Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Radio Tower Hill
Some may say that Radio Tower Hill cannot be counted as one of the Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan. But I do find the location very pleasing and definitely worth taking the long and tiring hike up to the peak.
I was staying a friend’s apartment and you could see the radio antenna sticking out of the hill from afar. See the photo below, it is circled in red.
It was a bright sunny afternoon, and that was to be the goal for my friend and I that day. We were going to take a walk all the way up to the top of that hill.
In the above photo, it looked quite near, doesn’t it? In reality, it was quite far away. And made more distant because we had to walk from my friend’s apartment all the way to the top of Radio Tower Hill.
To my friend, who had regularly walked up and down mountains on weekends as part of his regular exercise regime, the trek was no problem. But to me, I was panting in no time. Plus, the thin mountain air made it more strenuous for me. Fortunately, my friend was patient and kind enough to stop and wait for me to catch up every once in a while.
At some point, just for levity, my friend joked that the rate I slowing us down, he had images of him being discovered missing from work on Monday, and by nightfall, emergency evacuation helicopters from the United Nations would be scouring the mountains for us, with bright searchlights flashing through the trees and other dark places. haha
Prayer Flags in Bhutan
In Bhutan, everywhere we went, there were prayer flags. Even in the city area. So naturally, the mountain was no exception.
I spotted a long string of prayer flags flapping in the wind.
They were strung between very tall trees on treacherous slopes. I wondered how did anyone managed to get the flags up there? I asked my friend in case he knew. He did not but had a few theories.
One was that a very strong person climbed one of the trees with the flag. Then another climbed up the other tree that the string of flags would be tied to. With a heavy object (e.g. a large stone) tied to one end of the string of flags, the stone would be thrown across to the guy on the other tree. And … ta da! … a string of prayer flags!
Credible? If not, here’s the other theory.
One person climbed a tree with the flag as well as bow and arrow in tow. The string of flags would be tied to the arrow. The person, most probably a marksman in archery, would shoot the arrow across to the other tree. Another person would quickly climb up, grabbed the arrow, and tie that end of the string of flags to the tree. Ta da! A string of flags!
Which one is it? You choose.
The Mysterious Tsa Tsas
Higher up the mountain, there were these small white objects nestled along the side of the mountain.
I was mystified by these small white objects. They looked like they were made of some form of clay, and looked very delicate. I asked my friend what they were.
He explained that they are called Tsa Tsas. They are made of ashes and clay into a shape of a stupa. Tsa Tsas were made to clear obstacles or negativity in one’s life. Some were made to bless and protect the life force of a person or an entire family.
When placed in an area that is high on a mountain, they are there to bless the area, and prevent any disasters. Also, Tsa Tsas are believed to benefit sentient beings, and the world we live in.
True enough, the latter was the case. My friend told me that there was a very major accident in that area some time ago. Many people died. The Tsa Tsas were created from the ashes of the people after they were cremated. He also told me that there was a large stupa dedicated to those who died in that tragedy.
We came upon the stupa, and my friend advised me not to take any photos of it as it may offend the locals. So, out of respect I did not.
The Largest Om Symbol In The World
This may be the largest Om symbol in the entire world. It is very large. About 50 meters in height. I wondered how they managed to paint it on the slope of the hill?
The Top of Radio Tower Hill
Finally! We arrived at Radio Tower!
I was perspiring and panting by the time I reached the peak of Radio Tower Hill. Yet, I could not resist a photo opportunity.
My friend exclaimed ‘Welcome to Radio Tower Hill!’, then pointed to the back of me and informed me that we could see the city of Thimphu from that vantage point. And also said it was a great place to take a photo.
So I passed him my camera, and he took the photo above. Isn’t it an amazing sight? The entire city of Thimphu and the mountains around it? Magnificent!
I had to take the next photo below too. I have noticed this mountain for quite some time now. No one seemed to know her name. I decided to call her ‘Rolling Clouds Mountain’ because there always seemed to be clouds continually flowing over her peak.
