Bhutan is also the seat of a rich spiritual base – the guarding fortress of Dzongs are very interesting to explore and the temples or the Lakhangs are equally interesting. As one drives past the many Chortens, lakhags and Dzongs – a stop to see the interior is always interesting. The paintings, culture, monks and way of life is facsinating.
Most of Bhutan is in a time warp which is why the country is best explored slowly. Eastern Bhutan is far less known in comparison to the west; most visitors see Paro, Punakha and Thimphu.
However the quiet and remote eastern Bhutan, particularly the area east of Bumthang, is a spectacularly biodiversity rich area with lush rainforests, green valleys and beautiful rivers.
The Chomolhari and the Gankhar Puensum are the two main peaks of Bhutan and Mo chu and Po chu the two main rivers. These and the several other mountains and rivers have blessed Bhutan with a rich haul of mammals and birds including the rare Golden Cat, Marbled Cat, Clouded Leopard, Pallas’ Cat, Tiger and Leopard. An endemic antelope Takin can be sighted in some of the lower areas of Bhutan.
Birdlife is very rich with the endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush and White Bellied Heron being the two top birds to see, along with the Satyr Tragopan, Ward’s and Red Headed Trogon, Black Necked Cranes, several species of hornbills, laughing thrushes, babblers and wren babblers.
The Bhutan Glory butterfly is an endemic in Bhutan – but the butterfly diversity is so high that even now new species are continuously being found and the same is true for the amphibians and reptiles. Those with an interest in plants can find several species of Rhododendrons and Orchids as well as many varieties of forest flowers – Meconopsis, Aconitums, Saxifrages, Lilies, Primulas to name a few.
Bhutan offers a very rich variety of textiles – many of them are hand embroidered or hand woven. The intricate colours, the delecate work and the easy availability make for exciting opportunities to indulge.
This wonderful country has so much to see and experience apart from stunning wildlife, scenery and culture - village markets; local food and the national sport of archery. Bhutan is a beautiful country, a last relic of an unspoilt Himalayan kingdom.
Paro – (7840 feet)
The international entrance to Bhutan - Paro is a one of the smallest and quietest port of entry anywhere in the World. The Paro valley rests next to the well known Tatskang Monastery and those taking the trek can enjoy excellent views of the valley from the top. The nearby Chele la (13084 feet) which connects Paro to Haa valley is where nature lovers congregate early in the morning to catch a glimpse of the peaks, enjoy the birdlife and to get acclimatized to the altitude.
Paro has a few interesting buildings too – the Paro Dzong and the Kyichu Lakhang are both very interesting and are a must see in Bhutan. Located in Western Bhutan is well known for its rice paddies, orchards cascading down the magnificent hills and stunning streams.
Punakha (4420 feet)
Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and serves as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) even today. The elevation of the Punakha is relatively lower, resulting in a temperate climate.
Punakha is fed by the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers that meet to form river Sankosh.
The valley around Punakha is home to a rich diversity of birds, mammals and reptiles. The area is also ideal for quiet natural hikes in the mountains. The White Bellied Heron was a regular visitor to the streams in Punakha – normally sighted in front of the Dzong. However recent construction work seems to have disturbed that habitat. The Punakha Dzong is a must see – its architecture and strategic location is stunning and if you are lucky you might see the wallcreepers that inhabit the walls of the Dzong.
Jigme Dorji National Park
The Jigme Dorji National Park is located a couple of hours from Punakha. Habitats in the park range from subtropical areas at 1400m to alpine heights at 7000m. The park management has to cope with the needs of both lowland farmers and semi-nomadic yak herders, and three of the country’s major trekking routes pass through the park.
Villagers are also allowed to harvest a wide variety of indigenous plants for use in incense and traditional medicines. It was in JDNP where tigers were first sighted above 4000 meters sharing habitat with snow leopards. Besides the rich floral and faunal diversity, the sources of four major rivers, Pachhu, Wangchhu, Phochhu and Mochhu lie in the park as well. Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra) and other high-altitude species are characteristic of this park, along with other rare birds associated with rivers in warm broadleaved forests, such as the White-bellied Heron, Palllas’s Fish Eagle, and Tawny Fish Owl (Bubo flavipes).
The mammals of this area include the Takin, Sambar, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Tiger, Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear and many other smaller mammals.
