Bumthang also known as Jakar (altitude 2,800 m) is the principal administrative town of Bumthang district in northern Bhutan. Spacious and surrounded by tree covered mountains, the valley in which Jakar is located (Chokor) is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the whole of Bhutan and is commonly referred to as “Little Switzerland”.
Jakar was first place in Bhutan that Guru Rinpoche visited and as ruler of the region subsequently converted to Buddhism, Jakar is accorded with title of the birth place of Buddhism in Bhutan. In addition, one of most venerated and accomplished teachers of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism, Pema Lingpa, was born in Jakar area.
Jakar Dzong: The fortress was originally constructed in 1667, but rebuilt after being severely damaged in an earthquake in 1897. It is one of the largest and most impressive dzongs in Bhutan and houses the administrative and monastic offices for Bumthang district.
Wangdicholing Palace: Built in 1857, palace served as the principal summer residence of the first and second kings of Bhutan. It is an unassuming structure, lacking the ramparts and protective walls which became standard features of later palaces.
Kurje Lhakhang: One of Bhutan’s most sacred monasteries. A body print of Guru Rinpoche is preserved in a cave around which the oldest of three buildings is built. A huge cypress tree (or perhaps a decedent tree) that overhangs the building is said to have grown from Guru Rinpoche’s walking stick.
Zangtopelri Lhakhang: Consecrated in 2008, this latest addition to sacred sites in the area houses a two story high mandala representing Guru Rinpoche’s Copper Colored Mountain. Zangtopelri is a short walk from Kurje Lhakhang.
Jambey Lhakhang: One of the 108 monasteries that were miraculously constructed by King Songten Gampo in one night. The monastery is located between Kurjey Lhakang and Jakar Dzong.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Lhakhang: This monastery is a more recent addition to the pantheon of monasteries in Jakar and is located above the town. The abbot, Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche is a very highly respected teacher in Bhutan and speaks some English.
Tamshing Gompa: A monastery established in 1501 by the local Buddhist saint Pema Lingpa. Two story building contains some lovely frescoes and has a very low ceiling (apparently Pema Lingpa was very short!) In addition, there is 500-year-old suit of metal chain made by Pema Lingpa located on the first floor. It is considered auspicious to circumambulate the temple three times with chain draped over back and shoulders.
Chakhar Lhakhang (Iron Castle): This small and unassuming temple marks the site of palace of Sindhu Raja, Indian monarch who first invited Guru Rimpoche to Bhutan. Original palace was said to be made of iron and nine stories in height. Current building was constructed by Dorji Lingpa in the 14th century.
As an area famed for its monasteries and sacred sites, Jakar plays host to several tshechu (religious) festivals throughout the year. The highlight of a tshechu is the masked dances conducted by monks, which were developed according to precise instructions given by past Buddhist masters.