The Asian Footprints had published this article earlier.
Nestled on the westernmost edge of Bhutan, Haa Valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in the country. The isolated valley lies behind the mountain ridge of Chele La and it borders the northern boundaries of the Chumbi Valley of Tibet on one side. The verdant, quaint, and remote valley is spread across an area of roughly 1706.8 sq. km. The enchanting beauty of the valley will leave you speechless the moment you arrive.
Interestingly, the Haa valley was off the tourist radar till 2002. This makes the hidden valley one of the offbeat destinations in Bhutan. The pristine valley is the second least populated dzongkhag (District) in the country. Moreover, it is popularly known as “Hidden-Land Rice Valley.”
The slow-paced lifestyle, serenity, and quietness add the much-needed charm to this unseen paradise in Bhutan. Haa is one of the 20 dzongkhag or districts comprising Bhutan and the smallest one in the country. The valley is also the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother and the Dorji family.
The valley also hosts an annual summer festival. It is a great opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage of Bhutan. The quiet valley is home to the nomadic Bhutanese herders. So, if you like to see the rustic lifestyle of the nomadic people in Bhutan, Haa valley is the place to look for.
The pristine valley has a calming aura that is quite inviting to the peace-loving globetrotters to this tiny land. Mostly, people visit the Haa valley to have an immersive travel experience. Whether it is visiting the monasteries, staying in heritage homestays, relishing local delicacies, or just spending time with the people, the Haa valley offers some of the best unforgettable experiences in the Himalayan country.
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HOW TO REACH?
One can reach the Haa valley by bus, air, and private taxi. It is your choice to choose the mode of transport you want to choose to reach the valley. Find out below how you can reach Haa Valley.
The Haa valley is located close to Paro, one of the charming destinations of Bhutan. You can fly to Paro directly and take a private taxi/cab from Paro international airport to reach Haa valley. The distance between the Paro international airport and Haa valley is just 65 km. It takes around 2 hours to reach Haa Valley by road.
One can also avail private vehicle or hired cab from Thimphu. The distance between Thimphu and Haa valley is around 114 km. It takes around 4 hours approximately from Thimphu to Haa valley.
WHEN TO VISIT?
You can visit Bhutan throughout the year. But the best time to visit the Haa valley would be after the monsoon season. October to November is the most perfect time to visit this spectacular valley.
WHAT TO SEE IN HAA VALLEY IN BHUTAN?
The Haa valley offers an abundance of natural beauty. If you are a nature lover who celebrates serenity and often loves getting lost in your thoughts, Haa valley is the ideal getaway in Bhutan. You can experience the “art of doing nothing” without guilt. The enchanting views of the valley and calming aura around let you relax most spectacularly.
If you love those aimless walks or hikes to the forest, there is no dearth of hiking trails in the valley. One can also go on a trek with a local guide in the valley. What I loved the most about this quiet corner of Bhutan was that it allowed me to embrace the silence and relish it completely.
The sound of cowbells, chipping birds, and the wind was the only noise I heard there. Whenever you pan your eyes, you will see only those traditional flat-roofed houses, farmlands, and lush green hills surrounded by giant mountains in the backdrop. If you don’t even step out of your accommodation, time flies swiftly without your knowledge.
If you are someone who loves to walk around and experience the local ways of life, there are a few places one must visit during your trip. Here is the list of places you must cover in Haa valley. Moreover, for enthusiastic souls, there are a few must-do things in the sleepy valley of Bhutan.
One of the must-visit places to visit in Haa valley is certainly Haa Gompa. This is one of the most sacred places for the people of Haa valley. The Gompa is built in a place where a local farmer saw a lame pigeon. It is believed that it was a Bodhisattva (any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood) in disguise. According to the legends, the farmer also heard the sound of trumpets and saw strange flashes of light when he discovered the lame pigeon. They considered it a spiritual thing and a message from God. Because of this particular reason the Haa Gompa was built at the same spot.
Another place to visit in Haa Valley is the famous Yangthang Gonpa, located just 3 km away from the valley. It is one of the largest Gonpa in the valley. Lama Thinley Gyatsho had founded this Gonpa on a hilltop called Chubugang. According to the legends, Yangthang Gonpa has a mysterious mythical flowering plant. The flower blooms on the 15th day of the sacred fourth month. Therefore, if you ever happen to be visiting Yangthang Gonpa in the first month of the Bhutanese calendar, you can be part of the chanting ceremony held in the monastery.