We could have spent hours at Radio Tower. The views on all sides were breathtaking (pun intended). The prayer flags, teased by strong winds, flapped loudly in unison, like an orchestra playing a symphony of a long forgotten song. As the flags twirled in the air, in rich and varied colors, it appeared as if rainbows were everywhere on Radio Tower mountain. It was as if rainbows had come home.
But soon it would get dark. My friend suggested for us to leave before it got too dark, and we would not be able to find our way back to his apartment. The entire scenario with the emergency evacuation helicopters could then become a reality. haha
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please do leave a comment as I love to hear from all of you.
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong
Off the Main Town of Thimphu Bhutan, alongside Thimphu River known as Wang Chhu, is one of the best places to visit. It is known as Tashichho Dzong. You can drive there or take a healthy and scenic walk to this fortress monastery that is now the seat of Bhutan’s government.
It is in the same direction as towards Radio Tower, or the National Preserve where the Takin is, but instead of going up the hill, you walk down towards the valley.
Bhutan’s Public Housing
As my friend and I walked towards the bottom of the valley, we came across a cluster of houses that looked the same, with the same green roofs. My friend pointed them out to me, and told me in a matter of fact manner that those houses are Bhutan’s version of Singapore’s HDB. (HDB stands for Housing Development Board, and they build government public housing).
In Bhutan, a family is given a house (one of those buildings with the green roof, photo above), and a plot of land. The land was for them to farm and raise animals such as cows. With the harvest and animals, they can feed themselves and make a decent living by selling any surplus at the markets. Great idea. But my friend shared with me that it may not be working out.
We continued our trek downwards. It was beautiful with lots of green trees and fresh air. Very invigorating! Shortly after, we arrived at a part of the mountain that had a splendid view of the entire valley and Tashichho Dzong.
Tashichho Dzong is a fortress monastery on the northern edge of the city. It was built in the 17th century. The structure has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1952. Below is the view of Tashichho Dzong from another angle.
Each district in Bhutan has a type of fortress known as the dzong, which also served as the religious and secular administration for that region. In Thimphu, this fortress was Tashichho Dzong.
Some sources said that Tashichho Dzong was built in the 17th century. Some said 18th century. Some even claimed that a dzong existed in Thimphu since the 13th century, but never gave specifics if it was Tashichho Dzong.
Originally built as a fortress with a monastery within, whenever it was actually built (what’s a hundred or a few hundred years difference eh?), the fact is Tashichho Dzonghas been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1952. Hence, there is high security measures outside, around and inside this important building; such as gunmen outside the dzong, guards at the entrance, and watchful eyes everywhere at Tashichho Dzong.
As we walked from the car park to the main entrance of Tashichho Dzong, my friend’s behavior changed a little. He switched from a relaxed and casual demeanor to a more serious one. He cautioned me to follow his lead.
There are rules, regulations and etiquette to follow when one visits Tashichho Dzong. Outside, on the grounds of Tashichho Dzong, the soldiers who stood guard suddenly became alert. My friend noticed the sudden tension in the air. He looked around, and urged me to stop, stand still, and lower my head.
I did as I was guided. A dashing man of obvious stature walked by.
“Good afternoon, Sir.” my friend greeted the gentleman, whom I later learned is one of the knights of the kingdom.
The handsome knight smiled, and answered, “Good afternoon.” as he walked on.
I was struck silent in awe. I have finally met a knight! In person! Wow!
After the knight passed by, my friend explained to me that it was customary or people (locals and foreigners) to show respect to the knights and politicians in Bhutan. The standard way is to stop in our tracks, stand very still, and lower our heads with respect when a knight or politician walked or drove by.
The etiquette when in the presence of royalty was even more strict. One would be expected to move to the side, stand very still, lower one’s head, and not speak unless spoken to. It was frowned upon should one dared to glance up and steal a look.