Thimphu (7700 feet)
The capital of Bhutan is a blissfully small town with minimal traffic and some very interesting buildings and monuments. While the weekend market is very well known now and many come to see it the less-visited Simthoka Dzong or the Tashicho Dzong are equally interesting. The National Folk Heritage Museum, the textile museum and the National Library are all fascinating places with rich collections of Bhutanese culture and lifestyle.
Thimphu is surrounded by lush forests - many visitors often start or finish their hikes here - and is home to quite a few rare and elusive birds like the Black tailed Crake and the Solitary Snipe.
Gangtey (9845 feet)
The village of Gangtey is located in Central Bhutan in the middle of bamboo and fir covered hills. It is quiet a distance from Paro or even Punakha and the journey is made by several hours of driving through some very scenic and beautiful hills. In the end a steep and winding descent through the short bamboo covered hills to the valley makes up for the long and tiring journey and one can see the stretch of the valley as one nears it.
The Black Necked Cranes winter here and the sonorous calls of the breeding pairs are the only sounds that break the silence of this otherwise quiet valley. The nearby Pele la holds a rich diversity of birds and mammals including the Satyr Tragopan and the rare and super shy Clouded Leopard.
Gangtey is certainly one of the most beautiful and quiet corners of Bhutan. Those coming to see the Black Necked Cranes should spend an extra night just to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of this extraordinarily beautiful place. The Gangtey Gompa is located at one end of the valley and offers beautiful views of the valley lying below. A Black Necked Crane festival is held here each year and those with an interest in such rural festivals will enjoy it.
Trongsa (7545 feet)
Trongsa is one of the most historically and ecologically important and fragile districts in the Kingdom. Trongsa Dzong was headquarters of the eastern region and has been the seat of Trongsa Penlop. Even today every Crown Prince of Bhutan has to be formally investiture as a Trongsa Penlop before becoming the hereditary King of Bhutan.
The dzong is a stunningly beautiful monument, a must see for those coming to Bhutan. The other dzong is the Ta Dzong that is located a short distance away from Trongsa. On the way to Trongsa one can see the vegetable dye project and the Chendebji Chorten styled on the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. Trongsa is located close to the Jigme Singhye Wangchuk National Park.
Known previously as Black Mountain National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP) is the third largest park in the country covering an expanse of 1,723 sq. km. The park has recorded the highest number of 391 bird species among all the protected areas in the country. Apart from being a bird paradise, other key species like tiger, red panda, golden langur, rufous necked hornbill, white bellied heron, musk deer, etc are also known to be found in the park snd the Mangdechhu, Chamkharchhu, Punatsangchhu and Manas rivers flowing through the park supports the rich habitat. It also connects Bumthang to Gangtey and is a gateway to eastern Bhutan.
Bumthang 8530 – 13125ft
Bumthang is the first place that you see as you travel to eastern Bhutan. Bumthang consists of the four mountain valleys of Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor (also known as Bumthang valley), although occasionally the entire district is referred to as Bumthang valley. The Kurje lakhang and th eJambay Lakhang monastery are worth a visit and so is the nearby Jakar Dzong. Time permitting a hike to the Chokhor valley is a must.
Bumthang is the starting point of many forest hikes – including those to the Thrumsingla pass and the Zhemgang area. These are possibly two of the best areas that one can go to for birding. The incredible species count or the high no of rarities bring many seasoned birders back to this area year after year. The area is also home to many rare mammals.
Thrumsingla Pass and Lingmethang Road area
By far greatest diversity of Himalayan bird species is to be found in the Eastern Himalayas and a journey through Bhutan provides the opportunity to see such delights as Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Coral-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers, Long-billed, Bar-winged and Spotted Wren-Babblers, the endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, Fulvous, Great, Brown and Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, Beautiful Nuthatch - just to mention some of the endless highlights this fantastic journey has to offer.
Of all of the places in Bhutan the Thrumsingla pass and the adjacent Lingmethang Road located in the eastern edge of Bhutan is possibly the best area for birders. The pass is at 11200 feet and is surrounded by Hemlock and Rhododendron trees – The ‘Lingmethang Road’ bisects every forest altitudinal zone between 3700m and the valley bottom at 650m, an incredible drop of 3050m in just 79 kilometres! The bird species richness here is incredibly high. The forest is home to some rare and shy mammals too, needless to say the scenic beauty of the place is unchallenged and breathtakingly beautiful.
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