What to See in Gasa and Punakha (Bhutan)

By | July 15, 2022

Gasa (Bhutan)

The northwestern part of Bhutan, where the Gasa dzongkhag is located, is occupied by mountains with an altitude of about 7000 m. This region of glaciers, mountain valleys, passes and forests is one of the best places in Bhutan for hiking. Much of the dzongkhag is occupied by the Jigme Dorji National Park. It is the most extensive protected area in Bhutan. The area of the park is 4329 sq. km. Altitudes within the park vary from 1400 to 7000 m. There are more than 30 species of mammals, about 300 bird species and 1400 plant species. The park is home to the symbol of Bhutan – takin bovid mammal, blue sheep, tiger, musk and barking deer, red panda, black bear, this is the only place in the world where snow leopards and Bengal tigers coexist. Rare birds include black-necked crane, white-capped redstart, bluebird, blue magpie, Himalayan monal and nutcracker. There are many hiking trails of various difficulty levels in the park. While traveling through these places, you can see mountain lakes, hot springs, glacial valleys and such sacred peaks as Chomolgari (7314 m) (according to legend, the symbol of Bhutan, the thunder dragon, lives here), Tsherimgang (7094 m) and Jichu Drake (6794 m).

Also of interest in the dzongkhag is the highland village of Laya., which is located at an altitude of 3700 m. The path to it lies through one of the most difficult passes in the world – Laya Gasa. Tourists who want to admire the nature of the region, but do not want to get here on foot, are delivered to the village by helicopter. Laya is home to Layap shepherds, who can be identified by their distinctive cone-shaped bamboo hats. By visiting the village, you will get acquainted with the way of life and customs of this small people, and you will also be able to see high mountain pastures, snow-capped mountain peaks, lakes and hot springs.

Punakha (Bhutan)

According to percomputer, Punakha is located east of Thimphu in a fertile valley at an altitude of 1220 m. The climate here is subtropical, which allows the cultivation of many crops. From the 17th century until the second half of the 20th century, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan, and to this day, because of its mild climate, the city is called the “winter capital” of the country; in winter, the spiritual leader, jokempo, moves to Punakha.

The city was founded in 1637 at the confluence of the rivers Mo-Chu and Pho-Chu fortified monastery Pungthang-Dechen-Phodrang-Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness), today known as Punakha Dzong. It was one of the first dzongs erected under King Shabdrung, and he was buried here. The monastery stands on a small island and is connected to the surrounding areas by a wooden bridge. Inside the monastery, the memorial temple of Machey Lakhang with the mausoleum of Shabdrung, the temple of Nag-Yul-Bum, an extensive library with a collection of volumes of the Buddhist canon Kanjur and a repository of royal relics are of interest.

The surroundings of Punakha are dotted with hiking trails of various levels of difficulty. The most popular routes pass through the Guru Rinpoche caves, inside one of which a small temple is built, and the Koma-Tsachu hot springs, from which water is supplied to three pools.

South of Punakha, on the banks of the Punakha-Chu River, is the city of Wangdi.. In its vicinity, it is worth visiting the Wangdiphodrang Dzong monastery complex (1638), the Gangte monastery (17th century), the Landra Nie caves (“the sacred place of the red bull”), where, according to legend, Guru Rinpoche meditated and where his fingerprint was preserved, as well as Phobjikha Valley in the Black Mountains, where black-necked cranes winter.

Phobjikha Valley is located in the Black Mountains National Park, which is also known as Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. The park is located on the territory of 1723 sq. km, where the Black Mountains and their foothills stretch, separating the eastern and western parts of Bhutan. Altitudes within the park range from 200 to 5000 m. Snow-capped mountain peaks can be seen in the northern part of the park, coniferous forests in the central part, and subtropical forests in the south. The park is home to such mammals as Himalayan bears, Bengal tigers, clouded leopards, red pandas, gorals, Indian sambars, musk deer, golden langurs, as well as more than 300 species of birds. The Royal Manas National Park borders the Black Mountains National Park.. The park was founded in 1966 and became the country’s first national park. Its area is 1023 sq. km. The park is occupied by tropical and subtropical ecosystems with tropical rainforests. In the rainy season, up to 5000 mm of precipitation falls here. Due to similar climatic conditions, this park is the richest protected area in Bhutan. There are more than 900 species of plants, 45 species of mammals (Himalayan bears, rhinos, wild buffaloes, Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, clouded leopards, gaurs, several varieties of deer, pygmy pigs, golden langurs, bristly hares) and about 360 species of birds.

Punakha (Bhutan)