Eastern Bhutan is possibly the most enigmatic part of the Kingdom. Thanks to the enormous distance from the International Airport, based in Western Bhutan – the East has maintained its mystical aura. Hence, it is the pleasant offbeat experience for the adventurers at heart. The further East you move; you’ll realize that the societies disappear.
The spirited explorers venturing eastwards will be rewarded with fascinating villages and towns living their purest lives – hardly disturbed by tourism, lots of dzongs and temples, as well as some of the most beautiful silks and amazing embroidery.
While there are not many tourists in the region, those who are lured in are usually the seekers of wilderness. The superb forests are truly wilderness sanctuaries for rare wildlife.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Eastern Bhutan Travel Guide
While the primary form of tourism is the wildlife and nature, Eastern Bhutan is developing other forms of tourism as well infrastructural, new hotels, trekking routes, trained guides are all in the pipeline. Given the lack of real tourism activity currently, it makes Eastern Bhutan the perfect place for Devil On Wheels readers to visit!
While most travelers that visit Bhutan are happy exploring (and rightfully so) the Tiger’s Nest Monastery or understanding the rich modern culture in Thimphu and Punakha – I am here to tell you there’s more to Bhutan. You should wander off the beaten path and lead yourself to eastern Bhutan – where not many have come before you!
About Eastern Bhutan
Most of Eastern Bhutan lives in tiny hamlets. And these villages are often shielded high above roads or can even be situated in isolated valleys. Most of Eastern Bhutan is home to ethnic minorities. And some of the villages can even be home to lesser than 1000 people.
Thus, the villagers in Eastern Bhutan have been able to maintain the sanctity of their culture, with minimal impact and dilution due to interactions with the outer world. This preservation of culture is something so special about Bhutan in general, they understand the value of tourism and showing their way of living to others.
But, they are also extremely proud and protective of their way of life. This trait makes them highly caring individuals that appreciate all for what it is – nothing less, nothing more. Thus, Eastern Bhutan especially is unrivaled in traditional arts and crafts.
Eastern Bhutan was reigned by an assortment of distinct trivial kingdoms. But, it was an integral component of the trade route between India and Tibet. Goods moved between the two countries via Bhutan through Singye Dzong (Lhuentse district).
Chhogyel Mingyur Tenpa is undoubtedly the most important figure in the region’s history. To suppress rebellions in Bumthang, Lhuentse, Mongar, and Zhemgang, he led his armies into Eastern Bhutan as the governor. It was through his efforts that Eastern Bhutan came under the rule of the Desi (secular ruler of Bhutan). Ultimately this led to the unification of the country.
Best time to visit Eastern Bhutan
Most of Eastern Bhutan is at lower altitudes. Thus, late spring and summer months are especially hot, humid. However, this is a great time for birdwatching in the forests. It is best to avoid visiting in the monsoon months of May to August as rains usually ruin the already fragile road infrastructure. Late February to mid-March is a good time to visit. It provides for comfortable temperatures, low-season crowds, interesting festivals, and spring blooms.
Pro Travel Tip: Do not forget to check this complete month by month guide on the best time to visit Bhutan.
Major Attractions in Eastern Bhutan
Eastern Bhutan is extremely isolated, and, of course, the terrain is tough and underdeveloped. You need to be physically fit to enjoy your visit truly. Goes without saying, some of the places in the region will require you to hike some mountains and walk long distances – otherwise, you won’t be able to see much. Also, there are only limited amenities in the region, and you shouldn’t expect too much.
If you’re hiring a guide, we will suggest looking for homestays over hotels. In such places, however, I truly suggest going all out and camp under the blanket of stars. With almost negligible population nearby, the pollution if controlled, and the night skies are in another gear altogether. Being out in the open, in the wilderness, one with nature is a whole different ballgame.
Needless to say, Eastern Bhutan has some of the most stunning monasteries and temples. Buddhist architecture is like the religion itself – soothing and calm! When you’re exploring mysterious Eastern Bhutan, check out some of these amazingly beautiful places to find some peace and tranquility.
