hours to cover this distance of over 460 km (285 mi).

The Trashigang Dzong, a testament to Bhutan’s cultural significance and architectural prowess, stands tall in the town of Trashigang and has stood the test of time since its development in the 17th century. One of the most ancient dzongs, Trashigang Dzong was originally built to protect the region from Tibetan invasion and holds a strategic, as well as scenic location as it is surrounded by Gamri Chhu and Dangme Chhu. The Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is another exquisite experience in the region and is home to diverse flora and fauna. It is one of the most visited wildlife sanctuaries in Bhutan. Other areas of interest in the region include visits to nearby valleys like the Merak Valley and villages like Radhi Village.

Trashigang experiences a temperate highland tropical climate characterized by distinct seasons. Summers are warm and humid, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 30°C (68℉ - 86℉) providing a comfortable environment for outdoor activities. Winters, on the other hand, can be cool and pleasant with temperatures dropping to around 10°C (50℉). The region also receives a significant amount of rainfall during the monsoon season between June and September contributing to lush greenery and fertile agricultural lands.


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