Bumthang, Bhutan’s Switzerland

by Andrew Stein

Famous for producing honey, cheese, and yak textiles, the region of Bumthang continues to surprise us.  The weather is as crisp (read: cold) as any place we’re visiting, but the air is incredibly clear letting us appreciate the mountains that climb on all sides of the very narrow valleys.  Adding to the scene, we are two of maybe ten tourists in this eastern Bhutanese town.  In fact, we are the only two in our Mountain Lodge.  As a result, it takes a little while to warm our room, but once we do, it’s quite cozy.

We walk from monastery to temple to monastery to dzhong.  Although small, because it is the religious center of Bhutan, the temples and monasteries abound.  In between, the houses are all made of only stones and wood.  As we learn, traveling out to this far destination is not easy; thus, using the local building materials is not only the most beautiful option, but it is also the most convenient.  The architecture and the geography make Bumthang look like Bhutan’s Switzerland.

We head out to Bumthang’s Burning Lake, which is neither burning nor a lake.  It is a very a cold, wet river.  But similar to the rest of Bumthang, it’s religious significance is vast.  According to legend, to prove that an ancient Guru (specifically Guru Rimpoche, who is very famous in Bhutan) had hidden treasures in this water, a monk jumped into the water holding a butter lamp.  After some time, the monk returns with treasure in one hand and the butter lamp still lit in the other.  The importance of this site was heightened when our guide mumbled several prayers and threw in a couple Nu (Bhutanese currency) into the lake.  Again, Lindsey, myself, and a handful of locals enjoyed this site all to ourselves in a peaceful moment.

For lunch, we stop at one of our guide, Sonam’s favorite restaurants where we all have a bowl of homemade fresh noodles complete with chilis and a type of pepper that makes our mouths slightly numb.  We know our guide is enjoying himself when he orders a second bowl.  We walk off our lunch by going up and down the main drag of Bumthang several times because the main drag is maybe two blocks long, and then we continue to our final stop of the day.  One other product that Bumthang is famous for is it’s Red Panda beer.  After tasting some local cheeses, we continue down the street to Bumthang Brewery.  In this small brewery that distributes beer to the whole nation of Bhutan (only ~700,000 people), we take a tour and enjoy a couple beers to cap off a very peaceful, beautiful day in what feels like rural and authentic Bhutan.