Altitude : 2600m/8530ft
With an altitude spanning from 2600m to 4500m, Bumthang consists of four main valleys Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekhor is the largest of the four mountain valleys 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. The name Bumthang has two probable origins; the first is that it is named after a Bumpa, a vessel for holy water which the valley resembles in shape. The second origin implies that it is the Valley of Beautiful Girls as Bum translates to ‘Girl’ and Thang means ‘flat piece of land’.
Bumthang is the religious heartland of the nation richly endowed with historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang. Tales of Guru Padmasambhava and the tertons (“religious treasure-discoverers”) still linger in this sacred region.
These fertile valleys 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.
Places To See
Swiss Farm and Red Panda Beer Factory
The Swiss Farm was founded by Fritz Maurer, a Swiss who came to Bhutan in the mid 1960s to help develop farming in the Bumthang region as part of the Pro Bhutan Foundation. He got married to a Bhutanese and started a Swiss cheese factory and in 1996 set up the brewery. The small family run factory produces variety of Swiss cheeses, clover honey, apple cider, wine, apple brandy and local draft beer called Red panda. Beer and cheese tasting can be arranged. The family also runs a guest house.
Ugyenchholing Palace in Tang valley was the residence of Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Tshokye Dorje. The village is clustered closely around the manor. Restored in 19th century, it is now housing the Family Museum, a place that will transport visitors to another world and time. The visitors will view permanent exhibits recreated to capture the ambience of the lifestyle of the Trongsa Penelop Tshokey Dorji and his household. It also serves as retreat for those engaged in religious history.
Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake)
The Burning Lake, Mebar Tsho, is located along the way to the Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley. Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region as it is related to the renowned religious treasure reveler Tertön Pema Lingpa. Pema Lingpa is considered an incarnated disciple of Padmasambhava who discovered treasure within the lake in late 15th century.
According to the legend Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of the sacred treasures that Guru Rimpoche had hidden within the lake centuries earlier. However the people of Tang and the local ruler were cynical of his claims. In order to prove his claims, Pema Lingpa held a butter lamp in his hand as he jumped into the lake. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake).
Today this small fresh water lake is a sacred pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese with bright multicolored prayer flags surrounding it and a small altar dedicated to Terton Pema Lingpa has also been set up.
Tamzhing Lhakhang and Tamzhing Phala Chhoepa
Tamzhing Lhakhang is remarkable for its direct connection to the Bhutanese tertön or treasure reveler and saint, Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) and his incarnations.The monastery is headed by the Venerable Lhalung Sungtrul Rinpoche who is considered to be the 11th direct reincarnation of Terton Pema Lingpa. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings of 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.
The Tamzhing Phala Choepa festival is held at the Tamzhing monastery in Bumthang. The Tamzhing monastery follows the Peling tradition established by Terton Pema Lingpa.
Jambay Lhakhang Festival
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan (the second is Kichu Lhakhang in Paro also built on the same day).
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 first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885.
One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay Lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days. The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance. The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived.
Kurje Lhakkhang Tshechu
Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. The second was built on the site of a cave containing an imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Grandmother. This is the final resting place of the remains of the first three kings of Bhutan. The three temples are enclosed by 108 Chortens. Also, a large tree behind one of the temple buildings is believed to be a terma that was left there by Padmasambhava. A short distance beyond a small ridge is a spring believed to have been taken out by Guru Rimpoche’s walking stick.
The Kurje festival is an important occasion not only for the local people of Bumthang but for all Bhutanese. The festival brings together tourists and Bhutanese from all over as it presents the perfect occasion to not only receive blessings by witnessing age-old mask dances but also to enjoy this unique culture whilst basking in the natural beauty of Bhutan’s spiritual heartland.
Ura valley in Bumthang is known for the famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. The dance is performed during a festival that is held every May. During the festival a sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings from it.
According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.