The Drametse is the biggest and most significant monastery of eastern Bhutan. The monastery was founded in 1511 by the granddaughter (some say daughter) of Pema Lingpa, Ani Chhoeten Zangmo.
The name Drametse translates to ‘the peak where there is no enemy.’ The monastery is home to 100 monks and Gomchen (lay or married Nyingma monks). It has gained its fame for being the home of Nga Cham drum dance, which is famously part of many Buddhist festivals. UNESCO proclaims this revered dance as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Situated around 18 km from Thungari, you can reach here through an hour-long journey on a dirt track. Throughout the journey, you’ll climb 1350m. It is advisable to make this journey in a 4X4, especially if it has been raining. This place is a good pit-stop when you’re visiting Trashigang or Mongar. It is ideal to find accommodation and meals in these two regional centers.
Pro Travel Tip: Do not forget to check this complete travel guide for traveling to Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan.
An extremely scenic sanctuary, Gom Kora is located 13km north of Chazam. The luxurious fields stretch out, combined with characteristic red robes of the monks as well as the backdrop of the yellow roof of the temple make for one of the most beautiful days!
The proper pronunciation of the site is Gomphu Kora. Gomphu translates to the sacred meditation site of Guru Rinpoche, and Kora means ‘circumambulation.’ The Guru used to meditate here and left a body impression on a rock, similar to that in Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang.
The temple is especially famous for the large black rock here. It lies behind the Goemba. Folklore associated with rocks will tell you that the Guru was meditating in a small cave near the bottom of the rock when a demon in the shape of a cobra appeared. The Guru was rightfully alarmed and quickly got up from his meditation. However, when he stood up, he left the impression of his pointed hat at the top of the cave.
It was then that he transformed himself into a Garuda, and even left imprints of his wings. People then believe that the Guru got an agreement with the demon to stay away until the end of his meditation. They sealed the contract with thumbprints, which are still visible on the rock. The serpent also left a light-colored print, with his hood at the top of the rock.
A small sin-testing passageway leads from the cave to an exit to the side of the rock. Visitors can test their sin levels and rock-climbing skills by trying to climb up the side of the rock. However, do know that only the righteous can make it.
Pro Travel Tip: You can check this detailed guide on how to get all the necessary permits of Bhutan [2020 updates included].
Chorten Kora has one of the fascinating stories of all the monasteries around. It is a large replica of a Stupa of Bodhnath in Nepal. However, the two don’t like nearly as identical as originally intended. Chorten Kora was constructed in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday in memory of his uncle, Jungshu Phesan, and to subdue local spirits.
People believe that Lama Ngawang Loday went to Nepal and brought back a model of Bodhnath carved in a radish. He wanted that people could visit this holy place without having to make the long and difficult journey.
However, this is where the story gets interesting. Even though he carved the replica onto the radish perfectly, through travel and time – the radish shrunk and distorted the image.
During the first month of the lunar calendar (February or March), there is an auspicious kora held here. The festival holds significance for two communities. Hence they celebrate it on two separate dates (the 15th and 30th days of the first lunar month). They reserve the first date (Dakpa Kora) for the villagers from Arunachal Pradesh, India.
For them, it is a three-day pilgrimage where they honor and celebrate the sacrifice of an eight-year-old girl, who was enshrined in the chorten to placate a worrying demon. The second kora (Drukpa Kora) is primarily for the Bhutanese.
Mostly Eastern Bhutan residents attend this chorten and visit from all over the place. It is then that a local fair is held. Dozens of stalls and gambling stands give pilgrims a chance to catch up on some shopping and local gossip.
Pro Travel Tip: Do not forget to check this complete travel guide for traveling to Western Bhutan.
This Buddhist Monastery in Trashigang is a gorgeous dzong on a thin peninsula overlooking the confluence of Drangme Chhu and Gamri Chhu rivers. Known as the “fortress of the Auspicious hill,” Trashigang was built in 1667, the entire eastern region was governed from this Dzong until the beginning of the 20th century. Several tame Jaru (goral or mountain goat) roam the exterior courtyards.
