Eastern Bhutan and Western Bhutan are only unified at the end of the last century, prior to that they were separated by many wars. As such, the dialects spoken by these 2 areas are so different that the two groups find it very difficult to understand each other. Another difference is that Eastern Bhutan is warmer than Western Bhutan, which is suitable for growing corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, and lemongrass.
The journey to the east is one of the most beautiful journeys in the Himalayas regions. Visitors will enter into a world of unexplored trekking, historical and cultural escapes, great scenery, traditional textiles making and natural wonders.
The journey in Eastern Bhutan just begins when visitors are crossing the 3,800 metres second highest pass, Thrumshing La. The descent from Thrumshiang La to Lingmithang is astonishing as the road drops from 3,800 metres to 650 metres in only a few hours, passing from pine forest to semi-topical forest to orange groves, beautiful waterfalls and steep cliffs.
Arriving at Mongar marks the beginning of Eastern Bhutan’s experience. Many towns in Eastern Bhutan are built on the sides of the hills; whereas towns in Western Bhutan are develop on the valley floor. Mongar is well-known for its traditional textiles and fabrics, which is considered one of the best in Bhutan.
Mongar Dzong was built in 1953 as the original Shongar Dzong was destroyed by fire. This Dzong is located on a small gentle slope just above the town. It is constructed using the same construction method used by all the earlier Dzongs, without any construction drawings or nails. A visit to this Dzong will amaze visitors as it proofs that the traditional Bhutanese architecture is able to thrive through the centuries.
One of the largest and most important monastery in Eastern Bhutan is Drametse Lhakhang, which was founded in the 16th century by Ani (nun) Cheten Zangmo, the granddaughter of the renowned religious master Terton Pema Lingpa (the treasure discoverer). According to the biography of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tshangyang Gyatso (17th century), Ani Cheten Zangmo is the incarnation of a celestial woman (dakini) who is strongly committed to the well-being of all sentient beings on earth.
This Lhakhang is deeply associated with Terton Pema Lingpa and the Peling tradition of Buddhism. The Dramitse Thongdrol is a unique piece as it carries the images of Terton Pema Lingpa, surrounded by small images. The Dramitse Ngacham (Dance of the drums of Dramitse) was proclaimed by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible cultural heritage of the world. The annual Tshechu of this Lhakhang is performed every year on the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar.
Other places of interest include :
- Zhongar Dzong – The ruins of Zhongar Dzong is a testimony to the skill of its builders, renowned master craftsman, Zowo Balip. Built in the 17th century, this Dzong is believed to have been built at a site where the master architect Zow Balip saw a white bowl. A visit to the ruins can be a memorable experience and will give you a sense of the medieval Bhutanese administration.
- Yagang Lhakhang – situated in a small village next to the town. It was built in the 16th century by Sangdag, the youngest son of Terton Pema Lingpa. It houses a wide range of spiritual treasures and other sacred objects known to have discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa.
- Aja Ney – another sacred site where pilgrims from different parts of Bhutan will visit to receive blessings and wash away their sins. According to legend, a rock that bears 100 translations of the sacred syllable “Aa” was discovered by Guru Padmasambhava. It is situated at an altitude of more than 3,500 metres above sea level, which is approximately a two-day trek from Seizhong village.
- Jarung Khashor Choeten – Next to the bridge over the Kurichu. The Choeten is modeled after the Jarung Khashor Choeten in Nepal.
Lhuentse is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan. However, the landscape is spectacular, with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. It is the ancestral home of the Royal Dynasty of Wangchuck. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in Bhutan.
Lhuentse Dzong was built in 1654 by the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Chogyal Minuur Tenpa. The site once stood a small temple built by Nagi Wangchuk in 1552. This Dzong is the administrative and religious centre in today’s Lhuentse. It also houses many sacred artifacts that were installed by the 4th Druk Desid Tenzin Rabgay.
Khoma Village, a pleasant two-hour walk from the Dzong, is famous for its elaborate woven cloth made of silk called Kishuthara. Kishuthara is worn by the Royal Family for generations. One will get to see the culture of women weaving intricate designs and patterns with the traditional weaving machines. Picking up a Kishuthara at this village will be much cheaper than buying one from the handicraft shops in the capital.
Other places of interest include :
- Singye Dzong : the legendary Lion Fortress - one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan. Singye Dzong is deemed to be sacred as Guru Padmasambhava meditated there on his second visit to Bhutan in the 8th century, after suppressing the demon King, Khikharathoed, who was exiled from Tibet. This Dzong claims further significance because the treasure discoverer, Zinon Namkha Dorji, discovered a treasure at this site called “Tse-Drup-Chimi-Sogthig”, a holy scripture containing the way to prolong life, in the 19th century. A visit to Singye Dzong will require a 3-day up-hill trek from Lhuentse Dzong, at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters above sea level.
- Gangzur village – most popular for pottery. The women of this village are skilled artisans in the art of pottery. The Government has been made efforts to preserve this form of art through financial support.
- Janchubling monastery – Founded in the 18th century by Pekar Gyatso. The daughter of the 1st King, Ashi Wangmo, lived here at the monastery as a nun and transformed the sacred temple to its present grandeur.
