Trashigang (Auspicious Mountain) is one of Bhutan's more interesting towns and a good base for excursions to Trashi Yangtse, Khaling, Radi, Phongme and elsewhere in eastern Bhutan. The picturesque town is at the foot of a steep wooded valley with the tiny Mithidang Chhu channelled through it. Trashigang's focal point is a tiny plaza that becomes crammed with parked cars.
The Mongar district is the northern portion of the ancient region of Khyeng. Shongar Dzong, Mongar's original dzong, is in ruins, and the new dzong in Mongar town is not as architecturally spectacular or historically significant as others in the region. Drametse Goemba, in the eastern part of the district, is an important Nyingma monastery, perched high above the valley.
Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongkhag
The only reason to make the tortuous drive into southeastern Bhutan is to leave it, at the border crossing with India at Samdrup Jongkhar. Entering the country at this border crossing offers quick access to the east from India's Assam state, though political tensions and strikes (bandhs) in that state can make transport options uncertain.
The highway enters the town from the north, passing the small modern dzong with its goemba and traditional-style courthouse. The main road passes the Bank of Bhutan and crosses a bridge then turns left into the compact bazaar area, where you'll find hotels, shops and restaurants. If you go straight instead of turning left, you will hit the border.
Mongar to Trashigang
The Mongar to Trashigang stretch is easier and shorter than the journey from Jakar to Mongar, but you still need about 3½ hours to cover the 91km between the two towns, plus an extra two hours if you detour to Drametse Goemba. The road crosses one low pass, then follows a river valley before making a final climb to Trashigang.
There is little to see in Lhuentse and there's no actual village here, but the dzong is one of the most picturesque in Bhutan. Just above the dzong is a dratshang (college) built to house the monastic community, while the hillsides are dotted with quarters for government officials who have been posted to this remote area where housing is scarce.
Formerly known as Kurtoe, the isolated district of Lhuentse is the ancestral home of Bhutan's royal family. Although geographically in the east, it was culturally identified with central Bhutan, and the high route over Rodang La was a major trade route until the road to Mongar was completed.
Trashigang to Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Most people heading out this way are trekking to and between the twin villages of Merak and Sakteng, each the centre of its own secluded valley within the 741 sq km Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. The two villages are home to the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic ethnic group and traditionally yak herders by trade.
Hidden in a side valley high above Trashi Yangtse town is this delightful and little-known pilgrimage site. The current chapel dates from the 18th century and is built around the kurjey (body print) of Guru Rinpoche. Pilgrims lift one of two stones in front of the print to increase their chances of getting a boy or girl.
Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
Bomdeling is a 40-minute drive north of Trashi Yangtse, across the traditional bridge at the north end of town. It is the winter (November to early March) roosting place of around 100 black-necked cranes. Other over-wintering birds include bar-headed geese and isisbills. The sanctuary is also home to capped langurs, red pandas, tigers and snow leopards.
Trashigang to Gom Kora
The drive from Trashigang to Trashi Yangtse takes about 1¾ hours' driving time, but you should budget extra time to visit Gom Kora on the way. There's lots to see en route and it's a great day trip from Trashigang. Even if you don't have time to drive all the way to Chorten Kora and Trashi Yangtse, do make the effort to make the short trip to Gom Kora.