You can see how tensed I look when I took the photo below. haha
After the above shot was taken, my friend nodded, and waved for me to hurry up. We rushed to the entrance, showed the letter of permission to the guards. (In Bhutan, one needs to have a letter of permission before being allowed to visit Tashichho Dzong, and my friend managed to acquire such a letter)
The guard made a thorough check of the letter, our belongings and us, and we were allowed to enter. After this point, no photo taking or video shooting was allowed. So I have no photos to show of my time inside Tashichho Dzong.
But … thanks to my friend’s boss, I managed to get a few photos of a festival held inside the place. He was kind enough to send the photos to me, and allow me to share them here. (Thanks to my friend’s boss)
Inside Tashichho Dzong
There were many people who attended this special festival. Look at that large painting on the wall! It looked amazing and colorful!
Tashichho Dzong also hosts Tsechu, a colorful masked dance festival, at the end of every summer. While such festivals are popular with tourists, one must remember that these festivals are not held as tourists attraction.
They are genuine events manifested from thousands of years of religious traditions. Outsiders like you and me are very honored to be given the privilege to attend and witness it. Should you ever visit Bhutan and attend such a festival, please remember that, and please remember to be respectful, and listen to the instructions from your guide.
While it is true that there will inevitably be lots of socializing, more importantly, it is an occasion for prayer and blessings. Every Dzong has images of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas. Whenever people visit, whether during a festival or not, they take the opportunity to pray and ask for blessings for themselves and their loved ones.
Coming back to the Tshechu, it is a festival honoring Guru Padma Sambhava, “one who was born from a lotus flower.” This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan etc. around 800 AD. The festivals take place on or around the 10th day of the month according to the Bhutanese calendar.
Thousands of locals dressed in all their finery, some of whom traveled for days, attend these Tsechus as it was believed that everyone will gain merits by mere presence. Better when one participated. Hence, it would be no surprise to see laymen as well as monks perform in the mystical masked dances (known as Chaam) accompanied by traditional Bhutanese music.
Thimphu’s Cantilever Bridge
Alongside Tashichho Dzong flows the Thimphu River known as Wang Chhu, or Thimphu Chhu. The river separates the east and west of Thimphu valley. A couple of hundred meters away from the main entrance of the dzong was an ancient bridge that connected east and west Thimphu.
It is one of the remaining cantilever bridges.
When you visit Tashichho Dzong, do ask to see the Cantilever Bridge (if you guide does not do it or if it is not in your itinerary). It will be an amazing experience, I promise you.
The bridge is truly an elegantly crafted structure. Built during ancient times, it is truly an engineering marvel. It is still so sturdy after all the years. On the bridge, there are lots of prayer flags. These flags are almost everywhere in Bhutan. And they really add so much color to the city.
Thimphu River, Wang Chhu
When you stand on the bridge, and look out back into the main town of Thimphu, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Thimphu River, also known as Wang Chhu. The waters flow gently towards the point where two mountain slopes meet. Thimphu, as always, is so serene and quiet that you can hear the lilting sounds of the flowing water very clearly. The entire scene composes into a masterpiece image that will remain in your mind forever.
Below is a video taken from the cantilever bridge of the river. On the right, you can see Tashichho Dzong. On the left, for a few seconds, you can see one of the royal palaces.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed sharing it. I love writing these posts as they remind me of the time in Bhutan. I truly had a fantabulous time!
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Takin Preserve
When you are in Thimphu, Bhutan, here is one of the nicest places to visit, and one of the things to do there. It is the Takin Preserve at the Jigme Dorji National Park to see the rare Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal.
It is located at the Radio Tower Hill. You can easily spot it as there is a sign at the entrance, which is a little way from the actual preserve.
You can see the WWF logo on the sign. WWF is for World Wildlife Fund. The Takin is classified as a ‘Vulnerable’ species. As such, it is Protected. The species survival is threatened by competition with the domestic yaks for food, and loss of habitat due to logging.
