The Bumthang valley is often compared to Switzerland because of its beautiful landscape. Bumthang gets its name from the valley’s ‘vessel’ shape (Bumpa is a vessel which holds holy water and thang means a field or wide plain). Bumthang is actually comprised of four valleys: Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. The Chumey valley is wide and fertile, and wheat, barley, potatoes and buckwheat are cultivated here. It is famous for its famous woollen textiles known as Bumthang Yathra. Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, with many legendary temples, monasteries and palaces. This is the place where Guru Rinpoche first set foot when he came to Bhutan in the 7th century.
Jakar is the major trading centre of the region, and most of the hotels and services are found here. Shops and restaurants, many run by Tibetans, line the main street. The hospitality of Bumthang’s inhabitants is as renowned as its natural beauty, and you could easily spend many days here exploring this special area.
Jakar Dzong has a picturesque location overlooking the Chokhor valley. Known as the ‘Castle of the White Bird’, the dzong was built in 1667 and is said to be the largest in Bhutan. Its official name, Yuelay Namgyel Dzong, commemorates the victory over the troops of the Tibetan ruler Phuntsho Namgyel.
Lamey gompa is a large palace and monastery built in the 1800s as a residence for the first King of Bhutan. It lies on a hill above the Jakar High School and is similar in design and architectural style to Wangdichholing Palace. Today it houses the Integrated Forest Development Project.
Jampa Lhakhang is one of the oldest and most sacred pilgrimage sites in Bhutan. It is said to be one of the 108 temples built in a single day in AD 659 by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo to trap an ogress who was hampering the spread of Buddhism. Jampa Lhakhang pins the left knee of the ogress while the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro holds down her left foot. The three stone steps inside the main chapel represent the three ages of past, present and future. The step representing the past, the age of the historical Buddha, has sunk below floor level; the step of the present is level with the floor; and the step of the future is above the level of the floor. There is a strong belief that when the ‘present’ step sinks into the ground, it will mean the end of the present generation and the start of a new life. Another legend tells of a lake beneath the temple where Guru Rinpoche hid several treasures called Terma. The Jampa Lhakhang Drup festival held here in October is one of the most spectacular in Bhutan with its fire dance to bless infertile women.
Named after the bodily imprint of Guru Rinpoche, the Kurjey Lhakhang is located at the end of the paved road a short distance beyond Chakhar Lhakhang. This is where Guru Rinpoche turned himself into a large Garuda (a mythical bird) and overcame the local deities, especially the powerful Shelging Karpo who was impeding the spread of Buddhism and had stolen the King’s health and life force. The impression of Guru Rinpoche, left after three months of meditation in the cave, is preserved inside the oldest temple of three in the complex, and the big cypress tree behind the first lhakhang is believed to have grown from his walking stick. The first three kings of Bhutan were cremated in the centre of the complex, which is today marked by the two large lhadhars (special prayer flags which mark important places and where formal dress must be worn). The Kurjey Tsechu is held in June; its main focus is the masked dance dramatising Guru Rinpoche’s defeat of Shelging Karpo.
In Membar Tsho or the ‘Lake of the Burning Lamp’, the treasure hunter Pema Lingpa discovered several treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche in the 15th century. The exact site is indicated by hundreds of prayer flags and small clay offerings called Tsha Tsha. It is believed that a temple resembling Zangto Pelri temple (near Thimphu) is hidden deep in the lake whence Pema Lingpa emerged with a butter lamp still burning in his hand.
In Jakar town the Swiss cheese factory, dairy farm, and apple juice factory are also worth a visit.