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Major Bhutanese towns

Some of the major Bhutanese towns are:

Thimphu

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and the country’s largest city with a population of about 80,000 people. The sprawling valley was largely wooded and sparsely populated until 1951, when the 13th century old Tashichho Dzong, was re-built and declared the official capital. Today, the city sprawls across 26 square kilometres along the Wangchhu river. Norzin Lam, the one-way traffic lane, is the hub of the city with rows of shops that sell almost everything. The city has no traffic lights and instead you will see a traffic policeman with fluid arm movements directing traffic flows in the city.

The city has some swanky restaurants, bars and hotels to fulfill your need. The open space around the clock tower is the city’s ‘town square’ that hosts entertainment programmes. The national library, Folk Museum at the Zorig Chusum Institute, the Handicraft Emporium and the Textile Museum are some interesting places to get insights to culture, tradition and art and craft of ancient as well as modern Bhutan.

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Paro

The charming town of Paro lies snuggled in the vast valley on the bank of Pa Chhu River. The high street with its row of colourful shops and restaurants form the main town. With recent town planning and urban development, the town is slowly growing in size. About hundred metres from the main street, lies the majestic Rinpung Dzong and a little way up, stands the formidable ancient watchtower which is now the National Museum. The only international airport in the country is located in the Paro valley.

The fertile valley is also known to produce the best red rice in the country. It holds a significant place in the history as well as it was one of the main trading routes with Tibet and it was here in the valley that many battles were been fought with the invaders from the north. The magnificent ruins of the Drukgyal Dzong overlooking Mt. Jhomolhari are the living proof of the ancient glories.

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Phuentsholing

Phuentsholing is the thriving commercial city situated at the foothills of the Himalayas bordering India, some five hours drive from Thimphu. The city which is a gateway to Bhutan from neighbouring India saw its growth when the first road – the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway - was constructed in 1962. From then on, Phuentsholing has never looked back – a small cluster of huts gave way to a maze of multi-storey buildings, stretching across the plains, right up the base of the hills. All the financial institutions have their headquarters here along with a number of other industries and factories.

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Punakha

The two towns of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang are about 20 km away from each other and lie low in the warm valley along the Puna Tsang Chhu river.  The low elevation means the valley enjoys the warm subtropical climate. You will see a variety of tropical fruits like oranges, bananas and papayas growing in the valley. The magnificent Punakha Dzong that lies in-between the two rivers of Mochhu and Pochhu is situated in the old Punakha town. The new town, Khuruthang, was developed recently and lies in the wide valley some way down the river. Punakha was the former winter capital and even today the tradition of moving the monastic body from Thimphu to Punakha in the winter season is still practiced.

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Wangdue Phodrang

The majestic Wangdue Dzong sits on a ridge overlooking the Puna Tsang Chhu river and the Wangdue Phodrang bridge. The town has now moved to Bajo down in the valley by the Puna Tsang Chhu. The town is often called the ‘windy city’ because of the strong winds that sweep across the valley most of the time.

The picturesque village of Rinchengang, with its cluster of similar houses which appear to be clumped together sits across the river.

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Haa

Haa was once the hub for commercial activities between Bhutan and Tibet and was an important trading route.  Despite being located at a high altitude of 2,670 metres, the fertile valley grows wheat, barley, millet and potatoes. The valley was opened to tourists recently. The valley is scattered with some interesting villages in scenic locales.

The Haa valley can be reached via two roads – one is from Paro and is a couple of hours drive across the beautiful Chele la pass. The other is much longer along the Ha Chu and takes about three hours from the Chuzom confluence, 30 km from Thimphu.

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Gasa

Gasa town, situated northwest of Thimphu is the only ‘town’ which does not have road connection. Until recently, the nearest road head was the Goen Damji village where one had to walk a good 4-6 hours to reach the town. But now the rough road leads up to Baychhu, considerably shortening the walk.

The town is a cluster of small shops, a police post, a clinic and a school. The Gasa Dzong, which was built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, sits magnificently atop a hill overlooking the town houses. Gasa is well known for its hot springs which sees many visitors from all over the country to soak in its healing powers. The hot springs are located a couple of hours walk deep down in the valley. Gasa also serves as the district headquarters to the remote villages of Laya and Lunana.

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Phobjikha (Gangtey)

The beautiful glacial valley of Phobjikha falls under Wangdue Phodrang Dzongkhag (district). It is the winter home for the vulnerable black necked-cranes who fly in across the Himalayas during winter to escape the bitter cold of the far north.

The valley is a scenic pleasure with the stream running through the wide lush green grassland and thickets of dwarf bamboo. The fields are along the slopes of the valley where farmers grow potatoes and turnips.  Blue pine, birch, maple and several species of rhododendrons adorn the forests that surround the valley. 

Phobjikha is also a natural habitat for wildlife as it falls within the conservation zone and is part of the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. Hence, the valley is without electricity. In its place the people are encouraged to use solar powered cells or generators for power. The enchanting Gangtey village and the famous Gangtey monastery are perched on the hilltop, overlooking the valley.

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Bumthang

The central valley of Bumthang is often known as the spiritual and cultural nerve of the country. The valley is blessed with ancient and sacred monasteries dating back centuries. The four valleys of Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura make up Bumthang. The main urban centre or the capital of the district is the Jakar town located in the lush green Choekhor valley.

Buckwheat is the staple food of the Bumthaps (people of Bumthang). The valley is also a major producer of apple juice, apple cider and a variety of Swiss cheeses. Bumthang is also famous for its beautiful woven woollen textiles called Yathra. Winters are very cold with some snowfalls. The strong winds sweeping across the valley worsens the condition. But summers are warm and pleasant with plenty of sunshine.

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Mongar

Unlike the towns and villages in western Bhutan, settlements in the East are mostly located on hills given to the steep topography. Mongar is a growing and bustling town with many development activities taking place in recent years. The old wooden houses have now given way to concrete four to five storeys buildings. The huge regional hospital that opened recently serves the six eastern dzongkhags (districts) easing the pressure off the national referral hospital in Thimphu. 

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Trashigang

Located about 1070m above the sea level Trashigang town is the district capital of Trashigang Dzongkhag. The town sits on a low rising ridge with the Gamri Chu running far below in the wooded valley. The Mithidang Chhu, a small stream runs right through the town adding its charm to the town. Many shops, bars and restaurants are located around the ‘Small Square’ with a huge prayer wheel at the centre where the town’s people sit and chat in the evenings to end the activity of the day. Trashigang town has also served as the business hub for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng from up north.

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Samdrup Jongkhar

Samdrup Jongkhar is the border town in the far south east and borders the Indian state of Assam, and like the sister towns in the south, is located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Besides being the district capital of Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag, it also serves as an important market town to the other northern districts in the north. Here, the Bhutanese easily mix with their Indian neighbours who are mostly day workers who cross the border to work.

The subtropical region means the weather can be pretty warm in the summers with occasional torrential rains. However, the winters are cooler. The large city of Guwahati with an airport connecting rest of India is about 110 km away, a good three and half hours' drive.


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