At the preserve, the Takin is safe and continues to survive. The numbers of the Takin is slowly but surely growing.
I visited the Takin Preserve with my friend who worked in Bhutan. We climbed long and steep flights of steps to get there. I was practically almost out of breath and panting by the time we reached the destination.
When we reached the place, my friend asked me to take a photo of this road (see photo below). I took the photo, and out of curiosity, I asked my friend what was so special about that road?
He answered nonchalantly that there was nothing special. Just that we took the shortcut that saved time. That road was the usual road tourists would take to visit the Takin Preserve. It was less steep and more scenic, too.
Well, what do you know? The journey to the preserve could have been nicer and less exhausting. So when you visit this place, please take note. Consider this path.
We reached an area at the entrance that looked like a stopover before stepping into the preserve. There were signs with details of the Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal. Here is one of them, and I have transcribed what was on the board to the text below.
Here was what the sign said:
Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal
On 25 November 1985, the Royal Government of Bhutan declared the takin (Budorcas taxicolor) the National Animal of Bhutan.
Takin is one of the larger and stockier of the goat antelope. Plump, bovine-like body is covered with dense, long yellow to brown hair. Short, stocky legs supported on large two-toed hooves and strong dew claws as an adaptation to the mountainous environment. The large head is made distinctive by the large arched ‘Roman’ nose. Both sexes have strong horns, 25 to 20 cm / 10 to 12 inches long, and curve out backwards, and upwards at the tip.
Range: Found in the Himalayas and western China.
Subspecies: Budorcas taxicolor whitei (the Bhutan Takin) has a distribution range from Bhutan eastward to Myanmar and China. In Bhutan, found primarily in the Jigme Dorji National Park.
– Body length: 170 to 220 cm / 5.7 to 7.3 feet
– Shoulder height: 100 to 130 cm / 3.3 to 4.3 feet
– Weight: Up to 350 kilograms / 770 pounds
Status: Classified as ‘Vulnerable’. In Bhutan, the takin is Protected. Threats include competition with domestic yaks for food, loss of habitat and logging.
Predators: Bears, snow leopards and wolves.
Habitat: In summer, they are found in forested valleys, migrating to rocky, grass covered alpine zones in winter; altitudes range between 1,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
Food Habits: The takin is a generalist herbivore, mostly a browser, it feeds, primarily in the early morning or late afternoon and eats leaves found on deciduous trees or shrubs, but also grasses, bamboo and herbs. They also have been known to drink from hot springs.
Reproduction: Gestation Period: 7 to 8 months
Young per birth: 1, rarely 2; Weaning: 7 to 8 months; Babies weigh 5 to 7 kilograms / 11 to 15.4 pounds
Sexual maturity: at 2.5 years
Life span: 12 to 15 years
Mating: July and August
There was another sign that you must not miss! This one presented the folklore of how the Takin was created. It is quite fascinating!
Text from this sign read:
THE TAKIN – a unique animal closely associated with Bhutan’s religious history and mythology.
Lama Drukpa Kuenlay (1455 – 1529, is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, known for his outrageous antics. One day his devotees were gathered to witness his magical powers and they asked him to perform a miracle. Before complying, he demanded that he be given a whole cow and goat to eat. Having devoured both, leaving only the bones, he stuck the goat’s head on the bones of the cow. To everyone’s amazement, upon a command uttered by Drukpa Kuenlay, the animal came to life, arose, ran to the meadow and began to graze. The animal came to be known as the dong gyem tsey (Takin) and can still be seen grazing in mountain meadows of the kingdom.
Due to its uniqueness, the Takin continues to befuddle taxonomists. Unable to relate it to any other animal, they have put it in a category by itself, budorcas taxicolor.”
Of course, I could not resist taking a photo next to this fantabulous sign.
We proceeded to the enclosure where the Takin was. There was a fence all along the perimeter, and we did not see any Takin for a short while. Then suddenly, we chanced upon a few of them. The first thought that came to my mind was that they looked like deers!
