I bet when you hear the word “Bhutan” all that comes to mind is a small kingdom with a bunch of people who preach Buddhism. Or, if people are familiar with the place, they’ll know about its capital or the famous Tiger’s Nest. The point is, most of us might know a thing or two about Bhutan, but only a few of us agree that we only know about their western or Ngalop culture. The eastern and central part of their culture is a myth to most. It’s untouched by many and known by few. So, let us uncover the mystery.
Situated in the eastern part of Bhutan, Lhuentse Valley is one of the districts (or dzongkhag, as they call it) in the kingdom. Compared with other parts of the kingdom, Lhunste comprises of a difficult terrain, which makes the distribution of social welfare a problem. The electricity is not well distributed, and the place really has very few roads. Also, despite its favourable climate, farming is hindered by lack of infrastructure.
Lhuntse is culturally a part of north-eastern Bhutan. The language and lifestyle of this region may not be as famous and dominant as the western Ngalop culture, but it is renowned for producing textiles and is also the ancestral homeland of the Bhutanese royal family. The Valley may seem rough and ancient as there are still people living in parts of Lhuentse who speak different dialects of the Bhutanese language. In the east, Dzala, an eastern Bodish language is spoken. In southern Lhunste, Chocangacakha, a sister language to dzongkha is spoken. The northern and western parts of the district are known as the Kurto region, where inhabitants speak the east Bodish Kurtop language.
Best Time to Visit Lhuentse
The best time to visit Lhuentse is the fall season, which is between September and November. The weather in Lhuentse is mild and pleasant, and the temperature is mostly below 25 degree Celsius. But it is advisable to keep light jackets with you while travelling as the nights are cold.
How to Reach Lhuentse
There are regular buses from Thimphu that operate on Monday, Thursday, and Friday to Lhuentse. Cabs can also be hired from Thimphu and Paro to reach Lhuentse.
The nearest airport is Paro International Airport, which is 175 km from Lhuentse. You can arrive by road at Lhuentse via the Mongar-Lhuentse Highway. Buses run from Thimphu every Monday, Thursday, and Friday at 7:00 am and arrive at Lhuentse at around 5:30 pm. You can board a bus from Thimphu Terminal on any of these days. Being an underdeveloped district of Bhutan, there is no public transport available for one to get around Lhuentse. Most travelling in the town will have to be done on foot.
Top places to visit in Lhuentse
(1) Lhuentse Dzong
In this ancient valley, you’ll find Lhuentse Dzong, a dzong (castle-like ancient fortress) and Buddhist monastery that lies in the eastern side of the Kuri Chhu and is located at the end of a narrow valley. The Dzong was initially known as Kurtoe in the then-isolated Lhuentse District. It is the ancestral home of the House of Wangchuk. While its geographic coordinates are in eastern Bhutan, its cultural roots are central Bhutanese.
The Lhuntse Dzong is a complex of five temples. The Watchtower of the fortress has three temples, which are dedicated to Padmasambhava, the 8th-century Buddhist preacher and guru. The upper portion of the complex is the hall of monks dedicated to the monks who live and run the fortress. It is the pride of Lhuentse residents who fondly speak of this little monastery to tourists and outsiders. This is where the religious festival, Lhuentse Tshechu, takes place every year. You can take part in the vibrant celebrations if you visit the dzong around Tshechu.
The Legend of Lhuentse
According to one legend, Khedrup Kuenga Wangpo, son of Terton Pema Lingpa, was assigned to find a ridge resembling the trunk of an elephant. He found one opposite Baeyul Khenpajong and mediated there. This location came to be known as Kurtoe Lhuentse Phodrang.
(2) Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the north-western part of Bhutan, covering an area of 1,545 square kilometres with 420 square kilometres of buffer zone encompassing parts of Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse, and Mongar district. This quaint sanctuary shares its border with the Tibet region of China and northeastern regions of India. The sanctuary has been equipped with extra security checks to protect the red panda, which is one of the endangered species in the country.
This protected area is also the breeding ground for black-necked cranes that come here every year from mid-November to early March. Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary is pure heaven for many butterflies. Almost 130 species of beautiful butterflies are known to inhabit here, and watching them hovering around flowers is always remarkable.
Best Time to Visit Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
The best season to visit this splendid place is from March to August.
(3) Kilung Lhakhang
Situated at about 20 mins away from the small village of Kilung, the Kilung Lhakhang is a sacred temple with a very rich history. It is located over a ridge above Kurichhu River. The inhabitants of the village are called Tshanglas who migrated during the 1880s. The Lhakhang houses a chain that was used to capture a statue believed to have flown away from the Lhuentse Dzong. Kilung Lhakhang is a very beautifully constructed monastery and very popular among the locals.
(4) Janchubling Dzong
Founded in the 18th century by Pekar Gyatso, this monastery is one of the most important sites in Lhuentse. It served as the residence of the first king Ashi Wangmo's daughter. It is accessible from the feeder road in Lhuentse.
(5) Khoma and Gangzur Village
Famous for its woven textiles made from a particular type of silk called Kishu Thara Kira, this small village is a blanket of trees and greenery. It is located at a distance of 7 km at the confluence of two rivers - Khoma Chhu and Yongla Chhu. A 2-hour long walk from Lhuentse Dzong will take you there. It is also known as the gateway to Singye Dzong situated atop a hill with about 20 households. Once you are here, you will see many women sitting together in a row inside a cottage weaving clothes with unique and beautiful patterns.
Gangzur is a little village in Lhuentse District that is known for its pottery skills. The women of this village are masters at the art of pottery. You can see many women sitting with clay and making pots with finesse and skill. Apart from this, the village provides a great view of the mountains and valleys. The government of Bhutan is currently working on providing the village with more resources and financial support.
Accommodation in Lhuentse Valley
There are many hotels in Lhuentse with prices going upto 3,000-4,000/- per night. They’re located around 20 km away from the city. It’s surrounded by hills and the entire experience is serine.
Lhuentse has a lot to offer. Whenever you visit Bhutan, make sure you explore these uncharted lands as well. If you’re a seeker of peace and serenity and are in search of some spiritual answers that even you didn’t know you wanted, come and be one with the atmosphere here.