Eastern Bhutan welcomes travelers into a world of unexplored trekking, historical and cultural escapades, great scenery, textiles highlights and natural wonders. The districts of Mongar, Lhuntse, Tashi Yangtse, Tashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar include the eastern circuits. Of culture we offer you lots of spiritual festivals that include some of the rare animist rituals and Bon practices. Explore the hub of the country’s unexplored destination. For the first few years, this unique destination is offered to adventure spirited tourists. Only those who like to experience the Spartan accommodation and tented or farmhouse stays, will enjoy these least visited regions.
Here are some of the Attractions and Festivals in Eastern Bhutan
Trashigang: The Jewel of the East.
Trashigang spans the easternmost corners of the kingdom, skirting up to the edge of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and is the country’s largest district. The district has an altitude ranging from 600 m to over 4000m and Bhutan’s largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through the district. Trashigang town, on the hillside was once the center for a brisk trade with Tibet.
Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam. Trashigang town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan.
Built in 1659, atop a spur overlooking the Dangmechu river, Trashigang dzong or the fortress of the auspicious hill has been the political stronghold of eastern Bhutan for over 300 years. The Landscape on which the Dzong stands is not only picturesque but arouses curiosity. The hillock like Mount Meru is the site of the palace of the Druk Chhoglay Namgyal (victory of Bhutanese Over enemies in all directions). It is accessible only from the north, through a slender road, paved by blasting the cliff. Due to its location Trashigang Dzong is one of the most strategically placed Dzongs in Bhutan. The present Dzong was enlarged by Dzongpon Dopola, in 1936.
An hour and a half drive away from Trashigang through a feeder road will take you to the village of Bartsham. One can visit the Goemba Ringbu or the popularly known Chador Lhakhang that is known for fascinating tales revolving around its famous thumbsize replica of Chador, Vajrapani.
A ten minutes drive from Bartsham will take you to the village of Bidung where you can visit the most venerated temple in Trashigang, the Bremung lhakhang. It dates back to the 15th century and a sacred relic is the embalmed remains of its founder Kuenga Wangpo, son of Terton Pema Lingpa.
On the other side of the valley across Dangmechu, is the village of Yangneer where one can visit the Kupijigtsam lhakhang or the temple of the cuckoo. Built in the 15th century, this lhakhang is another sacred monument in Trashigang. Besides one can visit the Tsengmi lhakhang in Gongthung village and the Jarung Khashor temple.
A 22 kilometres drive on the highway that connects Trashigang with Samdru Jongkhar will take you to Kanglung where one can visit the Zangdopelri lhakhang. Built in the early 1970’s at the initiative of the late Tamzhing Jagar, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs, the lhakhang houses some of the most intricately designed statues besides a Shedra, a monastic school headed by a Khenpo.
In Kanglung, besides the Zangdopelri, another place of visit is to Sherubtse College or the Peak of Learning. Founded in the late 1960’s as a Higher Secondary School, Sherubtse College was until recently the only Institute of Higher Learning in the Country. It was run by the Jesuits from Canada and Late Father William Mackey was its first Principal. The College has been instrumental in providing the much needed human resource for the country as much of the Graduates were employed by various Ministries, Corporations and Organziations.
Further up the road from Sherubtse College is located the oldest temple in Trashigang – the Yonphu Lhakhang whose establishment cannot be ascertained. It houses several sacred relics and a Tercham that is conducted twice in a year commemorates the feats of religious luminaries like Guru Padmasambhava.
Further east from Trashigang, driving north will take you to another commercial hub in Trashigang, the Rangjung town. This once sleepy town is today a major commercial center where people from five gewogs congregate and carry out brisk businesses. Besides the town one can visit the Rangjung temple located on a small hillock overlooking the town. The temple built in the architectural style of the Tibetans has a monastic school supported by HH Garab Rinpoche.
