(Altitude: 2,700m / 8,858ft)
More than 66% of the district is covered with forests. Agriculture is practiced in the Choekhor and Chumey valleys while yak and sheep breeding was the main occupation in Tang and Ura valleys. Potatoes were recently introduced in these two valleys and are now an important source of income although the main crops still remain buckwheat (sweet and bitter), barley and wheat.
The valleys of Bumthang are generally wide and open with relatively gentle slopes, thus creating a unique feeling of spaciousness that may not be found in any other part of the country with the exception of the Phobjika valley in the Black Mountains. Bumthang is inter-spaced with many rural hamlets and is suited to moderate hiking.
Until the 1980s, Bumthang was a fairly poor and isolated region depiste its status as the main residence of the first and the second Kings. However, since the construction of the east-west road in the late 1970s, the area has undergone significant economic development. Tourism and agricultural projects, in particular, have helped Bumthang attain a good level of prosperity, which is apparent in the number and quality of houses built by the population in the last fifteen years and the amount of shops now seen in the district centre, Jakar (also spelt Byakar). The “star products” of Bumthang include white beer (Red Panda), honey, fruit schnapps, cheese and woollen textiles.
Bumthang means ‘the plain shaped like a bumpa’, a bumpa being an oblong-shaped holy water vase. The religious connotation of the name aptly applies to the sacred character of the region. It would be difficult to find so many important temples and monasteries in such a small area anywhere else in Bhutan. According to tradition, Bumthang was one of the valleys where theTibetan King, Songtsen Gampo (7th c.), chose to erect the temple, Jampa Lhakhang, one of 108 Buddhist temples that he is said to have built all over the Himalayan world.
However the official conversion of the Bumthang region to Buddhism took place a little later in 8th century, when Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) restored the health of the king of Bumthang at the time, known as Sendarkha. During his stay in Bumthang, Guru Rinpoche is believed to have left several traces of his visit such as imprints in rocks, and these vestiges are still highly revered to this day.
Bumthang provided a temporary home to famous Tibetan saints of the Nyingmapa schools Longchen Rabjam (1308-63) and Dorje Lingpa (1346-405). However, the most famous of all the religious men is Pema Lingpa (1450-1521). Born in the Tang valley of Bumthang, Pema Lingpa built several temples in Bumthang such as Kunzangdra and Tamshing and laid the foundation of a new religious lineage. His descendants subsequently moved to the central and eastern parts of Bhutan and contributed to the expansion of the Nyingmapa school.
Dorje Lingpa and Pema Lingpa are also two of the most important tertons, literally meaning “revealers of religious treasures” hidden by Guru Rinpoche. Several lamas of the Drukpa Kagyupa school including Lorepa (1187-1250), and Tenpey Nima ((567-1619), the father of the future unifier of Bhutan, as well as lamas of the Karma Kagyupa school also visited Bumthang. From the 9th to the 17th centuries, the Bumthang valleys were ruled by noble families called Choeje or Dung who were descended from prestigious lineages. After remaining more or less independent for centuries, Bumthang was subsequently conquered by the Drukpas who were unifying Bhutan under their religious and political influence during the middle of the 17th century. Jakar Dzong became the administrative and religious centre of Bumthang with a local administrator called dzongpon governing the area.
In the middle of 19th century, Jigme Namgyal (1825-1881) who was the de-facto ruler of Bhutan and the governor of Trongsa (Trongsa Penlop) decided to settle himself in Bumthang and built the Wangduecholing Palace in 1857. His son Ugyen Wangchuck, born in Bumthang, became the first king of Bhutan. From the time of Jigme Namgyal until the death of the 2nd King in 1952, Bumthang was the seat of the rulers of Bhutan.
Mebar Tsho - the Burning Lake
According to the legend Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of the sacred treasures that Guru Rimpoche had hidden within the lake centuries earlier. However the people of Tang and the local ruler were cynical of his claims. In order to prove his claims, Pema Lingpa held a butter lamp in his hand as he jumped into the lake. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake).
The Burning Lake, Mebar Tsho is located along the way to the Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley. It takes approximately thirty minutes drive to the Mebar Tsho from Chamkhar town.
Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region as it is related to the renowned religious treasure reveler (Terton) Terton Pema Lingpa. Pema Lingpa is considered an incarnated disciple of Padmasambhava who discovered treasure within the lake in late 15th century.
Today this small fresh water lake is a sacred pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese with bright multicolored prayer flags surrounding it and a small altar dedicated to Terton Pema Lingpa has also been set up. On auspicious days people offer butter lamps at the lake. Many tourist visit the site to observe spectacular beauty of this important historical and religious site.
This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls, interconnected by fortified towers, which gave the population of the fortress access to water in the case of a siege. The protected water supply is still intact to this day.
Jambay lhakhang is located in Bumthang and is situated on the way to the Kurjie Lhakhang. It’s a ten minutes drive to the temple from the Chamkhar town.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang also built on the same day.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
The first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885. Later, Ashi Wangmo, the younger sister of the second king of Bhutan, built the Chorten lhakhang.
The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived. The lhakhang also houses more than one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra built by the first king, in 1887.
Thrumshing La (Elevation – 3,780m/12,402ft), also called Thrumshingla Pass and Donga Pass, is the second-highest mountain pass in Bhutan, connecting its central and eastern regions across the otherwise impregnable Donga range that has separated populations for centuries. It is located on a bend of the Lateral Road at the border of Bumthang District (Ura Gewog, leaving Ura southbound) and Mongar District (Saling Gewog, toward Sengor), along the border with Lhuntse District to the east. The Lateral Road bisects Thrumshingla National Park, named after the pass. The World Wildlife Fund also maintains operations in the park.