Haa is Bhutan's smallest district, and one of the least visited. There are about sixty valleys here, and many of them are connected with walking trails and surrounded by soaring pine-covered mountains. This is a place to enjoy spectacular scenery, tidy villages, monasteries, and authentic culture that is unburdened with urban distractions. If you do not have time to travel as far as Bumthang yet want to experience sleepy and spectacular Himalayan valleys, Haa is an easy option.
The British stocked streams in Kashmir with Scottish brown trout beginning in 1868. By 1940 trout had been stocked in waterways of Darjeeling. Raja Sonam Tobgay Dorji, the great-great grandfather of the present King, lived in Haa and sent porters on foot to carry two clay pots of fingerlings, crossing mountain passes and rivers where no roads existed. If you enjoy fishing you can get a permit to catch trout in Haa. And if you are not, you might still find it on the dinner menu.
Haa is not a practical day trip from Paro. Although you can go just for one night, a two- or three-night stay there is better. You may not want to leave.
There is quite a lot to see here, including Paro Dzong. There is a charming downtown with shops and restaurants. You will have plenty of good Bhutanese food during your time with us, so you may want to sample Thimpu's pizza, burgers, Italian and Chinese food. Normally we arrange a dinner at the Folk Heritage Museum, which serves home-style dishes in abundance.
Among the things you will see in Thimpu are the King's Memorial Chorten, the main post office (Bhutanese stamps make great souvenirs and gifts), one or more museums, one of the government-owned schools that teach traditional handicrafts. If you like, we can also take you to see the national animal, the Takin, or visit the national botanical garden.
Presiding over everything is arguably the largest seated Buddha statue in the world on a hillside overlooking the city. Drive up to the statue you might even get a glimpse of someone from the Royal Family out for an afternoon run. The site of the statue is surrounded by the "Happiness Garden," where we will plant a tree in your name. You will be kept up to date about the progress of your tree once or twice a year by email.
There are so many things to see here that we can easily keep you busy for two days.
Phobjikha is the winter home of the black-necked crane and the golden-domed Ganteay Gompa (monastery). Early each winter, right on cue, the cranes arrive, circle the glistening dome three times, then set down in the valley for the winter. Just about everyone here has solar panels on their homes since residents are fearful that power lines might be dangerous to the birds.
You will visit Ganteay Gompa first. The temple and monastery are privately-sponsored. If the sanctuary of the temple is closed you will still find the architecture quite interesting. Later, you can visit a small museum dedicated to the cranes. Telescopes are set up there for you to watch the birds in the valley below.
An interesting addition to your itinerary is a local workshop that makes hand-woven carpets. If you want to add a two-night trek to your itinerary, Phobjikha is a good place to start.
In Paro, Thimpu and Punakha you will have seen rivers. As you descend into the Phobjikha Valley you will begin to realize how much water comes from the mountains that surround you. You will see quite a few waterfalls along the road, although these may be frozen if you are visiting in winter. Almost all of this water finds its way into tributaries to massive, gushing rivers that produce electricity that powers large parts of Northeastern India.
Two small museums showcase the history of the town and the kings who lived here. Two or three quaint, narrow streets are lined with charming shops. The town, which literally clings precariously to the steep mountain-side, is full of funky shops and rickety buildings. This is a great place to stretch your legs.
The main attraction here is the Dzong, which many consider the most magnificent in the Kingdom. Since Trongsa was once the capital of what is now Bhutan there are two museums that celebrate the legacy of the royal family and the founding of the Kingdom.
Far below at the foot of the mountain is a fresh market. If you have a chance to see only one market in Bhutan, this could be one of the most interesting.
Bumthang probably embodies Bhutan's traditions and values more than any other single place. It is pristine and natural, full of religious and historic sites, laid-back, and a great place for foodies. How much you can see depends on how much time you have. In addition to Jakar town (which is home to a cheese factory and the bottling facility for a honey bee collective), the "Flaming Lake" and Ura Valley are worth visiting. Closer to Jakar are several temples in addition to Jakar Dzong, which are connected to a chain link bridge crossing a gushing river.
Bumthang has a small airport below Jakar Dzong, connecting it by air with Paro daily most of the year. Flying one way makes it easier for visitors with less time to travel more deeply into the center of Bhutan because you can return to Paro by air, thus avoiding an overnight road trip
Mongar is a quaint little town that is home to about 2,500 people. Tidy streets are lined with painted stone and wooden buildings. Like many towns in Bhutan there is a clock tower in the center, with a prayer wheel below it. If you are about ready for pizza, donuts or apple pie, you can find them in Mongar. You will pass the 16th century Yakgang (temple) on the way into town.
Weaving and carved wood are specialties of Trashiyanagtse artisans. You can visit a government-sponsored handicraft training center is worth visiting to see some of the thirteen different hand-made products being produced and sold. Wooden bowls made here are considered the best you can find.
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