Paro is for most visitors the first place to catch a glimpse of Bhutan as it has the country’s only airstrip and because of its proximity to the airport, hotels and tourist facilities are found close to it. The valley of Paro contains a wealth of attractions. Here is located the Rinpung Dzong, an elegant and perfectly symmetrical structure. Built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administration head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. Behind Rinpung Dzong is the castle shaped Ta Dzong, which houses the National Museum.
Thimphu is a bustling town set on the banks of its own rivers and set in the hills of its own valley. It is home to the revered Bhutanese Royal Family and to several foreign mission and development projects. The main secretariat building, the Tashicho Dzong, houses the throne room of the king of Bhutan. The Thanka School in the heart of Thimphu is well worth visiting. The National Library housing some of the oldest records of Bhutanese history and religion is located nearby. Visitors can wander along the main street and into shops, all of which are decorated in the traditional style. Five miles from Thimphu stands Simtokha Dzong. Built in 1627, it is the oldest Dzong and houses the School for Buddhist studies, language and dance.
Guru Rimpoche after his journey from Tibet on a tigress ’back is said to have meditated at the Taktsang, a monastery overlooking Paro valley. A hallowed shrine, Bhutanese pilgrims travel from all over the land to pray at its temple. After a three hour’s hike from the road one can get a spectular view of the Tiger’s Nest. Eighteen kilometers from Paro Town is the burnt ruins of Drukgyel Dzong(Victorious Fortress), a monastery from which the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century.
Punakha lies about two hours drive from Dorchula low down in its valley. Home to the Central monk body and the Je Khenpo during the milder winter months, Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. Punakha Dzong houses sacred temples including the Marchen where the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lies in state.
Wangduephodrang is the last town on the central highway before Central Bhutan. Sitting on top of the hill overlooking the junction of two rivers is the town’s most visible feature, Wangduephodrang Dzong which in the 17th century played a critical role in unifying the main parts of Bhutan. Gangtey Gompa, located to the east of Wangduephodrang is an old monastery dating back to the 17th century. A few kilometers past the gompa is the village of Phopbjika. This is the winter home of black-necked cranes that migrate from the north to pass the winter in milder and lower climes. Others places of interest include Tongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, Tashigang and Tashiyangtse.