Dont’ be “Dzonged-Out.”
Bhutan is renowned for its Buddhist temples and fortresses. While visiting Bhutan, it is easy to grow weary of driving from temple to temple on cultural tours. The clinical term for this is to become “Dzonged-Out”. Dzong being the Bhutanese word for fortress, this syndrome occurs when, after many consecutive days of visiting temples, they begin to blend together and you would give anything to avoid the next bumpy four-hour drive to a less than spectacular monastery. Fortunately for you, crisis can be averted as this definitive list outlines the best Bhutan has to offer and will guarantee you do not meet the same fate as so many tourists before you.
As quintessentially Bhutan as is possible, Paro Taktsang is the world famous “Tigers Nest”. In the 8th century, Buddhist saint, Guru Padmasambava is said to have flown on a tigress up to the cliffs where the temple is now located. He proceeded to mediate in a cave for the next three years, three months, and three days. This cave is located under the temple and is incredible to descend into. Getting to the temple requires a two-hour hike and summiting at over 10,000 ft. above sea level, but it is well worth the effort. Any visitor to Bhutan would be remiss to forgo seeing this incredible temple firsthand.
Situated on the convergence of the Mo Chu (Female River) and Pho Chu (Male River), Punakha Dzong was once the strategic winter capital of the country. This fortress temple has some of the finest architecture you will find anywhere in the country and hosts many festivals throughout the year. The shrine rooms of Punakha Dzong are as immaculate as any and it houses many relics that the Buddhists and historians among us are sure the appreciate. The stunning location and sheer grandeur of Punakha Dzong make it an essential stop on your tour.
Just a short drive down the valley from Punakha Dzong, Chimi Lhakhang is a temple you will never forget. Built by a cousin of Lama Drukpa Kunley, a Buddhist saint dubbed the “Divine Madman”, Chimi Lhakhang has a surprise for the uninformed tourist. During the short walk from the road, through a quaint village, and past a handful of handicraft shops you will be sure to notice more than a couple phallic symbols painted, carved, sewn, and crafted through any other art medium available to the locals. Known for his crazy wisdom, Drukpa Kunley transmitted his Buddhist teachings through outrageous behavior and more than a few sexual exploits. This temple now embodies his style of teaching and has become the temple of fertility where couples come in hopes of conceiving.
A bumpy farm road connects to a rigorous trail which will finally lead you to a spectacular temple which is rivaled only by Paro Taktsang. If you are up to the arduous journey, Kathok Beylangra offers stunning views as it is perched on the sheer cliffs of a mountain. The temple’s new shrine room as just been completed and it showcases some of the best Bhutanese craftsmanship and artistry available. If you have a day to spare and have legs that are up to the hike, Kathok Baylangdra is an essential stop.
A stunningly situated fortress temple, Trongsa Dzong is positioned high on a mountain with a plummeting drop into the valley off of its south side. Its position, combined with beautiful architecture, create the aura that it is seemingly floating in the clouds. It is easy to pass a day in the temple and in the serene surrounding town.
As if a scenic hike through up a valley and through cascading waterfalls wasn’t enough to make Chumphu Nye gain entry into our list, the shrine room also has a statue which has two qualities which you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. The first is that it was not sculpted by human hands. This is because (as the legend goes) the Buddhist Goddess Dorji Phamo (Vajravarahi) flew in from Tibet and upon arriving at Chumphu Nye, she turned herself into a statue. The second quality of the Flying Dorji Phamo statue is that it is still flying. As unlikely as it sounds, she is levitating in the shrine room of the temple to this day. Like many before me, while visiting I passed my offering money under her crossed legs and to my amazement it glided past uninhibited. A monk at the temple told me that the King of Bhutan had recently visited the temple for the first time after hearing of the levitating statue. During his visit, the monks who care for the temple had allowed him to hold either end of a rope in each hand and circle Dorji Phamo with it. To his amazement, he was able to go all the way around her without a hitch. Still not entirely believing this story, I began my return hike. I did not hike for twenty minutes when, as luck would have it, hiking up to the temple was one of the Princes of Bhutan (the King’s younger brother) who confirmed what his brother had done for my group. Bhutan is full of such serendipitous events and the temple and statue of Chumphu Nye has an energy flowing through it that all are sure to feel.
Photos: Bryan Gensits
Have you ever been to Bhutan? Share with us in the comments.