Above the Rangjung town is the famous Radhi village known as the Rice Bowl of the East. A drive through the terraced rice fields is an unusual experience and one can visit the traditional farm houses and peep into women folks strapped to the traditional looms. Radhi women are experts in weaving and are known for the silk textiles that has found their way into many handicraft shops in the capital town of Thimphu.
Namdru Choling lhakhang:
An hour’s drive from the Rangjung town will take you to Phongmey a quiet but a quaint village through the rice fields. At the end of the road is the Namdu Choling lhakhang widely known as the Phongmey lhakhang. Built in the late 1890’s this lhakhang serves the spiritual needs of the village. Opposite the lhakhang across the Gamri Chu river is the abode of the local deity Meme Ralang where one can see hermitages on its top.
Trashiyangtse: The land of spiritual awakening
Trashiyangtse is a rapidly growing town and the administrative and religious center for the people of Trashiyangtse. It was carved out from Trashigang district in 1992 as a separate district. The district pushes up to into the north-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and elevations range from 1000m to 5000 m. Situated in a small river valley, it is a lovely spot from which to take walks in the surrounding countryside. Trashiyangtse is famous for its wooden containers and bowls, which make inexpensive, attractive and useful mementos of a visit to this remote region.
One of the oldest Dzongs to have been built in the region, Dongdi Dzong is located on a small spur flanked by Kholong chu and Dongdi chu. A traditional cantilever bridge over Kholongchu links with the Dzong. It was established sometime in the 8th century by Gongkar Gyalpo, son of Lhasey Tsangma, a Tibetan Prince who sought refuge in Bhutan after his exile from his native country. In the 14th century it was reconstructed by Terton Pema Lingpa and named as Trashiyangtse. The current structure was renovated in the early 1990’s. Today it houses the monk body and a sacred relic is a statue of Avaloketeshvara that was offered as a relic or nangten by the deity of the river.
This dazzling white stupa is situated on the riverbank below the town. Constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday, it is built in the same style as Bodnath Stupa in Nepal, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was consecrated by the 13th Chief Abbot Sherub Wangchuk. During the second month of the lunar calendar there is an interesting celebration here, known as ‘Kora’ during which it is frequented not just by the locals from eastern Bhutan but also by the people from Arunachal Pradesh.
Institute of Zorig Chusum:
A visit to the traditional institute of Arts and Crafts above the town will provide you with an insight into the different arts and craft works practiced in Bhutan. The institute started a few years back and with support from the Government, trains many school drop outs in the arts and crafts.
A pleasant walk of about three hours following the Kholongchu river from Chorten Kora, Bomdeling is an annual migration place for black necked cranes, which fly over from nearby Tibet to pass the winter months in a warmer climate. On the way one can also visit the farm houses and their make shift cottage industry where they churn out bowls, cups and plates of wood.
An hour’s walk through the paddy fields and a gradual climb over the woodlands will take you to the sacred temple of Rigsum Goemba. This temple was founded in the 18th century by Lam Tshering Gyatso, the disciple of Sakya Rinchen, the 9th Chief Abbot of Bhutan. Unlike other structures in eastern Bhutan, the wall is built with pounded mud, a style used in western Bhutan.
In Tshenkharla, just above the school, is situated one of the oldest Dzongs to have been built in Bhutan. Widely known as Tshenkharla Dzong, the ruins are still standing and surrounding it, one can come across the remnants of the settlement such as large stones used for pounding grains. It was built by Lhasey Tsangma, a Tibetan Prince who sought refuge in Tshenkharla in the 8th century AD. He is regarded as the founder of many important clan systems in Bhutan that dominated the political scene till the mid 17th century. A visit to the ruins will give you a glimpse of ancient Bhutan besides a scenic view of the Dangmechu river and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in India.
24 km. from Trashigang, the temple of Gom Kora is set on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the Dangmechu river. Surrounded by rice fields and clumps of banana trees, it looks like an oasis in an arid landscape. It is one of the famous places where Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue a demon which dwelt in a huge black rock. An annual tshechu held for three days in spring draws a lot of attraction with pilgrims coming as far as from Arunachal Pradesh, India.
