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Introducing Ura

Ura is one of the most interesting villages in Bhutan. There are about 40 closely packed houses along cobblestone streets, and the main Ura Lhakhang dominates the town, giving it a medieval atmosphere. In colder weather Ura women wear a sheepskin shawl that serves as both a blanket and a cushion.

Ura gets a rush of visitors during the Ura yakchoe, a notoriously unreliable festival that regularly changes date at the last minute, leaving behind busloads of disappointed tour groups on tight schedules. If you do decide to visit the festival, normally in May, it would be wise to budget a couple of days' leeway in your itinerary. The three days of masked dances starts on the 12th day of the third month with a procession carrying an image of Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) from the nearby Gaden Lhakhang down to the main lhakhang. The eve of the festival sees the frantic brewing of sinchhang (a spirit distilled from millet, wheat or rice) and late-night exorcisms. Even if it's not festival time, it's a pleasant 15-minute walk from Gaden Lhakhang down to Ura village.

Hotel Araya Zambala, beside the main road above Ura, has six basic rooms with private bathrooms, and can provide simple meals in its roadside inn. Its main business is in herbal medicines and dried mushrooms. It's just above Gaden Lhakhang.

During the Ura festival even camping spots are scarse and some groups commute from Jakar, 90 minutes' drive away. At other times homestays are generally possible in Ura village.

A few hundred metres beyond the hotel (towards Mongar) is the start of the Ura–Geyzamchu Walking Trail, a 9km-long, five-hour hike crossing the Wangthang La pass and rejoining the main road at Geyzam Chhu. It's a demanding but rewarding walk through rhododendron, pine forests and alpine meadows along an old trade route. For information and a local guide visit the Thrumshing La National Park Visitor Centre, on the main road, just past the turn-off to Ura village.

The hills around Ura produce some of Bhutan's best matsutake mushrooms (sangay shamu in Dzongkha), a fact celebrated with recipes, local stalls and other fungi-related fun in August's Matsutake Festival.