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Located just to the east of central Bhutan, on the far side of the Black Mountains, lies Bumthang, a region home to the four valleys of Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura, and which until the 1970s, was only accessible by mule and foot trails.

With varying altitudes from 2,600 to 4,000 metres, the beauty of the area is renowned. Rich and fertile high lands covered mostly in pine forests, are known for their abundant buckwheat and apple production, sturdy stone houses and plethora of monasteries. Besides natural beauty the four valleys are blessed with some of the oldest Buddhist temples in the kingdom. The Bumthang district is where Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan and where the legendary saint Pema Lingpa was born, to whom the Bhutanese royalty trace their descent. The Mebartsho gorge, known as ‘the flaming lake’, is where Pema Lingpa is said to have found the treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche.

The Choekhor valley is simply beautiful; sloping pine forests swathe the valley, with a patchwork of apple orchards and fertile farmland. This area is known for its cottage industries that produce the sought-after Bumthang butter, Gouda and Emmenthal cheeses, honey and a variety of fruit spirits and brandies. It is also where you can explore the Wangdicholing Palace, the home to the First and Second King of Bhutan, and elsewhere in the valley is the grand Kurjey Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s most auspicious monuments, as well as Tamshing Monastery and the famous Red Panda Brewery.

The rarely visited Tang valley is home to temples and monasteries as well as Ogyen Choling Palace, which is filled with countless Bhutanese cultural treasures. The Chumey valley is home to one of Bhutan’s oldest weaving communities and is where you can see the deep-coloured traditional Yatra textiles being crafted. Further east beyond the Shelthang Pass (located at 3,600 metres) is the Ura valley, where quaint farming villages unfold in an almost medieval atmosphere, and closely clustered houses surround sheep pastures and potato fields.

Bumthang is one of the best places in Bhutan for walking, owing to its broad U-shaped valleys and gently sloping mountains, so is suitable for all levels of fitness. Not many travellers make it to Bumthang, owing to its remote location, which makes it all the more special. For those who are not short on time, we would recommend continuing on from Gangtey, passing through the dramatic landscapes to Bumthang, stopping for a visit at Trongsa Dzong – the ancestral home of Bhutan's monarch – en-route.

>> See our gallery: Bhutan Research Trip 2019

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