Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet website has to say about the sights at Bumthang:
The Bumthang region encompasses four major valleys: Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume. Because the dzongs and the most important temples are in the large Chokhor valley, it is commonly referred to as the Bumthang valley.
There are two versions of the origin of the name Bumthang. The valley is supposed to be shaped like a bumpa (the vessel of holy water that is usually found on a temple altar). Thang means 'field' or 'flat place'.
The less respectful translation relates to the particularly beautiful women who live here – bum means 'girl'.
Jambay Lhakhang was built by King Srongsen Gampo of Tibet in 659 AD. The temple was blessed by Guru Rimpoche during his visit to Bumthang. It is said that Guru Rimpoche was the one who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. It was renovated by Sindhu Raja after Guru Rimpoche restored his life with his magical powers. Many believe that there is a natural lake under the temple in which Guru Rimpoche took refuge on several occasions.
The Kurjey Lhakhang Temple Complex is a 30-minute hike from the Jambay Lhakhang temple. According to legend, the King of Bumthang was very ill and invited Guru Rinpoche to give him a cure for his ailment. Upon his investigation the Guru discovered that the illness was caused by the malevolent local deities.
Upon finding out that these deities were responsible; the angry Guru chased them in to a cave. Guru Rinpoche then sat there and meditated for three months. Upon waking up, he subdued the deities and cured the thankful King of his ills. The guru left an imprint of his body in the cave to serve as a reminder to all evil beings of his wrath.
The Kurjey Lhakhang Temple complex consists of three major temples and surrounding Chortens. The main temple was built in 1652. The temple is said to house the cave that contains imprint of the Guru. The second temple was built by the first King of Bhutan in 1900, and the third, and last one, was built under the patronage of the Queen Mother in the 1990’s.
108 chorten (stone Buddhist monuments, often containing relics) were also built along around the temple complex. The Lakhang is also the final resting place of first three Kings of Bhutan. According to legend the cypress tree located in front of the first temple is said to be an offshoot from the walking staff of Guru Rinpoche.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
There are three major monasteries in the Bumthang valley, and we were pleased that our guide selected only two for us to visit. The weather was cool and but the skies were relatively clear, but we were so keen to get out of the vehicle and stretch our legs walking from our hotel through the flat part of the valley.
The first monastery looked to be very old indeed, it is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. I loved the stone walls and the simple wooden entrance door. Once we were inside, we could see that the whole structure was showing its age. And to my delight and surprise, and very, very ancient woman appeared and began her circles around one of the prayer wheels. I caught her eye and one point, and she flashed a toothless grin at me.
Along the way we passed some small farms and at one point we stopped to caress the heads of two small calves that were clearly seeking some treats. They almost looked like twins, but we couldn’t be sure. There didn’t seem to be any cows around so they might have been recently weaned and were just looking for some comfort.
The sun managed to come out during our walk, but the wind was still chilly and we were glad to be able to duck inside the walls of the monasteries here and there to get out of the breeze. I have to say, once we were inside the grounds of the much larger complex, I tended to wander away from our guide in order to take photos of things that caught my attention, and I missed the history lesson.
I was surprised to read later that this is where the first three Kings of Bhutan are buried. There wasn’t a soul around the afternoon we visited; I can only imagine what it must be like on festival days when people come from all over the region to pay their respects on the death anniversaries of the kings.
The monastery is tucked up against a massive outcropping of rock, and in order to surround the complex with the requisite 108 stupas, they had to build the stupas in a stair-like fashion, climbing up and over the rocks. I really liked the patterns they made, if you caught them at various angles.
In a sense, we entered through the ‘backdoor’ and departed through the main gates because we had arrived on foot. For that reason, we really didn’t get a proper sense of the grandeur of the place as we were leaving. I took a few photos of the painted letters on the rock face near the entrance. I liked the design, despite the fact that I couldn’t read what was written.
We continued our journey away from our hotel and eventually came to a little suspension bridge over the river. The bridge was covered in prayer flags, many of them very tattered from flapping in the strong winds that sweep down through the valley. I took a photo of Cathy all bundled up and looking as colourful as the prayer flags.
After crossing over the bridge, we walked back in the opposite direction, but this side of the river was relatively empty. I enjoyed admiring the houses made almost completely of wood, and noted that the builder had been quite creative with diagonal slats forming intricate patterns on the sides of the home.
I thought we would have to walk all the way back and cross over the river again on foot, but instead we were greeted by our driver and the van. I don’t know if our guide had called him to pick us up because of the chilly wind, but it was still a long way to walk and our warm hotel room was looking more and more inviting all the time.
When we awoke the next morning, heavy cloud had settled into the valley, and things seemed a little darker and dreary too. I was happy we’d walked the previous day, and didn’t mind getting back in the van as we set off for our next adventure.