Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong

Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar

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).

Bhutan's version of public housing
Bhutan’s version of public housing, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.



Tashichho Dzong

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 as seen from afar
Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.

Another angle of Tashichho Dzong
Another angle of Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.


Bhutan’s Knights

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

Timotheus outside Tashichho Dzong
Timotheus outside Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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!

Religious festival at Tashichho Dzong
Religious festival at Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.

Inside Tashichho Dzong, a well crafted image of Budddha
Inside Tashichho Dzong, a well crafted image of Budddha, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Tshechu

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.

Monks dance and perform with drums at festival at Tashichho Dzong
Monks dance and perform with drums at festival at Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.

Cantilever Bridge next to Tashichho Dzong
Cantilever Bridge next to Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.

Timotheus on the Cantilever Bridge that is beside Tashichho Dzong
Timotheus on the Cantilever Bridge that is beside Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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.

Beautiful River beside Tashichho Dzong, so peaceful and serene
Beautiful River beside Tashichho Dzong, so peaceful and serene, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

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!



If you have ANY questions about this article, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Thank you for reading this.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,

Timotheus