Bumthang is the most religious and spiritual heartland of the nation, with an attitude between 2,600 metres to 4,500 metres above sea level. According to legends, Guru Padmasambhava cured the local King Sinda Raja of the spirit-induced ailment in the 8th century. This resulted in King embracing Buddhism, and eventually the whole country.
Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa was born in this region, an ancestor of the royal family. He was a blacksmith who was led by mystic forces to discover spiritual treasures placed at the bottom of Mebar Tsho, or Lake of Burning Fire, in the 15th century. According to legend, he held a butter lamp in his hand and jumped into the lake. He remained in the water for a long time. When he emerged from the lake, he was holding a chest and a scroll of paper in one hand. At the same time, the butter lamp held in his hand was still burning bright.
When Pema Lingpa was preaching the knowledge contained in the treasures, flowers dropped from the sky and vanished into rays of light. Hence, Bhutanese regards this lake to be scared. On auspicious days, Bhutanese will visit this lake to make butter lamp offerings on this fresh water lake.
Many famous Buddhist yogis had lived and practiced here. Hence, Bumthang is also the home to some of its oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries.
The administrative place of the capital of Bumthang is Jakar Dzong, which dominates the Chamkhar valley. It was built by Drukpa Lama Ngagi Wangchuk in 1549. He saw a white bird landing on the site of the Dzong when he was looking for a place to build a temple. Considered a good omen, he built the Dzong and named it as “the Fortress of the White Bird”. Situated on a strategic summit, it is one of the most exquisite architecture in Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately 50 metres high Central tower, which is very distinctive from other Dzongs. Another unique feature of the Dzong is the sheltered water passage that supply water to the fortress. The Bumthang Tshechu held at Jakar Dzong (usually at night) is popular as it is said to bring fertility to any women who want a child.
The Jambay Lhakhang is one of the 108 monasteries built by King Sontsen Geonpo in the 8th century to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. In autumn, it will host one of the most spectacular festivals (Jambay Lhakhang Drup). This festival is held to commemorate the establishment of Jambay Lhakhang and to honor Guru Padmasambhava.
The highlight of this festival is a religious dance (Tercham or “naked dance”) around the fire in the mid of the night. This dance is a renowned item among the spectators. Exactly at midnight, sixteen naked men will sprint out of the monastery’s door, dancing to the beatings of the traditional drums and cymbals. The dancers are completely naked with their faces covered with white cloths and masks.
According to legends, this dance was introduced by the great treasure discoverer, Tertoen Dorji Lingpa, on the prophecy of Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. To distract the demons that were hindering the construction of a monastery, Tertoen Dorji Lingpa launched this sacred dance and subdued the demons. Today, it is held to bless infertile women with children and for abundant crops in the New Year.
Located further along the valley, Kurje Lhakhang comprises of 3 temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 against the rock face where Guru Padmasambhava meditated in the 8th century. The middle temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body, by King Ugyen Wangchuck in 1900 when he was still the Trongsa Penlop. The 3rd temple on the left was built in 1990s by H.M. Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Grand-Queen Mother. The 3 temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall, which make Kurje Lhakhang extremely sacred.
Other places of interest include :