Table of contents for Bhutan Diaries
- A memorable visit to Druk Yul, Bhutan
- Offbeat Tourism at Mangdechhu Hydro Electric Project in Bhutan
- Know Bhutan: Trongsa, the city of heritage and the Dzong
- There is more to Trongsa in Bhutan: Extended journey to Bumthang, Kurjey Lhakhang
DAY-3, 17TH May 2017
Visit to the Ta Dzong(The Royal Heritage Museum of Trongsa)
After visiting the Trongsa Dzong and having some refreshments, we moved towards Ta Dzong. It is located on the left bank of the river Mangde Chhu, which can be reached from the front side, as well as from the rear side by a newly constructed road. I paid an entrance fee of Rs.50 (Nu.5 for Bhutanese students, Nu.20 for Bhutanese nationals, Nu.50 for tourists from SAARC countries and Nu.200 for tourists from other countries; Nu.1 = Re.1), which included a multimedia show depicting history of Bhutan and rising of the nation. Unfortunately, mobile phone, tab, camera etc. are not allowed to be carried inside. All such items are kept by the staff at the ticket-issuing desk and are returned once the visit is completed.
This heritage building is a massive circular five storey tower (called as Utse) with two lower towers. The south and north towers are connected to the main tower by multi storied wings. It has four observation points resembling Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon. Ta Dzong has two Lhakhangs. The Lhakhang located at the top is dedicated to the legendary Gesar of Ling, the epic warrior King and the other to Jowo, or Maitreya Budhha. Two smaller semicircular towers are located further down the hill to the west and south west to the main tower.
Ta Dzong was built in 1652 by Choegyel Mingyur Tenpe. With the help of grant extended by the Austrian government, the watchtower was renovated during2005 to 2008 to convert it into a magnificent museum. It was opened with the new look in 2008 to celebrate three major achievements : enthronement of the 5th King, recognition of hundred years of monarchy and introduction of democracy.
Many important royal possessions including clothing, ritual and daily objects serve to illustrate the lives of the royal family. Visitors will be delighted to see 500 hundred year old jacket, robe, diam of Ngagi Wangchuk; the football boots used by teenaged 4th King; the Raven crown worn by the 1st King of Bhutan and a range of traditional armour. However, a copy of Padma Kathang, a biography of Guru Rinpoche written by his consort Yeshe Tsogyel is considered as the most attractive item.
There are 11 galleries to present a glimpse of Royal heritage of Bhutan and memorabilia of Buddhism. The 1st gallery shows guardians of the four directions (though as per Hinduism, there are 10 directions – Dasadika). The 2nd gallery is graced with a statue of Ngagi Wangchuk and many other royal and religious personalities, who are remembered with utmost respect for making Bhutan great.
The 3rd gallery has the famous Raven Crown, which was worn by the 1st King of Bhutan, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk. In the 4th gallery we can see a three and half metre long oath of allegiance signed by the representatives of the clergy during the coronation of the 2nd King in 1926. It is also enriched with prayer book, silver box, amulet, ivory flask of the royal members, silk kira and tego of the 1st Queen etc.
The 5th gallery introduces us with the sacred dances and wheel of life. The educative 6th gallery tells us about Buddhism and related rituals. A Kheshar Lhakhang is on the 7th gallery with statue of Guru Rinpoche. His eight manifestations are in the 8th gallery. Maitreya Buddha Lhakhang is in the 9th gallery. Five Tathagata Buddhas are in the 10th gallery. The 11th and topmost gallery describes the body, speech and mind of the Adibuddha.
The multimedia show spanning for roughly 15-20 minutes gave a chronological view of history of Bhutan. I was the sole spectator of the show. The fact that, the authority arranged the show only for a single visitor really fascinated me.
You need to devote at least one full hour to see the multimedia show and to cover all 11 galleries in fast mode. Apart from the plenty of heritage items, Ta Dzong is both a place of worship for religious people and a museum showcasing rich historical heritage of Trongsa Dzong.The museum is open from 9am to 5pm (Bhutan time) during April to October (last admission time 4pm) and from 9am to 4pm (Bhutan time) during November to March (last admission time 3pm). Visitors can have hot coffee and other snack items at the restaurant situated at the ground floor.
Journey from Trongsa to Bumthang
After visiting the Ta Dzong, we moved towards Bumthang. While average altitude of Trongsa is 2200 metre, Bumthang is as high as 2800 metre, or approximately 9200 feet. We witnessed that a massive infrastructural work was going on to widen the highway connecting Trongsa and Bumthang. JCBs were busy in cutting the hills to create room for wide roads. With the help of occasional drizzling, most of the stretch we covered was muddy and became risky for driving. In some areas, our four-wheel drive car was moving laterally. However, our chauffeur cum guide Wangchuk Dorji managed well to save us from any anticipated calamity. By grace of God, we got through the dangerous stretch without hazard.
The dzongkhag (district) of Bumthang consists of four valleys, namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey. The valleys are broad and gentle, carved by ancient glaciers. All have fertile soil and hence very rich in general agriculture and growing varieties of fruits, making it into a strong economy. Practicing of dairy firming is also a common sight. At the same time, many historic Lhakhangs and Monasteries are situated here, which made it the most sacred dzongkhag in Bhutan in terms of spiritual legacy. For example, Jambey Lhakhang, believed to be the oldest Lhakhang in Bhutan, was built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659 AD as a part of 108 Lhakhangs constructed simultaneously in order to subdue an evil demoness that lay over the Himalayan region.