- Khinley Lhakhang (Temple of the Sleeping Dog) – found in 779 AD and located in Metsho gewog in Kurtoe. It houses relics of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava. Based on oral accounts, the temple was built on the spot where a dog was found sleeping. 700 hundred years later, the temple was renovated by Terton Pema Lingpa and he installed many statues.
Trashiyangtse is a small town, rich in Bhutanese arts and legends. Its attitude elevates from 1,000 metres to 5,000 metres above sea level, border by Arunachal Pradesh in India. Situated in a small river valley, Trashiyangtse is famous for its handmade lathed dapa wooden containers and bowls. Dapa is one of the oldest art forms in Bhutan and is only done in Trashiyangtse. There are 100 over wood-carving families in Trashiyangtse. The finest dapas are made from walnut, cypress or avocado burl wood.
Besides Phobjikha valley, Trashiyangtse is also the winter home to the Black Necked Cranes which migrated to Bhutan from Tibet. It is also home to one of the finest traditional arts schools in Himalayas, the National Institute of Zorig Chusum, which produce talented young artists and craftsmen.
One of the oldest Dzongs built in this region is Dongdi Dzong or Trashiyangtse Dzong. It is located on a small spur flanked by 2 rivers (Kholong chu and Dongdi chu). It was first established in the 8th century by Gonkar Gyalpo, son of Lhasey Tsangma, a exiled Tibetan Prince. It was reconstructed by Terton Pema Lingpa in the 14th century. It houses the statue of Avaloketeshvara which was believed to the relic offered by the deity of the river.
Chorten Kora is one of the only 2 huge chortens in Bhutan done in Nepalese style. It is constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday. According to history, Lama Ngawang Loday constructed this chorten in memory of his late uncle Lama Jangchhub Gyeltshen and to subdue an evil demon dwelling at the site where the chorten was constructed. Thereafter, it is said that the people of the valley live in peace and harmony. The annual Chorten Kora tshechu in spring is renowned and people from all walks of life will gather to enjoy the fiesta every year.
Other places of interest include :
- Tzhenkharla Dzong - one of the oldest Dzongs built by Lhasey Tsangma, the exiled Tibetan Prince. By visiting the ruins, you will be able to get a glimpse of ancient Bhutan and a scenic view of the Dangmechu River and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in India.
- Temple of Gom Kora – situated on a small alluvial plateau overlooking the Dangmechu River, 24km from Trashigang. One will see a massive rock with a cave where Guru Padmasambhava mediated and subdued a demon. An annual tshechu is held for 3 days in spring which attracts pilgrims from as far from Arunachai Pradesh, India.
Trashigang is the most eastern point on the highway and is the largest district in Bhutan. It was used to be an important trade center for a brisk trade with Tibet. Today, it is still serve as the primary route for Bhutanese to trade with India. Besides, Trashigang is a trading place for hill tribes (Merak and Sakteng people, known for their remarkable features and costumes) to trade yak butter for their basic necessaries.
Trashigang has an altitude ranging from 600 metres to over 4,000 metres above sea level. Bhutan’s largest river, the Dangmechu, flows through this district.
Trashigang Dzong is built in 1659 on the auspicious hill, which overlooks the Dangmechu River. It has withstood various invasions from Tibetan troops. It is only accessible from the north through a slender road.
The only university in Bhutan is found in the town of Kanlung (25 km south of Trashigang). The Sherubtse College is founded in 1978 which trains their graduates with different skills to benefit the country.
Further east from Trashigang, Rangjung town is another major commercial center for Bhutanese. One can visit the Rangjung Temple located on a small hillock overlooking the town. Above the Rangjung town is the famous Radhi village, which is known as the “rice bowl of the East”. Rahdi’s women are experts in weaving natural raw silk textiles. The textiles are cheaper in this village than those selling in Thimphu.
Other places of interest include :
- Chador Lhakhang – 1 ½ hour drive away from Trashigang. Though a feeder road, you will reach a village of Bartsham. Chador Lhakhang houses the mystical thumb-size statues called the Chador Yabyum. According to legends, the statues blessed its owners with a lot of wealth and descendants. Only blessed people who are fated to the statues have such fortunes.
- Bremung Lhakhang – a 10 minute drive from Bartsham. It is the most venerated 15th century temple in Trashigang which house a sacred relic of its founder Kuenga Wanpo, the son of Terton Pema Lingpa.
Samdrup Jongkhar is the gate way to Indian state of Assam. This district is situated in the south eastern part of Bhutan and has an attitude ranging from 200 metres to 3,500 metres above sea level.
The town in Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the oldest in Eastern Bhutan and has seen gradual development over the years. The town is a clean and pleasant place with an eclectic mixture of Bhutanese and Indian shops, restaurants and hotels. It also houses the oldest cinema theatre in the country.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzong serves as the administrative centre in the district. It is one of the newest dzongs built in Bhutan, which is less charming and artistic than the traditional dzongs.
The small town situated 18 km from Samdrup Jongkhar called Dewathang is historically important. The battle of Dewangiri (old name for Dewanthang), between Bhutan and British India, was fought here in 1864. This war led to the signing of the treaty of Sinchula of 1865, which exchanged the territories in Assam, Dengual and part of Dewangiri in return for an annual subside from British India.
Above the town of Dewanthang, you will come across the only Mithun (domestic gaur-cattle hybrid breed) breeding farm in the east. The Mithuns are considered the best breed in Bhutan which is supplied to farmers of the 6 eastern districts.