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Places To Visit In Bhutan

The capital city of Bhutan, and the center of government, religion and commerce, Thimphu valley,which lies at an altitude of 2400m , is a lively place, an interesting combination of tradition and modernity. Home to civil servants, expatriates and the monk body, Thimphu maintains a strong national character in its architectural style.

National Memorial Chorten: The building of this chorten was originally the idea of Bhutan's third king, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck,the father of modern Bhutan, who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. After His Majesty?s untimely death in 1972, the Royal Family and Cabinet resolved to fulfill his wishes and erect a memorial that would perpetuate his memory and also serve as a monument to peace. The National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974. The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

Tashichhodzong: The "fortress of the glorious religion" was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majestyas secretariat, and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu (held in autumn) and while the monk body is resident in its winter quarters in Punakha.

Simtokha Dzong: This dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands on a low ridge 8 km. down the valley from Thimphu. The Institute for Language and Culture Studies is located here. The most noteworthy artistic feature of this dzong is the series of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.

National Library: The National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutanâs cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. This collection, known as the Choekey Collection, mainly comprises Buddhist literature written in Choekey, the religious script of Northern Buddhism, but also includes works written in Tibetan and in Dzongkha, Bhutanâs national language. There is also a small Foreign Books Collection, stock of which mainly comprises works written in English, with subject interest on Buddhist studies, Bhutan, the Himalayan region and neighboring countries.

Institute for Zorig Chusum: Commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. On a visit one can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.

National Institute of Traditional Medicine: In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners.
The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around and view it from the outside.

Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums: These museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.

Handicrafts shops: A wide assortment of colorful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller crafts shops around the town.
Weekend Market: Most of the Thimphuâs population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the river. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy souvenirs

This beautiful valley encapsulates a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutanâs oldest temples and monasteries, the countryâs only airport, and the National Museum. Mt. Jhomolhari (7,300m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley, its glacial waters plunging through deep gorges to form the Pa Chu (Paro river). The Paro valley is one of the kingdomâs most fertile, producing the bulk of Bhutanâs famous red rice from its terraced fields.

It lies at an elevation of 2200m. It is one of the most fertile valleys and has the only international airport.

Drukgyel Dzong: This dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt. Jhomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.

Rinpung Dzong: The "fortress of the heap of jewels" was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on a hill above the township. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. The valley ?s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.

Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong. ("Ta" means "to see" in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a dzong is always called a "Ta dzong"). On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paroas Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the Bhutan?s National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutanâs exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.

Kyichu Lhakhang: This lhakhang, built in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest and most sacred shrines in Bhutan (the other being Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). Kyichu Lhakhang is composed of twin temples. The first temple was built by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo.

in the 7th century. In 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one, in same style.

Farm Houses: The natural beauty of Paro valley is enhanced by picturesque farm houses dotted about the fields and on the hillsides. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farm houses are beautiful in appearance, with colorfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow the same architectural style. A visit to a farm house gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family.

Kila Gompa: This is the serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their lives to spiritual fulfillment. In this gompa, nestled in a craggy patch of rock on the mountainside below Chele-la pass, they spend their days in religious studies, prayer and meditation. Kila Gompa is about an hour?s walk from Chele-la, down a path through pine forest.

Druk Choeding: This temple in Paro town was built in 1525 by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Raling in Tibet, and an ancestor of the Shabdrung, Ngawang Namgyal. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers,Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. There are splendid views from Dochu-la pass (3,088m/10,130ft) on the Thimphu - Punakha road.

Taktsang is considered as one of the sacred monasteries in Bhutan.This monastery is perched on a high and steep granite cliff overlooking the northern Paro valley.It is highly venerated by Bhutanese people due to its association with Guru Rinpoche, who is said to have flown to Paro Taktsang in the form of Dorji Drolo, mounted on a flaming dakini-tigress in the 747A.D.

