Must Visit Dzongs in Bhutan
Posted on January 15, 2020
Punakha Dzong was first built in 1637 by Zhabdrung. Since its commission, the Dzong has witnessed historical events that have shaped the future of Bhutan greatly. The Dzong served as a military barrack during the 1639 and the 1644 Tibetan invasion and successfully defended the country. In 1907, the first King of Bhutan was crowned at the Punakha Dzong. Punakha was also the first capital of Bhutan, hence the Dzong served as the seat of the central government and the first session of the national parliament was held at the Dzong.
As per the instructions of Zhabdrung, the chief carpenter slept at the construction site and it is said that the architectural design of the Dzong was revealed to him in his dream. Over the course of many hundreds of years, the Dzong was damaged by multiple fire and flooding incidents and earthquake but the Dzong was always restored to its former glory without changing its initial design.
The gigantic structure is built at the confluence of two rivers and is approached by a traditional cantilever bridge. The Dzong has multiple open courtyards, a six storied central tower housing many shrines, an assembly hall for the monks and the most important temple locally known as the “machen”. The machen houses the embalmed body of Zhabdrung and with the exceptions of two senior monk attendants, only the King and Chief Abbot are allowed to enter the shrine. Every King and the Chief Abbot begin their reign by offering prayers at the shrine.
A five storied structure existed before the construction of the current Dzong. The structure belonged to one of the descendants of Phajo Drugom Zhipo, the founder of Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan. In 1644 the fort was offered to Zhabdrung upon which the construction of a bigger fortress began. In 1906, the Dzong was completely destroyed by fire burning down all sacred relics and statues. Only the Thongdrol, a giant applique was recovered which is put on public display once a year during the Paro Tsechu. The district administration levied special taxes across the country and rebuilt the Dzong to its former specification immediately. The Dzong houses district administration and the central monk community. The Dzong has a 5 storied central tower that houses numerous temples of great lamas and shrine of the guardian deities. The popular Paro Tsechu festival is held at the Paro Dzong.
The approach to Paro valley from Tibet is guarded by the Drukgyal Dzong. Located in northern region of Paro district, the Dzong sits on a ridge that is inaccessible from three sides and the only entrance is defended by towers. Few Dzongs were built as a defense fort at strategic location to serve as the first line of defense against foreign invasion. Drukgyal Dzong was one of them. The Dzong was built to commemorate the Bhutanese victory over Tibetan invasion in 1649.
The Dzong had three open courtyards, residence of the head of the administration and the central tower which housed the sacred shrine of the local guardian deities of Bhutan. It is believed that the central tower was built over a lake. The Dzong also had a secret passage from the Dzong to the river bank which can still be seen today. After successfully serving as a military barrack during numerous Tibetan invasions, the Dzong was destroyed by an unfortunate fire incident in 1951. After leaving it uninhabited for over half a century, the Dzong is finally being restored to its former glory.
Dobji Dzong is located 11 kilometers from Chuzom (Confluence) en route to Haa valley. The interesting fact about Dobji Dzong is that it was constructed nearly a century before Zhabdrung built his first ever Dzong in 1629 in Bhutan. The Dzong was built by a Tibetan Lama Ngawang Chogyal. According to the narrative, the lama followed a holy stream that originated in Tibet to find a suitable place to construct a teaching center. The stream is said to have erupted out of a rock near the current site of the monastery. Over 100 carpenters and masons traveled to Bhutan to construct the Dobji Dzong. The stream is still visible today and regarded as holy water by the locals.
The Dzong served as the winter residence for the monastic community in the region and in 1976, the Dzong was renovated and converted into a central prison. The Dzong has a five storied central tower which currently houses sacred shrines and the raven crown.
Trashi Chho Dzong
Trashi Chho Dzong translates to the Fortress of the auspicious religion. The current Dzong was subsequently relocated and reconstructed. The original Dzong stood where the current Dechenphdrang monastery stands today. It was known as the blue stone Dzong. After Zhabdrung’s victory and dominance over other competing religion sects, Zhabdrung took over the Blue stone Dzong, rebuilt it and named it Trashi Chho Dzong symbolizing the dominance of the Drukpa religion. After several fire incidences, the secular and the temporal rulers at the time proposed to move the location of the Dzong to its current place. Since its construction at the new location, the Dzong was gradually enhanced, renovated and the last major overhaul was initiated at the command of His Late Majesty the Third King in 1962. The Dzong was completely rebuilt using traditional method highlighting the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. The Dzong was built without the use of any nails or blueprints guided by experienced local carpenters.
Today the Dzong houses the Throne room, the Office of His Majesty the King, and the northern portion of the Dzong houses the central monastic body. The popular Thimphu Tsechu festival is held in the open courtyard next to the Dzong.