In the northeastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe or Lhuntse as it is known today. It is the ancestral home of our Kings and hosts several of the sacred sites of pilgrimage in the country. It is located 77km from Mongar (3 hours’ drive) and is one of the most isolated districts in Bhutan.
The landscape is spectacular with stark cliffs towering above river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered to be the best in the country. Kurtoep women are especially adept at weaving a textile called Kishuthara. Eastern Bhutanese culture is distinctive in its high alcohol consumption in relation to other parts of Bhutan. Ara, the traditional alcohol of Bhutan, is most often home made from rice or maize, either fermented or distilled. It may only be legally produced and consumed privately.
Some of the attractions in the region include the LhuntseDzong, Khoma village (famous for weaving), SingyeDzong, the beyulKhenpajong and the Phunying Pass. The textile products of Khoma village in Lhuntse are stated to be the best in the country. The weaving handicraft looms are common sight in almost every household.
Most of Lhuntse district is part of the environmentally protected areas of Bhutan. The district contains parts of Wangchuck Centennial Park in the north, Thrumshingla National Park in the south and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east. These three parks are connected by biological corridors that crisscross the central and southern regions of the district.
PLACES OF ATTRACTIONS
1. LHUNTSE DZONG
This mighty fortress, popularly known as LhundubRinchentse sits upon a hill overlooking the Kurichu River.
It was constructed in 1654 by the TrongsaPenlop, ChogyalMinjurTempa upon the site of an older temple built by NagiWangchuk in 1552. Today the dzong is the administrative and the religious centre of the district. It houses many sacred artifacts that were installed by the 4th DrukDesi Tenzin Rabgay.
2. KILUNG LHAKHANG
The tiny village of Kilung is a twenty-minute drive from the Dzong on the route towards KurtoeDungkhar. In the village you will come across the KilungLhakhang situated on a ridge overlooking the Kurichu River.
This village is inhabited by the Tshanglas who migrated and settled here during the late 1880’s.It was built on the former site of the KilungGyalpo, a regional chieftain. This temple houses the sacred chain mall that was once used to recapture a statue that miraculously flew away from the LhuentseDzong.
3. JANGCHUBLING MONASTERY.
This is another monastery that is definitely worth paying a visit. It was founded in the 18th century by PekarGyatso and until recently was under the patronage of the 16th Karmapa RangjungRigpeDorji.
The daughter of the 1st King, AshiWangmo lived here at the monastery as a nun. The monastery is easily accessible from a feeder road.
4. DUNGKHAR NAKTSANG
The house of Dungkar, one of the noble lineages from Kurtoe was home to the TrongsaPenlopJigmeNamgyal, the father of the Wangchuck dynasty.
DungkarNaktshang, the ancient home of the DungkarChojie and the ancestral home of the Wangchuck Dynasty, stands amid a scenic backdrop of towering mountains overlooking the tiny Dungkar village below. There is a 40km dirt road from Lhuentse leading up to DungkarLhakhang. The Dungkar expedition is an exciting and magical voyage into Bhutan’s past.
5. GANGZUR VILLAGE
Gangzur village is situated around 2 km from the Dzong. This village is famous for its pottery as its women folk are skilled artisans of this dying art.
The Government is now making efforts to revive it through financial support. When in Gangzur you will definitely want to witness the women displaying their skills.
6. KHOMA VILLAGE
This village is located about two hours walk from the Dzong. It is a pleasant journey taking you over gentle slopes amongst pine trees.
This village is known throughout the country for its signature woven textile, the Kishuthara. The women sit in a row of makeshift textile cottage, weaving intricate designs and patterns. Picking up a Kishuthara here will be much cheaper than buying it from one of the handicraft shops in the capital.
7. TAKILA (GURU STATUES) AT TANGMACHU TOP
The world’s largest statue Of Guru Padmasambhava, with the total height of 173 feet, stands imposingly on the Takila mountain slope, which is one of the most beautiful scenic spots in Lhuntse district, overlooking the entire valley of Tangmachu. Belonging to the Tangmuchu community, an old monastery (Lhakhang) exists at the site of Guru Statue.
It is believed that the statue was built after the sacred prophesy of the the great tertonLerabLingpa (1856 – 1926), who prophesied that, ‘At one point of time, there will be a war of horses in Kurtoe valley. To prevent this war, a statue of Guru NangsiZilnoen should be built’. Similarly, the late Lama SonamZangpo in the 20th century, the most revered Yogi of Bhutan, emphasized that, for ensuring continued prosperity in the world in general and Bhutan in particular, a giant statue of Guru Rinpoche should be built in Takila, Lhuntse district in eastern Bhutan.