Guru Rinpoche is said have visited Bhutan thrice.His first visit to Bhutan was in 746 A.D from India when he was invited to Bumthang valley to treat the Sindhu Raja, the ruler of Bumthang, who was seriously ill at that time. The king was cured and was converted to Buddhism. He promised to return to Bhutan again to further propagate the Buddhist teachings.

A year later,he was invited to Tibet by King Thrisong Deutsen to assist him in the construction of the Samye Monastery. He travelled to Tibet, by tantric powers, he cleared away the demonic forces that were disrupting the construction of the monastery, and the monastery was successfully built. During his visit to Tibet in 747

A.D, Guru Rinpoche decided to visit Bhutan again with his Tibetan consort Khandu Yeshi Tshogyel. He travelled all over the country and blessed the people.While in Singye Dzong in Kurtoe ( Lhuentse),Guru is believed to have flown to Paro Taktsang in the form of Guru Dorji Drolo, his 8th and the final manifestation, mounting on a dakini-tigress. Before his arrival, the whole country was believed to have been inhabited by hostile evil spirits. On his arrival, he subdued eight categories of evil spirits and bounded them by solemn oath to be the protectors of teaching for all times to come.

He also concealed various forms of Dharma treasures including 3 teachings of Yoga to be discovered later by his disciples called Tertons (Treasure Discoverers). According to his biography ?Yidkyi Munsel?, he meditated there for 4 months and blessed this place as the best among the sacred places (Ney).

Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambavha

He revealed the real form of Phurpai Kyilkhor (Vajrakiliya) and instructed upon Langchen Pelgyi Singye, one of his principle disciples (Gyalbang Nyernga) and his spiritual condort Khandu Yeshi Tshogyel. The cave where Guru Rinpoche and many other renowned saints meditated is called “Drubkhangâ (meditation room) or the ?pelphug? (holy cave)

In Tibet at Chimphu, Guru gave initiations of the Kagyed text to his faithful disciples. His heart-disciple Langchen Pelgyi Singye who became renowned especially in the craft of subduing evil spirits was instructed to return to Paro Taktsang. Langchen Pelgyi Singye came to Taktsang in 853 A.D, and meditated in the Drubkhang for a long time. The place came to be known as Taktsang Pelphug after him. Then he went to Nepal and before dying, entrusted his body to the protector Damchen Dorji Legpa as his spiritual assistant. His body was brought back to Taktsang by Damchen Dorji Legpa and was hidden in the manner of a treasure (Terma) to be discovered later. His body is now enshrined in the deep rocks under the site of his Kudung chorten, which had been built years ago and was restored in 1982-1983.

According to the Neyig of Taktsang, compiled by Lopen Pemala, there are 9 holy caves (Phug) around the Taktsang, namely:

  1. Machiphug
  2. Singyephug
  3. Pelphug
  4. Drolophug
  5. Yoeselphug
  6. Gadigphug
  7. Choegyelphug
  8. Kapaliphug
  9. Phagmoiphug

Machigphug is the cave where Machig Lhabdron, incarnation of Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel, had meditated and is located above the ravine, before approaching the main Taktsang Goenpa. Singyephug can be seen nearby the small stream falling from the cliff. The stream is called Shelkarchu as it is believed that the string of glass beads were scattered around that area by Khandro Yeshi Tshogyel. The cave where Langchen Pelgyi Singye had meditated is called Pelphug seen in the main Taktsang monastery. Rest of the holy caves are said to be located somewhere behind the temple of Singye Samdrup, the protector deity of Taktsang.Taktsang was under the charge of the Kathogpa lama since 14th century. Kathogpa lam Yeshi Bum (1245-1311), lived in the 15th century visited Taktsang where he intended to build a temple. His wish remained unfulfilled until 1508 when his nephew and disciple, Sonam Gyaltshen built the temple of Ugyen Tsemo above Taktsang.

