Know Bhutan: Trongsa, the city of heritage and the Dzong

DAY-3 (May 17, 2017) 

Carrying in mind the lifetime experience of the visit taken place the previous day to the underground hydro power project, we made a fresh start on 17th May 2017. We had a complete breakfast early morning prepared by Kaushik himself, who in fact, is a good chef. We three (Kaushik, Anjan and me) were scheduled to make the outstation trip together. But due to his sudden official engagement, Kaushik had to keep himself off. So, myself and Anjan started the journey from Langthel sharp at 8 am (IST) under guidance of Wangchuk Dorji – an educated, helpful and friendly Bhutanese young man. He himself drove the car. Time and again I am giving reference to IST, because Bhutan local time runs 30 minutes ahead of IST.

Journey from Langthel to Trongsa

The journey from Langthel to Trongsa normally takes one-and-a-half-hour continuous drive. But we were tourists. We agreed to make a stopover anywhere we wished. Not even 15 minutes’ time did elapse, we stopped by a roadside curve, where our guide Wangchuk noticed a pair of Hornbills sitting on a distant tree branch. Earlier I read in different articles that Bhutan being a less populated country, wild animals and birds move freely. If you do not make noise during the course of journey, you may be lucky enough to see many of them within your reach. So quietly, we got out of the car.

I replaced the existing 18-105 lens with a 70-300 one and started to take some photos of the Himalayan Hornbill couple. God was benevolent enough in pouring so many colours into this species. Their bodies were black, tail ends were white, beaks were light yellowish with black straight marks and area around eyes was fluorescent blue. Only difference in colour between the two was the head. One was black coloured and the other had brick coloured head. Most probably, they were male and female. Initially they did not give due importance to us. This made me more enthusiastic to get closer towards the edge of the outer curve of the hill. Once I did so, they immediately got conscious about my interfering presence. Within a minute, the couple departed the place. However, by then I managed to take few photos.

Rare sight of a Himalayan Hornbill couple

Another close shot of the Himalayan Hornbill couple

We resumed the journey, crossing many picture perfect houses constructed along the slope of the hills. Most of the houses were like a white stone towers, which were made with a mixture of rock, wood, cement and earth. Many houses were two storied. The lower floor meant for livestock and the upper floor for the family. Local people followed slope cultivation method to pursue agriculture. As a matter of convenience, homes were constructed near the irrigation area.

Village houses on the lap of the hills with cultivation area in close proximity

At around 9 am (IST) we reached an ancient Dzong at Drakteng. A Dzong is a fortress-like structure that serves as the headquarters of a district administration and the residence of the Monk Body. We were told that the Dzong was more than a 150 years old. It was not in use, hence closed. Wangchuk made every possible attempt to open the door, but his effort went vain. The look of the Dzong from outside appeared to be still robust bounded by high walls. As getting inside the Dzong remained an unfulfilled dream, I climbed the slopes of the adjacent hill to take photos. The Dzong with the cloudy hilly backdrop satisfied the quest of the photographer living within me.

The 150+ year old Dzong at Drakteng

15 minutes later we reached at a modest waterfall. This fall, named as Budrel fall, was revived by the Mangdechhu Hydro project Authority. Though it was May, rainy season yet not started, but still it carried decent volume of water. Width of the waterfall was nothing to be talked about specially, but the simplicity of the look and its presence in such a remote place, magnified the grace of the hill. Sometimes simplicity becomes more eye soothing. The burble of the fall, chirping of the birds and typical whistle of the cool breeze created a mysterious ambience. Had we not stopped over there, getting such nice experience would not have possible.

The Budrel waterfall

We crossed then College of Language and Agricultural Studies at Taktse. While passing that area, when we looked far below, say 1500 feet, we noticed office premises, storage houses, parked cars etc. belonging to agencies associated with the project. Earth moving machines, Mobile concrete mixers, all the temporary buildings, passenger cars were looking like toys. At around 9.50 am (IST) Trongsa town was visible for the first time. The world famous Trongsa Dzong, situated atop a distant hill, was vibrant and clearly identifiable.

A bird’s eye view of the project office

The Trongsa Town
Let us have a brief introduction of Trongsa. In Dzongkha (Bhutanese language), meaning of Trongsa is new village. Located on a steep ridge, this town is situated at an elevation of 2180 mtr / 7150 feet from MSL. Placed in the central part of the nation, Trongsa is well connected with all directions of Bhutan by good roads, including the very important East-West highway.

