"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Bhutan: Land of the Peaceful Dragon (Part 1)

Reboni Ray visits Bhutan a second time and writes a travelogue in 3 parts about the place, the monasteries, the culture and her own feelings.

Bhutan: Part 2       Bhutan: Part 3

We had been eagerly awaiting our planned vacation to Bhutan. We went by air to Siliguri in the Dooars from where we travelled by car to the border town of Phuntsholing. This town is at the foot of the Himalayas very much like its Indian counter part border town of Jaigaon. It was hot and humid, dry and dusty, end of September and I wondered where I'd be using the many warm clothes I had come armed with..

A mountain kingdon tucked away in the Himalayas north of India, South of Tibet and east o China, Bhutan is totally landlocked and shares a long border with India which covers the states of West Bengal (Dooars) and Assam. It is comparatively a new 'Kingdom' which has become a conglomerate for the past hundred years. Before it used to be controlled by groups of tribes and warlords, who were in turn responsible to chieftains of that particular area.

More on Bhutan
Places to Visit

Paro, Bhutan
Phuntsholing, HAA
Holiday in Bhutan
Central Bhutan

Photo Gallery

Thimpu is the permanent capital of Bhutan since 1955 lying in a broad fertile valley of the Wang Chu River at an altitude of 7,600 feet. On the banks of the Wang Chu, among weeping willows and terraces of rice paddies, stands the Tashichhodzong, Bhutan's administrative and religious centre.


We returned home with a feeling of awe that coincidence had placed us at the right time and place where perhaps the revered Gaynin Chenpo himself condescended to give us a morsel as his blessings.

The history of this Fortress of the Glorious Religion goes back to the 13th century when Lama Phajo Dugom Shigpo, father of the present Bhutanese faith, built a small monastery, Dongon ("The Blue Stone") Dzong on the site. In 1641, the first Shabdung, Ngawang Namgyal - who united the country under the Drukpa school of Buddhism - constructed a large fortress here and gave it the present name.

Tashichhodzong More than 300 years later, the work of reconstruction began as the original monastery was dilapidated and a total wreck. In 1961 with a labour force of about two thousand, following ancient tradition, no plans were drawn, no nails were used. Huge slabs of stone and logs of timber were dragged long distances from the mountains and forests. Many architectural features of the old building were faithfully reproduced.

Today the Tashichhodzong's more than hundred spacious rooms house all the government departments and ministries; the assembly room of the Tshogdu; the throne room of the King; the nation's largest monastery, summer headquarters of the Je Khempo and two thousand of his monks. It was here on June 2, 1974, that the present King, the world's youngest reigning monarch, was crowned.


Unlike other Dzongs, ' Tashichho' has two main entrances. One leads to the administrative section at the south; a separate entrance at the north leads to the Monastic quarter where the dances of the annual "tsechu" festival are performed Below the Dzong is an excellent traditional cantilever bridge.

At the Chengankha, the central statue is of Chenrezig (Avalokiteswara) in a manifestation with 11 heads. This building also houses books that are credited to be the original scriptures of the Buddha.
There are many monasteries surrounding the town and it is impossible for a visitor to see all of them. Reaching the monasteries entails vigorous climbs up the mountains armed with special passes, as security is tight and most of the inner shrines are out of bounds for tourists.

Chengankha Chengankha was built at a spot selected by Lama Phajo Drugom Shigpo in the 12th Century. The lama came from Ralung in Tibet. The Chengankha is a fortress like temple and monastic school, perched on a ridge above Thimpu, South of Motithang. The central statue is Chenrezig (Avalokiteswara) in a manifestation with 11 heads. This building also houses books that are credited to be the original scriptures of the Buddha. The site was chosen by Shogpo but built by his descendants in the 15th century. Phajo Shigpo's statue is found here, along with statues of his sons. The monastery is highly revered by the local people of Thimpu who bring their sick children to be healed. It is believed that the (Birth Deity) KAYLHA specially heals little children. Others pay a visit to be blessed before embarking on any journey or endeavour.

Dechenphug Monastery is located in a side valley of the Thimpu Valley, about half an hours walk from the village Dechencholing. Though not frequented by tourists, it is situated some miles above the town of Thimpu. There is a colossal mountain which started sinking and only the summit can be seen now. The name Thimpu, which means sinking mountain, is derived from this. The place is said to have been founded by Phajo Dugam-Shigpo's son Dampa, in the 12th Century. It was the grandson of Dampa who invited the prince-abbot of Ralung Monastery in Tibet, Kunga Singey (1324-1347) to Dechenphug. King Singey is said to have subdued and converted the god Gaynin Chenpo and turned him into a protector of the religion. Since then Dechenphug has been regarded as the seat of the main guardian deities of the Drukpa Kagyupa school.

The present buildings are arranged around a large stone called "Thimpu" which means " disappeared into the stone". Tradition holds that the spirit of Gaynin Chenpo, the Fire Fetching Brigand and Supreme Warlord, resides in this particular stone and one day, when Bhutan is in trouble he will come back from the stone and save the country. It was in this temple that the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal offered his thanksgiving for his safe arrival from Tibet.


The temples of Dechenphug are all to be found in the tower. The most important one is located at the top storey of the four storey tower. This temple is the 'gonknang' and the principal statue here represents Gaynin. The monastery has a marvellous collection of ancient weaponry, varying from ancient iron thrusting and fire weapons to archery equipment, swords, buckle, shields.

The murals in Dechenphug, as the seat of guardian deities, represent an almost exhaustive collection of typical 'gonkhang'themes; grotesque, blood curdling figures depicting sacrifice of the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It refers to an imaginary act of self-butchery and as such the 'gongkhang' is the most obvious remnant of Bonism, the pre-Buddhist religion which is incorporated in Vajrayana Buddhism. It is in this temple that the spirits subdued by Guru Rimpoche are venerated.

While contemplating the mysteries of an age gone by, we were suddenly accosted by a Bhutanese army officer who had just finished his 'puja' . This was his annual grand 'puja' where he and his family were feeding over a hundred people. He would not let us go till we had consented to have some 'prasad' and so we sat to partake of the grand offerings. As it turned out, he was known to my Bhutanese friends. He said it was the main Deity who had insisted that we have some food. So we returned home with a feeling of awe that coincidence had placed us at the right time and place where perhaps the revered Gaynin Chenpo himself condescended to give us a morsel as his blessings.

Bhutan: Part 2     Bhutan: Part 3

Home | Back | Top | Feedback

Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.