A unique aspect of this monastery is that both the administrative and monastic bodies face onto a single courtyard. Depending on the monks you speak with, you’ll get access to the half a dozen Lhakhang.
Lots of murals and paintings in the region will depict the rich history of the Dzong, right from paintings of a yeti to a chapel dedicated to the deity Choegi (Yama) Gyelpo. The main deity is the protector of the faith, the god of death and the king of law, who weighs up the good and evil at the end of a person’s life.
Pro Travel Tip: Do not forget to check this complete travel guide for traveling to Central Bhutan.
Lhakhang, the Buddhist Temple in Mongar, was founded in the 16th century by the son of Pema Lingpa. The position of the Lama is inherited and handed down over generations from Father to Son.
When you’re exploring this beautiful Temple in Mongar, you should also request to view the Lhakhang in the house next door, where they exhibit the main relics. There is a beautiful symphony in the murals as they are a combination of old and new. Some of the handwritten texts they brought from Tibet.
The temple hosts the annual Tsechu on the 10th day of the fifth month. Most of the valuables are displayed with full aplomb during the festival. As is synonymous with most Buddhist festivals, locals perform the ancient cham (ritual dance). Interestingly, the masks used for the performance were crafted by Pema Lingpa’s son
Lhuentse Rinchentse Phodrang Dzong, as it is properly called, is placed high on a rocky ridge overseeing the Kuri Chhu valley. Thanks to the almost vertical drops on all sides, the monastery is a sight to behold.
The monastery plays host to a beautiful three-day Tsechu, which falls in December/January. The monastery is home to around 100 or so resident monks. Because of relatively little footfall of tourists, the monks allow a lot of freedom to explore the inner sanctity of the monastery – something other monasteries in Bhutan might now allow. Do remember to find someone with the keys of the place, and you can explore the seven Lhakhang.
Pro Travel Tip: Check our article about important tips for saving costs on the Bhutan trip, if you are looking to make a budget trip.
Established in 1930 to replace the original Shongar Dzong, this monastery still uses the original Utse (central tower). This monastery is very unusual because it has two entrances. There are four Lhakhang in the Utse, including a Goenkhang (chapel dedicated to protective deities) and the Sangay Lhakhang.
The week-long festival Mongar Tsechu is held here in November or December months, depending on the dates from the seventh to the 10th days of the 10th lunar month.
Offbeat Places in Eastern Bhutan
Beautiful monasteries and temples are, of course, an integral part of the Bhutanese culture. However, if you’re like me, your one true religion and way of life are experiencing nature and being part of natural events. Eastern Bhutan will provide you with plenty of opportunities to explore nature.
Mongar offers some of the most outstanding sights in Bhutan. It is the home to the otherworldly Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. It also happens to be the national flower of Nepal. At the garden, you will see over 1,000 species and varieties of rhododendrons, collected from all over the world.
Apart from visually delightful offerings flora and fauna, Mongar is also home to some of Bhutan’s most prominent religious sites such as Dramitse Lhakhang, Aja Ney, and Yagang Lakang, etc. Mongar is worth a visit and exploration, for it has so much to offer!
If you’re truly craving some solitude, then take a three-hour journey from Mongar towards Lhuntse. Here, you’ll enter the most isolated districts in this country. The overall area of this district is covered in its entirety by three national parks: Thrumshingla, Wangchuk Centennial, and Bumdeling Wildlife National Park.
When you’re in such depths of nature, you should remember that of course, you won’t find any built roads, etc. But, even though the region is exceptionally isolated, it holds an administrative significance as this is the ancestral homeland of Bhutan’s royal family. Must-visits in Lhuntse are Lhuntse Dzong, the administrative and religious center, Kilung Lhakhang, and the Jangchubling Monastery.
Pro Travel Tip: If you prefer traveling solo, this article will help you plan a solo trip to Bhutan.
