Spacious and surrounded by tree covered mountains, the valley in which Jakar is located (Choekor Valley) is considered to be one of the most beautiful in all Bhutan, and it is commonly referred to as "Little Switzerland". The Jakar area is known as a bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism, especially the Nyingma tradition, and there are many monasteries and sacred sites located here.
The cluster of villages below the dzong, which are collectively known as Jakar Town, have a population of around 5,000. The main bazaar had been destroyed in three successive fires in 2010 and 2011 and currently consists of two rows of tempory single-storey structures. A new bazaar is currently under construction near the dzong.
Fortress: Jakar Dzong means the 'Fortress of the White Bird,' and it was constructed in 1667. Apparently, when a group of lamas were in the area searching for a suitable site for the new dzong, a single white bird continuously circled overhead before settling on the top of a hill. This was considered a good omen, and the hill was selected as the site for the dzong and White Bird was adopted as its name.
Buddhism: Jakar was the first place in Bhutan that Guru Rinpoche visited, and as the ruler of the region subsequently converted to Buddhism, Jakar is accorded the 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 the Jakar area.
Strong winds make Jakar a very cold place in the winter, with temperatures often dropping as low as -6°C. The best time to visit the area is from late May until the end of September.
- Meto Transport coaster buses depart Thimphu bus station at 6:30AM daily. It is an 11 hour journey from the capital, and a one way ticket costs less than 300Nu. The bus does not make a stop until lunch time, so take snacks.
- As the tourist and pilgrimage sites are scattered throughout the area, a vehicle is essential to get around. Taxis can be hired from the main bazaar.
- 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 the Bumthang district.
- Wangdicholing Palace. Built in 1857, the 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. Currently, it is unoccupied and can be visited.
Monasteries are referred to by their Dzongkha title of lhakhang or gompa.
- Kurje Lhakhang (also Kurjey). One of Bhutan's most sacred monasteries. A body print of Guru Rinpoche is preserved in a cave around which the oldest of the three buildings is built. The original building was constructed in 1652 by Trongsa Penlop, while the latest addition was added by the late Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Wangchuk in 1990. A huge cypress tree (or perhaps a decedent tree) that over hangs the building is said to have grown from Guru Rinpoche's walking stick.
- Zangtopelri Lhakhang. Consecrated in 2008, this latest addition to the sacred sites in the area houses a two story high mandala representing Guru Rinpoche's Copper Colored Mountain. Zangtopelri is a short walk from Kuje 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. The 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 the chain draped over the back and shoulders.
- Chakhar Lhakhang (Iron Castle). This small and unassuming temple marks the site of the palace of Sindhu Raja, the Indian monarch who first invited Guru Rimpoche to Bhutan. The original palace was said to be made of iron and nine stories in height. The current building was constructed by Dorji Lingpa in the 14th century.
For information on customs and symbols in Buddhism, see: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
- Tour the stunning country-side
- Visit sacred sites
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. According to Buddhist philosophy, all experiences leave an imprint in the mind stream that produces a corresponding result in the future, and so viewing dances, such as these, that are imbued with sacred symbolism is considered to be a very auspicious and sanctifying experience. While the event is not held in a solemn atmosphere and there is much merriment, visitors are reminded that it is still a religious festival that holds great significance in the lives of Bhutanese people, and so appropriate behavior is expected.
All dates are for the year 2011
- Nimalung Tshechu Jul 8-10
- Kurjey Tshechu Jul 10
- Tamshingphala Choepa Oct 6-8
- Tangbi Mani Oct 10-12
- Jakar Dzong Tsechu Nov 3-6
- Jambay Lakhang Drup (Tshechu) Nov 10-14
- Pakhar Duchhoed (Tshechu) Nov 11-13
- Nalakhar Tshechu Dec 10-12
The main bazaar (Chamkhar) was severely damaged in a fire on 26 October 2010. However, temporary structures have been built on the site, and so purchasing daily-use items should not be a problem in the town. Work on the new bazaar at Dekiling begins in 2011.
- Woven wool items (yethra) - garments, rugs and bags woven with brightly colored wool are a unique product of the Jakar area and are highly prized throughout the kingdom.
- Dzo (female yak) cheese and preserves.
- Wood carvings
- Gift stores. There are a couple of handicraft stores in the main bazaar, and all the tourist hotels offer a wide selection of locally made goods.
- Handicraft Emporium, Wangdicholing. A government run store selling handicrafts from all over Bhutan, but with special emphasis on local Bumthang products. Prices are not negotiable.
- Udee Woodcarving Workshop. Makes furniture and traditional Bhutanese artifacts.
- Traditional paper making factory, near Lame Gompa (Temple).
- Lham shop, located in the bazaar. A kind if deli, selling cheese cut from the block and varies kinds of apple products, such as juice, wine and brandy.
Most of the tourist hotels in Jakar offer local and international cuisine
- Himalayan Pizza, just off the main bazaar. Opened by a local guy who studied in Germany. Serves pizza and spaghetti.
- Tashi Restaurant, below the dzong. Serves simple local dishes, such as ema datshi and cheese and meat momos.
- Deki Hotel, below the dzong. Serves simple meals.
Most of the tourist hotels in Jakar serve coffee, tea and alcohol.
- Apple juice - fresh from Jakar's famous orchards.
- Coffee. 11-7 is a small cafe in the main bazaar serving latte, cappuccino and other filter based coffees.
- The Swiss Guest House, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.swissguesthouse.bt - Located above the river overlooking the town and the dzong. Surrounded by apple orchards and beautifully decorated, this hotel offers an ideal situation for relaxing and unwinding. An added attraction is the draft beer - a rare commodity in Bhutan.
- Mipham Guest House, located across the river from the main bazaar and just below Lhodrak Kharchhu Monstery, this stone and wood built building offers wood burning stoves in all its rooms and spectacular views across the valley to Jakar Dzong. Rate: double 1,350Nu, single 1,250Nu.
- Wangdicholing Guest House, ☎ , fax: . A recently rebuilt lodge offering lovely views over the valley.
- Kaila Lodge, ☎ , fax: . Decorated in classic style and convenient for town center.
- Jakar Village Lodge, ☎ , fax: . Located below the dzong, this hotel is famous for its excellent food.
- Amankora Bumthang, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. An environmentally sensitive lodge located in an apple orchard next to Wangdicholing Palace, run by superluxury hotel group Aman. The 16 room facility offers spa and international cuisine. US$1000.
- The area dialling code for Jakar and Bumthang is 03. From overseas, dial +975 3 XXXXXX
- There are two internet cafes in the main bazaar, both of which offer swift connections.
- The main post office is located at the lower end of the bazaar, near the bridge.
- Chhumey. A village famous for its woven woolen fabrics. This the best place to purchase a souvenir and to observe the process of weaving.
- Duer Hot Springs. A one and a half day trek from the road head.
- Kunzang Drak, Tang. The retreat center of Pema Lingpa. It is about a one hour hike from the main road running through the Tang Valley.
- Mebar Tsho (Burning Lake), Tang. A place where some of Guru Rinpoche's scriptural treasures (Tib:terma) were discovered in the 15th century by the famous treasure discover Pema Lingpa.
- Tharpaling Goemba, Chhumey. Founded by the dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam in 1352, the monastery was also home to the famous Nyingma guru Jigme Lingpa in the 18th century. It is located at 3,600 m, and is home to around 150 monks. It can be reached by an unpaved road.
- Ura (3,100 m). With its cobbled streets and monastery set against a backdrop of snow covered mountain peaks, Ura has an usually tranquil and gentle charm.