My friend looked around, and wondered where all the Takin where. He commented that usually there would be quite a lot of them. And they are very friendly.
Round a corner, we found a few, grazing. Here are some photos of them.
This particular Takin was very friendly. One of the locals, a Bhutanese man, was feeding it grass that he plucked from the area outside the fence. The Takin seemed to appreciate it. And looked at me when I took this photo.
It had a slow and gentle demeanor. Its horns had a green metallic sheen at the top that gave the Takin a unique and almost pretty look.
The Takin Preserve is a very peaceful and tranquil place. It was winter and most of the grass were dry and mostly brown. Everywhere there were tall pine, juniper and cypress trees that provided much shade from the hot sun.
My friend and I sat on a bench, and enjoyed the immense beauty of the preserve. The quiet environment was very good for rest and respite. We chat and had a lovely time while we breathed the sweet scents of the pine, juniper and cypress trees.
Do visit the Takin Preserve when you are in Thimphu Bhutan. It is definitely worth the climb up the hill to see it.
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Changangkha Temple (aka Changangkha Lhakhang)
Another Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan is a temple known as Changangkha Temple or as the locals call it – Changangkha Lhakkhang. When I was in Bhutan, I stayed at a friend’s place and we could see the temple from his home. He told me that this is one of the more popular temples in Thimphu, Bhutan where many pilgrims and locals visit. New parents would go to the temple to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their children.
A more important reason was that the temple was the oldest temple in Thimphu. It was built in the 12th century on a ridge above central Thimphu. The temple offered a picturesque view of Thimphu Valley.
On New Year’s Eve of 2008 I decided to make a trip to the temple. I would also receive blessings for the new year. Perfect! Here I share my adventure and journey to this wondrous place.
With the temple in sight, I started the trek on a road towards that direction. You could see it in the distance, with its yellow roofs against the green mountains.
* Helpful Tip: Bring at least 1 bottle of water along with you wherever you go in Bhutan. The air is dry. And even during winter, the sun shines hot during the day. Plus, there are convenience stores but they are few and far between.
The walk from my friend’s home was not too far, about an hour or so. To be honest, I was walking very slowly as I enjoyed the view, admired the local houses, watched prayer flags flapped in the winds, looked far at the mountains, and so much more.
Soon, I reached the bottom of the ridge where Changangkha Lhakkhang was located. I loved how the highest roof of the temple seemed to peek from the top of the tall green trees. Like a shy and gentle giant observing a guest approaching.
At the bottom of the ridge, there was a quaint little sign that said welcome to all guests to Changangkha Temple. Please do pardon the grammar. Actually, it does add to the charm, don’t you agree?
Now, the long and steep trek to the top of the ridge where Changangkha Lhakhang was at. Just kidding. Actually, the walk up to the temple was short, and not steep at all. Not like the trek up to Radio Tower Hill, which I will share soon (whew! just recalling that trek makes me feel tired … haha).
Entrance to Changangkha Temple
I reached the entrance to the temple. I must say the entire entrance structure, the way the huge walls stood at the side of the door made the entrance look impressive. One could feel awe, and that was just the entrance. Wait till you see the place inside.
I stood at the bottom of the steps to the entrance, and I knew I had to take a photo. There was a lavender-painted brick building just behind the door, and it created an interesting composition to this photo. The doorway was made of wood with traditional Bhutanese carvings and paintings.
I loved how the steps look worn. I imagined the thousands of pilgrims and followers that tread on them over the past hundreds of years. I found it charming how the steps sunk lower at the middle area. And the tiny grass and plants that grew from the gaps just made it all more charming. Each piece of brick were uneven in shape. Not like the evenly cut bricks we are so used to. And I found that endearing as they were surely handmade.
Breath-Taking View of Thimphu Valley
I had many friends who told me how much they liked the photo below. Honestly, I still believe the shot I took could never do justice to the break-taking sight that stood before me when I entered the outer courtyard. Nothing beats being there.
