Thimphu: Elevation 2,320m
This is the capital of Bhutan with a population of approximately 100,000 people. Thimphu became the capital city in 1961 and the town is the largest in Bhutan. It is about an hour drive from the Airport in Paro. As you enter the valley, you drive on Bhutan’s first expressway which takes you right into the heart of town, over dramatic flyover bridges.
Places to visit in Thimphu include the Textile museum, the folk heritage Museum, the Trashichho Dzong, the National Memorial Chorten (a stupa dedicated to the third King of Bhutan), and the vegetable market, a colorful market full of local produce and handicrafts. Buddhists can visit numerous monasteries around the valley as well as a vibrant nunnery.
The district of Thimphu however, stretches beyond the town and goes past Dochu-La, the first mountain pass in the western Part of Bhutan. The 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens on the top of the pass where the ridges are draped in colorful prayerflags provide a scenic view. On a clear day, you can see a panorama of the Himalayan mountain range.
Paro : Elevation 2280m
The broad Paro valley is the entry point for all visitors flying into Bhutan on the National Carrier. As the plane takes a dramatic sweep into Paro, the flight captain usually warns relieved passengers not to worry if the aircraft’s wing appears to be almost touching the mountainsides.
Places to visit include the Paro Dzong, the National Museum housed in a round fortress called the Ta Dzong, and the ruins of the Drugyal Dzong, a 17th century fortress that used to keep invading Tibetan forces at bay, destroyed in fire in 1951.
The Tiger nest or the Taktshang is one of the most popular spiritual heritage sites, perched precariously on the rockface of a sheer cliff 900m above the ground. It is a short climb of about 1 .5 hours to 2 hours to the top. For those less inclined to climbing, you can catch a good bird’s eye view from the bottom of the monastery.
Punakha : Elevation 1,300m.
Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan, about 3 hours drive from Thimphu across Dochu_La Pass. Once you cross the pass, you wind down it to a warm fertile valley and meander along a gently flowing aquamarine river that leads to the Punakha Dzong, the second Dzong to be built in Bhutan.
Built in 1637, the Dzong continues to be the winter home of the clergy, headed by the chief Abbot, the Je Khenpo. It is a stunning example of Bhutanesearchitecture, sitting at the fork of two rivers, potraying the image of Medieval city from a distance. The Dzong was destroyed by fire and glacial floods over the years but has been carefully restored and is, today a fine example of Bhutanese craftsmanship.
Punakha is a sub tropical valley where food grains, vegetables and fruits grow in abundance.
A short drive up the valley is the Khamsum Yully Chorten (stupa), constructed in 1992, as one of the three such chortens in the World, one being the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu.
Wangduephodrang: Elevation 1350m
To the South of Punakha is the valley of Wangduephodrang as the National highway heads towards central Bhutan. The old town, a narrow street with single storied shops, will soon be replaced by a brand new town carved out of terraced rice fields.
Wangduephodrang Dzong sits majestically on a steep ridge overlooking the highway forks to the east and the south of the country.
As the road heads towards Trongsa in central Bhutan, a turn off below Pelela pass takes you into the magical vally of Phobjikha, home to the rare Black necked Crane that has made phobjikha its winter home for centuries. The birds fly in from Tibet in October and November and leave just before spring.
Another significant Landmark in Phobjikha is the famous Gangtey Gompa monastery, built in the 17th century.