It is also known as gateway to the east. This gave Penlop of Trongsa control over East-West trade and to collect considerable tax revenue. Because of its strategic position, Penlops of the Trongsa Dzong find it easy to control the region. River Mangdechhu flows through the town. As per history, Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk, a monk, arrived in Trongsa in 1541 for meditation purpose. One night, when he was meditating, he saw a moving flame, where the present day Dzong is situated.

Seeing that, he got inspiration to establish a meditation centre in that spot in 1543, which later on got surrounded by many similar centres built by his disciples. This is how the new village, namely Trongsa, came up. From this town, efforts for unification of the nation were undertaken. The prince of Bhutan normally holds the position of the Penlop (Governor) of Trongsa first, prior to ascending the throne. Here lies significant importance of Trongsa as compared to other towns.

Visiting Trongsa

While entering Trongsa at 10.10 am (IST), first we passed the court complex. In Bhutan, it is called Royal Court of Justice. It was an extremely beautiful structure, demonstrating a perfect example of Bhutanese architecture. You won’t believe that, how court buildings can be so good looking. Repeatedly we were experiencing the sense of cleanliness and standard of good taste exhibited by the residents of Bhutan in maintaining their country.

The Royal Court of Justice at Trongsa

The Trongsa Dzong

Within 10 minutes, we reached the Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1644 in its present form, it is the largest Dzong of Bhutan, which can be seen from many points of the town. It was huge, robust, elaborate and respectful looking. A series of inter-connected multi-floored buildings comprising of Lhakhangs (Buddhist temples), alley like long corridors, court rooms, wide stone stairs, paved courtyards completed the Dzong in its entirety. There are 26 Lhakhangs with beautiful murals in the Dzong, which are looked after by 450 residential monks. Gigantic prayer wheels are also inside the Dzong. The fascinating decoration of the Lhakhangs was designed during the era of Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan.

Let us have a snapshot view of the history of the Dzong. Construction of the Dzong was first started by Ngagi Wangchuk. The southern most part of the Dzong, Chorten Lhakhang was built in 1543, which is the location of the first hermitage. The present day Dzong, though constructed in 1644, was continued to be extended from time to time. However, the Dzong was damaged in the earthquake of 1897. Extensive repair was carried out by Jigme Namgyal, father of the first King of Bhutan. The district monk body (rabdey) maintains its location at Trongsa during winter, but shifts to Bumthang during summer.

Distant view of the Trongsa Dzong, the largest Dzong in Bhutan

Entrance of the Trongsa Dzong

The robustness, height and wide gigantic structure of the Dzong fascinates one and all

The entrance to the Dzong campus was through a covered small good looking wooden bridge. Beneath, there was a rivulet flowing gently. The wide stone path going towards the left side entrance was covered with very tall trees. There were several separate buildings situated inside the Dzong. Different buildings were having different stories – some were four storied and some were five storied even. Minute wooden ornamental works graced the exterior of the buildings.

Many long corridors ended with open yards gave an opportunity to see the outside world. Standing by the edge of the yards would give a panoramic view of the Trongsa valley. The river Mangdechhu was flowing far below the Dzong. One may get lost inside the Dzong, as there were too many buildings and corridors going towards different directions. In this sense, it may seem as the Bhutanese Bhulbhulaiya. Without a conversant guide, there was every possible chance to get lost. It is said that in the night, when lights are lit up inside the Dzong amidst overall surrounding darkness, a thrilling look can be seen. Since we did not spent the night at Trongsa, we could not see beauty of the night.

Elaborate woodwork inside the Dzong is also awesome

Anjan and me became speechless seeing vastness of the Dzong

View of the external wall from the edge of a yard

It took half an hour to visit the Dzong. Then we decided to have some local food. It has always been my prime target to get taste of local food every time I go on a tour. Wangchuk Dorji, our guide, took us to a good restaurant, named as “Oyster Hotel”. Outside look as well as interior of the restaurant was excellent. It is well placed at a crucial crossing of the town, where very large sized photos of five kings of Bhutan were displayed. By 11.50 am (IST) our refueling was over with Chowmin and Thukpa.

Picturesque outside view of the Oyster Hotel with part view of the town

Photos of the five Kings of Bhutan displayed at a road crossing

A Chorten installed at a road crossing — beautification in the religious way, which is a common sight in Bhutan

After getting re-energised, we decided to visit another famous tourist spot of the town, named as Ta Dzong (Trongsa watchtower cum museum). It is a heritage monument located on the upper hill, which witnessed many historical events of Bhutan. So we moved towards Ta Dzong with much eagerness.

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