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THIMPHU: This is the modern capital of Bhutan, it lies at an elevation of 2300m. Tashichhodzong is the main Secretariat building that houses the throne room of His Majesty.Phajoding monastery is a 4 hr hike from the motithang area, Tango & Cheri monasteries are 3/4 hrs.

Other attractions of Thimphu are:

Changangkha temple built in the 15th century by the Drukpa Kagyu master Phajo Drigom.

Semthokha Dzong the oldest dzong in the country which stands on a lofty ridge at the end of the valley. It was built in 1627-1629 and now houses the school for Buddhist studies. All the Bhutanese language teachers pass out from this university, National Library.

Painting school where young children learn the ancient art of painting and the Vegetable market where every Saturday & Sunday most of Thimphu's population and many valley dwellers congregate on the banks of the river where the weekend market is located. This is the only time in the week when fresh vegetables are available and Saturday mornings are a hive of activity.

PUNAKHA: Punakha dzong was built between two rivers in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, it served as capital of Bhutan until 1955 and is the winter residence of the central monk body. In spite of four catastrophic fires and an earthquake that destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong houses sacred artefacts and embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Punakha's climate and warmer temperature make its valley one of the most fertile in Bhutan.

Chimi Lhakhang a temple in Punakha is located on a hillock among the rice fields in picturesque and is a pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is associated with the famous saint Drukpa Kuenley "The Divine Madman" who has built a chorten on the site during the 14th century.

WANGDUEPHODRANG: To the south of Punakha lies Wangduephodrang Dzong at an elevation of 1300m. It is the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan.

This dzong built during 17th century played a critical role in unifying the western, central and southern Bhutanese districts. Further up is Gangtey Gompa, an old monastery dating from the 16th century. It is in fact the only monastery, which follows the Pelling Nyingmapa sect of school. This valley of Phodjikha is also a home of the rare Black Necked Crane, an endangered species that migrate from the Tibetan plateau in winter.

There are about 450-500 cranes residing in Bhutan out of which 250-300 lives in this beautiful valley.
 
PARO VALLEY: Generally visitors enter Bhutan at Paro by the National Airline, Druk Air. Mt. Chomolhari 7320m reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial waters plunge through deep gorges to form the Pa chu (Paro river). Paro is one of the most fertile valleys in the kingdom producing a bulk of famous red rice from its fields, it is also home to some of Bhutan's oldest temples & monasteries for eg.

Drugyal Dzong: which means victorious fortress was built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders, led by the Mongolian warlord, Gushri Khan in 1644. Strategically built over the only passage into Paro valley, the dzong helped to repel numerous invasions all through the course of Bhutanese history. It so impressed early visitors that in 1914 the dzong featured on the cover of the National Geographic magazine. An accidental fire gutted the dzong in 1951. The ruins, as it stands today still attract tourists.

Taktsang Monastery: literally means the Tiger's den. This temple clings precariously to a granite cliff 800m above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the great Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on back of a tigress and mediated in a cave during the 8th century. The temple was built around the cave and is a hallowed shrine for Bhutanese pilgrims. A terrible fire in April 1998 destroyed Taksang's medieval wall paintings. A new construction has already begun by the royal Government.

Farmhouse: the beauty of Paro valley is embellished by clusters of quaint farmhouses. Bhutanese houses are very colourful and traditionally built without the use of a single nail. The houses looks very big from outside but are quite simple inside. They are normally three storeys. The ground floor is always used for cattle while the attic is used to store hay. The families live in the middle floor. The best room is always kept for the family chapel. A visit to a farmhouse is very interesting and offers a good glimpse into the lifestyle of a farmer.

And lots more


BHUTAN MANDALA TOURS & TREKS
P.O. Box 397, Thimphu, Bhutan
Telp # 975-2-324842 or 323676 (office)
Fax # 975-2-323675 or 321816
Email: mandala@druknet.net.bt