Bumthang District is one of the 20 dzongkhag (districts) comprising Bhutan. It is the most historic dzongkhag if the number of ancient temples and sacred sites is counted. Bumthang consists of the four mountain valleys of Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor (“Bumthang”), although occasionally the entire district is referred to as Bumthang valley. Bumthang directly translates as “beautiful field” – thang means field or flat place, and bum is said be an abbreviation of either bumpa (a vessel for holy water, thus describing the shape and nature of the valley), or simply bum (“girl,” indicating this is the valley of beautiful girls). The name is said to have arisen after construction of Jambay Lhakhang.
Most of Bumthang District is part of Bhutan’s extensive protected areas network. The northern two-thirds of the district (the gewogs of Chhoekhor and Tang) belong to Wangchuck Centennial Park, buffered by pockets of biological corridors. Southern Bumthang (the gewogs of Chhumig, Tang and Ura) is part of another protected area, Thrumshingla National Park. Bumthang is known for its important population of black-necked cranes migrating in winter.
The language spoken in the Bumthang district is known as Bumthangkha. It is a Tibeto-Burman language closely related to Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. Bumthangkha is partially comprehensible to speakers of Dzongkha, which originated in valleys to the west of Bumthang. Each of the four valleys of Bumthang has its own dialect, and the remnants of the Kheng kingdom, near and in Zhemgang District to the south, speak Khengkha. Historically, Bhumthangkha and its speakers have had close contact with speakers of Kurtöpkha to the east, Nupbikha to the west, and Khengkha to the south, to the extent that they may be considered part of a wider collection of “Bumthang languages.”
Mebar Tsho – the Burning Lake
According to the legend Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of the sacred treasures that Guru Rimpoche had hidden within the lake centuries earlier. However the people of Tang and the local ruler were cynical of his claims. In order to prove his claims, Pema Lingpa held a butter lamp in his hand as he jumped into the lake. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright. Thereafter, the lake came to be known as Mebartsho (the burning Lake).
The Burning Lake, Mebar Tsho is located along the way to the Tang village over the feeder road under Bumthang valley. It takes approximately thirty minutes drive to the Mebar Tsho from Chamkhar town. Mebar Tsho is considered one of the most sacred sites in the region as it is related to the renowned religious treasure reveler (Terton) Terton Pema Lingpa. Pema Lingpa is considered an incarnated disciple of Padmasambhava who discovered treasure within the lake in late 15th century.
Today this small fresh water lake is a sacred pilgrimage site for the Bhutanese with bright multicolored prayer flags surrounding it and a small altar dedicated to Terton Pema Lingpa has also been set up. On auspicious days people offer butter lamps at the lake. Many tourist visit the site to observe spectacular beauty of this important historical and religious site.
This is a bustling little one-street town with an abundance of restaurants and handicrafts stores. Jakar sells a good amount of chugo, a hard, chewy dried cheese snack popular among Bhutanese. Internet cafes and the odd espresso bar have also started to make an appearance here.
The Jakar Dzong or the “Castle of the White Bird” dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
A special feature of the Dzong is the approximately fifty meter high Utse or the Central tower, which is distinct from most other Dzongs in Bhutan. The other unique feature of the Dzong is a sheltered passage, with two parallel walls,