A Travellerspoint blog



I recently visited one of the most important government and monastic buildings and forts or dzongs in Bhutan--Tashichhodzong. Tashichhodzong was built in 1641 by the founder of Bhutan--Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This immense fortress was rebuilt in 1962, by the third king of Bhutan, His Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk.


Tashichhodzong, which is located in Thimphu and which translated from Dzongkha means the "the fortress of the auspicious religion" is the modern site of the King of Bhutan's offices and the central monastic body. This large and impressive structure with large golden Bhutanese-style spires on top also contains the throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan. Part of the year during the warmer summer months, his Holiness, the Je Khenpo, who is the head of the central monk body in Bhutan also makes his home in this dzong.

The important annual Buddhist religious celebration--Thimphu Tshechu--is also held in this fortress. This very popular festival is held in honor of Padmasambhava or "one who was born from a lotus flower." Padmasambhava is also known as Guru Rimpoche, "the Precious Teacher" or Lopon Rimpoche. Followers of the Nyingma Buddhist school also regard him as the second Buddha. Guru Rimpoche was instrumental in bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and Nepal around 800 A.D.

When visiting Tashichhodzong, I was only allowed to enter the monastic part of the dzong. The King's offices are off limits to anyone except invited important guests and visitors such as ministers, ambassadors, heads of state, or high level monastic and religious leaders. I could only enter the dzong after 5 P.M. and was required to go through an airport style X-ray machine. The dzong is guarded by the Bhutanese army and police. Even so, their presence was fairly low key given the high importance that this structure has for Bhutan. I entered the dzong onto an immense court yard surrounded on three sides by large Buddhist temples. Monks in traditional dress were everywhere. Entering one of the temples without my shoes, which is an important cultural custom here, a large statute of the Lord Buddha quickly came into view. The ceiling of the structure was very high and adorned with finely etched carvings and colorful cloth. Several large kettle style drums were present, which are also used by monks for religious ceremonies and chanting. I could smell a sweet variety of fragrant incense. The monks also have chambers for meditation, domestic affairs, and housing in upper portions of the temple. They use very steep ladders to reach upper floors of the temple. Very carefully, I climbed these stairs to view some of the prayer chambers. I used the same caution going down the steep stairs. This dzong is quite impressive and I will definitely visit it again in the near future.

Posted by mgivel 03:38 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

Field Trip, Sunday, July 6th

By Becky


On Sunday, all the volunteers and some of the RIM staff and students board buses for a picnic breakfast and lunch in the mountains and a visit to Punakha Dzong. We take the main road south out of Thimphu and catch the main national highway running east. We are soon winding up a narrow mountain road through forests of Himalayan blue pine. We pass women and children on the side of the road selling apples, walnuts, and strings of hard cheese.


We reach a pass called Dochu La and stop to visit Druk Wangyal, a set of 108 chortens.


Chortens are small shrines containing a relic or religious text, stupas in Sanskrit. According to our guide book, these were built to atone for loss of life in 2003 during a short military action to flush out Indian separatist hiding in the jungles of Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park and the neighboring district of Pemagatshel. From here, on a clear day, we would be able to see snow-capped 22,000ft peaks, but it is the rainy season and heavy clouds hang over everything. Still, the nearer, smaller tree-covered peaks look pretty with their wreaths of mist.


Just up the high from the chortens is a gorgeous temple. Our guide says that this was commissioned by one of the queens to pray for the safety of the king and his troops in the 2003 military action.

Across the road from the chortens, the hillside is covered with prayer flags.


Our next stop is the hub of the Royal Botanical Park. We take breakfast beside a lake and stop in the visitor’s center. The park contains 28 of the countrie's 46 species of rhododendron and over 120 of the over 240 species of ferns, as well as Bengal tigers and red pandas. They’ve began a garden that will contain all 48 rhododendrons. I’d love to stay longer to hike and botanize, but we are hurried on to our final destination. Now the road winds down into another valley. All the hillsides are steep in Bhutan and the valleys narrow. Flat ground enough for a city or an airport must be at a premium. The forest has undergone a change, now it is broad leaved. In the spring, it will be bright with flowering rhododendron. Lower down, the forest takes on a tropical feel, with wild arums, bamboo, and banana.

At the bottom of the valley is the massive Punakha Dzong.


It sits at the confluence of two rivers, one considered male and one considered female. We walk over a cantilevered bridge to reach the dzong. Steep wooden steps, which can be pulled up in case of an attack, lead to the main gates, flanked by giant gold prayer wheels. We first enter a large courtyard, lined with balconies, and containing a huge chorten and a large fig tree, said to be like the one under which Buddha found enlightenment.

The offices are around this first courtyard are for the district government, including its high court. In earlier time the king would move his seat of government here in the winter. The head abbot of the country still winters here. Before we pass through to the second courtyard, there is shrine to the spirit of the lake beside the dzong.

This Dzong is unusual in having three courtyards, rather than two. At the back of the third courtyard is the great assembly hall, with 54 gold pillars and long red velvet benches. But the focus here is three giant gold Buddha statues, said to be the past, present, and future Buddhas. Alternatively, they are said to be Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, the historical Buddha, and Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan. These Buddhas were recently built, the older, smaller three Buddhas still stand between them. We are not allowed to take pictures inside any of the temples.