The statue is built by the late Ven. KhenpoKarpo Rinpoche who is one of the masters of the present 5th King of Bhutan.
8. KURTOE SINGYE DZONG (THE LIONS FORTRESS) **** NOT YET OPENED FOR TOURIST AND IT IS 3 DAYS TREK UP TO THE TEMPLE.
The soul becomes the sky; pure, untrained, an authentic space. Free from the manacles of preconception, unbound by the limitless, experiencing and ultimate field of possibilities; the significance of the journey into Bhutan’s mystical lion fortress, SingyeDzong, is an experience of a life time.
Hidden in the land of perfection is the incomparable SingyeDzong. As one would find out on arrival, it is no manmade monument like most Dzongs but a unique geological formation of mountain resembling a sleeping lion.
In the distance, small streams coil down from the mountains and the ancient temples dot the landscape, the only evidence of human habitation.
Located at an altitude of more than 3000 meters above sea level, it’s a three day rigorous walk from the road point in Khoma village. SingyeDzong is situated in the northern part of Lhuentse, a district in eastern Bhutan.
The mythical and historical significance
According to legends, sometime in the mid-8th century, Guru Rinpoche attempted to suppress a demon King, Khikharathoed, who was exiled from Tibet. It is said that the king escaped the wrath of the Guru and moved to Khempajong, where he supposedly established his demon Kingdom.
After subduing the demon king in Khempajong, Guru moved to SingyeDzong to meditate.
It is also believed that a treasure of religious scripture containing the means to prolong life called the Tse Drup Chimi Sogthig was discovered by the 19thcentury treasure discover, ZilnonNamkhaDorji.
SingyeDzong today is an internal division of eight Dzongs, SingyeDzong being the main sacred place where Guru is said to have meditated. The other Dzongs are RinchenDzong, TsemoDzong, GawaDzong, DulwaDzong, NamkhaDzong, DrakriDzong and PemaDzong.
Pilgrimage starts with GawaDzong with its magnificent statue of Guru. This Dzong houses the biggest Monastery. It holds in it the treasure revealed by Guru himself from the lake in SingyeDzong. It is said Guru subdued the demon of the lake and the local deity, and revealed five religious daggers (Phurba).
Among the five daggers, one has a missing part. Legend has it that there will come a time when the lake is going to form again and daggers will then be submerged. It is said that Guru would come once again to reveal the daggers, only this time, the daggers will not have any missing components and will be complete.
From GawaDzong, the tour continues to climb a rock where Guru is said to have meditated. Five celestial dakinis were said to have appeared and offered Guru holy water. The celestial sisters can be seen today as the five trees that dominate the surrounding landscape. It is believed that one must offer a song to each of the five celestials.
At DorjiDzong, a huge stone in the shape of a frog can be seen on the cliff. It is said that the Guru saw a frog climbing up the cliffs with the intent of plundering a beehive. The Guru divined this to be a bad omen for the world and subdued the frog, preventing all frogs thereafter from ever climbing a cliff or a tree.
The Dupkhang where KhandoYesheyTshogyel is said to have attained enlightenment
In the main SingyeDzong tour, three kinds of holy water whose sources are credited to the Guru and his two consorts, KhandroYesheyTshogyel and KhandroMendharawa can be seen. An imprint of KhandoYesheyTshogyal’s back on the rock can also be seen, it is said fervent pilgrims can sometimes make holy water ooze from the bare rock.
At another rock, with interesting black and white striations, is the place where the Guru has imprisoned 108 mythical garudas, who could have wreaked havoc in the world.
On the other side of SingyeDzong is Rolmateng, the summer home for the nomadic yak herders. There, one can see a big flat rock resembling a pair of cymbals, where all animals were said to have gathered to receive religious teachings from Guru. It is also known as the Do Chen Aar Mo Lay Gen SemchenNatshogChoeNangsa.
Close to the rock is another rock which is said to have been used as an extension to fit in more animals. Different animal’s footprints can be seen on both the rocks.
At the Guru ThrueGiZingbu, a place where one marks his/her place in heaven, visitors normally perform the Lugar Choetpa, a religious dance.