HAA VALLLEY – Haa District is one of the 20 dzongkhag or districts in Bhutan and it truly showcases the rustic character of Bhutan! The spectacular scenery of Haa Valley gives you a peek in the most unspoiled, raw, beatific and peaceful character of Bhutan. One can find beautiful home-stays with modern amenities here. I had an amazing experience living in one of the oldest houses of the valley.
For decades, Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist Kingdom has remained an enigma. There was a time when it was hard to locate in on the map. Only a few decades ago in 1974, the country decided to open its arms to welcome global travelers. Soon enough tourists who were keen to know about its history, the landscape and people who made it what it is today, eagerly made their way into Bhutan. The Himalayan Kingdom is a harmonious combination of peaceful oases, verdant valleys, idyllic forests, mystical monasteries, overwhelming architecture and happy people. The beauty and spectacular scenery of the country that has retained its cultural identity is such that the travelers-cum-seekers experience tranquility, serenity and calmness in every corner of the Kingdom. The exquisite craftsmanship showcased in its houses and monuments is beyond description.
When asked about Bhutanese cities, Thimphu and Paro come in my mind first. As I ponder further, I also insist on Punakha for river camping and adventure sports. If you are doing a road trip from India (Bagdogra to Phuentsholing), you may visit the capital Thimphu first. If you choose to fly in the country, you will be landing at the Paro airport which is the sole international airport among the four airports of the Kingdom. The upper Paro valley is extremely famous among hikers for being home to Taktshang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Hidden Gem: The Haa Valley
As I prepare you for your first encounter with Bhutan, I wouldn’t want to hide one of the most enchanting valleys of Bhutan. Haa means hidden-ness. It is one of the least populated dzongkhag (district) in the country. Blessed with dramatic landscape, it is amazingly impressive. It is scenic. It is peaceful. Best of all, it is still isolated,un-spoilt, non-commercial and far from the maddening crowd.
From Paro, the way to Haa Valley is a slow ascend through winding roads amidst gorgeous forests and shrubberies. Enroute the valley, there are atmospheric hills, snowy caps, clusters of fluttering prayer flags, clear green mountain rivers, passing willows, rice terraces, vantage points for fascinating views of the valley and there you know that you have arrived at the stunning Chele La Pass. This pass is located at 3810m (13,000ft) and earns its fame for being the highest motorable pass in the country. This place has more prayer flags than I had ever seen. A small stop-over is a must in order to relish the heavenly views of the valley as well as local tea.
True colors of Haa Valley
With all the beauty, freshness, gurgling streams, picturesque Haa Chu River, flourishing apple orchards and smiling people, a visit to Haa is about getting a glimpse of the traditional roots of Bhutan.
Also famous as ‘Hidden-Land Rice Valley’, this pure and pristine valley is steeped in nature, culture, history and tradition. So you must know what to expect there. It is absolutely raw and rustic and makes a perfect location for a relaxing getaway. While Haa Valley offers many one day hiking options, there are many short trails leading to monasteries too. The other major attractions are Lhakhang Karpo (White temple), Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple), the hanging bridge, apple orchards, the hill that looks like a horse, Drak temple and the Haa Chu River.
An early morning walk in a must do in Haa and there you will discover its true colors. The cattle roaming around nonchalantly, the pebbled streets, open fields, locals sitting idle or doing their local chores, children going to school over cute wooden bridges, gurgling streams, dogs trailing behind you, green and blue mountains and atmospheric ambiance make a way to the heart through the eyes. . Last but not the least, your lungs will thank you for giving them a chance to breathe in the purest of air and your heart will love the sight of clouds hugging mountains around you at the valley. Maybe, this is what it means to be detached from the worldly pleasures.
Homestays of Haa Valley
It is said that houses depict the personality of the people. These simple, old but artistic homes gives us some interesting insights into Bhutanese culture. If you wish to stay in an old, traditional house of Bhutan, you must visit the valley. Ever since, tourists have started coming in, many Bhutanese houses have been restored to function as homestays. I must talk about them because I was impressed to see how they have preserved traditional Bhutanese architecture, paintings, local cuisine, history and heritage and on the other hand, they also provide for modern amenities catering to the needs of the global travelers. In between the renovated houses, you will easily find clusters of mud and wooden houses.
Some stories that are to be believed
It is believed that King Songtsen Goenpo has released one black and one white dove from his palace in Tibet. These doves flew into Bhutan and found their abode in Haa valley. The two temples, one black and one white, were built where the doves had landed.
There are three mountains in Haa which are known as the three brother hills (Miri Punsum) of Haa. They are believed to be three great bodhisattvas, Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara and Vajrapāṇi.
It would be hard to believe now but in the pre-buddhist era, Haa Valley was known for its animalistic rituals and tradition. Animal blood was offered to the deities.
Phola Mansang Chungdud or in short as Ap Chungdud is known as the guardian deity of Haa valley. Any mention of Haa valley remains incomplete without talking about him.
Some more pointers around Haa Valley
- Dzongkha is Bhutan’s national language.
- The local people of Haa are called Haaps.
- The important crops of Haa valley are millet, potatoes, barley, rice, wheat.
- Yak cheese is popular in the region.
- It is a two hour drive from Paro.
- Remember to get your special route permit for your trip to Haa Valley in addition to the regular permit.