In 1646, Zhabdrung invited Lopon Rigzin Nyingpo, the descedent of Terton Sangye Lingpa (1340-1396) from Kongpo in Tibet. Zhabdrung visited Taktsang in the company of Lopon Rigzin Nyingpo and took over the charge of Taktsang including Ugyen Tsemo from Kathogpa Lama.he appointed Jinpa Gyalthsen, brother of Desi Tenzin Rabgye, as Lama of Taktsang. Zhabdrung and Lopon Rigzin Nyingpo performed the prayer of Phurpai Kyikhor, which had been performed since then.

It is said that even though Zhabdrung had a wish to build a temple at the site where the Taktsang now stands, he could not as the construction of Paro Rinpung Dzong was underway. So he instructed Tenzin Rabgye, who was a minor at that time to build a temple. In 1692, on the command of Desi Tenzin Rabgye, the Paro Penlop Dragpa Gyaltshen built the main 2-stored temple around the Drubkhang in Taktsang and thus fulfilled Zhabdrung?s wish. It was from this time at Taktsang that system of performing annual prayer dedicated to Guru Rinpoche was introduced, which is even to this day conducted by the Tshenyid Division of the Central monastic Body.

Through numerous renovations and expansions over the following centuries, Taktsang grew into an intricate complex; some of its individual buildings are connected only by steep ladder ways. Between 1961 and 1965, the 34th Je Khenpo Sherdrup Yoezer renovated it. The latest additions were made between 1981 and 1982.

Different temples in Taktsang

  • On the left of the entrance stair is the building which contains the Kudung ?stupa? of Langchen Pelgyi Singye whose body has been placed deep in the rocks under the site of the Kudung Chorten.
  • On the inner left corner is the Dorlo Lhakhang, the temple dedicated to Guru Dorji Dorlo, which had been installed by Late Lama Sonam Zangpo. In the main building, there are three temples.
  • The lower temple contains the cave where Guru Rinpoche and Pelgyi Singye meditated and contains a statue of Guru Dorji Drolo and statues of Phurpai Kyilkhor, which was said to have been erected by Niwari artisan Pentsa Dewa during the reign of Desi Tenzin Rabgye and of celestial palace of Guru Rinpoche (Zangtopelri).
  • The middle temple Guru Sungjoen Temple, temple of Guru who speaks because it is believed that when it is being transported to Taktsang, the statue of Guru spoke (sung)by itself. The most skilled artisans from Nepal, Pentsa Dewa, Dharma and Dharmashri erected the statue of Guru Sungjoen. This temple contains among other beautiful paintings of the eight manifestation of Guru, the cycle of Lama Gongdue and Tshepamed, the god of longevity.
  • The upper temple ?The Temple of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche? was built under the auspices of Myangmed Chungpo from Paro and contains other intresting mural paintings. One of them depicts vividly how Zhabdung Ngawang Namgyel vanquished his Tibetan enemies.
  • Another building includes a temple dedicated to Singye Samdrup, the protector deity of Taktsang, Tshepamed, the god of longevity and Namthoesey (Vaosravana or Kubera), and god of wealth. It is believed that more merit is gained if we meditate one minute in Taktsang than to meditate months together in other sacred places. Its sacred essence is that of Drubkhang/Pelphug, the holy cave in which Guru Rinpoche and many other renowned saints meditated, and also the body of Langchen Pelgyi Singye had been placed deep in the rocks under the site of Kudung Chorten. The Drubkhang is opened once a year during an annual ceremony, which is performed by the monk body for 21 days in the fifth Bhutanese month.
  • The literary translation of the Bhutanese word Taktsang; Tak meaning ?tiger? and Tshang for ?nest?, meaning ?Tiger?s Nest?.
  • Located at 2950m, it is the most famous and sacred hanging cliff monastery in Bhutan.
  • Seen from the road while heading towards Drukgyel Dzong (Ruined Fortress).
  • Thangthong Gyalpo (1385-1464), the Iron bridge builder, also meditated here and discovered a Terma ?treasure text?.
  • Milarepa (1040-1123) is also said to have meditated in Taktsang.
  • A hike to this temple from the riverbed below would normally take about 2-3 hours.
  • Ponies can also be arranged till the viewpoint of the temple.