Many other Lhakhangs are here, which are connected to visit of Guru Rinpoche in 746 AD. Also, it is the home to the famous Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin. It may be an interesting matter to know that, the word Bumthang is believed to be a combination of two words – Bumpa (a vessel for holding holy water – which the shape of the region resembles) and Thang (plane piece of land area).
We resumed our journey from Trongsa to Bumthang at 1 pm (IST). While going through the muddy, risky, hilly highway, at around 2.10pm (IST) we crossed an area full of Rhododendron trees on the side of the road. The area was partly covered under mist. However, in spite of that, red, pink and golden yellow Rhododendron flowers were glowing all over. The highway was lonely. We did not come across any passenger or goods vehicle, probably because of the precarious condition of the road. So, we were the lone persons to appreciate the beauty of flowers.
Reached Bumthang Dzongkhag (district)
After ten minutes, we entered Bumthang Dzongkhag (district) leaving behind Trongsa. There was a big gate of typical Tibetan style (what is available aplenty in Sikkim, Bhutan and in some parts of Arunachal and Himachal etc.) accompanied by a huge nice Chorten. We got out of the car and immediately felt chilling temperature. Most probably it was the highest point of the highway. A board was there highlighting vision statement of the Dzongkhag. (It may not be out of place to mention that, every Dzongkhag of Bhutan has its own vision statement.) A route map was also displayed to help the passer byes. A Yak was gazing around, which caught our curious attention. We, the people of the plane, are not used to see a Yak from such a close distance.
From this point, the geography was changed. Hills were gone, giving place to valleys. Slowly, hutments and two storied houses started to appear, accompanied by farm areas, fruit orchards etc. We also noticed local Dzongs on way, but did not stop, as we planned to reach the Chamkhar town before it gets dark. While passing through Chumey valley, we stopped by an apple orchard. Plenty of small white flowers were blooming in every tree. From 100 metres away, it looked like the trees were ornamented with miniscule white LED lights. At that stage, it was hard to believe that someday in future, those white flowers would turn into red or green apples.
Reached Chamkhar town in Bumthang
By 4.50 pm (IST), we reached Chamkhar town in Bumthang. It was more chilled than Langthel or Trongsa. We put up at Hotel Norkhel. It was small, nice, homely and a clean hotel, run by two ladies. I have seen in Sikkim or Bhutan or in North Eastern states, that women play a major role in daily life, whether at home or in outside world. Here, in this hotel also, we were greeted by the ladies at the reception with courtesy and they helped us to get into our rooms. The hotel was made mostly of different grades of wood, along with necessary stone support. There was a departmental store on the front side. We went into the second floor through the side staircase. Anjan got tired after the day long journey cum sightseeing and preferred to take rest, but I decided to visit one or two local tourist spots before it gets dark. Our ever energetic and co-operating young guide Wangchuk Dorji immediately consented. So, the key re-ignited the engine once again and we moved fast towards Kurjey Lhakhang.
Visit to Kurjey Lhakhang and river Chumkar Chhu
As we were heading towards the Lhakhang, suddenly it started drizzling. The temperature further dropped down. After a 15 minutes journey we reached the famous Kurjey Lhakhang. The ambience was fresh after the mild rain. Little bit of rainwater was on the surface everywhere. As per Hindu belief, gentle raining is a holy sign and we knew that we just entered into a very holy place of Bumthang. After the gate, we got into a big green lawn with stone walkway. At the centre of the lawn, there was a medium size Chorten. On the right side there was not one, but were three big Dzong like Lhakhangs.
As per history, the rightmost Lhakhang was the ancient one, built in 1652, while the third one was much younger, built in 1990s. Guru Rinpoche reportedly visited this place in 8th century and meditated in a cave. Just behind the Lhakhangs the hill went upwards. There was a stream flowing down carrying highly revered holy water. On the leftside near the boundary wall, there were one storied and two storied structures. On the fence, there were innumerable small Chortens. Also on the right side of the rightmost Lhakhang, there were many Chortens along the slope of the hill. Local clock already crossed 6 pm. The Sun having been set, paved way for a mysterious low light atmosphere. There was heavy overcast too.
In the entire lawn, there were only persons : me and Wangchuk. In the absence of any tourists, we checked the doors of the Lhakhangs. Only one door was found open. We removed our shoes and entered the Lhakhang. Photography was strictly prohibited everywhere inside the Lhakhangs. So we could not take any photo but remained satisfied with what we saw with own eyes.
On return, we stopped by the river Chumkar Chhu flowing through the valley. It had already got dark. Myself and Wangchuk sat on a stone by the river bank. We spent some endless tranquil moments there amidst evening twilight, listening to murmuring of the gentle flow. Both of us were fatigued due to day long stress, which helped us to enjoy the atmosphere more. Our heart and soul gradually cooled down. After filling our lungs with lots of fresh oxygen of the Himalaya, we returned to the hotel.
We chalked out a plan for the next day, which included many sightseeing spots around the valley and our return journey back to Langthel via Trongsa. The homely food prepared by the ladies of the hotel fascinated us. With the help of the wifi facility, we could contact our homes back in Kolkata, which also rejuvenated us. Thus, we ended our day and dipped into the world of peaceful sleep very fast.