Central region of Bhutan
The first temple in Trongsa (the Chorten Lakhang) was built in 1543 by the Drukpa Kagyu lama, Ngagi Wangchuk, who was the great-grandfather of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the person who unified Bhutan.
Trongsa Dzong, said to be the most impressive in Bhutan, was built in 1644 and is the ancestral home of the present Royal Family. The first two hereditary kings ruled Bhutan from this Dzong. Traditionally, the King of Bhutan first becomes the Penlop (governor) of Trongsa before being named Crown Prince and eventually King. Built on a mountain spur high above the gorges of the Mangde Chhu (river), the dzong controlled east-west trade for centuries. The only road connecting eastern and western Bhutan passed through the courtyard of the dzong and at the command of the Penlop the massive doors could be shut, dividing the country in two.
The Ta Dzong of Trongsa is an ancient watch tower built even higher up the mountainside to protect the dzong from enemies. It has unusual architecture, with two aisles protruding from the main building, something not found elsewhere. The chapel inside the Ta Dzong is said to be dedicated to the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal.
Even the drive to Bumthang is incredible. Firstly on a dramatic road through forest and over a mountain pass before the scenery changes to the gentle spruce and fir covered slopes of the Bumthang region. This spectacular area is well worth spending a few days exploring:
The Jakar Dzong, which literally means “The Fort of the White Bird”. It was founded in 1549 by the drukpa lama Ngagi Wangchuk on the site where a white bird landed, indicating a good omen. It was enlarged in 1646, restored in 1683 and again in 1905 after a devastating earthquake. It now houses the Bumthang administration but unlike many other dzongs has no resident monks.
Jambay Lhakhang, revered as one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. It is one of the 108 temples said to have been miraculously built in one night by the Tibetan king Srongsen Gampo to pin down a demoness. This temple was built to hold down her knee, while the Kichu Lakhang in Paro holds down her left foot.
The central figure in the sanctuary is the statue of Jampa (or Maitreya), the Buddha of the future, after whom the temple is named. There are also three stone steps inside believed to represent past, present and future, which are slowly sinking into the ground. It is said that when all the steps disappear the future Buddha will arrive and we will all gather in Bumthang Valley to receive his teachings. Under the temple is said to be a lake in which Guru Rinpoche hid several Terma (sacred teachings). In October one of the most spectacular festivals of Bhutan, “Jambay Lhakhang Drup” is staged here.
Chakhar Lhakhang, the site of the palace of the Indian King (the Sindhu Raja) who invited Guru Rimpoche to Bumthang. The original palace was made of Iron (Chakhar) and was said to have been nine storeys high. The current building was built in the 14th century, by the saint Dorji Lingpa and it is rightfully known as Dechen Phodrang.
Kurje Lhakhang named after the body print of Guru Rinpoche which is preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three buildings that make up the temple complex. The first temple is the oldest and was built in 1652. Ugyen Wangchuck, the first monarch of Bhutan, built the second temple in 1900 when he was still Trongsa Penlop. The third building is a new Lhakhang built by the queen mother, Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, in 1990.
Tamshing Lhakhang (Temple of the good message). Established in 1501, it is the most important Nyingmapa gompa in the kingdom. It is believed that the structure was built by Pema Lingpa with the help of female celestial deities. The images on the inner walls are believed to be the original images painted by Pema Lingpa.
Mebar Tsho (Literally means “Burning Lake”), a short distance up the road leading to Tang valley. According to the legend, Pema Lingpa is believed to have retrieved several of Guru Rinpoche’s hidden treasure from the lake. Mebar Tsho derives its name from the fact that Pema Lingpa submerged himself into the lake holding a butter lamp and on emerging from the lake, the lamp was said to be still burning.
Textiles in Bhutan are unique in style to each region, and Bumthang is famous for woolen textiles called Yathra and Mathra – these brightly coloured wool fabrics are a specialty of the region and are becoming popular outside Bhutan as well. In Bumthang you can visit a Mathra factory to see how the famous traditional material is made, and combine this with a visit to the local cheese factory.