Samdrup Jongkhar: Gateway to Eastern Bhutan
The gate way to Eastern Bhutan, Samdrup Jongkhar is situated in the south eastern part and shares borders with the Indian state of Assam. It is by far the largest urban centre in eastern Bhutan. It lies at elevations ranging from 200m to 3,500m. In the earlier past, many British Political Officers stationed in Sikkim took the rote from Samdrup Jongkhar to enter into Bhutan. Historically it was administered by the Gyadrung stationed at Dewangiri. Today the road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar, completed in the 1960s, enables the eastern half of the country to access and benefit from trade with the south as well as across the Indian border as in the past where it was the main trading centre for the Bhutanese. Samdrup Jongkhar is a convenient exit town for tourists who have arranged to visit the neighboring Indian state of Assam.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong:
The Dzong that serves as the administrative centre of the district is one of the newest dzongs to have been built in the country. Unlike other dzongs that are built on strategic locations, the dzong in Samdrup Jongkhar is built on a sprawling ground.
The newly built Dratshang that is next to the Dzong houses the monk body. It has many new novices looked after by the religious functionaries.
The three storied Zangdopelri in the heart of the town serves the spiritual needs of the locals. One may come across intricate frescos and statutes, work of the Bhutanese master craftsmen.
The small town situated 18 kilometers from Samdrup Jongkhar along the highway used to have the office of the Gyadrung, the administrator in the earlier times. It was also the site where, in 1884, the last battle with the British was fought. Jigme Namgyal, the father of the first King, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, who led the Bhutanese troops put up a strong resistance against the British though he ultimately signed the treaty of Sinchula with the British in 1865.
Mithun breeding farm:
Along the highway enroute to Samdrup Jongkhar, above the town of Dewathang, in Orong one will come across the only Mithun breeding farm in the east. The Mithuns are considered the best breed in Bhutan and it will be worthwhile to stop for a while and take photographs of these magnificent animals. The Mithuns raised here are supplied to the farmers of the six eastern districts.
The town in Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the oldest in Eastern Bhutan and has seen gradual development over the years. It is a bustling small town with shopkeepers and hawkers from the nearby border of Assam. It also houses the oldest cinema theatre in the country that is frequented by Assamese from across the border especially to view the Hindi films.
Mongar: The Bastion of the Zhongarps
Mongar, one of the six districts that make up eastern Bhutan borders Bumthang, Lhuentse, Pema Gatshel and Trashigang. The district covers an area of 1,954 sq.kms with elevations ranging from 400m to 4,000m and has a population of about 38,000. The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs an gorges and dense conifer forests. The region is known for weavers and textiles and fabrics considered one of the best in the country.
It was known in the past as the bastion of the Zhongarps for it produced some of the finest administrators in the country whose descendants still continues to lay an active part in the political scene of Bhutan.
Although built in the 1930s and one of Bhutan’s newest dzongs, it is constructed in the same way as all earlier dzongs, without plans or nails. However unlike the earlier Dzongs, that are located in strategic positions, Mongar Dzong is located on a small gentle slopy area just above the town. A visit to Mongar Dzong shows one how traditional Bhutanese architecture has continued to thrive through the centuries.
The ruin of Zhongar Dzong endures to this day as a testimony to the skill of its builders, most notably the renowned master craftsman, Zowo Balip. It is located on a hilltop overlooking the village of Themnangbi and is visible as one descends to Lingmenthang from the highway. Built in the 17th century, the Dzong is believed to have been built at a site where the master architect Zow Balip saw a white bowl. Embedded inside is a life frozen in time, a wealth of history that can be still recounted orally by those who also heard it from their grandparents. A visit to the ruins can be a memorable experience and will give you a sense of the medieval Bhutanese administration.
