Bhutan's most iconic attraction, Taktsang Monastery (often called the Tiger's Nest) is precariously perched on a near vertical cliff north of Paro. This setting alone makes it unforgettable! It also has an impressive history, and is the place where Buddhism began in Bhutan. A 30 minute drive from Paro and two hour hike from the car park at the base of the hill will take you to the monastery's entrance. Alternatively, those who don't want to walk can hire a pony.
Bhutan's dzongs are included on UNESCO's tentative list of heritage sites. These prolific fortress complexes are former Buddhist monasteries turned administrative, military and religious centers. Tourists often say that Punakha Dzong is their favorite place in the whole country. Its scenic setting exudes an enticing sense of calm and peacefulness. It's not surprising that in ancient times, it was known as the Druk Pungthang Dechhen Phrodang or “the palace of great happiness”.
Punakha Dzong was one of the defining dzongs constructed in the 17th century. It served as Bhutan's capital for over 300 years, until Thimphu was established as the new capital in 1955. The country's first king was crowned there in 1907.
The dzong stands at the confluence of two rivers -- the Mo Chhu (Mother River) and the Pho Chhu (Father River). It can be reached from Thimphu in around three hours by car. The climate there is quite warm in winter and hot in summer.
Temple Inside Punakha Dzong
Tourists can visit parts of Punakha Dzong. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June to mid November, and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. from mid November to May. However, some of the temples inside the dzong can only be accessed by Bhutanese. You'll be able to enjoy a vibrant, informal market outside Punakha Dzong.
Located in the center of Bhutan, Trongsa is often referred to as the gateway to the east. It was built in 1648, and sits on a spur overlooking the gorge of the Mangde River. It's the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan and has a very strategic position. The view from the dzong extends for miles, and all west-east traffic has to pass by it.
The annual Tshechu festival is a highlight at Bhutan's dzongs. This important religious festival takes place for three or four days in each district, based on the lunar Tibetan calendar. It's held to honor Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century, and features intriguing masked dances. Each masked dance has a special meaning or a story behind it.
The festival dates vary widely at dzongs across the country. The most popular ones for tourists to see are Paro Tshechu in late March or April, Thimphu Tshechu in late September or early October, and Punakha Tshechu at the end of February or early March.
The most well known pass in Bhutan, Dochula Pass is located an hour from Thimphu at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It can be visited on the way to Punakha. There are 108 Buddhist stupas overlooking the Himalayas. These stupas were built in 2004, in memory of the war between the Assamese (of India) and Bhutanese militants. When the sky is clear, the mountain view is spectacular.
Thimphu Memorial Chorten
The Thimphu Memorial Chorten is an unmissable feature of Thimphu. It was built in 1974, in memory of the third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died suddenly while traveling abroad in 1972. It was recently renovated as part of coronation and centenary celebrations in 2008.
Massive 169-foot sitting Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Thimphu. The staute was built in 2015 to celebrate the 60th birthday of Bhutan's fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Notably, it's claimed to be the tallest sitting Buddha in the world. However, what's really amazing is that it's said to have 125,000 miniature Buddhas inside it. There are more Buddha statues, plus fine murals, in the chapel underneath it.
Weaver in Bumthang
Bhutan's Bumthang district is where you can go to still see authentic, undeveloped Bhutan. It's the most historic district in the country, with a large number of ancient temples and sacred sites. It consists of four mountain valleys: Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Weaving is one of the main sources of income there.