If you have visited Thimphu and Punakha Dzongs in Bhutan, you will find the Haa Dzong quite small in size. The recently constructed Haa Dzong or the administrative building is quite champing nevertheless. Located on the eastward side of Haa in the Damchoe region. The Haa Dzong is an administrative office for the Royal Government of Bhutan. The dzong is also for the Indian Military Training Team. The entry is restricted. However, if one takes prior permission, the visit to Haa Dzong can be permitted.
LHAKHANG KARPO (WHITE TEMPLE)
One of the prominent landmarks of Haa valley is the famous Lhakhang karpo. The word Lhakhang means temple and Karpo means white. They call it the White temple. This sacred temple was built in the 7th century. According to the legends, before constructing the shrine, a black dove and a white pigeon were released. The white pigeon rested on the grounds of the three towering temples and at that time, Tibetan King Songtsen Gempo decided to construct the temple.
The Lhakhang Karpo was constructed in stunning white color in traditional Bhutanese architecture. The temple is not just a shrine, it houses the monastic body of the Haa region and they are the ones who conceptualize and organize the festival which is helpful in Haa Dzong.
LHAKHANG NAGPO (BLACK TEMPLE)
Another must-visit place is Lhakhang Nagpo, also known as the black temple. The story goes the same as mentioned in Lhakhang Karpo. Before the construction of the temple, a black dove and a white pigeon were released and a black dove returned and rested on the ground where the current black temple is located. Like the white temple, this temple was also built around the 7th century. Just to adhere to the name, the temple has been built with a grey tint to make it look darker.
THINGS TO DO IN HAA VALLEY IN BHUTAN
1. WALK AROUND & EXPERIENCE SLOW LIFE
What better way to experience a valley than walking around? A quint valley is an ideal place for those aimless walks. The charming place allows you to breathe the fresh air, your eyes meet the lush green surrounding and the encircling snow-capped Himalayas.
The flat-roofed traditional Bhutanese houses add so much aesthetics to the astonishing valley. You can also observe their way of life while taking a lazy walk on those breathtaking trails.
Imagine the chirping sound of the birds, twittering in the trees, the rustling leaves, and the sound of a gushing water stream. The tryst with nature in the mysterious terrain is simply blissful. If you are an early riser, you will witness the unfolding layers of nature one by one.
Whether it is seeing the villagers starting their day, the rising smoke from the backdrop of the traditional kitchen, or the rising sun above the alpine forest, it is nothing, but blissful.
Life takes its own time to react here. The green meadows with yellow flowers surely remind you of the countryside of the Alps in Switzerland. Don’t miss taking a leisurely walk along the picturesque Haa Chu river.
2. MEET “HAAP” PEOPLE
Do you know that the people of Haa valley are called “ Haap”? The smiling faces and the warm personalities of the people make this part of Bhutan the desired land. A set of unique cultural practices of this valley sets it apart from the rest of Bhutan.
Unlike the rest of the world, the “Haap” celebrate New Year much earlier. They celebrate New Year on the 29th day of the 10th Month of the Bhutanese calendar (early November). The “Haap” New Year is known as “Lomba”, which means “To carry the year”. Apart from that, they also celebrate the famous summer festivals where you will get a glimpse of their nomadic lifestyle and culture.
By tradition, the Haap people are Yak herders and farmers. Their livelihood mainly depends on agriculture. Moreover, due to its fertile land, people mostly grow high-altitude crops like wheat, potatoes, barley, and millet. In addition, the yak is considered a significant contributor to the economy of this region. A dried variety of Yak Cheese called the “Habi Ruto” is a specialty of this region. Most of the people of this region raise domestic animals such as yak, cattle, chickens, pigs, and horses.
3. HIKING & TREKKING
If you are a nature lover, the Haa valley is an unmatched paradise unexplored. The abundance of natural beauty will just leave you speechless. There are uncountable scenic trails for your wanderlust. If you are a hiker, you would love those trails up in the mountains. For trekkers, numerous unimaginable untrodden paths take you to the dense forest, scenic surroundings, and those paddy fields.
You can also hike to Kila Nunnery from Chele La Pass, go on a Poppy Trail hike, etc. If you are taking the Poppy flower trail in summer you will experience the blue poppies blooming which are very peculiar to Haa Valley.
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