I remembered stepping into the courtyard and noticed this amazing sight. I walked closer to the edge and could feel my entire being soaking in the awesome scene. My eyes relished the colors, the expanse, and the mountains that seemed to go on forever into the blue.
There was a pleasing sound of silence that added to the peace which permeated the entire space. Added to that, the fresh cool mountain air made the experience unforgettable. There are things that you remember all your life. This is one of those.
Here is the fantabulous view of Thimphu Valley from the temple courtyard. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
In the same outer courtyard, there was a religious structure. It looked fascinating to me. Strings of colourful threads and cloths were wrapped around it. On closer inspection, I wondered if these were from Prayer Flags? And why were they spun thing this structure? I never really found out about this though.
There was a wall of lavender coloured bricks with a thick red stripe going all across the building, with large white circles. The building was large and imposing, and this side of the wall faced the outer courtyard. Later, I learned that this building stood in both inner and outer courtyards. Take a look later, and see what I mean.
At the side of the huge lavender-bricked building there was a little door that led to the main courtyard and main prayer hall. The doorways were always so ornate with traditional Bhutanese designs and so colourful.
There was even a Prayer Wheel at the doorway for people to turn for blessings and good luck. You can read more about Prayer Wheels in the Clock Tower Square post where I explained a little more about Prayer Wheels.
A closer view of the Prayer Wheel. Would you like a spin? 🙂
Main Courtyard of Changangkha Temple
At the main courtyard, I noticed the wall of the lavender-bricked building that faced the courtyard had a door. This time it was not just a doorway but there was an actual door.
Look at the intricate traditional Bhutanese art and decorations. It was so colourful. I was sure each design has a meaning to it. Unfortunately there was no one around to explain to me.
There were some pretty flowers at the entrance. I think I kind of know what is inside. Can you guess what it is?
Looking away from the lavender-bricked building, we now see the main courtyard of the temple. The main prayer room was the building on the right side of the photo below.
The temple was quiet with only a few visitors that morning. There were a few tourists with a local guide. When I was taking photos the guide kept staring at me. It was a little uncomfortable and I wondered why.
I mentioned it to my friend later and he explained that the guide was most probably wondering why I am all alone touring the site. You see, in Bhutan visitors are not allowed to move about on their own. There must be a tour guide assigned to each or a group of tourists. So please make sure you have a designated your guide when you book a vacation in Bhutan.
In my case, I was invited by my friend who was working for the United Nations. So I was on a special visa. So I did not need to have a guide and was free to travel anywhere in Bhutan while on this special visa.
Main Prayer Hall of Changangkha Temple
Here is the full view of the front of the Main Prayer Hall. As with any of their architecture, you can see beautiful traditional Bhutanese design and decorations. There were Prayer Wheels for people to turn them as they walked towards to the hall.
An elderly man dressed in blue was chanting and praying as he sat on the floor, walked a bit, turned the wheels, walked a bit and sat again. It was their way of showing devotion to the gods.
Also on the front of the Main Prayer Hall, there were 2 gold discs with the Kalachakra image on it (see photo below). The Kalachakra motif, also known as the Tenfold Powerful One, is the most potent and best known symbol of the Kalachakra system in Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism.
* Interesting Fact:
In Sanskrit, ‘Kala’ means Time, and ‘Chakra’ means Wheel. That is why Kalachakra is often perceived as Time-Wheel, which also means Time-Cycles. Without going into too much details, basically the meaning of this revolves around the concept of time and cycles. Everything is influenced by time, and the wheel represents an endless cycle with no beginnings or endings.
The symbol also consists of a ten syllable mantra – OM AH HUM HO HAM KSHAMALA VARAYA HUM PHET. Each syllable has a meaning. Again, without going into too much details, here are a couple of examples; HAM refers to the Enlightened Wisdom of the Mandala Deities, and KSHA refers to the Body, Speech and Mind of the Deities.