One of the most notable religious sites is the Dramitse Lhakhang built in the 16th century by Ani Cheten Zangmo, the daughter of the renowned terton Pema Lingpa. The Dramitse Ngacham or the “Dance of the Drums of Dramitse,” was born in this lhakhang in the 16th century. Today, it is a popular dance performed at all major festivals. It is also on the esteemed UNESCO World Heritage list.
Another sacred site in the district is the renowned Aja Ney where pilgrims from all other parts of Bhutan converge to receive blessings and wash away their sins. A rock that bears 100 renditions of the sacred syllable “Aa,” is said to have been discovered by Guru Padmasambhava. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,500 meters and falls under Ngatsang geog. It is approximately a two days trek from Serzhong village.
The Yagang lhakhang in a small village next to the town is another sacred monument in the Dzongkhag. It was built in the 16th century by Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa. It was built after having built the Kupijigtsam Lhakhang in Yangneer village in Trashigang. Today, the lhakhang plays an important role in the religious life of the people.
Jarung Khashor Choeten:
The Jarung Khashor Choeten in Lingmethang next to the bridge over the Kurichu river is another monument in the district that is worth paying a visit. The Choeten is modelled after the Jarung Khashor Choeten in Nepal.
Lhuentse: The Ancestral Home of the Kings
In the north-eastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe or Lhuentse as it is known today. It is the ancestral home of our Kings and boasts some sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. It is located 77km from Mongar (3 hours’ drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. The landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers, and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Kishuthara is one textile that the Kurtoep women are deft in weaving.
Popularly known as Lhundub Rinchentse, the Dzong was built in 1654 by the Trongsa Penlop Chogyal Minjur Tempa at a site where once stood a small temple built by Nagi Wangchuk in 1552. Built on a hill overlooking the Kurichu, the dzong is today the administrative and the religious centre of the district. The Dzong houses many sacred artifacts that was installed by the 4th Druk Desid Tenzin Rabgay.
A twenty minutes drive from the Dzong on the route towards Kurtoe Dungkhar will take you to the small village of Kilung inhabited by the Tshanglas who migrated during the late 1880’s and settled there. In the village one will come across the Kilung Lhakhang situated on a ridge overlooking the Kurichu river built on the former site of the Kilung Gyalpo, a regional chieftain. It houses the sacred chain mall once used to recapture a statue that miraculously flew away from the Lhuentse Dzong.
This is another monastery worth paying a visit. It was founded in the 18th century by Pekar Gyatso and till recently was under the patronage of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorji. The daughter of 1st King, Ashi Wangmo lived here at the monastery as a nun. The monastery is well connected by a feeder road.
Among the noble lineages to emerge from Kurtoe, the house of Dungkar was home to the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal, progenitor of the Wangchuck dynasty. Dungkar Naktshang the ancient home of the Dungkar Chojie and the ancestral domicile of the Wangchuck Dynasty, stands tall amid the scenic backdrop of towering mountains overlooking the tiny Dungkar village below. It is a 40km rough road from Lhuentse leading up to the Dungkar Lhakhang. The Dungkar expedition will surely be a voyage into Bhutan’s past.
At a distance of two kilometers from the Dzong is situated the Gangzur village that is most popular for pottery. The women folk from the village are skilled artisans and adept in the art of pottery. A dying art, the Government has now tried to revive it through financial support. You can witness the women folk displaying their skills.
A walk to this village will truly be a pleasant trip. Situated about two hours walk from the Dzong through gentle slopes amongst pine trees, this village is known throughout the country for its woven textile, the Kishuthara. A culture that has evolved over the years is a row of women in a makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. Picking up a Kishuthara will be much cheaper than buying one from the handicraft shops in the capital.
The famed Singye Dzong, one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan is a three days uphill walk from Lhuentse Dzong. It is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Tantric Master once meditated here. Singye dzong is the main sacred place where Guru Rinpoche meditated. A journey to Singye dzong will be a rewarding experience.