Zhemgang is a region blessed with incredibly rich biodiversity. Its lush forests are home to 22 endangered animal species including the Golden Langur. Though much of the district has warm and humid climatic conditions, its northern regions have moderately cool temperatures.
Zhemgang is notable for being one of the last regions where ancient Bon (Animist) religious practices are still carried out. Though Buddhism has been growing in popularity, every region of the district still continues its animist traditions and Bon priests known as Bonpo are considered respected religious leaders. The inhabitants of Zhemgang are famous for their rich culture, particularly their folk songs and dances. They are also famed for their skill at crafting various goods out of bamboo such as Bangchungs (matted bamboo bowls), Palangs (alcohol containers), Balaks (hats), mats and boxes. They are also adept potters and their earthenware products were highly prized throughout the country in the past.
There are also a number of famous Buddhist temples in the region such as BuliLhakhang and TharpaChoelingLhakhang. These ancient temples were built by TertonPemaLingpa, a famous revealer of the lost religious treasures of Guru Rimpoche.
One of the most interesting features in Zhemgang is the Royal Manas National Park. This protected park is the oldest nature preserve in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Its incredible biodiversity includes hundreds of rare animal and plant species such as Golden Langurs, Gangetic Dolphins and the Asian One-horned Rhinoceros that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The park is the most biologically diverse protected area in the kingdom as well as one of the most outstanding nature preserves worldwide.
PLACES OF ATTRACTIONS
1. MANAS NATIONAL PARK
The Royal Manas National Park, started in 1966, is the 1st protected Area in Bhutan with an area of 1000 sq. km. The Park id designated to protect the habitat of elephants, tigers, leopards and golden languor. In addition there are about 86 mammals, over 350 birds, 900-300 plant species. The park area is stretched over 3 Dzongkhag namely, Zhemgang, Sarpang and Pemagatshel. Royal Manas National Park adjoins the JigmeSingyeWangchuck National Park to the north and India’s Manas National Park and Manas Tiger Reserve to the south. Together they form a 5000-sq-km protected area that runs from the plains to the Himalayan peaks. Currently tourists are allowed only on special case basis with approval from Government. There are plans underway for developing the area of Manas and Panbang for tourists. Traditional trek route starts from Tingtibi to Gonphu, (which has a hot spring) and then from there to Panthang and then onto Panbang. From Panbang, one may float on a boat or raft or drive for about half hour to Manas. The route is great in winter and good for bird watching and to sight other fauna. However a new road to Panbang has reached Gongphu from Tingtibi and is progressing rapidly. It will connect some of the remotest areas of Bhutan. Currently, PanbangDungkhag is accessible by road from India side of Manas via Mathanguri.
2. ZHEMGANG DZONG
Landmark in Bhutan. Lama Zhang DorjeDrakpa who lived in the 12th century founded the Zhemgangdzong. Lama Zhang DorjeDrakpa, a renowned scholar-sage of Drukpakgyu school of Buddhism, originated from Tibet and travel to presentZhemgang in 1163.
3. KhengBuli Village
“Khengpas” are the original inhabitants of Zhemgang. For many years, the region remained closed to tourism. Recently, a small part of Zhemgang was opened for bird watching and the opened region has become the jewel of tourism in Bhutan. People of Zhemgang divide themselves under three regions of upper, middle and lower Kheng.
Zhemgang offers the taste of unspoiled rural life of the Khangpas. They will surprise you with their animist traditions. The shamanistic practices, locally known as Bon are common here. Khengpas are adept artisans and are known for their bamboo products like wine containers, baskets, matted bamboo carpets and other cane products.
In the earlier times this region cultivated cotton crop and a major part of the earning was paid as tax to the government. Historically, there are traces of the advent of Guru Rinpoche (from the 8th century) though visible records can be seen mostly from the 15th century.
Temples like Bulilhakhang in Buli village and TharpaChoeling is associated with the treasure revealersTertonPemaLingpa who is famous for the Peling tradition of Buddhism. The Bhutanese Royal Family is a direct descendent of PemaLingpa. Traditionally, the Kheng region was divided into three regions of Chikhor (UperKheng), Nangkhor (Middle Kheng) and Tamachok (Lower Kheng).
4. KhengKikhar Village
Nangkor Gewog, Zhamgang
Nangkhor, known as Middle Kheng comprises of nine villages. The villages are Dakphay, Norbugang, KikharTali, Buli, Goling, Zhobling, Nyakhar and Tsheldang. Amongst these villages, Kikhar village is considered as one of the most historical places in the country.
Why kilikhar village
While Guru Rinpoche was mediating in JampeLhakhang, he was believed to have instructed MonmoTashiKheudon, the daughter of the king Sindhu Raja, to go to Mon area of southern Bumthang in Kikhar, a place naturally endowed with peace and silence. He gave teachings and taught her how to mediate on them. As directed, she traveled to Kheng and found a small cave resembling a stack of Buddhist texts in Kikhar where she had mediated and practiced those teaching for several months. There is ample evidence to prove that followers of Guru Rinpoche had blessed KhengKikhar. MonmoToktoLhakhang featuring more of Tibetan architectural design stands as a testimony. It is believed that the temple, located not far from Monmo’s holy cave, is based on a huge mass of sacred rock. Irrespective of written record, local accounts date this temple to the period of Jampe and KyichuLhakhangs. It seems this temple was built in honour of MonmoTashiKheudon as indicated by its name. One of the main relics was a dark statue known as Sam-ye ku, which was supposed to have flown miraculously to the temple’s site on its own all the way from Lhasa. But, the statue had been unfortunately stolen a few years ago. It was such a portentous bronze statue endowed with mystical power to foretell ill-fated events such as sickness and death in the entire village. If someone were to fall sick, the statue would lie down on its back, and reverting to its normal position signified recovery of the sick. For ages, Jang Ponpo owned the temple and it is still being taken care of by his descendants. Below this temple is a huge rock from which an unknown treasure revealer was believed to have extracted a pair of conches (dung-kar). The opening on the rock shaped like two conches supports this belief. One of the sacred conches is said to have flown to KurtoeDungkar while the other is still preserved in an old mansion of Jang Ponpo. If this belief is true, I think there is some possibility of the said ‘KurtoeChoje’ having derived its name from this conch or dungkar. The house of Jang Ponpo is located a short distance away from the temple. The ruins of the houses of khraipa and drapa bear witness to Jang Ponpo’s pre-eminence and the size of his subjects. The ruin of a watchtower indicates the presence of rivals as well as his involvement in wars.
Today, the MonmoToktoLhakhang is being taken care of by the local people of Kikhar and a Nunnery has been set up adjacent to the MonmoToktoLhakhang headed by Lam DorjiPhagma. It has become one of the famous places of pilgrimage.
5. Tali Zangdo Pelri
It is a three-storied Lhakhang, which was, constructed with, among others, financial contribution from His Majesty the King and His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo, TrulkuJigmeChoeda, who once headed the Zangtopelri. The lhakhang story begins in the early 1960s when Lam YesheyPemaThinley built a small monastry in Tali and established its first dratshang.
At that time it had student strength of only 30 monks. Other renowned Buddhist teachers such as Penlopkhen Rinpoche, who came to teach and bless the student in 1967, visited the monastry. Later a winter resident was added for the Talidratshang in Gelephu.