On the left and right of the Kalachakra symbol are 2 characters that stand for E and VAM. E means Emptiness, and VAM means Bliss. Together, they represent the union of the two concepts.
To the left of the Main Prayer Hall, there was a passageway into the hall. But before that, there was a lovely little altar (see photo below). For some strange reason, I was very drawn to this space where the altar has been constructed outside the Prayer Hall. I found it very pleasing.
All throughout the time as I explored the main courtyard, I could hear bells ringing once in a while. I wondered what they were? As I walked into the passageway, I discovered the source of that.
Enchanting Sounds of Bells from Huge Prayer Wheels
Ahhh … so this was where the sound of ringing bell came from. That was a huge Prayer Wheel! It was so large that ropes were tied to the bottom for people to pull and turn the wheel! The wheels were painted with holy Buddhist text.
Watch the video and take note of the top and right part of the Large Prayer Wheel. That was where the bell was placed, and when a piece of metal that stuck out at the top of the wheel hits the bell, the sound of bell ringing was created. Oh, and a shy local Bhutanese woman and her child were caught by surprise when they saw me filming this. Hahaha
* pls pardon the low quality video. I did not have a good camera back in 2007, and HD was not available yet. Rest assured, I have a good camera since, and other videos and photos from this time on are of high quality.
The Prayer Hall of Changangkha Temple
Once inside the prayer room, no photography or video taking was allowed. I stepped into the prayer room, and entered into a small rectangular hall. As I entered the prayer room, the doorway to the altar room was to my right. A huge statue of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of Compassion was inside, raised on a table/platform. The statue was so gigantic that when one stood just outside the doorway to the altar room, one could only see part of the head of Avalokiteshvara. See the drawing below that I drew (the best I can from memory) of what I saw.
The people of Bhutan believe that Avalokiteshvara at Changangkha Temple is able to answer all questions, and makes all wishes come true. At the doorway of the altar room, there was a yellow box (see box in drawing shown above, on the right side of the doorway). People who have questions or wishes would consult a monk who would be standing by the box. The monk would then gesture for the enquirer to take the divination blocks and cast them on the yellow box. The monk looked at the position and facing side of the divination blocks, and informed the enquirer whether his or her question would be answered or wish would be fulfilled. Any negative response could be resolved with the help of the monks.
The enquirer would place a donation into the large bronze bowl that was on top of the yellow box. At the front of the yellow box, there was also a sign. The sign gave a bit of the history of Changangkha Lakhang, built in the 15th century. It also mentioned that the monks would like to expand the temple. As such, any donations would be welcome. All donations were placed into the large bronze bowl.
I noticed there were pieces of cloth (possibly thangka?) covering the walls. Some of the cloth were curled up at the edge. I moved closer to take a peek, and saw a very small portion of what looked like a large painting. Too bad they covered it. I was sure it would have been very awesome to see the entire painting that was on the walls of the prayer room.
To the right of the prayer room, there was a raised platform that faced the doorway of the altar room. In front of the raised platform was a table with a large book, and religious artifacts. On the cover of the large book was a title in English that said it was an astrology book. I supposed that was where people could consult a monk about their star sign, and what the future held for them.
Perimeter of Changangkha Temple
After the experience of being in the Prayer Hall, I just felt I needed some air. To be outside, and feel and breathe. So I walked to the perimeter area.
Looked up, and saw this gold statue of a head with bird’s beak at the corner of the temple’s roof top. Reminded me of the ‘garuda’ – creature with bird’s head, and body of a lion. Wondered if this served the same purpose?
A closer view of the gold heavenly creature. Interesting, isn’t it?
Prayer Wheels of Changangkha Temple
Along the perimeter, there were rows of Prayer Wheels that do not seem to end, that seemed to circle the entire temple. Again, for more info about Prayer Wheels, please read my article about Clock Tower Square where I shared a bit more info about this.
There were shy local Bhutanese women turning the Prayer Wheels. Watch the video below.