Between the courtyards and up the four stories of the gate tower, are small temples, seemingly dedicated to Hindu gods. We need to take our shoes off to enter each one. The first one of these we visit is for Tara, mother goddess of all of us and of all gods. Most of our Bhutanese and Japanese companions bow and prostrate in each of these. Additionally, there is small temple outside of the dzong itself, with prayer wheels all around its outer walls. The Buddha statue inside is said to have the ability to talk.


We drive a little further up the road to have lunch in a small pine grove on the banks of the Mo River. To start, we’re served mango juice, beer and arra, a sour rice wine. I take this relaxing opportunity to photograph our companions in their traditional dress, ghos and kiras. There are about eight resident campground dogs that are initially shooed away, but then get our leftovers.

On our way back to Thimphu, on the same road, we make a couple of stops to get holy water streaming down from lakes high above, and one stop to buy giant cucumbers. All this makes for a very long day; we are happy to get off the bus at RIM and reach the end of the orientation.

Posted by rsherry 08:59 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

Becky and Noah's First Full Day in Bhutan

By Becky


Noah and I join Mike in his rooms in the Executive Hostel on the RIM campus. We are the only guests. Chokie, the head cook serves us breakfast and dinner there. I get my first taste of the most common Bhutanese dishes, red rice and peppers in cheese sauce. Red rice is only grown in Bhutan. It has round grains and a nutty flavor. I had trouble imaging what peppers in cheese sauce would taste like. The green peppers are cut into strips about a half an inch width and three to four inches long. The cheese sauce is thin and white. It’s good. On potatoes, it tastes like au gratin.

The RIM campus is about 7 km south of downtown Thimphu, just up the next valley. Lawns surround all the buildings which are constructed in the Bhutanese style, with white plaster walls, colorfully painted prominent timbers around the windows, and wide over hanging roofs in two or three layers. The roofs are corrugated metal these days, but painted red or green. The main instructional and office building is in the shape of an H, giving it four wings and two three-sided courtyards. The central part of the “H” has four roof levels, the top one painted gold with a short spire. One of the courtyards contains a rose garden, the other is just lawn, use for official events. Cement walkways, about 5 feet wide, surround each building. A drain is cut into the walkways right under the edge of the roofs. The faculty housing buildings have sets of four auspicious animals painted between their first and second stories, a tiger, a snow leopard, a magical bird, and a dragon. These same animals are seen on house in Thimphu. Tall Himalayan blue pines line a Wang River tributary, running right outside our window, clear and rocky. It’s rushing actually kept me awake the first night.


We join Mike in the last two days of his orientation program. Saturday morning, a driver takes us and our guide, Thinley Namgyal, a senior RIM faculty member, to pick up the Japanese volunteers and drop us all at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital. The director of the hospital gives us an powerpoint overview of the Bhutanese health care system. Noah was a real trouper through it all. Then we take a tour of the hospital, which is really, really crowded, just room enough to walk. After lunch in the Wangchuck Hotel, we visit the National Textile Museum where there are examples of ceremonial costumes and national dress from the royal family. I spend a bit of time finding a bathroom for Noah and so miss the chance to spend money in the museum shop. I’ll definitely have to get back there.

Next we’re told we’re going to the “Valley of the Buddha.” We drive slowly up a lovely forested hill; there are still a few wildflowers blooming in the undergrowth. The top of the knoll is covered with prayer flags, some bright and new, others old and faded. There are strings of many prayer flags and tall single white prayer flags topped with a stylized knife (for wisdom) and wheel (for the lotus blossom). Prayer flags are placed on hilltops so the wind will carry the prayers to all sentient beings. If the hilltop overlooks a river, the water can carry the prayers even further. The tall white prayer flags are also erected in yards or on the edges of gardens, and min versions appear on rooftops. From here, we can see all of Thimphu.


Dogs are everywhere in Bhutan. They are not pets, not brought inside, but are allowed to roam freely. Enough people feed them that they are friendly. Certain dogs will hang around certain houses or places and every popular picnic spot has its resident dogs. “The Valley of the Buddha” was no exception. I found three curled up under some bushes that were festooned with fallen prayer flags.


On the way back down, we stop at the Motithang Takin Preserve to see the national animal. The takin is often described as having a cows body and a goat's head. I think it's head looks more like a moose with goat's horns. The takin is said to have been created by Drukpa Kunley, Bhutan's "Divine Madman," in the 15th century during his wanderings throughout Bhutan and Tibet. In one town he visited, the locals demanded that he prove himself by performing a miracle. He first asked to brought a cooked cow and goat. After devouring them, he began to reassemble the bones, putting the goat's head on the cow's skeleton. Then he sent it running on its way and it became the takin. We also see deer and muntjacs in the preserve.


Posted by rsherry 07:42 Archived in Bhutan Comments (2)

(Entries 28 - 30 of 41) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 13 14 »