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Things To Do In Bumthang
The four mountain valleys of Bumthang district - Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor, the latter being the largest of them all, do not shy away from wooing tourists with a Pandora’s Box of things to do. Bumthang has an aura of spirituality to it, considering that it was Bhutan’s birthplace of Buddhism, and the legends of Guru Rinpoche seem to ring in the air, vouched by the number of monasteries and sacred lakes that you would find sprinkled along the length and breadth of the valleys. Bumthang has an enticing quality about it, be it the fields of wild flowers on the mountainside or the fruit orchards, the deciduous woodlands, monasteries and Mountain Rivers that would make you forget the modern, mundane world that lies outside the kingdom.
Bumthang is not all monasteries and mountains though, there’s more to come if you will read this brief of things you can do while in the spiritual stronghold of Bhutan.
National Parks and Sanctuaries
42% of Bhutan’s land comes under the kingdom’s protected areas of national parks, preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Most of the sanctuaries are linked by biological corridors and are inhabited with villages where people subsist by tending cattle or forestry. Wangchuck Centennial Park in northern Bumthang is the largest in Bhutan and has a variety of animals including the Himalayan Black Bears, Snow Leopard, Bengal Tigers and Takin. Put the Phrumsengla National Park on the southern border of Bumthang on your itinerary, too. Don’t be surprised if you find a Red Panda, the Common and Clouded Leopards, Golden Cat and Musk Deer cross your path, or a great Himalayan Black Bear helping himself to your picnic hamper. If you are an avid avifauna watcher, the Phrumsengla National Park is a must see in your visit.
Trekking and Hiking
Bumthang offers some of the best trekking experiences of Bhutan. You can choose the Bumthang Cultural Trek across Bumthang, climbing up the 500 m Pephe La Pass and camping overnight under the starry skies. You can go on a spiritual hike to Shu Drak in Choekhor Valley, Towadra and Kunzandrak in Tang Valley and ChoejeDrak in Chumey valley. They are the Four Holy Cliffs or Dragchen Zhi blessed by Guru Rinpoche and still have his body imprints.
If you love mushrooms, then this one’s for you. Ura Valley proudly produces some of the best varieties of mushrooms like Matsutake, locally known as Sagay Shamu, which is famous all over the world. The valley celebrates its mushrooms with the Matsutake Mushroom Festival in August. There are stalls where you can buy the Matsutake Mushroom that are said to be very nutritious and you can also join the locals as they sing and dance to celebrate the harvest of their crops of fungi. So what’s special about this festival? You can savour a selection of mushroom dishes and venture out on mushroom gathering expeditions with the locals. Now isn't that cool?
Mingle with the Village Folk
Travelling deeper and higher up the valleys you will find clusters of villages with very friendly rural folk. You can stay with them or in community guest houses and learn their traditions and customs including spinning and weaving their traditional yarn of sheep and yak wool. Why, you could even learn to herd yak up the high mountain slopes!
The Nomad Festival of Bumthang is something you will love. Participate in the yearly gathering of Bhutan’s itinerant Highlanders, dress in their traditional costumes and try your hand at grinding in traditional mill stones, dehusking buckwheat and ploughing their lands with ox drawn ploughs. Every valley of Bumthang has its own traditional festivals complete with masked dancers and oodles of color and music, not to mention the traditional feasts of Bhutan. At the Nomad Festival, locals put in makeshift stalls where you can buy fresh dairy products, bags and shawls made of sheep and yak wool.