The Untold Adventures of Samdrupjongkhar

A gateway to Eastern Bhutan by road with a brand new travel experience of bird watching, native seed banks, salt road and many more.

Most people who grew up in the east of the country remember traveling to one of the oldest towns in the east, Samdrupjongkhar. The city was popularly known for having one of the earliest cinema halls, the oldest commercial center in the east and also a gateway to the bustling Indian city of Guwahati. The district as an ideal travel destination has been underestimated until now. The dzongkhag has a lot to offer. Here are some of the notable attractions for travelers.

Kantali hut

Narphu – Samdrupjongkhar Bird Watching Route

Bhutan is known to host over 7% of the world’s bird species in various districts including Samdrupjongkhar due to its rich forest cover. About 60 kilometers from the main town, from the foot of the famous mirror cliff (melong brak) lies the warm subtropical and leafy forest, the ideal route for bird watching. It is home to around 360 different species of birds found in Bhutan. Beautiful nuthatch, Crimson Sunbird, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Greater Goldenback, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and White-browed Scimitar Babbler are some of the major bird species that fly in this vegetation. Bird watching activities can be done in spring, fall and winter.

Kaloyen Tsho Hike

Located above Dewathang, Kaloyen Tsho is a 2-hour walk from the main Lamtsarong road. Locals believe that the lake belongs to the guardian deity of Dewathang, Kaloyen Yongba, and is therefore named Kaloyen Tsho. Trekkers can enjoy the breathtaking view of Yongla Goenpa, Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar town and views of the plains of Assam in the soft golden twilight. Hikers can also visit sacred sites along the route and the rich vegetation.

Chokyi Gyatso Institute

Popularly known as Dzongsar Shedra, the tiny but magnificent Chokyi Gyatso Institute overlooking the Dewathang Valley is one of the attractions for local travelers. The monastery is unique in many ways. It has palatial architecture, a serene environment, and most importantly, it maintains traditional wisdom with modern and innovative programs like Lhomen Education. It is therefore an inimitable tourist destination for a traveler in search of precious experiences. The Shedra welcomes all visitors without restrictions like dress code or religion – he/she can visit each shrine, mediate as they please for hours and exit the monastery whenever they wish.

Dungsam Seed Bank

Cereal and vegetable seeds

Bhairab Kunda Shiva mandir

The Shiva Mandir at Jomotsangkha is popular among local visitors and also regional tourists from across the border. It has rich religious histories and is also a popular spot for picnickers. There is a self-arising lake with linga next to the cave.

Salt course

Like James Beard’s weighty question, “Where would we be without salt?”, Long ago, the people of Pema Gatshel and Trashigang traveled the road of broadleaf pine forests carrying oranges for the salt trade and silk from Gudama-the border town of Samdrupjongkhar. This was when the national road between Samdrupjongkhar and Trashigang was not built. It was an eight day trip through beautiful villages and mountain ridges. Today, it is one of the potential nature-based treks in Dzongkhag to retrace and revisit the ancient salt trek route.

The tasty Orongpa Solo (Chili)

For the foodies, Samdrupjongkhar is also known for the famous local chili pepper called Orongpa Solo which is best for preparing national dish Ema Dasti, like Urka of Trashi Yangtse. The story goes that many moons ago, the people of Dueri noticed the millet ball drifting from the upper hill. They felt the presence of fertile land above and thus, they discovered Orong. The gift of this discovery was this Orongpa pepper with a particular taste.

Dungsam Seed Bank

At the initiative of the local community, about sixty-seven varieties of indigenous cereals and the genetic diversity of vegetable seeds are preserved and distributed at the Dungsam Seeds Bank in Samdrupjongkhar. For example, the ‘Yang-go’ cereal which was in decline in the Geowgs was revived. The traditional seed bank serves as a seed library with information on Dru-na-gu (the nine essential grains of spiritual value) available in the Dzongkhag.

Kantali hut

Kantali Hut in Dewathang is a must visit for all visitors. Kantali is a Sanskrit word meaning replica. In keeping with its name, the hut showcases the crafts of the Dzongkhag people. The shop’s arts and crafts include products ranging from mud, bamboo, wood to contemporary upcycled bags, bamboo cups, plastic baskets, earthen pots and natural dyed Bhutanese outfits.

Access to nearest ecotourism destination in Assam

Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag is close to the commercial center and the international airport of Guwahati, Assam. It takes about 3 hours drive from the main town of Samdrupjongkhar to reach Guwahati. Assam is world famous for ecotourism. Hence, the Dzongkhag serves as the gateway and exit for all tourists to the wealthy tourist hotspot of northeastern India.

In a nutshell, the remote Samdrupjongkhar district has a lot to offer travelers seeking unique experiences, warmer weather and balmy golden hours in the southeastern plains of Bhutan.

Contributed by Sonam Wangchuk is Asst. Economic development officer under the Samdrupjongkhar administration. He enjoys photography, translation, digital design, reading and writing. He blogs at sonamwangchuk132.blogspot.com

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