All too soon, it was time to take my leave. It was a really pleasant visit, and I did enjoy seeing the temple a lot. As I walked down the path away from the temple, I glanced back. This will surely be a memory that will last a lifetime.
Just as my friend highly recommended Changangkha temple, so do I highly recommend it to you, too. When you are in Thimphu, Bhutan, you must add this place as part of your travel itinerary.
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Clock Tower Square
One of the many Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan is the famous landmark that is the Clock Tower Square situated at the heart of the city, Thimphu. It is a popular venue for important events such as cultural festivals, sports events, concerts, fund-raising events, movie award ceremonies, trade fairs, live musical shows, and even once hosted the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Car Rally.
It is located just below Norzin Lam, which is sort of like the main street of Thimphu.
Things To Do In Bhutan – The Famous Clock Tower
And of course, one of the Things To Do in Bhutan is to see the famous Clock Tower. Why is it famous? Well, it is very beautiful, and it is the first clock tower ever built in Bhutan.
* Interesting Fact – The Clock Tower has four faces, each displaying a different time. When I first noticed that I thought they may be showing different times at different locations. Sadly, a close friend who worked there, and whom I visited and stayed with, informed me that they were just not well maintained.
The same friend added that the clock tower was the first ever built in Bhutan. Some time back she was dug out and temporarily stored away while the area was renovated into a square. After the renovations were done, she was placed back at the center of the square.
The Clock Tower is very beautiful, and covered with intricate designs of traditional Bhutanese architecture. Rich Bhutanese carvings and paintings , traditionally hand crafted, showing images of flowers and gold painted dragons decorate the four sides of the Clock Tower. The dragons are symbolic, representing Bhutan as an independent dragon kingdom with the name – Land of The Thunder Dragon.
Things To Do In Bhutan – Traditional Bhutanese Mani Lhalhor (Prayer Wheels)
Around the square, there are Traditional Bhutanese Mani Lhalhor (Prayer Wheels) that are extraordinarily pretty to look at.
They are in the same Clock Tower Square, and feel free to spin the prayer wheels. Spinning prayer wheels is a common practice in Bhutan, you can almost say it is a Bhutanese way of life. They are seen almost everywhere in the country. The belief is that when a person spins or turns the wheels, they alleviate bad karma, and gain wisdom and merit. Some also believe that by turning the wheels, good luck is received.
The prayer wheels here are made of metal. And it can also be made from wood, stone, leather or even coarse cotton. In the picture above, the wheels are crafted with the Buddhist mantra – Om Mani Padme Hum. It is in the Sanskrit language, and cannot be easily translated into an English phrase. It is believed that when a person speaks or chants this mantra, the person will receive many blessings.
The prayer wheel structure is exquisitely decorated with traditional Bhutanese paintings and motifs. A real credit to the Bhutanese on how much effort and detail they place in this display. Don’t you agree (see both images below)?
Around The Clock Tower Square
When you have toured the city of Thimphu for few hours, and need a place to rest, this is an ideal location for that. There are many benches around the square for people to sit, relax and enjoy the view.
Also, around the square, one can find shops, restaurants, supermarkets, and hotels in quaint three-storey buildings that are designed with a blend of fine traditional and modern Bhutanese architecture. They have multi-colored wood frontages, small arched windows and sloping roofs.
One of the properties that caught my eye was the Druk Hotel that is at this location. It looks luxurious, or as luxurious as can be in Bhutan. I heard from my friend who worked in Bhutan that this is quite a good hotel. Perhaps next time I will stay there?
All right. That’s all for the first post of Asia Travel Gems. I hope you enjoyed the post. Do drop a comment to let me know? And please do write to me to ask to be added to our newsletter. We will send you updates whenever this site is updated.
The first of our travels that we added to this site is Thimphu, Bhutan. It is a beautiful city. Definitely deserving of the title – The Last Shangri-La on Earth. Below you can see the posts we have written. We will soon add info such as How to Get There, Weather in Bhutan, and more.