If you’re expecting to reach Khoma village by road, you’re out of luck. To experience the joys of this tiny hamlet, you’ll need to get out on a two-hour walk from Lhuntse Dzong. Khoma becomes a must-visit for those who love exploring culture and textiles.
Khoma is a haven for silk lovers and you’ll run into beautiful artisans doing delicate embroidery. You can find some of the most talented Bhutanese weavers here, weaving the distinct pattern called Kishuthara, the most complicated patterns, which takes about six months to finish.
Weaving is the main staple livelihood of this village, and women are introduced to the loom as early as eight years old. Kishuthara is like a status symbol as it is quite expensive to acquire.
Genuinely the most unexplored part of Bhutan is the Eastern side. And, Trashigang is truly rural, with minimal development and almost negligible commercial activities. This place is where wanderers feel alive and awesome.
What it lacks in infrastructure, Trashigang makes up in natural wonders. Which is why people often call Tashigang the “Jewel of the East.” Since the region is mostly in the range of 600 meters to 4,000 meters, you’ll need to be aware of acclimatization.
Apart from being an integral part of cross-country barter between India and Tibet, the East-West Junction is also one of the principal markets of the semi-nomadic group, Brokpas. It is easy to identify the Brokpas thanks to their unique mode of dressing. The surrounding valley where they live is said to be inhabited by yeti.
Pro Travel Tip: If you prefer traveling via public transport, check this article which will help you plan a trip to Bhutan by public transport.
1,500 sq km of forest land, the majority of which belongs to the Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Trashiyangtse, is home to Bhutan’s national butterfly, Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory. The Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to animals such as the red panda, barking deer, Himalayan black bears, and several big cats like leopards and tigers.
There are some stunning trails that are worth exploring and provide the best natural experience. One such trek you can accomplish is the Far Out East Bhutan Trek which will take you approximately 6 days to cover and takes you to a maximum elevation of 3000 meters.
Food Options in Eastern Bhutan
For the most part, food options will be limited to hotels, and the food would be similar to buffets you may find anywhere in Bhutan. However, if you’re staying in a homestay, you’ve probably hit the food jackpot. Ask your hosts for authentic preparations, and I am certain they’ll be happy to oblige.
Must-try dishes include Nakey, unfurled fiddlehead fern frond as well as the locally grown green chilies along with some home-brewed arra (rice wine).
Some restaurants in Mongar are worth mentioning, including the Lotus Pond Restaurant, which has a huge menu, must try the momos when you’re here. Another option in Mongar is the Puensom Confectionary & Bakery with decent pizzas, apple pies, and cakes on offer.
The Druk Deothjung Bakery in Trashigang is also quite nice and is situated in the Druk Deothjung Hotel. When you’re in Trashigang, you can also head on out to the Monkey Shoulder Café.
Pro Travel Tip: Are you wonder how much will be the cost of Bhutan trip? Check our detailed guide on how to calculate the cost or budget of Bhutan trip?
Where to stay in Eastern Bhutan
There are a few hotels that are available in the major regions of Eastern Bhutan, such as Mongar. However, to truly experience the feel of the place, I’d suggest you look out for homestays and even try out camping while you’re at it. If you’re visiting during festival season across major monasteries, you’d be hard-pressed to find any accommodation in hotels.
You should always carry your own water bottle and refill it as many times as you need water. It will not only keep you hydrated always, but you will also help in saving the Himalayas from plastic garbage. Remember, every tiny step counts and your step in this direction can help save the Himalayas too !! 🙂 🙂
Eastern Bhutan is on no one’s radar currently. And this truly makes it the most exciting place to visit in Bhutan. Yes, the comforts will be minimal – but the kind of beauty – in nature, in people, in food and customs, that you’ll get to experience, it will be unmatchable.
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Have you explored eastern Bhutan? If so, are there any places that I might have missed out in this article? Comment below and provide your feedback. It will help your fellow travelers in getting the most out of their visit to this beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan.