If ever there was a place where nature and man conjured to create their
dearest image, it must be the Paro Valley. To the north Mount Chomolhari
(mountain of the Goddess) reigns in white glory and the glacier waters
from its five sister peaks plunge torrentially through deep gorges finally
converging to form the Paro River that nourishes the rice fields and
fruit orchards of Paro valley.
Takshang, literally meaning Tiger's Nest, built around a cave in which
Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambava ) meditated, clings seemingly impossible
to a cliff of rock at 3,000 feet (800m.) above the valley floor. For
local people it is a place of pilgrimage, but for a tourist, a hike
to the viewpoint opposite the monastery in exhausting, thrilling and
Across the river, on a cliff that rises from the river, stands the elegantly
symmetrical Rinpung Dzong. Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal,
the first temporal ruler of Bhutan, it now houses the Paro monastic
body and the office of the Dzongda (governor ) and Thrimpon (Judge)
of Paro district. It is the venue of the Paro Tsechu ( festival) held
once every year. Behind Rinpung Dzong, on the high hillside, is the
castle shaped Ta Dzong. This one time watchtower built to defend Rinpung
Dzong during civil wars among many temporal rulers of Bhutan in the
17th century, has been the National Museum since 1967. Eighteen kilometers
from the small town of Paro are the burnt ruins of Drugyel Dzong (Victorious
Fortress) from where Bhutan repelled several invasions by Tibet. The
only international airport of Bhutan is also located in Paro.
Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan lies at an elevation of 7,600 feet in
a valley transversed by the Thimphu River. Tashichho Dzong, the main
secretariat building houses the Throne Room of the King of Bhutan, the
summer residence of the Central Monk Body and the National Assembly
The city of Thimphu is nothing like what a capital city is imagined
to be. Nevertheless, for Bhutan it is a fitting and lively place. The
shops vie with each other, stocked with varieties of commodities ranging
form cooking oil to fabrics. Old wooden houses stand side by side with
newly constructed concrete buildings, all painted and constructed in
traditional Bhutanese architectural style.
The Handicrafts Emporium displays a wide assortment of beautiful handwoven
and crafted products. Prominently standing out in Thimphu is the National
(stupa), a monument dedicated to the Third King of Bhutan popularly
known as the Father of Modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside
the monument provided a very rare insight into Buddhist philosophy.
Five miles away from Thimphu stands the Simtokha Dzong on a lofty ridge.
Built in 1627, this oldest Dzong in the country now houses the School
For Buddhist Studies. Other places of interest are the School Of Traditional
Painting, the Indigenous Hospital, the National Library and the Gold
& Silversmith's Workshop.
Blessed with a temperate climate and drained by the Phochu (male) and
Mochu (female) rivers, the fertile valley of Punakha served as the capital
of Bhutan and even today, it is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief
Abbot) and the Central Monk Body. In 1667, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
built Punakha Dzong at the junction of Phochu and Mochu rivers to serve
as both the religious and administrative center of Bhutan. Punakha Dzong
houses many sacred temples including the Machen where the embalmed body
of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lies in state.
Damaged four times by fire in the late 18th century and early 19th
century and by earthquake in 1897, the Dzong was completely restored
by the present King. The drive from Thimpu to Punakha crosses the high
Dochula Pass, site of one of Bhutan's most enchanting views. From this
pass, the breathtaking peaks of Bhutan's northern border can be viewed
and within sight of alpine snow is a magnificent canvas of color ? a
profusion of red, pink, white yellow and purple rhododendron blossoms
splashed among the soft green of wild herbs and forest trees.
Towards the south of Punakha valley lies the valley of Wangdi Phodrang
and the confluence of Mochu and Tangchu rivers stands the impressive
Wangdi Phodrang Dzong. The higher reaches of the valley provide rich
pasture land for cattle. Phubjikha in Wangdi Phodrang is the winter
retreat for the rare Black Necked cranes. The district is also known
for its fine bamboo work including slate and stone carvings. (* also
spelt as Wangdue Phodrang)
Midway between Ha in the far west and Tashigang in the far east stands
the striking Tongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan's Royal Family.
Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country form this
ancient seat. All four kings of Bhutan held post of Tongsa Penlop (honorary
post of Governor) prior to being crowned the king. A massive structure
with many levels that slopes down the contour of the hill on which it
is set, the Tongsa Dzong was built in 1648 and later enlarged and decorated.
Because of its highly strategic position on the only connecting route
between the eastern and western sectors (the trail actually running
through the dzong), the Tongsa Penlop was able to control the whole
of the eastern region effectively for many centuries.
To the east of Tongsa lies the wide valley of Bumthang where the tales
of Padmasambava dominate the holy places. The valley is home to the
scared Jambey Lhakhang (monastery) and to the Kurjey Lhakhang where
the bodily marks of Padmasambava remain to this day impressed on a solid
rock face. Both the temples are believed to have been built in the 8th
century by Sindhu Raja after Padmasambava had cured this ailing ruler
and converted him to Buddhist faith. Along the highway between Bumthang
and Mongar is the beautiful village of Ura. A visit to this village
and the Ura monastery will give visitors an insight into the life?style
of the people of Central Bhutan.
Mongar is the site of one of Bhutan's newest Dzong, built in 1930 following
the traditional architectural pattern handed down through time, without
any plans on paper or the use of any nails. A visit to this Dzong gives
visitors an impression of how over the centuries traditional Bhutanese
architecture has continued to flourish to this day without any change.
In the far east of Bhutan, on the banks of Dangmechu, lies Trashigang,
the country's largest district. Once the center of a busy trade route
with Tibet, Trashigang is today the junction of the eastern corners of the kingdom with India with a
road connecting to the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar.
Vividly colored handloom cloth and endisilk spun from cocoons bred
from castor oils plants, are local specialties. Other places of interest
area Chorten Kora in Tashi Yangtsi, Khaling Handloom Center and the
Radi Village which is the gateway to Merak and Sakten in the easternmost
part of Bhutan.
Our Bhutan affiliate link: www.baralynka.com