The four major sites we toured during our visit included:
Punakha Dzong. Typically, a Dzong is a historic fortress situated at a strategic location in a valley. During feudal times it was the center of military and religious activities. Today each serves as a major monastic and government center for a region. Constructed in the 17th century, this is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. When we visited they hadn't had a tourist in a week. The guards had to phone in and ask permission to let us enter. In what would normally be a spot with hundreds of tourists, we had the place to ourselves.
|Guide Chubzang is dressed for the Dzong visit in his traditional gho (with binoculars!)|
|Main entrance to the Dzong|
|Part of the continuous rehabilitation work on the exterior art by trained craftsmen|
|Entrance to the main temple|
|Not a tourist in sight|
Buddha Dordenma Statue. Perched high on a hillside, this 153 foot tall gold-guilded statue looks over the capital city of Thimphu. On the day we visited there wasn't a tourist in sight.
|Susan is in the lower left of this image, for a sense of scale|
Chagri (Cheri) Monastery. This teaching and retreat monastery is under a major exterior renovation but was fascinating to visit. An hour-long hike up the mountain gave us great views of the valley below, and some pretty good birding too! Again, there had been no visitors in a while. We had a private tour from the caretaker, and were even given the extreme honor of lighting all of the the butter lamps for the day. I'd guess not many tourists have been as fortunate.
|A Stupa (shrine) at the start of the trail|
|Field breakfast a the Stupa!|
|Lighting the butter lamps|
Paro Taktsang (Tiger's Nest). The "don't miss" cultural site in all of Bhutan, the Tiger's Nest is a monastery built high on a cliff overlooking the Paro Valley. It's a 5+ mile round-trip hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain, already at high altitude. Take it easy and it's a pleasant hike with remarkable scenery. The single-track trail was nearly empty and the birding was good as we climbed. With no crowds of tourist, we were able to visit all 11 small temples on the cliff. Tiger's Nest was constructed in the late 17th century on a site where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in a cave during the 8th century. Padmasambhava brought Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country.
|Tiger's Nest on the cliff above|
|L-R Guide Chubzang, driver Phuntsho, Agnes, Tim, Susan and Bob|
In each of the descriptions above, the title is linked to an article for each. Additionally, photography is not allowed inside any temple. This is understandable, but unfortunate, as these temples were the most visually amazing part of the visits. There were many times when we stood and looked with our mouths hanging open, taking in the sheer beauty and artistry of the Bhutanese people. I can only encourage you to go sometime and see for yourself.
Once more, a great big thank you to Chubzang and Phuntsho for a fantastic trip. And to our friends Tim and Agnes, thanks again for the wonderful time we always have together, and all the hard work you do getting us ready to go.